Friday, February 5, 2016
A bill to prohibit corporations from forcing arbitration of certain disputes, Restoring Statutory Rights Act, S.2506, was introduced on February 4 by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT).
Tuesday, February 2, 2016
Professor Gary Neustadter of Santa Clara University School of Law has posted on SSRN his article, Randomly Distributed Trial Court Justice: A Case Study and Siren from the Consumer Bankruptcy World.
Between February 24, 2010 and April 23, 2012, Heritage Pacific Financial, L.L.C. (“Heritage”), a debt buyer, mass produced and filed 218 essentially identical adversary proceedings in California bankruptcy courts against makers of promissory notes who had filed Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy petitions. Each complaint alleged Heritage’s acquisition of the notes in the secondary market and alleged the outstanding obligations on the notes to be nondischargeable under the Bankruptcy Code’s fraud exception to the bankruptcy discharge. The notes evidenced loans to California residents, made in 2005 and 2006, which helped finance the purchase, refinancing, or improvement of California residential real property. When issued, the notes were secured by junior consensual liens on the real property, but subsequent foreclosure of senior consensual liens, precipitated by the mid-decade burst of the housing bubble, left the notes unsecured.
This article reports an empirical study of these bankruptcy adversary proceedings. Because the proceedings were essentially identical, they offer a rare laboratory for testing the extent to which our entry-level justice system measures up to our aspirations for “Equal Justice Under Law.” We are unlikely to find many conditions better suited to empirical exploration of that question: (1) civil litigation filed during a relatively brief time span by one plaintiff against 266 defendants (including co-defendant spouses); (2) some defendants defaulting, some defendants appearing pro se, and some represented by an attorney; (3) dispersal of the litigation among forty-seven different bankruptcy court judges, all sitting in one state (and thus, where applicable, required to apply the relevant substantive law of a single state); and (4) legal claims and factual allegations by the plaintiff so nearly identical that each dispute is resolvable on the basis of one obvious and straightforward factual question (reliance by an originating lender on a borrower’s misrepresentations) or on the basis of three less obvious and more complex legal rules (a California statutory limitation on fraud claims and two alternative varieties of a standing defense).
The results in the Heritage adversary proceedings evidence a stunning and unacceptable level of randomly distributed justice at the trial court level, generated as much by the idiosyncratic behaviors of judges, lawyers, and parties as by even handed application of law. We anticipate some randomly distributed justice as the inevitable byproduct of disparities in economic and other resources of the parties and disparities in the knowledge, capabilities, and attitudes of even well-meaning attorneys and judges acting reasonably in an imperfect system. We aspire, nonetheless, to equal justice under law. The findings of this study reflect a departure from that ideal on a scale both larger than we may have expected and larger than we should tolerate.
Hat tip: Jason Kilborn, who had high praise for this article: “The paths and outcomes of these materially identical cases are so different in so many surprising (and often disturbing) ways, the paper offers a really stunning look behind the curtain of our often arbitrary trial-level justice system. . . . The revelations in this paper are a gold mine for civil proceduralists, and it offers a cautionary tale and useful playbook for lawyers (and perhaps judges) in how to make many aspects of our system more effective.”
Monday, January 25, 2016
SCOTUS Decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana: Supreme Court Jurisdiction, State Courts, and Retroactivity
Today the Supreme Court issued a 6-3 decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana, which involves the retroactive effect of the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama (where the Court prohibited mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole for juveniles).
The case presented both an interesting question of Supreme Court jurisdiction in the context of state collateral review proceedings, and the perennial federal courts challenge of when a new constitutional right applies retroactively. The majority opinion authored by Justice Kennedy (joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan & Sotomayor) concluded:
(1) The Supreme Court had jurisdiction to review a state court’s failure to recognize, in the context of state collateral review, a federal constitutional right that applies retroactively;
(2) Miller did announce “a substantive rule of constitutional law” that applies retroactively; and
(3) A state may remedy a Miller violation by extending parole eligibility to juvenile offenders.
The three dissenters were Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito, who disagreed both on jurisdiction and on the merits. Justice Scalia wrote a dissenting opinion that was joined by both Thomas and Alito, and Justice Thomas wrote a separate dissent as well.
Check out Lyle Denniston’s analysis on SCOTUSblog.
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
The Supreme Court issued its decision today in Campbell-Ewald Co. v. Gomez, a closely watched case on class actions, Article III, and mootness (covered earlier here and here). Justice Ginsburg’s majority opinion begins:
Is an unaccepted offer to satisfy the named plaintiff ’s individual claim sufficient to render a case moot when the complaint seeks relief on behalf of the plaintiff and a class of persons similarly situated? This question, on which Courts of Appeals have divided, was reserved in Genesis HealthCare Corp. v. Symczyk, 569 U. S. ___, ___, ___, n. 4 (2013) (slip op., at 5, 6, n. 4). We hold today, in accord with Rule 68 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, that an unaccepted settlement offer has no force. Like other unaccepted contract offers, it creates no lasting right or obligation. With the offer off the table, and the defendant’s continuing denial of liability, adversity between the parties persists.
Justice Ginsburg’s opinion is joined by Justices Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justice Thomas adds a sixth vote, but writes a separate concurring opinion. Chief Justice Roberts writes a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Scalia and Alito, and Justice Alito writes a dissenting opinion as well.
Friday, January 15, 2016
Whether a federal court of appeals has jurisdiction under both Article III and 28 U.S.C. § 1291 to review an order denying class certification after the named plaintiffs voluntarily dismiss their individual claims with prejudice.
You can find all the cert-stage briefing—and follow the merits briefs as they come in—at SCOTUSblog.
Saturday, January 2, 2016
Last year, I complained that the Chief Justice’s Year-End Report for the federal judiciary was irrelevant to real-world concerns. This year, I cannot complain about Year-End Report's relevance; it focuses mainly on the recently-effective amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. But I can complain, a lot, about the Report’s lack of candor.
As been his custom for these year-end reports, the Chief Justice opens with a dull, lengthy historical reference. Last year it was the Supreme Court's 1935 installation of a pneumatic tube system; this year it’s a dueling book. The Chief Justice talks about a 22-page booklet published in 1838 setting forth detailed rules on dueling. The dueling rules, he says, were supposed to “ensure that duels would be conducted fairly—including provisions for resolving disputes through apology and compromise—[and thus] would in fact save lives.” But alas, the code “had exactly the opposite effect, glorifying and institutionalizing a barbarous practice that led to wanton death.” Three decades later, “[p]ublic opinion ultimately turned against dueling as a means of settling quarrels.”
Somehow, this is supposed to relate to the recent amendments to the federal rules. The implication seems to be that civil discovery today is like dueling, and the new amendments will civilize the barbarism.
The dueling analogy isn’t clear to me. If an elaboration of dueling rules led to increased killing, then the elaboration of the federal discovery rules will lead to . . . what? More lawsuits being killed? And if “public opinion” ultimately turned against duels, does that mean public opinion should turn even further against plaintiffs who bring civil lawsuits?
Setting aside the baffling dueling rulebook analogy, the Report continues with a paean to the process by which the rules are amended. Federal procedural rules such as the recent amendments, enthuses the Chief Justice, “are developed through meticulous consideration, with input from all facets of the legal community, including judges, lawyers, law professors, and the public at large.” But the “primary work” of rules amendments, he explains, is done through the Advisory Committee and the Standing Committee.
The Chief Justice’s characterization of the rules amendment process is meant to imply that the process ensures a national consensus and an impartial solution that will affect all litigants equally. But these suggested implications are false.
Here’s the dirty underside of the rules amendment process. What the Chief Justice doesn’t mention is that he has the sole, unfettered power to appoint the members of the Advisory Committee, the Standing Committee, and the members of all the other federal rules committees. And he has exercised this power to appoint committee members who are predisposed to favor restrictions on discovery. For example, at the time these rules amendments were adopted, seven of the eight federal judges on the Standing Committee were appointed by George W. Bush. As for the Civil Rules Advisory Committee, I wrote recently, “thirteen of the fifteen members of the Advisory Committee had at least one of the following characteristics: they were appointed by a Republican president, clerked for a Republican-appointed Supreme Court justice, work or worked for a defense-oriented, large corporate law firm, and/or are affiliated with the Federalist Society or Lawyers for Civil Justice.”
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
Lewis & Clark Law Review has just published a symposium on personal jurisdiction that contains ten articles and essays;
19 Lewis & Clark L. Rev. 593 (2015)
John T. Parry
19 Lewis & Clark L. Rev. 607 (2015)
A SHIFTING EQUILIBRIUM: PERSONAL JURISDICTION, TRANSNATIONAL LITIGATION, AND THE PROBLEM OF NONPARTIES
Cassandra Burke Robertson and Charles W. “Rocky” Rhodes
19 Lewis & Clark L. Rev. 643 (2015)
THE END OF ANOTHER ERA: REFLECTIONS ON DAIMLER AND ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR JUDICIAL JURISDICTION IN THE UNITED STATES
Linda J. Silberman
19 Lewis & Clark L. Rev. 675 (2015)
19 Lewis & Clark L. Rev. 693 (2015)
19 Lewis & Clark L. Rev. 713 (2015)
PERSONAL JURISDICTION FOR ALLEGED INTENTIONAL OR NEGLIGENT EFFECTS, MATCHED TO FORUM REGULATORY INTEREST
Stanley E. Cox
19 Lewis & Clark L. Rev. 725 (2015)
Julie Cromer Young
19 Lewis & Clark L. Rev. 753 (2015)
REORIENTING PERSONAL JURISDICTION DOCTRINE AROUND HORIZONTAL FEDERALISM RATHER THAN LIBERTY AFTER WALDEN v. FIORE
19 Lewis & Clark L. Rev. 769 (2015)
19 Lewis & Clark L. Rev. 791 (2015)
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE RABBIT HOLE: RECONCILING RECENT SUPREME COURT PERSONAL JURISDICTION JURISPRUDENCE WITH JURISDICTION TO TERMINATE PARENTAL RIGHTS
Joan M. Shaughnessy
19 Lewis & Clark L. Rev. 811 (2015)
Hat tip: John Parry
Monday, December 14, 2015
Three new articles recently posted on SSRN:
1. Christopher Beauchamp (Brooklyn Law School) has posted The First Patent Litigation Explosion, forthcoming in Yale Law Journal.
The twenty-first century “patent litigation explosion” is not unprecedented. In fact, the nineteenth century saw an even bigger surge of patent cases. During that era, the most prolific patent enforcers brought hundreds or even thousands of suits, dwarfing the efforts of today’s leading “trolls.” In 1850, New York City and Philadelphia alone had ten times more patent litigation, per U.S. patent in force, than the entire United States in 2013. Even the absolute quantity of late-nineteenth-century patent cases bears comparison to the numbers filed in recent years: the Southern District of New York in 1880 would have ranked third on the list of districts with the most patent infringement suits filed in 2014 and would have headed the list as recently as 2010.
This Article reveals the forgotten history of the first patent litigation explosion. It first describes the rise of large-scale patent enforcement in the middle of the nineteenth century. It then draws on new data from the archives of two leading federal courts to trace the development of patent litigation from 1840 to 1910 and to outline the scale, composition, and leading causes of the litigation boom. Finally, the Article explores the consequences of this phenomenon for the law and politics of the patent system. The effects of the litigation explosion were profound. The rise of large-scale patent assertion provides a new explanation for patent law’s crucial shift from common law to equity decision making in the middle of the nineteenth century. And at its height, the litigation explosion produced a political backlash that threatened to sweep away the patent system as we know it. Recovering the history of patent law during this formative and turbulent era offers fresh perspectives on the patent reform debates of today.
2. Lee Epstein (Washington University in St. Louis School of Law) and Eric A. Posner (University of Chicago Law School) have posted Supreme Court Justices' Loyalty to the President.
A statistical analysis of voting by Supreme Court justices from 1937-2014 provides evidence of a “loyalty effect”—justices more frequently vote for the government when the president who appointed them is in office than when subsequent presidents lead the government. This effect exists even when subsequent presidents are of the same party as the justices in question. However, the loyalty effect is much stronger for Democratic justices than for Republican justices. This may be because Republican presidents are more ideologically committed than Democratic justices are, leaving less room for demonstrations of loyalty.
3. Bradley Wendel (Cornell University School of Law) has posted Litigation Trolls (NYU Law School Center on Civil Justice Symposium on "Litigation Funding: The Basics and Beyond").
Third-party financing of litigation has been described with a variety of unflattering metaphors. Litigation financers have been likened to gamblers in the courtroom casino, loan sharks, vultures, Wild West outlaws, and busybodies mucking about in the private affairs of others. Now Judge Richard Posner has referred to third-party financers as litigation trolls, an undeniably unflattering comparison to patent trolls. But what it is, if anything, that makes third-party financers “trolls”? Legal claims are, for the most part, freely assignable, the proceeds of claims are assignable, and various strangers to the underlying lawsuit, including liability insurers and plaintiffs’ contingency-fee counsel, are permitted to have an economic interest in the outcome of the litigation. On one view, therefore, third-party litigation investment is just another innovative financial product that enables risk to be carved up and allocated more efficiently. Life insurance, attorney contingent fees, and derivative contracts on exchange-traded commodities were all formerly regarded with extreme suspicion, but are now widely accepted. But people still hate patent trolls. So whether litigation funding is some kind of conceptual anomaly is an important question because, as it happens, Posner’s dictum coincides with a public-relations campaign by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to stigmatize third-party litigation financing and saddle the industry with new and burdensome regulations. This short paper evaluates the conceptual critique of litigation financing by comparison with two other areas in which it is claimed that some form of financing “just doesn’t sit right” in light of the nature and function of the legal system – patent trolling and contributions to judicial election campaigns.
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Today the Supreme Court issued its first opinion in an argued case this Term: OBB Personenverkehr AG v. Sachs. In an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court unanimously held that a lawsuit against the Austrian state-owned railway was barred by Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. From the opinion:
Respondent Carol Sachs is a resident of California who purchased in the United States a Eurail pass for rail travel in Europe. She suffered traumatic personal injuries when she fell onto the tracks at the Innsbruck, Austria, train station while attempting to board a train operated by the Austrian state-owned railway. She sued the railway in Federal District Court, arguing that her suit was not barred by sovereign immunity because it is “based upon” the railway’s sale of the pass to her in the United States. We disagree and conclude that her action is instead “based upon” the railway’s conduct in Innsbruck. We therefore hold that her suit falls outside the commercial activity exception and is barred by sovereign immunity.
Our earlier coverage is here.
Friday, November 20, 2015
Over at his In Progress blog, Colin Starger has mapped out everyone’s favorite judicially-crafted exception the final judgment rule, showing “19 of the Supreme Court’s collateral order cases using a modified Spaeth Projection.”
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
The Supreme Court heard oral argument today in Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo, which presents the questions:
(I) Whether differences among individual class members may be ignored and a class action certified under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3), or a collective action certified under the Fair Labor Standards Act, where liability and damages will be determined with statistical techniques that presume all class members are identical to the average observed in a sample.
(II) Whether a class action may be certified or maintained under Rule 23(b)(3), or a collective action certified or maintained under the Fair Labor Standards Act, when the class contains hundreds of members who were not injured and have no legal right to any damages.
Monday, November 2, 2015
The Supreme Court hears oral argument today in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, which presents the question:
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.
For our earlier coverage, see here, here, and here. You should also check out Amy Howe’s preview of the argument for SCOTUSblog and the Vanderbilt Law Review’s En Banc Roundtable on the case, available here.
UPDATE: The transcript of the oral argument has now been posted.
Friday, October 30, 2015
In the latest issue of the Yale Law Journal is a note by Mark Kelley, Saving 60(b)(5): The Future of Institutional Reform Litigation. Here’s the abstract:
Institutional reform decrees are one of the chief means by which federal courts cure illegal state and federal institutional practices, such as school segregation, constitutionally inadequate conditions in prisons and mental hospitals, and even insufficient dental services under Medicaid. The legal standards governing federal courts’ power to modify or dissolve institutional reform decrees, a crucial tool that can be used to safeguard or sabotage these decrees’ continued vitality, are rooted in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(5). In Horne v. Flores, the Supreme Court tweaked Rule 60(b)(5) to make it easier for state and local institutions to modify or dissolve the institutional reform decrees to which they are bound. This Note argues that Horne has introduced considerable confusion and divergence among lower court approaches to the modification and dissolution of reform decrees, and has made it too easy for institutional defendants to escape federal oversight. At the same time, however, Horne rested on legitimate policy critiques of institutional reform litigation. This Note attempts to chart a middle ground between the doctrine’s detractors and defenders by making concrete proposals about how courts should resolve the confusion introduced by Horne. These recommendations would align the institutional reform doctrine with the policy critiques highlighted by the Court in Horne while still allowing for the effective vindication of constitutional rights.
Thursday, October 22, 2015
Scott Dodson and Philip Pucillo have posted on SSRN a draft of their recent article, Joint and Several Jurisdiction, which will be published in the Duke Law Journal. Here’s the abstract:
Is federal diversity jurisdiction case-specific or claim-specific? Consider a state-law case in federal court between a Texas plaintiff and two defendants — one from California and the other from Texas. The complete-diversity rule taught to every first-year law student makes clear that, when the diversity defect is noted, the court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over the action as a whole. The court cannot, therefore, proceed with either claim as long as the nondiverse claim remains. But does the court’s subject-matter jurisdiction nevertheless extend to the diverse claim, such that the case can continue if the spoiler is dismissed? This question is both pervasive and unsettled. We identify and explore two possible answers, each based on a different theory of subject-matter jurisdiction. The first we denote “joint jurisdiction ”— an all-or-nothing theory — under which the presence of a nondiverse claim contaminates the whole case and deprives the court of diversity jurisdiction over diverse claims. The second we denote “several jurisdiction” — a claim-by-claim theory — under which the court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over the nondiverse claim but always had, and continues to have, diversity jurisdiction over the diverse claim. We show that each theory boasts jurisprudential support, leaving the doctrine ambivalent on a question that affects thousands of cases filed in federal court each year. We then offer a way to reconcile these seemingly incompatible theories and precedent: manipulation of the nonjurisdictional time-of-filing rule. Finally, we discuss how that solution potentially creates new tensions, particularly regarding the notion that a court without subject-matter jurisdiction over an action may nonetheless render a binding adjudication of claims within that action.
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Bob Klonoff has posted on SSRN a draft of his article, Class Actions in the Year 2025: A Prognosis, which will be published in the Emory Law Journal. Here’s the abstract:
In this Article, I reflect on what the federal judiciary has done in recent years, and I attempt to predict what the class action landscape will look like a decade from now. My predictions fall into several categories:
First, I discuss whether the basic class action framework — Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 — is likely to be revamped in the next decade. I predict that there is little chance that the basic structure of Rule 23 will change. Calls by some scholars to rewrite Rule 23 will not make headway. The only caveat to this prediction is that either Congress or the Supreme Court could repudiate so-called no injury classes — i.e., classes in which some unnamed class members suffered no harm — a result that would not change the text of Rule 23 but would adversely impact certain kinds of class actions, such as consumer cases.
Second, I examine the likely state of class action jurisprudence in the year 2025. In that regard, I make several predictions: Securities class actions will continue to flourish, but consumer, employment, and personal injury class actions will continue to decline. The Supreme Court will curtail the ability of plaintiffs to establish liability or damages through expert statistical sampling (referred to frequently as “trial by formula”). The “ascertainability” requirement imposed by the Third Circuit will be repudiated by the Supreme Court or by the Third Circuit itself. The Supreme Court will conclude, as have numerous circuits, that an unaccepted offer of judgment to a class representative pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68 is a legal nullity and does not moot the individual’s claim or the putative class action. Defendants will advance several arguments against class certification that, until now, have had only limited success. These will include expansive applications of Rule 23’s typicality, predominance, and superiority requirements. Although defendants will not be fully successful with these arguments, they will succeed in erecting some additional barriers to class certification. During the next decade, courts addressing class certification and the fairness of settlements will give greater weight to allegations of unethical behavior by class counsel and by counsel representing objectors to settlements. The future of class actions will ultimately lie in the hands of a small number of appellate court judges who have a special interest and expertise in aggregate litigation.
Third, I focus on the administration and resolution of class actions and offer two predictions: (1) by 2025, a significantly larger number of class action cases will go to trial than at any time since 1966; and (2) technological changes will fundamentally alter the mechanics of class action practice, offering more sophisticated tools for notice, participation by class members, and distribution of settlement proceeds.
Thursday, October 1, 2015
Today the Supreme Court issued its much-anticipated order list from the end-of-summer “long conference.” It granted certiorari in a few cases that folks interested in civil procedure and federal courts will want to keep an eye on:
Bank Markazi v. Peterson (No. 14-770), from the Second Circuit, is a separation-of-powers challenge to a congressional statute involving the execution of a judgment against bonds held by the Central Bank of Iran. Here is the question presented by the petitioner:
This case concerns nearly $2 billion of bonds in which Bank Markazi, the Central Bank of Iran, held an interest in Europe as part of its foreign currency reserves. Plaintiffs, who hold default judgments against Iran, tried to seize the assets. While the case was pending, Congress enacted § 502 of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012, 22 U.S.C. § 8772. By its terms, that statute applies only to this one case: to “the financial assets that are identified in and the subject of proceedings in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in Peterson et al. v. Islamic Republic of Iran et al., Case No. 10 Civ. 4518 (BSJ) (GWG).” Id. § 8772(b). “In order to ensure that Iran is held accountable for paying the judgments,” it provides that, notwithstanding any other state or federal law, the assets “shall be subject to execution” upon only two findings—essentially, that Bank Markazi has a beneficial interest in them and that no one else does. Id. § 8772(a)(1), (2). The question presented is:
Whether § 8772—a statute that effectively directs a particular result in a single pending case—violates the separation of powers.
Americold Logistics, LLC v. ConAgra Foods, Inc. (No. 14-1382), from the Tenth Circuit, involves how to determine the citizenship of a trust for purposes of diversity jurisdiction:
Petitioners Americold Logistics, LLC and Americold Realty Trust – a corporation and real estate investment trust, respectively – removed a case from Kansas state court to the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, asserting the parties were diverse. No party challenged the removal, and the District Court ruled on the merits of that litigation without addressing any issue relating to diversity jurisdiction. Likewise, neither party raised any jurisdictional challenge on appeal to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Tenth Circuit, however, sua sponte queried whether there was full diversity of citizenship among the parties. In particular, the judges challenged whether the citizenship of Americold Realty Trust, a business trust, should be determined by reference to its trustees’ citizenship, or instead by reference to some broader set of factors. This issue has deeply split courts across the country. Joining the minority of courts, the Tenth Circuit held the jurisdictional inquiry extends, at a minimum, to the citizenship of a trust’s beneficiaries in addition to its trustees’ citizenship. In this case, doing so destroyed diversity of citizenship among the parties.
The question presented by this petition is: Whether the Tenth Circuit wrongly deepened a pervasive circuit split among the federal circuits regarding whether the citizenship of a trust for purposes of diversity jurisdiction is based on the citizenship of the controlling trustees, the trust beneficiaries, or some combination of both.
MHN Government Services, Inc. v. Zaborowski (No. 14-1458), from the Ninth Circuit, is another case involving the relationship between the Federal Arbitration Act and state contract law. Here is the question presented by the petitioners:
The Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) provides that an arbitration agreement shall be enforced “save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract,” 9 U.S.C. § 2. California law applies one rule of contract severability to contracts in general, and a separate rule of contract severability to agreements to arbitrate. The arbitration-only rule disfavors arbitration and applies even when the agreement contains an express severability clause. Its application in this case conflicts with binding precedent of this Court and with opinions of four other courts of appeals.
The question presented is whether California’s arbitration-only severability rule is preempted by the FAA.
You can find coverage of today’s cert. grants from SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston here.
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing yesterday on a bill entitled “The Fraudulent Joinder Act of 2015.” Minority witness, Professor Lonny Hoffman, testified against the bill.
The bill, H.R. 3624, provides:
Section 1447(c) of title 28, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:
“A motion for remand, and any opposition thereto, may include affidavit or other evidence showing a plausible claim for relief against each nondiverse defendant, or the lack thereof, or indicating a good faith intention to prosecute the action against each nondiverse defendant or to seek a joint judgment, or the lack of such a good faith intent. The district court shall deny a motion to remand if it finds that the complaint does not state a plausible claim for relief against a nondiverse defendant under applicable state law or there is no good faith intention to prosecute the action against a nondiverse defendant or to seek a joint judgment.”
Professor Hoffman explains the bill’s effect: “The bill would replace the existing common law fraudulent joinder test with a statutory test that places the burden on the plaintiff to prove that her claims against the non-diverse defendant are ‘plausible’ and brought in ‘good faith.’ Overall, the bill would make proving fraudulent joinder much easier than it is under current law.”
One of the majority witnesses, Elizabeth Milito, Senior Executive Counsel of the National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center, asserted the need for the bill:
[F]or a small business owner being served with lawsuit generates significant trepidation, disgust, and yes, uncertainty.
Because litigation entails angst and great expense for small businesses, NFIB is pleased to see this Committee’s attention focused on the issue of fraudulent joinder. Fraudulent joinder remains a source of confusion and unnecessary litigation in our courts and impacts far too many innocent small businesses. The situation unfolds as follows: plaintiffs’ attorneys will name a small business – such as a local pharmacy or insurance agent – with little connection to the complaint in order to deny the federal courts of jurisdiction. In many instances, the plaintiff has no intention of imposing liability on the fraudulently joined party. With courts divided over the standard for finding that a defendant is fraudulently joined, the small business is forced to engage in protracted litigation when all they want is to be dismissed from the case entirely.
In opposition to the bill, Professor Hoffman’s introduction summarizes his testimony:
There is no warrant for amending 28 U.S.C. §1447. More than a century old, fraudulent joinder law is well-settled and strikes the proper balance among competing policies in how it evaluates the joinder of non-diverse defendants. With recognition that there are sound reasons for not trying to exhaustively examine the merits of the plaintiff’s claims immediately after removal, courts across the circuits uniformly impose a high burden on the defendant to demonstrate that a non-diverse defendant’s joinder was improper. That burden can only be met if the defendant establishes that the joinder of the diversity-destroying party in the state court action was made without a reasonable basis of proving any liability against that party. By greatly expanding the scope of the fraudulent joinder inquiry, this bill would displace the well-functioning law with wasteful adjudications that district courts are ill-equipped to undertake at the remand stage, burdening the judicial system and raising litigation costs for all parties, especially for plaintiffs on whom this bill imposes the burden of proof. Finally, by requiring that courts resolve merits inquiries that under current law are decided by state courts, the proposed amendments to §1447 raise federalism concerns.
Friday, September 18, 2015
The Judicial Conference approved a new Strategic Plan for the Federal Judiciary on September 17, 2015. If you’ve ever participated in drafting a strategic plan for your law school or other organization, you know the familiar jargon: mission statement, core values, issues, strategies, and goals. They even had an “Ad Hoc Strategic Planning Group.” (Federal judges – they’re just like us!)
As a person who has often been involved in strategic planning, I found it a bit disconcerting to see the Judicial Conference adopting the familiar buzzwords. (I wonder if they had the perennial “what is the darn difference between a strategy and a goal” discussion.)
So here’s the Mission Statement of the federal judiciary:
The United States Courts are an independent, national judiciary providing fair and impartial justice within the jurisdiction conferred by the Constitution and Congress. As an equal branch of government, the federal judiciary preserves and enhances its core values as the courts meet changing national and local needs.
The core values:
Rule of Law: legal predictability, continuity, and coherence; reasoned decisions made through publicly visible processes and based faithfully on the law
Equal Justice: fairness and impartiality in the administration of justice; accessibility of court processes; treatment of all with dignity and respect
Judicial Independence: the ability to render justice without fear that decisions may threaten tenure, compensation, or security; sufficient structural autonomy for the judiciary as an equal branch of government in matters of internal governance and management
Accountability: stringent standards of conduct; self-enforcement of legal and ethical rules; good stewardship of public funds and property; effective and efficient use of resources
Excellence: adherence to the highest jurisprudential and administrative standards; effective recruitment, development and retention of highly competent and diverse judges and staff; commitment to innovative management and administration; availability of sufficient financial and other resources
Service: commitment to the faithful discharge of official duties; allegiance to the Constitution and laws of the United States; dedication to meeting the needs of jurors, court users, and the public in a timely and effective manner
Then there are “seven issues--fundamental policy questions or challenges that are based on an assessment of key trends affecting the judiciary’s mission and core values”:
Issue 1: Providing Justice
Issue 2: The Effective and Efficient Management of Public Resources
Issue 3: The Judiciary Workforce of the Future
Issue 4: Harnessing Technology’s Potential
Issue 5: Enhancing Access to the Judicial Process
Issue 6: The Judiciary’s Relationships with the Other Branches of Government
Issue 7: Enhancing Public Understanding, Trust, and Confidence
Within each issue are strategies (such as “Strategy 1.1. Pursue improvements in the delivery of justice on a nationwide basis”) and goals (such as “Goal 1.1a: Reduce delay through the work of circuit judicial councils, chief judges, Judicial Conference committees and other appropriate entities”).
I did not find (on quick perusal) any specific mention of the Supreme Court or of cameras in the courtroom, despite “Strategy 7.2: Improve the sharing and delivery of information about the judiciary.”