Wednesday, September 6, 2017
Eleventh Circuit reverses grant of summary judgment against plaintiffs challenging Alabama’s lethal injection protocol
Last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit issued a unanimous decision in Grayson v. Warden. The plaintiffs-appellants are challenging Alabama’s three-drug lethal injection protocol, and the Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment against them. The opinion considered a number of procedural issues, including the summary judgment standard, law-of-the-case doctrine, and statute of limitations.
With respect to summary judgment, the Eleventh Circuit found that it was error for the district court to reject at the summary judgment phase the appellants’ contention that a single-drug protocol was an available alternative method of execution that sufficiently reduced the risk of pain:
The District Court reached this conclusion with respect to Appellants’ proposed single-drug protocol based on the testimony of the ADOC’s General Counsel, Anne Adams Hill. In deciding to credit Hill’s testimony and then weigh it against Appellants’ proof, the District Court functioned as a finder of fact and ultimate decision maker and therefore erred. See Mize v. Jefferson City Bd. of Educ., 93 F.3d 739, 742 (11th Cir. 1996) (“It is not the court’s role to weigh conflicting evidence or to make credibility determinations; the non-movant’s evidence is to be accepted for purposes of summary judgment.”). The Court performed the same role when it determined the credibility of testimony and weighed the evidence in summarily disposing of Appellant’s midazolam proposal.
Also notable are the concluding pages of the opinion, which criticized the pleadings on both sides:
Thursday, August 17, 2017
This week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued its decision in Block v. Tanenhaus, reinstating a Loyola University professor’s claims for defamation and false light against the New York Times and two of its authors. The per curiam opinion acknowledges, but does not resolve, the interesting question of whether state “anti-SLAPP” statutes—such as Louisiana’s Article 971—apply in federal court under Erie:
Block argues that Article 971 is not applicable in federal court because it is procedural and because, even if it is substantive, it is in direct collision with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The applicability of state anti-SLAPP statutes in federal court is an important and unresolved issue in this circuit.2 Unfortunately for Block, his arguments against application of Article 971 have been forfeited.
Footnote 2 describes the state of play in the Fifth Circuit:
We have noted on several occasions that this is an open question. See, e.g., Block, 815 F.3d at 221; Cuba v. Pylant, 814 F.3d 701, 706 & n.6 (5th Cir. 2016); Lozovyy, 813 F.3d at 582–83; Culbertson v. Lykos, 790 F.3d 608, 631 (5th Cir. 2015); Mitchell v. Hood, 614 F. App’x 137, 139 n.1 (5th Cir. 2015); NCDR, L.L.C. v. Mauze & Bagby, P.L.L.C., 745 F.3d 742, 752–53 (5th Cir. 2014). These opinions post-date our decision in Henry v. Lake Charles American Press, L.L.C., 566 F.3d 164 (5th Cir. 2009), which stated without explanation that “Louisiana law, including the nominally-procedural Article 971, governs this diversity case.” Id. 168–69. In Lozovyy, we noted the possibility that, particularly in light of our subsequent decisions, Henry could be interpreted as assuming the applicability of Article 971 for purposes of that case without deciding its applicability in federal courts more generally. Lozovyy, 813 F.3d at 582–83. Similarly, we noted in Pylant that Henry did not address “whether, under the Erie doctrine, the array of state procedural rules surrounding anti-SLAPP motions to dismiss (viz. discovery stays, accelerated timetables for decision, and the like) follow the core anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss into federal court.” Pylant, 814 F.3d at 706 n.6; cf. id. at 719 (Graves, J., dissenting) (addressing Erie question not reached by majority opinion and stating that similar anti-SLAPP statute in Texas is inapplicable in federal court because it is procedural (citing Abbas v. Foreign Policy Grp., LLC, 783 F.3d 1328, 1333 (D.C. Cir. 2015)).
Friday, July 7, 2017
Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued its decision in In re Petrobras Securities. Among other things, the panel’s opinion addresses the role of “ascertainability” for class certification under FRCP 23:
“We take this opportunity to clarify the ascertainability doctrine’s substance and purpose. We conclude that a freestanding administrative feasibility requirement is neither compelled by precedent nor consistent with Rule 23, joining four of our sister circuits in declining to adopt such a requirement. The ascertainability doctrine that governs in this Circuit requires only that a class be defined using objective criteria that establish a membership with definite boundaries.”
Specifically, the Second Circuit rejected what it called “[t]he heightened ascertainability test, as articulated by the Third Circuit,” which “treats administrative feasibility as an absolute standard: plaintiffs must provide adequate ‘assurance that there can be a reliable and administratively feasible mechanism for determining whether putative class members fall within the class definition.’”
“We conclude that an implied administrative feasibility requirement would be inconsistent with the careful balance struck in Rule 23, which directs courts to weigh the competing interests inherent in any class certification decision.”
Tuesday, June 27, 2017
On the last day of opinions for the October 2016 Term, the Court handed down decisions involving a range of civil procedure and federal courts issues:
- In California Public Employees’ Retirement System v. ANZ Securities, Inc., the Court held that the American Pipe tolling rule for class actions does not apply to the 3-year statute of repose in § 13 of the 1933 Securities Act.
- In Davila v. Davis, the Court held that, for purposes of a federal habeas petition, ineffective assistance by the prisoner’s state postconviction counsel cannot excuse a defaulted claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel.
- In Hernandez v. Mesa, which “involves a tragic cross-border incident in which a United States Border Patrol agent standing on United States soil shot and killed a Mexican national standing on Mexican soil,” the Court remanded the case for the Fifth Circuit to reconsider its rulings on Bivens and qualified immunity.
- In Trump. v. International Refugee Assistance Project, the Court granted certiorari to review two rulings that enjoined Trump’s executive orders on immigration. Pending review, the Court stayed those injunctions “with respect to foreign nationals who lack any bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”
Tuesday, June 20, 2017
Yesterday the Supreme Court issued its decision in Ziglar v. Abbasi, covered earlier here and here. By a 4-2 vote, the Court reversed the Second Circuit and ordered the dismissal of most of the plaintiffs’ claims that they were subjected to discriminatory and punitive treatment during their confinement following the 9/11 attacks. Justice Kennedy wrote the Opinion of the Court, joined (though not in its entirety) by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito. Justice Breyer wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Ginsburg. Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, and Gorsuch took no part (Justices Sotomayor and Kagan recused themselves, and Justice Gorsuch was not on the Court at the time of oral argument). Although the cert. petitions presented three issues—Bivens, qualified immunity, and pleading standards—the bulk of the majority’s reasoning and analysis focused on Bivens.
Here are the concluding paragraphs from Justice Kennedy’s opinion:
If the facts alleged in the complaint are true, then what happened to respondents in the days following September 11 was tragic. Nothing in this opinion should be read to condone the treatment to which they contend they were subjected. The question before the Court, however, is not whether petitioners’ alleged conduct was proper, nor whether it gave decent respect to respondents’ dignity and well-being, nor whether it was in keeping with the idea of the rule of law that must inspire us even in times of crisis.
Instead, the question with respect to the Bivens claims is whether to allow an action for money damages in the absence of congressional authorization. For the reasons given above, the Court answers that question in the negative as to the detention policy claims. As to the prisoner abuse claim, because the briefs have not concentrated on that issue, the Court remands to allow the Court of Appeals to consider the claim in light of the Bivens analysis set forth above.
The question with respect to the §1985(3) claim is whether a reasonable officer in petitioners’ position would have known the alleged conduct was an unlawful conspiracy. For the reasons given above, the Court answers that question, too, in the negative.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed as to all of the claims except the prisoner abuse claim against Warden Hasty. The judgment of the Court of Appeals with respect to that claim is vacated, and that case is remanded for further proceedings.
For more detailed coverage, check out:
Monday, June 19, 2017
Today the Supreme Court issued its decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court, covered earlier here and here. By an 8-1 vote, the Court reverses the California Supreme Court’s conclusion that asserting personal jurisdiction over Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) was constitutional. Justice Alito writes the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan and Gorsuch. Justice Sotomayor is the lone dissenter.
The case involves a “group of plaintiffs—consisting of 86 California residents and 592 residents from 33 other States”—who sued BMS in California state court alleging injuries arising from BMS’s drug Plavix. The issue was whether personal jurisdiction was proper over the claims by plaintiffs who were not residents of California. The California Supreme Court concluded that although BMS was not subject to general jurisdiction in California, the nonresidents’ claims were covered by specific jurisdiction.
Monday, June 12, 2017
Today the Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision in Microsoft Corp. v. Baker, a case for which cert was granted nearly a year and a half ago. The plaintiffs in the case had sought certification of a class action, but the district court refused. After failing to receive permission to appeal the class-certification ruling under Rule 23(f), the plaintiffs (in the words of Justice Ginsburg’s majority opinion) “stipulated to a voluntary dismissal of their claims ‘with prejudice,’ but reserved the right to revive their claims should the Court of Appeals reverse the District Court’s certification denial.”
Today’s decision finds that such a stipulated voluntary dismissal did not create appellate jurisdiction, although the Court splits 5-3 on the basis for that conclusion. Joined by Justices Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan, Justice Ginsburg writes:
We hold that the voluntary dismissal essayed by respondents does not qualify as a “final decision” within the compass of §1291. The tactic would undermine §1291’s firm finality principle, designed to guard against piecemeal appeals, and subvert the balanced solution Rule 23(f) put in place for immediate review of class-action orders.
A concurring opinion by Justice Thomas (joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito) concludes that there was a “final decision” for purposes of § 1291, because the district court’s order “dismissed all of the plaintiffs’ claims with prejudice and left nothing for the District Court to do but execute the judgment.” Justice Thomas, however, reasons that “the Court of Appeals lacked jurisdiction under Article III of the Constitution,” because “[w]hen the plaintiffs asked the District Court to dismiss their claims, they consented to the judgment against them and disavowed any right to relief from Microsoft.”
Justice Gorsuch—who was not yet on the Court at the time of oral argument—took no part in the case.
Today the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in Oil States Energy Services LLC v. Greene’s Energy Group, LLC, limited to the following question:
Whether inter partes review—an adversarial process used by the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to analyze the validity of existing patents— violates the Constitution by extinguishing private property rights through a non-Article III forum without a jury.
You can find all the cert-stage briefing—and follow the merits briefs as they come in—at SCOTUSblog.
Tuesday, June 6, 2017
Yesterday the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Town of Chester v. Laroe Estates, Inc., covered earlier here and here. Justice Alito’s opinion for the Court decides the case on very narrow grounds—here’s how it begins:
Must a litigant possess Article III standing in order to intervene of right under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a)(2)? The parties do not dispute—and we hold—that such an intervenor must meet the requirements of Article III if the intervenor wishes to pursue relief not requested by a plaintiff. In the present case, it is unclear whether the intervenor seeks different relief, and the Court of Appeals did not resolve this threshold issue. Accordingly, we vacate the judgment and remand for that court to determine whether the intervenor seeks such additional relief.
Friday, June 2, 2017
Nease v. Ford Motor Co., distributed for next week’s Supreme Court conference, presents some interesting questions regarding the procedure surrounding Daubert motions:
1) When a district court grants or denies a motion in limine concerning expert testimony, need it state only its ultimate ruling on admissibility (as permitted in the First and Second Circuits), or must it also set forth explicit findings of fact regarding each aspect of the expert testimony rules cited in the motion (as required by most other circuits, including the Fourth Circuit below)?
2) When a federal appellate court concludes that a district court erred procedurally by admitting or excluding expert testimony in a jury trial without explicit Daubert factfinding, is the appropriate remedy for such procedural error: (a) a remand so that the omitted findings can be made by the district court (the rule applied in at least two circuits); (b) a remand for a mandatory new trial (the rule applied in the Ninth and Tenth Circuits); or (c) de novo decision of the admissibility issue on appeal (the rule applied by the Fourth Circuit below and by the Seventh Circuit)?
Here is the full cert. petition:
And here is the Fourth Circuit’s decision below.
Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Today the Supreme Court issued its decision in BNSF Railway Co. v. Tyrrell, which was argued just over a month ago (and covered earlier here and here). Justice Ginsburg writes the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Breyer, Alito, Kagan and Gorsuch. (In fact, this is the first merits opinion in which Justice Gorsuch participated.) Justice Sotomayor concurs in part and dissents in part.
The Court addresses two issues: one statutory and one constitutional. The first is the effect of § 56 of the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), which provides:
“Under this chapter an action may be brought in a district court of the United States, in the district of the residence of the defendant, or in which the cause of action arose, or in which the defendant shall be doing business at the time of commencing such action. The jurisdiction of the courts of the United States under this chapter shall be concurrent with that of the courts of the several States.”
The Montana Supreme Court reasoned that these two sentences combined to authorize personal jurisdiction in any state where the defendant was “doing business.” The Supreme Court unanimously rejects this theory. Justice Ginsburg writes that § 56 “does not address personal jurisdiction.” The first sentence “is a venue prescription governing proper locations for FELA suits filed in federal court.” And the second sentence “simply clarifies that the federal courts do not have exclusive subject-matter jurisdiction over FELA suits; state courts can hear them, too.” As to this part of the majority opinion, Justice Sotomayor concurs.
Had this first issue come out the other way, the constitutional analysis might have been more friendly toward allowing personal jurisdiction—although there are some interesting wrinkles on that point that the Court, having rejected the plaintiff’s statutory argument, did not need to address. Without federal statutory authorization, the constitutionality of jurisdiction hinges on the more commonplace inquiry into whether jurisdiction over BNSF would comport with the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. And on this issue, the case follows in the line of the Court’s Goodyear (2011) and Daimler (2014) decisions (which Justice Ginsburg also authored), with a similar end result: due process forbids personal jurisdiction.
Monday, May 22, 2017
Today the Supreme Court issued unanimous decisions in two cases we’ve been covering:
- Water Splash, Inc. v. Menon (service by mail under the Hague Convention)
- TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC (venue in patent cases)
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.
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.
Monday, April 24, 2017
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.
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:
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.
Monday, April 3, 2017
This case presents the question this Court granted certiorari to resolve, but ultimately left undecided, in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 133 S. Ct. 1659 (2013): Whether the Alien Tort Statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1350, categorically forecloses corporate liability.
You can find all the cert-stage briefing—and follow the merits briefs as they come in—at SCOTUSblog.