Saturday, April 20, 2013

Boyd et al. on Clusters of Causes of Action in Federal Complaints

            The Journal of Empirical Legal Studies has published online an article by Christina L. Boyd, David A. Hoffman, Zoran Obradovic, and Kosta Ristovsk entitled "Building a Taxonomy of Litigation: Clusters of Causes of Action in Federal Complaints."


This project empirically explores civil litigation from its inception by examining the content of civil complaints. We utilize spectral cluster analysis on a newly compiled federal district court data set of causes of action in complaints to illustrate the relationship of legal claims to one another, the broader composition of lawsuits in trial courts, and the breadth of pleading in individual complaints. Our results shed light not only on the networks of legal theories in civil litigation but also on how lawsuits are classified and the strategies that plaintiffs and their attorneys employ when commencing litigation. This approach permits us to lay the foundation for a more precise and useful taxonomy of federal litigation than has been previously available, one that, after the Supreme Court's recent decisions in Bell Atlantic v. Twombly (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal (2009), has also arguably never been more relevant than it is today.


April 20, 2013 in Federal Courts, Recent Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Supreme Court Adopts Amendments to Federal Rules

This week the Supreme Court adopted the latest round of amendments to the Federal Rules. Unless Congress intervenes, the new rules will take effect on December 1, 2013. The Civil Rules amendments involve FRCPs 37 & 45.

Links to the Supreme Court orders adopting the rules are below:

More details about the amendments can be found in the September 2012 Report of the Judicial Conference.


April 20, 2013 in Federal Courts, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Decision of Interest: Erie and Donald Trump in the Ninth Circuit

Yesterday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided Makaeff v. Trump University, __ F.3d __, 2013 WL 1633097, No. 11-55016. As the opinion explains, “California law provides for the pre-trial dismissal of certain actions, known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, or SLAPPs, that ‘masquerade as ordinary lawsuits’ but are intended to deter ordinary people ‘from exercising their political or legal rights or to punish them for doing so.’” [Slip Op. 10] Ms. Makaeff invoked California's anti-SLAPP statute and moved to strike Trump University’s defamation counterclaim against her. The district court denied her motion, but the Ninth Circuit reverses and remands for the district court to apply California’s anti-SLAPP law and to consider whether Trump had shown “a reasonable probability of proving, by clear and convincing evidence, that Makaeff made her critical statements with actual malice.” [Slip Op. 32-33]

Two judges on the three-judge panel—Judge Kozinski and Judge Paez—author concurring opinions questioning whether California’s anti-SLAPP statute properly applies in federal court under the Erie doctrine. Here are some excerpts from Judge Kozinski’s concurrence [Slip Op. 32-37]:

I join Judge Wardlaw’s fine opinion because it faithfully applies our law, as announced in United States ex rel. Newsham v. Lockheed Missiles & Space Co., 190 F.3d 963, 973 (9th Cir. 1999), and its progeny. But I believe Newsham is wrong and should be reconsidered.

Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938), divided the law applicable to diversity cases into two broad categories. Overruling Swift v. Tyson, 41 U.S. 1 (1842), it held that state law, rather than federal common law, applies to matters of substance. Erie, 304 U.S. at 78–79. But when it comes to procedure, federal law governs. See Gasperini v. Ctr. for Humanities, Inc., 518 U.S. 415, 427 & n.7 (1996); see also Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 473 (1965) (“Erie and its offspring cast no doubt on the long-recognized power of Congress to prescribe housekeeping rules for federal courts . . . .”).

In most cases, it’s easy enough to tell whether a rule is substantive or procedural. Whether a defendant is liable in tort for a slip-and-fall, or has a Statute of Frauds defense to a contract claim, is controlled by state law. Just as clearly, the time to answer a complaint, the manner in which process is served, the methods and time limits for discovery, and whether the jury must be unanimous are controlled by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The latter is true, even though such procedural rules can affect outcomes and, hence, substantive rights. See Hanna, 380 U.S. at 471.

But the distinction between substance and procedure is not always clear-cut. While many rules are easily recognized as falling on one side or the other of the substance/procedure line, there are some close cases that call for a more nuanced analysis. See, e.g., Shady Grove Orthopedic Assocs., P.A. v. Allstate Ins. Co., 130 S. Ct. 1431, 1437 (2010); Gasperini, 518 U.S. at 428.…

Continue reading

April 18, 2013 in Federal Courts, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Recent Decisions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Schwartz on a Substantive Right to Class Proceedings

Michael Schwartz has posted his student note, A Substantive Right to Class Proceedings: The False Conflict Between the FAA and the NLRA to SSRN.  

In recent decades, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Federal Arbitration Act jurisprudence has greatly expanded the scope of enforceable arbitration agreements. In AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, decided in 2011, the Court held that a class arbitration waiver in a consumer contract was enforceable, despite state law to the contrary. In January 2012, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that, despite the Court’s holding in Concepcion, class waivers in employment arbitration agreements are unenforceable due to employees’ right under the National Labor Relations Act to engage in concerted activity. However, nearly all federal and state courts that have subsequently considered this question have declined to follow the NLRB and have enforced similar class waivers.

This Note argues that the NLRB was correct in declaring unenforceable class waivers in employment arbitration agreements. It concludes that because employees’ right to invoke class proceedings under the NLRA is a substantive rather than procedural right, the unwaivability of this right creates no conflict with the FAA, even under the Supreme Court’s broad interpretation of the statute.


April 18, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

SCOTUS Decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum

Today the Supreme Court decided Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. (No. 10-1491), a long-pending case involving the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). Although the Court is unanimous that the ATS does not provide jurisdiction in this particular case, there is a 5-4 split on the reasoning.

Chief Justice Roberts authors the majority opinion, joined by Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito. In addition, Justice Kennedy files a concurring opinion, and Justice Alito files a concurring opinion that Thomas joins.

Justice Breyer authors an opinion concurring in judgment, joined by Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan.


April 17, 2013 in Federal Courts, International/Comparative Law, Recent Decisions, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Supreme Court Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Dodge on Disaggregative Mechanisms

Jaime Dodge (University of Georgia) has posted Disaggregative Mechanisms: The New Frontier of Mass-Claims Resolution Without Class Actions to SSRN.

Aggregation has long been viewed as the primary if not sole vehicle for mass claims resolution. For a half-century, scholars have consistently viewed the consolidated litigation of similar claims through joinder, class actions and more recently multi-district litigation as the only mechanism for efficiently resolving mass claims. In this Article, I challenge that long-standing and fundamental conception. The Article seeks to reconceptualize our understanding of mass claims resolution, arguing that we are witnessing the birth of a second, unexplored branch of mass claims resolution mechanisms — which I term “disaggregative” dispute resolution systems because they lack the traditional aggregation of common questions that has been the hallmark of traditional mass claims litigation. Disaggregation returns to a focus on the individual akin to that of the single-plaintiff system, but uses either procedural or substantive streamlining, or a shift of costs to the defendant, to correct the asymmetries that prompted the creation of class actions. Many of our most innovative claims structures — from the BP GCCF and the fund created in the wake of the Costa Concordia disaster, to the common single-plaintiff arbitration clauses in consumer and employment agreements — use this new, bottom-up model of disaggregative mass claims resolution instead of the familiar top-down aggregative model.

These next-generation systems have been heralded as a significant advancement in mass claims resolution, capable of awarding more compensation to claimants more quickly and at lower cost than aggregate litigation. But like the single-plaintiff and aggregate litigation systems that preceded it, disaggregation has its flaws. Because the defendant typically designs these systems, they often give rise to questions about legitimacy and the accuracy of compensation. More shockingly, situating disaggregation within the existing doctrinal trends reveals that the rise of disaggregation allows corporations to avoid class actions in a far broader swath of cases than has previously been identified — such that class actions will, as a practical matter, proceed only at the defendant’s election, raising substantial questions about the viability of private actions as a mechanism for the enforcement of law. Yet, because these systems are the product of contract, attempts to restrict these systems have largely failed. The answer to these problems lies in an unlikely and potentially controversial approach: expanding rather than restricting the availability of disaggregation, by creating a public mechanism for disaggregation — comparable to the existing public aggregation mechanisms.


April 17, 2013 in Class Actions, Recent Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

SCOTUS decision in Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk: Article III, mootness, and Rule 68 (or not)

Today the Supreme Court decided Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk (No. 11-1059), which addresses whether collective action claims under the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) are “justiciable when the lone plaintiff’s individual claim becomes moot.” [Slip Op. 1]. The Court splits 5-4, with Justice Thomas writing the majority opinion (joined by Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, and Alito) and Justice Kagan writing the dissent (joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor).

The Third Circuit had held that the Symczyk’s claim was moot because the defendant had made a Rule 68 offer of judgment that would have “fully satisfied” her claim, even though the plaintiff did not accept the offer. Although there is a circuit split on “whether an un­accepted offer that fully satisfies a plaintiff ’s claim is sufficient to render the claim moot,” Justice Thomas and the majority decline to resolve it--finding that Symczyk had conceded the issue. [Slip Op. at 5.] They therefore “assume, without deciding, that petitioners’ Rule 68 offer mooted respond­ent’s individual claim” [Slip Op. 5], and they ultimately conclude [Slip Op. 6]:

In the absence of any claimant’s opting in, respondent’s suit became moot when her individual claim became moot, because she lacked any personal interest in representing others in this action. While the FLSA authorizes an aggrieved employee to bring an action on behalf of himself and “other employees similarly situated,” 29 U.S C. § 216(b), the mere presence of collective-action allegations in the complaint cannot save the suit from mootness once the individual claim is satisfied.

In dissent, Justice Kagan rejects the idea that Symczyk’s individual claim was moot, noting that “an unaccepted offer of judgment cannot moot a case.” [Dissenting Op. 3] She adds: “So a friendly suggestion to the Third Circuit: Rethink your mootness-by-unaccepted-offer theory. And a note to all other courts of appeals: Don’t try this at home.” [Dissenting Op. 4]

Given the majority’s failure to address whether an unaccepted Rule 68 offer renders a claim moot--and Justice Kagan's forceful critique of that notion--the broader implications of Genesis are unclear. If lower federal courts accept Justice Kagan’s “friendly suggestion,” then she would be correct that Genesis is “the most one-off of one-offs, explaining only what (the majority thinks) should happen to a proposed collective FLSA action when something that in fact never happens to an individual FLSA claim is errantly thought to have done so.” [Dissenting Op. 1]. But if any circuits continue to follow the mootness-by-unaccepted-offer theory, Genesis ratifies a strategy that allows “defendants to ‘pick off’ named plaintiffs with strategic Rule 68 offers before certification." [Slip Op. 3] Even on that point, the majority’s reasoning is confined to the FLSA scenario--rather than, say, Rule 23 class actions. Justice Thomas notes that “Rule 23 actions are fundamentally different from collective actions under the FLSA.” [Slip Op. 6].


April 16, 2013 in Federal Courts, Recent Decisions, Supreme Court Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

CALL FOR PAPERS: 6th Annual Junior Faculty Federal Courts Workshop

Brooklyn Law School will host the Sixth Annual Junior Faculty Federal Court Workshop on October 4-5, 2013.  The workshop pairs a senior scholar with a panel of junior scholars presenting works-in-progress.  Confirmed senior scholars will be announced shortly.

The workshop is open to non-tenured and recently tenured academics who teach and write in Federal Courts, Civil Rights Litigation, Civil Procedure, and other associated topics. Those who do not currently hold a faculty appointment but expect to do so beginning in fall 2014 are welcome. The program is also  open to scholars wanting to attend, read, and comment on papers but not present.  There is no registration fee.

The conference will begin with a dinner on Thursday, October 3, then panels on Friday, October 4 and Saturday, October 5. Each panel will consist of 4-5 junior scholars, with a senior scholar serving as moderator and commenter and leading a group discussion on the papers.  Brooklyn Law School will provide all meals for those attending the workshop, including a welcome dinner on Thursday and a reception on Friday.

Those wishing to present a paper must submit an Abstract by June 16, 2013. Papers will be selected by a committee of past participants; presenters will be notified by early July. Those planning to attend must register by August 26, 2013. 

We are setting up a web site and submission e-mail; we will provide all that information as the submission and registration dates draw near. Anyone wanting to submit right away can send abstracts to me at

In the meantime, please save the dates of October 4-5.

April 16, 2013 in Conferences/Symposia | Permalink | Comments (0)

Miller on the Deformation of Federal Civil Procedure

Now available online is an article by Arthur Miller (NYU) entitled Simplified Pleading, Meaningful Days in Court, and Trials on the Merits: Reflections on the Deformation of Federal Procedure, 88 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 286 (2013). Here’s the abstract:

When the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were promulgated in 1938, they reflected a policy of citizen access for civil disputes and sought to promote their resolution on the merits rather than on the basis of the technicalities that characterized earlier procedural systems. The federal courts applied that philosophy of procedure for many years. However, the last quarter century has seen a dramatic contrary shift in the way the federal courts, especially the U.S. Supreme Court, have interpreted and applied the Federal Rules and other procedural matters. This shift has produced the increasingly early procedural disposition of cases prior to trial. Indeed, civil trials, especially jury trials, are very few and far between today.

The author examines the significant manifestations of this dramatic change, and traces the shift in judicial attitude back to the three pro-summary judgment decisions by the Supreme Court in 1986. Furthermore, he goes on to discuss the judicial gatekeeping that has emerged regarding (1) expert testimony, (2) the constriction of class action certification, (3) the enforcement of arbitration clauses in an extraordinary array of contracts (many adhesive in character), (4) the Court’s abandonment of notice pleading in favor of plausibility pleading (which, in effect, is a return to fact pleading), (5) the intimations of a potential narrowing of the reach of in personam jurisdiction, and (6) a number of limitations on pretrial discovery that have resulted from Rule amendments during the last twenty-five years.

All of these changes restrict the ability of plaintiffs to reach a determination of their claims’ merits, which has resulted in a narrowing effect on citizen access to a meaningful day in court. Beyond that, these restrictive procedural developments work against the effectiveness of private litigation to enforce various public policies involving such matters as civil rights, antitrust, employment discrimination, and securities regulation.

Concerns about abusive and frivolous litigation, threats of extortionate settlements, and the high cost of today’s large-scale lawsuits motivate these deviations from the original philosophy of the Federal Rules, but these concerns fail to take proper account of other systemic values. The author argues that these assertions are speculative and not empirically justified, are overstated, and simply reflect the self-interest of various groups that seek to terminate claims asserted against them as early as possible to avoid both discovery and a trial. Indeed, they simply may reflect a strong pro-business and pro-government orientation of today’s federal judiciary. The author cautions that some restoration of the earlier underlying philosophy of the Federal Rules is necessary if we are to preserve the procedural principles that should underlie our civil justice system and maintain the viability of private litigation as an adjunct to government regulation for the enforcement of important societal policies and values.


April 16, 2013 in Class Actions, Discovery, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Recent Scholarship, Supreme Court Cases, Twombly/Iqbal | Permalink | Comments (0)

Mullenix on Sachs on Personal Jurisdiction

Now available on the Courts Law section of JOTWELL is an essay by Linda Mullenix (Texas) entitled Fixing Personal Jurisdiction. It reviews a recent article by Stephen Sachs (Duke), How Congress Should Fix Personal Jurisdiction.


April 16, 2013 in Recent Scholarship, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 15, 2013

SCOTUS Cert Grant on Younger Abstention: Sprint v. Jacobs

Today the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Sprint Communications Co., L.P. v. Jacobs (No. 12-815). Here is the question presented:

Whether the Eighth Circuit erred by concluding, in conflict with decisions of nine other circuits and this Court, that Younger abstention is warranted not only when there is a related state proceeding that is “coercive” but also when there is a related state proceeding that is, instead, “remedial.”

You can find a link to the Eighth Circuit’s decision below and other information about the case at SCOTUSblog’s casefile.


April 15, 2013 in Federal Courts, Supreme Court Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)