Thursday, June 21, 2018
Sarah Swan has published Plaintiff Cities, 71 Vand. L. Rev. 1227 (2018). Here’s the abstract:
When cities are involved in litigation, it is most often as defendants. However, in the last few decades, cities have emerged as aggressive plaintiffs, bringing forward hundreds of mass-tort style claims. From suing gun manufacturers for the scourge of gun violence, to bringing actions against banks for the consequences of the subprime mortgage crisis, to initiating claims against pharmaceutical companies for opioid-related deaths and injuries, plaintiff cities are using litigation to pursue the perpetrators of the social harms that have devastated their constituents and their communities.
Many courts and commentators have criticized these plaintiff city claims on numerous grounds. They argue that, as a doctrinal matter, cities lack standing, fail to meet causation standards, and stretch causes of action like public nuisance beyond all reasonable limits. Further, they argue that, as a theoretical matter, plaintiff cities are impermissibly using litigation as regulation, overstepping their limited authority as “creatures of the state,” and usurping the political and legislative process. This Article demonstrates that each of these critiques is mistaken. Plaintiff city claims are legally, morally, and sociologically legitimate. And, as a practical matter, they are financially feasible even for cash-strapped or bankrupt cities. Moving beyond mere economic accounting, though, plaintiff city claims have value of a different sort: for plaintiff cities, litigation is a form of state building. By serving as plaintiffs and seeking redress for the harms that impact a city’s most vulnerable residents, plaintiff cities are demanding recognition not just for those impacted constituents, but also for themselves, as distinct and meaningful polities. In so doing, plaintiff cities are renegotiating the practical and theoretical meaning of cities within the existing political order, and opening up new potential paths for urban social justice.
Monday, April 23, 2018
Today a panel of the Ninth Circuit issued its decision in Naruto v. Slater (the Monkey Selfie case), covered earlier here. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) brought suit as the next friend of Naruto, who “was a seven-year-old crested macaque that lived—and may still live—in a reserve on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia.” The majority opinion by Judge Carlos Bea begins:
We must determine whether a monkey may sue humans, corporations, and companies for damages and injunctive relief arising from claims of copyright infringement. Our court’s precedent requires us to conclude that the monkey’s claim has standing under Article III of the United States Constitution. Nonetheless, we conclude that this monkey—and all animals, since they are not human—lacks statutory standing under the Copyright Act.
Although the majority opinion stated that “[w]e gravely doubt that PETA can validly assert ‘next friend’ status to represent claims made for the monkey,” it wrote:
Even so, we must proceed to the merits because Naruto’s lack of a next friend does not destroy his standing to sue, as having a ‘case or controversy’ under Article III of the Constitution. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17, which authorizes “next friend” lawsuits, obligates the court “to consider whether [incompetent parties] are adequately protected,” even where they have no “next friend” or “guardian.” U.S. v. 30.64 Acres of Land, 795 F.2d 796, 805 (9th Cir. 1986). Within this obligation, the court has “broad discretion and need not appoint a guardian ad litem [or next friend] if it determines the person is or can be otherwise adequately protected.” Id. (citing Roberts v. Ohio Casualty Ins. Co., 2556 F.2d 35, 39 (5th Cir. 1958) (“Rule 17(c) does not make the appointment of a guardian ad litem mandatory.”)). See also Harris v. Mangum, 863 F.3d 1133, 1139 n.2 (9th Cir. 2017) (noting circumstances in which “appointing a guardian ad litem . . . could hinder the purpose of Rule 17(c),” and thus was not required). For example, “the court may find that the incompetent person’s interests would be adequately protected by the appointment of a lawyer.” Krain v. Smallwood, 880 F.2d 1119, 1121 (9th Cir. 1989) (citing Westcott v. United States Fidelity & Guaranty Co., 158 F.2d 20, 22 (4th Cir. 1946). Indeed, courts have done just this, and the fact that those courts did not then dismiss the case proves that the lack of a next friend does not destroy an incompetent party’s standing. See, e.g., Westcott, 158 F.2d at 22 (affirming judgment against minor who was represented by an attorney but not a guardian ad litem).
Proceeding to Naruto’s constitutional standing, the majority concluded that Naruto’s claim satisfied Article III:
Here, the complaint alleges that Naruto is the author and owner of the Monkey Selfies. The complaint further alleges that Naruto has suffered concrete and particularized economic harms as a result of the infringing conduct by the Appellees, harms that can be redressed by a judgment declaring Naruto as the author and owner of the Monkey Selfies.
In reaching these conclusions, the majority found that it was bound by an earlier Ninth Circuit decision—Cetacean Cmty. v. Bush, 386 F.3d 1169 (9th Cir. 2004). In a footnote, however, the majority argued that Cetacean was “incorrectly decided” and “needs reexamination.”
Ultimately, the panel found that the district court correctly dismissed the case because “Naruto—and, more broadly, animals other than humans—lack statutory standing to sue under the Copyright Act.”
Judge N.R. Smith wrote a concurring opinion that disagreed with the majority’s handling of PETA’s lack of next-friend standing.
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Today the Ninth Circuit issued its decision in In re United States of America (earlier coverage of the case here). As the opinion describes the litigation: “Twenty-one young plaintiffs brought suit against the United States, the President, and various Executive Branch officials and agencies, alleging that the defendants have contributed to climate change in violation of the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.”
The district court had denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction and failure to state a claim, prompting the defendants to seek a writ of mandamus from the Ninth Circuit. Chief Judge Sidney Thomas authors a unanimous opinion denying the government’s petition without prejudice. The opinion is joined by Judges Marsha Berzon and Michelle Friedland. Judge Alex Kozinski was on the panel when oral argument occurred, but he was replaced by Judge Friedland following his retirement.
Judge Thomas’s opinion is structured around the Bauman factors—which have long guided the Ninth Circuit when it comes to mandamus petitions. They are:
(1) whether the petitioner has no other means, such as a direct appeal, to obtain the desired relief; (2) whether the petitioner will be damaged or prejudiced in any way not correctable on appeal; (3) whether the district court’s order is clearly erroneous as a matter of law; (4) whether the district court’s order is an oft repeated error or manifests a persistent disregard of the federal rules; and (5) whether the district court’s order raises new and important problems or issues of first impression.
Here are the opinion’s concluding paragraphs:
We are mindful that some of the plaintiffs’ claims as currently pleaded are quite broad, and some of the remedies the plaintiffs seek may not be available as redress. However, the district court needs to consider those issues further in the first instance. Claims and remedies often are vastly narrowed as litigation proceeds; we have no reason to assume this case will be any different. Nor would the defendants be precluded from reasserting a challenge to standing, particularly as to redressability, once the record is more fully developed, or from seeking mandamus in the future, if circumstances justify it. And the defendants retain the option of asking the district court to certify orders for interlocutory appeal of later rulings, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b).
Because petitioners have not satisfied the Bauman factors, we deny the petition without prejudice. Absent any discovery order, the mandamus petition is premature insofar as it is premised on a fear of burdensome discovery. The issues pertaining to the merits of this case can be resolved by the district court, in a future appeal, or, if extraordinary circumstances later present themselves, by mandamus relief. For these reasons, we decline to exercise our discretion to grant mandamus relief at this stage of the litigation.
Monday, February 26, 2018
A couple of decisions from the federal circuits in recent weeks:
In Hagy v. Demers & Adams, the Sixth Circuit addressed Article III standing and the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in Spokeo. Judge Sutton’s opinion dismisses a case brought under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) “[b]ecause the complaint failed to identify a cognizable injury traceable to [the defendant] and because Congress cannot override this baseline requirement of Article III of the U.S. Constitution by labeling the violation of any requirement of a statute a cognizable injury.” (H/T: Howard Bashman)
In Simpson v. Trump University, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s approval of a class action settlement involving seminars offered by Trump University. Here’s the introduction from Judge Nguyen’s opinion:
Trump University, now defunct, was a for-profit entity that purported to teach Donald J. Trump's “secrets of success” in the real estate industry. During the 2016 presidential election, Trump University and Trump were defendants in three lawsuits alleging fraud and violations of various state and federal laws: two class actions in the Southern District of California, and a suit by the New York Attorney General in state court. Each suit alleged that Trump University used false advertising to lure prospective students to free investor workshops at which they were sold expensive three-day educational seminars. At these seminars, instead of receiving the promised training, attendees were aggressively encouraged to invest tens of thousands of dollars more in a so-called mentorship program that included resources, real estate guidance, and a host of other benefits, none of which ever materialized.
In the California cases, the district court certified two classes of over eight thousand disappointed “students,” and scheduled the cases for trial in late November 2016. On November 8, 2016, Trump was elected President of the United States. Within weeks, the parties reached a global settlement on terms highly favorable to class members. Plaintiffs would receive between 80 to 90 percent of what they paid for Trump University programs, totaling $21 million. The defendants agreed to pay an additional $4 million in the case brought by the Attorney General of New York.
This appeal involves a lone objector, Sherri Simpson, who seeks to opt out of the class and bring her claims in a separate lawsuit, which would derail the settlement. Simpson does not dispute that she received, at the class certification stage, a court-approved notice of her right to exclude herself from the class and chose not to do so by the deadline. She argues, however, that the class notice promised her a second opportunity to opt out at the settlement stage, or alternatively, that due process requires this second chance. Neither argument is correct. We affirm.
(H/T: Adam Zimmerman) (Full disclosure: I joined an amicus brief on behalf of civil procedure professors in support of the objector in this case.)
Sunday, December 24, 2017
Three interesting decisions during the last few days:
- On Thursday, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted President Trump’s motion to dismiss in CREW v. Trump, a case alleging that Trump’s business interests violate the Domestic and Foreign Emoluments Clauses of the United States Constitution. Judge George B. Daniels grants Trump’s Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, finding that the plaintiffs lack Article III standing. The court also finds that the case presents a non-justiciable political question and that the plaintiffs’ Foreign Emoluments Clause claims are not ripe for adjudication. The courts states, however, that it “does not reach the issue of whether Plaintiffs’ allegations state a cause of action under either the Domestic or Foreign Emoluments Clauses, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)” or “whether the payments at issue would constitute an emolument prohibited by either Clause.”
- On Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued its opinion in Hawaii v. Trump, affirming the district court’s order enjoining portions of President Trump’s Proclamation 9645 (also known as Travel Ban 3.0). The per curiam opinion—by Judges Michael Daly Hawkins, Ronald M. Gould, and Richard A. Paez—concludes that the Proclamation exceeds the President’s statutory authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act.The court does not address whether the Proclamation also violates the Establishment Clause. The court does, however, limit the scope of the district court’s preliminary injunction to “foreign nationals who have a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”
- And on Saturday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued an order in ACLUF v. Mattis, denying the Defense Department’s motion to dismiss a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed on behalf of an American citizen being detained by U.S. forces in Iraq. Judge Tanya S. Chutkan concludes that the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation (ACLUF) has standing under Article III as the detainee’s “next friend.” The court also orders the Defense Department to allow ACLUF “immediate and unmonitored access to the detainee for the sole purpose of determining whether the detainee wishes for the ACLUF to continue this action on his behalf,” and “to refrain from transferring the detainee until the ACLUF informs the court of the detainee’s wishes.”
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Yesterday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard oral argument in United States v. United States District Court for the District of Oregon. The Ninth Circuit is considering the federal government’s petition for a writ of mandamus challenging the district court’s order in Juliana v. United States, 217 F. Supp. 3d 1224 (D. Or. 2016). The district court had denied the government’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit that the court summarized as follows:
Plaintiffs allege defendants have known for more than fifty years that the carbon dioxide (“CO2”) produced by burning fossil fuels was destabilizing the climate system in a way that would “significantly endanger plaintiffs, with the damage persisting for millenia.” First. Am. Compl. ¶ 1. Despite that knowledge, plaintiffs assert defendants, “[b]y their exercise of sovereign authority over our country’s atmosphere and fossil fuel resources, ... permitted, encouraged, and otherwise enabled continued exploitation, production, and combustion of fossil fuels, ... deliberately allow[ing] atmospheric CO2 concentrations to escalate to levels unprecedented in human history[.]” Id. ¶ 5. Although many different entities contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, plaintiffs aver defendants bear “a higher degree of responsibility than any other individual, entity, or country” for exposing plaintiffs to the dangers of climate change. Id. ¶ 7. Plaintiffs argue defendants’ actions violate their substantive due process rights to life, liberty, and property, and that defendants have violated their obligation to hold certain natural resources in trust for the people and for future generations.
217 F. Supp. 3d at 1233.
Thursday, October 26, 2017
Now up on the Vanderbilt Law Review’s website is my essay, Lost in Transplantation The Supreme Court’s Post-Prudence Jurisprudence, 70 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 289 (2017). It’s a response to Fred Smith’s article, Undemocratic Restraint, 70 Vand. L. Rev. 845 (2017).
Friday, September 29, 2017
Now on the Courts Law section of JOTWELL is Kevin Walsh’s essay, Adversity and Non-Contentiousness. Kevin reviews two recent pieces by Jim Pfander and Daniel Birk, Adverse Interests and Article III: A Reply, 111 Nw. U. L. Rev. 1067 (2017), and Article III Judicial Power, the Adverse-Party Requirement, and Non-Contentious Jurisdiction, 124 Yale L.J. 1346 (2015), as well as Ann Woolhandler’s response to their arguments in Adverse Interests and Article III, 111 Nw. U. L. Rev. 1025 (2017).
Tuesday, June 6, 2017
Yesterday the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Town of Chester v. Laroe Estates, Inc., covered earlier here and here. Justice Alito’s opinion for the Court decides the case on very narrow grounds—here’s how it begins:
Must a litigant possess Article III standing in order to intervene of right under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a)(2)? The parties do not dispute—and we hold—that such an intervenor must meet the requirements of Article III if the intervenor wishes to pursue relief not requested by a plaintiff. In the present case, it is unclear whether the intervenor seeks different relief, and the Court of Appeals did not resolve this threshold issue. Accordingly, we vacate the judgment and remand for that court to determine whether the intervenor seeks such additional relief.
Monday, April 17, 2017
Today’s oral arguments at the Supreme Court featured lots of civil procedure and federal courts issues. Transcripts below:
- Perry v. Merit Systems Protection Board (earlier coverage here)
- Town of Chester v. Laroe Estates (earlier coverage here)
- California Public Employees Retirement System v. ANZ Securities (earlier coverage here)
Thursday, April 13, 2017
Michael Morley has posted on SSRN a draft of his essay, Spokeo: The Quasi-Hohfeldian Plaintiff and the Non-Federal Federal Question. Here’s the abstract:
In Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, the Supreme Court held that, to have a justiciable claim in federal court under a federal statute, a plaintiff must show that it suffered a “particularized” and “concrete” injury. Even when Congress creates a cause of action, Article III requires federal courts to ensure that the plaintiff has suffered a sufficiently concrete injury before exercising jurisdiction over its claim.
Spokeo requires us to re-think the traditional dichotomy between Hohfeldian plaintiffs, who have suffered concrete and particularized injury, and non-Hohfeldian (or ideological) plaintiffs, who have suffered no such harm. The case requires recognition of a third category: the quasi-Hohfeldian plaintiff, who has suffered a particularized injury because its statutory rights were violated, but no concrete harm because the violation caused no real damage. At first blush, Spokeo appears to bar quasi-Hohfeldian plaintiffs from federal court. Congress can easily allow federal courts to exercise jurisdiction over their claims, however, simply by statutorily redesignating such plaintiffs as relators, relabeling statutory damages as civil fines, and recharacterizing private rights of action as qui tam claims brought on behalf of the Government.
Friday, April 7, 2017
After changing the Senate rules yesterday to eliminate the possibility of a filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, the Senate has just confirmed Tenth Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch to the vacant seat on the Supreme Court. His first weeks on the job feature oral arguments in several cases raising civil procedure and federal courts issues.
Monday, April 17:
- Perry v. Merit Systems Protection Board
- Town of Chester v. Laroe Estates
- California Public Employees Retirement System v. ANZ Securities
Tuesday, April 25:
Thursday, February 9, 2017
Today the Ninth Circuit issued its opinion in Washington v. Trump, refusing to grant the federal government’s request for a stay of Judge Robart’s TRO:
- Yes to appellate jurisdiction
- Yes to Article III standing for Washington and Minnesota
- No to the federal government’s request to narrow the TRO
Although this resolves the federal government’s request for a stay, the Ninth Circuit also issued a briefing schedule for the federal government’s appeal of the TRO itself:
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.
Friday, January 13, 2017
Whether intervenors participating in a lawsuit as of right under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a) must have Article III standing (as three circuits have held), or whether Article III is satisfied so long as there is a valid case or controversy between the named parties (as seven circuits have held).
You can find all the cert-stage briefing—and follow the merits briefs as they come in—at SCOTUSblog.
Thursday, January 5, 2017
Now running on the Courts Law section of JOTWELL is my essay, Comparative Avoidance. I review Erin Delaney’s recent article, Analyzing Avoidance: Judicial Strategy in Comparative Perspective, 66 Duke L.J. 1 (2016).
Tuesday, November 8, 2016
Today the Supreme Court hears oral argument in Bank of America v. Miami, which involves standing to sue under the Fair Housing Act. Here are the questions presented:
- By limiting suit to "aggrieved person[s]," did Congress require that an FHA plaintiff plead more than just Article III injury-in-fact?
- The FHA requires plaintiffs to plead proximate cause. Does proximate cause require more than just the possibility that a defendant could have foreseen that the remote plaintiff might ultimately lose money through some theoretical chain of contingencies?
You can find links to all of the briefing at SCOTUSblog.
[Update: Here is the oral argument transcript.]
Thursday, October 13, 2016
Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued its decision in Schuchardt v. President of the United States (3d Cir. No. 15-3491). The plaintiff filed a lawsuit challenging NSA surveillance activities, but the district court dismissed for lack of standing. The Third Circuit reversed, with an opinion that begins:
This appeal involves a constitutional challenge to an electronic surveillance program operated by the National Security Agency (NSA) under the authority of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Elliott Schuchardt appeals an order of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania dismissing his civil action for lack of jurisdiction. The District Court held that Schuchardt lacked standing to sue because he failed to plead facts from which one might reasonably infer that his own communications had been seized by the federal government. Because we hold that, at least as a facial matter, Schuchardt’s second amended complaint plausibly stated an injury in fact personal to him, we will vacate the District Court’s order and remand.
The court goes on to discuss the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Clapper v. Amnesty International USA, as well as the general pleading standard set forth in Twombly and Iqbal.
It’s worth noting that a case similar to Schuchardt is currently pending in the Fourth Circuit. Wikimedia Foundation v. NSA (4th Cir. No. 15-2560) is scheduled for oral argument in December. If readers are interested, below is a link to an amicus brief in the Wikimedia case that I filed on behalf of various civil procedure and federal courts professors:
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Scott Dodson has posted on SSRN a draft of his article, Jurisdiction and Its Effects, which is forthcoming in the Georgetown Law Journal. Here’s the abstract:
Jurisdiction is experiencing an identity crisis. The Court has given jurisdiction three different identities: jurisdiction as power, jurisdiction as defined effects, and jurisdiction as positive law. These identities are at war with each other, and each is unsustainable on its own. The result has been a breakdown in the application of the basic question of what is jurisdictional and what is not.
I aim to rehabilitate jurisdiction. Jurisdiction is none of the three identities above. Rather, jurisdiction determines forum in a multi-forum system. It seeks not to limit a particular court in isolation but instead to define boundaries and relationships among forums. Because it speaks to relationships generally, jurisdiction exhibits neither unique nor immutable effects. Instead, positive law can prescribe whatever effects - including waivability, forfeitability, and even equitable discretion - best fit a particular jurisdictional rule.
This identity for jurisdiction resolves tensions across a wide range of doctrines. For example, it reconciles personal jurisdiction and original subject-matter jurisdiction as jurisdictional kin, a pair long estranged because of personal jurisdiction’s waivability. Other categorizations are more surprising. For example, venue, abstention, and even the Federal Arbitration Act are all jurisdictional because they select among forums, while Article III standing is non-jurisdictional because it does not. These categorizations are unconventional, but they ultimately produce a more coherent, consistent, and useful jurisdictional identity.
Monday, August 29, 2016
Last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued its decision in Nicosia v. Amazon.com, Inc., holding that the plaintiff’s suit against Amazon should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim based on the mandatory arbitration provision in Amazon’s Conditions of Use.
Of course there’s considerable discussion of the Federal Arbitration Act and substantive contract law, but the court also addresses pleading standards, the relationship between Rule 12(b)(6) motions and motions to compel arbitration, and standing (the latter with respect to the plaintiff’s request for a preliminary injunction).