Monday, November 30, 2015
In another recent essay on Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins (see also here and here), Professor Joan E. Steinman (IIT-Chicago-Kent College of Law) has posted on SSRN her article, Spokeo, Where Shalt Thou Stand? This article is forthcoming in Vanderbilt Law Review, Vol. 68 (2015).
Professor F. Andrew Hessick (University of Utah - S.J. Quinney School of Law) has posted on SSRN his article, "Understanding Standing." The article is forthcoming in Vanderbilt Law Review En Banc.
Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, which is before the Supreme Court this term, poses a fundamental question of Article III standing: Does a person have standing to sue to seek redress for the violation of a substantive statutory right, even if he did not suffer any factual harm from the violation of that right?
Standing is one of the doctrines that define the power of the federal judiciary. Federal courts cannot hear all disputes. Instead, Article III authorizes them to resolve only “cases” and “controversies.” The Supreme Court has interpreted those terms to authorize federal courts to resolve only those disputes that were “traditionally amenable to, and resolved by, the judicial process.” This restriction, the Court has said, is critical to maintaining the separation of powers. According to the Court, standing enforces these limits on the judicial power.
Despite standing’s importance to maintaining the federal judiciary’s proper role in the federal government, the Court has been inconsistent on what a plaintiff must show to establish standing. Some cases say that the violation of an individual right is enough; others suggest that a factual harm is required. That inconsistency underlies the standing dispute in Spokeo. If the purpose of Article III standing is to protect the separation of powers by restricting federal courts to resolving only those disputes that courts historically could hear, the answer to that question is clear: the violation of a legal right alone should support Article III standing.
Friday, November 20, 2015
Over at his In Progress blog, Colin Starger has mapped out everyone’s favorite judicially-crafted exception the final judgment rule, showing “19 of the Supreme Court’s collateral order cases using a modified Spaeth Projection.”
Thursday, November 19, 2015
Professor Elizabeth Thornburg has posted on SSRN her article, Cognitive Bias, the "Band of Experts," and the Anti-Litigation Narrative. The article was written for the Clifford Symposium this past spring and is forthcoming, along with other articles from the symposium, in DePaul Law Review early next year.
In December of 2015, yet another set of discovery rule amendments that are designed to limit discovery will go into effect. This article argues that the consistent pattern of discovery retrenchment is no accident. Rather, a combination of forces is at work. The Supreme Court consistently signals its contempt for the discovery process, and the Chief Justice’s pattern of appointments to the Rules Committees skews toward Big Law defense-side lawyers and judges appointed by Republican Presidents. In addition, longstanding corporate media campaigns have created and reinforced an anti-litigation narrative that, through the power of repetition, dominates public discourse. Further, predictable cognitive biases take this blend of politics, elite and often defense-side experience, and corporate manipulation of public opinion and blind the Rules Committee members to the possibilities of solutions that expand rather than contract information sharing. This article considers these phenomena, and recommends more heterogeneous committee membership, the use of deliberative processes that are more likely to overcome flawed heuristics, and greater reliance on non-opinion-poll data in the rulemaking process.
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Law Professor Challenges the Seeming Federal Endorsement of Duke Nonbinding “Guidelines” on Proportionality Amendments
When I first read a draft of the Duke Center for Judicial Studies’ "Guidelines and Suggested Practices for Implementing the 2015 Discovery Amendments to Achieve Proportionality" (the “Duke Guidelines”), I was confused. I was aware, of course, that Duke Law School had sponsored the 2010 conference on civil litigation now known commonly as the “Duke Conference,” which spawned the amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that, apart from divine intervention, appear certain to go into effect on December 1, 2015. The dean of Duke Law School is David F. Levi, a former federal district judge who was chair of both the Civil Rules Advisory Committee and the Committee on the Rules of Practice and Procedure (known as the Standing Committee). The papers that were presented at the Duke Conference are still posted on the official website of the United States courts.
In 2011, Duke Law School created the Duke Center for Judicial Studies, a primary goal of which was to offer “educational programs for judges.” In addition, the Center took over the publication of Judicature: The Scholarly Journal for Judges, which is “mailed free of charge to all Article III judges, federal magistrate judges, and state supreme court judges.”
It seems clear that Duke has positioned itself to appear as a quasi-official body with particular expertise and gravitas in matters of federal litigation. Even the Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules has met at Duke.
So this summer, as I read a draft of the “Duke Guidelines” regarding the “proportionality” amendment to the FRCP (which will require all discovery to be “proportional to the needs of the case”), I had a lot of questions. These aren’t binding, are they? [No.] Who wrote these? [According to the final version, mainly the Reporters, with Team Leaders and Team Members providing feedback.] At whose instigation? [The Duke Center’s Advisory Council.] Why on earth are they necessary? [Rhetorical.] Why were these being drafted well before the rules even become effective? Do these things have any basis in case law? Why don’t they compare what they are saying to the official Advisory Committee notes? Why don’t they give any concrete examples of a particular type of case such as employment discrimination? And isn’t there a Rules Enabling Act issue in here somewhere?
Despite all these questions, I frankly put the Guidelines out of my mind, after satisfying myself that the Duke Center was not representing that its Guidelines were legally binding, and after posting about their existence on this blog (stating that the Center had asked for comments).
Professor Suja Thomas of the University of Illinois College of Law, however, has challenged the federal courts’ seeming “official esteem” of the Duke Guidelines that results from various ties between Duke and the federal Rules Committees.
The “Roadshow” that Uses the Duke Guidelines to “Think About” Proportionality
As we reported earlier, the Duke Center and the ABA are jointly presenting an “unprecedented” "Roadshow" on the 2015 discovery amendments. The former chair and a former member of the Civil Rules Advisory Committee, Judge Lee Rosenthal and Professor Steven Gensler, respectively, will be the moderators for the Roadshow. As Professor Thomas has noted, the Roadshow’s emphasis on Judge Rosenthal’s and Professor Gensler’s former affiliation with the Advisory Committee “gives the training an imprimatur of approval.”
Monday, November 16, 2015
Valerie Nannery, Senior Litigation Counsel for the Center for Constitutional Litigation, attended the November 5, 2015 meeting of the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules (agenda here) in Salt Lake City, Utah, and reported on the meeting in the Center's blog.
Highlights from the Center's report:
Rule 23: "The Committee has taken a 'settlement class' rule off of the agenda, and has put 'ascertainability' and Rule 68 on hold. The Committee also approved taking cy pres and 'issue classes' off of the agenda."
Duke Center's private "Guidelines" on proportionality in discovery: “the Duke guidelines and any presentation at the conferences do not come with the imprimatur of the Rules Committees,” and “The Duke Center, like other groups, is free to hold conferences or propose guidelines with respect to the rules or any other area of law. But they are not entitled to communicate, or suggest, that they bear the stamp of approval of the Rules Committees.”
Friday, November 13, 2015
I have recently posted on SSRN an article, "Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins: The Illusory 'No-Injury' Class Reaches the Supreme Court." The article is forthcoming in the newly-established St. Thomas Journal of Complex Litigation, which is currently welcoming submissions.
The Supreme Court’s grant of certiorari in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 135 S. Ct. 1892 (Mem.) (2015) casts a shadow on the long-accepted constitutional principle that Congress has the authority to enact a statute to regulate corporations’ behavior for the public good, and to provide a private right of action to a person as to whom the statute is violated. That right of action often provides for the award of a minimum amount of statutory damages as an alternative or in addition to actual damages.
Congress has enacted numerous such statutes, including the one at issue in Spokeo, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”), which was passed forty-five years ago. Suddenly, within the last ten years, corporate litigation activists have invented a new argument to avoid regulatory statutes that provide for statutory damages. They claim that a “mere” statutory violation is an “injury in law” rather than the “injury in fact” required for Article III standing. And they are launching a frontal assault on Congress’s constitutional authority to enact any statute that provides a private right of action for its violation, accusing Congress of thereby violating Article III by “creating standing.”
Corporate litigation activists then apply to a class representative the argument that the violation of a person’s statutory rights is not an “injury in fact,” and call the result a “no-injury class.” The appellation “no-injury class” is another misleading verbal weapon of recent vintage.
This article hopes to makes three small contributions to the burgeoning literature on Spokeo, which at this writing has not yet been decided. First, the Question Presented to the Supreme Court is misleading and overbroad. It implies that the plaintiff in Spokeo, Thomas Robins, has been found not to have suffered any “concrete harm,” but the case is still at the pleading stage. Thus, the question is simply whether Robins’s complaint contains sufficient allegations of injury, assumed to be true on a motion to dismiss, to establish Article III standing. Further, the Question Presented implies that a ruling involving the FCRA (the statute at issue in Spokeo) will be generalizable to all other statutes that create a private right of action and allow statutory damages, without recognizing the many variations in these statutes’ language and operation.
Second, the article sketches the historical legal difference between the words “injury” and “damage.” “Injury” connotes the violation of one’s legal right, even if one has not sustained any actual harm, while “damage” means a loss or harm, even if one has no legal right to sue. The Supreme Court has adhered to these meanings since Marbury v. Madison. Given that historical distinction, the term “injury in fact” is confusing and somewhat self-contradictory: under the definition of “injury” as the violation of a legal right, the term “injury in fact” is akin to “violation of a legal right in fact.” Further, the petitioner Spokeo’s newly-discovered phrase “injury in law” – which has never been used in a single United States Supreme Court opinion -- is redundant. Under the definition of “injury” as the violation of a legal right, the phrase “injury in law” is akin to “legal right in law.” But however nonsensical, the epithet “injury in law” serves a useful purpose for corporate activists: it minimizes, even ridicules, so-called “technical,” “trifling” statutes that regulate corporate behavior.
Finally, the petitioner Spokeo and its numerous business-oriented amici could have made the very same argument they are making in Spokeo – that the violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act is not itself an “injury in fact” – only nine years ago in Safeco Insurance Co. v. Burr, 551 U.S. 47 (2007), but did not. In Safeco, the putative class alleged that insurers Safeco and GEICO had not complied with the FCRA’s requirement of sending the class members notice of an “adverse action” when the insurers did not charge them the lowest available insurance rate because of a less-than-perfect credit report. The defendants’ amici repeatedly stated that the plaintiffs in Safeco had not alleged any “actual harm” or “actual damages” even though they sought $1,000 in statutory damages for each member of the class (as the FCRA allows). Thus, Safeco presented exactly the same alleged “no-injury” situation, under exactly the same statute, as Spokeo. Yet the Safeco petitioners and their amici (four of which are also amici in Spokeo) failed to argue that the class representatives lacked Article III standing or that violation of the FCRA was not an “injury in fact.” It seems fair to ask why not, if the Article III argument is so compelling. One might speculate that the reason is that corporate litigation activists have only recently contrived the “statutory-violation-is-not-an-injury-in-fact” argument.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
The Supreme Court heard oral argument today in Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo, which presents the questions:
(I) Whether differences among individual class members may be ignored and a class action certified under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3), or a collective action certified under the Fair Labor Standards Act, where liability and damages will be determined with statistical techniques that presume all class members are identical to the average observed in a sample.
(II) Whether a class action may be certified or maintained under Rule 23(b)(3), or a collective action certified or maintained under the Fair Labor Standards Act, when the class contains hundreds of members who were not injured and have no legal right to any damages.
Monday, November 9, 2015
The Southeastern Association of Law Schools (SEALS) will hold its annual conference August 3-6, 2016 in Amelia Island, Florida. While registration for the conference will not open until February 2016, the SEALS Works-in-Progress Series Committee is seeking submissions for its 2016 workshops.
The website states, "The Works-in-Progress Series (3 hour sessions) is designed for all intermediate and senior scholars who are further along in their scholarship and development than 'new' scholars." Click here for more information on the Works-in-Progress series.
Those interested in participating should submit an abstract (no more than 500 words) of their work-in-progress to firstname.lastname@example.org by December 1, 2015.
Saturday, November 7, 2015
Professor Howard Wasserman has posted on SSRN his essay, Fletcherian Standing, Merits, and Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins.
This essay offers an exercise in wishful jurisdictional and procedural thinking. As part of a Supreme Court Roundtable on Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, it argues for William Fletcher's conception of standing as an inquiry into the substantive merits of a claim and of whether the plaintiff has a valid cause of action. This approach is especially necessary in statutory cases; along with its constitutional power to create new rights, duties, and remedies, Congress should have a free hand in deciding who and how those rights and duties should be enforced. Spokeo, which involves a claim for damages for publication of allegedly false consumer-credit information in violation of a federal statute, illustrates the wisdom and benefits of Fletcher's approach.
Monday, November 2, 2015
The Supreme Court hears oral argument today in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, which presents the question:
Whether Congress may confer Article III standing upon a plaintiff who suffers no concrete harm, and who therefore could not otherwise invoke the jurisdiction of a federal court, by authorizing a private right of action based on a bare violation of a federal statute.
For our earlier coverage, see here, here, and here. You should also check out Amy Howe’s preview of the argument for SCOTUSblog and the Vanderbilt Law Review’s En Banc Roundtable on the case, available here.
UPDATE: The transcript of the oral argument has now been posted.