Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Has Conley v. Gibson really been overruled? (And did the Fourth Circuit just tee up the next big SCOTUS case on pleading?)
Over at PrawfsBlawg, Dave Hoffman has a post up on the empirical impact of Twombly and Iqbal. That issue has been hotly debated, but there’s no question that federal courts are continuing to struggle with what those decisions mean for how judges should decide Rule 12(b)(6) motions. A particularly difficult question has been the vitality of pre-Twombly Supreme Court precedents like Conley v. Gibson and Swierkiewicz v. Sorema.
These issues were on display last Friday (the 13th, by the way) as a divided Fourth Circuit panel affirmed the dismissal of an employment discrimination claim in McCleary-Evans v. Maryland Department of Transportation (No. 13-2488). The majority opinion by Judge Niemeyer rejected the plaintiff’s reliance on Swierkiewicz, emphasizing that the Supreme Court in Swierkiewicz had “applied a pleading standard more relaxed than the plausible-claim standard required by Iqbal and Twombly.” In dissent, Judge Wynn argued that the majority had improperly “ignore[d] the factual underpinnings of the Swierkiewicz holding, looking solely to the Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in Iqbal to guide its decision,” and noted that lower federal courts “have no authority to overrule a Supreme Court decision no matter how out of touch with the Supreme Court’s current thinking the decision seems.”
Twombly and Iqbal are problematic decisions in many respects, and diagnosing their flaws is important. Even more important, though, is the question of how courts should be applying Twombly and Iqbal, especially in relation to pre-Twombly Supreme Court case law. Properly understood, Twombly and Iqbal can and should be read to preserve the notice-pleading approach that the Supreme Court repeatedly employed during the half-century before Twombly. I’ve laid out this argument here and here, and explained how the basic framework Iqbal articulated can be applied in a way that is consistent with notice pleading and pre-Twombly precedent. This understanding of Twombly and Iqbal is confirmed by more recent Supreme Court pleading decisions—especially the 2014 decision in Johnson v. City of Shelby—which cast doubt on the presumption that the Court’s pre-Twombly case law even is “out of touch with the Supreme Court’s current thinking.”
I may have more posts on pleading as March marches on, but for now I wanted to address the one—and only—instance where the Twombly and Iqbal opinions directly call into question any aspect of pre-Twombly case law. That, of course, was Twombly’s “retirement” of Conley’s statement that “a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.”
Friday, March 13, 2015
There’s an interesting paragraph in this week’s order from the Alabama Supreme Court, which confirmed that Mobile County probate judge Don Davis is subject to its earlier mandamus ruling even though he is also the subject of a federal-court injunction. In trying to make sense of this situation, Judge Davis had stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether.
Here’s what the Alabama Supreme Court said (emphasis mine) on p.9:
Section 30-1-9, Ala. Code 1975, provides that Judge Davis "may" issue “marriage licenses." To the extent he exercises this authority, he must issue those licenses in accordance with the meaning of the term "marriage" in that Code section and in accordance with other provisions of Alabama law, as discussed in our March 3 opinion.
Is the implication here that Judge Davis has no obligation to issue marriage licenses to anyone? That he can refuse to issue them across the board, just as long as no marriage licenses are issued to same-sex couples?
Meanwhile, expect some more activity in federal court next week. Judge Granade has ordered Judge Davis to file a response to the Strawser plaintiffs’ motion for class certification by Tuesday, March 17.
[Cross-posted at PrawfsBlawg]
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
The litigation over Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage has taken many twists and turns in these early months of 2015, but the main action has been in two arenas: the Alabama Supreme Court and U.S. District Judge Callie Granade’s courtroom in the Southern District of Alabama. Of course, everyone will be watching the U.S. Supreme Court as well, where Obergefell v. Hodges will be argued next month. And it was the Supreme Court’s February order refusing to stay Judge Granade’s initial injunction that began the latest round of activity. Here’s where things stand:
The Alabama Supreme Court said its piece last week, granting a writ of mandamus ordering all Alabama probate judges to stop granting marriage licenses. The merits of that ruling are certainly open to debate—both on the key constitutional issue and the standing/jurisdiction issue—but there are a few things to keep in mind going forward. First, the mandamus action was brought by two groups opposing same-sex marriage (acting as “relators” for the State of Alabama) against the Alabama probate judges. No individuals or couples who might wish to challenge Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban were parties to that proceeding, so as a matter of preclusion the ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court does not prevent them from seeking relief in federal court.
Second, the court ordered Alabama probate judges not to issue new same-sex marriage licenses (and it seems to have had that effect), but it ignored the relators request to order Alabama probate judges “not to recognize any marriage licenses issued to same sex couples.” In doing so, the court avoided one potential direct conflict with the federal judiciary, insofar as Judge Granade had previously ordered Mobile County probate judge Don Davis to issue marriage licenses to four same-sex couples in the Strawser case. Indeed, the Alabama Supreme Court’s order asked Davis to “advise” it “as to whether he is bound by any existing federal court order regarding the issuance of any marriage license other than the four marriage licenses he was ordered to issue in Strawser.” His deadline was last Thursday (3/5), but he’s asked for more time to respond. [Update: Today the Alabama Supreme Court posted on its website an order confirming that Judge Davis was also subject to its mandamus ruling, but only after determining for itself (whether correctly or not) that Judge Granade’s injunction did not extend beyond those four licenses.]
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Alabama Supreme Court Issues Writ of Mandamus, Enjoins Probate Judges from Issuing Marriage Licenses to Same-Sex Couples
This evening the Alabama Supreme Court granted the petition for a writ of mandamus that had been filed earlier this month by two groups opposing same-sex marriage, purporting to be “relators” for the State of Alabama. Here is the 134-page per curiam opinion, which concludes with an order enjoining Alabama probate judges from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Here is the full text of the order:
The named respondents are ordered to discontinue the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Further, and pursuant to relator Judge Enslen's request that this Court, "by any and all lawful means available to it," ensure compliance with Alabama law with respect to the issuance of marriage licenses, each of the probate judges in this State other than the named respondents and Judge Davis are joined as respondents in the place of the "Judge Does" identified in the petition. Within five business days following the issuance of this order, each such probate judge may file an answer responding to the relator's petition for the writ of mandamus and showing cause, if any, why said probate judge should not be bound hereby. Subject to further order of this Court upon receipt and consideration of any such answer, each such probate judge is temporarily enjoined from issuing any marriage license contrary to Alabama law as explained in this opinion. As to Judge Davis's request to be dismissed on the ground that he is subject to a potentially conflicting federal court order, he is directed to advise this Court, by letter brief, no later than 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 5, 2015, as to whether he is bound by any existing federal court order regarding the issuance of any marriage license other than the four marriage licenses he was ordered to issue in Strawser.
The last sentence, of course, refers to the federal injunction issued by Judge Callie Granade against Mobile County probate judge Don Davis last month.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
A new lawsuit was filed in federal court today by Cari Searcy, the plaintiff whose earlier case led to the initial ruling by Judge Callie Granade declaring Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. Searcy and Kimberly McKeand were legally married in California, but Searcy’s petition to adopt McKeand’s biological son was denied because of Alabama’s prohibition on recognizing same-sex marriages.
The complaint filed today alleges that Mobile probate judge Don Davis—who is already subject to an injunction issued by Judge Granade in the Strawser case—has still refused to grant Searcy an “unqualified adoption.” Instead the order granting custody to Searcy (Exhibit C to the complaint) states that it is “qualified in nature, and the Court will not issue a final adoption order until a final ruling is issued in the United States Supreme Court on the Marriage Act cases before it.” Searcy seeks an injunction ordering Davis to grant the adoption sought and to strike the “qualified” order. According to the docket sheet, this new case—Searcy v. Davis—has been assigned to Judge Granade as well.
Meanwhile, the Alabama Supreme Court is still considering the Emergency Petition for a Writ of Mandamus that was filed earlier this month by two groups opposing same-sex marriage, ostensibly as “relators” for the State of Alabama. The petition seeks an order compelling probate judges in Alabama not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples or to recognize any marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples. Last week, Judge Granade had denied requests—both by the Strawser plaintiffs and by the Jefferson County probate judge who had sought to intervene in the federal litigation—to compel Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange to appear in the Alabama Supreme Court mandamus proceeding and cause its dismissal. So the ball is now squarely in the Alabama Supreme Court’s court. Briefing was complete as of last Friday (2/20), with a number of Alabama probate judges filing responses opposing the mandamus petition (e.g., this response by the probate judges in Jefferson County and Madison County).
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Over the weekend, Jefferson County Probate Judge Alan King—who was one of the first to begin granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples last week—filed an Emergency Motion to Intervene in the Strawser case pending before Judge Granade in federal court. Kent Faulk as a report here.
The motion was prompted by the Emergency Petition for a Writ of Mandamus that two groups opposing same-sex marriage filed in the Alabama Supreme Court. Those groups (the Alabama Policy Institute and Alabama Citizens Action Program) filed that petition as “relators” for the State of Alabama, and they seek to order probate judges in Alabama not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples or to recognize any marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples. The petition names as respondents several Alabama probate judges—including King—and names as Doe respondents every probate judge in Alabama. Late last Friday, over the dissent of two Justices, the Alabama Supreme Court set a briefing schedule requiring a response to the mandamus petition. One of the issues for which the Alabama Supreme Court ordered briefing was “any issue relating to standing or otherwise relating to this Court’s subject-matter jurisdiction.” The respondents’ briefing is due this Wednesday (2/18), and the reply briefing is due on Friday (2/20).
In his motion to intervene in the federal Strawser case, King contends that the two groups who filed the mandamus petition are “acting in concert with and on behalf of the State of Alabama” and in doing so are violating the injunctions issued by Judge Granade. King’s motion also states:
“Judge King faces an imminent risk of being subjected to a state court Order that will put him in the position of having to choose either to disregard the United States Constitution, which he is sworn to uphold, thereby subjecting him to liability and perhaps personal liability for damages and attorney fees, or to disregard a state court Order thereby subjecting him to contempt proceedings, sanctions, and/or possible impeachment under Alabama law.”
Sunday, February 15, 2015
Last week we noted that an “Emergency Petition for a Writ of Mandamus” had been filed in the Alabama Supreme Court seeking to order probate judges in Alabama not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples—or to recognize any marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples. The petition was filed by the Alabama Policy Institute and Alabama Citizens Action Program, claiming to be relators for the State of Alabama itself. You can find a copy of the petition here (as an attachment to Mobile probate judge Don Davis’s filing in the Strawser case).
Late last Friday—after federal judge Callie Granade had issued an injunction the day before forbidding the Mobile probate judge from denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples—the Alabama Supreme Court issued the following order regarding the mandamus petition:
“The respondents are ordered to file answers and, if they choose to do so, briefs, addressing issues raised by the petition, including , but not limited to, any issue relating to standing or otherwise relating to this Court’s subject-matter jurisdiction, and any issue relating to the showing necessary for temporary relief as requested in the petition. Such answers and briefs shall be filed by 5:00 p.m. on February 18, 2015. Thereafter, the petitioners may file their respective replies no later than 5:00 p.m. on February 20, 2015.”
Kent Faulk has this report on the order. Two Justices—Shaw & Main—dissented from the order, with Justice Shaw calling it “an unprecedented attempt to control several probate courts by means of a rare original petition seeking a writ of mandamus issued by this Court.” He also stated in his dissenting opinion that:
“In order to grant relief to the petitioners, this Court will have to conclude that a probate court is forbidden from following an Alabama federal district court's ruling on the constitutionality of the ministerial acts a probate court performs, which ruling both a federal appellate court and the Supreme Court of the United States have refused to stay pending appeal. In my view, the petition does not provide an adequate foundation for reaching such a conclusion.”
Neither the order nor the dissenting opinions expressed an opinion regarding the constitutionality of Alabama’s prohibition on same-sex marriage. According to this report by Kelsey Stein, Chief Justice Moore in a recent interview “declined to comment further on Granade’s decision because there is a case filed before the Alabama Supreme Court regarding the same issues.”
Friday, February 13, 2015
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.”
Thursday, February 12, 2015
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.
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.”
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
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.
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
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.
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
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.
- Download Searcy v. Strange Jan 23 DCT Order
- Download Strawser v. Strange Jan 26 DCT Order
- Download Searcy v. Strange Jan 28 DCT Order Clarifying Judgment
- Download Feb 3 Chief Justice Moore Memo
- Download Feb 8 Chief Justice Moore Order
- Download Feb 9 SCOTUS Order
- Download Feb 9 Statement of Alabama Attorney General
- Download Feb 9 Statement of Governor Bentley
- Download Feb 9 Statement of Mobile County Probate Judge
- Download Feb 9 Hedgepeth Complaint (SDAL)
- Download Feb 9 Searcy Motion for Contempt
- Download Feb 9 Searcy Order Denying Contempt Motion
- Download Feb 9 Strawser Motion to Amend Complaint & for Preliminary Injunction
- Download Feb 10 Strawser Order Granting Amendment & Setting Feb 12 Hearing
- Download Feb 10 Hedgepeth Order
- Download Feb 11 Emergency Petition for Writ of Mandamus
- Download Feb 11 Alabama SCT Order & Opinions
- Download Feb 12 Strawser Notice of Conflicting Authority
- Download Feb 12 Strawser Order Granting Injunction
- Download Feb 13 Alabama SCT Order & Opinions re Mandamus Petition
- Download Feb 15 Strawser Motion to Intervene
- Download Feb 17 Strawser - King Motion for Preliminary Injunction
- Download Feb 17 Strawser - Motion for Enforcement
- Download Feb 17 Strawser - Strange Opposition to Motion for Enforcement
- Download Feb 17 Strawser - Strange Opposition to Motion to Intervene
- Download Feb 17 Strawser - Reply re Motion to Intervene
- Download Feb 18 Strawser - Reply re Motion for Enforcement
- Download Feb 18 Response (King & Ragland) to Mandamus Petition
- Download Feb 20 Strawser Order Denying Motion for Enforcement
- Download Feb 20 Strawser Order Denying Motion to Intervene
- Download Feb 24 Searcy v. Davis Complaint
- Download Feb 27 Searcy v. Davis Motion to Dismiss
- Download March 3 Alabama Supreme Court Mandamus Opinion
- Download March 5 Strawser - Davis Motion to Stay
- Download March 6 Strawser Class Certification Motion
- Download March 6 Strawser Proposed Second Amended Complaint
- Download March 9 Strawser - Strange Opposition to Class Certification
- Download March 10 Alabama Supreme Court Order re Judge Davis
- Download March 13 Strawser - Davis Supplement to Motion to Stay
- Download March 16 Strawser Order Denying Davis Motion to Stay
- Download May 21 Strawser Class Certification Order
- Download May 21 Strawser Order Granting Injunction
- Download June 2 Relators Motion for Clarification and Reaffirmation
- Download June 26 SCOTUS Obergefell Decision
- Download June 29 Alabama Supreme Court Order re Obergefell
- Download June 29 Strawser Motion for Permanent Injunction
- Download July 1 Strawser Order
- Download July 6 Relators Alabama Supreme Court Brief re Obergefell
Monday, February 9, 2015
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:
- Download Searcy v. Strange Jan 23 DCT Order
- Download Strawser v. Strange Jan 26 DCT Order
- Download Searcy v. Strange Jan 28 DCT Order Clarifying Judgment
- Download Feb 3 Chief Justice Moore Memo
- Download Feb 8 Chief Justice Moore Order
- Download Feb 9 SCOTUS Order
- Download Feb 9 Statement of Alabama Attorney General
- Download Feb 9 Statement of Governor Bentley
[Updated to include the statement by Governor Bentley.]
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.
Wednesday, February 4, 2015
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.
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.
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
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.”
Saturday, January 24, 2015
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.
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.