Friday, May 18, 2012

Appellate Jurisdiction and Abu Ghraib

A few days ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued an en banc decision in lawsuits brought against two military contractors by individuals detained at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The contractors had moved to dismiss the claims on several grounds, but these motions were denied by the lower courts. The three-judge Fourth Circuit panel agreed with the contractors and reversed.

Now the en banc Fourth Circuit has dismissed the case for lack of appellate jurisdiction, rejecting the contractors’ argument that the collateral order doctrine allows an immediate appeal of the district courts’ rulings. The decision is Al Shimari v. CACI International (No. 09-1335). The vote is 11-3, with Judge King writing the majority opinion (36 pages). There are two dissenting opinions written by Judge Wilkinson (40 pages) and Judge Niemeyer (35 pages), as well as two brief concurring opinions by Judge Duncan and Judge Wynn.

For additional coverage, check out these posts by Lyle Denniston (SCOTUSblog) and Steve Vladeck (Lawfare).


(Hat Tip: Jonathan Hafetz)

May 18, 2012 in Federal Courts, Recent Decisions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Wasserman on Rejecting Sovereign Immunity In Public Law Litigation

Howard Wasserman (FIU) has published Rejecting Sovereign Immunity in Public Law Litigation in Fordham's Res Gestae.

In ongoing marriage equality litigation, the named executive-officer defendants have declined to defend the constitutionality of the relevant laws in court. California's governor and attorney general refused to defend the constitutionality of Proposition 8; various federal cabinet officers, including Eric Holder, have refused to defend § 3 of DOMA in the strongest terms. This has lead to a scramble of other actors seeking to jump into the litigation to defend the constitutionality of the anti-equality law. In California, it was the sponsors of the popularly enacted law (who were allowed to defend in the trial court and appeal the adverse judgment to the Ninth Circuit); as to DOMA, it has been the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group ("BLAG"), a standing committee of the House leadership. Hall argues (in a piece he presented at the Junior Fed Courts Workshop in February) that this type of intervention is proper only if the intervenor-defendant can satisfy a form of independent defendant-specific standing, to ensure an Article III case-or-controversy with a genuinely adverse and interested defending party.

I argue in response that this really should not be a matter of Article III standing and we only talk about it in those terms because of sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity (of state and federal governments) prohibits private litigation against the government eo nomine (subject to some exceptions typically not applicable in constitutional litigation) and forces constitutional plaintiffs to sue responsible executive-branch officers under the theory of Ex Parte Young. But if we reject sovereign immunity, which arguably has no logical place in a republican system of government, we also eliminate the need for Young or the individual-officer workaround. We also eliminate the scramble of would-be intervenors that we have seen in the marriage equality cases. Plaintiffs can simply sue the state or the United States by name, giving us an unquestionably interested and adverse named defendant. The government then decides who is authorized to defend it (to "be" it) in court, when, and how.


May 17, 2012 in Federal Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Class Action Certified in NYC Stop-and-Frisk Lawsuit

Today the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted class certification in a lawsuit challenging the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program. The class is defined as “[a]ll persons who since January 31, 2005 have been, or in the future will be, subjected to the New York Police Department’s policies and/or widespread customs or practices of stopping, or stopping and frisking, persons in the absence of a reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity has taken, is taking, or is about to take place in violation of the Fourth Amendment, including persons stopped or stopped and frisked on the basis of being Black or Latino in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Judge Shira Scheindlin’s 56-page opinion addresses several aspects of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, noting that “even after Wal-Mart, Rule 23(b)(2) suits remain appropriate mechanisms for obtaining injunctive relief in cases where a centralized policy is alleged to impact a large class of plaintiffs, even when the magnitude (and existence) of the impact may vary by class member” and that “[s]ince Wal-Mart, at least three district courts have granted class certification in cases alleging Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations due to a police department’s policy and/or practice of making unlawful stops and arrests; all of these courts have rejected the notion that the individual circumstances of a stop defeat commonality.” She also writes (footnotes omitted):

Plaintiffs allege that their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights are violated as a result of the NYPD’s policies and practices. As they argue, these claims raise “central and core questions of fact and law that, when answered, will resolve all class members’ Monell claims against the City.” In the terminology of Wal-Mart, a class wide proceeding here will “generate common answers” to these questions that are “apt to drive the resolution of the litigation.”

For additional coverage, check out (Ailsa Chang).


May 16, 2012 in Class Actions, In the News, Recent Decisions | Permalink | Comments (0)