Monday, June 12, 2017
Today the Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision in Microsoft Corp. v. Baker, a case for which cert was granted nearly a year and a half ago. The plaintiffs in the case had sought certification of a class action, but the district court refused. After failing to receive permission to appeal the class-certification ruling under Rule 23(f), the plaintiffs (in the words of Justice Ginsburg’s majority opinion) “stipulated to a voluntary dismissal of their claims ‘with prejudice,’ but reserved the right to revive their claims should the Court of Appeals reverse the District Court’s certification denial.”
Today’s decision finds that such a stipulated voluntary dismissal did not create appellate jurisdiction, although the Court splits 5-3 on the basis for that conclusion. Joined by Justices Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan, Justice Ginsburg writes:
We hold that the voluntary dismissal essayed by respondents does not qualify as a “final decision” within the compass of §1291. The tactic would undermine §1291’s firm finality principle, designed to guard against piecemeal appeals, and subvert the balanced solution Rule 23(f) put in place for immediate review of class-action orders.
A concurring opinion by Justice Thomas (joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito) concludes that there was a “final decision” for purposes of § 1291, because the district court’s order “dismissed all of the plaintiffs’ claims with prejudice and left nothing for the District Court to do but execute the judgment.” Justice Thomas, however, reasons that “the Court of Appeals lacked jurisdiction under Article III of the Constitution,” because “[w]hen the plaintiffs asked the District Court to dismiss their claims, they consented to the judgment against them and disavowed any right to relief from Microsoft.”
Justice Gorsuch—who was not yet on the Court at the time of oral argument—took no part in the case.
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.
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
Yesterday the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela v. Helmerich & Payne Int’l Drilling Co., covered earlier here. The case involves the expropriation exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), which provides that foreign states are not immune from jurisdiction in U.S. courts when, among other things, “rights in property taken in violation of international law are in issue.”
Justice Breyer’s opinion concludes that it is not sufficient to “make a ‘nonfrivolous’ argument that the case falls within the scope of the exception.”
Rather, state and federal courts can maintain jurisdiction to hear the merits of a case only if they find that the property in which the party claims to hold rights was indeed “property taken in violation of international law.” Put differently, the relevant factual allegations must make out a legally valid claim that a certain kind of right is at issue (property rights) and that the relevant property was taken in a certain way (in violation of international law). A good argument to that effect is not sufficient. But a court normally need not resolve, as a jurisdictional matter, disputes about whether a party actually held rights in that property; those questions remain for the merits phase of the litigation.
Moreover, where jurisdictional questions turn upon further factual development, the trial judge may take evidence and resolve relevant factual disputes. But, consistent with foreign sovereign immunity’s basic objective, namely, to free a foreign sovereign from suit, the court should normally resolve those factual disputes and reach a decision about immunity as near to the outset of the case as is reasonably possible. See Verlinden B. V. v. Central Bank of Nigeria, 461 U. S. 480, 493–494 (1983).
Part III of the opinion contrasts the FSIA with 28 U.S.C. § 1331, finding that Bell v. Hood’s approach to the existence of a federal question does not apply to the FSIA’s expropriation exception.
Justice Gorsuch took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
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)
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:
Friday, March 10, 2017
We covered earlier several bills that could make significant changes to federal civil procedure. Two of these passed the House of Representatives yesterday.
- H.R. 725 (the Innocent Party Protection Act) passed by a vote of 224–194.
- H.R. 985 (the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act) passed by a vote of 220-201-1.
Stay tuned. Getting to 60 votes in the Senate will be a more difficult proposition.
Thursday, March 2, 2017
The House of Representatives Committee on Rules has announced that it will meet the week of March 6 “to grant a rule that may provide a structured amendment process for floor consideration of” H.R. 720 (amendments to FRCP 11), H.R. 725 (on so-called “fraudulent” joinder), and H.R. 985 (on class actions and MDLs).
Hat tip: Adam Zimmerman
Friday, February 17, 2017
Five bills that would generally operate to favor corporate defendants in civil lawsuits have passed the House Judiciary Committee with blinding speed and have been referred to the full House:
Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act
Bob Goodlatte (R-VA-6)
Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act
Blake Farenthold (R-TX-27)
Stop Settlement Slush Funds Act
Bob Goodlatte (R-VA-6)
Innocent Party Protection Act
Ken Buck (R-CO-4)
Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act
Lamar Smith (R-TX-21)
We briefly described four of the bills here. The bills are opposed by over 50 advocacy groups for civil rights, consumer protection, and environmental protection.
Monday, February 13, 2017
While Trump Distracts, Republicans Introduce Four Bills Restricting Ordinary Citizens’ Access to the Courts
Four bills have been introduced in Congress that would limit plaintiffs' access to the courts. The title of each bill is misleading, in that the effect of each bill would be very different from what its title indicates.
1. Probably the most far-ranging bill is the so-called "Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017," H.R. 985.
This bill would critically hobble class actions by making them much more difficult to certify and reducing the compensation to plaintiffs’ class action lawyers.
The major provisions of the bill with respect to class actions are (this is not an exhaustive list):
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.
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Lightfoot v. Cendant Mortgage Corp. Justice Sotomayor’s opinion begins:
The corporate charter of the Federal National Mortgage Association, known as Fannie Mae, authorizes Fannie Mae “to sue and to be sued, and to complain and to defend, in any court of competent jurisdiction, State or Federal.” 12 U. S. C. §1723a(a). This case presents the question whether this sue-and-be-sued clause grants federal district courts jurisdiction over cases involving Fannie Mae. We hold that it does not.
Friday, January 13, 2017
The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) is authorized to hear challenges by certain federal employees to certain major adverse employment actions. If such a challenge involves a claim under the federal anti-discrimination laws, it is referred to as a “mixed” case. This case presents the following question:
Whether an MSPB decision disposing of a “mixed” case on jurisdictional grounds is subject to judicial review in district court or in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
You can find all the cert-stage briefing—and follow the merits briefs as they come in—at SCOTUSblog.
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.
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
Aaron-Andrew Bruhl has posted on SSRN a draft of his article The Jurisdictional Canon, which is forthcoming in the Vanderbilt Law Review. Here’s the abstract:
This Article concerns the interpretation of jurisdictional statutes. The fundamental postulate of the law of the federal courts is that the federal courts are courts of limited subject-matter jurisdiction. That principle is reinforced by a canon of statutory interpretation according to which statutes conferring federal subject-matter jurisdiction are to be construed narrowly, with ambiguities resolved against the availability of federal jurisdiction. This interpretive canon is over a century old and has been recited in thousands of federal cases, but its future has become uncertain. The Supreme Court recently stated that the canon does not apply to many of today’s most important jurisdictional disputes. The Court’s decision is part of a pattern, as several cases from the last decade have questioned the canon’s validity, a surprising development given what appeared to be the canon’s entrenched status.
This state of flux and uncertainty provides an ideal time to assess the merits and the likely future trajectory of the canon requiring narrow construction of jurisdictional statutes. This Article undertakes those tasks. First, it conducts a normative evaluation of the canon and its potential justifications. The normative evaluation requires consideration of several matters, including the canon’s historical pedigree, its relationship to constitutional values and congressional preferences, and its ability to bring about good social outcomes. Reasonable minds can differ regarding whether the canon is ultimately justified, but the case for it turns out to be weaker than most observers would initially suspect. Second, the Article attempts, as a positive matter, to identify the institutional and political factors that have contributed to the canon’s recent negative trajectory and that can be expected to shape its future path. The canon’s future is uncertain because it depends on the interaction of a variety of matters including docket composition, interest-group activity, and the Supreme Court's attitude toward the civil justice system.
This Article’s examination of the jurisdiction canon has broader value beyond the field of federal jurisdiction because it sheds some incidental light on the more general questions of why interpretive rules change, how methodological changes spread through the judicial hierarchy, and how the interpretive practices of the lower courts vary from those of the Supreme Court.
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:
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
David Shapiro has posted on SSRN his essay, An Incomplete Discussion of “Arising Under” Jurisdiction, which was published in the Notre Dame Law Review. Here’s the abstract:
This essay, a contribution to a Symposium in honor of Professor Daniel Meltzer, focuses on one aspect of federal question jurisdiction – cases in which a question of federal law is “embedded” in a state law cause of action. The essay deals primarily with these cases as they come to the Supreme Court on request for review of a state court decision, but also addresses cases that arise when a party invokes the original or removal jurisdiction of a federal district court. The questions whether and to what extent such cases fall within the constitutional and statutory authority of the federal courts are considered in the historical context of the evolution of Supreme Court decisions, and the interplay of the views over several decades of the author, of Professor Meltzer, and of seven editions of Hart & Wechsler’s “The Federal Courts and the Federal System.”
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Last week Congress voted to override President Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). Although there’s apparently been some “buyer’s remorse” by members of Congress who voted to override the veto, JASTA’s provisions narrowing sovereign immunity are now in effect.
Among other things, JASTA adds a new provision to Title 28 of the U.S. Code: 28 U.S.C. § 1605B. Subsection (b) of the new provision states:
(b) RESPONSIBILITY OF FOREIGN STATES.—A foreign state shall not be immune from the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States in any case in which money damages are sought against a foreign state for physical injury to person or property or death occurring in the United States and caused by—
(1) an act of international terrorism in the United States; and
(2) a tortious act or acts of the foreign state, or of any official, employee, or agent of that foreign state while acting within the scope of his or her office, employment, or agency, regardless where the tortious act or acts of the foreign state occurred.
Subsection (d) provides: “A foreign state shall not be subject to the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States under subsection (b) on the basis of an omission or a tortious act or acts that constitute mere negligence.’’
Sunday, September 11, 2016
The House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, will hold a hearing on Tuesday, September 13 at 11:00 a.m. on "Exploring Federal Diversity Jurisdiction."
- Mr. Charles Cooper, Partner, Cooper & Kirk, PLLC
- Ms. Joanna Shepherd, Professor of Law, Emory Law School
- Mr. Ronald Weich, Professor of Law, University of Baltimore
In 2014, Mr. Cooper co-authored an article, Complete Diversity and the Closing of the Federal Courts, which argued for minimal diversity as the jurisdictional standard and was published in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, a forum for conservative scholarship.
In 2015, Professor Shepherd published a study conducted for the National Association of Manufacturers entitled Estimating the Impact of a Minimal Diversity Standard on Federal Court Caseloads, which concluded:
This study shows that concerns of diversity jurisdiction burdening the federal courts are largely unfounded. Empirical analysis of almost 3,600 complaints filed in state court shows that replacing complete diversity with a minimal diversity standard would increase existing federal district court caseloads by less than 8 percent. Distributed evenly over existing federal judgeships, this caseload increase translates into an additional 43 cases per year for each judgeship.
Ronald Weich is the dean of University of Baltimore College of Law.
Hat tip: Altom Maglio.
Friday, September 9, 2016
S.I. Strong has posted on SSRN a draft of her article, Congress and Commercial Trusts: Dealing With Diversity Jurisdiction Post-Americold, which will be published in the Florida Law Review. Here’s the abstract:
Commercial trusts are one of the United States’ most important types of business organizations, holding trillions of dollars of assets and operating nationally and internationally as a “mirror image” of the corporation. However, commercial trusts remain underappreciated and undertheorized in comparison to corporations, often as a result of the mistaken perception that commercial trusts are analogous to traditional intergenerational trusts or that corporations reflect the primary or paradigmatic form of business association.
The treatment of commercial trusts reached its nadir in early 2016, when the U.S. Supreme Court held in Americold Realty Trust v. ConAgra Foods, Inc. that the citizenship of a commercial trust should be equated with that of its shareholder-beneficiaries for purposes of diversity jurisdiction. Unfortunately, the sheer number of shareholder-beneficiaries in most commercial trusts (often amounting to hundreds if not thousands of individuals) typically precludes the parties’ ability to establish complete diversity and thus eliminates the possibility of federal jurisdiction over most commercial trust disputes. As a result, virtually all commercial trust disputes will now be heard in state court, despite their complexity, their impact on matters of national public policy and their effect on the domestic and global economies.
Americold will also result in differential treatment of commercial trusts and corporations for purposes of federal jurisdiction, even though courts and commentators have long recognized the functional equivalence of the two types of business associations. Furthermore, as this research shows, there is no theoretical justification for this type of unequal treatment.
This Article therefore suggests, as a normative proposition, that Congress override Americold and provide commercial trusts with access to federal courts in a manner similar to that enjoyed by corporations. This recommendation is the result of a rigorous interdisciplinary analysis of both the jurisprudential and practical problems created by Americold as a matter of trust law, procedural law and the law of incorporated and unincorporated business associations. The Article identifies two possible Congressional responses to Americold, one involving reliance on minimal diversity, as in cases falling under 28 U.S.C. §§1332(d) and 1369, and the other involving a statutory definition of the citizenship of commercial trusts similar to that used for corporations under 28 U.S.C. §1332(c). In so doing, this Article hopes to place commercial trusts and corporations on an equal footing and avoid the numerous negative externalities generated by the Supreme Court’s decision in Americold.