Friday, February 13, 2015

Ohio Supreme Court Decision on Standing & Jurisdiction

I have a guest post over at Legally Speaking Ohio about an interesting Ohio Supreme Court case on standing and jurisdiction. The decision is Bank of America v. Kuchta, which Marianna Bettman aptly called “a field day for civil procedure geeks.”

 

 

February 13, 2015 in Adam Steinman, Recent Decisions, Standing, State Courts, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Ruling in Alabama Marriage Litigation: Judge Granade Grants Injunction Against Mobile Probate Judge

Following today's hearing, federal judge Callie Granade issued a preliminary injunction against Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis. Here's the operative text:

It is ORDERED and DECLARED that ALA. CONST. ART. I, § 36.03 (2006) and ALA. CODE 1975 § 30-1-19 are unconstitutional because they violate the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Probate Judge Don Davis is hereby ENJOINED from refusing to issue marriage licenses to plaintiffs due to the Alabama laws which prohibit same-sex marriage. If Plaintiffs take all steps that are required in the normal course of business as a prerequisite to issuing a marriage license to opposite-sex couples, Judge Davis may not deny them a license on the ground that Plaintiffs constitute same-sex couples or because it is prohibited by the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment and the Alabama Marriage Protection Act or by any other Alabama law or Order pertaining to same-sex marriage. This injunction binds Judge Don Davis and all his officers, agents, servants and employees, and others in active concert or participation with any of them, who would seek to enforce the marriage laws of Alabama which prohibit or fail to recognize same-sex marriage.

 

 

 

February 12, 2015 in Current Affairs, Federal Courts, In the News, Recent Decisions, State Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Today's Federal Court Hearing in the Alabama Marriage Litigation (and More)

Reports are that today's hearing in Strawser has concluded with no ruling from Judge Granade.

One interesting update to the Strawser docket is a filing by Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis entitled, Notice to this Court of Presently Conflicting and Potentially Conflicting Authority Based on Recent Filings. Included as attachments to this notice are two documents that I hadn't seen before.

One is the “In Rem Action” that Davis filed with the Alabama Supreme Court seeking clarification regarding Chief Justice Roy Moore's Sunday order that probate judges should not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. It starts on p.14 of the pdf file. The Alabama Supreme Court dismissed this petition yesterday, concluding that it was “in substance a request for an advisory opinion” that the Court “is not authorized to address.”

The second is an “Emergency Petition for a Writ of Mandamus” that was apparently filed yesterday in the Alabama Supreme Court. It starts on p.44 of the pdf file. The petition was filed by the Alabama Policy Institute and Alabama Citizens Action Program, ostensibly as relators for the State of Alabama, and it seeks a writ of mandamus directing each probate judge in Alabama “not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and not to recognize any marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples.”

 

 

February 12, 2015 in Current Affairs, Federal Courts, In the News, Recent Decisions, State Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Developments in the Alabama Same-Sex Marriage Litigation Ahead of Tomorrow's Federal Court Hearing

As we covered earlier, federal judge Callie Granade will hold a hearing Thursday afternoon in the Strawser case to determine whether to issue a preliminary injunction ordering Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Even if Judge Granade issues such an injunction, it’s not clear what effect that would have on probate judges in other counties who are still refusing to do so.

This could make it especially significant that there is another case pending before Judge Granade—the Hedgepeth case—that names as a defendant not only the Mobile probate judge, but also Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore and Governor Bentley. Hedgepeth was filed on Monday, and on Tuesday Judge Granade issued an order denying the Hedgepeth plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order. She also wrote:

There are numerous defendants named in this action, but at this time, only counsel on behalf of Attorney General Luther Strange have appeared in this matter. There is no proof of service on any other party. The court will not consider a preliminary injunction in this matter [Hedgepeth] until all of the defendants have been notified. However, because Plaintiffs’ claims in this case are almost identical to another case [Strawser] currently set for a preliminary injunction hearing in this court and the result of that hearing may impact Plaintiffs in this case, the court will allow counsel for Plaintiffs to participate in that hearing.

According to the Hedgepeth docket, Affidavits of Service on both Roy Moore and Governor Bentley have now been filed. We’ll find out tomorrow whether Judge Granade will issue any orders as to defendants other than the Mobile probate judge.

And speaking of Chief Justice Moore, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled Wednesday afternoon on the Mobile probate judge’s petition seeking clarification regarding Moore’s order that Alabama probate judges must continue to enforce Alabama’s prohibition on same-sex marriage. The Alabama Supreme Court dismissed the petition without ruling on the merits, finding that it was “in substance a request for an advisory opinion” that the Court “is not authorized to address.” Moore recused himself, but there are several concurring opinions (also available here).

As always, stay tuned. You can find copies of important rulings and documents here

 

 

 

February 11, 2015 in Current Affairs, Federal Courts, In the News, Recent Decisions, State Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Where Things Stand in the Alabama Same-Sex Marriage Litigation

Events continue to unfold in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s order yesterday refusing to stay federal judge Callie V.S. Granade’s January ruling that Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. As of Tuesday, the number of Alabama counties where marriage licenses are being issued to same-sex couples has increased, but many are still refusing. See here and here for county-by-county information.

On Thursday, Judge Granade will hold a hearing in the Strawser v. Strange case to decide whether to issue an injunction against Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis requiring him to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Today Judge Granade granted a motion to add Davis as a defendant (and several other couples as additional plaintiffs) in the Strawser case.

On another track, Davis has filed with the Alabama Supreme Court a request for clarification regarding Chief Justice Roy Moore’s order that Alabama probate judges must continue to enforce Alabama’s prohibition on same-sex marriage. No reports yet on when or how Moore will respond to this request (but he had lots to say in this interview on Bloomberg’s With All Due Respect).

You can find copies relevant rulings and documents here.

 

February 10, 2015 in Current Affairs, Federal Courts, In the News, Recent Decisions, State Courts, Supreme Court Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Second Circuit Opinion on Class Certification & SCOTUS’s Comcast Decision

Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued its decision in Roach v. T.L. Cannon Corp. The opinion begins:

“This appeal presents the question of whether the Supreme Court’s decision in Comcast Corp. v. Behrend, 133 S. Ct. 1426 (2013), overruled the law of this Circuit that class certification pursuant to Rule 23(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure cannot be denied merely because damages have to be ascertained on an individual basis. The United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (McAvoy, J.) concluded that Comcast permits certification under Rule 23(b)(3) only when damages are measurable on a classwide basis, and denied Plaintiffs-Appellants’ motion for class certification.

“We hold that Comcast does not mandate that certification pursuant to Rule 23(b)(3) requires a finding that damages are capable of measurement on a classwide basis.”

And from later in the opinion:

“The Supreme Court did not foreclose the possibility of class certification under Rule 23(b)(3) in cases involving individualized damages calculations. Our reading of Comcast is consistent with the Supreme Court’s statement in Comcast that its decision turned upon 'the straightforward application of class-certification principles.' 133 S. Ct. at 1433. Our reading is also consistent with the interpretation of those Circuits that have had the opportunity to apply Comcast.”

 

H/T: Perry Cooper 

 

 

 

February 10, 2015 in Class Actions, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Recent Decisions, Supreme Court Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Alabama Same-Sex Marriage Litigation: Important Rulings & Documents

As we’ve been covering, there has been significant activity here in Alabama in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to stay a federal judge’s January ruling that Alabama’s prohibition on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. This post is simply to provide a repository for some of the important filings, decisions, and other documents. The links below will open the actual documents themselves, not simply links to other websites (which can sometimes succumb to “link rot”). I plan to update this page with new documents as the litigation proceeds.

 

 

 

 

 

February 10, 2015 in Current Affairs, Federal Courts, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, In the News, Recent Decisions, State Courts, Supreme Court Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Latest in the Alabama Same-Sex Marriage Litigation

Last month, Judge Callie V.S. Granade of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama issued an injunction forbidding Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange from enforcing Alabama’s prohibition on same-sex marriage. She stayed the ruling until today in order to give the state time to appeal it. And this morning, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Strange’s application for a stay. Here is the Supreme Court’s order, including a dissent by Justice Thomas joined by Justice Scalia.

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, however, has been in the news arguing that Alabama probate judges are not bound by Judge Granade’s order. On Tuesday, February 3, he issued a memorandum to Alabama’s probate judges. And on Sunday, February 8, he issued an administrative order that concludes:

“Effective immediately, no Probate Judge of the State of Alabama nor any agent or employee of any Alabama Probate Judge shall issue or recognize a marriage license that is inconsistent with Article 1, Section 36.03, of the Alabama Constitution or § 30-1-19, Ala. Code 1975.”

Alabama Attorney General Strange issued a statement today responding to the U.S. Supreme Court’s order refusing his stay application. Among other things, he states:

“To clarify my authority in this matter, the Alabama Attorney General’s Office does not issue marriage licenses, perform marriage ceremonies, or issue adoption certificates. The Chief Justice has explained in a public memorandum that probate judges do not report to me.”

And Alabama Governor Robert Bentley issued a statement today that he “will not take any action against Probate Judges, which would only serve to further complicate this issue” and will “allow the issue of same sex marriage to be worked out through the proper legal channels.”

As of this morning, same-sex marriages have begun in some counties in Alabama, but not in others. More litigation is almost certain, but here are some of the important rulings and documents so far:

 [Updated to include the statement by Governor Bentley.]

 

 

 

February 9, 2015 in Current Affairs, Federal Courts, In the News, Recent Decisions, State Courts, Supreme Court Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Public Record Sheds Little Light on the "One Millionth Discovery Dispute"

Law.com and the ABA Journal both reported last week on an order entitled "Order on One Millionth Discovery Dispute" issued by Judge Rosemary Collyer in the case of Carolyn Herron v. Fannie Mae et al., No. 10-943 (D.D.C. February 2, 2015).  (The Blog of Legal Times earlier reported strained relations between the parties' counsel dating all the way back to 2011.) 

 

"The parties bring yet another discovery dispute before the Court," began the judge, proclaiming herself "exhausted with these disputes."  The order and the stories that reported it implied that the parties were equally to blame for the contentiousness of discovery and the repeated extensions of the discovery cutoff.    

 

So I wondered: what actually happened in this case?  Was discovery to blame for the case's five-years-and-counting duration?  If so, was there any way to attach responsibility, beyond the standard allegations of "overbroad fishing" by the plaintiff and "stonewalling" by the defendants?  

 

Through PACER I accessed the docket record and many of the documents filed in the case.  In my view, the most striking thing that I found is that it is virtually impossible for a member of the public using only PACER to get to the bottom of discovery in this case. 

 

This is not just because Rule 5 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure  prohibits the filing of discovery documents "until they are used in the proceeding or the court orders filing."  The public unavailability of most of the discovery disputes in this case on PACER results from two additional things.  First, Judge Collyer required the parties to bring discovery disputes to her attention by letter to her chambers, followed by a telephone conference, usually followed by a brief minute order.  Thus, unlike a formal motion to compel that would attach the discovery documents at issue as exhibits, rendering them available on PACER, the details of these disputes are not publicly available.  Second, protective orders were entered that required the filing under seal of the lion's share of the formal motions and responses that did get filed.       

Continue reading

February 9, 2015 in Discovery, In the News, Recent Decisions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Missing Pro Se Litigant With SCOTUS-worthy Rule 4(m) Issue Resurfaces

We covered earlier the Supreme Court’s grant of certiorari in Chen v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore (No. 13-10400), which promised to resolve a conflict in the circuits over extensions of time to serve process under Rule 4(m).  The petitioner was proceeding pro se, and on January 9 the Court dismissed the case with this order:

Petitioner has not filed a brief on the merits within 45 days of the order granting the writ of certiorari, as required by Rule 25.1. Petitioner has neither requested an extension of time nor responded to correspondence directed to the mailing address provided under Rule 34.1(f). Additional efforts to contact petitioner have been unsuccessful. The writ of certiorari is accordingly dismissed.

But the story doesn’t end there. Yesterday Mr. Chen—represented by Paul Clement—filed a petition for rehearing asking for his case to be reinstated. From today’s Wall Street Journal story:

Mr. Clement’s eight-page submission said Mr. Chen left his New York residence last fall to make what was intended to be a short business trip to California. But while there, Mr. Chen suffered a “slip-and-fall injury” that postponed his return for more than two months.

The court filing said Mr. Chen arrived back in New York on Jan. 22 and was “surprised and dismayed” to learn the Supreme Court had accepted, and subsequently dismissed, his case.

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

February 4, 2015 in Current Affairs, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Recent Decisions, Supreme Court Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Dart Cherokee and Class-Certification Appeals under Rule 23(f)

We covered earlier the Supreme Court’s decision in Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co. v. Owens, a case where cert. was granted to resolve what had to be contained in a notice of removal, only to have a 5-4 fight erupt over questions of Supreme Court jurisdiction and the proper standard of review.

Scott Gant and Christopher Hayes have now posted a piece entitled 'Dart' and Class Certification Order Jurisdiction, which argues the Dart Cherokee “also resolves uncertainty about whether the Supreme Court has jurisdiction to review a district court’s interlocutory order granting or denying class certification when the court of appeals has declined to review the order.”

 

February 3, 2015 in Class Actions, Federal Courts, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Recent Decisions, Supreme Court Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

SCOTUS Decision in Gelboim v. Bank of America: Appellate Jurisdiction & MDL Proceedings

Back at the end of last Term we covered the Supreme Court’s grant of certiorari in Gelboim v. Bank of America (No. 13-1174). This week the Court issued a unanimous opinion in Gelboim, authored by Justice Ginsburg. Here’s how she teed things up:

An unsuccessful litigant in a federal district court may take an appeal, as a matter of right, from a “final decisio[n] of the district cour[t].” 28 U.S.C. §1291. The question here presented: Is the right to appeal secured by §1291 affected when a case is consolidated for pretrial proceedings in multidistrict litigation (or MDL) authorized by 28 U.S.C. §1407?

The Court’s answer: No. Plaintiffs whose action was consolidated for pretrial MDL proceedings could still appeal the dismissal of their action, even though other cases in the MDL remained pending. It was not necessary for such plaintiffs to obtain authorization to appeal via Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b).

In footnote 4, though, the Court reserved judgment on whether it would reach the same conclusion when cases were “combined in an all-purpose consolidation,” as opposed to an MDL consolidation for pretrial purposes only. (Not as glamorous as footnote 4 of Carolene Products, but worth keeping an eye on.)

For more, Howard Wasserman has an analysis of the opinion over at SCOTUSblog.

 

January 24, 2015 in Federal Courts, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, MDLs, Recent Decisions, Supreme Court Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

SCOTUS Decision in Teva Pharmaceuticals v. Sandoz: FRCP 52, Clear Error, and Patent Claim Construction

Today, the Supreme Court issued a 7-2 opinion in Teva Pharmaceuticals v. Sandoz, which addresses the role of Rule 52(a)’s “clear error” standard of review in the context of patent claim construction. Justice Breyer writes for the majority and Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Alito, writes a dissenting opinion. In addition to the link above, here is the .pdf of the opinion that was released today: Download Teva v. Sandoz

And here is the short answer, from the majority opinion:

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a)(6) states that a court of appeals “must not . . . set aside” a district court’s “[f]indings of fact” unless they are “clearly erroneous.” In our view, this rule and the standard it sets forth must apply when a court of appeals reviews a district court’s resolution of subsidiary factual matters made in the course of its construction of a patent claim.

Both opinions, however, confront the notoriously thorny distinction between fact and law, and there is an interesting discussion of whether facts relevant to claim construction are analogous to facts relevant to quintessentially “legal” endeavors like statutory interpretation. As for how this all unfolds in the patent context, just read parts II.D and III of the court’s opinion (which features one of my new favorite words: kilodalton). 

The dissenting opinion begins: 

Because Rule 52(a)(6) provides for clear error review only of “findings of fact” and “does not apply to conclusions of law,” Pullman-Standard v. Swint, 456 U. S. 273, 287 (1982), the question here is whether claim construction involves findings of fact. Because it does not, Rule 52(a)(6) does not apply, and the Court of Appeals properly applied a de novo standard of review. (footnote omitted).

Justice Thomas’s dissent also raises an interesting wrinkle about the extent to which the majority’s decision hinges on “stipulations” by the parties that may narrow its impact. As he writes in a footnote:

The majority argues that we are bound by petitioners’ phrasing of the question presented and by respondents’ concession at oral argument that claim construction “will sometimes require subsidiary factfinding.” Ante, at 10–11. But the parties’ stipulations that claim construction involves subsidiary factual determinations, with which I do not quarrel, do not settle the question whether those determinations are “findings of fact” within the meaning of Rule 52(a)(6). And to the extent that the majority premises its holding on what it sees as stipulations that these determinations are “findings of fact” for purposes of Rule 52(a)(6), then its holding applies only to the present dispute, and other parties remain free to contest this premise in the future.

 

January 20, 2015 in Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Recent Decisions, Supreme Court Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 15, 2014

SCOTUS Decision in Dart Cherokee: What Must a Notice of Removal Contain? (And More!)

Today the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co. v. Owens. It’s an interesting breakdown. Justice Ginsburg writes the majority opinion, joined by Roberts, Breyer, Alito, and Sotomayor. The dissenters are Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Kagan. 

The question presented in Dart Cherokee involves what a party must include in a notice of removal. The answer, from Justice Ginsburg’s majority opinion:

To assert the amount in controversy adequately in the removal notice, does it suffice to allege the requisite amount plausibly, or must the defendant incorporate into the notice of removal evidence supporting the allegation? That is the single question argued here and below by the parties and the issue on which we granted review. The answer, we hold, is supplied by the removal statute itself. A statement “short and plain” need not contain evidentiary submissions.

And later:

In sum, as specified in §1446(a), a defendant’s notice of removal need include only a plausible allegation that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional threshold. Evidence establishing the amount is required by §1446(c)(2)(B) only when the plaintiff contests, or the court questions, the defendant’s allegation.

The dissenters in Dart Cherokee don’t challenge the majority on this. The cause of the disagreement, rather, is an issue that received considerable attention during the oral argument—one that was first flagged by Public Citizen in an amicus brief questioning the proper standard of review and the extent to which the Supreme Court could review a Court of Appeals’ decision to deny permission to appeal under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). Review of the Tenth Circuit’s decision was complicated by the fact that it issued only a short order that failed to explain why it denied permission to appeal the district court’s remand order.

Justice Ginsburg finds that these concerns did not prevent Supreme Court review in this case, noting that “[t]he case was ‘in’ the Court of Appeals because of Dart’s leave-to-appeal application, and we have jurisdiction to review what the Court of Appeals did with that application. See 28 U. S. C. §1254; Hohn v. United States, 524 U. S. 236, 248 (1998),” and that “[t]here are many signals that the Tenth Circuit relied on the legally erroneous premise that the District Court’s decision was correct” in denying permission to appeal. In remanding the case, however, Justice Ginsburg notes that “[o]ur disposition does not preclude the Tenth Circuit from asserting and explaining on remand that a permissible ground underlies its decision to decline Dart’s appeal.”

Justice Scalia writes the dissenting opinion, arguing that the Court should have dismissed the writ as improvidently granted.

“Because we are reviewing the Tenth Circuit’s judgment, the only question before us is whether the Tenth Circuit abused its discretion in denying Dart permission to appeal the District Court’s remand order. Once we found out that the issue presented differed from the issue we granted certiorari to review, the responsible course would have been to confess error and to dismiss the case as improvidently granted.”

The most amusing part of the Dart Cherokee decision comes in Justice Scalia’s dissent, where he responds to Justice Ginsburg’s observation that a 2013 case, Standard Fire v. Knowles, came to the Court in a similar posture, yet Justice Scalia joined that decision without raising these concerns. Justice Scalia writes:

As for my own culpability in overlooking the issue, I must accept that and will take it with me to the grave. But its irrelevance to my vote in the present case has been well expressed by Justice Jackson, in a passage quoted by the author of today’s opinion: “I see no reason why I should be consciously wrong today because I was uncon­sciously wrong yesterday.” Massachusetts v. United States, 333 U. S. 611, 639–640 (1948) (dissenting opinion), quoted in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 573 U. S. ___, ___, n. 11 (2014) (slip op., at 12, n. 11) (GINSBURG J., dissenting).

Finally, it’s worth noting that Justice Thomas does not join the final sentence of Justice Scalia’s dissenting opinion, where Justice Scalia writes that he would vote “to affirm” the Tenth Circuit if the writ were not dismissed as improvidently granted. This is because, as Justice Thomas explains in a separate dissenting opinion, he believes that the Supreme Court lacks jurisdiction even to review the Tenth Circuit’s decision under 28 U.S.C. § 1254. 

 

 

 

December 15, 2014 in Federal Courts, Recent Decisions, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Supreme Court Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

SCOTUS Cert. Grants of Interest: Bullard & Toca

On Friday the Supreme Court granted certiorari in several new cases. A couple of them raise some interesting federal-courts issues.

Bullard v. Hyde Park Savings Bank (No. 14-116) presents the question: Whether an order denying confirmation of a bankruptcy plan is appealable.

Toca v. Louisiana (No. 14-6381) is a follow-up to the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama, which found that the Eighth Amendment forbids life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders. It presents the questions:

1) Does the rule announced in Miller apply retroactively to this case?

2) Is a federal question raised by a claim that a state collateral review court erroneously failed to find a Teague exception?

For more information, and to keep tabs on the briefs as they start to roll in, check out the SCOTUSblog case files for Bullard and Toca.

 

 

 

December 14, 2014 in Federal Courts, Recent Decisions, Supreme Court Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

EvidenceProf Blog on SCOTUS Decision on FRE 606(b)

Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) is one of the few evidence rules that usually makes the crossover into Civil Procedure books.  Continuing its expansive reading in Tanner v. U.S. of 606(b)'s general prohibition on juror testimony on an inquiry into the validity of a verdict, the Court yesterday issued Warger v. Shauers, which held that Rule 606(b) barred juror testimony in a proceeding to obtain a new trial on the ground that a juror lied during voir dire.

EvidenceProf Blog had a good post summarizing the case yesterday.

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December 10, 2014 in Recent Decisions, Supreme Court Cases, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Some thoughts on Johnson v. City of Shelby: Does it help make sense of Twombly & Iqbal?

We covered earlier the Supreme Court’s per curiam decision in Johnson v. City of Shelby summarily reversing the Fifth Circuit. It’s a short opinion—just two and a half pages—but it has some important things to say about pleading standards. Here are a few quick thoughts:

The primary issue in the case is whether the district court properly rejected the plaintiffs’ due process claim for failing to invoke 42 U.S.C. § 1983 explicitly in their complaint. The Fifth Circuit had affirmed based on a misguided line of lower court decisions finding complaints to be “fatally defective” for failing to cite § 1983. The Supreme Court’s Johnson opinion makes clear that this line of cases is wrong—a plaintiff’s failure to cite § 1983 in his or her complaint is not fatal. From page 1 of the slip opinion: “Federal pleading rules call for ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,’ Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 8(a)(2); they do not countenance dismissal of a complaint for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted.”

Nonetheless, the Court states that—on remand—the Johnson plaintiffs “should be accorded an opportunity to add to their complaint a citation to § 1983.” [Slip Op., p.3] This is admittedly somewhat puzzling. Why would there be any need to amend the complaint to include something that is not required? One possible explanation is that the plaintiffs had asked the district court for leave to amend the complaint, but the court refused and the Fifth Circuit affirmed that refusal. It is valuable, therefore, for the Supreme Court to reemphasize—with its citation to Rule 15(a)(2)—the Federal Rules’ instruction that “[t]he court should freely give leave when justice so requires.” [See  Slip Op., p.3] In any event, the Supreme Court simply insists that the plaintiffs have an opportunity to add a citation to § 1983 to their complaint (as they requested). Given the Supreme Court’s conclusion that no such citation is required, it would be entirely proper for the Johnson plaintiffs and the lower court to agree that no amendment to the complaint is necessary in order for the plaintiffs’ claims to be resolved on the merits.

The most intriguing part of the Supreme Court’s Johnson opinion, however, may be the paragraph discussing Twombly and Iqbal. The Court initially notes that Twombly and Iqbal do not resolve whether the plaintiffs were required to cite § 1983 in the complaint, because Twombly and Iqbal “concern the factual alle­gations a complaint must contain to survive a motion to dismiss.” [Slip Op., p.2 (court’s emphasis)] But the Court goes on to say that the complaint in Johnson was “not deficient” under Twombly and Iqbal because the plaintiffs “stated simply, concisely, and directly events that, they alleged, entitled them to damages from the city. Having informed the city of the factual basis for their complaint, they were required to do no more to stave off threshold dismissal for want of an adequate statement of their claim. See Fed. Rules Civ. Proc. 8(a)(2) and (3), (d)(1), (e).” [Slip Op., pp.2-3]

Can a plaintiff really comply with Twombly and Iqbal merely by “stat[ing] simply, concisely, and directly events that, they alleged, entitled them to damages from the city”? Yes. Keep in mind: even Iqbal recognized that non-conclusory allegations must be accepted as true at the pleadings phase, without any inquiry into whether the truth of those allegations is plausibly suggested by other allegations. One of many frustrating aspects of the Iqbal majority opinion was that it failed to explain what made the crucial allegations in the Iqbal complaint too conclusory to be accepted as true. But I’ve argued elsewhere that one way to make sense of Twombly and Iqbal—in light of the text and structure of the Federal Rules and Supreme Court precedent that remains good law—is through a transactional approach to pleading. That is, an allegation is conclusory when it fails to identify adequately the acts or events that entitle the plaintiff to relief from the defendant. It is only when an allegation obscures the underlying real-world events with mere legal conclusions that it should be disregarded as conclusory under Iqbal.

On this point, it’s particularly interesting that the plaintiffs’ claim in Johnson was “that they were fired by the city’s board of aldermen, not for deficient performance, but because they brought to light criminal activities of one of the aldermen.” [Slip Op., p. 1] Such a claim—like the claim at issue in Iqbal—hinges on the defendants’ intent. Properly understood, Iqbal does not hold that an allegation is “conclusory” simply because it alleges that a defendant acted with a certain state of mind. Rather, such an allegation should be accepted as true—including its description of the defendant’s intent—as long as it provides a basic identification of the liability-generating events or transactions. The Supreme Court’s reasoning in Johnson is consistent with this approach, and confirms that Twombly and Iqbal need not be read to impose heightened burdens on plaintiffs at the pleadings phase.

All in all, Johnson v. City of Shelby is a short-but-sweet per curiam opinion that not only gets the right result on the primary issue presented, but also reflects a more sensible approach to pleading generally. Lower courts should take note.

 

 

November 17, 2014 in Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Recent Decisions, Supreme Court Cases, Twombly/Iqbal | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Reaction to SCOTUS Decision in Johnson v. City of Shelby

On Monday we covered Johnson v. City of Shelby, a per curiam Supreme Court decision on pleading that summarily reversed the Fifth Circuit. Here’s some of the coverage of that decision from this past week:

 

 

November 15, 2014 in Recent Decisions, Supreme Court Cases, Twombly/Iqbal, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, November 10, 2014

SCOTUS Summary Reversal on Pleading Standards: Johnson v. City of Shelby

We’ve been watching Johnson v. City of Shelby, a case raising some important questions on pleading standards that the Supreme Court relisted several times. Today the Court issued a per curiam decision summarily reversing the Fifth Circuit. It appears following today’s order list (beginning at page 11 of the .pdf file). Here are some highlights:

Plaintiffs below, petitioners here, worked as police officers for the city of Shelby, Mississippi. They allege that they were fired by the city’s board of aldermen, not for deficient performance, but because they brought to light criminal activities of one of the aldermen. Charging violations of their Fourteenth Amendment due process rights, they sought compensatory relief from the city. Summary judgment was entered against them in the District Court, and affirmed on appeal, for failure to invoke 42 U. S. C. §1983 in their complaint.

We summarily reverse. Federal pleading rules call for “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,” Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 8(a)(2); they do not countenance dismissal of a complaint for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted. See Advisory Committee Report of October 1955, reprinted in 12A C. Wright, A. Miller, M. Kane, R. Marcus, and A. Steinman, Federal Practice and Procedure, p. 644 (2014 ed.) (Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “are designed to discourage battles over mere form of statement”); 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, §1215, p. 172 (3d ed. 2002) (Rule 8(a)(2) “indicates that a basic objective of the rules is to avoid civil cases turning on technicalities”).

Our decisions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U. S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U. S. 662 (2009), are not in point, for they concern the factual allegations a complaint must contain to survive a motion to dismiss. A plaintiff, they instruct, must plead facts sufficient to show that her claim has substantive plausibility. Petitioners’ complaint was not deficient in that regard. Petitioners stated simply, concisely, and directly events that, they alleged, entitled them to damages from the city. Having informed the city of the factual basis for their complaint, they were required to do no more to stave off threshold dismissal for want of an adequate statement of their claim. See Fed. Rules Civ. Proc. 8(a)(2) and (3), (d)(1), (e). For clarification and to ward off further insistence on a punctiliously stated “theory of the pleadings,” petitioners, on remand, should be accorded an opportunity to add to their complaint a citation to §1983. See 5 Wright & Miller, supra, §1219, at 277–278 (“The federal rules effectively abolish the restrictive theory of the pleadings doctrine, making it clear that it is unnecessary to set out a legal theory for the plaintiff’s claim for relief.” (footnotes omitted)); Fed. Rules Civ. Proc. 15(a)(2) (“The court should freely give leave [to amend a pleading] when justice so requires.”).

 

November 10, 2014 in Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Recent Decisions, Supreme Court Cases, Twombly/Iqbal | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 7, 2014

SCOTUS Cert. Grant of Interest: Discretion to Extend Time for Service of Process under Rule 4(m)

The Supreme Court granted certiorari today in Chen v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore (No. 13-10400), a case in which the petitioner was proceeding pro se. The question presented is:

Whether, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(m), a district court has discretion to extend the time for service of process absent a showing of good cause, as the Second, Third, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Circuits have held, or whether the  district court lacks such discretion, as the Fourth Circuit has held?

You can find links to the cert. stage briefing (as well as the merits briefs as they come in) at SCOTUSblog’s Chen case file.

 

 

November 7, 2014 in Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Recent Decisions, Supreme Court Cases | Permalink | Comments (1)