Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued its decision in In re: Vitamin C Antitrust Litigation. The plaintiffs had obtained a judgment for $147 million in damages (as well as injunctive relief) against two Chinese companies, but the Second Circuit found that the district court should have abstained on international comity grounds. From the opinion:
This case presents the question of what laws and standards control when U.S. antitrust laws are violated by foreign companies that claim to be acting at the express direction or mandate of a foreign government. Specifically, we address how a federal court should respond when a foreign government, through its official agencies, appears before that court and represents that it has compelled an action that resulted in the violation of U.S. antitrust laws. ***
Here, because the Chinese Government filed a formal statement in the district court asserting that Chinese law required Defendants to set prices and reduce quantities of vitamin C sold abroad, and because Defendants could not simultaneously comply with Chinese law and U.S. antitrust laws, the principles of international comity required the district court to abstain from exercising jurisdiction in this case.
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Yesterday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued its decision in In re: Modafinil Antitrust Litigation. The court addresses Rule 23(a)(1), which provides that to certify a class action the class must be “so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable.”
From the opinion’s introduction:
When thinking of a class action brought under Rule 23(b)(3), we typically think of a large aggregation of individuals (hundreds or even thousands), each with small claims. This case is quite different from that. Here, we are faced with a putative class of twenty-two large and sophisticated corporations, most of which have multi-million dollar claims, who wish to take advantage of the class action device. While we do not foreclose the possibility of class status in this case, or where the putative class is of similar composition, Plaintiffs have not met their burden of showing that the numerosity requirement of Rule 23(a)(1) has been satisfied. We now provide a framework for district courts to apply when conducting their numerosity analyses, and we will remand to the District Court to allow such an analysis in this case.
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit issued its decision in In re: Missouri Department of Corrections. The case involves a subpoena that two Mississippi death row inmates served on the Missouri Department of Corrections (MDOC) seeking discovery relating to Missouri’s use of pentobarbital in lethal injections, including the identities of its pentobarbital suppliers. The inmates are challenging Mississippi’s execution method (which does not use pentobarbital) as violating the Eighth Amendment.
MDOC moved to quash the subpoena, but the district court in Missouri denied the motion and ordered MDOC to produce most of the information sought by the inmates. The Eighth Circuit has now denied MDOC’s request for a writ of mandamus challenging that order. It’s a short six-page opinion, but it covers a lot of ground—from appellate mandamus, to whether a subpoena creates an undue burden under FRCP 45(d)(3)(A)(iv), to sovereign immunity, to the state secrets privilege.
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Today the Second Circuit issued its decision in Sokolow v. Palestine Liberation Organization. The claims in the case were brought by eleven American families against the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority under the Anti-Terrorism Act (18 U.S.C. § 2333(a)), based on terror attacks in Israel. The plaintiffs had won a $655.5 million jury verdict in the district court, but the decision today ruled that U.S. courts lacked personal jurisdiction.
The Second Circuit found that general jurisdiction was not permissible in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Daimler. As for specific jurisdiction, the court concluded:
In sum, because the terror attacks in Israel at issue here were not expressly aimed at the United States and because the deaths and injuries suffered by the American plaintiffs in these attacks were “random [and] fortuitous” and because lobbying activities regarding American policy toward Israel are insufficiently “suit-related conduct” to support specific jurisdiction, the Court lacks specific jurisdiction over these defendants.
Here are the opinion’s final paragraphs:
The terror machine gun attacks and suicide bombings that triggered this suit and victimized these plaintiffs were unquestionably horrific. But the federal courts cannot exercise jurisdiction in a civil case beyond the limits prescribed by the due process clause of the Constitution, no matter how horrendous the underlying attacks or morally compelling the plaintiffs’ claims.
The district court could not constitutionally exercise either general or specific personal jurisdiction over the defendants in this case. Accordingly, this case must be dismissed.
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Yesterday the California Supreme Court issued a 4-to-3 decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb Company v. Superior Court, upholding personal jurisdiction in California over pharma company Bristol-Myers Squibb. From the introduction:
Bristol Myers Squibb Company (BMS), a pharmaceutical manufacturer, conducts significant business and research activities in California but is neither incorporated nor headquartered here. In March 2012, eight separate amended complaints were filed in San Francisco Superior Court by or on behalf of 678 individuals, consisting of 86 California residents and 592 nonresidents, all of whom allegedly were prescribed and ingested Plavix, a drug created and marketed by BMS, and as a result suffered adverse consequences. BMS contests the propriety of a California court’s exercising personal jurisdiction over it for purposes of adjudicating the nonresident plaintiffs’ claims.
*** Although BMS’s business contacts in California are insufficient to invoke general jurisdiction, which permits the exercise of jurisdiction over a defendant regardless of the subject of the litigation, we conclude the company’s California activities are sufficiently related to the nonresident plaintiffs’ suits to support the invocation of specific jurisdiction, under which personal jurisdiction is limited to specific litigation related to the defendant’s state contacts.
The three dissenters argued that the nonresident plaintiffs’ claims lacked a sufficient relationship to BMS’s California contacts to justify specific jurisdiction.
Monday, August 29, 2016
Last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued its decision in Nicosia v. Amazon.com, Inc., holding that the plaintiff’s suit against Amazon should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim based on the mandatory arbitration provision in Amazon’s Conditions of Use.
Of course there’s considerable discussion of the Federal Arbitration Act and substantive contract law, but the court also addresses pleading standards, the relationship between Rule 12(b)(6) motions and motions to compel arbitration, and standing (the latter with respect to the plaintiff’s request for a preliminary injunction).
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit handed down another post-Kiobel decision on the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). Licci v. Lebanese Canadian Bank involves claims against a Lebanese bank alleging that they provided international financial services to Hezbollah that facilitated Hezbollah’s rocket attacks on civilians in Israel.
From the opinion’s introductory paragraphs:
This case is not new to our Court. In fact, this appeal is in its third appearance before us in the last five years. In our prior opinions, we determined (with an assist from the New York Court of Appeals, see Licci v. Lebanese Canadian Bank, SAL, 20 N.Y.3d 327, 339 (2012) (“Licci III”)) that the District Court had personal jurisdiction over defendant LCB, and that subjecting the foreign bank to personal jurisdiction in New York comports with due process protections provided by the United States Constitution. See Licci ex rel. Licci v. Lebanese Canadian Bank, SAL, 732 F.3d 161, 165 (2d Cir. 2013) (“Licci IV”); Licci v. Lebanese Canadian Bank, SAL, 673 F.3d 50, 73–74 (2d Cir. 2012) (“Licci II”). This case presents a different question: Whether the District Court has subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ ATS claims. The District Court dismissed the ATS claims under Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 133 S. Ct. 1659 (2013) (“Kiobel II”), reasoning that Plaintiffs failed to displace the presumption against extraterritorial application of the ATS. Though we disagree with the District Court’s basis for dismissal, we affirm because the ATS claims seek to impose corporate liability in contravention of our decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 621 F.3d 111, 145 (2d Cir. 2010) (“Kiobel I”).
Here’s the full opinion:
Particularly notable is the Second Circuit’s discussion of the Supreme Court’s Kiobel decision [pp.18-30 of the opinion], and its conclusion that “Plaintiffs have surpassed the jurisdictional hurdle set forth in Kiobel II, 133 S. Ct. at 1669.”
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.
Thursday, August 4, 2016
Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s federal lawsuit against the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission was dismissed today on Younger abstention grounds. Here’s the order:
Monday, July 11, 2016
In a 4-3 decision, the Colorado Supreme Court has adopted for purposes of Colorado state procedure the approach to pleading that the U.S. Supreme Court employed in Twombly and Iqbal. From the majority opinion in Warne v. Hall:
¶2 Because our case law interpreting the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure in general, and C.R.C.P. 8 and 12(b)(5) in particular, reflects first and foremost a preference to maintain uniformity in the interpretation of the federal and state rules of civil procedure and a willingness to be guided by the Supreme Court’s interpretation of corresponding federal rules whenever possible, rather than an intent to adhere to a particular federal interpretation prevalent at some fixed point in the past, the court of appeals too narrowly understood our existing precedent. Because the plaintiff’s complaint, when evaluated in light of the more recent and nuanced analysis of Twombly and Iqbal, fails to state a plausible claim for relief, the judgment of the court of appeals finding the complaint to be sufficient is reversed, and the matter is remanded with instruction to permit further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
From the dissent:
¶31 Today, the majority jettisons a rule that has stood the test of time for over fifty years, based largely on an asserted preference for maintaining uniformity with federal court interpretations of analogous federal rules of procedure. In reaching this result, the majority misperceives the existing state of the law in Colorado and grafts onto C.R.C.P. 8 a “plausibility” requirement that the rule does not contain and that other courts have correctly recognized results in a loss of clarity, stability, and predictability. Even more concerning, the majority’s preferred standard allows a single district judge, at the incipient stages of a case, to weigh what the judge speculates the plaintiff will plausibly be able to prove, based on the individual judge’s subjective experience and common sense, and then to decide whether the plaintiff’s action is viable.
¶32 I cannot subscribe to such a standard, which I believe will deny access to justice for innumerable plaintiffs with legitimate complaints. Indeed, the majority’s application of its newly adopted standard in this case demonstrates the overreaching nature and ultimate unfairness of that standard.
Friday, May 27, 2016
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in an opinion by Judge Diane Wood, held that forcing an employee to agree to bring any wage-and-hour claim through individual arbitration violated the National Labor Relations Act. Lewis v. Epic Systems Corp., No. 15-2997 (7th Cir. May 26, 2016).
Epic sent an email to some employees with an agreement requiring them to bring wage-and-hour claims only through individual arbitration and to waive the right to participate in any class, collective, or representative proceeding. The email said that employees were “deemed to have accepted this Agreement” if they continued to work at Epic.
Plaintiff agreed at the time, but later sued Epic in federal court for violations of the overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act and Wisconsin law. Epic moved to compel individual arbitration.
Section 7 of the NLRA provides that “[e]mployees shall have the right to self- organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” 29 U.S.C. § 157. The Seventh Circuit stated, “Section 7’s ‘other concerted activities’ have long been held to include ‘resort to administrative and judicial forums.’” The court held that “the phrase ‘concerted activities’ in Section 7 should be read broadly to include resort to representative, joint, collective, or class legal remedies.” Thus, “insofar as it prohibits collective action, Epic’s arbitration provision violates Sections 7 and 8 of the NLRA.”
Further, the Federal Arbitration Act did not “save the ban on collective action.” The district court’s denial of the motion to compel arbitration was affirmed.
Tuesday, March 29, 2016
My latest article, The Rise and Fall of Plausibility Pleading?, has just been published in the Vanderbilt Law Review. It builds on some of my earlier work on pleading (here and here), focusing on the Supreme Court’s post-Iqbal decisions on pleading standards (e.g., Johnson v. City of Shelby; Wood v. Moss; Matrixx Initiatives, Inc. v. Siracusano). Here’s the abstract:
The Supreme Court's 2007 decision in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly and its 2009 decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal unleashed a torrent of scholarly reaction. Commentators charged these decisions with adopting a new pleading regime, "plausibility pleading," that upended the notice-pleading approach that had long prevailed in federal court. Whether a complaint could survive a motion to dismiss — it was argued — now depends on whether the court found the complaint plausible, allowing courts to second-guess a complaint’s allegations without any opportunity for discovery or consideration of actual evidence. Lower courts began to cite Twombly and Iqbal at a remarkably high rate, and empirical work revealed their effect on both dismissal rates and litigant behavior.
Although Twombly and Iqbal were troubling on many levels, the rise of a newly restrictive form of plausibility pleading was not inevitable. There was — and still is — a path forward that would retain the notice-pleading approach set forth in the text of the Federal Rules themselves and confirmed by pre-Twombly case law. This Article describes this reading of Twombly and Iqbal, and explains how more recent Supreme Court pleading decisions are consistent with this understanding. It is crucial, however, that these post-Iqbal decisions and the approach to pleading they reflect receive the same attention that accompanied Twombly, Iqbal, and the rise of plausibility pleading. Otherwise the narrative that Twombly and Iqbal compel a more restrictive pleading standard may become further entrenched, compounding the adverse effects of those problematic decisions.
Friday, March 25, 2016
This week the Supreme Court issued its decision in Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo, covered here, here, and here. Tyson Foods is one of several important class action cases on the Court’s docket this Term—and the second one decided so far. Like Campbell-Ewald back in January, the Tyson Foods decision is generally good news for proponents of class actions. By a 6-2 vote, the Court upheld class certification under Rule 23(b)(3).
Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Chief Justice Roberts wrote a separate concurring opinion, which was joined in part by Justice Alito. Justice Thomas wrote a dissenting opinion, which Justice Alito joined. All the opinions are worth a read, but below are a few highlights from Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion.
First, Justice Kennedy emphasized that the presence of some individualized issues is not fatal to Rule 23(b)(3)’s predominance requirement:
The predominance inquiry “asks whether the common, aggregation-enabling, issues in the case are more prevalent or important than the non-common, aggregation-defeating, individual issues.” [2 W. Rubenstein, Newberg on Class Actions], §4:49, at 195–196. When “one or more of the central issues in the action are common to the class and can be said to predominate, the action may be considered proper under Rule 23(b)(3) even though other important matters will have to be tried separately, such as damages or some affirmative defenses peculiar to some individual class members.” 7AA C. Wright, A. Miller, & M. Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure §1778, pp. 123–124 (3d ed. 2005) (footnotes omitted).
Justice Kennedy also provided some important guidance on the Supreme Court’s 2011 Wal-Mart decision, clarifying that “Wal-Mart does not stand for the broad proposition that a representative sample is an impermissible means of establishing class-wide liability.” He recognized the practical reality that “[i]n many cases, a representative sample is ‘the only practicable means to collect and present relevant data’ establishing a defendant’s liability. Manual of Complex Litigation §11.493, p. 102 (4th ed. 2004).” And:
In a case where representative evidence is relevant in proving a plaintiff’s individual claim, that evidence cannot be deemed improper merely because the claim is brought on behalf of a class. To so hold would ignore the Rules Enabling Act’s pellucid instruction that use of the class device cannot “abridge . . . any substantive right.” 28 U. S. C. §2072(b).
The Court ultimately did not resolve the second question in Tyson Foods, which was originally framed as “whether a class may be certified if it contains ‘members who were not injured and have no legal right to any damages.’” After noting that Tyson Foods had “reframe[d] this argument” in its merits brief, Justice Kennedy declined to address it “because the damages award has not yet been disbursed, nor does the record indicate how it will be disbursed.” The Court therefore remanded the case, recognizing that Tyson Foods “may raise a challenge to the proposed method of allocation when the case returns to the District Court for disbursal of the award.” In his final paragraph of analysis, however, Justice Kennedy noted that the potential for “uninjured class members” to recover from the class judgment appeared to be a problem “of [Tyson Foods’] own making,” because Tyson Foods had argued against having bifurcated liability and damages proceedings.
For additional coverage, check out:
- Perry Cooper (Bloomberg)
- Lyle Denniston (SCOTUSblog)
- Alexandra Lahav (Mass Tort Litigation Blog)
- Adam Liptak (New York Times)
Thursday, March 17, 2016
There’s a lot of attention right now on President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court. But I wanted to quickly flag last week’s unanimous decision on diversity jurisdiction. Justice Sotomayor’s opinion in Americold Realty Trust v. ConAgra Foods, Inc. begins:
This case asks how to determine the citizenship of a “real estate investment trust,” an inanimate creature of Maryland law. We answer: While humans and corporations can assert their own citizenship, other entities take the citizenship of their members.
The Court reaffirmed the “oft-repeated rule” that unincorporated entities take on the citizenship of all of their members (citing Carden v. Arkoma Associates, 494 U. S. 185 (1990)), and held that the “members” of this sort of Maryland-law entity included all of its shareholders:
In Maryland, a real estate investment trust is an “unincorporated business trust or association” in which property is held and managed “for the benefit and profit of any person who may become a shareholder.” Md. Corp. & Assns. Code Ann. §§8–101(c), 8–102 (2014). As with joint-stock companies or partnerships, shareholders have “ownership interests” and votes in the trust by virtue of their “shares of beneficial interest.” §§8–704(b)(5), 8–101(d). These shareholders appear to be in the same position as the shareholders of a joint-stock company or the partners of a limited partnership—both of whom we viewed as members of their relevant entities. See Carden, 494 U. S., at 192–196; see also §8–705(a) (linking the term “beneficial interests” with “membership interests” and “partnership interests”). We therefore conclude that for purposes of diversity jurisdiction, Americold’s members include its shareholders.
Justice Sotomayor concluded by recognizing—but rejecting—the argument that the citizenship of an unincorporated entity should be determined the same way as a corporation:
We also decline an amicus’ invitation to apply the same rule to an unincorporated entity that applies to a corporation—namely, to consider it a citizen only of its State of establishment and its principal place of business. See Brief for National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts 11–21. When we last examined the “doctrinal wall” between corporate and unincorporated entities in 1990, we saw no reason to tear it down. Carden, 494 U. S., at 190. Then as now we reaffirm that it is up to Congress if it wishes to incorporate other entities into 28 U. S. C. §1332(c)’s special jurisdictional rule.
Monday, January 25, 2016
SCOTUS Decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana: Supreme Court Jurisdiction, State Courts, and Retroactivity
Today the Supreme Court issued a 6-3 decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana, which involves the retroactive effect of the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama (where the Court prohibited mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole for juveniles).
The case presented both an interesting question of Supreme Court jurisdiction in the context of state collateral review proceedings, and the perennial federal courts challenge of when a new constitutional right applies retroactively. The majority opinion authored by Justice Kennedy (joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan & Sotomayor) concluded:
(1) The Supreme Court had jurisdiction to review a state court’s failure to recognize, in the context of state collateral review, a federal constitutional right that applies retroactively;
(2) Miller did announce “a substantive rule of constitutional law” that applies retroactively; and
(3) A state may remedy a Miller violation by extending parole eligibility to juvenile offenders.
The three dissenters were Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito, who disagreed both on jurisdiction and on the merits. Justice Scalia wrote a dissenting opinion that was joined by both Thomas and Alito, and Justice Thomas wrote a separate dissent as well.
Check out Lyle Denniston’s analysis on SCOTUSblog.
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
The Supreme Court issued its decision today in Campbell-Ewald Co. v. Gomez, a closely watched case on class actions, Article III, and mootness (covered earlier here and here). Justice Ginsburg’s majority opinion begins:
Is an unaccepted offer to satisfy the named plaintiff ’s individual claim sufficient to render a case moot when the complaint seeks relief on behalf of the plaintiff and a class of persons similarly situated? This question, on which Courts of Appeals have divided, was reserved in Genesis HealthCare Corp. v. Symczyk, 569 U. S. ___, ___, ___, n. 4 (2013) (slip op., at 5, 6, n. 4). We hold today, in accord with Rule 68 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, that an unaccepted settlement offer has no force. Like other unaccepted contract offers, it creates no lasting right or obligation. With the offer off the table, and the defendant’s continuing denial of liability, adversity between the parties persists.
Justice Ginsburg’s opinion is joined by Justices Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justice Thomas adds a sixth vote, but writes a separate concurring opinion. Chief Justice Roberts writes a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Scalia and Alito, and Justice Alito writes a dissenting opinion as well.
Friday, January 15, 2016
Whether a federal court of appeals has jurisdiction under both Article III and 28 U.S.C. § 1291 to review an order denying class certification after the named plaintiffs voluntarily dismiss their individual claims with prejudice.
You can find all the cert-stage briefing—and follow the merits briefs as they come in—at SCOTUSblog.
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
The Ninth Circuit yesterday overturned an order to seal court records in a case involving an alleged automobile safety defect. The Center for Auto Safety v. Chrysler Group, LLC, No. 15-55084 (9th Cir. Jan. 11, 2016).
From the summary prepared by the court’s staff:
The panel vacated the district court’s order denying The Center for Auto Safety’s motions to intervene and unseal documents filed to support and oppose a motion for preliminary injunction in a putative class action between Chrysler Group, LLC and certain named plaintiffs, and remanded for further proceedings.
. . .
The panel presumed that the instant motion for preliminary injunction was technically nondispositive. The panel held that public access to filed motions and their attachments did not depend on whether the motion was technically “dispositive;” but rather, public access turned on whether the motion was more than tangentially related to the merits of the case. The panel concluded that plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction was more than tangentially related to the merits. The panel remanded for the district court to consider the documents under the compelling reasons standard.
The case is discussed on the Public Justice blog in a post by Jennifer Bennett, who argued the case for the intervenor, The Center for Auto Safety.
Hat tip: Paul Bland, Shawn Shaughnessy