Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Nora Freeman Engstrom has posted on SSRN her article, Retaliatory RICO and the Puzzle of Fraudulent Claiming, 115 Mich. L. Rev. 639 (2017). Here’s the abstract:
Over the past century, the allegation that the tort liability system incentivizes legal extortion and is chock-full of fraudulent claims has dominated public discussion and prompted lawmakers to ever-more-creatively curtail individuals’ incentives and opportunities to seek redress. Unsatisfied with these conventional efforts, in recent years, at least a dozen corporate defendants have "discovered” a new fraud-fighting tool. They’ve started filing retaliatory RICO suits against plaintiffs and their lawyers and experts, alleging that the initiation of certain nonmeritorious litigation constitutes racketeering activity—while tort reform advocates have applauded these efforts and exhorted more “courageous” companies to follow suit.
Curiously, though, all of this has taken place against a virtual empirical void. Is the tort liability system actually brimming with fraudulent claims? No one knows. There has been no serious attempt to analyze when, how often, or under what conditions fraudulent claiming proliferates. Similarly, tort reformers support RICO’s use because, they say, conventional mechanisms to deter fraud fall short. But are conventional mechanisms insufficient? Hard to say, as there is no comprehensive inventory of the myriad formal and informal mechanisms already in use; nor do we have even a vague sense of how those mechanisms actually operate. Further, though courts have started to green-light retaliatory RICO actions, no one has carefully analyzed whether these suits are, on balance, beneficial. Indeed, few have so much as surfaced relevant risks. Addressing these questions, this Article attempts to bring overdue attention to a problem central to the tort system’s operation and integrity.
Thursday, March 23, 2017
Monday, March 20, 2017
Simona Grossi has posted on SSRN a draft of her article, Procedural Due Process. Here’s the abstract:
Any democratic judicial system must be built on the principle of due process, the fountain from which all procedural rules and doctrines flourish. Understanding the scope and contours of due process is thus crucial to the development of procedural and substantive rules that could achieve the optimal results in a democratic system. Yet the scholarly articles entirely devoted to the topic are scarce to say the least, and most of the relevant monographs have not articulated a theory of due process, but largely provide an historical overview or a survey of the rights that are commonly understood as due process rights.
A theory of due process is missing and this deficiency has, in my opinion, contributed to the lack of a true understanding and, thus, truthful, real investment of the system in the principle.
An article cannot do justice to the complexities and depth of the due process principle. But there are some ideas and insights I thought I might share here, to start defining the theory of procedural due process, and prompt deeper judicial investigation and scholarship on this topic.
Friday, March 17, 2017
Adam Zimmerman has posted on SSRN a draft of his article, The Bellwether Settlement, which will appear in the Fordham Law Review. Here’s the abstract:
This Article examines the use of "bellwether settlements" in mass litigation. Bellwether settlements are different from “bellwether trials,” a practice where parties choose a representative sample of cases for trial to determine how to resolve a much larger number of similar cases. In bellwether settlements, the parties instead rely on a representative sample of mediations overseen by judges and court-appointed mediators.
The hope behind bellwether settlements is that different settlement outcomes, not trials, will offer the parties crucial building blocks to forge a comprehensive global resolution. In so doing, the process attempts to (1) yield important information about claims, remedies, and strategies that parties often would not share in preparation for a high-stakes trial; (2) avoid outlier or clustering verdicts that threaten a global resolution for all the claims; and (3) build trust among counsel in ways that do not usually occur until much later in the litigation process.
The embrace of such bellwether settlements raises new questions about the roles of the judge and jury in mass litigation.What do bellwether settlements even mean when the procedures and outcomes lack any connection with a jury trial? What function do courts serve when large cases push judges outside their traditional roles as adjudicators of adverse claims, supervisors of controlled fact-finding, and interpreters of law?
This Article argues that, as in other areas of aggregate litigation, courts can play a vital “information-forcing” role in bellwether settlement practice. Even in a system dominated by settlement, judges can help parties set ground rules, open lines of communication, and, in the process, make more reasoned trade-offs. In so doing, courts protect the procedural, substantive, and rule-of-law values that aggregate settlements may threaten.
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Anna Carpenter has posted on SSRN a draft of her article, Active Judging and Access to Justice, which will be published in the Notre Dame Law Review. Here’s the abstract:
Active judging, where judges step away from the traditional, passive role to assist those without counsel, is a central feature of recent proposals aimed at solving the pro se crisis in America’s state civil courts. Despite growing support for active judging as an access to justice intervention, we know little, empirically, about how judges engage with pro se parties as a general matter, and even less about active judging. In response, this Article contributes new data and a new conceptual framework: the three dimensions of active judging. The study is based in a District of Columbia administrative court where most parties are pro se and active judging is permitted and encouraged. Using in-depth qualitative interviews with judges in this court, the study asks: Are the judges active? If so, how? Do views and practices vary across the judges? What factors shape and mediate those views and practices? Results reveal that all judges in the sample engage in at least one dimension of active judging, but judges’ views and practices vary in meaningful ways across the three dimensions, which include adjusting procedures; explaining law and process; and eliciting information. While all judges are willing to adjust procedures, they vary in whether and how they explain or elicit. These variations are based on judges’ different views about the appropriate role of a judge in pro se matters, views that are mediated by substantive law — burdens of proof, in particular. The variations exist though the judges draw on shared sources of guidance on active judging: appellate case law, a regulatory body, and one another, through peer reviews. This study suggests refinements to current thinking about active judging, offers new insights about the roles procedural rules and burdens of proof play in pro se litigation, and suggests consistency in active judging may require more substantial guidance than that available to judges in this court.
Michael Morley has posted on SSRN a draft of his article, The Federal Equity Power. Here’s the abstract:
Erie killed general law. Due to statutory, constitutional, and fairness constraints, a federal court generally must apply state substantive law in diversity and supplemental jurisdiction cases.
Since our nation’s founding, however, federal courts have treated equity as an independent branch of general law, binding of its own force in all cases that come before them. In Guaranty Trust Co. v. York, the Supreme Court held that, notwithstanding Erie, federal courts may continue to rely on traditional principles of equity derived from the English Court of Chancery to determine the availability of equitable relief, such as injunctions, receiverships, and equitable liens, in cases arising under state law. This so-called “equitable remedial rights doctrine” is based on an anachronistic misunderstanding of the nature of the federal equity power. This Article offers a bold new approach to understanding the nature and limits of the federal equity power.
There is no single body of equity law that federal courts must apply in all cases that come before them. In cases arising under state law, there is no basis in the Constitution, federal law, or Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for courts to impose their own equitable standards for relief. Rights and remedies are inextricably intertwined. The manner in which state-created rights are protected is as much a matter of substantive state policy as the state’s initial creation and allocation of those rights. A federal court must apply state statutes and precedents — not uniform, centrally devised federal standards — to determine the availability of equitable relief for state-law claims.
Conversely, for cases arising under federal statutes, the equitable principles that apply are a question of statutory interpretation. When a federal law authorizes equitable relief, a court may presume Congress intended to incorporate traditional equitable principles, absent a clear statement to the contrary in the law’s text or legislative history. And for constitutional cases, federal courts may presumptively apply traditional equitable principles as a matter of constitutional common law, unless Congress chooses to displace it. Thus, contrary to received wisdom, there is no single federal equity law. The scope of equitable relief a federal court may afford depends on the underlying law from which a claim arose.
Thursday, March 9, 2017
Now on the Courts Law section of JOTWELL is Suzette Malveaux’s essay, The Impact of Wal-Mart v. Dukes on Employment Discrimination Class Actions Five Years Out: A Forecast That Suggests More a Wave Than a Tsunami. Suzette reviews a recent article by Michael Selmi & Sylvia Tsakos, Employment Discrimination Class Actions After Wal-Mart v. Dukes, 48 Akron L. Rev. 803 (2015).
Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Jason Kilborn provides the following guest post on Amalia Kessler’s recent book, Inventing American Exceptionalism: The Origins of American Adversarial Legal Culture, 1800-1877 (Yale Univ. Press 2017):
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Given the title, I thought the book was about why US lawyers (or our legal culture generally) are so bellicose. Instead, it's about why we gravitated toward lawyer-driven adversarial (accusatorial) procedure, as opposed to European style, judge-driven inquisitorial procedure, and how the result of our choice is now a deeply ingrained part of US legal culture. It's about the fiercely independent US rejection of the canon-civil law approach of chancery/equity (secret, written, controlled by bureaucrats, headed by one elitist chancellor) in favor of the supposedly more democratic law courts (open, oral, lawyer-driven, headed by many judges and involving juries in fact-finding). It thus nicely supplements other recent books, like Suja Thomas's on the key role of our (all but moribund) trial-and-jury process as a key aspect of our democracy (http://sujathomas.com/missing-american-jury/).
Monday, March 6, 2017
Now on the Courts Law section of JOTWELL is Alexandra Lahav’s essay, (Almost) Everything You Wanted to Know About Class Actions. Alexandra reviews John Coffee’s recent book, Entrepreneurial Litigation: Its Rise, Fall, and Future.
Friday, February 24, 2017
Maria Glover has published A Regulatory Theory of Legal Claims, 70 Vand. L. Rev. 221 (2017). Here’s the abstract:
Procedural law in the United States seeks to achieve three interrelated goals in our system of litigation: efficient processes that achieve “substantive justice” and deter wrongdoing, accurate outcomes, and meaningful access to the courts. For years, however, procedural debate, particularly in the context of due process rights in class actions, has been redirected toward more conceptual questions about the nature of legal claims—are they more appropriately conceptualized as individual property or as collective goods? At stake is the extent to which relevant procedures will protect the right of individual claimants to exercise control over their claims. Those with individualistic conceptions of legal claims tend to object to procedures that operate at the expense of claimant autonomy. Conversely, those who endorse collectivist views tend to downplay claimant autonomy. In the class action context, the debate between individualistic and collectivist views of legal claims has been waged as a proxy war between more fulsome and more limited availability of class procedures—a debate that has been rightly described as “intractable.”
This Article does not seek to resolve that debate, but to broaden it. The individualistic versus collectivist debate about legal claims arises not just in the class action context but in other contexts as well—a point long overlooked in legal scholarship.
Thursday, February 23, 2017
Paul Gugliuzza and Megan La Belle have posted on SSRN a draft of their article, The Patently Unexceptional Venue Statute, which will be published in the American University Law Review. Here’s the abstract:
Legal doctrines developed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit are often derided as “exceptionalist,” particularly on issues of procedure. The court’s interpretation of the venue statute for patent infringement suits seems, at first glance, to fit that mold. According to the Federal Circuit, the statute places few constraints on the plaintiff’s choice of forum when suing corporate defendants. This permissive venue rule has lead critics to suggest that the court is, once again, outside the mainstream. The Supreme Court’s recent grant of certiorari in TC Heartland v. Kraft Foods would seem to indicate that those critics are correct.
This article argues, however, that venue is one area of Federal Circuit procedural law that is not, in fact, exceptional. Rather, the court’s capacious understanding of venue is both consistent with broader trends in venue doctrine and with the text and purpose of the governing statutes. To be clear, as a matter of pure policy, granting plaintiffs unbridled discretion over choice of forum in patent litigation may be problematic. But there are better modes of reform than a questionable interpretation of the venue statute that could have unintended consequences both in patent cases and beyond.
This article, drafted for the American University Law Review’s annual symposium on the Federal Circuit, explores the history of the relevant venue statutes, analyzes key judicial decisions, argues that the Federal Circuit’s current approach to venue is doctrinally sound, and suggests alternative paths for reforming the law of forum selection in patent litigation.
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Simona Grossi has posted on SSRN a draft of her article, The Claim. Here’s the abstract:
I felt compelled to write this article when I realized that our law interpreters and reformers lack an understanding of the meaning and role of the claim in the federal system, and yet modern scholarship has not produced any study or helpful guidance on the topic.
I spent my fall 2016 at the Yale Law School to work on Charles E. Clark’s collected papers, which are stored in the Yale’s Archives. Clark was the driving force behind the adoption of the Federal Rules. His papers contain his thoughts, notes, sketches, and ideas on procedural law and on the system of federal rules he was designing. Clark’s clear procedural vision produced Rules that have lasted, almost untouched, for almost 80 years. Those Rules assigned to the claim a primary role. And that is not surprising, as the claim is the essential litigation unit, the heartbeat of the case, a demand for justice. Clark was a legal realist and believed that courts were powerful instruments of democracy, intended to allow and foster the development and enforcement of substantive rights. By gradually losing an understanding of, and an interest in, the claim, we have developed doctrines that obstruct and distort the judiciary’s democratic dispute-resolution mission.
My article is intended to offer a comprehensive study of the claim and the role of the claim in the various doctrines that govern procedure in federal courts. Based on that understanding, the article develops a theory of federal practice and procedure that centers on the claim, a theory that assigns to the claim a primary, and yet a non-dispositive role in litigation analysis.
Monday, February 20, 2017
Elizabeth Burch has recently published Monopolies in Multidistrict Litigation, 70 Vand. L. Rev. 67 (2017). Here’s the abstract:
When transferee judges receive a multidistrict proceeding, they select a few lead plaintiffs’ lawyers to efficiently manage litigation and settlement negotiations. That decision gives those attorneys total control over all consolidated plaintiffs’ claims and rewards them richly in common-benefit fees. It’s no surprise then that these are coveted positions, yet empirical evidence confirms that the same attorneys occupy them time and again.
Anytime repeat players exist and exercise both oligopolistic leadership control across multidistrict proceedings and monopolistic power within a single proceeding, there is concern that they will use their dominance to enshrine practices and norms that benefit themselves at consumers’ (or here, clients’) expense. Apprehensiveness should increase when defense lawyers are repeat players too, as they are in multidistrict litigation. And anxiety may peak when the circumstances exhibit these anti-competitive characteristics, but lack regulation as they do here. Without the safeguards built into class certification, judicial monitoring and appellate checks disappear. What remains is a system that may permit lead lawyers to act, at times, like a cartel.
Thursday, February 16, 2017
Theodore Eisenberg (deceased), Geoffrey Miller, and Roy Germano have posted on SSRN their paper Attorneys' Fees in Class Actions: 2009-2013, a follow-up to earlier studies.
We study attorney fee awards in 458 class action settlements reported in the five years from 2009-2013. Despite the financial crisis and its many effects on our national life, little has changed in class action attorneys’ fees. Average percentage fees are in line with prior studies. The key determinant of the fee continues to be the size of the class recovery: the amazingly regular relationship between these variables continues in the present data. We continue to find a “scaling” effect, in the sense that fees as a percentage of the recovery decrease as the size of the recovery increases. As in the previous Eisenberg-Miller studies, we find that fees are a function of risk – larger fees in higher-risk cases – although in the most recent data the effect is only weakly statistically significant. We document an inverse relationship between the percentage fee and the lodestar multiplier: cases with lower percentage fees are associated with higher multipliers. Likewise lodestar multipliers tend to rise with the size of class recovery.
Friday, February 3, 2017
Now on the Courts Law section of JOTWELL is Howard Wasserman’s essay, Eight Is Enough. Howard reviews Eric Segall’s article, Eight Justices Are Enough: A Proposal to Improve the United States Supreme Court.
Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Jonathan Remy Nash (Emory) has posted Sovereign Preemption State Standing to SSRN.
When does a state have standing to challenge the executive branch’s alleged under-enforcement of federal law? The issue took on importance during the Obama administration, with “red states” suing the executive branch over numerous issues, including immigration and health care. The question of standing looks to remain critical during the Trump administration, only with the political orientation of the actors reversed.
This Article argues in favor of sovereign preemption standing, under which a state would enjoy Article III standing to sue the federal government when (i) the federal government preempts state law, yet (ii) the executive branch allegedly under-enforces the federal law that Congress enacted to fill the regulatory gap to which the preemption gave rise. Sovereign preemption state standing arises naturally out of the function of states in the federal system. It is grounded upon parens patriae injury — that is, injury to the state’s ability to protect its citizens against harm. The federal government can properly preempt state law, on the logic that it then assumes from the state the obligation to protect the state’s citizens from harm. Where the executive branch then fails adequately to enforce federal law, it leaves the state’s citizens unprotected. The state then has Article III standing to sue the federal government on behalf of its citizenry.
The universe of cases where sovereign preemption state standing operates is not large, which should assuage concerns over opening the floodgates of state-federal litigation. Moreover, prudential doctrines can be overlaid such that more cases would be screened out. Alternatively, sovereign preemption state standing also can be construed somewhat more broadly so that it applies not only to the setting of executive branch under-enforcement, but to the setting of horizontal federal disagreement in general — i.e., to the setting of executive branch over-enforcement as well.
Nick Parrillo has posted on SSRN a draft of his article, The Endgame of Administrative Law: Governmental Disobedience and the Judicial Contempt Power. Here’s the abstract:
Scholars of administrative law focus overwhelmingly on lawsuits to review federal government action while assuming that, if plaintiffs win such lawsuits, the government will do what the court says. But in fact, the federal government’s compliance with court orders is imperfect and fraught, especially with orders compelling the government to act affirmatively. Such orders can strain a federal agency’s resources, interfere with its other legally-required tasks, and force it to make decisions on little information. An agency hit with such an order will often warn the judge that it badly needs more latitude and more time to comply. Judges relent, cutting slack and extending deadlines. The plaintiff who has “won” the suit finds that victory was merely the start of a tough negotiation that can drag on for years.
These compliance negotiations are little understood. Basic questions about them are unexplored, including the most fundamental: What is the endgame? That is, if the judge concludes that the agency has delayed too long and demanded too much, is there anything she can do, at long last, to make the agency comply?
What the judge can do, ultimately, is the same thing as for any disobedient litigant: find the agency (and its high officials) in contempt. But do judges actually make such contempt findings? If so, can judges couple those findings with the sanctions of fine and imprisonment that give contempt its potency against private parties? If not, what use is contempt? The literature is silent on these questions, and conventional research methods, confined to appellate case law, are hopeless for addressing it. There are no opinions of the Supreme Court on the subject, and while the courts of appeals have handled the problem many times, they have dealt with it in a manner calculated to avoid setting clear and general precedent.
Through an examination of thousands of opinions (especially of district courts), docket sheets, briefs, and other filings, plus archival research and interviews, this Article provides the first general assessment of how federal courts handle the federal government’s disobedience. It makes four conclusions. First, the federal judiciary is willing to issue contempt findings against agencies and officials. Second, while several federal judges believe they can (and have tried to) attach sanctions to these findings, the higher courts have exhibited a virtually complete unwillingness to allow sanctions, at times swooping down at the eleventh hour to rescue an agency from incurring a budget-straining fine or its top official from being thrown in jail. Third, the higher courts, even as they unfailingly thwart sanctions in all but a few minor instances, have bent over backward to avoid making pronouncements that sanctions are categorically unavailable, deliberately keeping the sanctions issue in a state of low salience and at least nominal legal uncertainty. Fourth, even though contempt findings are practically devoid of sanctions, they have a shaming effect that gives them substantial if imperfect deterrent power.
The efficacy of litigation against agencies rests on a widespread perception that federal officials simply do not disobey court orders and a concomitant norm that identifies any violation as deviant. Contempt findings, regardless of sanctions, are a means of weaponizing that norm by designating the agency and official as violators and subjecting them to shame. But if judges make too many such findings, and especially if they impose (inevitably publicity-grabbing) sanctions, they may risk undermining the perception that officials always comply and thus the norm that they do so. The judiciary therefore may sometimes pull its punches to preserve the substantial yet limited norm-based power it has.
Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Now on the Courts Law section of JOTWELL is Linda Mullenix’s essay, Infusing Civil Rulemaking with Economic Theory. Linda reviews Paul Stancil’s recent article, Substantive Equality and Procedural Justice, which is forthcoming in the Iowa Law Review.
Friday, January 20, 2017
Aaron Bruhl has posted on SSRN a draft of his article, One Good Plaintiff is Not Enough. Here’s the abstract:
This Article concerns an aspect of Article III standing that has figured in many of the highest-profile controversies of recent years, including litigation over the Affordable Care Act, immigration policy, and climate change. Although the federal courts constantly emphasize the importance of ensuring that only proper plaintiffs invoke the federal judicial power, the Supreme Court and other federal courts have developed a significant exception to the usual requirement of standing. This exception holds that a court entertaining a multiple-plaintiff case may dispense with inquiring into the standing of each plaintiff as long as the court finds that one plaintiff has standing. This practice of partially bypassing the requirement of standing is not limited to cases in which the plaintiffs are about to lose on other grounds anyway. Put differently, courts are willing to assume that all plaintiffs have standing as long as one plaintiff has it and then decide the merits either for or against all plaintiffs despite doubts as to the standing of some of those plaintiffs. We could call this the “one-plaintiff rule.”
This Article examines the one-plaintiff rule from normative and positive perspectives. On the normative side, the goal is to establish that the one-plaintiff rule is erroneous in light of principle, precedent, and policy. All plaintiffs need standing, even if all of them present similar legal claims and regardless of the form of relief they seek. To motivate the normative inquiry, the Article also explains why the one-plaintiff rule is harmful as a practical matter, namely because it assigns concrete benefits and detriments to persons to whom they do not belong. The Article’s other principal goal is to explain the puzzle of how the mistaken one-plaintiff rule could attain such widespread acceptance despite the importance usually attributed to respecting Article III’s limits on judicial power. The explanatory account assigns the blame for the one-plaintiff rule to the incentives of courts and litigants as well as to the development of certain problematic understandings of the nature of judicial power.
Thursday, January 19, 2017
Joanna Schwartz has posted on SSRN a draft of her article, How Qualified Immunity Fails. Here’s the abstract:
Qualified immunity is a judicially created doctrine that shields government officials from constitutional claims for money damages, even if those officials have violated plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, so long as those constitutional rights are not clearly established. Courts and commentators share the assumption that the doctrine affords a powerful protection to government officials. And the Supreme Court has repeatedly explained that qualified immunity must be as powerful as it is to protect government officials from burdens associated with participating in discovery and trial. Yet the Supreme Court has relied on no empirical evidence to support its assertions that litigation imposes these burdens on government officials, or that qualified immunity doctrine protects against them.
This Article reports the results of the largest and most comprehensive study to date of the role qualified immunity plays in constitutional litigation, with particular attention paid to the frequency with which qualified immunity disposes of cases before discovery and trial. Based on my review of 1183 cases filed against law enforcement defendants in five federal court districts, I find that qualified immunity infrequently functions as expected. Fewer than 1% of Section 1983 cases in my dataset were dismissed at the motion to dismiss stage and just 2% were dismissed at summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds. After describing my findings, this Article considers the implications of these findings for descriptive accounts of qualified immunity’s role in constitutional litigation, the extent to which qualified immunity doctrine meets its policy goals, and possible adjustments to the balance struck between individual and government interests in qualified immunity doctrine.