Monday, December 15, 2014
Today the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co. v. Owens. It’s an interesting breakdown. Justice Ginsburg writes the majority opinion, joined by Roberts, Breyer, Alito, and Sotomayor. The dissenters are Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Kagan.
The question presented in Dart Cherokee involves what a party must include in a notice of removal. The answer, from Justice Ginsburg’s majority opinion:
To assert the amount in controversy adequately in the removal notice, does it suffice to allege the requisite amount plausibly, or must the defendant incorporate into the notice of removal evidence supporting the allegation? That is the single question argued here and below by the parties and the issue on which we granted review. The answer, we hold, is supplied by the removal statute itself. A statement “short and plain” need not contain evidentiary submissions.
In sum, as specified in §1446(a), a defendant’s notice of removal need include only a plausible allegation that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional threshold. Evidence establishing the amount is required by §1446(c)(2)(B) only when the plaintiff contests, or the court questions, the defendant’s allegation.
The dissenters in Dart Cherokee don’t challenge the majority on this. The cause of the disagreement, rather, is an issue that received considerable attention during the oral argument—one that was first flagged by Public Citizen in an amicus brief questioning the proper standard of review and the extent to which the Supreme Court could review a Court of Appeals’ decision to deny permission to appeal under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). Review of the Tenth Circuit’s decision was complicated by the fact that it issued only a short order that failed to explain why it denied permission to appeal the district court’s remand order.
Justice Ginsburg finds that these concerns did not prevent Supreme Court review in this case, noting that “[t]he case was ‘in’ the Court of Appeals because of Dart’s leave-to-appeal application, and we have jurisdiction to review what the Court of Appeals did with that application. See 28 U. S. C. §1254; Hohn v. United States, 524 U. S. 236, 248 (1998),” and that “[t]here are many signals that the Tenth Circuit relied on the legally erroneous premise that the District Court’s decision was correct” in denying permission to appeal. In remanding the case, however, Justice Ginsburg notes that “[o]ur disposition does not preclude the Tenth Circuit from asserting and explaining on remand that a permissible ground underlies its decision to decline Dart’s appeal.”
Justice Scalia writes the dissenting opinion, arguing that the Court should have dismissed the writ as improvidently granted.
“Because we are reviewing the Tenth Circuit’s judgment, the only question before us is whether the Tenth Circuit abused its discretion in denying Dart permission to appeal the District Court’s remand order. Once we found out that the issue presented differed from the issue we granted certiorari to review, the responsible course would have been to confess error and to dismiss the case as improvidently granted.”
The most amusing part of the Dart Cherokee decision comes in Justice Scalia’s dissent, where he responds to Justice Ginsburg’s observation that a 2013 case, Standard Fire v. Knowles, came to the Court in a similar posture, yet Justice Scalia joined that decision without raising these concerns. Justice Scalia writes:
As for my own culpability in overlooking the issue, I must accept that and will take it with me to the grave. But its irrelevance to my vote in the present case has been well expressed by Justice Jackson, in a passage quoted by the author of today’s opinion: “I see no reason why I should be consciously wrong today because I was unconsciously wrong yesterday.” Massachusetts v. United States, 333 U. S. 611, 639–640 (1948) (dissenting opinion), quoted in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 573 U. S. ___, ___, n. 11 (2014) (slip op., at 12, n. 11) (GINSBURG J., dissenting).
Finally, it’s worth noting that Justice Thomas does not join the final sentence of Justice Scalia’s dissenting opinion, where Justice Scalia writes that he would vote “to affirm” the Tenth Circuit if the writ were not dismissed as improvidently granted. This is because, as Justice Thomas explains in a separate dissenting opinion, he believes that the Supreme Court lacks jurisdiction even to review the Tenth Circuit’s decision under 28 U.S.C. § 1254.