Tuesday, March 14, 2017
A very interesting ruling came down today from District Judge Mark Bennett of the Northern District of Iowa. From the opening paragraph:
This ruling involves one of the least favorite tasks of federal trial and appellate judges—determining whether counsel and/or the parties should be sanctioned for discovery abuses. This case squarely presents the issue of why excellent, thoughtful, highly professional, and exceptionally civil and courteous lawyers are addicted to “boilerplate” discovery objections.
Judge Bennett finds that the parties’ objections violated several discovery rules, including Rule 26(b)(5)’s provisions on asserting privileges and Rules 33 and 34’s requirements that objections to interrogatories and requests for production be stated “with specificity.” He concludes (footnotes omitted):
To address the serious problem of “boilerplate” discovery objections, my new Supplemental Trial Management Order advises the lawyers for the parties that “in conducting discovery, form or boilerplate objections shall not be used and, if used, may subject the party and/or its counsel to sanctions. Objections must be specific and state an adequate individualized basis.” The Order also imposes an “affirmative duty to notify the court of alleged discovery abuse” and warns of the possible sanctions for obstructionist discovery conduct.
I recall the words of a former U.S. Attorney General in a different context: “Each time a [person] stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, [they] send[ ] forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” I pledge to do my part— enough of the warning shots across the bow.
The conduct identified in the Show Cause Order does not warrant sanctions, notwithstanding that the conduct was contrary to the requirements for discovery responses in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. NO MORE WARNINGS. IN THE FUTURE, USING “BOILERPLATE” OBJECTIONS TO DISCOVERY IN ANY CASE BEFORE ME PLACES COUNSEL AND THEIR CLIENTS AT RISK FOR SUBSTANTIAL SANCTIONS.
The case is Liguria Foods v. Griffith Laboratories.
Friday, March 10, 2017
We covered earlier several bills that could make significant changes to federal civil procedure. Two of these passed the House of Representatives yesterday.
- H.R. 725 (the Innocent Party Protection Act) passed by a vote of 224–194.
- H.R. 985 (the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act) passed by a vote of 220-201-1.
Stay tuned. Getting to 60 votes in the Senate will be a more difficult proposition.
Thursday, March 2, 2017
The House of Representatives Committee on Rules has announced that it will meet the week of March 6 “to grant a rule that may provide a structured amendment process for floor consideration of” H.R. 720 (amendments to FRCP 11), H.R. 725 (on so-called “fraudulent” joinder), and H.R. 985 (on class actions and MDLs).
Hat tip: Adam Zimmerman
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Simona Grossi has posted on SSRN a draft of her article, The Claim. Here’s the abstract:
I felt compelled to write this article when I realized that our law interpreters and reformers lack an understanding of the meaning and role of the claim in the federal system, and yet modern scholarship has not produced any study or helpful guidance on the topic.
I spent my fall 2016 at the Yale Law School to work on Charles E. Clark’s collected papers, which are stored in the Yale’s Archives. Clark was the driving force behind the adoption of the Federal Rules. His papers contain his thoughts, notes, sketches, and ideas on procedural law and on the system of federal rules he was designing. Clark’s clear procedural vision produced Rules that have lasted, almost untouched, for almost 80 years. Those Rules assigned to the claim a primary role. And that is not surprising, as the claim is the essential litigation unit, the heartbeat of the case, a demand for justice. Clark was a legal realist and believed that courts were powerful instruments of democracy, intended to allow and foster the development and enforcement of substantive rights. By gradually losing an understanding of, and an interest in, the claim, we have developed doctrines that obstruct and distort the judiciary’s democratic dispute-resolution mission.
My article is intended to offer a comprehensive study of the claim and the role of the claim in the various doctrines that govern procedure in federal courts. Based on that understanding, the article develops a theory of federal practice and procedure that centers on the claim, a theory that assigns to the claim a primary, and yet a non-dispositive role in litigation analysis.
Friday, February 17, 2017
Five bills that would generally operate to favor corporate defendants in civil lawsuits have passed the House Judiciary Committee with blinding speed and have been referred to the full House:
Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act
Bob Goodlatte (R-VA-6)
Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act
Blake Farenthold (R-TX-27)
Stop Settlement Slush Funds Act
Bob Goodlatte (R-VA-6)
Innocent Party Protection Act
Ken Buck (R-CO-4)
Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act
Lamar Smith (R-TX-21)
We briefly described four of the bills here. The bills are opposed by over 50 advocacy groups for civil rights, consumer protection, and environmental protection.
Monday, February 13, 2017
While Trump Distracts, Republicans Introduce Four Bills Restricting Ordinary Citizens’ Access to the Courts
Four bills have been introduced in Congress that would limit plaintiffs' access to the courts. The title of each bill is misleading, in that the effect of each bill would be very different from what its title indicates.
1. Probably the most far-ranging bill is the so-called "Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017," H.R. 985.
This bill would critically hobble class actions by making them much more difficult to certify and reducing the compensation to plaintiffs’ class action lawyers.
The major provisions of the bill with respect to class actions are (this is not an exhaustive list):
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
In what is beginning to feel like the Groundhog Day of civil procedure bills, LARA has been reintroduced in the Senate and the House for the umpteenth (I think the fifth) time. Although the text of the bills is not yet available, they are likely to be the same as the last version, which was described on this blog here. Essentially, the bills would amend Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to eliminate the 21-day "safe harbor" and to make sanctions mandatory instead of discretionary if a violation is found.
The press release by Senator Grassley, one of the co-sponsors of the bill in the Senate, is a rehash of all the alternative facts repeated for years by defendants to discredit civil litigation.
The Advisory Committee, however, knows that there are not "thousands of frivolous lawsuits" in our federal courts and would be unlikely to amend Rule 11 based upon that falsehood. I assume that is one reason the bills propose an end run around the Rules Enabling Act process.
Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Nick Parrillo has posted on SSRN a draft of his article, The Endgame of Administrative Law: Governmental Disobedience and the Judicial Contempt Power. Here’s the abstract:
Scholars of administrative law focus overwhelmingly on lawsuits to review federal government action while assuming that, if plaintiffs win such lawsuits, the government will do what the court says. But in fact, the federal government’s compliance with court orders is imperfect and fraught, especially with orders compelling the government to act affirmatively. Such orders can strain a federal agency’s resources, interfere with its other legally-required tasks, and force it to make decisions on little information. An agency hit with such an order will often warn the judge that it badly needs more latitude and more time to comply. Judges relent, cutting slack and extending deadlines. The plaintiff who has “won” the suit finds that victory was merely the start of a tough negotiation that can drag on for years.
These compliance negotiations are little understood. Basic questions about them are unexplored, including the most fundamental: What is the endgame? That is, if the judge concludes that the agency has delayed too long and demanded too much, is there anything she can do, at long last, to make the agency comply?
What the judge can do, ultimately, is the same thing as for any disobedient litigant: find the agency (and its high officials) in contempt. But do judges actually make such contempt findings? If so, can judges couple those findings with the sanctions of fine and imprisonment that give contempt its potency against private parties? If not, what use is contempt? The literature is silent on these questions, and conventional research methods, confined to appellate case law, are hopeless for addressing it. There are no opinions of the Supreme Court on the subject, and while the courts of appeals have handled the problem many times, they have dealt with it in a manner calculated to avoid setting clear and general precedent.
Through an examination of thousands of opinions (especially of district courts), docket sheets, briefs, and other filings, plus archival research and interviews, this Article provides the first general assessment of how federal courts handle the federal government’s disobedience. It makes four conclusions. First, the federal judiciary is willing to issue contempt findings against agencies and officials. Second, while several federal judges believe they can (and have tried to) attach sanctions to these findings, the higher courts have exhibited a virtually complete unwillingness to allow sanctions, at times swooping down at the eleventh hour to rescue an agency from incurring a budget-straining fine or its top official from being thrown in jail. Third, the higher courts, even as they unfailingly thwart sanctions in all but a few minor instances, have bent over backward to avoid making pronouncements that sanctions are categorically unavailable, deliberately keeping the sanctions issue in a state of low salience and at least nominal legal uncertainty. Fourth, even though contempt findings are practically devoid of sanctions, they have a shaming effect that gives them substantial if imperfect deterrent power.
The efficacy of litigation against agencies rests on a widespread perception that federal officials simply do not disobey court orders and a concomitant norm that identifies any violation as deviant. Contempt findings, regardless of sanctions, are a means of weaponizing that norm by designating the agency and official as violators and subjecting them to shame. But if judges make too many such findings, and especially if they impose (inevitably publicity-grabbing) sanctions, they may risk undermining the perception that officials always comply and thus the norm that they do so. The judiciary therefore may sometimes pull its punches to preserve the substantial yet limited norm-based power it has.
Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Now on the Courts Law section of JOTWELL is Linda Mullenix’s essay, Infusing Civil Rulemaking with Economic Theory. Linda reviews Paul Stancil’s recent article, Substantive Equality and Procedural Justice, which is forthcoming in the Iowa Law Review.
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Today the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in three consolidated cases raising issues relating to Bivens, qualified immunity, and pleading standards.
Here’s the transcript from today’s argument.
Friday, January 13, 2017
Whether intervenors participating in a lawsuit as of right under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a) must have Article III standing (as three circuits have held), or whether Article III is satisfied so long as there is a valid case or controversy between the named parties (as seven circuits have held).
You can find all the cert-stage briefing—and follow the merits briefs as they come in—at SCOTUSblog.
Yesterday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit denied an attempt by two consumers to intervene in U.S. House of Representatives v. Burwell (No. 16-5202). The case involves, among other things, whether the House of Representatives has Article III standing to sue regarding the Executive Branch’s administration of the Affordable Care Act.
Here is the text of yesterday’s order:
Upon consideration of the motion for leave to intervene, the responses thereto, and the reply, it is
ORDERED that the motion for leave to intervene be denied. Movant-intervenors have not demonstrated that they are entitled to intervene in this case. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 24; Building and Const. Trades Dep’t, AFL-CIO v. Reich, 40 F.3d 1275, 1282 (D.C. Cir. 1994) (enumerating the requirements for intervention under Rule 24 and applying those factors to a motion to intervene in an appellate proceeding). This case shall continue to be held in abeyance, with motions to govern further proceedings due February 21, 2017. See Order (Dec. 5, 2016).
Here is the initial motion to intervene:
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided Briseno v. ConAgra Foods Inc., which addresses what has come to be known in other federal courts as the “ascertainability” requirement. The entire opinion is worth a read, but here are some highlights.
At the outset, the court took issue with the term “ascertainability.” It explained in a footnote:
ConAgra called this a failure of “ascertainability.” We refrain from referring to “ascertainability” in this opinion because courts ascribe widely varied meanings to that term. For example, some courts use the word “ascertainability” to deny certification of classes that are not clearly or objectively defined. See, e.g., Brecher v. Republic of Argentina, 806 F.3d 22, 24–26 (2d Cir. 2015) (holding that a class defined as all owners of beneficial interests in a particular bond series, without reference to the time owned, was too indefinite); DeBremaecker v. Short, 433 F.2d 733, 734 (5th Cir. 1970) (affirming denial of class certification because a class composed of state residents “active in the ‘peace movement’” was uncertain and overbroad). Others have used the term in referring to classes defined in terms of success on the merits. See, e.g., EQT Prod. Co. v. Adair, 764 F.3d 347, 360 n.9 (4th Cir. 2014) (remanding and instructing the district court to consider, “as part of its class-definition analysis,” inter alia , whether the proposed classes could be defined without creating a fail-safe class).
Stated more precisely, ConAgra’s argument was that “there would be no administratively feasible way to identify members of the proposed classes because consumers would not be able to reliably identify themselves as class members.” The court, however, rejected the argument that class certification requires—separate and apart from the enumerated requirements in Rule 23—that there be “an administratively feasible way to determine who is in the class.” It wrote: “We have not previously interpreted Rule 23 to require such a demonstration, and, for the reasons that follow, we do not do so now.”
The court also said the following about case law from other circuits:
We recognize that the Third Circuit does require putative class representatives to demonstrate “administrative feasibility” as a prerequisite to class certification. See Byrd v. Aaron’s Inc., 784 F.3d 154, 162–63 (3d Cir. 2015); Carrera v. Bayer Corp., 727 F.3d 300, 306–08 (3d Cir. 2013). The Third Circuit justifies its administrative feasibility requirement not through the text of Rule 23 but rather as a necessary tool to ensure that the “class will actually function as a class.” Byrd, 784 F.3d at 162. The Third Circuit suggests that its administrative feasibility prerequisite achieves this goal by (1) mitigating administrative burdens; (2) safeguarding the interests of absent and bona fide class members; and (3) protecting the due process rights of defendants. See Carrera, 727 F.3d at 307, 310. The Seventh Circuit soundly rejected those justifications in Mullins v. Direct Digital, LLC, 795 F.3d 654 (7th Cir. 2015), and the Sixth Circuit followed suit, see Rikos v. Procter & Gamble Co., 799 F.3d 497, 525 (6th Cir. 2015) (citing Mullins in declining to follow Carrera). We likewise conclude that Rule 23’s enumerated criteria already address the interests that motivated the Third Circuit and, therefore, that an independent administrative feasibility requirement is unnecessary.
Tuesday, January 3, 2017
Saturday, December 31, 2016
The New Year’s Eve moment everyone has been waiting for: Chief Justice Roberts’ 2016 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary.
The report emphasizes the work of federal district court judges, and there are several references to civil procedure – including the 2015 FRCP amendments that were the focus of last year’s report:
The judge is responsible for supervising the important pretrial process and conducting the trial itself. He resolves discovery disputes, manages the selection of the jury, rules on the admission of evidence, determines the proper and understandable instruction of the jury, and resolves any issues surrounding the acceptance of the verdict and entry of judgment. Each of those steps requires special knowledge, sensitivity, and skill. The judge must have mastery of the complex rules of procedure and evidence and be able to apply those rules to the nuances of a unique controversy.
* * *
As I explained in my 2015 Year-End Report, the Judicial Conference—the policy making body of the federal courts—has revised the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to emphasize the judge’s role in early and effective case management. Those procedural reforms encourage district judges to meet promptly with the lawyers after the complaint is filed, confer about the needs of the case, develop a case management plan, and expedite resolution of pretrial discovery disputes. The reforms are beginning to have a positive effect because already extremely busy judges are willing to undertake more active engagement in managing their dockets, which will pay dividends down the road. A lumberjack saves time when he takes the time to sharpen his ax. This year, we will take a step further and ask district judges to participate in pilot programs to test several promising case management techniques aimed at reducing the costs of discovery.
Now I can return to revising my article, Toward a Lumberjack Theory of Procedure.
Thursday, December 29, 2016
It’s a “nonprecedential disposition,” but the Seventh Circuit’s decision last week in Couvillion v. Speedway LLC features an interesting exchange about summary judgment. The majority (Chief Judge Wood & Judge Easterbrook) affirms the lower court’s grant of summary judgment against a plaintiff who sued Speedway after she was injured while adding air to her tires at a Speedway service station. In the final paragraph, the court writes:
Couvillion also contends that Indiana’s courts favor jury trials in tort suits. See, e.g., Countrymark Cooperative, Inc. v. Hammes, 892 N.E.2d 683, 688 (Ind. App. 2008) (“negligence cases are especially fact sensitive and are governed by a standard of the objective reasonable person—one best applied by a jury after hearing all of the evidence.”) * * * . Maybe Indiana’s judiciary would have submitted Couvillion’s claim to a jury. But federal rules govern the allocation of tasks between judge and jury in federal court. See, e.g., Mayer v. Gary Partners & Co., 29 F.3d 330 (7th Cir. 1994). In federal practice, reflected in Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, the absence of a material factual dispute means that a judge will resolve the case by summary judgment. We know from Walker v. Armco Steel Corp., 446 U.S. 740 (1980), and other decisions, that federal procedure governs all federal cases, even if this implies an outcome different from the one likely in state court.
There are a couple of interesting points here. One is about the Erie doctrine. My personal view is that the interplay between FRCP 56 and state law is not quite so simple, and that a proper understanding might require a federal court adjudicating a state-law claim to follow state law on certain aspects of summary-judgment practice. [See What Is the Erie Doctrine? (And What Does it Mean for the Contemporary Politics of Judicial Federalism?)].
Another point—which Judge Sykes emphasizes in her dissent—has to do with the majority’s assertion that “In federal practice, reflected in Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, the absence of a material factual dispute means that a judge will resolve the case by summary judgment.” Judge Sykes writes in response:
Under Rule 56 (and in state practice), a judge may resolve the case by summary judgment only if there is no material factual dispute “and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a) (emphasis added); see also Ind. R. Trial P. 56(C). The historical facts are undisputed here, but it doesn’t follow that a judge decides liability. Couvillion is entitled to have a jury determine Speedway’s liability unless on this record no reasonable jury could find a breach of duty under §§ 343 and 343A.
There would seem to be federalism dimensions with respect to this issue as well—is it by state or federal law that we decide whether the movant is “entitled to judgment as a matter of law”?
(H/T Raffi Melkonian)
Tuesday, December 27, 2016
Lonny Hoffman has an essay up on the University of Chicago Law Review Online, Plausible Theory, Implausible Conclusions. Lonny responds to William Hubbard’s recent article, A Fresh Look at Plausibility Pleading, 83 U. Chi. L. Rev. 693 (2016).
Monday, December 19, 2016
Now on the Courts Law section of JOTWELL is Jay Tidmarsh’s essay, Discovery Costs and Default Rules. Jay reviews a recent paper by Brian Fitzpatrick and Cameron Norris, One-Way Fee Shifting After Summary Judgment.
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Moshe Z. Marvit has published in the American Prospect magazine a piece entitled "Roberts Rules for Protecting Corporations." The summary is "The chief justice’s changes to the rules for litigation make suing big business a whole lot harder."
Thursday, December 1, 2016