Tuesday, March 14, 2017

D.C. Federal Rules For Local Admission Upheld

A decision today from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected an attack on the local district court practice admission rule.

The National Association for the Advancement of Multijurisdiction Practice (“NAAMJP”) has conducted a thirty-year campaign to overturn local rules of practice limiting those who may appear before a particular state or federal court...

In the present case, NAAMJP and two of its members allege bar admission conditions for the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, established in the identical text of Local Civil Rule 83.8 and Local Criminal Rule 57.21 (collectively, the “Local Rule”), violate statutory and constitutional legal standards...

Defendants—Judges of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (the “District Court”) and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch—moved to dismiss NAAMJP’s complaint; the district court granted the motion in a thorough and thoughtful opinion.  Nonetheless, NAAMJP argues on appeal that the Local Rule (1) violates the Rules Enabling Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2071 and 2072; (2) runs afoul of the Supreme Court’s decision in Frazier v. Heebe, 482 U.S. 641 (1987); (3) improperly applies rational basis review; and (4) violates 28 U.S.C. § 1738, admission requirements of other federal courts and administrative agencies, and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Because each of these arguments lack merit, we affirm.

The matter was heard below by a Massachusetts District Court Judge. 

The standing issue

As an initial matter, the district court properly concluded it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to adjudicate (1) all claims brought by Patent Lawyer Doe (“Doe”) and (2) all claims asserted against the Attorney General. Both the Amended Complaint and Doe’s Declaration fail to articulate any actual and imminent injury, which is necessary to establish Article III standing in this case...

Doe does not describe where he practices law or otherwise suggest the Local Rule’s Principal Office Provision has inhibited his legal practice. Conclusory assertions of harm, or reference to Doe’s practice at a “Big Law firm in San Diego” in briefing on appeal, see NAAMJP Br. 7, do not remedy this deficiency.

Additionally, NAAMJP has failed to identify any role whatsoever of the Attorney General—or any member of the executive branch, for that matter—in promulgating or enforcing the District Court’s local rules. Accordingly, the district court properly dismissed Doe and the Attorney General.

And the merits

Here, the Principal Office Provision ensures attorneys who practice before the District Court—but who avoid supervision by the D.C. Bar Association—are subject to supervision by the state to which their practice is most geographically proximate. The Principal Office Provision embodies a reasonable assumption: local licensing control is better positioned to facilitate training sessions, conduct monitoring programs, and field complaints from the public— all rational bases for the Local Rule. Indeed, much more restrictive district court rules have passed rational basis review in other circuits.

The court rejected several other contentions but gave the appellant a nice send off

The Court does not doubt the sincerity of NAAMJP’s convictions or its eagerness to reduce barriers to legal practice in the various state and federal courts across the country. Indeed, there may be good policy reasons for the outcomes NAAMJP urges. But, as has been amply demonstrated in dozens of legal opinions penned by judges across the country, NAAMJP has identified no legal basis upon which to compel federal or state courts to adopt the rules it desires.

The opinion is authored by Circuit Judge Brown joined by Circuit Judge Pillard and Senior Judge Edwards. (Mike Frisch)


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