Monday, May 14, 2018
Four criminal defendants objected to being bound by full restraints during pretrial proceedings in their cases, but the District Court denied relief. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the use of such restraints was unconstitutional, even though each of the four criminal cases had ended prior to its decision. The question presented is whether the appeals were saved from mootness either because the defendants sought “class-like relief” in a “functional class action,” or because the challenged practice was “capable of repetition, yet evading review.”
The Court rejected both theories and found that the case was moot. In conclusion, however, Chief Justice Roberts observed:
None of this is to say that those who wish to challenge the use of full physical restraints in the Southern District lack any avenue for relief. In the course of this litigation the parties have touched upon several possible options. See, e.g., Tr. of Oral Arg. 12 (indicating circumstances under which detainees could bring a civil suit). Because we hold this case moot, we take no position on the question.
Tuesday, May 8, 2018
Ninth Circuit Decision in United States v. County of Maricopa: Joe Arpaio, Policymaker Liability & Issue Preclusion
Yesterday the Ninth Circuit issued a unanimous decision in United States v. County of Maricopa. The opinion begins:
The United States brought this action to halt racially discriminatory policing policies instituted by Joseph Arpaio, the former Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona. Under Arpaio’s leadership, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) routinely targeted Latino drivers and passengers for pretextual traffic stops aimed at detecting violations of federal immigration law. Based on that and other unlawful conduct, the United States sued Arpaio, MCSO, and the County of Maricopa under two statutes: Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d, and 34 U.S.C. § 12601 (formerly codified at 42 U.S.C. § 14141). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the United States on the claims relating to the unlawful traffic stops; the parties settled the remaining claims. Maricopa County is the lone appellant here. Its main contention is that it cannot be held liable for the unlawful traffic-stop policies implemented by Arpaio.
The panel’s decision affirms the district court’s ruling. It concludes that: (1) Arpaio was a final policymaker for the county; (2) policymaker liability applies under Title VI and § 12601; and (3) the county is bound as a matter of issue preclusion by the findings in the earlier litigation against Arpaio.
Friday, April 27, 2018
Yesterday the Supreme Court adopted amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (covered earlier here) and transmitted them to Congress. These amendments affect Rules 5, 23, 62, and 65.1. Unless Congress intervenes, they will take effect on December 1, 2018.
Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Yesterday the Supreme Court issued a 7-2 decision in Oil States Energy Services, LLC v. Greene’s Energy Group, LLC, covered earlier here. Justice Thomas’s majority opinion begins:
The Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, 35 U. S. C. §100 et seq., establishes a process called “inter partes review.” Under that process, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) is authorized to reconsider and to cancel an issued patent claim in limited circumstances. In this case, we address whether inter partes review violates Article III or the Seventh Amendment of the Constitution. We hold that it violates neither.
Justice Gorsuch writes a dissenting opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, arguing that the statutory scheme violates Article III: “Today’s decision may not represent a rout but it at least signals a retreat from Article III’s guarantees.”
Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Today the Supreme Court issued its decision in Jesner v. Arab Bank, PLC, which addresses whether corporations may be liable in actions brought under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), 28 U.S.C. § 1350. It’s a fractured decision, as evidenced by the following notation at the end of the syllabus:
KENNEDY, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II–B–1, and II–C, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and THOMAS, ALITO, and GORSUCH, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Parts II–A, II–B–2, II–B–3, and III, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and THOMAS, J., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a concurring opinion. ALITO, J., and GORSUCH, J., filed opinions concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. SOTOMAYOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which GINSBURG, BREYER, and KAGAN, JJ., joined.
There are 85 pages worth of opinions, but the very brief takeaway (from Part II-B-1 of Justice Kennedy’s opinion, slip op. at 19) is that “absent further action from Congress it would be inappropriate for courts to extend ATS liability to foreign corporations.”
And from Part II-C, slip op. at 27: “Accordingly, the Court holds that foreign corporations may not be defendants in suits brought under the ATS.”
Justice Sotomayor’s dissenting opinion argues that foreign corporations should not be categorically immune from liability under the ATS.
Monday, April 23, 2018
Today a panel of the Ninth Circuit issued its decision in Naruto v. Slater (the Monkey Selfie case), covered earlier here. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) brought suit as the next friend of Naruto, who “was a seven-year-old crested macaque that lived—and may still live—in a reserve on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia.” The majority opinion by Judge Carlos Bea begins:
We must determine whether a monkey may sue humans, corporations, and companies for damages and injunctive relief arising from claims of copyright infringement. Our court’s precedent requires us to conclude that the monkey’s claim has standing under Article III of the United States Constitution. Nonetheless, we conclude that this monkey—and all animals, since they are not human—lacks statutory standing under the Copyright Act.
Although the majority opinion stated that “[w]e gravely doubt that PETA can validly assert ‘next friend’ status to represent claims made for the monkey,” it wrote:
Even so, we must proceed to the merits because Naruto’s lack of a next friend does not destroy his standing to sue, as having a ‘case or controversy’ under Article III of the Constitution. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17, which authorizes “next friend” lawsuits, obligates the court “to consider whether [incompetent parties] are adequately protected,” even where they have no “next friend” or “guardian.” U.S. v. 30.64 Acres of Land, 795 F.2d 796, 805 (9th Cir. 1986). Within this obligation, the court has “broad discretion and need not appoint a guardian ad litem [or next friend] if it determines the person is or can be otherwise adequately protected.” Id. (citing Roberts v. Ohio Casualty Ins. Co., 2556 F.2d 35, 39 (5th Cir. 1958) (“Rule 17(c) does not make the appointment of a guardian ad litem mandatory.”)). See also Harris v. Mangum, 863 F.3d 1133, 1139 n.2 (9th Cir. 2017) (noting circumstances in which “appointing a guardian ad litem . . . could hinder the purpose of Rule 17(c),” and thus was not required). For example, “the court may find that the incompetent person’s interests would be adequately protected by the appointment of a lawyer.” Krain v. Smallwood, 880 F.2d 1119, 1121 (9th Cir. 1989) (citing Westcott v. United States Fidelity & Guaranty Co., 158 F.2d 20, 22 (4th Cir. 1946). Indeed, courts have done just this, and the fact that those courts did not then dismiss the case proves that the lack of a next friend does not destroy an incompetent party’s standing. See, e.g., Westcott, 158 F.2d at 22 (affirming judgment against minor who was represented by an attorney but not a guardian ad litem).
Proceeding to Naruto’s constitutional standing, the majority concluded that Naruto’s claim satisfied Article III:
Here, the complaint alleges that Naruto is the author and owner of the Monkey Selfies. The complaint further alleges that Naruto has suffered concrete and particularized economic harms as a result of the infringing conduct by the Appellees, harms that can be redressed by a judgment declaring Naruto as the author and owner of the Monkey Selfies.
In reaching these conclusions, the majority found that it was bound by an earlier Ninth Circuit decision—Cetacean Cmty. v. Bush, 386 F.3d 1169 (9th Cir. 2004). In a footnote, however, the majority argued that Cetacean was “incorrectly decided” and “needs reexamination.”
Ultimately, the panel found that the district court correctly dismissed the case because “Naruto—and, more broadly, animals other than humans—lack statutory standing to sue under the Copyright Act.”
Judge N.R. Smith wrote a concurring opinion that disagreed with the majority’s handling of PETA’s lack of next-friend standing.
Thursday, April 19, 2018
Today the Seventh Circuit issued its decision in City of Chicago v. Sessions. The court upheld an injunction blocking the Trump administration from imposing restrictions on recipients of federal public safety grants. Those restrictions included what is known as the “notice” condition, “mandating advance notice to federal authorities of the release date of persons in state or local custody who are believed to be aliens,” and what is known as the “access” condition, which “required the local correctional facility to ensure agents access to such facilities and meet with those persons.”
Among other things, Judge Rovner’s majority opinion (joined by Judge Bauer) affirmed the district court’s decision to impose an injunction on a nationwide basis:
The case before us presents an example of the type of case in which a district court should properly be able to apply an injunction nationwide. The case presents essentially a facial challenge to a policy applied nationwide, the balance of equities favors nationwide relief, and the format of the Byrne JAG grant itself renders individual relief ineffective to provide full relief.
Judge Manion dissented in part, arguing that “the entry of the nationwide injunction constituted an overstep of the district court’s authority.”
Wednesday, April 18, 2018
Last week the Ninth Circuit issued an order denying a joint motion to dismiss the appeal in NARUTO, a Crested Macaque, by and through his Next Friends, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Inc., v. DAVID JOHN SLATER (a.k.a. the Monkey Selfie case). Here is the full order:
Having reached a settlement, the parties moved—two months after oral argument—to dismiss the appeal and to vacate the lower court’s judgment. In denying the motion, the court noted that voluntary dismissals are permissive, not mandatory, under FRAP 42, and that “denying the motion to dismiss and declining to vacate the lower court judgment prevents the parties from manipulating precedent in a way that suits their institutional preferences.”
The court also observed that Naruto himself was not a party to the settlement between PETA and the appellees.
Tuesday, April 17, 2018
Agnieszka McPeak (Toledo Law) has published an article entitled Disappearing Data at 2018 Wis. L.R. 17, which considers the discovery implications of ephemeral social media platforms like Snapchat. Here's the abstract:
“Ephemeral” applications like Snapchat facilitate social interaction in a format that mimics the impermanence of face-to-face conversations. In the age of “big data” and the growing privacy concerns it raises, platforms offering ephemeral social media tools are meeting a market demand for smaller digital footprints. Additionally, these platforms are responding to regulatory pressure to embrace “privacy by design,” the idea that new technology should be built with privacy as a goal from the ground up. Indeed, ephemeral platforms, though imperfect in their impermanence, mark a positive shift in the direction of data minimization.
But the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide for broad discovery of electronically stored information. And they mandate, along with other rules, preservation of potentially relevant data in anticipation of litigation. Preservation duties for this new brand of ephemeral data, however, have not been clearly defined.
This article urges for a fair and balanced approach to defining preservation duties for disappearing data. While ephemeral content may be discoverable, onerous preservation duties are unwarranted and will negatively impact both corporate and individual litigants alike. For corporate interests, overly broad preservation duties lead to risk-averse companies stockpiling all things digital, often at great cost. For individuals, the law should recognize that mobile technology has become ubiquitous and social media is a key tool for personal expression, free speech, and social interaction. But individuals also have become the unwitting stewards of vast amounts of data, some of which is dynamic and ever-changing. Deletion or revision of personal information is a normal occurrence on social media platforms — indeed, some are a product of privacy by design. Overly broad preservation duties for individual litigants thus impose unwarranted burdens and are out of step with technological change.
Today the Supreme Court issued its decision in Wilson v. Sellers, covered earlier here. The Court splits 6-3 over the proper standard for assessing unexplained state court decisions in the context of federal habeas proceedings. Justice Breyer writes the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justice Gorsuch writes a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Thomas and Alito.
Justice Breyer’s majority opinion begins:
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) requires a prisoner who challenges (in a federal habeas court) a matter “adjudicated on the merits in State court” to show that the relevant state-court “decision” (1) “was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law,” or (2) “was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.” 28 U. S. C. §2254(d). Deciding whether a state court’s decision “involved” an unreasonable application of federal law or “was based on” an unreasonable determination of fact requires the federal habeas court to “train its attention on the particular reasons—both legal and factual—why state courts rejected a state prisoner’s federal claims,” Hittson v. Chatman, 576 U. S. ___, ___ (2015) (GINSBURG, J., concurring in denial of certiorari) (slip op., at 1), and to give appropriate deference to that decision, Harrington v. Richter, 562 U. S. 86, 101–102 (2011).
When the last state court to address the merits of the petitioner’s claims does not provide any reasons, however, this inquiry is “more difficult.” Here’s what federal the federal habeas court should do:
We hold that the federal court should “look through” the unexplained decision to the last related state-court decision that does provide a relevant rationale. It should then presume that the unexplained decision adopted the same reasoning. But the State may rebut the presumption by showing that the unexplained affirmance relied or most likely did rely on different grounds than the lower state court’s decision, such as alternative grounds for affirmance that were briefed or argued to the state supreme court or obvious in the record it reviewed.
This “look through” approach is different from the one urged by the State (and by the dissenters). That approach would have precluded federal habeas relief as long as a reasonable basis “could have supported” the state court’s rejection of the petitioner’s claims.
The big question going forward will be what is required to rebut the majority’s look-through presumption. One particular issue will be the extent to which the unreasonableness of the looked-through-to lower state court opinion will itself be a basis for rebutting the presumption that the highest state court adopted that same unreasonable reasoning. Justice Breyer indicates that “it is more likely that a state supreme court’s single word ‘affirm’ rests upon alternative grounds where the lower state court decision is unreasonable than, e.g., where the lower court rested on a state-law procedural ground” and that “the unreasonableness of the lower court’s decision itself provides some evidence that makes it less likely the state supreme court adopted the same reasoning.”
Justice Gorsuch’s dissent emphasizes this aspect of the majority opinion, calling it “welcome news of a sort.” He writes: “If, as the Court holds, the ‘look through’ presumption can be rebutted ‘where the lower state court decision is unreasonable,’ it’s hard to see what good it does.” It is not clear that the majority’s opinion goes as far as Justice Gorsuch suggests. But what will be sufficient to rebut the majority’s look-through presumption is likely to be a major issue in the wake of the Court’s decision.
Monday, April 16, 2018
Friday, April 13, 2018
Andrew Bradt and Zach Clopton have published their essay, MDL v. Trump: The Puzzle of Public Law in Multidistrict Litigation, 112 Nw. U. L. Rev. 905 (2018). Here’s the abstract:
Litigation against the Trump Administration has proliferated rapidly since the inauguration. As cases challenging executive actions, such as the “travel ban,” multiply in federal courts around the country, an important procedural question has so far not been considered—Should these sets of cases be consolidated in a single court under the Multidistrict Litigation Act? Multidistrict litigation, or MDL, has become one of the most prominent parts of federal litigation and offers substantial benefits by coordinating litigation pending in geographically dispersed federal courts. Arguably, those benefits would also accrue if “public law” cases were given MDL treatment. There also are some underappreciated strategic reasons why both plaintiffs and the government might want to invoke the MDL process in these cases—and we suspect that, sooner rather than later, one of these parties might give MDL a try.
In this Essay, we argue that although the MDL statute would allow for consolidation of these public law cases, there are prudential reasons why the judges in charge of MDL should stay their hands. In our view, these cases rarely achieve the efficiencies of most MDLs, and there is value to these cases undergoing scrutiny in multiple trial and appellate courts before they percolate upward to Supreme Court review. Moreover, consolidation of these cases would raise the political profile of the MDL process and thus might politicize the MDL itself as well as the selection of its judges. This politicization could undermine MDL’s primary role in mass tort litigation—and, indeed, it risks harming the national tort system more generally.
Wednesday, April 11, 2018
Leah Litman has posted on SSRN a draft of her article, Remedial Convergence and Collapse, which is forthcoming in the California Law Review. Here’s the abstract:
This Article describes and interrogates a phenomena of spillovers across remedies—how the legal standards governing the availability of remedies in cases regarding executive violations of individuals’ constitutional rights, particularly in the area of policing, have converged around similar ideas that narrow the availability of several different remedies. A similar set of limits restricts the availability of writs of habeas corpus to challenge criminal convictions, damages against government officials, the exclusion of evidence in criminal trials, and causes of action to sue federal officials for damages. The convergence results in considerable tension in the doctrine and notable effects in practice. For example, courts frequently deny one remedy on the ground that another remedy is available and preferable to the remedy that a party has sought. But when the same standard governs the availability of remedies that are supposed to substitute for one another, courts eliminate all remedies when they deny one of them. The remedial doctrines discussed in this article primarily address executive violations of constitutional rights, particularly violations that occur in the course of policing. Denying the availability of remedies in cases that involve policing and executive power replicates the racialized effects of policing in the federal courts and forsakes oversight and accountability in an area where it might be particularly needed.
Tuesday, April 10, 2018
Bryan Lammon has posted on SSRN a draft of his article, Finality, Appealability, and the Scope of Interlocutory Review, which will be published in the Washington Law Review. Here’s the abstract:
Most of the law of federal appellate jurisdiction comes from judicial interpretations of 28 U.S.C. § 1291. That statute gives the courts of appeals jurisdiction over only “final decisions” of the district courts. The federal courts have used this grant of jurisdiction to create most of the rules governing appellate jurisdiction. But those efforts have required giving many different meanings to the term “final decision.” And those many different meanings are to blame for much of the confusion, complexity, unpredictability, and inflexibility that plague this area of law. The literature has accordingly advocated reform that would base most of the law on something other than case-by-case interpretations of what it means for a decision to be final. Before any reform, however, it is crucial to understand the ways in which the federal courts have interpreted the term “final decision.”
This article unearths the three contexts in which courts have interpreted § 1291 to create three different kinds of rules: (1) rules about when district court proceedings have ended and parties can take the classic, end-of-proceedings appeal on the merits; (2) rules about when litigants can appeal before the end of those proceedings; and (3) rules limiting or expanding the scope of review in those appeals. Though related, these contexts are distinct and involve unique issues and interests. Successful reform must fill each of the roles that interpretations of the term “final decision” have played. In the meantime, federal courts could bring some much-needed candor and transparency to this area of law by acknowledging the three different ways in which they have used this term.
Monday, April 9, 2018
Now on the Courts Law section of JOTWELL is Suja Thomas’s essay, Take Down the List. Suja reviews an article by Miguel de Figueiredo, Alexandra Lahav & Peter Siegelman, Against Judicial Accountability: Evidence From the Six Month List.
Thursday, March 29, 2018
Maggie Gardner has posted on SSRN a draft of her article, Abstention at the Border, which will be published in the Virginia Law Review. Here’s the abstract:
The lower federal courts have been invoking “international comity abstention” to solve a wide array of problems in cross-border cases. In doing so, they are using a wide array of tests that vary not just across the circuits, but within them as well. That confusion will only grow, as both scholars and the Supreme Court have yet to clarify what exactly “international comity abstention” entails. Meanwhile, the breadth of “international comity abstention” stands in tension with the Supreme Court’s renewed embrace of the federal judiciary’s virtually unflagging obligation to exercise the jurisdiction given to the courts by Congress. Indeed, loose applications of “international comity abstention” risk undermining not only the interests of Congress, but the interests of the states as well.
This Article argues against “international comity abstention” both as a label and as a generic doctrine. As a label, it has led courts to conflate abstention with other comity doctrines that are not about abstention at all, increasing the risk of judicial error and jeopardizing federalism protections. And as a generic doctrine, it encourages judges to decline their jurisdiction too readily, in contrast to the Court’s emphasis on the principle of jurisdictional obligation. The solution, however, is not to deny all judicial discretion to decline jurisdiction. Even if such a complete bar on abstention were intended as an act of judicial humility, it may serve to empower the judiciary instead. Absolute rules, whether based on constitutional limits or strict textualism, can override or exclude the other branches’ views regarding the proper scope of transnational litigation in U.S. courts. Leaving some space for judicial discretion to decline jurisdiction also leaves some space for the other branches to continue that conversation.
In lieu of a single broad doctrine of “international comity abstention,” then, this Article proposes identifying more narrow bases for abstention in transnational litigation — bases that can be separately justified, candidly addressed, and analyzed through judicially manageable frameworks. In particular, the federal courts need a clear and consistent framework for when to stay cases in light of parallel litigation in foreign courts. A separate doctrine for deferring to foreign comprehensive remedial schemes may also be appropriate.
Evaluating the doctrinal design of abstention in transnational litigation also serves as a lens through which to revisit a long-standing debate: To the extent that the principle of jurisdictional obligation reflects separation-of-powers concerns, those concerns can be addressed without insisting that judges’ hands are tied. True judicial humility recognizes both Congress’s role in defining the federal courts’ jurisdiction and the impossibility of asking judges to read Congress’s mind. Leaving space for carefully cabined discretion in hard cases recognizes both the complexity of life and the continuing need for inter-branch dialogue.
Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Yesterday the Supreme Court heard oral argument in United States v. Hughes, a case involving how to identify the holding of a Supreme Court decision with no majority opinion. This issue traditionally (or at least for the last 40 years) has been analyzed using the rule from Marks v. United States, which states that the Court’s holding is “the position taken by those Members who concurred in the judgments on the narrowest grounds.” The particular fragmented decision at issue in Hughes is Freeman v. United States, in which the Court split 4-1-4 regarding when certain defendants are eligible to seek a sentence reduction based on a retroactive lowering of the sentencing guidelines.
Here is the transcript from yesterday’s argument. I was particularly interested in this observation by Justice Kagan [on pp.22-23 of the transcript], which occurs during a broader exchange in which Petitioner’s counsel is arguing against an approach to Marks that factors in the reasoning of dissenting Justices:
JUSTICE KAGAN: Well, Mr. Shumsky, I think -- I think your approach relies on dissents sometimes too, because take one of these logical subset cases. You have a concurrence that is a logical subset of the plurality. And you say, well, the concurrence controls. And that's true even as to times where the concurrence splits off with the plurality and joins with the dissent. So you're counting dissents too, I think.
Justice Kagan’s point highlights a concern I raise in my recent essay, Nonmajority Opinions and Biconditional Rules, 128 Yale L.J. F. 1 (2018). Some circuit judges interpreting Freeman have engaged in precisely this kind of reasoning regarding logical subsets, and Justice Kagan is exactly right that such an approach is really one that counts dissenting votes. Accordingly, in my view, to embrace this approach would be a departure from the prevailing understanding of Marks, and it would raise the same concerns that others have identified with allowing dissenting Justices to determine the binding content of Supreme Court decisions.
Three Terms ago, we held that one of multiple cases consolidated for multidistrict litigation under 28 U. S. C. §1407 is immediately appealable upon an order disposing of that case, regardless of whether any of the others remain pending. Gelboim v. Bank of America Corp., 574 U. S. ___ (2015). We left open, however, the question whether the same is true with respect to cases consolidated under Rule 42(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Id., at ___, n. 4 (slip op., at 7, n. 4). This case presents that question.
And the answer to that question is yes:
Rule 42(a) did not purport to alter the settled understanding of the consequences of consolidation. That understanding makes clear that when one of several consolidated cases is finally decided, a disappointed litigant is free to seek review of that decision in the court of appeals.
Monday, March 26, 2018
The final version of my essay Nonmajority Opinions and Biconditional Rules, 128 Yale L.J. F. 1 (2018), is out. Here’s the abstract:
In Hughes v. United States, the Supreme Court will revisit a thorny question: how to determine the precedential effect of decisions with no majority opinion. For four decades, the clearest instruction from the Court has been the rule from Marks v. United States: the Court’s holding is “the position taken by those Members who concurred in the judgments on the narrowest grounds.” The Marks rule raises particular concerns, however, when it is applied to biconditional rules. Biconditionals are distinctive in that they set a standard that dictates both success and failure for a given issue. More formulaically, they combine an if-then proposition (If A, then B) with its inverse (If Not-A, then Not-B).
Appellate courts on both sides of the circuit split that prompted the grant of certiorari in Hughes have overlooked the special features of biconditional rules. If the Supreme Court makes the same mistake, it could adopt a misguided approach that would unjustifiably create binding law without a sufficient consensus among the Justices involved in the precedent-setting case. This Essay identifies these concerns and proposes ways to apply Marks coherently to non-majority opinions that endorse biconditional rules.
The Supreme Court hears oral argument in Hughes tomorrow (3/27).
Friday, March 23, 2018
Bryan Lammon has posted on SSRN a draft of his article, Cumulative Finality, which will be published in the Georgia Law Review. Here’s the abstract:
A proper notice of appeal is a necessary first step in most federal appeals. But federal litigants sometimes file their notice of appeal early, before district court proceedings have ended. When those proceedings finally end and no new notice is filed, the law of cumulative finality determines what effect-if any-the premature notice has. Sometimes the notice is effective and the appeal proceeds as normal. Sometimes it's not, and litigants lose their right to appeal.
At least, that's how the law of cumulative finality looks from a distance. Up close, the courts of appeals are hopelessly divided on matters of cumulative finality. They disagree what law governs cumulative finality issues-whether they're governed solely by Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(2) or also by a common-law cumulative finality doctrine that preceded the rule-and under what conditions a premature notice of appeal is saved. Three distinct approaches to cumulative finality have emerged, resulting in a deep circuit split. To make matters worse, decisions within several of the circuits have applied different approaches, resulting in intra-circuit divides.
This Article offers a fix. Neither the text of the Rules of Appellate Procedure nor their history provide a clear cumulative finality rule. But looking to the practicalities of the issue suggests allowing a subsequent judgment to save any prematurely filed notice of appeal. Doing so imposes few costs while preserving litigants' right to appeal.
The current cumulative finality mess illuminates a larger issue with the appellate jurisdiction literature and its attendant reform efforts. The literature has long maligned the unnecessary complexity and uncertainty of the entire federal appellate jurisdiction regime and advocated reform. But most of that literature focuses on only one part of that regime-appeals before a final judgment. Equally important are issues with determining when district court proceedings have ended and parties thus have a right to appeal. Cumulative finality is only one piece in this other aspect of appellate jurisdiction. There are more. Successful reform might require establishing a new, clearer point at which parties have a right to appeal. So this other aspect of appellate jurisdiction needs similar attention if reform is to succeed.