Saturday, January 31, 2015
Jill Lepore's article "The Cobweb: Can the Internet Be archived?" in last week's The New Yorker discussed the ephemeral nature of websites and the consequent impermanence of footnote references to URLs. "Link rot" is when you click on a URL and receive the unwelcome message “Page Not Found.” "Content drift" is "more pernicious" because the original reference has been overwritten, erased, or moved. The problem is widespread:
According to a 2014 study conducted at Harvard Law School, “more than 70% of the URLs within the Harvard Law Review and other journals, and 50% of the URLs within United States Supreme Court opinions, do not link to the originally cited information.”
Friday, January 30, 2015
Brooke Coleman, Seattle University School of Law, has posted on SSRN her article, "Civil-izing Federalism," published in Tulane Law Review.
When Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito joined the United States Supreme Court, most commentators predicted it would become more conservative. Indeed, many believed that the reinvigorated federalism revolution under Chief Justice Rehnquist would, if anything, become more robust under the new chief. To a large degree, those commentators were right; the Court has decided numerous hotly contested federalism cases along predictable ideological lines. But there are some important counterexamples in the Court’s federalism jurisprudence. In a list of cases about access to plaintiff-friendly state courts, the Justices seem to abandon their federalism principles. Instead, the liberal wing of the Court generally votes in favor of robust states’ rights, while the conservative wing votes to impose defendant-friendly federal rules in civil litigation or to require plaintiffs to proceed in relatively hostile federal courts.
This Article is the first to focus on the Roberts Court’s treatment of federalism in civil procedure cases and the consequences for private civil litigation. It argues that the apparent disconnect between individual Justices’ stances in procedural cases and their federalism commitments is due, at least in part, to the Justices’ understandings of the purposes for, and effectiveness of, the federal civil litigation system. By examining the Justices’ narratives about civil litigation, the Article demonstrates that even as they invoke the language of federalism, the Justices’ positions in procedural cases correlate with the civil litigation interests they seek to protect: business interests for the conservative Justices and access to justice for the liberal Justices. This Article concludes that these interests, and not federalism commitments, are far better predictors of how the Justices will decide procedural cases. Yet, the Article argues, the Court should more closely adhere to traditional conservative federalism principles in this context. Procedural jurisprudence that is deferential to states in private civil litigation is likely to create greater access to the courts and thus a more just civil litigation system.
Thursday, January 29, 2015
As the Supreme Court ponders the proposed FRCP discovery amendments (if approved and not vetoed by Congress, they’ll be coming soon to a federal court near you this December), a few recent postings to SSRN are worthy of note…
Steve Burbank has posted Proportionality and the Social Benefits of Discovery: Out of Sight and Out of Mind?, which will be published in the Review of Litigation. Here’s the abstract:
In this short essay, based on remarks delivered at the 2015 meeting of the AALS Section of Litigation, I use a recent paper by Gelbach and Kobayashi to highlight the risk that, in assessing the proportionality of proposed discovery under the 2015 amendments to Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, federal judges will privilege costs over benefits, and private over public interests. The risk arises from the temptation to focus on (1) the interests of those who are present to the detriment of the interests of those who are absent (“the availability heuristic”), and (2) variables that appear quantifiable over those that do not (“the evaluability hypothesis”). I argue that the social benefits of discovery are not mere abstractions or the stuff of formal models. They are the intended fruits of conscious legislative policy. If proportionality is not to become a deregulatory tool in cases in which federal regulatory policy is implicated, judges must resist the temptation to give short shrift to those elements of the analysis that, because they are out of sight, are also out of mind, or are difficult to quantify -- in particular, social benefits.
And here is the abstract for the aforementioned article by Jonah Gelbach & Bruce Kobayashi, The Law and Economics of Proportionality in Discovery:
This paper analyzes the proportionality standard in discovery. Many believe the Advisory Committee's renewed emphasis on this standard has the potential to infuse litigation practice with considerably more attention to questions related to the costs and benefits of discovery. We discuss the history and rationale of proportionality's inclusion in Rule 26, adopting an analytical framework that focuses on how costs and benefits can diverge in litigation generally, and discovery in particular. Finally, we use this framework to understand the mechanics and challenges involved in deploying the six factors included in the proportionality standard. Throughout, we emphasize that the proportionality standard requires both difficult-to-answer positive questions and unavoidably normative judgments.
Monday, January 26, 2015
Now available on the Courts Law section of JOTWELL is an essay by Nancy Leong entitled The Federalism Argument for Judicial Diversity. Nancy reviews a recent article by Sharon Rush, Federalism, Diversity, Equality, and Article III Judges: Geography, Identity, and Bias, which was published in the Missouri Law Review.
Saturday, January 24, 2015
Back at the end of last Term we covered the Supreme Court’s grant of certiorari in Gelboim v. Bank of America (No. 13-1174). This week the Court issued a unanimous opinion in Gelboim, authored by Justice Ginsburg. Here’s how she teed things up:
An unsuccessful litigant in a federal district court may take an appeal, as a matter of right, from a “final decisio[n] of the district cour[t].” 28 U.S.C. §1291. The question here presented: Is the right to appeal secured by §1291 affected when a case is consolidated for pretrial proceedings in multidistrict litigation (or MDL) authorized by 28 U.S.C. §1407?
The Court’s answer: No. Plaintiffs whose action was consolidated for pretrial MDL proceedings could still appeal the dismissal of their action, even though other cases in the MDL remained pending. It was not necessary for such plaintiffs to obtain authorization to appeal via Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b).
In footnote 4, though, the Court reserved judgment on whether it would reach the same conclusion when cases were “combined in an all-purpose consolidation,” as opposed to an MDL consolidation for pretrial purposes only. (Not as glamorous as footnote 4 of Carolene Products, but worth keeping an eye on.)
For more, Howard Wasserman has an analysis of the opinion over at SCOTUSblog.
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
SCOTUS Decision in Teva Pharmaceuticals v. Sandoz: FRCP 52, Clear Error, and Patent Claim Construction
Today, the Supreme Court issued a 7-2 opinion in Teva Pharmaceuticals v. Sandoz, which addresses the role of Rule 52(a)’s “clear error” standard of review in the context of patent claim construction. Justice Breyer writes for the majority and Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Alito, writes a dissenting opinion. In addition to the link above, here is the .pdf of the opinion that was released today: Download Teva v. Sandoz
And here is the short answer, from the majority opinion:
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a)(6) states that a court of appeals “must not . . . set aside” a district court’s “[f]indings of fact” unless they are “clearly erroneous.” In our view, this rule and the standard it sets forth must apply when a court of appeals reviews a district court’s resolution of subsidiary factual matters made in the course of its construction of a patent claim.
Both opinions, however, confront the notoriously thorny distinction between fact and law, and there is an interesting discussion of whether facts relevant to claim construction are analogous to facts relevant to quintessentially “legal” endeavors like statutory interpretation. As for how this all unfolds in the patent context, just read parts II.D and III of the court’s opinion (which features one of my new favorite words: kilodalton).
The dissenting opinion begins:
Because Rule 52(a)(6) provides for clear error review only of “findings of fact” and “does not apply to conclusions of law,” Pullman-Standard v. Swint, 456 U. S. 273, 287 (1982), the question here is whether claim construction involves findings of fact. Because it does not, Rule 52(a)(6) does not apply, and the Court of Appeals properly applied a de novo standard of review. (footnote omitted).
Justice Thomas’s dissent also raises an interesting wrinkle about the extent to which the majority’s decision hinges on “stipulations” by the parties that may narrow its impact. As he writes in a footnote:
The majority argues that we are bound by petitioners’ phrasing of the question presented and by respondents’ concession at oral argument that claim construction “will sometimes require subsidiary factfinding.” Ante, at 10–11. But the parties’ stipulations that claim construction involves subsidiary factual determinations, with which I do not quarrel, do not settle the question whether those determinations are “findings of fact” within the meaning of Rule 52(a)(6). And to the extent that the majority premises its holding on what it sees as stipulations that these determinations are “findings of fact” for purposes of Rule 52(a)(6), then its holding applies only to the present dispute, and other parties remain free to contest this premise in the future.
Friday, January 16, 2015
Now available on the Courts Law section of JOTWELL is an essay by Mark Tushnet discussing The Federal Courts Junior Scholars Workshop. Some interesting thoughts on faculty workshops generally, as well as trends in federal courts scholarship.
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
A three-part Reuters investigation entitled "The Echo Chamber" (here, here, and here), which is discussed in this week's The New Yorker magazine, begins: "A cadre of well-connected attorneys has honed the art of getting the Supreme Court to take up cases - and business is capitalizing on their expertise."
Hat tip: Tom Goldstein, SCOTUSBlog
Saturday, January 3, 2015
Chief Justice John Roberts once suggested that legal scholarship was not helpful to the bar, inventing a humorous parody of a law review article about "the influence of Immanuel Kant on evidentiary approaches in 18th Century Bulgaria." I find his 2014 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary only slightly more practical than the fictional article.
In a report almost entirely devoted to the federal courts' plodding adoption of technological advances, the Chief Justice began with a lengthy description of the Court's 1935 installation of a pneumatic tube system. He then praised the courts' use of "computer-assisted legal research" and the CM/ECF electronic filing system as though these were new developments.
Finally, he announced the Supreme Court's anticipated 2016 rollout of "its own electronic filing system," which will make "all filings at the Court . . . available to the legal community and the public without cost on the Court's website." However, as several commentators noted, this newfangled phenomenon has already been a reality for years through SCOTUSBlog and The American Bar Association.
Observers from The Washington Post to CBS News criticized the Chief Justice's failure, in his discussion of technology, to mention the clamor to allow video cameras (or even still photos) in the Supreme Court. The Wall Street Journal reports that even the ranking Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, said "the courts have yet to embrace the one technology that the founders would likely have advocated for--cameras in the courtroom.”
What else is going on in the federal courts? Not much, according to the report. Filings decreased in the Supreme Court, the federal courts of appeal, and the bankruptcy courts. Filings for criminal defendants in the districts courts decreased also.
In fact, only civil case filings in the district courts nominally increased by 4% to 295,310. Diversity filings increased 13%, "mainly because of growth in personal injury and product liability filings." The Chief Justice doesn't say it, but those are typically cases that are subjected to Multidistrict Litigation (MDL).
According to the MDL Panel's statistical analysis for fiscal 2014, 53,103 civil cases in 2014 were subjected to MDL proceedings. In fact, there has been a steady rise in the number of cases subjected to MDL proceedings for over 25 years.
In contrast to the almost-meaningless number of "filings" that end up in MDL, there are only 314 pending MDL "litigations," and 46 of them were centralized in fiscal year 2014. That means that what counts for official purposes as around 50,000 cases boiled down to 46 "litigations." So it's not really clear that civil filings have increased, either.
Of course, it is unrealistic to expect the Year-End Report of the Chief Justice to explain this. The 2012 Year-End Report spoke raptly of the U.S.S. Constitution and the War of 1812. The 2013 Year-End report wistfully referenced A Christmas Carol and It's A Wonderful Life in connection with Congress' "sequester" of funds that year.
This year, the Chief Justice closed with a reference to the "sturdy bronze tortoises" at the bases of "the Court's exterior lampposts," "symbolizing the judiciary's commitment to constant but deliberate progress in the cause of justice." Hmm. I wonder if he's read The Case Against the Supreme Court by Erwin Chemerinsky.