Thursday, May 18, 2017
This week the Supreme Court issued its decision in Kindred Nursing Centers Limited Partnership v. Clark, a case we covered earlier here. The vote was 7-1, with Justice Kagan writing the majority opinion, Justice Thomas dissenting based on his view that the Federal Arbitration Act does not apply to proceedings in state court, and Justice Gorsuch (who joined the Court after oral argument occurred) taking no part.
Justice Kagan’s opinion begins:
The Federal Arbitration Act (FAA or Act) requires courts to place arbitration agreements “on equal footing with all other contracts.” DIRECTV, Inc. v. Imburgia, 577 U. S. __, __ (2015) (slip op., at 6) (quoting Buckeye Check Cashing, Inc. v. Cardegna, 546 U. S. 440, 443 (2006)); see 9 U. S. C. §2. In the decision below, the Kentucky Supreme Court declined to give effect to two arbitration agreements executed by individuals holding “powers of attorney”—that is, authorizations to act on behalf of others. According to the court, a general grant of power (even if seemingly comprehensive) does not permit a legal representative to enter into an arbitration agreement for someone else; to form such a contract, the representative must possess specific authority to “waive his principal’s fundamental constitutional rights to access the courts [and] to trial by jury.” Extendicare Homes, Inc. v. Whisman, 478 S. W. 3d 306, 327 (2015). Because that rule singles out arbitration agreements for disfavored treatment, we hold that it violates the FAA.
Friday, May 12, 2017
Lou reviews a recent article by Steve Subrin and Thom Main, Braking the Rules: Why State Courts Should Not Replicate Amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 67 Case W. Res. L. Rev. 501 (2016).
Thursday, May 11, 2017
Justin Murray has published A Contextual Approach to Harmless Error Review, 130 Harv. L. Rev. 1791 (2017). Here’s the abstract:
Harmless error review is profoundly important, but arguably broken, in the form that courts currently employ it in criminal cases. One significant reason for this brokenness lies in the dissonance between the reductionism of modern harmless error methodology and the diverse normative ambitions of criminal procedure. Nearly all harmless error rules used by courts today focus exclusively on whether the procedural error under review affected the result of a judicial proceeding. I refer to these rules as “result-based harmless error review.” The singular preoccupation of result-based harmless error review with the outputs of criminal processes stands in marked contrast with criminal procedure’s broader ethical vision, which also encompasses non-result-related interests such as providing defendants with space for autonomous decisionmaking, enforcing compliance with nondiscrimination norms, and making transparent the inner workings of criminal justice.
The vast scholarship relating to result-based harmless error review, though deeply critical of its current role in the administration of justice, has not put forward an alternative method of harmless error review that courts might realistically consider using. Commentators in this area have devoted much of their energy toward persuading courts to exempt large swaths of criminal procedure from harmless error review entirely and thus to require automatic reversal for errors involving exempted rules. Instead, courts have done just the opposite by subjecting an ever-expanding list of errors to harmless error review, and there is no reason to think this trend will abate in the foreseeable future.
I attempt in this Article to chart a different course. My proposal, called “contextual harmless error review,” has two essential features. First, it would assess harm in relation to the constellation of interests served by the particular procedural rule that was infringed and would not, as under existing law, automatically confine the harmless error inquiry to estimating the error’s effect on the outcome. Second, contextual harmless error review would examine whether the error harmed the interests identified in the first step of the analysis to a degree substantial enough to justify reversal.
Brandon Garrett has published a response, Patterns of Error, 130 Harv. L. Rev. F. 287 (2017).
Wednesday, May 3, 2017
Here is the announcement:
The AALS Section on Federal Courts is pleased to announce that it is seeking nominations for the new Daniel J. Meltzer Award, which is designed to honor the life and work of the late Professor Meltzer. The Award will recognize a professor of Federal Courts who has exemplified over the course of their career Professor Meltzer’s excellence in teaching, careful and ground-breaking scholarship, engagement in issues of public importance, generosity as a colleague, and overall contribution to the field of Federal Courts. Eligible nominees are those who are full-time faculty members at AALS member or affiliate schools and have not served as an officer of the Federal Courts Section in the two previous years. It is not required that the award be given out in any particular year, and it may not be given out more frequently than every three years. Nominations (and questions about the award) should be directed to Prof. Curtis Bradley at Duke University School of Law (email@example.com). Without exception, all nominations must be received by 11:59 p.m. (EDT) on September 15, 2017. Nominations will be reviewed by a prize committee consisting of Professors Curtis Bradley (Duke), John Manning (Harvard), Judith Resnik (Yale), Amanda Tyler (Berkeley), and Ernest Young (Duke). If the committee decides to make the award, it will be announced at the Federal Courts section program at the 2018 AALS Annual Meeting in San Diego, California.
[Update: Nominees may include emeritus professors who previously were members of the full-time faculty of an AALS member or affiliate school.]
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
Yesterday the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela v. Helmerich & Payne Int’l Drilling Co., covered earlier here. The case involves the expropriation exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), which provides that foreign states are not immune from jurisdiction in U.S. courts when, among other things, “rights in property taken in violation of international law are in issue.”
Justice Breyer’s opinion concludes that it is not sufficient to “make a ‘nonfrivolous’ argument that the case falls within the scope of the exception.”
Rather, state and federal courts can maintain jurisdiction to hear the merits of a case only if they find that the property in which the party claims to hold rights was indeed “property taken in violation of international law.” Put differently, the relevant factual allegations must make out a legally valid claim that a certain kind of right is at issue (property rights) and that the relevant property was taken in a certain way (in violation of international law). A good argument to that effect is not sufficient. But a court normally need not resolve, as a jurisdictional matter, disputes about whether a party actually held rights in that property; those questions remain for the merits phase of the litigation.
Moreover, where jurisdictional questions turn upon further factual development, the trial judge may take evidence and resolve relevant factual disputes. But, consistent with foreign sovereign immunity’s basic objective, namely, to free a foreign sovereign from suit, the court should normally resolve those factual disputes and reach a decision about immunity as near to the outset of the case as is reasonably possible. See Verlinden B. V. v. Central Bank of Nigeria, 461 U. S. 480, 493–494 (1983).
Part III of the opinion contrasts the FSIA with 28 U.S.C. § 1331, finding that Bell v. Hood’s approach to the existence of a federal question does not apply to the FSIA’s expropriation exception.
Justice Gorsuch took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
Monday, May 1, 2017
Today the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Patchak v. Zinke, which will address the separation-of-powers principles stemming from United States v. Klein. The grant is limited to the first question presented:
Does a statute directing the federal courts to “promptly dismiss” a pending lawsuit following substantive determinations by the courts (including this Court’s determination that the “suit may proceed”)—without amending underlying substantive or procedural laws—violate the Constitution’s separation of powers principles?
You can find all the cert-stage briefing—and follow the merits briefs as they come in—at SCOTUSblog.
Thursday, April 27, 2017
Alex Platt has posted on SSRN a draft of his article, Unstacking the Deck: Administrative Summary Judgment and Political Control, which will be published in the Yale Journal of Law & Regulation. Here’s the abstract:
The Administrative Procedure Act’s provisions on formal adjudication give individuals charged in administrative enforcement actions the right to an in-person oral hearing. But not always. Agency prosecutors can circumvent formal hearing procedures without the consent of the defendant by resolving cases on “administrative summary judgment.” A 1971 Harvard Law Review Article endorsed this procedure as a way for agency prosecutors to avoid “futile” hearings, and courts have upheld it based on the same technocratic approach. Yet administrative procedure is not merely an instrument to be expertly calibrated by administrators; it is a mechanism of political control. When Congress assigns enforcement of a given program to a formal adjudication regime, it is exercising its authority to “stack the deck,” giving defendants access to elaborate procedural protections and limiting or channeling the enforcement program. Administrative summary judgment “unstacks the deck” – it unwinds Congress’s procedural controls and allows an agency to recalibrate its enforcement priorities.
At the Securities and Exchange Commission, many administrative proceedings are now resolved on “summary disposition” without any in-person hearing. The recent expansion of summary dispositions has facilitated a broad shift in the agency’s enforcement priorities towards easy-to-prosecute offenses, enabling the agency to show Congress a “record number of enforcement actions” year after year. That figure has (apparently) significant political value, but does not indicate anything about the effectiveness of the SEC’s enforcement program.
Setting enforcement priorities is a critical function for agencies like the SEC that are charged with enforcing a vast and complex array of legal obligations but which have resources to pursue only a relatively small number of possible violations. Securities scholars have long debated the SEC’s enforcement priorities, but have overlooked the role administrative adjudication procedure plays in shaping those priorities – as both a vehicle for Congressional control and administrative rebellion.
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Monday, April 24, 2017
Now on the Courts Law section of JOTWELL is Beth Thornburg’s essay, A Well-Pleaded Argument. Beth reviews Lonny Hoffman’s recent piece, Plausible Theory, Implausible Conclusions, 83 U. Chicago L. Rev. Online 143 (2016).
Today the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari in Salazar-Limon v. City of Houston. Unlike most cert denials, this one prompted written opinions—one dissenting and one concurring. Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ginsburg, authored a dissenting opinion, which begins:
Just after midnight on October 29, 2010, a Houston police officer shot petitioner Ricardo Salazar-Limon in the back. Salazar-Limon claims the officer shot him as he tried to walk away from a confrontation with the officer on an overpass. The officer, by contrast, claims that Salazar-Limon turned toward him and reached for his waistband—as if for a gun—before the officer fired a shot. The question whether the officer used excessive force in shooting Salazar-Limon thus turns in large part on which man is telling the truth. Our legal system entrusts this decision to a jury sitting as finder of fact, not a judge reviewing a paper record.
The courts below thought otherwise. The District Court credited the officer’s version of events and granted summary judgment to respondents—the officer and the city. 97 F. Supp. 3d 898 (SD Tex. 2015). The Fifth Circuit affirmed. 826 F. 3d 272 (2016). But summary judgment is appropriate only where “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact.” Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 56(a). The courts below failed to heed that mandate. Three Terms ago, we summarily reversed the Fifth Circuit in a case “reflect[ing] a clear misapprehension of summary judgment standards.” Tolan v. Cotton, 572 U. S. ___, ___ (2014) (per curiam) (slip op., at 10). This case reflects the same fundamental error. I respectfully dissent from the Court’s failure to grant certiorari and reverse.
Justice Alito authored an opinion concurring in the cert denial. An excerpt:
The dissent acknowledges that summary judgment would be proper if the record compelled the conclusion that Salazar-Limon reached for his waist, but the dissent believes that, if the case had gone to trial, a jury could have reasonably inferred that Salazar-Limon did not reach for his waist—even if Salazar-Limon never testified to that fact. The dissent’s conclusion is surely debatable. But in any event, this Court does not typically grant a petition for a writ of certiorari to review a factual question of this sort, see this Court’s Rule 10, and I therefore concur in the denial of review here.
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Today the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. v. Haeger. Justice Kagan’s opinion begins:
In this case, we consider a federal court’s inherent authority to sanction a litigant for bad-faith conduct by ordering it to pay the other side’s legal fees. We hold that such an order is limited to the fees the innocent party incurred solely because of the misconduct—or put another way, to the fees that party would not have incurred but for the bad faith. A district court has broad discretion to calculate fee awards under that standard. But because the court here granted legal fees beyond those resulting from the litigation misconduct, its award cannot stand.
Justice Gorsuch took no part in the decision.
Monday, April 17, 2017
Today’s oral arguments at the Supreme Court featured lots of civil procedure and federal courts issues. Transcripts below:
- Perry v. Merit Systems Protection Board (earlier coverage here)
- Town of Chester v. Laroe Estates (earlier coverage here)
- California Public Employees Retirement System v. ANZ Securities (earlier coverage here)
Thursday, April 13, 2017
Michael Morley has posted on SSRN a draft of his essay, Spokeo: The Quasi-Hohfeldian Plaintiff and the Non-Federal Federal Question. Here’s the abstract:
In Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, the Supreme Court held that, to have a justiciable claim in federal court under a federal statute, a plaintiff must show that it suffered a “particularized” and “concrete” injury. Even when Congress creates a cause of action, Article III requires federal courts to ensure that the plaintiff has suffered a sufficiently concrete injury before exercising jurisdiction over its claim.
Spokeo requires us to re-think the traditional dichotomy between Hohfeldian plaintiffs, who have suffered concrete and particularized injury, and non-Hohfeldian (or ideological) plaintiffs, who have suffered no such harm. The case requires recognition of a third category: the quasi-Hohfeldian plaintiff, who has suffered a particularized injury because its statutory rights were violated, but no concrete harm because the violation caused no real damage. At first blush, Spokeo appears to bar quasi-Hohfeldian plaintiffs from federal court. Congress can easily allow federal courts to exercise jurisdiction over their claims, however, simply by statutorily redesignating such plaintiffs as relators, relabeling statutory damages as civil fines, and recharacterizing private rights of action as qui tam claims brought on behalf of the Government.
Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Teddy Rave has posted on SSRN his article, Closure Provisions in MDL Settlements, 85 Fordham L. Rev. 2175 (2017). Here’s the abstract:
Closure has value in mass litigation. Defendants often insist on it as a condition of settlement, and plaintiffs who can deliver it may be able to command a premium. But in multidistrict litigation (MDL), which currently makes up over one-third of the federal docket, closure depends on individual claimants deciding to participate in a global settlement. Accordingly, MDL settlement designers often include terms designed to encourage claimants to opt in to the settlement and discourage them from continuing to litigate. Some of these terms have been criticized as unduly coercive and as benefiting the negotiating parties — the defendant and the lead lawyers for the plaintiffs — at claimants’ expense. But closure strategies vary widely and operate on claimants in complex ways. This Article examines closure provisions in recent publicly available MDL settlements. It creates a taxonomy of closure strategies, exploring how they work to ensure claimant participation and how they affect claimant choice and welfare. And it closes with a call for MDL judges to take a more active role in supervising and evaluating the terms of global settlements in MDLs.
Friday, April 7, 2017
After changing the Senate rules yesterday to eliminate the possibility of a filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, the Senate has just confirmed Tenth Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch to the vacant seat on the Supreme Court. His first weeks on the job feature oral arguments in several cases raising civil procedure and federal courts issues.
Monday, April 17:
- Perry v. Merit Systems Protection Board
- Town of Chester v. Laroe Estates
- California Public Employees Retirement System v. ANZ Securities
Tuesday, April 25:
Russell Gold has posted on SSRN his article, “Clientless” Lawyers, 92 Wash. L. Rev. 87 (2017). Here’s the abstract:
Class counsel and prosecutors have a lot more in common than scholars realize. These lawyers have clients, but their clients are diffuse and lack a formal decisionmaking structure. Because of the nature of their clients, class counsel and prosecutors have to make decisions for their clients that one would ordinarily expect clients to make — and indeed that legal ethics rules would expressly require clients to make in other contexts — such as decisions concerning objectives of representation or whether to settle or plead guilty. Both complex litigation and criminal law scholars recognize that these lawyers’ self-interests diverge from their clients’ interests. But the complex litigation and criminal law literatures discuss the ensuing accountability problem solely in their own spheres. This article considers the insights about accountability that complex litigation can learn from criminal law.
More specifically, the article argues that although there are real differences between the two systems, these differences do not justify the completely different approaches to accountability that the two contexts employ. Rather, the comparison suggests that internal checks within class counsel’s firm, between plaintiffs’ firms, or between third-party funders and class counsel can improve accountability, much as internal checks improve accountability within some prosecutors’ offices.
Thursday, April 6, 2017
Wednesday, April 5, 2017
Call for Papers: Fifth Annual Workshop for Corporate & Securities Litigation (UCLA Law School, Oct. 20-21, 2017)
Below is the call for papers for the Fifth Annual Workshop for Corporate & Securities Litigation, which will be held at UCLA School of Law on October 20-21, 2017. The deadline for submitting papers or abstracts is May 26.
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Yesterday the Supreme Court issued its decision in McLean Co. v. EEOC, which begins:
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 permits the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to issue a subpoena to obtain evidence from an employer that is relevant to a pending investigation. The statute authorizes a district court to issue an order enforcing such a subpoena. The question presented here is whether a court of appeals should review a district court’s decision to enforce or quash an EEOC subpoena de novo or for abuse of discretion. This decision should be reviewed for abuse of discretion.
That first paragraph pretty much says it all, but Justice Sotomayor’s decision also contains a nice summary of the Court’s general approach for identifying the proper standard of review where the relevant statutes do not provide one.