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
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.
Monday, December 15, 2014
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.
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.
Sunday, December 14, 2014
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?