Friday, January 28, 2011
Professor Howard Wasserman (Florida International) has posted on SSRN his essay, The Demise of ‘Drive-By Jurisdictional Rulings’, 105 Northwestern University Law Review Colloquy 184 (2011). Here's the abstract:
This essay analyzes and comments on four decisions from the Supreme Court’s October 2009 Term considering the line and divide between jurisdictional and non-jurisdictional issues. of particular note are Reed Elsevier, Inc. v. Mushkin and Morrison v. Nat’l Australia Bank. In these and the other two cases, the Court unanimously rejected a jurisdictional characterization of the challenged legal rule, concluding that the rule either went to the substantive merits of the plaintiff’s claim of right or to ordinary procedure, without limiting the court’s root structural adjudicative authority. These are the latest cases in the justices’ consistent recent effort to eliminate “drive-by jurisdictional rulings,” in which a legal rule is labeled as jurisdictional only through “unrefined” analysis and without rigorous consideration of the label’s meaning or consequence. These four cases illustrate the Court continued, and welcome, retreat from its admitted “profligate” and “less than meticulous” use of the term. Instead, the Court has sought to define and maintain sharp and clean lines between judicial subject-matter jurisdiction and other, non-jurisdictional issues.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Professors Stephen Burbank (Pennsylvania) and Stephen Subrin (Northeastern) have posted on SSRN their essay, Litigation and Democracy: Restoring a Realistic Prospect of Trial, which is forthcoming in the Harvard Civil Rights – Civil Liberties Law Review. Here’s the abstract:
In this essay we review some of the evidence confirming, and some of the reasons underlying, the phenomenon of the vanishing trial in federal civil cases and examine some of the costs of that phenomenon for democratic values, including in particular democratic values represented by the right to a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment. We discuss the Supreme Court’s recent pleading decisions in Twombly and Iqbal as examples of procedural attacks on democracy in four dimensions: (1) they put the right to jury trial in jeopardy; (2) they undercut the effectiveness of congressional statutes designed to compensate citizens for injury and/or to enable implementation of important social norms through private enforcement; (3) they side-step not only congressional review but the entire rulemaking process that Congress prescribed, including multiple steps designed to facilitate broad public participation, and (4) they reward the lawlessness of lower courts that had ignored prior Court precedent proscribing fact-pleading requirements imposed by judicial decision with comparable lawlessness (and reportedly have spurred another cycle of lawlessness in district courts that have ignored them). We then suggest some remedial measures that might restore a realistic prospect of trial, a number of which would depart from the norm of trans-substantive procedure. We propose that the rulemakers develop a separate track for simple cases – a category that would not include cases for which there is objective evidence of congressional reliance on private enforcement -- that would employ bright-line rules permitting very limited discovery and virtually no case management. Recognizing that document discovery presents the most difficult reform challenge, we suggest a rule requiring that document requests in simple cases be specific. For discovery in complex cases, we stress the need for empirical study, particularly in light of the recent Federal Rule amendments concerning electronic discovery. We also suggest the development of discovery protocols by the stakeholders in substantive law litigation areas believed (or, in the event of additional empirical work, found) to involve disproportionate discovery. Finally, doubting that rule amendments could fix what is wrong with summary judgment today, we argue that courts should be given the resources necessary to allow judges to do what judges used to do. Believing that the current state of destructive friction between civil litigation and democracy is a product not just of inadequate resources, but also of the triumph of institutional and professional self-interest and both legislative and judicial politics, we contend that our citizens deserve better. The aspirations of our founders for trials in open court and jury trials are not obsolete, and neither is the duty of the judiciary, within constitutional limits, to respect clearly articulated statutory norms and clearly articulated legislative policy.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Representative Dennis Kucinich is suing the House of Representatives cafeteria over an olive pit in a sandwich. He alleges that biting into the sandwich resulted in extensive dental damage.
Although it's not really a civ pro matter, I couldn't help but chuckle at the response of his spokesman: "It truly is a private matter." That might have been the case, but perhaps he's learned a lesson in the joys of the public record.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Last month, the Seventh Circuit decided an appeal of a district court’s refusal to grant a defendant’s motion to dismiss an antitrust complaint. The case is In re Text Messaging Antitrust Litigation (No. 10-8037), ___ F.3d ___, 2010 WL 5367383, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 26299 (Dec. 29, 2010), and Judge Posner’s opinion addresses both pleading standards under Twombly/Iqbal, and whether 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b) allows an immediate appeal of a district court’s denial of a Twombly/Iqbal-based motion to dismiss. The court concludes that 1292(b) is a proper means for appellate review, and then affirms the district court’s conclusion that the complaint passed muster. Detailed excerpts from the opinion (which include a reference to Paradise Lost, a discussion of child-run lemonade stands, and a recognition that "pleading standards in federal litigation are in ferment after Twombly and Iqbal") follow after the jump.
Monday, January 24, 2011
The Fifth Circuit rejected the $21 million settlement of a class action over damage caused by the levee breaches on the grounds that it did not grapple with the fairness of dispersal of funds and instead "punted" that job to the special master.
We granted review to decide a threshold question on which the Circuits are split: May a party, as the Sixth Circuit believed, appeal an order denying summary judgment after a full trial on the merits? Our answer is no. The order retains its interlocutory character as simply a step along the route to final judgment. See Cohen v. Beneficial Industrial Loan Corp., 337 U. S. 541, 546 (1949). Once the case proceeds to trial, the full record developed in court supersedes the record existing at the time of the summary judgment motion. …
When summary judgment is sought on a qualified immunity defense, the court inquires whether the party opposing the motion has raised any triable issue barring summary adjudication. “[O]nce trial has been had,” however, “the availability of official immunity should be determined by the trial record, not the pleadings nor the summary judgment record.” 15A C. Wright, A. Miller, & E. Cooper, Federal Practice & Procedure §3914.10, p. 684 (2d ed. 1992 and Supp. 2010). After trial, if defendants continue to urge qualified immunity, the decisive question, ordinarily, is whether the evidence favoring the party seeking relief is legally sufficient to overcome the defense. See Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 50(a), (b) (stating conditions on which judgment may be granted as a matter of law).
In the case before us, the Court of Appeals, although purporting to review the District Court’s denial of the prison officials’ pretrial summary-judgment motion, several times pointed to evidence presented only at the trial stage of the proceedings, The appeals court erred, but not fatally, by incorrectly placing its ruling under a summary judgment headline. Its judgment was infirm, however, because Jordan's and Bright's failure to renew their motion for judgment as a matter of law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b) left the appellate forum with no warrant to reject the appraisal of the evidence by “the judge who saw and heard the witnesses and ha[d] the feel of the case which no appellate printed transcript can impart.” Cone v. West Virginia Pulp & Paper Co., 330 U. S. 212, 216 (1947).
As Justice Ginsburg writes later in the opinion:
Nor did [defendants] avail themselves of Rule 50(b), which permits the entry, postverdict, of judgment for the verdict loser if the court finds that the evidence was legally insufficient to sustain the verdict. See Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 50(a), (b). Absent such a motion, we have repeatedly held, an appellate court is "powerless" to review the sufficiency of the evidence after trial. Unitherm Food Systems, Inc. v. Swift-Eckrich, Inc., 546 U. S. 394, 405 (2006).
Justice Thomas authored a concurring opinion, joined by Justices Scalia and Kennedy:
We granted certiorari to decide the narrow question whether a party may appeal an order denying summary judgment after a full trial on the merits. I agree with the Court that the answer is no. The Court also reaches beyond that question, however, to address the effect of Jordan and Bright’s failure to renew their motion for judgment as a matter of law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b). I would limit our decision to the question presented and remand for consideration of any additional issues.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
Professor S.I. Strong (Missouri) has posted on SSRN her article, Jurisdictional Discovery in Transnational Litigation: Extraterritorial Effects of United States Federal Practice, which is forthcoming in the Journal of Private International Law. Here’s the abstract:
Jurisdictional discovery is a largely unknown, uniquely American device that combines two of the more internationally problematic aspects of United States civil procedure, namely an exceptionally broad view of extraterritorial jurisdiction and an expansive approach to pre-trial discovery. The mechanism – which is widely available and often used in cases where the defendant challenges the jurisdiction of the court – comes into play before the court’s jurisdiction over the defendant is even established and allows plaintiffs to ask defendants to produce a vast array of documents and information that can be used to justify the plaintiff’s claim that jurisdiction in this court is proper. This article describes the device in detail, distinguishing it both practically and theoretically from methods used in other common law systems to establish jurisdiction, and discusses how recent US Supreme Court precedent provides international actors with the means of limiting or avoiding this potentially burdensome procedure.