Friday, October 7, 2016
Rick Marcus has posted on SSRN his article, Bending in the Breeze: American Class Actions in the Twenty-First Century, which was published in the DePaul Law Review. Here’s the abstract:
It is always better to have the breeze at your back, but that surely has not recently been the case for class action proponents. At the risk of overstating, there is a certain fin de siecle flavor to current procedural discussions, at least among academics; it seems that several foundational principles of late twentieth century procedural ordering have come under attack in the twenty-first century. Although not alone among those principles, class actions have a prominent role. Dean Robert Klonoff has recently written of "The Decline of Class Actions," and Professor Linda Mullenix has written of "Ending Class Actions as We Know Them." Professor Arthur Miller-who was present at the creation of the modern class action-has suggested that we face "the death of aggregate litigation by a thousand paper cuts." But he, at least, sees some "rays of light that indicate it will survive."' It is likely an overstatement to claim that any of these prominent academics foresees the imminent demise of American class actions. But as we shall see, lawyers sometimes view things in more apocalyptic terms. At the same time, most or all would probably agree with Judge Boyle about the increasing headwinds that plaintiffs face.
Without questioning in the least the idea that proponents of the class action have suffered some reverses recently, I intend to argue that Professor Miller's optimism about American aggregate litigation is justified. Like Confucius' green reed, the class action is likely to bend in the breeze and survive the current, cold climate. In significant part, this attitude stems from an appreciation of the exceptional character of American class actions in particular and the American bench and bar in general. As Professor Christopher Hodges of Oxford began his study of European techniques for affording relief in court to groups, lawmakers in Europe sought to avoid "a US-style court-based mechanism." And Canadian Professor Janet Walker introduced an international panel on group litigation in Moscow by noting that "everyone, at least outside the United States, seems also to agree that they do not want to adopt U.S.-style class actions in their legal systems."
Against this background, it does not seem that American aggregate litigation in general, and class actions in particular, are in danger of extinction. Indeed, one book published in 2014 on European group litigation worries in its title whether they-compared to American aggregate litigation-are "squeaking mice," and Dean Klonoff has recently explained why most nations do not have U.S.-style class actions."
Thursday, October 6, 2016
Simona Grossi presents the following guest post on one of the important cases on the Supreme Court’s docket this Term:
[Update: Simona has also posted on SSRN a more detailed essay analyzing the case.]
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On Wednesday, November 2, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Venezuela v. Helmerich & Payne International, to decide whether to make it harder for the plaintiffs to plead jurisdiction over a foreign state under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (“FSIA”). FSIA provides a framework for determining when a foreign state may be subject to the jurisdiction of the federal or state courts of the United States, and when it shall be immune from such jurisdiction. In particular, and specifically at issue in Helmerich, is the expropriation exception under §1605(a)(3), which strips the foreign sovereign of immunity when, among other things, the foreign sovereign has engaged in a taking of property in violation of international law.
The plaintiffs in the case are Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Co. (H&P-IDC), an Oklahoma-based corporation, and one of its subsidiary, Helmerich & Payne de Venezuela (H&P-V), incorporated under Venezuela law. They sued the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and two state-owned corporations, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) and PDVSA Petróleo, (collectively, “PDVSA”), before the United States District Court for the District of Columbia claiming breach of contract and a taking of property in violation of international law. They had entered into a series of contracts for oil-drilling with PDVSA, and defendants breached those contracts by failing to make timely payments for the services rendered, and by unlawfully expropriating plainitffs’ rigs. Venezuela and PDVSA moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that neither FSIA exception applied and that the act-of-state doctrine—under which American courts “will not question the validity of public acts (acts jure imperii) performed by other sovereigns within their own borders”—bars the suit altogether. The district court held that the plaintiffs had standing to assert a taking in violation of international law and that the claim was not barred by the act-of-state doctrine.
On appeal, Venezuela argued that the expropriation exception in the FSIA—denying foreign sovereign immunity “in any case . . . in which rights in property taken in violation of international law are in issue,” 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(3)—did not apply because H&P-V was a Venezuelan national and, as such, under United States v. Belmont, 301 U.S. 324, 332 (1937), it could not claim a taking in violation of international law. Relying on Banco Nacional de Cuba v. Sabbatino, 307 F.2d 845, 861 (2d Cir. 1962), and the Restatement (Third) of Foreign Relations Law, H&P-V rebutted that the defendants had unreasonably discriminated against it on the basis of its sole shareholder’s foreign nationality, thus implicating a discrimination exception to the Belmont rule. The D.C. Circuit found that H&P-V had satisfied the Circuit’s standard for surviving a motion to dismiss in a FSIA case— this standard allows a jurisdictional dismissal only if the federal claim is wholly insubstantial and frivolous—and held the taking exception applicable. Hence, Venezuela would not be immune from the jurisdiction of the court.
Venezuela petitioned the Supreme Court for review arguing that plaintiffs had failed to plead facts sufficient to support a claim of discriminatory taking. The question before the Supreme Court is whether the pleading standard for alleging that a case falls within the FSIA's expropriation exception is more demanding than the standard for pleading jurisdiction under the federal-question statute. Petitioners argue that for this case to fall within the jurisdiction of the court, plaintiffs must show “an actual violation of customary international law” and plead facts sufficient to “establish the existence of all of the elements set out in the relevant statutory exception.” (Brief for Petitioners at 14-15). Essentially, Venezuela is claiming that the plaintiffs should prove their case to have access to the jurisdiction of the court. Surprisingly, or perhaps not much so, Venezuela’s demand for this high jurisdictional threshold is fully endorsed by the United States, that has filed an amicus brief in support, “to ensure that the foreign state actually receives the protections of immunity if no exception applies, to preserve the dignity of the foreign state and comity between nations, and to safeguard the interests of the United States when it is sued in foreign courts.” (U.S. Amicus Brief, at 8)
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
David Shapiro has posted on SSRN his essay, An Incomplete Discussion of “Arising Under” Jurisdiction, which was published in the Notre Dame Law Review. Here’s the abstract:
This essay, a contribution to a Symposium in honor of Professor Daniel Meltzer, focuses on one aspect of federal question jurisdiction – cases in which a question of federal law is “embedded” in a state law cause of action. The essay deals primarily with these cases as they come to the Supreme Court on request for review of a state court decision, but also addresses cases that arise when a party invokes the original or removal jurisdiction of a federal district court. The questions whether and to what extent such cases fall within the constitutional and statutory authority of the federal courts are considered in the historical context of the evolution of Supreme Court decisions, and the interplay of the views over several decades of the author, of Professor Meltzer, and of seven editions of Hart & Wechsler’s “The Federal Courts and the Federal System.”
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Last week Congress voted to override President Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). Although there’s apparently been some “buyer’s remorse” by members of Congress who voted to override the veto, JASTA’s provisions narrowing sovereign immunity are now in effect.
Among other things, JASTA adds a new provision to Title 28 of the U.S. Code: 28 U.S.C. § 1605B. Subsection (b) of the new provision states:
(b) RESPONSIBILITY OF FOREIGN STATES.—A foreign state shall not be immune from the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States in any case in which money damages are sought against a foreign state for physical injury to person or property or death occurring in the United States and caused by—
(1) an act of international terrorism in the United States; and
(2) a tortious act or acts of the foreign state, or of any official, employee, or agent of that foreign state while acting within the scope of his or her office, employment, or agency, regardless where the tortious act or acts of the foreign state occurred.
Subsection (d) provides: “A foreign state shall not be subject to the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States under subsection (b) on the basis of an omission or a tortious act or acts that constitute mere negligence.’’
Monday, October 3, 2016
Last week, U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler of the Northern District of California invoked Rule 4(f)(3) to order that a plaintiff be allowed to use Twitter to serve process on a Kuwaiti national. The case is St. Francis Assisi v. Kuwait Financial House, and the opinion begins:
The plaintiff, St. Francis Assisi (a non-profit corporation), sued the defendants, Kuwait Finance House, Kuveyt-Turk Participation Bank Inc., and Hajjaj al-Ajmi (an individual) for damages and equitable relief arising from the defendants’ financing of the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which resulted in the targeted murder of Assyrian Christians in Iraq and Syria. (See Compl., ECF No. 1.)
St. Francis has not been successful in serving process on al-Ajmi. (See ECF No. 10.) Al-Ajmi is a Kuwaiti national and efforts to locate him have been unsuccessful. (Id.) St. Francis now asks to serve al-Ajmi by alternative means under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(f)(3) via the social-media platform, Twitter. (Id.) The court grants St. Francis’s request because service via Twitter is reasonably calculated to give notice and is not prohibited by international agreement.
Eric Goldman has coverage here.