Saturday, June 6, 2015
Over a year ago, I reported the posting of a draft of my article, The Civil Caseload of the Federal District Courts. It has now been revised and published in The University of Illinois Law Review, Vol. 2015, No. 3. The paper is also posted on SSRN.
This Article responds to changes proposed by Congress and the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules to restrict civil lawsuits by reforming procedure. It argues that while these changes are purported to be based on empirical studies, there is no reference to actual government statistics about whether the civil caseload has grown, whether the median disposition time has increased, or whether the most prevalent types of civil cases have changed. Based on statistics published by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, this Article shows that the civil docket has actually stagnated, not exploded. It first looks at trends in the overall volume and duration of federal civil litigation since 1986, suggests a proper methodology for measurement, and shows that the rate of increase of civil filings is less than the growth in the country’s population and the increase in judicial resources in civil cases, noting that any increase must be attributable to the criminal docket. Next, this Article studies the rates at which cases are terminated by various methods, noting today’s primary method is before pretrial with court action due to dispositive motions and judicial management. Third, this Article tracks and explains changes in the “Big Six” categories of civil litigation. Finally, this Article emphasizes the need to look at the government’s caseload statistics to note that the federal civil caseload has been relatively stable for twenty-five years.
Wednesday, June 3, 2015
Two weeks ago, federal district judge Callie Granade certified a class action in the Strawser case and issued a class-wide injunction forbidding enforcement of Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage. She stayed the injunction, however, until the U.S. Supreme Court issues its ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which is expected later this month.
In the meantime, two groups opposed to same-sex marriage have returned to the Alabama Supreme Court, seeking “clarification and reaffirmation” of that court’s earlier mandamus ruling ordering Alabama probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Yesterday’s motion asks the Alabama Supreme Court “to enter an order clarifying and reaffirming the continued effectiveness of the Mandamus Order despite entry of the conflicting Strawser Class Injunction.”
Monday, May 18, 2015
1. Whether a case becomes moot, and thus beyond the judicial power of Article III, when the plaintiff receives an offer of complete relief on his claim.
2. Whether the answer to the first question is any different when the plaintiff has asserted a class claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, but receives an offer of complete relief before any class is certified.
3. Whether the doctrine of derivative sovereign immunity recognized in Yearsley v. W.A. Ross Construction Co., 309 U.S. 18 (1940), for government contractors is restricted to claims arising out of property damage caused by public works projects.
You can see all of the cert-stage briefing, and keep track of the merits briefs as they come in, at SCOTUSblog.
Tuesday, May 5, 2015
Yesterday the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Bullard v. Blue Hills Bank. The opinion, authored by Chief Justice Roberts, begins:
Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code affords individuals receiving regular income an opportunity to obtain some relief from their debts while retaining their property. To proceed under Chapter 13, a debtor must propose a plan to use future income to repay a portion (or in the rare case all) of his debts over the next three to five years. If the bankruptcy court confirms the plan and the debtor successfully carries it out, he receives a discharge of his debts according to the plan.
The bankruptcy court may, however, decline to confirm a proposed repayment plan because it is inconsistent with the Code. Although the debtor is usually given an opportunity to submit a revised plan, he may be convinced that the original plan complied with the Code and that the bankruptcy court was wrong to deny confirmation. The question presented is whether such an order denying confirmation is a “final” order that the debtor can immediately appeal. We hold that it is not.
In the opinion, Roberts notes some of the differences between appealability in bankruptcy proceedings and in other kinds of federal litigation:
In ordinary civil litigation, a case in federal district court culminates in a “final decisio[n],” 28 U. S. C. §1291, a ruling “by which a district court disassociates itself from a case,” Swint v. Chambers County Comm’n, 514 U. S. 35, 42 (1995). A party can typically appeal as of right only from that final decision. This rule reflects the conclusion that “[p]ermitting piecemeal, prejudgment appeals . . . undermines ‘efficient judicial administration’ and encroaches upon the prerogatives of district court judges, who play a ‘special role’ in managing ongoing litigation.” Mohawk Industries, Inc. v. Carpenter, 558 U. S. 100, 106 (2009) (quoting Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Risjord, 449 U. S. 368, 374 (1981)).
The rules are different in bankruptcy. A bankruptcy case involves “an aggregation of individual controversies,” many of which would exist as stand-alone lawsuits but for the bankrupt status of the debtor. 1 Collier on Bankruptcy ¶5.08[b], p. 5–42 (16th ed. 2014). Accordingly, “Congress has long provided that orders in bankruptcy cases may be immediately appealed if they finally dispose of discrete disputes within the larger case.” Howard Delivery Service, Inc. v. Zurich American Ins. Co., 547 U. S. 651, 657, n. 3 (2006) (internal quotation marks and emphasis omitted). The current bankruptcy appeals statute reflects this approach: It authorizes appeals as of right not only from final judgments in cases but from “final judgments, orders, and decrees . . . in cases and proceedings.” §158(a).
Nonetheless, a court’s decision to reject a repayment plan but to give the debtor a chance to submit a revised plan does not qualify for an immediate appeal. Roberts explains:
Denial of confirmation with leave to amend, by contrast, changes little. The automatic stay persists. The parties’ rights and obligations remain unsettled. The trustee continues to collect funds from the debtor in anticipation of a different plan’s eventual confirmation. The possibility of discharge lives on. “Final” does not describe this state of affairs. An order denying confirmation does rule out the specific arrangement of relief embodied in a particular plan. But that alone does not make the denial final any more than, say, a car buyer’s declining to pay the sticker price is viewed as a “final” purchasing decision by either the buyer or seller. “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Today the Supreme Court adopted the recent batch of proposed amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Here is the order setting forth the amendments and submitting them to the House and Senate.
Absent congressional action, these amendments will become effective Dec. 1, 2015.
Note that today's order from the Court does not include a "redline" of the new changes or the committee notes that accompany them. Here are the redline and notes that were included in the Standing Committee report:
UPDATE: Valerie N (see comments below) reports that the Court has asked for two changes to the advisory committee notes. The entire package of materials--including the final version of the committee notes--is now available here.
Monday, April 27, 2015
Whether Congress may confer Article III standing upon a plaintiff who suffers no concrete harm, and who therefore could not otherwise invoke the jurisdiction of a federal court, by authorizing a private right of action based on a bare violation of a federal statute.
The Court granted cert. notwithstanding an invited brief from the Solicitor General arguing against review. That brief explained:
The court of appeals held that respondent had established Article III standing to sue petitioner “for publishing inaccurate personal information about [respondent]” because petitioner allegedly had violated respondent’s “statutory rights” protecting his “personal interests in the handling of his credit information.” Pet. App. 1a, 8a. The court below correctly concluded that the publication of such false information is a cognizable Article III injury.
You can find all the cert-stage briefing—and follow the merits briefs as they come in—at SCOTUSblog.
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Now available on the Courts Law section of JOTWELL is an essay by Sergio Campos entitled Standing (in) for the Government. Sergio reviews Seth Davis’s recent article, Standing Doctrine’s State Action Problem, 91 Notre Dame L. Rev. (forthcoming 2015).
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
Yesterday the Supreme Court decided Armstrong v. Exceptional Child Center, ruling by a 5-4 vote that Medicaid providers could not sue state officials for failing to comply with § 30(A) of the Medicaid Act (also known as the “equal access” provision). Justice Scalia writes the majority opinion, joined in full by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito. Justice Breyer joins part of Scalia’s opinion to provide the fifth vote, but also authors a separate concurring opinion. Justice Sotomayor writes the dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, and Kagan.
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
I started off this month talking about Erie, so here’s another Erie post to bring things full circle. Back in the fall, I was glad to participate in the Hastings Law Journal’s symposium on last Term’s SCOTUS decision in Atlantic Marine Construction Co. v. United States District Court. Atlantic Marine was a unanimous decision—authored by Justice Alito—on how and when to enforce forum-selection clauses in federal court. It’s a set of issues that only a civil procedure professor could love, and if you teach civil procedure Atlantic Marine may already be on your syllabus.
The symposium issue is now out. You can find links to all of the articles here, including contributions by Andrew Bradt, Kevin Clermont, Scott Dodson, Robin Effron, Linda Mullenix, Steve Sachs, and Brad Shannon. My piece is Atlantic Marine Through the Lens of Erie, and here’s the abstract:
The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Atlantic Marine clarified several things about the enforcement of forum-selection clauses in federal court. But something important was missing from Justice Alito’s opinion — the Erie doctrine. Erie, of course, helps to determine the applicability of state law in federal court, and state law potentially has a lot to say about contractual forum-selection clauses. Indeed, Erie was front and center the last time the Court confronted the enforcement of forum-selection clauses in federal court, when it decided Stewart Organization v. Ricoh a quarter century ago.
This article for the Hastings Law Journal’s symposium on Atlantic Marine examines that decision through the lens of Erie, and explores the role that Erie and state law should play in the Atlantic Marine framework. Atlantic Marine may appear at first glance to mandate virtually unflinching enforcement of forum-selection clauses. But Justice Alito’s approach in Atlantic Marine applies only when the forum-selection clause is “contractually valid.” Properly understood, Erie requires federal courts to look to state law to decide this question — at least in diversity cases. To allow federal courts to disregard state law in applying Atlantic Marine would raise several troubling Erie concerns: geographic relocation contrary to what would occur in state court; changing the substantive law that would govern the ultimate merits of the litigation in state court; and overriding state contract law and contractual remedies via the sort of federal common law that Erie forbids.
My thanks once again to the students, organizers, and panelists, as well as to the DJ who was able to find some Rod Stewart tracks without any advance notice. I learned a lot and had a great time.
[Cross-posted at PrawfsBlawg]
Thursday, March 26, 2015
Jill Lens has posted on SSRN a draft of her article, Stays Pending Appeal: Why the Merits Should Not Matter, which will be published in the Florida State University Law Review. Here’s the abstract:
In Nken v. Holder, the Supreme Court delineated the standards that should guide a court’s discretion in deciding whether to stay injunctive relief pending appeal. A “critical” factor is whether the stay applicant has made a “strong showing” of her likelihood to succeed on the merits of the appeal. Because of the critical label, it is not surprising to see courts issue long decisions extensively predicting the decision of the appellate court on the merits. To preserve her interest in judicial review, the stay applicant must effectively show that she will win the appeal.
Stays play an important role in appellate judicial review, but have received little academic commentary. This Article is the first to specifically argue against the evaluation of the merits within the decision to stay injunctive relief pending appeal. An evaluation of the merits, and the current emphasis on the factor, is not supported historically, theoretically, or practically. Instead the Court should look to whether a stay is necessary — due to any potentially changing circumstances, harm to the parties, and the public interest, similar to the other three Nken factors. The Article is also the first to argue that courts must explain their decisions on stays. Otherwise, the decisions seem unjustified, inconsistent, and illegitimate.
Friday, March 20, 2015
Katherine Macfarlane (Louisiana State University) has published in the Stanford Journal of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (Vol. 11, 2015) an article entitled A New Approach to Local Rules.
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure no longer govern all non-substantive decisions in federal civil litigation. Rather, control over a case’s procedural course has shifted to district courts’ local rules, of which there are currently more than 6,000. Despite the proliferation of local rules and their increasing importance, federal procedural scholarship remains focused on the Federal Rules. That scholarship is rigorous, highlighting the Federal Rules’ history and purpose, and proposing ways that the Rules might adapt to the evolving nature of federal litigation. Local rules should be subject to similar scrutiny. However, it is not enough to borrow theories applied to the Federal Rules. A new approach is needed.
Scrutiny of local rules must first consider how they are created. Though Federal Rules are amended through a process that requires public comment and debate, local rules are adopted or amended through a process that does not automatically give notice of impending changes to affected parties, nor does it provide all affected parties with a meaningful way to comment. Applying this new approach and its focus on meaningful notice and comment, the Article compares local patent rules to local rules governing pro se prisoner litigation, arguing that when parties are not allowed to participate in the local rule adoption and amendment process, the rules that result are procedurally and substantively unfair. Finally, it proposes how District Courts can ensure that all parties potentially affected by proposed local rules receive actual notice and a real opportunity to comment.
Friday, March 13, 2015
There’s an interesting paragraph in this week’s order from the Alabama Supreme Court, which confirmed that Mobile County probate judge Don Davis is subject to its earlier mandamus ruling even though he is also the subject of a federal-court injunction. In trying to make sense of this situation, Judge Davis had stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether.
Here’s what the Alabama Supreme Court said (emphasis mine) on p.9:
Section 30-1-9, Ala. Code 1975, provides that Judge Davis "may" issue “marriage licenses." To the extent he exercises this authority, he must issue those licenses in accordance with the meaning of the term "marriage" in that Code section and in accordance with other provisions of Alabama law, as discussed in our March 3 opinion.
Is the implication here that Judge Davis has no obligation to issue marriage licenses to anyone? That he can refuse to issue them across the board, just as long as no marriage licenses are issued to same-sex couples?
Meanwhile, expect some more activity in federal court next week. Judge Granade has ordered Judge Davis to file a response to the Strawser plaintiffs’ motion for class certification by Tuesday, March 17.
[Cross-posted at PrawfsBlawg]
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
The litigation over Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage has taken many twists and turns in these early months of 2015, but the main action has been in two arenas: the Alabama Supreme Court and U.S. District Judge Callie Granade’s courtroom in the Southern District of Alabama. Of course, everyone will be watching the U.S. Supreme Court as well, where Obergefell v. Hodges will be argued next month. And it was the Supreme Court’s February order refusing to stay Judge Granade’s initial injunction that began the latest round of activity. Here’s where things stand:
The Alabama Supreme Court said its piece last week, granting a writ of mandamus ordering all Alabama probate judges to stop granting marriage licenses. The merits of that ruling are certainly open to debate—both on the key constitutional issue and the standing/jurisdiction issue—but there are a few things to keep in mind going forward. First, the mandamus action was brought by two groups opposing same-sex marriage (acting as “relators” for the State of Alabama) against the Alabama probate judges. No individuals or couples who might wish to challenge Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban were parties to that proceeding, so as a matter of preclusion the ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court does not prevent them from seeking relief in federal court.
Second, the court ordered Alabama probate judges not to issue new same-sex marriage licenses (and it seems to have had that effect), but it ignored the relators request to order Alabama probate judges “not to recognize any marriage licenses issued to same sex couples.” In doing so, the court avoided one potential direct conflict with the federal judiciary, insofar as Judge Granade had previously ordered Mobile County probate judge Don Davis to issue marriage licenses to four same-sex couples in the Strawser case. Indeed, the Alabama Supreme Court’s order asked Davis to “advise” it “as to whether he is bound by any existing federal court order regarding the issuance of any marriage license other than the four marriage licenses he was ordered to issue in Strawser.” His deadline was last Thursday (3/5), but he’s asked for more time to respond. [Update: Today the Alabama Supreme Court posted on its website an order confirming that Judge Davis was also subject to its mandamus ruling, but only after determining for itself (whether correctly or not) that Judge Granade’s injunction did not extend beyond those four licenses.]
In a data bonanza for numbers geeks, the federal government separately released two reports yesterday: the long-awaited Final Arbitration Study by the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau and the less-awaited Judicial Business of the United States Courts: Annual Report of the Director 2014.
I will post more about each of these reports as I digest them. The CFPB report is over 700 pages long and contains a wealth of empirical information about arbitration clauses in consumer financial instruments such as credit cards. This information includes the effect of arbitration clauses on consumer prices (none) and the interplay of arbitration clauses and class actions. As for the 2014 federal courts data, I will add pertinent measures to my existing database to enable a longer-term view.
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Alabama Supreme Court Issues Writ of Mandamus, Enjoins Probate Judges from Issuing Marriage Licenses to Same-Sex Couples
This evening the Alabama Supreme Court granted the petition for a writ of mandamus that had been filed earlier this month by two groups opposing same-sex marriage, purporting to be “relators” for the State of Alabama. Here is the 134-page per curiam opinion, which concludes with an order enjoining Alabama probate judges from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Here is the full text of the order:
The named respondents are ordered to discontinue the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Further, and pursuant to relator Judge Enslen's request that this Court, "by any and all lawful means available to it," ensure compliance with Alabama law with respect to the issuance of marriage licenses, each of the probate judges in this State other than the named respondents and Judge Davis are joined as respondents in the place of the "Judge Does" identified in the petition. Within five business days following the issuance of this order, each such probate judge may file an answer responding to the relator's petition for the writ of mandamus and showing cause, if any, why said probate judge should not be bound hereby. Subject to further order of this Court upon receipt and consideration of any such answer, each such probate judge is temporarily enjoined from issuing any marriage license contrary to Alabama law as explained in this opinion. As to Judge Davis's request to be dismissed on the ground that he is subject to a potentially conflicting federal court order, he is directed to advise this Court, by letter brief, no later than 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 5, 2015, as to whether he is bound by any existing federal court order regarding the issuance of any marriage license other than the four marriage licenses he was ordered to issue in Strawser.
The last sentence, of course, refers to the federal injunction issued by Judge Callie Granade against Mobile County probate judge Don Davis last month.
Monday, March 2, 2015
What’s the half-life for internet-breaking social media sensations these days? It seems to get shorter and shorter, so I figured I should address #TheDress sooner rather than later. Is it White & Gold, or Blue & Black? For all the snark, memes, and celebrity tweets the dress has inspired, a crucial piece of historical context has been overlooked.
Ninety years ago, there was a kerfuffle in Bowling Green, Kentucky that bears striking similarities to the one that now threatens the marital harmony of Kim & Kanye. Back then, the dispute was between Black & White taxis and Brown & Yellow taxis. A federal lawsuit was filed that made its way all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it prompted a strong dissent from Justice Holmes. Holmes attacked the majority for reading the 1842 decision in Swift v. Tyson to allow the federal court to disregard Kentucky law on the enforceability of a contract giving Brown & Yellow the exclusive ability to solicit customers at the Bowling Green train station.
To Holmes, the majority improperly accepted the “fallacy” that parties in federal court “are entitled to an independent judgment on matters of general law.” The Swift opinion itself—Holmes contended—was written by Justice Story “under the tacit domination” of this fallacy. Holmes explained:
Thursday, February 26, 2015
Now available on the Courts Law section of JOTWELL is an essay by Allan Erbsen entitled Judicial Competition for Case Filings in Civil Litigation. Allan reviews a recent article by Daniel Klerman & Greg Reilly, Forum Selling, the current draft of which you can find on SSRN.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
A new lawsuit was filed in federal court today by Cari Searcy, the plaintiff whose earlier case led to the initial ruling by Judge Callie Granade declaring Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. Searcy and Kimberly McKeand were legally married in California, but Searcy’s petition to adopt McKeand’s biological son was denied because of Alabama’s prohibition on recognizing same-sex marriages.
The complaint filed today alleges that Mobile probate judge Don Davis—who is already subject to an injunction issued by Judge Granade in the Strawser case—has still refused to grant Searcy an “unqualified adoption.” Instead the order granting custody to Searcy (Exhibit C to the complaint) states that it is “qualified in nature, and the Court will not issue a final adoption order until a final ruling is issued in the United States Supreme Court on the Marriage Act cases before it.” Searcy seeks an injunction ordering Davis to grant the adoption sought and to strike the “qualified” order. According to the docket sheet, this new case—Searcy v. Davis—has been assigned to Judge Granade as well.
Meanwhile, the Alabama Supreme Court is still considering the Emergency Petition for a Writ of Mandamus that was filed earlier this month by two groups opposing same-sex marriage, ostensibly as “relators” for the State of Alabama. The petition seeks an order compelling probate judges in Alabama not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples or to recognize any marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples. Last week, Judge Granade had denied requests—both by the Strawser plaintiffs and by the Jefferson County probate judge who had sought to intervene in the federal litigation—to compel Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange to appear in the Alabama Supreme Court mandamus proceeding and cause its dismissal. So the ball is now squarely in the Alabama Supreme Court’s court. Briefing was complete as of last Friday (2/20), with a number of Alabama probate judges filing responses opposing the mandamus petition (e.g., this response by the probate judges in Jefferson County and Madison County).
Monday, February 23, 2015
Bill Dodge has posted on SSRN a draft of his article, International Comity in American Law, which will be published in the Columbia Law Review. Here’s the abstract:
International comity is one of the principal foundations of U.S. foreign relations law. The doctrines of American law that mediate the relationship between the U.S. legal system and those of other nations are nearly all manifestations of international comity — from the conflict of laws to the presumption against extraterritoriality; from the recognition of foreign judgments to doctrines limiting adjudicative jurisdiction in international cases; and from a foreign government’s privilege of bringing suit in the U.S. courts to the doctrines of foreign sovereign immunity. Yet international comity remains poorly understood. This article provides the first comprehensive account of international comity in American law. It has three goals: (1) to offer a better definition of international comity and an analytic framework for thinking about its manifestations in American law; (2) to explain the relationship between international comity and international law; and (3) to challenge two widespread myths — that international comity doctrines must take the form of standards rather than rules and that international comity determinations should be left to the executive branch. I show that international comity doctrines are frequently expressed as rules rather than standards, and that courts are usually in a better position to apply them than the executive branch.
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
Amanda Frost has posted on SSRN her recently published article, Inferiority Complex: Should State Courts Follow Lower Federal Court Precedent on the Meaning of Federal Law?, 68 Vand. L. Rev. 53 (2015). This has been an important issue, of course, in the recent litigation over Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban. Last week Alabama Supreme Court Justice Bolin cited the article in an opinion concurring in the refusal to hear the Mobile probate judge’s action seeking clarification of Chief Justice Moore’s earlier order instructing probate judges not to issue same-sex marriage licenses.
Here’s the abstract: