April 19, 2008
Texas Supreme Court Splits on Annexation Statute
In a 5-4 opinion, the Texas Supreme Court in City of Rockwall v. Hughes, 246 S.W.3d 621 (Tex. 2008) split in an interesting case involving municipal power to annex. A landowner objected to his inclusion in a proposed annexation, and his objection was denied. He then sought arbitration of the dispute, pursuant to the statute in issue, but the City refused to arbitrate. He then filed suit.
The statute provided that if the city "fails to take action" on a petition concerning the proposed annexation, the petitioner "may request arbitration of the dispute." The Supreme Court split on whether, if the City denies the petition, this was a "fail[ure] to take action" that allowed for a demand for arbitration.
The majority opinion, which relied on the statutory directive in Texas on how to interpret statutes, reasoned that the statute was unambiguous and not absurd: if the City denied the petition, that was that. There were other, quite limited, means to challenge the denial, but a demand for arbitration was not among them because the city had not "fail[ed] to take action."
The minority opinion disagreed strongly with the majority on the approach to statutory interpretation, stating that it made little sense to interpret the statute to allow for a claim for arbitration only if the City ignored the petition. "When searching for statutory meaning, words matter -- and so does context" is one of the headings in the dissent.
So, here we have a paradigm dispute over whether one set of judges is being "literal" and the other "contextual" though both purport to apply the plain meaning and avoid absurd results.
In my view, fwiw, the majority got it wrong. Especially compelling, I thought, was the point that the minority made that the majority's approach largely renders the arbitration provision meaningless and superflous.
Interesting case for far more than the narrow issue involved!
April 17, 2008
Very Interesting Piece
Treating Like Subdecisions Alike: The Scope of Stare Decisis as Applied to the Judicial Method, by Columbia student Jordan Wilder Connors, published at 108 Colum. L. Rev. 681 (2008). It will soon (they say!) be here. The abstract is tantalizing and relates broadly to Brian's piece, below, and the implied cause of action issue discussed below, too:
The Supreme Court has explained that stare decisis binds the Court to both its result and “those portions of the opinion necessary to [the] result.” Yet the Supreme Court does not seem to extend this principle to those “necessary portions,” herein called subdecisions, that involve methodological questions. For example, when a case rests on a subdecision about whether a Court should consult legislative history in interpreting a statute, the effect of that opinion on future cases is unclear. This Note focuses on stare decisis with respect to subdecisions about statutory interpretation to shed light on the broader issue of the scope of stare decisis. After describing the purpose and operation of stare decisis, this Note examines statutory interpretation subdecisions to determine whether the court gives them precedential effect. It finds that the Court applies stare decisis to some statutory interpretation subdecisions but not others, with no coherent principle explaining the inconsistency. Finally, this Note uses the purposes of stare decisis to argue that the Court should apply it to all statutory interpretation subdecisions.
On my list.
April 14, 2008
Twenty Thousand Hits!
I've been doing this blog for 8 months or so, and sometimes am quite regular on blogging, sometimes regular, but light on content, and at other times I manage to both blog regularly and provide, I hope, some thoughtful content.
Today, we went over 20,000 hits, which I thought was kind of cool. I know from e-mails that I've managed to interest a small cabal of regular readers, and hope you have found -- and continue to find -- the blog of interest.
Second Circuit with O'Connor Sitting Interprets Fee Shifting Statute
In Arbor Hill v. Albany, __ F.3d __ (2d Cir. 2008), the court in an amended opinion (amending a nearly 1-year old panel opinion!), addressed an award of fees to a successful plaintiff under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. There's an article about the decision here. Essentially, the issue was whether lawyers located in the Southern District of New York could base their fees on the rates they would charge in NYC, even though the case was pending in the Northern District of New York.
The case may have broader implications, since it essentially adops a "what would a reasonable client pay" approach to determining fees, abjuring strict reliance on a lodestar or "local lawyer" approach to determining fees.