Monday, August 22, 2016
Earlier this summer, Judge Robert Mariani of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania issued an opinion dismissing an Alien Tort Statute claim brought against Muhammed Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish cleric who has been a U.S. permanent resident since the 1990s. (Gülen has been in the news more recently following the attempted coup that took place in Turkey last month; Turkey is currently seeking Gülen’s extradition.)
Judge Mariani’s ruling in Ates v. Gülen contains a detailed discussion of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kiobel (an important Alien Tort Statute decision from 2013) as well as some of the post-Kiobel case law in the lower federal courts.
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.
Last week the California Supreme Court issued an important decision on how to calculate the amount of attorney fees in class actions: Laffitte v. Robert Half International Inc.
Alison Frankel (Reuters) has this report.
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As been his custom for these year-end reports, the Chief Justice opens with a dull, lengthy historical reference.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.”
Friday, September 25, 2015
Professors Benjamin Means and Joseph Seiner (University of South Carolina School of Law) have posted on SSRN their essay, "Navigating the Uber Economy," forthcoming in U.C. Davis Law Review.
In litigation against ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft, former drivers have alleged that they were misclassified as independent contractors and denied employment benefits. The companies have countered that they do not employ drivers and merely license access to a platform that matches those who need rides with nearby available drivers. At stake are the prospects, not only for Uber and Lyft, but for a nascent, multi-billion dollar "on-demand" economy.
Unfortunately, existing laws fail to provide adequate guidance regarding the distinction between independent contractors and employees, especially when applied to the hybrid working arrangements characteristic of a modern economy. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act and analogous state laws, courts consider several factors to assess the "economic reality" of a worker's alleged employment status; yet, there is no objective basis for prioritizing those factors.
This Essay argues that the classification of workers as independent contractors or employees should be shaped by an overarching inquiry: how much flexibility does the individual have in the working relationship? Those who can choose the time, place and manner of the work they perform are more independent than those who must accommodate themselves to a business owner's schedule. Our approach is novel and would provide an objective basis for adjudicating classification disputes, especially those that arise in the context of the on-demand economy. By reducing legal uncertainty, we would ensure both that workers receive appropriate protections under existing law and that businesses are able to innovate without fear of unknown liabilities.
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
NPR this morning has a story entitled "When Cyber Fraud Hits Businesses, Banks May Not Offer Protection." It describes some instances in which small businesses that had their bank accounts drained by cyber fraud were unpleasantly surprised to find that their banks were not legally obligated to reimburse them (unlike in most cases for bank accounts owned by individuals).
The story of one company contradicted the frequent assertion by defendants that defendants in civil suits are often "forced to settle" because the costs of defense exceed the claim. One of the victimized businesses found its checking account down by $545,000 due to cyber fraud:
[The owner of the construction company involved] thought his bank . . . would reimburse him. It refused, and he sued. [The owner] says the bank threw a huge amount of resources at the case. He says he discovered in mediation that the bank had spent "in excess of $1.2 million fighting this, when we offered to settle this for $200,000."
[The construction company] lost the first round but won on appeal when a panel of judges concluded [the bank's] security had not been commercially reasonable.
Another small business lost $14,000 due to cyber fraud, and its owner "considered suing [his bank], but was advised he'd spend much more on legal fees than he'd recover."
Friday, September 11, 2015
So you send a survey to people whose job depends on how well they do defending their $100-million-plus employer in court and ask them how fair and reasonable the courts are. If they just lost a big verdict in Texas, they probably think juries in Texas are unfair and the judge who tried the case is an idiot. (A friend who was born and raised on a farm said that it was like asking foxes to rate how fairly the farmer guarded the henhouse.)
Compile all those subjective answers, assign some ordinal numbers to them, and rank the fifty states: that’s about the long and short of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform’s 2015 "lawsuit climate survey" conducted by Harris Poll "to explore how fair and reasonable the states’ tort liability systems are perceived to be by U.S. businesses." (The full report is here.)
To be fair, if you read the report carefully, it does not misrepresent what it purports to show. It never says it is a random survey (and it isn't). It explains that the only people asked to participate are lawyers and other executives who are in charge of litigation for companies with at least $100 million in annual revenues. (It doesn’t say, but it’s fairly obvious, that these companies are overwhelmingly defendants, not plaintiffs, in lawsuits.) The report admits that what it measures are these executives’ “perceptions” (p. 3 of the Executive Summary), not any objectively quantifiable element of a state’s justice system, such as the caseload per judge.
But the sheer repetition of the ensuing headlines (egged on by the Chamber's state-specific press releases) encourages the casual reader to elide the difference between objective reality and the subjective perceptions of a very distinct interest group. A sampling:
"Florida's 'lawsuit climate' hits all-time low, Chamber survey says" (Tampa Bay Times)
"Survey: Missouri’s Lawsuit Climate Hits All-Time Low, Ranks Among Nation’s Worst" (Associated Press, via ABC's WAAY-TV)
Once again, Louisiana’s lawsuit climate ranked second worst in US (Greater Baton Rouge Business Report)
And that's not even counting the "coverage" of the survey by news-like websites that are owned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, such as the West Virginia Record and the Madison-St. Clair Record, or op-eds planted by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.
Anyway, the purpose of this post is not to go through the myriad glaring problems with the survey. But I can't resist pointing out one of many examples: the survey respondents really couldn't help calling Cook County, Illinois or Miami-Dade County "among the worst city or county courts." That is because the survey respondents were given twelve listed locations to pick from, which included those two locations, and the respondents would have had to think of any other jurisdiction on their own. Question 637 (p. 127 of the full report) is:
Thinking about the entire country, which of the following do you think are the worst city or county courts? That is, which city or county courts have the least fair and reasonable litigation environment for both defendants and plaintiffs? Please select up to two responses.
1 Chicago or Cook County, Illinois
2 Los Angeles, California
3 San Francisco, California
4 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
5 Madison County, Illinois
6 Miami or Dade County, Florida
7 New Orleans or Orleans Parish, Louisiana
8 New York, New York
9 East Texas
10 St. Louis, Missouri
11 Detroit, Michigan
12 Washington, DC
13 Other [ONLINE: (Please specify)] [ PHONE: CAPTURE RESPONE]
14 Not sure
99 Decline to answer [EXCLUSIVE] [PHONE ONLY]
The twelve listed locations were randomized for each survey respondent, so they were not necessarily listed in the order above for any given respondent. But it's a great example of the availability heuristic.
Anyway, setting aside the problems with the survey, I noticed this: in general, the fewer people who live in a state, the better that state's "lawsuit climate" is perceived.
Many of the top-ranked states (with the “best” perceived “litigation climates”) in the Chamber's survey are states with the fewest people. Using census data for 2014, I ranked the states from 1 to 50, from most populous to least populous. For example, California has the largest population, so is ranked #1, and Wyoming has the fewest people, so it's ranked #50. I then compared the 15 least populous states (ranked 36-50) with the "best" 15 states in the U.S. Chamber's survey (ranked 1-15). Ten states were on both lists: Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, Maine, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.
In other words, the Chamber rankings are negatively correlated with the population rankings: in general, as the state's population goes down, the perception of its "lawsuit climate" goes up. Here is a scatterplot of the fifty states and a fitted line:
I’ve labeled two of the fifty data points as examples. California is ranked #1 in population (the y-axis) and #47 in the Chamber survey (the x-axis). Delaware is ranked #45 in population and #1 in the Chamber survey (the “best” in the country).
So what does this all mean? Of course, correlation is not the same as causation. But maybe if there are fewer people, there are fewer things to go wrong (industrial accidents, adverse drug reactions, discriminatory employment decisions), so there are fewer lawsuits. Just a simple-minded theory.
Wednesday, September 2, 2015
Howard Bashman at How Appealing brought attention to a post by Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker about a possible upcoming “disaster” for liberals in the October 2015 term in the Supreme Court. Mr. Toobin included affirmative action, abortion, and public-employee unions in “the subjects before the Justices [that] appear well suited for liberal defeats.”
Mr. Toobin could also have included private-law class actions. The Court has granted cert in four cases that could hobble class actions well before the Civil Rules Advisory Committee moves forward in its consideration of the topic. As we’ve previously reported (but not all in one post, if memory serves), these four cases are:
Tuesday, July 14, 2015
From The Legal Intelligencer (by Gina Passarella, July 14, 2015):
Women comprise a disproportionately low percentage of lead trial counsel compared to their representation in the overall legal profession, a study for the American Bar Association's Commission on Women in the Profession has found.
While women make up at least 36 percent of the profession, according to the study, they comprise 24 percent of first-chair roles in civil cases. And those numbers are lower when looking at tort cases or the representation of businesses and individuals. Women are more highly represented in lead counsel roles on behalf of government entities or by working as prosecutors, the study found.
The study was performed by former commission chair Roberta Liebenberg of Fine, Kaplan and Black in Philadelphia and current commissioner Stephanie Scharf of Scharf Banks Marmor in Chicago. The two litigators based their survey on data from case filings in 2013 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in an effort to capture a large district with a diverse caseload.
For more, click here.
Saturday, June 27, 2015
By now readers are surely aware of yesterday’s landmark Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which held by a 5-4 vote that the U.S. Constitution does not permit states to bar same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as are accorded to opposite-sex couples. Despite this ruling, it is not yet clear how things will unfold in Alabama—or in other states that have not recognized same-sex marriage but are not directly involved in the Obergefell case (which involves the four states in the Sixth Circuit—Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee).
According to early reports, many Alabama counties began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples shortly after Justice Kennedy announced the Obergefell decision (some of these counties had already done so earlier but stopped after the March 3 ruling from the Alabama Supreme Court). Other Alabama counties are still not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples or have stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether.
So where do things stand on the Alabama judicial front? Federal judge Callie Granade has already issued a class-wide preliminary injunction against all Alabama probate judges, ordering that they may not enforce Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage. She stayed that injunction “until the Supreme Court issues its ruling” in Obergefell, but as of this post she has taken no further action.
Meanwhile the Alabama Supreme Court’s mandamus ruling, which orders Alabama probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, remains. The Alabama Supreme Court has yet to rule on a motion filed earlier this month by groups opposing same-sex marriage, which had sought “clarification and reaffirmation” of the mandamus ruling in the wake of Judge Granade’s class-wide injunction. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore was in the news once again shortly after Obergefell came down, asserting the decision was “even worse” than Plessy v. Ferguson.
The upshot is, we’re likely to see more action in both state and federal court before things get resolved. Stay tuned.
Monday, April 20, 2015
The movant was defendant Shaquille O’Neal. The plaintiff Jahmel Binion—a Michigan resident—alleged claims for invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, and general negligence based on posts Shaq had made on Instagram and Twitter that included pictures of Binion. Although the court stated that Shaq’s posts were “highly offensive,” it found after a discussion of Zippo and the “effects test” from Calder v. Jones that jurisdiction in Michigan would not comport with due process.
Here’s the New York Daily News with some background on the incident that gave rise to the lawsuit.
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
The litigation over Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage has taken many twists and turns in these early months of 2015, but the main action has been in two arenas: the Alabama Supreme Court and U.S. District Judge Callie Granade’s courtroom in the Southern District of Alabama. Of course, everyone will be watching the U.S. Supreme Court as well, where Obergefell v. Hodges will be argued next month. And it was the Supreme Court’s February order refusing to stay Judge Granade’s initial injunction that began the latest round of activity. Here’s where things stand:
The Alabama Supreme Court said its piece last week, granting a writ of mandamus ordering all Alabama probate judges to stop granting marriage licenses. The merits of that ruling are certainly open to debate—both on the key constitutional issue and the standing/jurisdiction issue—but there are a few things to keep in mind going forward. First, the mandamus action was brought by two groups opposing same-sex marriage (acting as “relators” for the State of Alabama) against the Alabama probate judges. No individuals or couples who might wish to challenge Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban were parties to that proceeding, so as a matter of preclusion the ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court does not prevent them from seeking relief in federal court.
Second, the court ordered Alabama probate judges not to issue new same-sex marriage licenses (and it seems to have had that effect), but it ignored the relators request to order Alabama probate judges “not to recognize any marriage licenses issued to same sex couples.” In doing so, the court avoided one potential direct conflict with the federal judiciary, insofar as Judge Granade had previously ordered Mobile County probate judge Don Davis to issue marriage licenses to four same-sex couples in the Strawser case. Indeed, the Alabama Supreme Court’s order asked Davis to “advise” it “as to whether he is bound by any existing federal court order regarding the issuance of any marriage license other than the four marriage licenses he was ordered to issue in Strawser.” His deadline was last Thursday (3/5), but he’s asked for more time to respond. [Update: Today the Alabama Supreme Court posted on its website an order confirming that Judge Davis was also subject to its mandamus ruling, but only after determining for itself (whether correctly or not) that Judge Granade’s injunction did not extend beyond those four licenses.]
In a data bonanza for numbers geeks, the federal government separately released two reports yesterday: the long-awaited Final Arbitration Study by the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau and the less-awaited Judicial Business of the United States Courts: Annual Report of the Director 2014.
I will post more about each of these reports as I digest them. The CFPB report is over 700 pages long and contains a wealth of empirical information about arbitration clauses in consumer financial instruments such as credit cards. This information includes the effect of arbitration clauses on consumer prices (none) and the interplay of arbitration clauses and class actions. As for the 2014 federal courts data, I will add pertinent measures to my existing database to enable a longer-term view.
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Alabama Supreme Court Issues Writ of Mandamus, Enjoins Probate Judges from Issuing Marriage Licenses to Same-Sex Couples
This evening the Alabama Supreme Court granted the petition for a writ of mandamus that had been filed earlier this month by two groups opposing same-sex marriage, purporting to be “relators” for the State of Alabama. Here is the 134-page per curiam opinion, which concludes with an order enjoining Alabama probate judges from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Here is the full text of the order:
The named respondents are ordered to discontinue the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Further, and pursuant to relator Judge Enslen's request that this Court, "by any and all lawful means available to it," ensure compliance with Alabama law with respect to the issuance of marriage licenses, each of the probate judges in this State other than the named respondents and Judge Davis are joined as respondents in the place of the "Judge Does" identified in the petition. Within five business days following the issuance of this order, each such probate judge may file an answer responding to the relator's petition for the writ of mandamus and showing cause, if any, why said probate judge should not be bound hereby. Subject to further order of this Court upon receipt and consideration of any such answer, each such probate judge is temporarily enjoined from issuing any marriage license contrary to Alabama law as explained in this opinion. As to Judge Davis's request to be dismissed on the ground that he is subject to a potentially conflicting federal court order, he is directed to advise this Court, by letter brief, no later than 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 5, 2015, as to whether he is bound by any existing federal court order regarding the issuance of any marriage license other than the four marriage licenses he was ordered to issue in Strawser.
The last sentence, of course, refers to the federal injunction issued by Judge Callie Granade against Mobile County probate judge Don Davis last month.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
A new lawsuit was filed in federal court today by Cari Searcy, the plaintiff whose earlier case led to the initial ruling by Judge Callie Granade declaring Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. Searcy and Kimberly McKeand were legally married in California, but Searcy’s petition to adopt McKeand’s biological son was denied because of Alabama’s prohibition on recognizing same-sex marriages.
The complaint filed today alleges that Mobile probate judge Don Davis—who is already subject to an injunction issued by Judge Granade in the Strawser case—has still refused to grant Searcy an “unqualified adoption.” Instead the order granting custody to Searcy (Exhibit C to the complaint) states that it is “qualified in nature, and the Court will not issue a final adoption order until a final ruling is issued in the United States Supreme Court on the Marriage Act cases before it.” Searcy seeks an injunction ordering Davis to grant the adoption sought and to strike the “qualified” order. According to the docket sheet, this new case—Searcy v. Davis—has been assigned to Judge Granade as well.
Meanwhile, the Alabama Supreme Court is still considering the Emergency Petition for a Writ of Mandamus that was filed earlier this month by two groups opposing same-sex marriage, ostensibly as “relators” for the State of Alabama. The petition seeks an order compelling probate judges in Alabama not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples or to recognize any marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples. Last week, Judge Granade had denied requests—both by the Strawser plaintiffs and by the Jefferson County probate judge who had sought to intervene in the federal litigation—to compel Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange to appear in the Alabama Supreme Court mandamus proceeding and cause its dismissal. So the ball is now squarely in the Alabama Supreme Court’s court. Briefing was complete as of last Friday (2/20), with a number of Alabama probate judges filing responses opposing the mandamus petition (e.g., this response by the probate judges in Jefferson County and Madison County).
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Lots of filing activity today in Strawser, one of the federal cases pending before Judge Granade on the constitutionality of Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban. As we covered earlier, the Alabama Supreme Court recently ordered briefing on an Emergency Petition for a Writ of Mandamus filed by two groups opposing same-sex marriage, ostensibly as “relators” for the State of Alabama. This prompted the Jefferson County probate judge (who had been granting licenses to same-sex couples) to seek to intervene in the federal litigation.
Kent Faulk has this report on today’s filings, but here’s a summary:
- Jefferson County Probate Judge Alan King moved for a preliminary injunction against Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, asking Judge Granade to “enter an appropriate order directing the Alabama Attorney General to immediately appear in and dismiss the Emergency Petition for Writ of Mandamus on behalf of the State of Alabama currently pending before the Alabama Supreme Court”
- The Strawser plaintiffs filed an Emergency Motion for Enforcement of Injunction (the injunction that Judge Granade issued in January against Attorney General Strange in the Searcy case), asking Judge Granade “to direct the Attorney General to cease acquiescing in the [Alabama Supreme Court mandamus action] and to cause dismissal of the Emergency Petition for Writ of Mandamus forthwith.”
- Attorney General Strange responded with an opposition to the plaintiffs’ emergency motion for enforcement, and an opposition to the Jefferson County judge’s motion to intervene.
You can find copies of all the important filings, rulings, and other documents here.
Over the weekend, Jefferson County Probate Judge Alan King—who was one of the first to begin granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples last week—filed an Emergency Motion to Intervene in the Strawser case pending before Judge Granade in federal court. Kent Faulk as a report here.
The motion was prompted by the Emergency Petition for a Writ of Mandamus that two groups opposing same-sex marriage filed in the Alabama Supreme Court. Those groups (the Alabama Policy Institute and Alabama Citizens Action Program) filed that petition as “relators” for the State of Alabama, and they seek to order probate judges in Alabama not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples or to recognize any marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples. The petition names as respondents several Alabama probate judges—including King—and names as Doe respondents every probate judge in Alabama. Late last Friday, over the dissent of two Justices, the Alabama Supreme Court set a briefing schedule requiring a response to the mandamus petition. One of the issues for which the Alabama Supreme Court ordered briefing was “any issue relating to standing or otherwise relating to this Court’s subject-matter jurisdiction.” The respondents’ briefing is due this Wednesday (2/18), and the reply briefing is due on Friday (2/20).
In his motion to intervene in the federal Strawser case, King contends that the two groups who filed the mandamus petition are “acting in concert with and on behalf of the State of Alabama” and in doing so are violating the injunctions issued by Judge Granade. King’s motion also states:
“Judge King faces an imminent risk of being subjected to a state court Order that will put him in the position of having to choose either to disregard the United States Constitution, which he is sworn to uphold, thereby subjecting him to liability and perhaps personal liability for damages and attorney fees, or to disregard a state court Order thereby subjecting him to contempt proceedings, sanctions, and/or possible impeachment under Alabama law.”
Sunday, February 15, 2015
Last week we noted that an “Emergency Petition for a Writ of Mandamus” had been filed in the Alabama Supreme Court seeking to order probate judges in Alabama not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples—or to recognize any marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples. The petition was filed by the Alabama Policy Institute and Alabama Citizens Action Program, claiming to be relators for the State of Alabama itself. You can find a copy of the petition here (as an attachment to Mobile probate judge Don Davis’s filing in the Strawser case).
Late last Friday—after federal judge Callie Granade had issued an injunction the day before forbidding the Mobile probate judge from denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples—the Alabama Supreme Court issued the following order regarding the mandamus petition:
“The respondents are ordered to file answers and, if they choose to do so, briefs, addressing issues raised by the petition, including , but not limited to, any issue relating to standing or otherwise relating to this Court’s subject-matter jurisdiction, and any issue relating to the showing necessary for temporary relief as requested in the petition. Such answers and briefs shall be filed by 5:00 p.m. on February 18, 2015. Thereafter, the petitioners may file their respective replies no later than 5:00 p.m. on February 20, 2015.”
Kent Faulk has this report on the order. Two Justices—Shaw & Main—dissented from the order, with Justice Shaw calling it “an unprecedented attempt to control several probate courts by means of a rare original petition seeking a writ of mandamus issued by this Court.” He also stated in his dissenting opinion that:
“In order to grant relief to the petitioners, this Court will have to conclude that a probate court is forbidden from following an Alabama federal district court's ruling on the constitutionality of the ministerial acts a probate court performs, which ruling both a federal appellate court and the Supreme Court of the United States have refused to stay pending appeal. In my view, the petition does not provide an adequate foundation for reaching such a conclusion.”
Neither the order nor the dissenting opinions expressed an opinion regarding the constitutionality of Alabama’s prohibition on same-sex marriage. According to this report by Kelsey Stein, Chief Justice Moore in a recent interview “declined to comment further on Granade’s decision because there is a case filed before the Alabama Supreme Court regarding the same issues.”
Thursday, February 12, 2015
Following today's hearing, federal judge Callie Granade issued a preliminary injunction against Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis. Here's the operative text:
It is ORDERED and DECLARED that ALA. CONST. ART. I, § 36.03 (2006) and ALA. CODE 1975 § 30-1-19 are unconstitutional because they violate the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Probate Judge Don Davis is hereby ENJOINED from refusing to issue marriage licenses to plaintiffs due to the Alabama laws which prohibit same-sex marriage. If Plaintiffs take all steps that are required in the normal course of business as a prerequisite to issuing a marriage license to opposite-sex couples, Judge Davis may not deny them a license on the ground that Plaintiffs constitute same-sex couples or because it is prohibited by the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment and the Alabama Marriage Protection Act or by any other Alabama law or Order pertaining to same-sex marriage. This injunction binds Judge Don Davis and all his officers, agents, servants and employees, and others in active concert or participation with any of them, who would seek to enforce the marriage laws of Alabama which prohibit or fail to recognize same-sex marriage.
Reports are that today's hearing in Strawser has concluded with no ruling from Judge Granade.
One interesting update to the Strawser docket is a filing by Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis entitled, Notice to this Court of Presently Conflicting and Potentially Conflicting Authority Based on Recent Filings. Included as attachments to this notice are two documents that I hadn't seen before.
One is the “In Rem Action” that Davis filed with the Alabama Supreme Court seeking clarification regarding Chief Justice Roy Moore's Sunday order that probate judges should not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. It starts on p.14 of the pdf file. The Alabama Supreme Court dismissed this petition yesterday, concluding that it was “in substance a request for an advisory opinion” that the Court “is not authorized to address.”
The second is an “Emergency Petition for a Writ of Mandamus” that was apparently filed yesterday in the Alabama Supreme Court. It starts on p.44 of the pdf file. The petition was filed by the Alabama Policy Institute and Alabama Citizens Action Program, ostensibly as relators for the State of Alabama, and it seeks a writ of mandamus directing each probate judge in Alabama “not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and not to recognize any marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples.”