Thursday, August 17, 2017
This week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued its decision in Block v. Tanenhaus, reinstating a Loyola University professor’s claims for defamation and false light against the New York Times and two of its authors. The per curiam opinion acknowledges, but does not resolve, the interesting question of whether state “anti-SLAPP” statutes—such as Louisiana’s Article 971—apply in federal court under Erie:
Block argues that Article 971 is not applicable in federal court because it is procedural and because, even if it is substantive, it is in direct collision with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The applicability of state anti-SLAPP statutes in federal court is an important and unresolved issue in this circuit.2 Unfortunately for Block, his arguments against application of Article 971 have been forfeited.
Footnote 2 describes the state of play in the Fifth Circuit:
We have noted on several occasions that this is an open question. See, e.g., Block, 815 F.3d at 221; Cuba v. Pylant, 814 F.3d 701, 706 & n.6 (5th Cir. 2016); Lozovyy, 813 F.3d at 582–83; Culbertson v. Lykos, 790 F.3d 608, 631 (5th Cir. 2015); Mitchell v. Hood, 614 F. App’x 137, 139 n.1 (5th Cir. 2015); NCDR, L.L.C. v. Mauze & Bagby, P.L.L.C., 745 F.3d 742, 752–53 (5th Cir. 2014). These opinions post-date our decision in Henry v. Lake Charles American Press, L.L.C., 566 F.3d 164 (5th Cir. 2009), which stated without explanation that “Louisiana law, including the nominally-procedural Article 971, governs this diversity case.” Id. 168–69. In Lozovyy, we noted the possibility that, particularly in light of our subsequent decisions, Henry could be interpreted as assuming the applicability of Article 971 for purposes of that case without deciding its applicability in federal courts more generally. Lozovyy, 813 F.3d at 582–83. Similarly, we noted in Pylant that Henry did not address “whether, under the Erie doctrine, the array of state procedural rules surrounding anti-SLAPP motions to dismiss (viz. discovery stays, accelerated timetables for decision, and the like) follow the core anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss into federal court.” Pylant, 814 F.3d at 706 n.6; cf. id. at 719 (Graves, J., dissenting) (addressing Erie question not reached by majority opinion and stating that similar anti-SLAPP statute in Texas is inapplicable in federal court because it is procedural (citing Abbas v. Foreign Policy Grp., LLC, 783 F.3d 1328, 1333 (D.C. Cir. 2015)).
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Last year we covered an interesting but somewhat obscure issue that came up in connection with the 2015 and 2016 amendments to Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Inconsistencies in the text of these two amendments left it unclear which kinds of service were explicitly exempted from Rule 4(m)’s presumptive 90-day deadline for serving process. The situation prompted a letter to Congress by Sixth Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton, who was then the chair of the Standing Committee, seeking to clarify what the “net effect” of the two amendments would be.
This spring, the Supreme Court approved a new amendment that will remove any uncertainty on this question. Under the 2017 amendment, Rule 4(m) will read as follows:
If a defendant is not served within 90 days after the complaint is filed, the court--on motion or on its own after notice to the plaintiff--must dismiss the action without prejudice against that defendant or order that service be made within a specified time. But if the plaintiff shows good cause for the failure, the court must extend the time for service for an appropriate period. This subdivision (m) does not apply to service in a foreign country under Rule 4(f), 4(h)(2), or 4(j)(1), or to service of a notice under Rule 71.1(d)(3)(A).
Unless Congress intervenes, this amendment will go into effect on December 1, 2017.
Tuesday, June 27, 2017
On the last day of opinions for the October 2016 Term, the Court handed down decisions involving a range of civil procedure and federal courts issues:
- In California Public Employees’ Retirement System v. ANZ Securities, Inc., the Court held that the American Pipe tolling rule for class actions does not apply to the 3-year statute of repose in § 13 of the 1933 Securities Act.
- In Davila v. Davis, the Court held that, for purposes of a federal habeas petition, ineffective assistance by the prisoner’s state postconviction counsel cannot excuse a defaulted claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel.
- In Hernandez v. Mesa, which “involves a tragic cross-border incident in which a United States Border Patrol agent standing on United States soil shot and killed a Mexican national standing on Mexican soil,” the Court remanded the case for the Fifth Circuit to reconsider its rulings on Bivens and qualified immunity.
- In Trump. v. International Refugee Assistance Project, the Court granted certiorari to review two rulings that enjoined Trump’s executive orders on immigration. Pending review, the Court stayed those injunctions “with respect to foreign nationals who lack any bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”
Tuesday, June 20, 2017
Yesterday the Supreme Court issued its decision in Ziglar v. Abbasi, covered earlier here and here. By a 4-2 vote, the Court reversed the Second Circuit and ordered the dismissal of most of the plaintiffs’ claims that they were subjected to discriminatory and punitive treatment during their confinement following the 9/11 attacks. Justice Kennedy wrote the Opinion of the Court, joined (though not in its entirety) by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito. Justice Breyer wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Ginsburg. Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, and Gorsuch took no part (Justices Sotomayor and Kagan recused themselves, and Justice Gorsuch was not on the Court at the time of oral argument). Although the cert. petitions presented three issues—Bivens, qualified immunity, and pleading standards—the bulk of the majority’s reasoning and analysis focused on Bivens.
Here are the concluding paragraphs from Justice Kennedy’s opinion:
If the facts alleged in the complaint are true, then what happened to respondents in the days following September 11 was tragic. Nothing in this opinion should be read to condone the treatment to which they contend they were subjected. The question before the Court, however, is not whether petitioners’ alleged conduct was proper, nor whether it gave decent respect to respondents’ dignity and well-being, nor whether it was in keeping with the idea of the rule of law that must inspire us even in times of crisis.
Instead, the question with respect to the Bivens claims is whether to allow an action for money damages in the absence of congressional authorization. For the reasons given above, the Court answers that question in the negative as to the detention policy claims. As to the prisoner abuse claim, because the briefs have not concentrated on that issue, the Court remands to allow the Court of Appeals to consider the claim in light of the Bivens analysis set forth above.
The question with respect to the §1985(3) claim is whether a reasonable officer in petitioners’ position would have known the alleged conduct was an unlawful conspiracy. For the reasons given above, the Court answers that question, too, in the negative.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed as to all of the claims except the prisoner abuse claim against Warden Hasty. The judgment of the Court of Appeals with respect to that claim is vacated, and that case is remanded for further proceedings.
For more detailed coverage, check out:
Monday, June 12, 2017
Today the Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision in Microsoft Corp. v. Baker, a case for which cert was granted nearly a year and a half ago. The plaintiffs in the case had sought certification of a class action, but the district court refused. After failing to receive permission to appeal the class-certification ruling under Rule 23(f), the plaintiffs (in the words of Justice Ginsburg’s majority opinion) “stipulated to a voluntary dismissal of their claims ‘with prejudice,’ but reserved the right to revive their claims should the Court of Appeals reverse the District Court’s certification denial.”
Today’s decision finds that such a stipulated voluntary dismissal did not create appellate jurisdiction, although the Court splits 5-3 on the basis for that conclusion. Joined by Justices Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan, Justice Ginsburg writes:
We hold that the voluntary dismissal essayed by respondents does not qualify as a “final decision” within the compass of §1291. The tactic would undermine §1291’s firm finality principle, designed to guard against piecemeal appeals, and subvert the balanced solution Rule 23(f) put in place for immediate review of class-action orders.
A concurring opinion by Justice Thomas (joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito) concludes that there was a “final decision” for purposes of § 1291, because the district court’s order “dismissed all of the plaintiffs’ claims with prejudice and left nothing for the District Court to do but execute the judgment.” Justice Thomas, however, reasons that “the Court of Appeals lacked jurisdiction under Article III of the Constitution,” because “[w]hen the plaintiffs asked the District Court to dismiss their claims, they consented to the judgment against them and disavowed any right to relief from Microsoft.”
Justice Gorsuch—who was not yet on the Court at the time of oral argument—took no part in the case.
Today the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in Oil States Energy Services LLC v. Greene’s Energy Group, LLC, limited to the following question:
Whether inter partes review—an adversarial process used by the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to analyze the validity of existing patents— violates the Constitution by extinguishing private property rights through a non-Article III forum without a jury.
You can find all the cert-stage briefing—and follow the merits briefs as they come in—at SCOTUSblog.
Wednesday, June 7, 2017
This week on the Courts Law section of JOTWELL is Marin Levy’s essay, Rethinking Judicial Independence. Marin review’s Tara Grove’s recent article, The Origins (and Fragility) of Judicial Independence, which is forthcoming in the Vanderbilt Law Review.
Tuesday, June 6, 2017
Yesterday the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Town of Chester v. Laroe Estates, Inc., covered earlier here and here. Justice Alito’s opinion for the Court decides the case on very narrow grounds—here’s how it begins:
Must a litigant possess Article III standing in order to intervene of right under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a)(2)? The parties do not dispute—and we hold—that such an intervenor must meet the requirements of Article III if the intervenor wishes to pursue relief not requested by a plaintiff. In the present case, it is unclear whether the intervenor seeks different relief, and the Court of Appeals did not resolve this threshold issue. Accordingly, we vacate the judgment and remand for that court to determine whether the intervenor seeks such additional relief.
Thursday, May 11, 2017
Justin Murray has published A Contextual Approach to Harmless Error Review, 130 Harv. L. Rev. 1791 (2017). Here’s the abstract:
Harmless error review is profoundly important, but arguably broken, in the form that courts currently employ it in criminal cases. One significant reason for this brokenness lies in the dissonance between the reductionism of modern harmless error methodology and the diverse normative ambitions of criminal procedure. Nearly all harmless error rules used by courts today focus exclusively on whether the procedural error under review affected the result of a judicial proceeding. I refer to these rules as “result-based harmless error review.” The singular preoccupation of result-based harmless error review with the outputs of criminal processes stands in marked contrast with criminal procedure’s broader ethical vision, which also encompasses non-result-related interests such as providing defendants with space for autonomous decisionmaking, enforcing compliance with nondiscrimination norms, and making transparent the inner workings of criminal justice.
The vast scholarship relating to result-based harmless error review, though deeply critical of its current role in the administration of justice, has not put forward an alternative method of harmless error review that courts might realistically consider using. Commentators in this area have devoted much of their energy toward persuading courts to exempt large swaths of criminal procedure from harmless error review entirely and thus to require automatic reversal for errors involving exempted rules. Instead, courts have done just the opposite by subjecting an ever-expanding list of errors to harmless error review, and there is no reason to think this trend will abate in the foreseeable future.
I attempt in this Article to chart a different course. My proposal, called “contextual harmless error review,” has two essential features. First, it would assess harm in relation to the constellation of interests served by the particular procedural rule that was infringed and would not, as under existing law, automatically confine the harmless error inquiry to estimating the error’s effect on the outcome. Second, contextual harmless error review would examine whether the error harmed the interests identified in the first step of the analysis to a degree substantial enough to justify reversal.
Brandon Garrett has published a response, Patterns of Error, 130 Harv. L. Rev. F. 287 (2017).
Wednesday, May 3, 2017
Here is the announcement:
The AALS Section on Federal Courts is pleased to announce that it is seeking nominations for the new Daniel J. Meltzer Award, which is designed to honor the life and work of the late Professor Meltzer. The Award will recognize a professor of Federal Courts who has exemplified over the course of their career Professor Meltzer’s excellence in teaching, careful and ground-breaking scholarship, engagement in issues of public importance, generosity as a colleague, and overall contribution to the field of Federal Courts. Eligible nominees are those who are full-time faculty members at AALS member or affiliate schools and have not served as an officer of the Federal Courts Section in the two previous years. It is not required that the award be given out in any particular year, and it may not be given out more frequently than every three years. Nominations (and questions about the award) should be directed to Prof. Curtis Bradley at Duke University School of Law (email@example.com). Without exception, all nominations must be received by 11:59 p.m. (EDT) on September 15, 2017. Nominations will be reviewed by a prize committee consisting of Professors Curtis Bradley (Duke), John Manning (Harvard), Judith Resnik (Yale), Amanda Tyler (Berkeley), and Ernest Young (Duke). If the committee decides to make the award, it will be announced at the Federal Courts section program at the 2018 AALS Annual Meeting in San Diego, California.
[Update: Nominees may include emeritus professors who previously were members of the full-time faculty of an AALS member or affiliate school.]
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
Yesterday the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela v. Helmerich & Payne Int’l Drilling Co., covered earlier here. The case involves the expropriation exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), which provides that foreign states are not immune from jurisdiction in U.S. courts when, among other things, “rights in property taken in violation of international law are in issue.”
Justice Breyer’s opinion concludes that it is not sufficient to “make a ‘nonfrivolous’ argument that the case falls within the scope of the exception.”
Rather, state and federal courts can maintain jurisdiction to hear the merits of a case only if they find that the property in which the party claims to hold rights was indeed “property taken in violation of international law.” Put differently, the relevant factual allegations must make out a legally valid claim that a certain kind of right is at issue (property rights) and that the relevant property was taken in a certain way (in violation of international law). A good argument to that effect is not sufficient. But a court normally need not resolve, as a jurisdictional matter, disputes about whether a party actually held rights in that property; those questions remain for the merits phase of the litigation.
Moreover, where jurisdictional questions turn upon further factual development, the trial judge may take evidence and resolve relevant factual disputes. But, consistent with foreign sovereign immunity’s basic objective, namely, to free a foreign sovereign from suit, the court should normally resolve those factual disputes and reach a decision about immunity as near to the outset of the case as is reasonably possible. See Verlinden B. V. v. Central Bank of Nigeria, 461 U. S. 480, 493–494 (1983).
Part III of the opinion contrasts the FSIA with 28 U.S.C. § 1331, finding that Bell v. Hood’s approach to the existence of a federal question does not apply to the FSIA’s expropriation exception.
Justice Gorsuch took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
Monday, May 1, 2017
Today the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Patchak v. Zinke, which will address the separation-of-powers principles stemming from United States v. Klein. The grant is limited to the first question presented:
Does a statute directing the federal courts to “promptly dismiss” a pending lawsuit following substantive determinations by the courts (including this Court’s determination that the “suit may proceed”)—without amending underlying substantive or procedural laws—violate the Constitution’s separation of powers principles?
You can find all the cert-stage briefing—and follow the merits briefs as they come in—at SCOTUSblog.
Monday, April 17, 2017
Today’s oral arguments at the Supreme Court featured lots of civil procedure and federal courts issues. Transcripts below:
- Perry v. Merit Systems Protection Board (earlier coverage here)
- Town of Chester v. Laroe Estates (earlier coverage here)
- California Public Employees Retirement System v. ANZ Securities (earlier coverage here)
Thursday, April 13, 2017
Michael Morley has posted on SSRN a draft of his essay, Spokeo: The Quasi-Hohfeldian Plaintiff and the Non-Federal Federal Question. Here’s the abstract:
In Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, the Supreme Court held that, to have a justiciable claim in federal court under a federal statute, a plaintiff must show that it suffered a “particularized” and “concrete” injury. Even when Congress creates a cause of action, Article III requires federal courts to ensure that the plaintiff has suffered a sufficiently concrete injury before exercising jurisdiction over its claim.
Spokeo requires us to re-think the traditional dichotomy between Hohfeldian plaintiffs, who have suffered concrete and particularized injury, and non-Hohfeldian (or ideological) plaintiffs, who have suffered no such harm. The case requires recognition of a third category: the quasi-Hohfeldian plaintiff, who has suffered a particularized injury because its statutory rights were violated, but no concrete harm because the violation caused no real damage. At first blush, Spokeo appears to bar quasi-Hohfeldian plaintiffs from federal court. Congress can easily allow federal courts to exercise jurisdiction over their claims, however, simply by statutorily redesignating such plaintiffs as relators, relabeling statutory damages as civil fines, and recharacterizing private rights of action as qui tam claims brought on behalf of the Government.
Friday, April 7, 2017
After changing the Senate rules yesterday to eliminate the possibility of a filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, the Senate has just confirmed Tenth Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch to the vacant seat on the Supreme Court. His first weeks on the job feature oral arguments in several cases raising civil procedure and federal courts issues.
Monday, April 17:
- Perry v. Merit Systems Protection Board
- Town of Chester v. Laroe Estates
- California Public Employees Retirement System v. ANZ Securities
Tuesday, April 25:
Thursday, April 6, 2017
Monday, April 3, 2017
This case presents the question this Court granted certiorari to resolve, but ultimately left undecided, in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 133 S. Ct. 1659 (2013): Whether the Alien Tort Statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1350, categorically forecloses corporate liability.
You can find all the cert-stage briefing—and follow the merits briefs as they come in—at SCOTUSblog.
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Several interesting civil procedure cases on the Supreme Court’s March 2017 oral argument calendar (more details in the links)...
Today (3/21): Microsoft v. Baker
Tomorrow (3/22): Water Splash v. Menon
Monday (3/27): TC Heartland v. Kraft Foods
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Michael Morley has posted on SSRN a draft of his article, The Federal Equity Power. Here’s the abstract:
Erie killed general law. Due to statutory, constitutional, and fairness constraints, a federal court generally must apply state substantive law in diversity and supplemental jurisdiction cases.
Since our nation’s founding, however, federal courts have treated equity as an independent branch of general law, binding of its own force in all cases that come before them. In Guaranty Trust Co. v. York, the Supreme Court held that, notwithstanding Erie, federal courts may continue to rely on traditional principles of equity derived from the English Court of Chancery to determine the availability of equitable relief, such as injunctions, receiverships, and equitable liens, in cases arising under state law. This so-called “equitable remedial rights doctrine” is based on an anachronistic misunderstanding of the nature of the federal equity power. This Article offers a bold new approach to understanding the nature and limits of the federal equity power.
There is no single body of equity law that federal courts must apply in all cases that come before them. In cases arising under state law, there is no basis in the Constitution, federal law, or Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for courts to impose their own equitable standards for relief. Rights and remedies are inextricably intertwined. The manner in which state-created rights are protected is as much a matter of substantive state policy as the state’s initial creation and allocation of those rights. A federal court must apply state statutes and precedents — not uniform, centrally devised federal standards — to determine the availability of equitable relief for state-law claims.
Conversely, for cases arising under federal statutes, the equitable principles that apply are a question of statutory interpretation. When a federal law authorizes equitable relief, a court may presume Congress intended to incorporate traditional equitable principles, absent a clear statement to the contrary in the law’s text or legislative history. And for constitutional cases, federal courts may presumptively apply traditional equitable principles as a matter of constitutional common law, unless Congress chooses to displace it. Thus, contrary to received wisdom, there is no single federal equity law. The scope of equitable relief a federal court may afford depends on the underlying law from which a claim arose.
Friday, March 10, 2017
We covered earlier several bills that could make significant changes to federal civil procedure. Two of these passed the House of Representatives yesterday.
- H.R. 725 (the Innocent Party Protection Act) passed by a vote of 224–194.
- H.R. 985 (the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act) passed by a vote of 220-201-1.
Stay tuned. Getting to 60 votes in the Senate will be a more difficult proposition.