Thursday, December 1, 2016
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
The NYU Law Review and the Center on Civil Justice are hosting a symposium entitled “Rule 23 @ 50” this Friday and Saturday. From the announcement:
This is a wonderful time to reflect on Rule 23 – what it was meant to do; whether it has met its promise; if not, why not, and what can be done to remedy the situation; and what is in store for the Rule going forward.
When: December 2–3, 2016.
Where: Vanderbilt Hall, 40 Washington Square South.
Panels will explore the history of the rule, its use in civil rights and mass tort cases, what the rule was meant to accomplish, whether it has done so, and if not, whether there are ways to fix the situation. There will be an oral history interview with Professor Arthur Miller, who was there at the creation of the rule. The conference will conclude with a judges’ roundtable moderated by Professor Miller.
Tuesday, November 1, 2016
As covered earlier, the Standing Committee has published proposed amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (along with proposed amendments to the Appellate, Bankruptcy & Criminal Rules). The proposed amendments to Rule 23 (which deal principally with class action settlements) have received much of the attention, but the proposals also include changes to Rules 5, 62, and 65.1.
The first public hearing on the proposed civil rules amendments takes place this Thursday, November 3, in Washington, D.C. The public comment period runs until February 15, 2017.
Thursday, October 20, 2016
Brian Fitzpatrick and Cameron Norris have posted on SSRN a draft of their article, One-Way Fee Shifting after Summary Judgment. Here’s the abstract:
New, defendant-friendly discovery amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure took effect on December 1, 2015. Although the discovery amendments created more controversy than perhaps anything the rulemakers have done in recent memory, defense-side advocates are pressing a still more ambitious proposal: to outright flip who pays for discovery, from the party who produces the discovery to the party who requests it. We share the view of most commentators that so-called "requester pays" is too extreme. But we also think the current regime — so called "producer pays" — errs too far in the other direction (even after the new amendments to the rules). In this article, we rely on economic analysis to offer a middle way: to ask plaintiffs to pay the cost of responding to their discovery requests only if they do not find anything trial worthy in those requests and lose their cases on summary judgment. Although Congress certainly has the power to implement our proposal, we believe that the rulemakers may be able to do so on their own as well.
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Brooke Coleman has posted on SSRN her article, One Percent Procedure, 91 Washington Law Review 1005 (2016). Here’s the abstract:
In this election year, political rhetoric about the one percent is already pervasive, as those with the greatest concentrated wealth prosper and the remaining population stagnates. Because of their affluence, the one percent exercise disproportionate control over political and economic systems. This Article argues that federal civil procedure is similarly a one percent regime. The crème de la crème of the bench and bar, along with equally exclusive litigants, often engage in high-stakes, complex civil litigation. It is this type of litigation that dominates both the elite experience and the public perception of what civil litigation is. This litigation is not particularly common, however; while expensive and well known, it is in the minority. Yet this litigation and the individuals engaged in it have an incongruent influence on how the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and procedural doctrine develop. They create one percent procedure.
This Article interrogates and connects disparate phenomena related to civil litigation, including the recent discovery amendments and the rise of multidistrict litigation. It demonstrates that the elite — those who are deeply steeped in complex, high-stakes litigation — are setting the agenda and determining the rules for how the entire civil litigation game is played. It further argues that the benefits of a one percent procedure system — notably expertise of the participants — are not worth the costs; indeed, that expertise can be detrimental to the design of a civil litigation system.
As in politics and economics, a system that gives too much control to the one percent risks undervaluing and underserving the remaining ninety-nine. Using social and political science, the Article argues that the homogenous policymaking of one percent procedure creates suboptimal results. The Article concludes that the structures giving rise to one percent procedure must be modified and proposes a set of reforms intended to allow the ninety-nine percent representation in, and access to, the process of constructing our shared civil litigation system.
Thursday, October 13, 2016
Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued its decision in Schuchardt v. President of the United States (3d Cir. No. 15-3491). The plaintiff filed a lawsuit challenging NSA surveillance activities, but the district court dismissed for lack of standing. The Third Circuit reversed, with an opinion that begins:
This appeal involves a constitutional challenge to an electronic surveillance program operated by the National Security Agency (NSA) under the authority of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Elliott Schuchardt appeals an order of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania dismissing his civil action for lack of jurisdiction. The District Court held that Schuchardt lacked standing to sue because he failed to plead facts from which one might reasonably infer that his own communications had been seized by the federal government. Because we hold that, at least as a facial matter, Schuchardt’s second amended complaint plausibly stated an injury in fact personal to him, we will vacate the District Court’s order and remand.
The court goes on to discuss the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Clapper v. Amnesty International USA, as well as the general pleading standard set forth in Twombly and Iqbal.
It’s worth noting that a case similar to Schuchardt is currently pending in the Fourth Circuit. Wikimedia Foundation v. NSA (4th Cir. No. 15-2560) is scheduled for oral argument in December. If readers are interested, below is a link to an amicus brief in the Wikimedia case that I filed on behalf of various civil procedure and federal courts professors:
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
SCOTUS grants cert to review 9/11 lawsuits; questions presented involve Bivens, qualified immunity & pleading standards
Today the Supreme Court granted certiorari in three cases, which it then consolidated. The cases are Ziglar v. Turkmen (No. 15-1358), Ashcroft v. Turkmen (No. 15-1359), and Hasty v. Turkmen (No. 15-1363). The petitioners are federal officials challenging the Second Circuit’s decision (Turkmen v. Hasty, 789 F.3d 218 (2015)) refusing to dismiss certain claims by plaintiffs alleging they were subjected to discriminatory and punitive treatment during their confinement following the 9/11 attacks. One aspect of these cases that could prove quite important is that Justices Sotomayor and Kagan “took no part in the consideration or decision of these petitions” and have apparently recused themselves.
The three cases present slightly different but overlapping questions relating to Bivens, qualified immunity, and pleading standards. Not surprisingly, there are echoes of the Court’s 2009 decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, which has had a significant impact on pleading standards generally (Iqbal is already the #4 most-cited Supreme Court decision in history).
My article on the 2015 amendments to the FRCPs is now in print. It’s The End of an Era? Federal Civil Procedure After the 2015 Amendments, 66 Emory L.J. 1 (2016). Here’s the abstract:
The recent amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were the most controversial in decades. The biggest criticisms concerned pleading standards and access to discovery. Many feared that the amendments would undermine the simplified, merits-driven approach that the original drafters of the Federal Rules envisioned and would weaken access to justice and the enforcement of substantive rights and obligations.
This Article argues that the amendments that came into effect on December 1, 2015, do not mandate a more restrictive approach to pleading or discovery. Although there was legitimate cause for alarm given the advisory committee’s earlier proposals and supporting documents, the final amendments — in light of their text, structure, and accompanying advisory committee notes — should be interpreted to preserve notice pleading and a robust discovery process. The more significant lesson of the 2015 amendments, therefore, may be to confirm the view that the amendment mechanism of the Rules Enabling Act is unlikely to generate consequential changes to the Federal Rules (for better or for worse). The process leading to the 2015 amendments was teed up almost perfectly for opponents of meaningful access and enforcement to make real, detrimental changes to federal pleading and discovery standards. Yet the final amendments ultimately did not do so.
Accordingly, the key battleground following the 2015 amendments will be in the federal courts themselves, as judges are called upon to interpret and apply the rules in particular cases. No doubt aware of this fact, Chief Justice Roberts has taken various steps to spin the recent amendments as making more significant changes than they actually do. These post-amendment moves are not legally authoritative and do not modify the law of civil procedure. But the Chief Justice and his allies may win the day if they are able to dominate the gestalt surrounding the 2015 amendments in a way that persuades lower court judges to take a more restrictive approach. Properly interpreted, the 2015 amendments do not support the Chief’s narrative. Recognizing this will be crucial for ensuring access and enforcement going forward.
Monday, October 3, 2016
Last week, U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler of the Northern District of California invoked Rule 4(f)(3) to order that a plaintiff be allowed to use Twitter to serve process on a Kuwaiti national. The case is St. Francis Assisi v. Kuwait Financial House, and the opinion begins:
The plaintiff, St. Francis Assisi (a non-profit corporation), sued the defendants, Kuwait Finance House, Kuveyt-Turk Participation Bank Inc., and Hajjaj al-Ajmi (an individual) for damages and equitable relief arising from the defendants’ financing of the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which resulted in the targeted murder of Assyrian Christians in Iraq and Syria. (See Compl., ECF No. 1.)
St. Francis has not been successful in serving process on al-Ajmi. (See ECF No. 10.) Al-Ajmi is a Kuwaiti national and efforts to locate him have been unsuccessful. (Id.) St. Francis now asks to serve al-Ajmi by alternative means under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(f)(3) via the social-media platform, Twitter. (Id.) The court grants St. Francis’s request because service via Twitter is reasonably calculated to give notice and is not prohibited by international agreement.
Eric Goldman has coverage here.
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Yesterday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued its decision in de Fontbrune v. Wofsy. The court unanimously held that the district court was correct to consider expert declarations on the content of French law in connection with the defendants’ Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, although it reversed on the issue of whether the French award at issue in the case was cognizable under California’s Uniform Recognition Act.
Here are the opinion’s opening paragraphs:
Justice Holmes once observed that foreign legal systems can appear to the uninitiated “like a wall of stone,” impenetrable and unyielding. Diaz v. Gonzales, 261 U.S. 102, 106 (1923) (Holmes, J.). For over a century, the federal courts attempted to scale this stone wall by treating questions of foreign law as questions of fact to be pleaded and proved. But over the years, this method proved unsatisfactory, obscuring rather than illuminating the content and nuance of foreign laws. Finally, in 1966, following a proliferation of international litigation, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 44.1 was adopted to furnish federal courts with a uniform procedure for raising and determining an issue concerning foreign law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 44.1 advisory committee’s note. Now, according to the Rule, a “court’s determination [of foreign law] must be treated as a ruling on a question of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 44.1.
Despite the clear mandate of the federal rule, this appeal illustrates the difficulty that can arise in determining foreign law and the confusion surrounding the role of foreign law in domestic proceedings. The dispute stems from the transcontinental attempts of Yves Sicre de Fontbrune to protect his copyright in photographs of Pablo Picasso’s artworks after an American art editor, Alan Wofsy and Alan Wofsy and Associates (collectively, “Wofsy”), reproduced the photographic images. As part of his efforts, de Fontbrune received a judgment in French court of two million euros in “astreinte” against Wofsy for copyright violations. De Fontbrune sought to enforce this astreinte in federal court in California under the California Uniform Foreign-Court Monetary Judgment Recognition Act (“Uniform Recognition Act” or “the Act”), Cal. Civ. Proc. Code §§ 1713 et seq.
The Picasso photographs—intended to convey the quintessence of Picasso’s artworks—now require us to delve into the essence of astreinte, a French judicial device. The enforceability of the French award turns on whether, in this case, the astreinte functions as a fine or penalty—which the Uniform Recognition Act does not recognize—or as a grant of monetary recovery—which is statutorily cognizable. The answer to this question is not a simple matter of translation, but, as we explain, requires a broader look at French law to understand the nature of the astreinte remedy in this case, in conjunction with an analysis of California law regarding the enforcement of foreign judgments.
Friday, September 16, 2016
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Yesterday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued its decision in In re: Modafinil Antitrust Litigation. The court addresses Rule 23(a)(1), which provides that to certify a class action the class must be “so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable.”
From the opinion’s introduction:
When thinking of a class action brought under Rule 23(b)(3), we typically think of a large aggregation of individuals (hundreds or even thousands), each with small claims. This case is quite different from that. Here, we are faced with a putative class of twenty-two large and sophisticated corporations, most of which have multi-million dollar claims, who wish to take advantage of the class action device. While we do not foreclose the possibility of class status in this case, or where the putative class is of similar composition, Plaintiffs have not met their burden of showing that the numerosity requirement of Rule 23(a)(1) has been satisfied. We now provide a framework for district courts to apply when conducting their numerosity analyses, and we will remand to the District Court to allow such an analysis in this case.
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
In April 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court adopted amendments to Rules 4, 6, and 82 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. These amendments would:
(1) add to the last sentence of Rule 4(m) a clarification that Rule 4(m)’s 90-day deadline for serving process does not apply to service in a foreign country under Rule 4(h)(2);
(2) amend Rule 6(d) to remove service by electronic means from the modes of service that allow 3 added days to act after being served; and
(3) amend Rule 82 to reflect the 2011 legislation enacting 28 U.S.C. § 1390 and repealing § 1392.
Unless Congress intervenes, these amendments will go into effect on December 1, 2016.
Last week, Sixth Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton, who chairs the Standing Committee, sent the following letter to Vice President Joe Biden (who in that capacity is also President of the U.S. Senate) and to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan:
The letter addresses an issue regarding the 2015 and 2016 amendments to Rule 4(m). The final text of the amendment that the Supreme Court adopted in April 2016 omitted language that had been added in 2015, which instructed that Rule 4(m)’s 90-day deadline for serving process does not apply to “service of a notice under Rule 71.1(d)(3)(A).” The omission appears to have been inadvertent—that language was not stricken in the redlined version of the 2016 amendment, nor was it referred to in the advisory committee note for the 2016 amendment.
Judge Sutton writes that, despite the omission, the “net effect” of the 2015 and 2016 amendments would include language regarding both Rule 4(h)(2) and Rule 71.1(d)(3)(A) in the last sentence of Rule 4(m). He concludes:
[I]f the current amended rule pending before Congress goes into effect on December 1, 2016, it henceforward will read:
“This subdivision (m) does not apply to service in a foreign country under Rule 4(f), 4(h)(2), or 4(j)(1), or to service of a notice under Rule 71.1(d)(3)(A).”
Last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit issued its decision in In re: Missouri Department of Corrections. The case involves a subpoena that two Mississippi death row inmates served on the Missouri Department of Corrections (MDOC) seeking discovery relating to Missouri’s use of pentobarbital in lethal injections, including the identities of its pentobarbital suppliers. The inmates are challenging Mississippi’s execution method (which does not use pentobarbital) as violating the Eighth Amendment.
MDOC moved to quash the subpoena, but the district court in Missouri denied the motion and ordered MDOC to produce most of the information sought by the inmates. The Eighth Circuit has now denied MDOC’s request for a writ of mandamus challenging that order. It’s a short six-page opinion, but it covers a lot of ground—from appellate mandamus, to whether a subpoena creates an undue burden under FRCP 45(d)(3)(A)(iv), to sovereign immunity, to the state secrets privilege.
Monday, August 29, 2016
Last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued its decision in Nicosia v. Amazon.com, Inc., holding that the plaintiff’s suit against Amazon should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim based on the mandatory arbitration provision in Amazon’s Conditions of Use.
Of course there’s considerable discussion of the Federal Arbitration Act and substantive contract law, but the court also addresses pleading standards, the relationship between Rule 12(b)(6) motions and motions to compel arbitration, and standing (the latter with respect to the plaintiff’s request for a preliminary injunction).
Friday, August 19, 2016
Today U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan issued an opinion in Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State, a FOIA case seeking employment records relating to Huma Abedin, long-time aide to Hillary Clinton. In connection with the plaintiff’s request for discovery under FRCP 56(d), the court ordered that the plaintiff may serve interrogatories on Hillary Clinton but could not depose her.
From the opinion:
The Court directs Judicial Watch to propound questions that are relevant to Secretary Clinton’s unique first-hand knowledge of the creation and operation of clintonemail.com for State Department business, as well as the State Department’s approach and practice for processing FOIA requests that potentially implicated former Secretary Clinton’s and Ms. Abedin’s emails and State’s processing of the FOIA request that is the subject of this action.
Friday, August 12, 2016
The Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure has published proposed amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (along with proposed amendments to the Appellate, Bankruptcy & Criminal Rules). The proposed FRCP amendments include—among other things—changes to Rule 23’s provisions on class actions.
The comment period runs until February 15, 2017. Comments on the FRCP amendments can be submitted here.
In addition, the Civil Rules Committee will be holding the following public hearings:
- Washington, DC on November 3, 2016
- Phoenix, AZ on January 4, 2017
- Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX on February 16, 2017
Just Published: The Sedona Conference Commentary on Rule 34 and Rule 45 "Possession, Custody, or Control"
The Sedona Conference has issued its final Commentary on Rule 34 and Rule 45 "Possession, Custody, or Control." 17 Sedona Conf. J. ____ (forthcoming 2016).
From the Abstract:
Rule 26(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows for the discovery of “documents, electronically stored information, and tangible things” in the responding party’s “possession, custody, or control.” Similarly, Rule 34(a) and Rule 45(a) obligate a party responding to a document request or subpoena to produce “documents, electronically stored information, and tangible things” in that party’s “possession, custody, or control.” Yet, the Rules are silent on what the phrase “possession, custody, or control” means. Therefore, parties must look to case law for a definition. Unfortunately, the case law across circuits (and often within circuits themselves) is unclear and, at times, inconsistent as to what is meant by “possession, custody, or control,” resulting in a lack of reliable legal—and practical—guidance. The inconsistent interpretation and application of Rules 34 and 45 in this context are especially problematic because parties remain absolutely responsible for preserving and producing information within their “possession, custody, or control” and face material consequences, including sanctions, for their failure to do so.
. . . .
This Commentary is intended to provide practical, uniform, and defensible guidelines regarding when a responding party should be deemed to have “possession, custody, or control” of documents and all forms of electronically stored information (hereafter, collectively referred to as “Documents and ESI”) subject to Rule 34 and Rule 45 requests for production. A secondary, corollary purpose of this Commentary is to advocate abolishing use of the common‐law “Practical Ability Test” for purposes of determining Rule 34 and Rule 45 “control” of Documents and ESI. Simply stated, this common‐law test has led to inequitable situations in which courts have held that a party has Rule 34 “control” of Documents and ESI even though the party did not have the actual ability to obtain the Documents and ESI. Therefore, this Commentary recommends that courts should interpret and enforce Rule 34 “possession, custody, or control” obligations in ways that do not lead to sanctions for unintended and uncontrollable circumstances. To support that recommendation, this Commentary also looks to several well‐established legal doctrines upon which to model the contemporary scope of a party’s duty to identify, preserve, and collect Documents and ESI, such as reliance upon a modified version of the business judgment rule. Helping resolve the disparity among circuits to bring a uniform, national standard to this important area of the law is consistent with Sedona’s mission of moving the law forward in a just and reasoned way.
Here are "THE SEDONA CONFERENCE PRINCIPLES ON POSSESSION, CUSTODY, OR CONTROL":
Principle 1: A responding party will be deemed to be in Rule 34 or Rule 45 “possession, custody, or control” of Documents and ESI when that party has actual possession or the legal right to obtain and produce the Documents and ESI on demand.
Principle 2: The party opposing the preservation or production of specifically requested Documents and ESI claimed to be outside its control, generally bears the burden of proving that it does not have actual possession or the legal right to obtain the requested Documents and ESI.
Principle 3(a): When a challenge is raised about whether a responding party has Rule 34 or Rule 45 “possession, custody, or control” over Documents and ESI, the Court should apply modified “business judgment rule” factors that, if met, would allow certain, rebuttable presumptions in favor of the responding party.
Principle 3(b): In order to overcome the presumptions of the modified business judgment rule, the requesting party bears the burden to show that the responding party’s decisions concerning the location, format, media, hosting, and access to Documents and ESI lacked a good faith basis and were not reasonably related to the responding party’s legitimate business interests.
Principle 4: Rule 34 and Rule 45 notions of “possession, custody, or control” should never be construed to override conflicting state or federal privacy or other statutory obligations, including foreign data protection laws.
Principle 5: If a party responding to a specifically tailored request for Documents or ESI (either prior to or during litigation) does not have actual possession or the legal right to obtain the Documents or ESI that are specifically requested by their adversary because they are in the “possession, custody, or control” of a third party, it should, in a reasonably timely manner, so notify the requesting party to enable the requesting party to obtain the Documents or ESI from the third party. If the responding party so notifies the requesting party, absent extraordinary circumstances, the responding party should not be sanctioned or otherwise held liable for the third party’s failure to preserve the Documents or ESI.
Friday, July 29, 2016
Lou Mulligan and Glen Staszewski have posted on SSRN a draft of their article, Civil Rules Interpretive Theory. Here’s the abstract:
We claim that the proper method of interpreting the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure — civil rules interpretive theory — should be recognized as a distinct field of scholarly inquiry and judicial practice. Fundamentally, the Rules are not statutes. Yet the theories of statutory interpretation that are typically imported into Rules cases by the courts rely upon a principle of legislative supremacy that is inapplicable in this context. That said, we recognize the Rules as authoritative law that is generally amenable to a form of jurisprudential purposivism. Working from this newly elucidated normative foundation, we reject the Rules-as-statutes interpretive approach so often forwarded by the Supreme Court. We turn next to the two alternative interpretive approaches to the Rules in the nascent scholarly literature. We reject the inherent authority model, which views the Court as an unconstrained policymaker in Rules cases, as failing to respect rule-of-law values. We also decline to adopt the regime-specific purposive model because it fails to recognize that the Court faces a question of policymaking form in Rules cases and disregards the institutional advantages provided by the court rulemaking process. Rather, we advocate for an administrative-law model of Rules interpretation that respects the rule of law and promotes the institutional advantages appertaining to purposive textual interpretation by the high court, Advisory Committee policy setting, and lower court application of discretion.
Friday, July 15, 2016
Richard Briles Moriarty, Assistant Attorney General, State of Wisconsin, has published in the American Journal of Trial Advocacy, 39 Am. J. Trial Advoc. 227 (2015) (available on Westlaw), his article, And Now for Something Completely Different: Are the Federal Civil Discovery Rules Moving Forward into A New Age or Shifting Backward into A "Dark" Age?
This Article examines the 2015 Amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The author explains the purposes behind the Rules historically, identifies major changes made in 2015, and analyzes why the 2015 Rule changes are fundamentally unacceptable. The author concludes by discussing the troublesome committee appointment process that underlies the 2015 changes and proposing an appointment process consistent with the check-and-balance views of the Founders, which, among other benefits, could ultimately restore fair and useful discovery rules to the civil litigation system.