Saturday, June 7, 2014
The Standing Committee met on May 29-30, 2014 in D.C. and unanimously approved the amendments as they were modified by the Advisory Committee at its meeting in April.
Hat tip: Center for Constitutional Litigation
Tuesday, June 3, 2014
Some people really, really want to be in federal court instead of state court. In Arnold Crossroads v. Gander Mountain, No. 13-2020 (8th Cir. Jun. 2, 2014), defendant Gander tried and failed to remove the case three times. Plaintiff filed this breach-of-lease case on February 24, 2009 in Missouri state court, seeking one month's damages of $40,000. Defendant's first attempt at removal on the basis of diversity failed for lack of the amount-in-controversy requirement. Defendant then filed a declaratory judgment action in federal court, which was dismissed on abstention grounds in light of the pending state case.
Plaintiff eventually amended its complaint to seek millions of dollars in damages for breach of the lease's entire 15-year period, and defendant attempted to remove again, but this time failed because the effort to remove was untimely under 28 U.S.C. §1446 (one year for diversity actions).
A year later, the City where the lease was to have operated intervened as a plaintiff, seeking $750,000 from defendant. Defendant attempted a third time to remove, purporting to remove only the City. The federal district court once again remanded, and defendant appealed.
The Eighth Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §1447(d) (an order remanding a case to the state court from which it has been removed "is not reviewable on appeal or otherwise"), because the district court's remand order was based on the "§1447(c) procedural flaw of untimely removal." Judge Smith dissented: "I would reach the primary issue in this case and hold that Gander can remove the City's claim because that civil action involved a new party who asserted a new and original claim."
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Tired of using Mosley v. General Motors for an illustration of joinder under Rule 20? The D.C. Circuit has provided a great new case. The court quaintly began its opinion:
Generally speaking, our federal judicial system and the procedural rules that govern it work well, allowing parties to resolve their disputes with one another fairly and efficiently. But sometimes individuals seek to manipulate judicial procedures to serve their own improper ends. This case calls upon us to evaluate—and put a stop to— one litigant’s attempt to do just that.
AF Holdings, LLC v. Does 1-1058, No. 12-7135 (D.C. Cir. May 27, 2014).
Plaintiff AF Holdings, represented by a law firm related to one that was called a "porno-trolling collective" in another case, allegedly (there was some question of forgery) acquired the copyright to a pornographic film called "Popular Demand." It sued 1,058 "John Doe" defendants in federal court in D.C. for copyright infringement for downloading the film on a file-sharing service known as BitTorrent.
Moving for leave to take immediate discovery, AF Holdings then sought to serve subpoenas on the five Internet service providers linked to the 1,058 IP addresses it had identified: Cox Communications, Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, and Bright House Networks. The district court granted the motion . . . . The providers refused to comply. Invoking Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45(d)(3)(A), . . . they asserted that the administrative expense involved was necessarily an “undue burden” because AF Holdings had failed to establish that the court would have personal jurisdiction over the defendants or that venue would lie in this district. . . . The providers also argued that any burden was necessarily undue because AF Holdings had failed to provide any reason to think that joinder of these 1,058 defendants in one action was proper. The district court rejected these arguments, . . . [but] certified its order for immediate appeal.
The D.C. Circuit vacated, holding that AF Holdings had failed to make a threshold showing of a good faith belief that the discovery would enable it to show that the court had personal jurisdiction over the unknown defendants; thus, the information sought from the service providers was not relevant.
The court then turned "to the question of joinder, which provides a separate and independent ground for reversal":
. . . Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20(a)(2) sets forth that multiple defendants may be joined in one action if the plaintiff seeks relief “with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences” and “any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action.” In a multi-Doe copyright infringement lawsuit such as this, at least one issue of law or fact will generally be common to all defendants—here, that issue might be whether AF Holdings has a valid copyright in Popular Demand. But whether all of these Doe defendants could possibly have been a part of the same “transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences” so as to support joinder is a more difficult question. . . . For purposes of this case, we may assume that two individuals who participate in the same swarm [a type of peer-to-peer file sharing] at the same time are part of the same series of transactions within the meaning of Rule 20(a)(2). In that circumstance, the individuals might well be actively sharing a file with one another, uploading and downloading pieces of the copyrighted work from the other members of the swarm. But AF Holdings has provided no reason to think that the Doe defendants it named in this lawsuit were ever participating in the same swarm at the same time.
The D.C. Circuit left the question of sanctions to the district court on remand.
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Corina D. Gerety and Brittany K.T. Kauffman, of The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver, have published a Summary of Empirical Research on the Civil Justice Process: 2008-2013.
An explanation of its Scope provides, "This report provides a synthesis of the relevant empirical research on the civil justice process released from 2008 to 2013. In addition to IAALS research, it contains studies conducted by a variety of organizations and individuals, including the Federal Judicial Center, the National Center for State Courts, the RAND Corporation, and others. We, the authors, refer to 39 studies in total, representing a relatively even mix of case file/docket studies and surveys/interviews."
Thursday, May 22, 2014
The National Law Journal has made available in digital form 257 financial disclosure reports for federal appellate judges for the year 2012 (the last year available), which the Journal had to retrieve manually.
I clicked on the first name, Judge D. Brooks Smith, appointed to the Third Circuit in 2001. Judge Smith received over $23,000 from Penn State University Dickinson School of Law as an adjunct professor in the fall semester of 2012. He was also reimbursed for travel by two law school Federalist Society chapters in 2012 as a "speaker for education program."
The reports should prove interesting reading.
Monday, April 7, 2014
Today the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co. v. Owens (No. 13-719). Here is the question presented that appears in the cert. petition (like many cert. petitions these days, it includes a few paragraphs of prologue before the “question” is “presented”)…
A defendant seeking removal of a case to federal court must file a notice of removal containing “a short and plain statement of the grounds for removal” and attach only the state court filings served on such defendant. 28 U.S.C. § 1446(a). Consistent with that statutory pleading requirement, the First, Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits require only that a notice of removal contain allegations of the jurisdictional facts supporting removal; those courts do not require the defendant to attach evidence supporting federal jurisdiction to the notice of removal. District courts in those Circuits may consider evidence supporting removal even if it comes later in response to a motion to remand.
Here, in a clean break from Section 1446(a)’s language and its sister Circuits’ decisions, the Tenth Circuit let stand an order remanding a class action to state court based upon the district court’s refusal to consider evidence establishing federal jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) because that evidence was not attached to the notice of removal. (That evidence, which was not disputed, came later in response to the motion to remand.)
The question presented is:
Whether a defendant seeking removal to federal court is required to include evidence supporting federal jurisdiction in the notice of removal, or is alleging the required “short and plain statement of the grounds for removal” enough?
More information about the case is available at SCOTUSblog.
Thursday, March 27, 2014
I have recently posted on SSRN a draft of my paper, The Civil Caseload of the Federal District Courts, which is forthcoming in the University of Illinois Law Review. The paper examines many of the statistics available from the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, and at the time of finishing the draft, the latest available annual statistics were from fiscal year 2012.
Naturally, within a week of my submitting the draft, the AO came out with the FY2013 statistics. I will be revising this draft to incorporate the latest figures, but for now, I would like to share the draft with the community. I welcome any comments, and feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) rather than commenting here on the blog.
In the fractious debate about the civil justice system, the dominant narrative of the Civil Rules Advisory Committee is that federal civil litigation takes too long and costs too much and that pretrial discovery is largely to blame. After repeatedly narrowing the federal discovery rules over the last thirty years, the Advisory Committee has recently proposed yet another round of rules amendments designed to limit discovery. These proposals have generated an unprecedented amount of passionate (and largely negative) public comment.
Strangely, to justify its position that civil litigation is subject to unacceptable delays, the Advisory Committee has not used the government's own caseload statistics – even those statistics that were instituted in 1990 for the very purpose of measuring "delay." Nor has the Advisory Committee examined caseload statistics to see whether the proportions of different types of civil cases have changed over time, or how those changes might be relevant to its proposed restrictions on discovery.
This article fills in those gaps. Examining the voluminous publicly-available statistics on the federal courts, I offer a radical interpretation: since 1986, instead of an "explosion" of the civil docket, the opposite has occurred: if not quite an implosion, at least stagnation. For example, the number of new civil cases filed since 1986 has increased a mere 1%, and the number of weighted civil filings per authorized district court judge has actually declined 1% since 1986. It is the criminal docket that has overwhelmed the civil docket, but it is civil litigation that has been the target of endless "reform" efforts.
Moreover, five of the six largest categories of federal civil case types today are those that are typically brought by the "have-nots" of society: individuals pressing tort, prisoner, civil rights, labor, and Social Security claims. Contract cases, the only large category primarily brought by organizations, have fallen to only 9% of civil case filings. Of all litigants in the top three categories of cases, civil rights litigants have the most to fear from the proposed discovery amendments: most federal tort litigation is already under coordinated pretrial discovery in conjunction with multidistrict litigation, and there is little discovery in prisoner litigation. Policy discussions about civil litigation should explicitly consider how proposals would impact the majority of individuals seeking relief in the federal courts.
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
The Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision today in Lexmark International, Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc. It’s principally a Lanham Act case, but Justice Scalia’s opinion has some interesting discussion on Article III standing, prudential standing, and whether Congress has (or has not) authorized a cause of action [See Part II, pp.6-9]. Justice Scalia recognized that the plaintiff in Lexmark had Article III standing based on its “allegations of lost sales and damages to its business reputation.” [p.6] Although the parties had “treat[ed] the question on which we granted certiorari as one of ‘prudential standing,’” he found this “misleading.” [p.6] Instead, he explained [p.9]:
[T]he question this case presents is whether Static Control falls within the class of plaintiffs whom Congress has authorized to sue under §1125(a). In other words, we ask whether Static Control has a cause of action under the statute.4 That question requires us to determine the meaning of the congressionally enacted provision creating a cause of action. In doing so, we apply traditional principles of statutory interpretation. We do not ask whether in our judgment Congress should have authorized Static Control’s suit, but whether Congress in fact did so. Just as a court cannot apply its independent policy judgment to recognize a cause of action that Congress has denied, see Alexander v. Sandoval, 532 U.S. 275, 286–287 (2001), it cannot limit a cause of action that Congress has created merely because “prudence” dictates.
Footnote 4 states:
We have on occasion referred to this inquiry as “statutory standing” and treated it as effectively jurisdictional. See, e.g., Steel Co. v. Citizens for Better Environment, 523 U.S. 83, 97, and n. 2 (1998); cases cited id., at 114–117 (Stevens, J., concurring in judgment). That label is an improvement over the language of “prudential standing,” since it correctly places the focus on the statute. But it, too, is misleading, since “the absence of a valid (as opposed to arguable) cause of action does not implicate subject-matter jurisdiction, i.e., the court’s statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate the case.’ ” Verizon Md. Inc. v. Public Serv. Comm’n of Md., 535 U.S. 635, 642–643 (2002) (quoting Steel Co., supra, at 89); see also Grocery Mfrs. Assn. v. EPA, 693 F.3d 169, 183–185 (Kavanaugh, J., dissenting), and cases cited therein; Pathak, Statutory Standing and the Tyranny of Labels, 62 Okla. L. Rev. 89, 106 (2009).
There’s also a footnote that mentions Iqbal [footnote 6, on p.15]:
Proximate causation is not a requirement of Article III standing, which requires only that the plaintiff ’s injury be fairly traceable to the defendant’s conduct. Like the zone-of-interests test, see supra, at 8–9, and nn. 3–4, it is an element of the cause of action under the statute, and so is subject to the rule that “the absence of a valid (as opposed to arguable) cause of action does not implicate subject-matter jurisdiction.” Steel Co., 523 U.S., at 89. But like any other element of a cause of action, it must be adequately alleged at the pleading stage in order for the case to proceed. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678–679 (2009). If a plaintiff ’s allegations, taken as true, are insufficient to establish proximate causation, then the complaint must be dismissed; if they are sufficient, then the plaintiff is entitled to an opportunity to prove them.
Thursday, March 13, 2014
Friday, February 14, 2014
The NBA starts its all-star break today. The U.S. Supreme Court is on break as well, and it too is right at the midpoint of the season. The Term has already been quite active on the civil procedure and federal courts front, with decisions on personal jurisdiction, Younger abstention, transfer of venue, the Class Action Fairness Act, and appellate jurisdiction. And there’s more on the horizon:
- Walden v. Fiore (venue and personal jurisdiction);
- Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund (class actions);
- Wood v. Moss (on qualified immunity and, perhaps, pleading standards more generally);
- Highmark v. Allcare and Octane Fitness v. Icon Health (two cases on awarding attorneys’ fees in patent cases);
- Petrella v. MGM (laches in civil copyright claims)
- Executive Benefits Insurance Agency v. Arkison (Article III and bankruptcy proceedings);
- UBS Financial Services v. Union de Empleados de Muelles (Rule 23.1’s pre-suit demand requirement)
Why do we pay so much attention to these cases? For most court-watchers, it’s not because there is a strong interest in whether a Massachusetts gravel supply company underpaid its benefit fund obligations. Rather, it’s because of what the Supreme Court’s decisions mean going forward. Because of stare decisis, judicial decisions can prospectively bind future courts just as an Act of Congress or a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure can. In many areas of procedure, Supreme Court decisions may be the most significant lawmaking acts we’re going to see.
With that in mind, I thought I would share a link to my recent article, To Say What the Law Is: Rules, Results, and the Dangers of Inferential Stare Decisis, 99 Virginia L. Rev. 1737 (2013). The article was driven in part by the struggle to figure out the precedential effect of controversial Supreme Court decisions like Wal-Mart and Iqbal. But I try to tackle more generally the question of what parts of a judicial decision should actually create binding law, and in what way. Here’s the abstract:
Judicial decisions do more than resolve disputes. They are also crucial sources of prospective law, because stare decisis obligates future courts to follow those decisions. Yet there remains tremendous uncertainty about how we identify a judicial decision’s lawmaking content. Does stare decisis require future courts to follow the rules stated in a precedent-setting opinion? Or must future courts merely reconcile their decisions with the ultimate result of the precedent-setting case? Although it is widely assumed that a rule-based approach puts greater constraints on future courts, two recent Supreme Court decisions — Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes and Ashcroft v. Iqbal — turn this conventional wisdom on its head. In both cases, what the Court said about the governing rules was not inherently controversial, and would leave courts with considerable flexibility going forward. But what the Court did in applying those rules — the ultimate results in Wal-Mart and Iqbal — could be very destabilizing if stare decisis mandates consistency with those results in future cases.
This article assesses competing approaches to stare decisis, and argues that the lawmaking content of a judicial decision should be only the rules that the court states in deciding the case. While the end result may be instructive, enlightening, or valuable for any number of reasons, it should not create binding obligations on future courts as a matter of stare decisis. A rules-only approach is an unconventional position (even those who favor rule-based stare decisis typically presume that consistency with results is also required). But it strikes the optimal balance. To infer binding obligations from results alone creates a risk that — as with Wal-Mart and Iqbal — future courts will be forced to intuit more radical legal changes than the precedent-setting court actually embraced. Put simply, a judicial decision should create binding law only to the extent that it says what the law is. Unless and until new legal rules are declared (whether by the judiciary in later cases or by legislation), courts should be free to operate within the existing legal framework, without being required to reconcile their decisions with the mere results of earlier ones.
Thanks again to the editors at the Virginia Law Review, who did a fantastic job on the article, and to the many colleagues who gave me such terrific feedback and suggestions.
Thursday, February 6, 2014
Prof. Ernest Young (Duke) has posted on SSRN his article, A General Defense of Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 10 J. Econ. L. & Pol’y 17 (2013). Here’s the abstract:
Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins was the most important federalism decision of the Twentieth Century. Justice Brandeis’s opinion for the Court stated unequivocally that “[e]xcept in matters governed by the Federal Constitution or by acts of Congress, the law to be applied in any case is the law of the state. . . . There is no federal general common law.” Seventy-five years later, however, Erie finds itself under siege. Critics have claimed that it is “bereft of serious intellectual or constitutional support” (Michael Greve), based on a “myth” that must be “repressed” (Craig Green), and even “the worst decision of all time” (Suzanna Sherry). Other scholars, such as Caleb Nelson and Michael Green, have been less damning in their conclusions but nonetheless raised serious questions about Erie’s reasoning. Out in the real world, Erie’s restrictive vision of federal lawmaking has been undermined and circumvented by unfettered executive lawmaking and expansive theories of federal common law.
This article undertakes to rescue Erie from its critics. Rather than reinventing the case’s rationale, I argue that Justice Brandeis’s reasoning was fundamentally sound. Although the case Erie overruled — Swift v. Tyson — was surely correct when decided, Justice Brandeis rightly read the Rules of Decision Act to foreclose the broad practice of “general federal common law” that had arisen by the end of the nineteenth century. And Brandeis was right to worry about divergence between the law applied in state and federal courts sitting within the same jurisdiction. Most important, Erie announced a constitutional principle of judicial federalism — that federal courts may not make law on their own, even in areas where Congress could legislate. This principle forms the intellectual core of modern federalism doctrine, which is primarily concerned with procedural and political limits on national lawmaking.
More ambitiously, I hope that by shoring up Erie’s intellectual foundations this essay may lend support to the vision of limited federal lawmaking that Erie embodied — that is, one in which the federal separation of powers reinforces federalism by limiting the occasions on which federal lawmaking may displace state law. That vision is of more than theoretical import. Its implications may govern practical controversies ranging from the domestic force of customary international law to the preemptive effect of federal regulatory policies on state tort law. Likewise, in an era of resurgent dynamism at the state level, Erie’s respect for the preservation of state prerogatives in the absence of a federal legislative consensus takes on renewed importance.
Friday, January 31, 2014
Andrew Hull, law clerk to the Chief Administrative Law Judge of the Drug Enforcement Administration, has posted on SSRN his article, Unearthing Mansfield's Rule: Analyzing the Appropriateness of Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) in Light of the Common Law Tradition.
Despite blatant jury misconduct that can result in an improper guilty-verdict, the Federal Rules of Evidence, with few exceptions, prohibit testimony from a juror that such misconduct took place. Rule 606(b) specifically forbids such evidence, and the rule is seemingly based in a historic common law tradition.
Despite its lengthy tradition, history actually demonstrates that the rule embodied by Rule 606(b) is an anomaly that fails to comport with prior precedent and the holistic principles surrounding trial by jury. Furthermore, the policy of finality that supporters now use as the rationale for maintaining this rule at the cost of allowing blatant jury misconduct fails to find support in the common law tradition. As will be discussed further, Rule 606(b) should be amended to allow juror testimony of juror misconduct when such misconduct is not a part of the jury’s subjective deliberative process of reaching a verdict.
Part I of this paper describes the history of Rule 606(b) and its underlying policies. Part II discusses the origin of this rule — a case decided by the renowned Lord Mansfield — and questions its legitimacy as a bedrock principle in the common law tradition. Part III analyzes the policy of finality at the expense of overlooking certain juror misconduct in light of historical writings surrounding trial by jury. Finally, Part IV provides a suitable amendment to Rule 606(b) that embraces both a holistic understanding of a just trial by jury while also respecting the inviolate nature of the process of jury deliberation.
Friday, January 24, 2014
The different ways federal district courts provide settlement assistance to parties is the focus of a new study by the Federal Judicial Center (FJC). Eight district courts are participating in the study to be completed by late 2014. Read more . . .
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
In Medtronic, Inc. v. Mirowski Family Ventures, LLC, Mirowski licensed its patents relating to implantable heart stimulators to Medtronic, which makes medical devices. Later, Mirowski notified Medtronic that it believed some of Medtronic's new products infringed Mirowski's patents.
Medtronic brought a declaratory judgment action in federal court in Delaware, claiming that its products did not infringe Mirowski's patents and that the patents were invalid. The district court held that Mirowski, as patentee, bore the burden of proving infringement, even though it was the defendant, and Mirowski lost after a bench trial.
The Federal Circuit reversed, holding that Medtronic, the declaratory judgment plaintiff, bore the burden of proving infringement.
The Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion by Justice Breyer, reversed. First the Court addressed federal jurisdiction. An amicus argued that in a DJA, in order to determine whether the action arose under patent law under Section 1338(a), the court must look to the action that the DJ defendant (the patentee, Mirowski) could have brought in the absence of a DJA. That action, argued the amicus, would be a state-law claim for breach of the license agreement.
The Court agreed that when determining declaratory judgment jurisdiction, courts look to the "character of the threatened action" to see whether it would necessarily present a federal question. However, the Court held that the threatened action would arise under federal patent law, because if Medtronic stopped paying royalties, Mirowski could terminate the license agreement and sue for patent infringement.
Turning to the burden of proof issue, the Court reversed the Federal Circuit:
It is well established that the burden of proving infringement generally rests upon the patentee. . . . We have long considered "the operation of the Declaratory Judgment Act" to be only "procedural." . . . And we have held that "the burden of proof" is a "'substantive' aspect of a claim." . . .
Taken together these three legal propositions indicate that, in a licensee's declaratory judgment action, the burden of proving infringement should remain with the patentee.
Thanks to Professor Ira Nathenson for bringing this case (which perhaps only a Civil Procedure professor could love) to my attention.
Saturday, January 4, 2014
This morning I attended the Civil Procedure Section program, "Innovations in the District Courts: How Judges and Districts Can Address Cost, Delay and Access to Justice." Moderated by Dean Matthew Diller, it was a lively panel of four federal judges:
Judge Julie Robinson, D. Kan.
Judge Shira Scheindlin, S.D.N.Y.
Judge Lois Bloom, Magistrate Judge, E.D.N.Y.
Judge William Young, D. Mass.
Judge Robinson is Chair of the National Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States and chaired the Court Administration and Case Management Committee. "My committee, as opposed to the Rules Committee, works very quickly," she said.
This committee publishes and maintains the Civil Litigation Management Manual (not the Complex Litigation Manual) and collects best practices at the district court level, focusing on what she called "non-complex litigation." For example, Judge Robinson cited Judge Koetl's pilot project focusing on the case management of employment cases. She characterized employment cases as "non-complex," but stated that they cause "operational pain." Among other items, the pilot calls for reciprocal exchange of information ("the universe") at the beginning of a case. Judge Robinson's committee also oversees the pilot program for patent cases.
Her committee is also improving the functionality of the CM/ECF system to manage caseloads, not just cases. She referred to a "three-year benchmark" for terminating civil cases, and stated that judges have a responsibility to the federal system to move cases. Her committee focuses on the most congested courts in the system on the civil side of the docket. The committee studies why these courts are congested and what kinds of resources can be deployed to help.
Judge Scheindlin described the ongoing pilot project in the Southern District of New York for complex cases. She believes that many of the innovations are not necessary for the run-of-the-mill, non-complex cases. The subject areas for this pilot project are stockholders' suits, products liability, antitrust, trademark, patent, securities, all class actions, and multidistrict litigation. She said that FLSA cases are now about 10% of the project.
To inform the pilot project, the FJC conducted a survey of attorneys about case management. I believe the results of this survey are published, and Judge Scheindlin spoke very quickly about a number of the survey findings. Just a few items that I managed to get down were that 60% of attorneys said they had a 26(f) conference, and said that the 26(f) conference had little effect on cost or fairness (or actually increased cost). Attorneys reported that discovery was stayed in about 30% of cases pending a motion to dismiss. Also, attorney reported that there was no ESI involved in about 40% of cases, a result Judge Scheindlin found surprising.
Judge Scheindlin described the components of the pilot project in some detail, which I will only highlight here. Expensive and voluminous privilege logs are downplayed because they are now "unnecessary" with Rule 502 of the Federal Rules of Evidence.
Document discovery, but not depositions, should presumptively proceed while a motion to dismiss is pending. A sample of documents should be provided to the judge to make privilege rulings. Interestingly, Judge Scheindlin advocated a "pre-motion conference" for virtually all motions, in which the attorneys summarize what they intend to argue, and the judge gives feedback as to what should be briefed, what argument is a loser, etc. Oral argument on all substantive motions is recommended, along with very strictly-enforced page limitations on briefs (25, 25, and 10).
Judge Scheindlin later suggested that summary judgment was overused, and that a judge's decision will never have the same credibility as the judgment of the community in a jury trial. Noting the "huge amount" of papers in a summary judgment motion, she sometimes asks herself, "What are these lawyers thinking? They could have tried this case" in the time it took to prepare the motion.
Judge Lois Bloom, who oversees all pro se litigation in the Southern District of New York, spoke on access to justice and pro se litigation. She began by noting that US statute allows parties to conduct their own cases personally, and that the court house door is open to everyone. Judge Bloom stated that approximately 25% of federal district courts' civil caseload involves pro se litigants, and that percentage rises to 40% at the appellate court level. Approximately 96% of prisoner litigation is pro se, but less than half of the pro se cases are now brought by prisoners.
Examples of these pro se cases include, on the plaintiff side, employment discrimination cases and fair debt collection practices cases, and on the defendant side, student loan recovery and illegal downloading. The same FRCP apply, but there are some special rules for pro se cases. Judge Bloom created special form orders such as to get initial disclosures in employment cases.
She stated that she "would rather have an earnest pro se litigant than a bad lawyer, any day." To give people their day in court means holding repeated conferences. She shows concern for ordinary citizens, stating that "every week" she gets more cases about "the bad things that happen to people" on a stop-and-frisk.
Judge Bloom recognizes a "strong link between procedural justice and how people perceive the courts." She hopes law schools will highlight the fact that 25% of civil cases are now pro se, and encourages Civil Procedure professors to keep students' eyes on the ultimate goals of litigation, not the discrete procedural steps along the way.
Judge Young, batting cleanup, warned he might "come off as a skunk at the wedding." He endorsed his colleagues' suggestions, but stated in general, "We have so deconstructed the role of the trial judge" that "we think the goal is through-put," or getting the cases through. But the goal is adjudication. "That is what is special about judges." Settlement and mediated resolution are by-products of the drive towards trial. Trial is what focuses the litigants' and the trial lawyers' minds.
He stated that the jury is "dying." In the last eight years a person's chance of being seated as a juror in federal court has declined more than 30%. Federal judges are on the bench less than ever. The average district court judge tries less than one case a month, or about eight to nine trials a year. So there's less fact-finding, which "foreshadows the twilight of judicial independence." He referred the audience to an article by Judge Lee Rosenthal and Professor Steven Gensler about "the reappearing judge," and to an article by Judge Young in Penn State Law Review.
Judge Young said there was a need to focus on enhancing our jury system. He noted that the strategic plan for the US District Courts only mentions jurors twice. Jurors should be allowed to take notes and ask questions as a matter of course. Moreover, even if the statute isn't changed, individual judges can require 12-person jurors. Social science research suggests that the best size for small-group decision-making is 10 to 14 persons. Judge Young believes there is a need for scholarship on issues relating to juries, including the American juror as a constitutional officer as to which Congress should not be able to cut off funding.
Judge Young said that "we ought to be thinking of ourselves more as federal courts than as individual judges," adding that "injustice anywhere in the United States is injustice everywhere." He praised the committee on inter-circuit assignment; for example, thirty-two judges were lined up to try tobacco cases in the Middle District of Florida. He advocated for more inter-circuit assignment of cases.
Judge Young also stated that "although we deny it, the grants of summary judgment are too frequent." He called affidavits the "Potemkin villages" of modern procedure, all facade and nothing inside. He also branded status conferences as "a terrible waste of time," suggesting instead that "you set the key dates and you don't move them." He also said that people don't necessarily want a trial: they want the reasonable expectation of a trial. That is what "brings the economically powerful to the bargaining table."
Dean Diller then asked the panelists about the proposed amendments to the FRCP.
Judge Bloom responded that she believed that rules committees were "self-perpetuating," and that we needed to get away from the idea that the rules need to be amended every few years. She thinks that the new proposals are being pushed by defense attorneys who want to cut back on plaintiffs' access. In the Eastern District of New York, where civil cases are automatically assigned to a magistrate judge until the time of trial, "it is a real outlier" that needs any revision to the rules. She believes that the "proportionality" amendment will be a "Pandora's box."
Judge Robinson agreed that the proposed amendments would cause at least as much "operational pain" as they would cure.
Professor Liz Schneider from Brooklyn Law School posed a hypothetical: what if the SDNY passed a local rule that "we discourage the filing and granting of summary judgment motions." Judge Scheindlin indicated that many law firms would not be receptive because it would hurt their revenues. "If the lawyers cared about cost, they wouldn't do summary judgment motions."
Wednesday, January 1, 2014
Happy new year to everyone! I've spent some time between shopping, cooking, and eating – will the holidays NEVER END?? – looking at the public comments submitted on the proposed amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
I looked at all the comments filed up to December 19, 2013. Most of the comments were filed by self-identified plaintiffs' lawyers. A fair number of commenters did not explicitly identify the type of client they primarily represented. As 2013 progressed, a smattering of self-identified defendants' attorneys commented. I counted only three full-time law professors among the commenters and two federal judges (most were opposed to the amendments). I plan to comment and am presently working on my draft. I oppose most of the amendments.
The results so far: of 328 non-duplicate filings, 281 commenters, or 86%, were opposed to all the amendments they commented on. (Most commenters did not address all of the amendments.) Thirty-one commenters (9%) were opposed to some of the amendments and supported some of the amendments. These were primarily lawyers who opposed most of the amendments but found one or two amendments to say something nice about, probably for the sake of politeness or credibility.
That leaves 11 commenters (3%) supporting the amendments. Of those 11, six were self-identified defendants' lawyers, and five did not identify the type of client primarily represented.
Plaintiffs' lawyers gave example after example of meritorious cases they had handled where the proposed presumptive limits on discovery and the proposed redefinition of the scope of discovery would have stopped them from surviving a summary judgment motion.
Before the so-called "Duke Conference" that germinated these proposals, the Federal Judicial Center surveyed attorneys who handled cases that terminated in the last quarter of 2008. The results of private attorney responses to the statement "The outcomes of cases in the federal system are generally fair" were:
Federal Judicial Center Survey, 2009
Private Attorney Responses to the Statement
"The outcomes of cases in the federal system are generally fair"
(frequencies are estimated, not provided by FJC)
Agree or Strongly Agree
Disagree or Strongly Disagree
"Neither Agree Nor Disagree" or "Can't Say"
Number of Private Attorneys
Private attorneys primarily representing plaintiffs
N = 436
N = 182
N = 192
Private attorneys primarily representing defendants
N = 769
N = 40
N = 149
These results were not included in the FJC's final report on the survey. They are contained in the preliminary report, although not in the detail above, which I estimated from other information the FJC provided.
Plaintiffs' attorneys, in other words, were more than five times more likely than defendants' attorneys to believe that the outcome of cases in the federal system is substantively not fair. Now, as evidenced by the public comments, the vast majority of plaintiffs' attorneys oppose the proposed amendments to the FRCP while the vast majority of defendants' attorneys support the amendments.
Please, someone convince me not to give in to cynicism. We're starting a new semester on Monday.
See you at AALS.
Saturday, December 21, 2013
The Federal Court Management Statistics for fiscal year 2013 (ending September 30, 2013) are posted here.
District court filings were 391,652 in FY 2013, up 1% from 386,664 in 2012 but less than filings in 2011 or 2010.
The annual report for FY 2013 is not yet available.
Monday, December 9, 2013
Professors Charlie Sullivan and Tim Glynn (Seton Hall) have uncovered what appears to be a draft Supreme Court opinion in Pasquinade v. Quillet Enterprises, Inc. Or not. Here’s the abstract:
The opinion reproduced below was delivered to us anonymously, with a cover note stating that it had been found on a photocopy machine in the Supreme Court of the United States. Efforts to identify the source of the note have been unsuccessful; further, we have been unable to confirm that a case denominated Pasquinade v. Quillet Enterprises, Inc., was ever filed in that Court or in any other federal court.
In light of its unverified origins, the Pasquinade opinion should not be cited as authority. Nevertheless, it contains a few points of interest, and, who knows, could represent a kind of trial run by the Justice who supposedly authored it, complete with reaction to anticipated dissent. We express no opinion on the matter and merely offer Pasquinade “for what it’s worth.”
The Third Branch News reports "25 Years Later, PACER, Electronic Filing Continue to Change Courts."
Apparently without irony, Third Branch notes, "Lawyers speak of reduced stress at a workday’s end, knowing they can electronically file a document until midnight, without fear that the courthouse doors will close on them."
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Today the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Atlantic Marine Constr. Co. v. United States Dist. Court for Western Dist. of Tex. (No. 12-929), which considers the proper procedural vehicle for enforcing a contractual forum-selection clause when the plaintiff files in a federal district that violates that clause. A few highlights from the opinion by Justice Alito:
- Motions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3) and 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a) are not appropriate in this situation. A forum-selection clause does not make a venue “improper” for purposes of Rule 12(b)(3) or “wrong” for purposes of § 1406(a). [See pp. 4-8]
- A motion to transfer under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) is appropriate in this situation. Section 1404(a) “provides a mechanism for enforcement of forum-selection clauses that point to a particular federal district.” [p.9]
- “[T]he appropriate way to enforce a forum-selection clause pointing to a state or foreign forum is through the doctrine of forum non conveniens.” [pp.9-10]
- It remains an open question whether a forum-selection clause could be enforced through other vehicles, such as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. This possibility had been urged by Professor Stephen Sachs in amicus brief, but the Court did not address it because the parties themselves did not raise it. Justice Alito adds: “Even if a defendant could use Rule 12(b)(6) to enforce a forum-selection clause, that would not change our conclusions that § 1406(a) and Rule 12(b)(3) are not proper mechanisms to enforce a forum-selection clause and that §1404(a) and the forum non conveniens doctrine provide appropriate enforcement mechanisms.” [p.11]
The opinion then addresses how a court should decide a § 1404(a) motion to enforce a forum-selection clause. Justice Alito writes:
“When the parties have agreed to a valid forum-selection clause, a district court should ordinarily transfer the case to the forum specified in that clause.5 Only under extraordinary circumstances unrelated to the convenience of the parties should a §1404(a) motion be denied.” [p.11]
(Footnote 5 makes clear that the Court’s analysis “presupposes a contractually valid forum-selection clause,” which leaves open the possibility that such a clause could be challenged as contractually invalid.) Justice Alito then explains: “The presence of a valid forum-selection clause requires district courts to adjust their usual §1404(a) analysis in three ways.” [p.12] They are:
- “First, the plaintiff ’s choice of forum merits no weight. Rather, as the party defying the forum-selection clause, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that transfer to the forum for which the parties bargained is unwarranted.” [p.13]
- “Second, a court evaluating a defendant’s § 1404(a) motion to transfer based on a forum-selection clause should not consider arguments about the parties’ private interests…. As a consequence, a district court may consider arguments about public-interest factors only.” [pp.13-14]
- “Third, when a party bound by a forum-selection clause flouts its contractual obligation and files suit in a different forum, a § 1404(a) transfer of venue will not carry with it the original venue’s choice-of-law rules.” [p.14]
Footnote 8 states that “the same standards should apply to should apply to motions to dismiss for forum non conveniens in cases involving valid forum-selection clauses pointing to state or foreign forums.”
The Court ultimately reverses the Fifth Circuit, but it remands for further proceedings: “Although no public-interest factors that might support the denial of Atlantic Marine’s motion to transfer are apparent on the record before us, we remand the case for the courts below to decide that question.” [p.17]