Monday, March 24, 2014
James Maxeiner (University of Baltimore) has posted The Federal Rules at 75: Dispute Resolution, Private Enforcement or Decision According to Law? to SSRN.
This essay is a critical response to the 2013 commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were introduced in 1938 to provide procedure to decide cases on their merits. The Rules were designed to replace decisions under the “sporting theory of justice” with decisions according to law. By 1976, at midlife, it was clear that they were not achieving their goal. America’s proceduralists split into two sides about what to do.
One side promotes rules that control and conclude litigation: e.g., plausibility pleading, case management, limited discovery, cost indemnity for discovery, and summary judgment (“dispute resolution”). The other side defends rules that open litigation to investigation of possible rights: e.g., notice pleading, open and free discovery, and limited summary judgment (“private enforcement”).
Both sides focus on process. They overlook the essential goal of civil justice the world over: “to apply the applicable substantive law to the established facts in an impartial manner, and pronounce fair and accurate judgments.” They forget decisions according to law.
Abroad we can see systems of civil justice that work, if only we would look. Whereas the heroes of American civil justice, David Dudley Field, Jr., Roscoe Pound, Charles E. Clark, and Edson D. Sunderland, looked abroad for solutions, today’s proceduralists from the private enforcement side tell us to avert our eyes from foreign systems. Why? Supposedly our system in its goals is exceptional. In fact, it is not. We could and should learn from others.
Saturday, March 22, 2014
Michael Morely (Harvard Law School) has posted Avoiding Adversarial Litigation to SSRN.
There are a variety of procedural vehicles through which litigants may seek a substantive court ruling or order that declares or modifies their legal rights and obligations without actually litigating the merits of a case as a whole, or particular issues within the case. These alternatives include defaults, failures to oppose motions for summary judgment, stipulations of law, waivers and forfeitures, stipulations of law, confessions of error, and consent decrees. Courts presently apply different standards in determining whether to accept or allow litigants to take advantage of each of these vehicles for avoiding adversarial adjudication. Because all of these procedural alternatives share the same underlying structural similarity, however, courts should apply a single, consistent, unified standard to all of them.
Article III’s prohibition on hypothetical suits places outer bounds on the range of false factual and legal premises on which a court may base a judgment. Courts should go beyond this constitutional minimum, however, and apply an accuracy-centric approach in deciding whether to issue requested relief when litigants inadvertently or deliberately, expressly or implicitly, seek to have the court avoid considering the merits of a claim, issue, or argument in a case. If the court — based on its background knowledge of the law, experience with similar cases, or independent legal research — harbors doubts about the validity of a litigant’s legal premises or contentions, or believes the parties have overlooked a potentially valid claim, issue, or argument, it should decline to grant the requested relief and direct the litigants to brief the matter.
Adopting an accuracy-centric approach helps courts perform not only their law-declaring function of expounding the law and generating accurate precedents, but their dispute-resolution function, as well. Litigants, the public, and courts themselves have a strong interest in having courts resolve cases, and issues in cases, in accordance with the substance of applicable law, even when they are acting primarily in a dispute-resolution capacity.
Friday, March 21, 2014
Now available on the Courts Law section of JOTWELL is an essay by Brooke Coleman (Seattle) entitled Recognizing the Value of Failure in Civil Litigation. It reviews a recent article by Alex Reinert (Cardozo), Screening Out Innovation: The Merits of Meritless Litigation, 89 Ind. L. J. (forthcoming).
Thursday, March 20, 2014
I have admittedly fallen down on my self-appointed job of reporting on bitcoin litigation. Somewhat belatedly, I provide an update on some of the litigation surrounding the collapse of Mt. Gox, one of the earliest, largest, and best-known bitcoin exchanges.
On Feb. 27, 2014, a putative class action, Greene v. Mt. Gox Inc., Mt. Gox KK, Tibanne KK, and Mark Karpeles, No. 1:14-cv-1437, was filed in the Northern District of Illinois. Subject matter jurisdiction was premised on the Class Action Fairness Act. The complaint alleged counts for consumer fraud, common law fraud, negligence, and conversion, among other causes of action.
Two classes are proposed:
(1) Payment Class: All persons in the United States who paid a fee to Mt. Gox to buy, sell, or otherwise trade bitcoins.
(2) Frozen Currency Class: All persons in the United States who had bitcoins or Fiat Currency stored with Mt. Gox on Feb. 7, 2014.
On March 9, 2014, Mt. Gox Co., Ltd., which apparently is also known as Mt. Gox KK, filed a bankruptcy petition under Chapter 15 (foreign proceeding) in the Northern District of Texas, No. 3:14-bk-31229. Under the automatic stay, the Greene proceeding was stayed against defendant Mt. Gox KK.
However, as against the remaining defendants, Judge Feinerman in the Greene case entered a temporary restraining order on March 11, 2014. The court ruled that plaintiff had demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits with respect to claims under the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act, common law fraud, negligence, conversion, and for an accounting, and restrained the defendants from selling, transferring, disposing of, or concealing any of their assets or records, including preservation of their web site.
Thursday, March 13, 2014
Monday, March 10, 2014
Want a cringe-worthy example of a difficult deponent? Try this excerpt of Justin Bieber's deposition in Binion v. Bieber, pending in state court in Miami. The complaint alleges:
7. At the aforedescribed date, time and place, Plaintiff, who is a 56 year old professional photographer, was legally on the sidewalk outside of the Hit Factory, taking photographs of Defendant BIEBER.
8. Defendant BIEBER, who is an internationally famous recording artist, did not want the Plaintiff to take photographs of him, so he directed HESNY and three other bodyguards to confront Plaintiff, and to forcibly take the memory card from Plaintiff’s camera.
9. In compliance with BIEBER’s instructions, Defendant HESNY threw Plaintiff against a wall, began choking him, and threatened Plaintiff with a gun, while the other bodyguards (whose names are unknown to the Plaintiff, pending further discovery), assisted him in threatening Plaintiff and forcibly removing the memory card from his camera.
Thanks to Brittany Cooper for passing this along!
The Supreme Court has granted certiorari in Public Employees' Retirement System of Mississippi v. IndyMac MDS, Inc.
Issue: Whether the filing of a putative class action serves, under American Pipe & Construction Co. v. Utah, to satisfy the three year time limitation in § 13 of the Securities Act with respect to the claims of putative class members.
SCOTUSblog has a post on the case.
Monday, March 3, 2014
SCOTUS has granted the petitions for certiorari in the following cases of interest to proceduralists:
Issue: Whether Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) permits a party moving for a new trial based on juror dishonest during voir dire to introduce juror testimony about statements made during deliberations that tend to show the alleged dishonesty.
Issue: Whether, for purposes of a claim under Section 11 of the Securities Act of 1933, 15 U.S.C. § 77k, a plaintiff may plead that a statement of opinion was “untrue” merely by alleging that the opinion itself was objectively wrong, as the Sixth Circuit has concluded, or must the plaintiff also allege that the statement was subjectively false – requiring allegations that the speaker’s actual opinion was different from the one expressed – as the Second, Third, and Ninth Circuits have held.
Saturday, March 1, 2014
The Supreme Court, in Chadbourne & Parke LLC v. Troice, in an opinion by Justice Breyer, held that the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998 did not forbid "a class action in which the plaintiffs allege (1) that they 'purchase[d]' uncovered securities (certificates of deposit that are not traded on any national exchange), but (2) that the defendants falsely told the victims that the uncovered securities were backed by covered securities."
An analysis of the opinion is on SCOTUSblog here.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Today the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Walden v. Fiore. The case is a Bivens action against an officer involved in seizing cash that the plaintiffs were carrying through the Atlanta airport. Justice Thomas’s unanimous opinion begins: “This case asks us to decide whether a court in Nevada may exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant on the basis that he knew his allegedly tortious conduct in Georgia would delay the return of funds to plaintiffs with connections to Nevada.” The answer? No. From the final paragraph:
Well-established principles of personal jurisdiction are sufficient to decide this case. The proper focus of the “minimum contacts” inquiry in intentional-tort cases is “‘the relationship among the defendant, the forum, and the litigation.’” Calder, 465 U. S., at 788. And it is the defendant, not the plaintiff or third parties, who must create contacts with the forum State. In this case, the application of those principles is clear: Petitioner’s relevant conduct occurred entirely in Georgia, and the mere fact that his conduct affected plaintiffs with connections to the forum State does not suffice to authorize jurisdiction.
Here are some highlights from the opinion:
Plaintiffs filed class complaints against CarMax, alleging wage and hour violations. The trial court granted CarMax's motion to compel arbitration, and the California Court of Appeals reversed.
SCOTUS granted CarMax's petition for certiorari, vacated the judgment, and remanded the case for further consideration in light of American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant, 570 U.S. ___ (2013).
Monday, February 24, 2014
Today the Supreme Court denied certiorari in three cases that have come to be known as the “smelly washing machine” class actions. In all three, the lower court certified the class action, and the defendants—invoking Wal-Mart and Comcast—sought certiorari. The cases are:
- Whirlpool Corp. v. Glazer (S.Ct. No. 13-431), from the Sixth Circuit
- Sears Roebuck & Co v. Butler (S.Ct. No. 13-430), from the Seventh Circuit
- BSH Home Appliances Corp. v. Cobb (S.Ct. No. 13-138), from the Ninth Circuit (which did not issue an opinion but denied permission under Rule 23(f) to appeal the district court’s order granting class certification).
Tony Mauro at the National Law Journal has an article this morning entitled Lawyers Spar Over Discovery Rules. He reports, "More than 2,200 lawyers and others took the time in recent weeks to file sometimes impassioned comments with a committee of the Judicial Conference over proposals to narrow pretrial discovery and ease sanctions for failure to preserve documents. The deadline for comments was Feb. 18."
Saturday, February 22, 2014
Supplemental Jurisdiction Over State-Law Claim Proper Despite Plaintiff's Statement in Brief of "Dismissal" of Federal Claims
Plaintiff Thomas, a union member and an employee of U.S. Steel, was a team leader at a facility in Minnesota. He had an altercation with one of the employees under his supervision, and that employee reported the incident as harassment. At a fact-finding meeting held to determine what happened, the union representative attending the meeting made several allegedly defamatory comments about plaintiff, such as “[Thomas] has been verbally abusive to others for the past five years,” and plaintiff was thereafter removed from his position as team leader.
In his second amended complaint against the union and the union representative, plaintiff asserted federal labor-law claims and a state-law claim of defamation. The defendants moved for summary judgment on all of the claims. In his memorandum in opposition to the motion, plaintiff stated “the [Collective Bargaining Agreement] is not implicated in any of Plaintiff’s claims and as such [he is] dismissing all claims except the defamation claim . . .” The district court granted summary judgment.
On appeal, the Eighth Circuit sua sponte raised the question of whether the district court maintained subject matter jurisdiction to decide the defamation claim, after plaintiff stated he was dismissing the federal claims. The court held that the district court had jurisdiction: "we are not persuaded that an attempt to dismiss federal claims in a memorandum in opposition to a motion for summary judgment is the equivalent of filing an amended complaint because such act does not satisfy the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15. We therefore hold that because Thomas failed to follow Rule 15’s procedures and nothing in the district court’s order or the record suggests that leave to amend the complaint was granted, the federal claims were not withdrawn from the second amended complaint and remained before the district court until those claims were dismissed by the court in its order. . . . [T]the claims were merely abandoned for purposes of argument, not removed from the second amended complaint."
Having determined that the district court had subject matter jurisdiction, the court further concluded that the district court properly exercised supplemental jurisdiction over Thomas’s state-law defamation claim, “[g]iven the substantial amount of time and judicial resources expended in this case and the well-settled principles of state law concerning defamation."
On the merits of Thomas’s defamation claim, the court reversed the grant of summary judgment, finding genuine issues of material fact. Thomas v. United Steelworkers Local 1938, No. 12-3625 (8th Cir. Feb. 20, 2014).
Monday, February 17, 2014
It’s not about the Yankees slugger, or the Johnny Cash & June Carter classic, or the capital city of Mississippi. It’s about recent procedural reforms in the United Kingdom, initiated by – and named for – Lord Justice Rupert Jackson.
Saturday, February 15, 2014
Today was, originally, the deadline for submitting comments on the proposed amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The deadline has been extended to Tuesday, Feb. 18. The following announcement appears on the U.S. Courts website:
NOTE: To accommodate scheduled website maintenance, the deadline for submitting public comments has been extended. Comments must be submitted by 11:59 PM ET on February 18, 2014.
Friday, February 14, 2014
Over on the ACS blog is a post by Prof. Brooke Coleman (Seattle) entitled The Real Cost of Litigation Reform: Justice, Not Discovery Costs, Are at Stake, which discusses the current proposals to amend the discovery provisions of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. It concludes:
Our litigation system necessarily costs money. But, the purpose of the system is to achieve justice. No doubt, the costs should be contained as much as possible, but that containment should be achieved without sacrificing basic access to our federal system of courts. The proposed discovery rules incentivize producing parties to hold back information that is necessary to get to the truth, and they further burden requesting parties with proving that they need materials before they can even know what that information is. These proposals may make CEOs and general counsels feel more sanguine about the bottom line of their litigation costs, but they should provoke a great amount of dread in the rest of us. Corporations are less likely to be held accountable for their misdeeds if these changes are made. That cost alone renders the current litigation reform proposals unjustified.
The NBA starts its all-star break today. The U.S. Supreme Court is on break as well, and it too is right at the midpoint of the season. The Term has already been quite active on the civil procedure and federal courts front, with decisions on personal jurisdiction, Younger abstention, transfer of venue, the Class Action Fairness Act, and appellate jurisdiction. And there’s more on the horizon:
- Walden v. Fiore (venue and personal jurisdiction);
- Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund (class actions);
- Wood v. Moss (on qualified immunity and, perhaps, pleading standards more generally);
- Highmark v. Allcare and Octane Fitness v. Icon Health (two cases on awarding attorneys’ fees in patent cases);
- Petrella v. MGM (laches in civil copyright claims)
- Executive Benefits Insurance Agency v. Arkison (Article III and bankruptcy proceedings);
- UBS Financial Services v. Union de Empleados de Muelles (Rule 23.1’s pre-suit demand requirement)
Why do we pay so much attention to these cases? For most court-watchers, it’s not because there is a strong interest in whether a Massachusetts gravel supply company underpaid its benefit fund obligations. Rather, it’s because of what the Supreme Court’s decisions mean going forward. Because of stare decisis, judicial decisions can prospectively bind future courts just as an Act of Congress or a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure can. In many areas of procedure, Supreme Court decisions may be the most significant lawmaking acts we’re going to see.
With that in mind, I thought I would share a link to my recent article, To Say What the Law Is: Rules, Results, and the Dangers of Inferential Stare Decisis, 99 Virginia L. Rev. 1737 (2013). The article was driven in part by the struggle to figure out the precedential effect of controversial Supreme Court decisions like Wal-Mart and Iqbal. But I try to tackle more generally the question of what parts of a judicial decision should actually create binding law, and in what way. Here’s the abstract:
Judicial decisions do more than resolve disputes. They are also crucial sources of prospective law, because stare decisis obligates future courts to follow those decisions. Yet there remains tremendous uncertainty about how we identify a judicial decision’s lawmaking content. Does stare decisis require future courts to follow the rules stated in a precedent-setting opinion? Or must future courts merely reconcile their decisions with the ultimate result of the precedent-setting case? Although it is widely assumed that a rule-based approach puts greater constraints on future courts, two recent Supreme Court decisions — Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes and Ashcroft v. Iqbal — turn this conventional wisdom on its head. In both cases, what the Court said about the governing rules was not inherently controversial, and would leave courts with considerable flexibility going forward. But what the Court did in applying those rules — the ultimate results in Wal-Mart and Iqbal — could be very destabilizing if stare decisis mandates consistency with those results in future cases.
This article assesses competing approaches to stare decisis, and argues that the lawmaking content of a judicial decision should be only the rules that the court states in deciding the case. While the end result may be instructive, enlightening, or valuable for any number of reasons, it should not create binding obligations on future courts as a matter of stare decisis. A rules-only approach is an unconventional position (even those who favor rule-based stare decisis typically presume that consistency with results is also required). But it strikes the optimal balance. To infer binding obligations from results alone creates a risk that — as with Wal-Mart and Iqbal — future courts will be forced to intuit more radical legal changes than the precedent-setting court actually embraced. Put simply, a judicial decision should create binding law only to the extent that it says what the law is. Unless and until new legal rules are declared (whether by the judiciary in later cases or by legislation), courts should be free to operate within the existing legal framework, without being required to reconcile their decisions with the mere results of earlier ones.
Thanks again to the editors at the Virginia Law Review, who did a fantastic job on the article, and to the many colleagues who gave me such terrific feedback and suggestions.
Thursday, February 13, 2014
Victor D. Quintanilla has published Critical Race Empiricism: A New Means to Measure Civil Procedure, 3 U.C. Irvine L. Rev. 187 (2013).
From the Introduction:
In this Article, I first discuss why social psychology offers a fertile source for both theory and methods to explore CRT. Drawing on social-psychological theory and methods, I then conduct an empirical legal study of judicial decision making under the U.S. Supreme Court's new, highly subjective pleading standard. Although one of my previous projects yielded similar findings, I have updated my empirical legal analysis in three ways. First, I have extended the time horizon from eighteen months to twenty-four months, increasing the sample size of cases I analyze, and thereby increasing the power of my study. Second, I now compare and contrast how White and Black judges apply both the old and new pleading standards. This comparison offers a baseline to evaluate whether the new pleading standard produces differences in how White and Black judges decide motions to dismiss Black plaintiffs' claims of race discrimination. Third, to assess whether the race of federal judges predicts how they apply the new pleading standard, I conducted multiple and sequential regressions, which pitted judges' race against their political ideology.
This enhanced empirical legal study supports the conclusion that the new pleading standard serves as a context for aversive racism, implicit bias, and lay theories of racism to operate against stereotyped-group members who assert claims of discrimination. Under notice pleading, White and Black judges decided discrimination claims similarly; yet under plausibility pleading, White and Black judges decided these claims differently. White judges were much more likely to dismiss the claims of stereotyped-group members, even after controlling for political ideology. This strongly suggests that, because plausibility pleading requires judges to draw on their “judicial experience and common sense,” federal judges are drawing on their lay theories of discrimination, their priors, their schemas, and their stereotypes when judging the plausibility of discrimination claims. These findings also suggest that implicit bias is operating against Black plaintiffs. This empirical study is but one of many means to harness empirical methods to explore CRT. The study, moreover, illustrates how infusing CRT with empirical legal methods illuminates implicit bias in legal decision making and the process by which race and law interact.