Friday, May 28, 2021
Yesterday the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in San Antonio v. Hotels.com, L. P. Justice Alito’s opinion for the Court begins:
Civil litigation in the federal courts is often an expensive affair, and each party, win or lose, generally bears many of its own litigation expenses, including attorney’s fees that are subject to the so-called American Rule. Baker Botts L. L. P. v. ASARCO LLC, 576 U. S. 121, 126 (2015). But certain “costs” are treated differently. Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 39 governs the taxation of appellate “costs,” and the question in this case is whether a district court has the discretion to deny or reduce those costs. We hold that it does not and therefore affirm the judgment below.
Although the Court concludes that “Rule 39 does not permit a district court to alter a court of appeals’ allocation of the costs listed in subdivision (e) of that Rule,” it does let the appellate court delegate the cost-allocation question to the district court:
In all events, if a court of appeals thinks that a district court is better suited to allocate the appellate costs listed in Rule 39(e), the court of appeals may delegate that responsibility to the district court, as several Courts of Appeals have done in the past. See, e.g., Emmenegger v. Bull Moose Tube Co., 324 F. 3d 616, 626 (CA8 2003); Guse v. J. C. Penney Co., 570 F. 2d 679, 681–682 (CA7 1978). The parties agree that this pragmatic approach is permitted. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 15, 44. And nothing we say here should be read to cast doubt on it. See Rule 39(a) (imposing no direct limitations on the court’s ability to “orde[r] otherwise”); Rule 41(a) (the mandate includes “any direction about costs”).
And Justice Alito’s opinion also encourages litigants to make their arguments about cost allocation to the appellate court before it makes its cost-allocation decision. Although he recognizes that “the current Rules and the relevant statutes could specify more clearly the procedure that such a party should follow to bring their arguments to the court of appeals,” he writes:
Rule 27 sets forth a generally applicable procedure for seeking relief in a court of appeals, and a simple motion “for an order” under Rule 27 should suffice to seek an order under Rule 39(a). Compare Fed. Rule App. Proc. 39(a) (“The following rules apply unless . . . the court orders otherwise”) with Rule 27(a) (“An application for an order . . . is made by motion unless these rules prescribe another form”). The OTCs also identify instances where parties have raised their arguments through other procedural vehicles, including merits briefing, see Rule 28, objections to a bill of costs, see Rule 39(d)(2), and petitions for rehearing, see Rule 40. Brief for Respondents 42, nn. 9–11. We do not foreclose litigants from raising their arguments in any manner consistent with the relevant federal and local Rules.
And finally, Justice Alito flags but does not resolve an issue raised by the Solicitor General about the relationship between FRAP 39 and 28 U.S.C. § 1920. Here’s footnote 4:
As the United States points out, see Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 19, n. 4, we have interpreted Rule 54(d) to provide for taxing only the costs already made taxable by statute, namely, 28 U. S. C. §1920. See Crawford Fitting Co. v. J. T. Gibbons, Inc., 482 U. S. 437, 441–442 (1987). Supersedeas bond premiums, despite being referenced in Appellate Rule 39(e)(3), are not listed as taxable costs in §1920. San Antonio has not raised any argument that Rule 39 is inconsistent with §1920 in this respect. We accordingly do not consider this issue.
Thursday, May 20, 2021
Today on the Courts Law section of JOTWELL is Allan Erbsen’s essay, Procedural Evolution in Multidistrict Litigation. Allan reviews Abbe Gluck & Beth Burch’s recent article, MDL Revolution, 96 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 1 (2021).
Wednesday, May 19, 2021
SCOTUS Cert Grant on Subject Matter Jurisdiction over Applications to Confirm or Vacate Arbitration Awards
This week the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Badgerow v. Walters, which involves whether federal courts have subject-matter jurisdiction over applications to confirm or vacate arbitration awards. Here’s the question presented (with the usual wind-up):
This case presents a clear and intractable conflict regarding an important jurisdictional question under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. 1-16.
As this Court has repeatedly confirmed, the FAA does not itself confer federal-question jurisdiction; federal courts must have an independent jurisdictional basis to entertain matters under the Act. In Vaden v. Discover Bank, 556 U.S. 49 (2009), this Court held that a federal court, in reviewing a petition to compel arbitration under Section 4 of the Act, may “look through” the petition to decide whether the parties’ underlying dispute gives rise to federal-question jurisdiction. In so holding, the Court focused on the particular language of Section 4, which is not repeated elsewhere in the Act.
After Vaden, the circuits have squarely divided over whether the same “look-through” approach also applies to motions to confirm or vacate an arbitration award under Sections 9 and 10. In Quezada v. Bechtel OG & C Constr. Servs., Inc., 946 F.3d 837 (5th Cir. 2020), the Fifth Circuit acknowledged the 3-2 “circuit split,” and a divided panel held that the “look-through” approach applies under Sections 9 and 10. In the proceedings below, the Fifth Circuit declared itself “bound” by that earlier decision, and applied the “look-through” approach to establish jurisdiction. That holding was outcome-determinative, and this case is a perfect vehicle for resolving the widespread disagreement over this important threshold question.
The question presented is:
Whether federal courts have subject-matter jurisdiction to confirm or vacate an arbitration award under Sections 9 and 10 of the FAA where the only basis for jurisdiction is that the underlying dispute involved a federal question.
Monday, May 17, 2021
Today the Supreme Court issued a 7-1 decision in BP P.L.C. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore (covered earlier here). Justice Gorsuch writes the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas, Breyer, Kagan, Kavanaugh, and Barrett. Justice Sotomayor dissents, and Justice Alito did not participate.
At issue in the case is 28 U.S.C. § 1447(d), which forbids appellate review of a district court’s remand order “except that an order remanding a case to the State court from which it was removed pursuant to section 1442 or 1443 of this title shall be reviewable by appeal or otherwise.” Justice Gorsuch’s opinion begins:
This case began when Baltimore’s mayor and city council sued various energy companies for promoting fossil fuels while allegedly concealing their environmental impacts. But the merits of that claim have nothing to do with this appeal. The only question before us is one of civil procedure: Does 28 U. S. C. §1447(d) permit a court of appeals to review any issue in a district court order remanding a case to state court where the defendant premised removal in part on the federal officer removal statute, §1442, or the civil rights removal statute, §1443?
The answer to that question is: Yes. Justice Gorsuch’s opinion emphasizes in particular the use of the word “order” in § 1447(d): “[W]hen a district court’s removal order rejects all of the defendants’ grounds for removal, §1447(d) authorizes a court of appeals to review each and every one of them. After all, the statute allows courts of appeals to examine the whole of a district court’s ‘order,’ not just some of its parts or pieces.”
The majority does not, however, consider the merits of the defendants’ arguments in favor of removal:
The Fourth Circuit erred in holding that it was powerless to consider all of the defendants’ grounds for removal under §1447(d). In light of that error, the defendants ask us to consider some of those additional grounds ourselves. That task, however, does not implicate the circuit split that we took this case to resolve and we believe the wiser course is to leave these matters for the Fourth Circuit to resolve in the first instance.
Justice Sotomayor dissents. Her opinion concludes:
Section 1447(d) places “broad restrictions on the power of federal appellate courts to review district court orders remanding removed cases to state court.” Things Remembered, Inc. v. Petrarca, 516 U. S. 124, 127 (1995). After today’s decision, defendants can sidestep these restrictions by making near-frivolous arguments for removal under §1442 or §1443. Congress, of course, can amend §1447(d) to make even clearer that appellate review of a district court remand order extends to only §1442 or §1443. Because I believe §1447 already bears that meaning, I respectfully dissent.
Today the Supreme Court issued a 6-3 decision in Edwards v. Vannoy (covered earlier here). Justice Kavanaugh’s majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Barrett, begins:
Last Term in Ramos v. Louisiana, 590 U. S. ___ (2020), this Court held that a state jury must be unanimous to convict a criminal defendant of a serious offense. Ramos repudiated this Court’s 1972 decision in Apodaca v. Oregon, 406 U. S. 404, which had allowed non-unanimous juries in state criminal trials. The question in this case is whether the new rule of criminal procedure announced in Ramos applies retroactively to overturn final convictions on federal collateral review. Under this Court’s retroactivity precedents, the answer is no.
This Court has repeatedly stated that a decision announcing a new rule of criminal procedure ordinarily does not apply retroactively on federal collateral review. See Teague v. Lane, 489 U. S. 288, 310 (1989) (plurality opinion); see also Linkletter v. Walker, 381 U. S. 618, 639–640, and n. 20 (1965). Indeed, in the 32 years since Teague underscored that principle, this Court has announced many important new rules of criminal procedure. But the Court has not applied any of those new rules retroactively on federal collateral review. See, e.g., Whorton v. Bockting, 549 U. S. 406, 421 (2007) (Confrontation Clause rule recognized in Crawford v. Washington, 541 U. S. 36 (2004), does not apply retroactively). And for decades before Teague, the Court also regularly declined to apply new rules retroactively, including on federal collateral review. See, e.g., DeStefano v. Woods, 392 U. S. 631, 635 (1968) (per curiam) (jury-trial rule recognized in Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U. S. 145 (1968), does not apply retroactively).
Later in the opinion, Justice Kavanaugh overrules Teague v. Lane’s principle that “watershed” rules of criminal procedure may apply retroactively on habeas review:
If landmark and historic criminal procedure decisions—including Mapp, Miranda, Duncan, Crawford, Batson, and now Ramos—do not apply retroactively on federal collateral review, how can any additional new rules of criminal procedure apply retroactively on federal collateral review? At this point, some 32 years after Teague, we think the only candid answer is that none can—that is, no new rules of criminal procedure can satisfy the watershed exception. We cannot responsibly continue to suggest otherwise to litigants and courts. In Teague itself, the Court recognized that the purported exception was unlikely to apply in practice, because it was “unlikely” that such watershed “components of basic due process have yet to emerge.” 489 U. S., at 313 (plurality opinion). The Court has often repeated that “it is unlikely that any of these watershed rules has yet to emerge.” Tyler, 533 U. S., at 667, n. 7 (alteration and internal quotation marks omitted); see also, e.g., Whorton, 549 U. S., at 417; Summerlin, 542 U. S., at 352. And for decades, the Court has rejected watershed status for new procedural rule after new procedural rule, amply demonstrating that the purported exception has become an empty promise. Continuing to articulate a theoretical exception that never actually applies in practice offers false hope to defendants, distorts the law, misleads judges, and wastes the resources of defense counsel, prosecutors, and courts. Moreover, no one can reasonably rely on an exception that is non-existent in practice, so no reliance interests can be affected by forthrightly acknowledging reality. It is time— probably long past time—to make explicit what has become increasingly apparent to bench and bar over the last 32 years: New procedural rules do not apply retroactively on federal collateral review. The watershed exception is moribund. It must “be regarded as retaining no vitality.” Herrera v. Wyoming, 587 U. S. ___, ___ (2019) (slip op., at 11) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Justice Thomas writes a concurring opinion joined by Justice Gorsuch. And Justice Gorsuch writes a concurring opinion joined by Justice Thomas.
Justice Kagan writes a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Breyer and Sotomayor. The dissenters take particular aim at the majority’s overruling of Teague. From Justice Kagan’s introduction:
So everything rests on the majority’s last move—the overturning of Teague’s watershed exception. If there can never be any watershed rules—as the majority here asserts out of the blue—then, yes, jury unanimity cannot be one. The result follows trippingly from the premise. But adopting the premise requires departing from judicial practice and principle. In overruling a critical aspect of Teague, the majority follows none of the usual rules of stare decisis. It discards precedent without a party requesting that action. And it does so with barely a reason given, much less the “special justification” our law demands. Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc., 573 U. S. 258, 266 (2014). The majority in that way compounds its initial error: Not content to misapply Teague’s watershed provision here, see ante, at 10–14, the majority forecloses any future application, see ante, at 14–15. It prevents any procedural rule ever—no matter how integral to adjudicative fairness—from benefiting a defendant on habeas review. Thus does a settled principle of retroactivity law die, in an effort to support an insupportable ruling.
Monday, May 3, 2021
Interesting Fifth Circuit Decision on Personal Jurisdiction: Douglass v. Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha
On Friday, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a very interesting per curiam decision in Douglass v. Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha. The case involves personal jurisdiction in federal court under FRCP 4(k)(2), which presents a different constitutional inquiry than most personal jurisdiction cases because it implicates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment rather than the Fourteenth Amendment.
The panel rejects jurisdiction, finding itself constrained by an earlier Fifth Circuit decision. But notwithstanding that case law, the Douglass panel finds the arguments in favor of jurisdiction “persuasive,” and Judge Elrod’s concurring opinion (joined by Judge Willett) calls for the en banc Fifth Circuit “to correct our course.” (In the interest of full disclosure, I joined an amicus brief with fellow civil procedure professors Helen Hershkoff, Arthur Miller, Alan Morrison, and John Sexton supporting the plaintiffs-appellants in this case.)
Wednesday, April 21, 2021
Readers may be particularly interested in the amendment to Appellate Rule 3 and its accompanying forms. Among other things, the amendment provides: “The notice of appeal encompasses all orders that, for purposes of appeal, merge into the designated judgment or appealable order. It is not necessary to designate those orders in the notice of appeal.”
Unless Congress intervenes, these amendments will take effect on December 1, 2021.
You can find the full transmittal package, including redlines and advisory committee notes, here.
Thursday, April 15, 2021
In an interesting decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has certified four questions to the D.C. Court of Appeals. The case is Akhmetshin v. Browder, which involves a defamation claim against a citizen of the United Kingdom. Personal jurisdiction in D.C. federal court depends on the District of Columbia’s long-arm statute, which the panel’s original opinion summarized as follows:
Section 13-423(a)(4) authorizes the “exercise [of] personal jurisdiction over a person” who has “caus[ed] tortious injury in the District of Columbia by an act or omission outside the District of Columbia.” Any such party over whom personal jurisdiction is sought must have satisfied one of three “plus factors” within the District. See Crane v. Carr, 814 F.2d 758, 763 (D.C. Cir. 1987). These factors are “ regularly do[ing] or solicit[ing] business,  engag[ing] in any other persistent course of conduct, or  deriv[ing] substantial revenue from goods used or consumed, or services rendered.” D.C. CODE § 13-423(a)(4). However, “entr[ies] into the District ... by nonresidents for the purpose of contacting federal governmental agencies [or instrumentalities]” do not factor into the jurisdictional calculus. Env't Rsch. Int'l, Inc. v. Lockwood Greene Eng'rs, Inc., 355 A.2d 808, 813 (D.C. 1976) (en banc) (explaining the “government contacts exception”).
Here are the certified questions:
1. May nonresident aliens who are citizens only of foreign countries invoke the government contacts exception?
2. If the first question is answered in the affirmative, must those nonresident aliens possess cognizable rights pursuant to the First Amendment generally, or any specific clause thereunder, in order to invoke the exception?
3. Does the government contacts exception extend to efforts to influence federal policy other than direct contacts with agents, members, or instrumentalities of the federal government?
4. If the third question is answered in the affirmative, what standard governs in determining whether activities not involving direct contacts with the federal government are covered under the exception?
Tuesday, April 6, 2021
In Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619 (1993), the Court held that the test for determining whether a constitutional error was harmless on habeas review is whether the defendant suffered “actual prejudice.” Congress later enacted 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1), which prohibits habeas relief on a claim that was adjudicated on the merits by a state court unless the adjudication “resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law.” Although the Court has held that the Brecht test “subsumes” § 2254(d)(1)’s requirements, the Court declared in Davis v. Ayala, 576 U.S. 257, 267 (2015), that those requirements are still a “precondition” for relief and that a state-court harmlessness determination under Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18 (1967), still retains “significance” under the Brecht test. The question presented is:
May a federal habeas court grant relief based solely on its conclusion that the Brecht test is satisfied, as the Sixth Circuit held, or must the court also find that the state court’s Chapman application was unreasonable under § 2254(d)(1), as the Second, Third, Seventh, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits have held?
Monday, April 5, 2021
Today the Supreme Court issued its decision in Google LLC v. Oracle America, Inc. By a 6-2 vote, it holds that Google’s copying of a portion of a computer program owned by Oracle constituted “fair use” for purposes of federal copyright law. The opinion is focused mostly on substantive copyright law, but—as covered earlier here and here—the posture of the case prompted some interesting procedural questions. The jury had ruled in favor of Google on its fair use defense, and the Supreme Court asked the parties to file supplemental letter briefs addressing “the appropriate standard of review” regarding fair use, “including but not limited to the implications of the Seventh Amendment, if any, on that standard.”
Monday, March 29, 2021
Whether a state attorney general vested with the power to defend state law should be permitted to intervene after a federal court of appeals invalidates a state statute when no other state actor will defend the law.
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
The final version of my article, Appellate Courts and Civil Juries, 2021 Wisconsin L. Rev. 1, is now posted. It tackles the question of what standard of review appellate courts should use for findings made by civil juries. There’s a fair amount of confusion on this issue, because some appellate courts have conflated it with the framework for choosing the standard of appellate review for rulings by lower court judges. (The confusion is not helped by the extent to which the often elusive distinction between “law” and “fact” plays a role.)
This is also an issue that the Supreme Court is considering right now in Google LLC v. Oracle America, Inc., a $9 billion lawsuit about Google’s use of Java programming code to develop its Android operating system. SCOTUS issued a specific order asking the parties to brief the appropriate standard of review for the jury’s verdict in favor of Google on its fair use defense. The Google case was argued at the beginning of this Term but is still awaiting a decision—here are some of my thoughts on the case from back in October after the oral argument: SCOTUS, Google v. Oracle, and Appellate Review of Civil Jury Verdicts.
I enjoyed working on this piece, and I hope folks find it helpful. Special thanks to the great editors at the Wisconsin Law Review, who did a fantastic and timely job getting the article finalized—maybe even in time for SCOTUS to read it! Here’s the full abstract:
In federal civil litigation, decisionmaking power is shared by juries, trial courts, and appellate courts. This Article examines an unresolved tension in the different doctrines that allocate authority among these institutions, one that has led to confusion surrounding the relationship between appellate courts and civil juries. At base, the current uncertainty stems from a longstanding lack of clarity regarding the distinction between matters of law and matters of fact. The high-stakes Oracle-Google litigation--which is now before the Supreme Court--exemplifies this. In that case, the Federal Circuit reasoned that an appellate court may assert de novo review over a jury's verdict simply by characterizing a particular issue as legal rather than factual. But this approach misperceives the approach demanded by Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which permits judicial override of a jury's verdict only when "a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis" to reach such a verdict.
Rule 50's reasonable-jury standard does not permit de novo review of a jury's verdict on a particular issue. Rather, it requires deference to the jury's conclusion on that issue unless the reviewing court can explain why principles of substantive law or other aspects of the trial record render that verdict unreasonable. This deferential standard of review faithfully implements the text and structure of the Federal Rules and respects the jury's role in our federal system. Yet, it also preserves appellate courts' ability to provide meaningful clarification that will guide future decisionmakers.
Monday, March 22, 2021
Whether the discretion granted to district courts in 28 U.S.C. §1782(a) to render assistance in gathering evidence for use in “a foreign or international tribunal” encompasses private commercial arbitral tribunals, as the Fourth and Sixth Circuits have held, or excludes such tribunals without expressing an exclusionary intent, as the Second, Fifth, and, in the case below, the Seventh Circuit, have held.
Monday, March 15, 2021
Emory Law School’s Center on Federalism and Intersystemic Governance is hosting a conference on federal diversity jurisdiction this Friday, March 19 (11:20am – 5:40pm Eastern Time).
Here’s the link to register: https://emorylaw.wufoo.com/forms/conference-on-federal-diversity-jurisdiction/
(H/T: Jonathan Nash)
Tuesday, March 9, 2021
Ann Woolhandler and Julia Mahoney have posted on SSRN a draft of their article, Federal Courts and Takings Litigation. Here’s the abstract:
Disagreements about takings claims extend to both substantive and jurisdictional issues. Many advocates of deference to state and local government land use decisions also oppose a significant role for federal courts in adjudicating disputes over these decisions, while a number of property rights advocates argue that federal courts are an appropriate forum for such disputes. These issues were brought into sharp relief by the Supreme Court’s 2019 decision in Knick v. Township of Scott, which allows property owners to resort to federal court without first pursuing compensation in state court.
While Knick clearly expands the lower federal court role in takings claims, many questions remain, for it is not yet clear whether federal courts will embrace a robust federal judicial role in land use cases. This Article surveys the history of takings claims in the federal courts and recommends that going forward federal courts develop an abstention doctrine particular to takings cases in order to ensure prudent deployment of judicial resources. This Article also explains why § 1331 actions may be superior vehicles for takings cases than § 1983 actions.
Monday, March 8, 2021
Today the Supreme Court issued an 8-1 decision in Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, which addresses whether claims for nominal damages can satisfy Article III’s redressibility requirement. They can.
Here are some highlights from Part III of Justice Thomas’s majority opinion:
Because nominal damages were available at common law in analogous circumstances, we conclude that a request for nominal damages satisfies the redressability element of standing where a plaintiff’s claim is based on a completed violation of a legal right. . . .
This is not to say that a request for nominal damages guarantees entry to court. Our holding concerns only redressability. It remains for the plaintiff to establish the other elements of standing (such as a particularized injury); plead a cognizable cause of action, Planck v. Anderson, 5 T. R. 37, 41, 101 Eng. Rep. 21, 23 (K. B. 1792) (“if no [actual] damage be sustained, the creditor has no cause of action” for some claims); and meet all other relevant requirements. We hold only that, for the purpose of Article III standing, nominal damages provide the necessary redress for a completed violation of a legal right.
Applying this principle here is straightforward. For purposes of this appeal, it is undisputed that Uzuegbunam experienced a completed violation of his constitutional rights when respondents enforced their speech policies against him. Because “every violation [of a right] imports damage,” Webb, 29 F. Cas., at 509, nominal damages can redress Uzuegbunam’s injury even if he cannot or chooses not to quantify that harm in economic terms.
Chief Justice Roberts dissents, arguing that Article III is not satisfied because “an award of nominal damages does not alleviate the harms suffered by a plaintiff, and is not intended to.” Even under the majority’s view, however, Roberts contends that “[w]here a plaintiff asks only for a dollar, the defendant should be able to end the case by giving him a dollar, without the court needing to pass on the merits of the plaintiff ’s claims.” And he further asserts that such a defendant might invoke FRCP 68 and thereby “render the plaintiff liable for any subsequent costs if he receives only nominal damages.”
Justice Kavanaugh joins the majority opinion, but he writes a one-paragraph concurring opinion endorsing the view—which was also urged by the Solicitor General in this case—that a defendant “should be able to accept the entry of a judgment for nominal damages against it and thereby end the litigation without a resolution of the merits.”
Thursday, February 25, 2021
There’s a lot of interesting stuff in Justice Thomas’s opinion for the Court, but the basic takeaway is that the judgment in an FTCA suit against the federal government can trigger the judgment bar—and thereby preclude claims against the responsible government employees—even when the result of the FTCA suit is a dismissal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. In this case, the plaintiff’s tort claims against the federal government “failed to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss,” meaning that “the United States necessarily retained sovereign immunity, also depriving the court of subject-matter jurisdiction.” As Justice Thomas puts it: “where, as here, pleading a claim and pleading jurisdiction entirely overlap, a ruling that the court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction may simultaneously be a judgment on the merits that triggers the judgment bar.”
The Supreme Court leaves open one important issue—whether the judgment bar applies to the dismissal of claims raised in the same lawsuit. In footnote 4, Justice Thomas leaves this issue for the Sixth Circuit to address on remand, and Justice Sotomayor writes a concurring opinion “to emphasize that, while many lower courts have uncritically held that the FTCA’s judgment bar applies to claims brought in the same action, there are reasons to question that conclusion.”
Thursday, February 11, 2021
I wanted to share a link to my recent article, Rethinking Standards of Appellate Review, 96 Ind. L.J. 1 (2020), which is now in print and available on SSRN. The piece is an effort to make sense of a topic that has been an area of frequent interest for the Supreme Court: For any given issue that a trial court might decide, should the appellate court review the lower court’s ruling de novo? Or should it review the ruling deferentially, say, for clear error or abuse of discretion? (In recent years the Court has granted cert to choose the standard of appellate review for a wide array of issues, ranging from a child’s habitual residence under the Hague Convention, to a creditor’s insider status under federal bankruptcy law, to whether to enforce an EEOC subpoena, to whether to award attorney fees in a patent case.)
The article digs into the how and why of the Court’s framework for making this choice, and I ultimately argue that we should scrap the enterprise of assigning distinct standards of appellate review on an issue-by-issue basis. It’s not because the concerns that animate the Court’s approach are unimportant. Rather, it’s because the purposes of appellate review—principally, error correction and law clarification—are better served by a uniform template for review that informs the substantive merits of every appellate decision. As I put it in the abstract:
The error-correction role of appellate courts would be optimized by a unified inquiry into whether the appellate court’s likelihood of reaching the correct decision is higher than the trial court’s. This new standard would consider both general institutional advantages (such as the trial court’s superior ability to assess witness credibility) and case-specific indicia of correctness (such as the appellate court’s level of confidence or particular strengths or weaknesses in the trial court’s analysis). This inquiry can be joined with the Supreme Court’s long-standing view that appellate courts may always correct legal errors de novo, regardless of the broader standard of review that applies to a particular issue. That power to correct legal errors, combined with the ability to identify conditions that increase or decrease the likelihood that a court’s decision on a particular issue is correct, would enhance the law-clarification function of appellate decisions.
I touch on other issues as well, including the expenditure of appellate court energy, appellate review of constitutional issues and so-called “legislative facts,” the possibility of asymmetric appellate review, and what even constitutes a “legal error” anyway? This was a fun piece to write (notwithstanding the math in it), and I had a great experience working with the editors in Bloomington during a very unusual time. Thanks again!
Thursday, February 4, 2021
Yesterday, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in PennEast Pipeline Co. v. New Jersey. The petition raises the question of whether the Natural Gas Act delegates to FERC certificate holders the power to assert the federal government’s eminent domain powers over state-owned land. But the Court added a second question in granting cert: “Did the Court of Appeals properly exercise jurisdiction over this case?”
Yesterday the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Federal Republic of Germany v. Philipp, which addresses the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act’s expropriation exception. Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion begins:
The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act provides that foreign nations are presumptively immune from the jurisdiction of United States courts. The statute, however, sets forth several specific exceptions. One such exception provides that a sovereign does not enjoy 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). The question presented is whether a country’s alleged taking of property from its own nationals falls within this exception.
The answer is no, because of the “domestic takings rule,” which “assumes that what a country does to property belonging to its own citizens within its own borders is not the subject of international law.” Roberts concludes: “We hold that the phrase ‘rights in property taken in violation of international law,’ as used in the FSIA’s expropriation exception, refers to violations of the international law of expropriation and thereby incorporates the domestic takings rule.”
The Court punted, however, on a couple of other interesting issues in the case. First, it did not consider Germany’s argument that federal courts were “obligated to abstain from deciding the case on international comity grounds.” Second, the Court did not address the plaintiffs’ argument that the individuals whose property was taken “were not German nationals at the time of the transaction,” directing the lower courts “to consider this argument, including whether it was adequately preserved below.”