May 16, 2013
Sequel to the Fifth Circuit’s Quorum Conundrum: Comer v. Murphy Oil II
Two years ago we covered the strange set of developments in Comer v. Murphy Oil USA, a class action lawsuit against a number of chemical and energy companies based on their alleged contribution to climate conditions that exacerbated the force and effect of Hurricane Katrina. The district court had dismissed the case on political question grounds, but a Fifth Circuit panel reversed — rejecting the political question argument and finding that the plaintiffs had standing. See 585 F.3d 855 (2009).
The en banc Fifth Circuit granted rehearing, although due to several recusals only nine of the sixteen Fifth Circuit judges were able to vote. Then one of those nine judges recused, thus depriving the en banc court of its quorum. However, the quorum-less en banc court chose not to revert to the Fifth Circuit panel’s decision, which would have reversed the district court’s dismissal and remanded the case for further proceedings. Rather, the quorum-less en banc court (per five of the remaining eight judges) dismissed the appeal in its entirety, thereby reinstating a district court ruling that had already been unanimously reversed by a three-judge Fifth Circuit panel. See 607 F.3d 1049 (2010).
In 2011, the plaintiffs filed a new lawsuit alleging many of the same claims. This week, a Fifth Circuit panel affirms the dismissal of that lawsuit, finding it barred by res judicata. In Comer II (No. 12-60291, May 14, 2013), the panel concludes that — despite the unusual chain of events at the Fifth Circuit two years ago — the first lawsuit satisfied all the elements of res judicata: “(1) the parties are identical or in privity; (2) the judgment in the prior action was rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction; (3) the prior action was concluded by a final judgment on the merits; and (4) the same claim or cause of action was involved in both actions.” [Slip Op. 7]
(Hat Tip: David Coale)
May 13, 2013
SCOTUS cert grant on the ability of in forma pauperis filers to amend their complaints under the Prison Litigation Reform Act
Whether the Sixth Circuit erred in holding—in conflict with all eleven other federal circuit courts of appeals—that the in forma pauperis statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), prohibits indigent defendants from amending their complaints.
You can find a link to the decision below and the cert-stage briefing at SCOTUSblog’s casefile.
May 03, 2013
Balkin on Erie
Over at Balkinization, Prof. Jack Balkin (Yale) has a post entitled Erie Railroad v. Tompkins and the New Deal Constitution. It begins:
Last week Richard Epstein and I were on a panel at AEI on the New Deal Constitution, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the decisions in Erie Railroad v. Tompkins and United States v. Carolene Products. The video is available here. Michael Greve kicks it off with a fifteen minute introduction to the two cases; Richard's talk begins about 14:30, and my talk begins about 24:55. I discussed both Erie and Carolene Products in my talk; in this blog post, I will say a few words about Erie.
Erie is often associated with the New Deal, because it resulted in a kind of federal judicial restraint. Henceforth, federal courts had to defer to state common law decisions in diversity cases. Nevertheless, in my talk, I pointed out that Erie's connection to New Deal ideas was quite contingent. If Erie had been decided in 1948, after Darby and Wickard, rather than in 1938, the course of history might have looked very different. It might not have seemed all that important to overrule Swift v. Tyson, and Erie might have come out the other way.
April 25, 2013
Happy 75th Birthday, Erie!
Seventy-five years ago today, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938).
April 22, 2013
Is today's cert grant in Daimler v. Bauman a follow-up to Kiobel, or a follow-up to Goodyear?
Some early blog and twitter chatter casts the Supreme Court’s cert grant in DaimlerChrysler AG v. Bauman as a sequel to last week’s Kiobel decision on the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). Although Daimler is an ATS case, the Court does not seem poised to revisit its test (such as it is) for extraterritorial application of the ATS. The question presented in Daimler is about personal jurisdiction in general—actually, it’s about general personal jurisdiction in general. According to the defendant’s petition for certiorari, “[t]he question presented is whether it violates due process for a court to exercise general personal jurisdiction over a foreign corporation based solely on the fact that an indirect corporate subsidiary performs services on behalf of the defendant in the forum State.”
This question calls to mind an issue from the Court’s 2011 Goodyear decision—one that Justice Ginsburg’s unanimous opinion acknowledged but did not address. The petitioners in Goodyear were foreign subsidiaries of an American parent company, and they objected to personal jurisdiction in North Carolina state court. Here’s an excerpt from the end of the Court’s opinion [131 S. Ct. at 2857]:
Respondents belatedly assert a “single enterprise” theory, asking us to consolidate petitioners' ties to North Carolina with those of Goodyear USA and other Goodyear entities. See Brief for Respondents 44–50. In effect, respondents would have us pierce Goodyear corporate veils, at least for jurisdictional purposes. See Brilmayer & Paisley, Personal Jurisdiction and Substantive Legal Relations: Corporations, Conspiracies, and Agency, 74 Cal. L. Rev. 1, 14, 29–30 (1986) (merging parent and subsidiary for jurisdictional purposes requires an inquiry “comparable to the corporate law question of piercing the corporate veil”). But see 199 N.C.App., at 64, 681 S.E.2d, at 392 (North Carolina Court of Appeals understood that petitioners are “separate corporate entities ... not directly responsible for the presence in North Carolina of tires that they had manufactured”). Neither below nor in their brief in opposition to the petition for certiorari did respondents urge disregard of petitioners' discrete status as subsidiaries and treatment of all Goodyear entities as a “unitary business,” so that jurisdiction over the parent would draw in the subsidiaries as well.
One caveat, of course, is that the Supreme Court’s ultimate decisions do not always hew closely to the precise questions for which it has granted certiorari. But if the Court’s concern in Daimler is the extraterritorial application of the ATS, I suspect it would have GVR’d the case for reconsideration in light of Kiobel—as it did today with another Ninth Circuit ATS case (Rio Tinto v. Sarei).
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.
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:
- Rules of Appellate Procedure
- Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure
- Rules of Civil Procedure
- Rules of Criminal Procedure
- Rules of Evidence
More details about the amendments can be found in the September 2012 Report of the Judicial Conference.
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.…
Most of Newsham’s analysis was devoted to showing that there’s no “conflict” between California’s anti-SLAPP statute and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and, therefore, the two regimes can operate side-by-side in the same lawsuit. But the question of a conflict only arises if the state rule is substantive; state procedural rules have no application in federal court, no matter how little they interfere with the Federal Rules. Newsham’s mistake was that it engaged in conflict analysis without first determining whether the state rule is, in fact, substantive.
It’s not. The anti-SLAPP statute creates no substantive rights; it merely provides a procedural mechanism for vindicating existing rights. The language of the statute is procedural: Its mainspring is a “special motion to strike”; it contains provisions limiting discovery; it provides for sanctions for parties who bring a non-meritorious suit or motion; the court’s ruling on the potential success of plaintiff’s claim is not “admissible in evidence at any later stage of the case”; and an order granting or denying the special motion is immediately appealable. See Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 425.16. The statute deals only with the conduct of the lawsuit; it creates no rights independent of existing litigation; and its only purpose is the swift termination of certain lawsuits the legislators believed to be unduly burdensome. It is codified in the state code of civil procedure and the California Supreme Court has characterized it as a “procedural device to screen out meritless claims.” See Kibler v. N. Inyo Cnty. Local Hosp. Dist., 138 P.3d 193, 198 (Cal. 2006).
Federal courts must ignore state rules of procedure because it is Congress that has plenary authority over the procedures employed in federal court, and this power cannot be trenched upon by the states. See Erie, 304 U.S. at 78 (“[T]he law to be applied in any [diversity] case is the law of the State” except for “matters governed by the Federal Constitution or acts of Congress . . . .” (emphasis added)); see also 28 U.S.C. § 2072. To me, this is the beginning and the end of the analysis. Having determined that the state rule is quintessentially procedural, I would conclude it has no application in federal court.
Judge Kozinski concludes [Slip Op. 40]:
Newsham was a big mistake. Two other circuits have foolishly followed it. See Godin v. Schencks, 629 F.3d 79, 81, 85–91 (1st Cir. 2010); Henry v. Lake Charles Am. Press, L.L.C., 566 F.3d 164, 168–69 (5th Cir. 2009). I’ve read their opinions and find them no more persuasive than Newsham itself. It’s time we led the way back out of the wilderness. Federal courts have no business applying exotic state procedural rules which, of necessity, disrupt the comprehensive scheme embodied in the Federal Rules, our jurisdictional statutes and Supreme Court interpretations thereof.… [I]f this or another case were taken en banc, we could take a fresh look at the question. I believe we should.
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 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 15, 2013
SCOTUS Cert Grant on Younger Abstention: Sprint v. Jacobs
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 11, 2013
Andrews and Newman on Personal Jurisdiction in the Cloud
Damon Andrews and John Newman have posted Personal Jurisdiction and Choice of Law in the Cloud to SSRN.
Cloud computing has revolutionized how society interacts with, and via, technology. Though some early detractors criticized the “cloud” as being nothing more than an empty industry buzzword, we contend that by dovetailing communications and calculating processes for the first time in recorded history, cloud computing is — both practically and legally — a shift in prevailing paradigms. As a practical matter, the cloud brings with it a previously undreamt-of sense of location independence for both suppliers and consumers. And legally, the shift toward deploying computing ability as a service, rather than a product, represents an evolution to a contractual foundation for all relevant interactions.
Already, substantive cloud-related disputes have erupted in a variety of legal fields, including personal privacy, intellectual property, and antitrust, to name a few. Yet before courts can confront such issues, they must first address the two fundamental procedural questions of a lawsuit that form the bases of this Article — first, whether any law applies in the cloud, and, if so, which law ought to apply. Drawing upon novel analyses of analogous Internet jurisprudence, as well as concepts borrowed from disciplines ranging from economics to anthropology, this Article seeks to supply answers to these questions. To do so, we first identify a set of normative goals that jurisdictional and choice-of-law methodologies ought to seek to achieve in the unique context of cloud computing. With these goals in mind, we then supply structured analytical guidelines and suggested policy reforms to guide the continued development of jurisdiction and choice of law in the cloud.
March 29, 2013
Appellate Jurisdiction and Guantanamo
This week the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review denied petitions for writs of mandamus filed by the ACLU (order here) and a group of several media outlets (order here) in connection with the military commission trials at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The petitions were filed under the All Writs Act [28 U.S.C. § 1651(a)], and challenged a protective order issued by the Military Commission Judge. Among other things, the protective order authorizes automatic closure of proceedings and sealing of records whenever classified information is disclosed, even if the information is publicly known, and prohibits personal testimony by the defendants about their experiences while in U.S. custody.
The Court’s order does not address the merits of the petitioners’ arguments, or whether the All Writs Act is properly invoked in this context. Rather, it concludes that the case “is not ripe for our review.” From the order regarding the media petitioners:
This controversy is not ripe for our review. The judge has issued a protective order in accordance with Military Commission Act (MCA) Sec. 949p-3, 10 U.S.C. §949p-3. Petitioners have not alleged a single instance where the Military Commission Judge has improperly applied Amended Protective Order #1 to deny Petitioners access to information, sufficient to warrant the sort of extraordinary relief petitioners seek. See MCA Sec. 949d(c). See generally Clapper v. Amnesty International, 133 S. Ct. 1138 (2013); Cheney v. United States, 542 U.S. 367 (2004); Am. Civil Liberties Union v. U.S. Dep’t of Def., 628 F.3d 612 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (discussing classified information and Freedom of Information Act).
We emphasize the limited scope of our holding. We are not ruling on the merits of the parties claim that there is writ jurisdiction under the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1651(a).
Judge Silliman authored a concurring opinion urging the Court to address whether it has jurisdiction under the All Writs Act and arguing that 28 U.S.C. § 2241(e)(2) “explicitly stripped our Court of such jurisdiction.”
Steve Vladeck (American University) has more coverage at Lawfare.
March 27, 2013
SCOTUS Oral Argument in U.S. v. Windsor
As covered earlier (e.g., here, here, and here), Windsor presents some interesting issues relating to jurisdiction and Article III standing, to which the Court devoted the first half (almost an hour's worth) of the oral argument .
March 26, 2013
SCOTUS Oral Argument in Hollingsworth v. Perry
March 14, 2013
Goldberg on Article III standing in the SCOTUS same-sex marriage cases (Perry and Windsor)
The University of Pennsylvania Law Review Online has a featured essay by Suzanne B. Goldberg (Columbia) entitled Article III Double-Dipping: Proposition 8's Sponsors, BLAG, and the Government's Interest. It begins:
A major procedural question looms over the two marriage cases currently before the U.S. Supreme Court: Do the parties who seek to defend the marriage-recognition bans have standing to advance their views? The question arises because the governments that would have Article III standing, by virtue of their enforcement authority, are not defending their own laws. Instead, in Hollingsworth v. Perry, private parties are attempting to take up the state government’s mantle to defend Proposition 8, which withdrew marriage rights from same-sex couples in California. And in United States v. Windsor, five members of the House of Representatives leadership seek to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act in the name of the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group. Not only are these parties not clearly authorized by the appropriate legislative bodies to pursue such actions, but there are two more fundamental difficulties with the Perry petitioners’ and BLAG’s claims to standing. First, each presents the Article III double-dipping problem to which this Essay’s title refers. The problem arises because there are parties asserting the government’s interest and, therefore, the government’s standing, on both sides of each case. The second problem arises from the premise, essential to the standing claims of both the Perry petitioners and BLAG, that governments can confer their Article III standing on private actors and subsets of legislators. The difficulty is that the government’s standing derives from its interest in enforcing its laws, which is not an interest shared by either group. In this essay, I argue that both the double-dipping problem and the limits on a government’s ability to transfer its standing to private actors in this context leave Proposition 8’s sponsors and BLAG without Article III standing to press their positions. Nor can either group of would-be defenders demonstrate the “concrete and particularized” stake it would need to have standing in its own right rather than on the government’s behalf. In short, neither party can answer the Supreme Court’s question in the affirmative.
March 12, 2013
2012 Annual Report on Federal Courts Released
The Administrative Office of the United States Courts has just released its 2012 Annual Report of the Director. This report contains detailed statistics for all federal courts for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2012.
As reported earlier here, civil case filings fell 4% to 278,442, with cases involving diversity jurisdiction falling 15% from the previous year.
February 26, 2013
Sherry on Why Courts Can't Fix Erie
Suzanna Sherry (Vanderbilt) has posted A Pox on Both Your Houses: Why the Courts Can't Fix the Erie Doctrine to SSRN.As Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins celebrates its 75th anniversary, it is becoming more apparent that it is on a collision course with itself. The Court keeps trying – and failing – to sort out the tensions within the Erie doctrine and between it and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court’s latest Erie decision, Shady Grove, was yet another attempt to separate substance from procedure and navigate the strait between the Rules of Decision Act and the Rules Enabling Act. It was a disaster, in large part because of the internal incoherence of the Erie doctrine itself and its profound incompatibility with the guiding principles of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Shady Grove thus brings to the forefront the need for a normative choice between federal procedural uniformity and transsubstantivity on the one hand, and state authority on the other. I suggest that instead of filtering that normative choice through the convoluted and self-contradictory Erie doctrine, judges should confront it directly as they do in other contexts (including most prominently preemption doctrine). This suggestion in turn has implications far beyond the narrow Shady Grove issue.
SCOTUS Decision in Clapper v. Amnesty International: Article III Standing
Today the Supreme Court decided Clapper v. Amnesty International (No. 11-1025), covered earlier here. By a 5-to-4 vote, it found that the plaintiffs lacked Article III standing to challenge the 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Justice Alito wrote the majority opinion (joined by Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas) and Justice Breyer wrote the dissent (joined by Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan).
February 20, 2013
SCOTUS Opinion in Gunn v. Minton
Today the Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion in Gunn v. Minton, covered earlier here and here. The case revisits the recurring problem of when a federal law ingredient in a state law cause of action is sufficient for federal question jurisdiction (cases "arising under" federal law). It's a pretty quick turnaround--oral argument was on January 16.
Chief Justice Roberts authors the opinion, which endorses and applies the test developed eight years ago in Grable & Sons Metal Products, Inc. v. Darue Engineering & Mfg., 545 U. S. 308 (2005). Here’s one colorful passage on Grable [Slip Op. 6], which the Chief distills into a four-part test:
[E]ven where a claim finds its origins in state rather than federal law—as Minton’s legal malpractice claim indisputably does—we have identified a “special and small category” of cases in which arising under jurisdiction still lies. Empire HealthChoice Assurance, Inc. v. McVeigh, 547 U. S. 677, 699 (2006). In outlining the contours of this slim category, we do not paint on a blank canvas. Unfortunately, the canvas looks like one that Jackson Pollock got to first. See 13D C. Wright, A. Miller, E. Cooper, & R. Freer, Federal Practice and Procedure §3562, pp. 175–176 (3d ed. 2008) (reviewing general confusion on question).
In an effort to bring some order to this unruly doctrine several Terms ago, we condensed our prior cases into the following inquiry: Does the “state-law claim necessarily raise a stated federal issue, actually disputed and substantial, which a federal forum may entertain without disturbing any congressionally approved balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities”? Grable, 545 U. S., at 314. That is, federal jurisdiction over a state law claim will lie if a federal issue is: (1) necessarily raised, (2) actually disputed, (3) substantial, and (4) capable of resolution in federal court without disrupting the federal-state balance approved by Congress. Where all four of these requirements are met, we held, jurisdiction is proper because there is a “serious federal interest in claiming the advantages thought to be inherent in a federal forum,” which can be vindicated without disrupting Congress’s intended division of labor between state and federal courts. Id., at 313–314.
Applying Grable, the Court ultimately concludes that federal jurisdiction did not extend to Minton’s state law malpractice action, even though issues of federal patent law were “necessary” and “actually disputed” for purposes of requirements 1 and 2. As to the third requirement, Chief Justice Roberts writes [Slip Op. 8]:
[T]he federal issue in this case is not substantial in the relevant sense…. As our past cases show, … it is not enough that the federal issue be significant to the particular parties in the immediate suit; that will always be true when the state claim “necessarily raise[s]” a disputed federal issue, as Grable separately requires. The substantiality inquiry under Grable looks instead to the importance of the issue to the federal system as a whole.
The full discussion of the third requirement [Slip Op. 8-12] is worth a read, with some interesting discussion of the possible effect (or lack thereof) of state court malpractice actions on federal patent law and issue preclusion. As to the fourth requirement, the Chief Justice writes:
It follows from the foregoing that Grable’s fourth requirement is also not met. That requirement is concerned with the appropriate “balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities.” Ibid. We have already explained the absence of a substantial federal issue within the meaning of Grable. The States, on the other hand, have “a special responsibility for maintaining standards among members of the licensed professions.” Ohralik v. Ohio State Bar Assn., 436 U. S. 447, 460 (1978). Their “interest . . . in regulating lawyers is especially great since lawyers are essential to the primary governmental function of administering justice, and have historically been officers of the courts.” Goldfarb v. Virginia State Bar, 421 U. S. 773, 792 (1975) (internal quotation marks omitted).