Friday, July 24, 2020
Last week, the Second Circuit issued its decision in La Liberte v. Reid. Judge Jacobs’ opinion addresses a thorny question that has divided the circuits—whether state anti-SLAPP statutes apply in federal court under the Erie doctrine/Rules Enabling Act framework. The specific state provision in this case is California’s “special motion to strike” procedure. Here are some highlights:
The test is whether “a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ‘answer[s] the same question’ as the [special motion to strike].” Abbas, 783 F.3d at 1333 (alteration in original) (quoting Shady Grove Orthopedic Assocs., P.A. v. Allstate Ins. Co., 559 U.S. 393, 398–99 (2010)). If so, the Federal Rule governs, unless it violates the Rules Enabling Act. Id. Applying that test, we first conclude that the special motion to strike in California’s anti-SLAPP statute answers the same question as Federal Rules 12 and 56.
* * *
Since Rules 12 and 56 answer the same question as California’s special motion to strike, they “govern in diversity cases in federal court, unless Rules 12 and 56 violate the Rules Enabling Act.” Abbas, 783 F.3d at 1336. “So far, the Supreme Court has rejected every challenge to the Federal Rules that it has considered under the Rules Enabling Act.” Id. Neither Reid nor amici curiae invite us to deviate. Still, we briefly address the question for the sake of completeness. The test is “whether a rule really regulates procedure,--the judicial process for enforcing rights and duties recognized by substantive law and for justly administering remedy and redress for disregard or infraction of them.” Sibbach v. Wilson & Co., 312 U.S. 1, 14 (1941). Like the Eleventh Circuit, “[w]e have little difficulty concluding” that Rules 12 and 56 “comply with the Rules Enabling Act,” particularly because they “‘affect only the process of enforcing litigants’ rights and not the rights themselves.’” Carbone, 910 F.3d at 1357 (second alteration in original) (quoting Burlington N. R.R. Co. v. Woods, 480 U.S. 1, 8, (1987)). Accordingly, federal courts must apply Rules 12 and 56 instead of California’s special motion to strike.
H/T: Howard Wasserman
Tuesday, July 21, 2020
First Circuit Finds Amazon's Arbitration Provision Unenforceable in Class Action by Last-Mile Drivers
On Friday, the First Circuit issued its decision in Waithaka v. Amazon.com, Inc. Judge Lipez’s decision begins:
This putative class action requires us to decide whether employment contracts of certain delivery workers -- those locally transporting goods on the last legs of interstate journeys -- are covered by the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA" or the "Act"), given its exemption for "contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce." 9 U.S.C. § 1. * * * After close examination of the text and purpose of the statute and the relevant precedent, we now hold that the exemption encompasses the contracts of transportation workers who transport goods or people within the flow of interstate commerce, not simply those who physically cross state lines in the course of their work.
Plaintiff-appellee Bernard Waithaka, a so-called "last mile" delivery driver for [Amazon] falls within this category of transportation workers whose contracts are exempt from the FAA. Hence, we conclude that the FAA does not govern the enforceability of the mandatory arbitration provision of his employment agreement with appellants. Because that provision prohibits proceeding on a class basis, either in the arbitral or judicial forum, we also agree with the district court that the arbitration provision is unenforceable under state law.
Friday, July 10, 2020
Below are two announcements from the AALS Section on Federal Courts:
AALS Federal Courts Section - Daniel J. Meltzer Award: Call for Nominations
The AALS Section on Federal Courts is pleased to announce that it is seeking nominations for the Daniel J. Meltzer Award, which is designed to honor the life and work of the late Professor Meltzer. The Award recognizes a professor of Federal Courts who has exemplified over the course of their career Professor Meltzer’s excellence in teaching, careful and ground-breaking scholarship, engagement in issues of public importance, generosity as a colleague, and overall contribution to the field of Federal Courts.
Eligible nominees are those who are full-time faculty members at AALS member or affiliate schools, have not previously won the award, and have not served as an officer of the Federal Courts Section in the two previous years. It is not required that the award be given out in any particular year, and it may not be given out more frequently than every three years.
Nominations (and questions about the award) should be directed to Prof. Seth Davis at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law (firstname.lastname@example.org). Without exception, all nominations must be received by 11:59 p.m. (EDT) on September 15, 2020. Nominations will be reviewed by a prize committee consisting of Professors Seth Davis (Berkeley), Gillian Metzger (Columbia), James Pfander (Northwestern), and Carlos Vázquez (Georgetown). If the committee decides to make the award, it will be announced at the Federal Courts section program at the 2021 AALS Annual Meeting.
AALS Federal Courts Section - Best Untenured Article on Federal Jurisdiction: Call for Nominations
The AALS Section on Federal Courts is pleased to announce the annual award for the best article on the law of federal jurisdiction by a full-time, untenured faculty member at an AALS member or affiliate school—and to solicit nominations (including self-nominations) for the prize to be awarded at the 2021 AALS Annual Meeting.
The purpose of the award program is to recognize outstanding scholarship in the field of federal courts by untenured faculty members. To that end, eligible articles are those specifically in the field of Federal Courts that were published by a recognized journal during the twelve-month period ending on September 1, 2020 (date of actual publication determines eligibility). Eligible authors are those who, at the close of nominations (i.e., as of September 15, 2020), are untenured, full-time faculty members at AALS member or affiliate schools, and have not previously won the award.
Nominations (and questions about the award) should be directed to Prof. Seth Davis at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law (email@example.com). Without exception, all nominations must be received by 11:59 p.m. (EDT) on September 15, 2020. Nominations will be reviewed by a prize committee comprised of Professors Samuel Bray (Notre Dame), Seth Davis (Berkeley), Allison Orr Larsen (William & Mary), Marin Levy (Duke), and Leah Litman (Michigan), with the result announced at the Federal Courts section program at the 2021 AALS Annual Meeting.
Thursday, July 9, 2020
This morning featured some important decisions from the Supreme Court, but everyone knows the real action is at the after party. Here are some interesting grants of certiorari from this afternoon’s order list:
AMG Capital Management, LLC v. FTC and FTC v. Credit Bureau Center, LLC involve the extent to which § 13(b) of the Federal Trade Commission Act’s authorization for district courts to issue an “injunction” permits monetary relief such as restitution or the return of unlawfully obtained funds.
Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski presents the question “whether a government’s post-filing change of an unconstitutional policy moots nominal-damages claims that vindicate the government’s past, completed violation of a plaintiff’s constitutional right.”
Here’s where to go if you want to find the cert-stage briefing and follow the merits briefs as they come in:
Monday, July 6, 2020
Today the Supreme Court issued its decision in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants, Inc., holding that the government-debt exception to the TCPA’s prohibition on robocalls to cell phones violated the First Amendment. The Court was sharply divided, as the breakdown indicates:
KAVANAUGH, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and ALITO, J., joined, and in which THOMAS, J., joined as to Parts I and II. SOTOMAYOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. BREYER, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment with respect to severability and dissenting in part, in which GINSBURG and KAGAN, JJ., joined. GORSUCH, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part, in which THOMAS, J., joined as to Part II.
The lack of a majority opinion will surely be of interest to Marks-rule enthusiasts. Readers may also be interested in the Justices’ severability analysis. Seven Justices (Roberts, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan & Kavanaugh) conclude that the unconstitutional government-debt exception is severable from the rest of the TCPA. Gorsuch’s opinion, joined by Thomas, disagrees: “Respectfully, if this is what modern ‘severability doctrine’ has become, it seems to me all the more reason to reconsider our course.”
Allan Erbsen has posted on SSRN a draft of his article, A Unified Approach to Erie Analysis for Federal Statutes, Rules, and Common Law, 10 U.C. Irvine L. Rev. (forthcoming 2020). Here’s the abstract:
This Article proposes overhauling the Supreme Court’s approach to choice of law under Erie and Hanna. It develops three primary points.
First, Hanna’s “unguided” “twin aims” of Erie test for resolving conflicts between federal common law and state law is irredeemably flawed. The test is a canon of interpretation masquerading as a choice-of-law rule and fails at both tasks. The Hanna approach:
(1) relies on an arbitrary distinction between federal common law and statutory law that elides the indeterminate boundary between lawmaking and interpretation;
(2) fails to directly confront questions about federal common law’s validity and scope;
(3) cannot rely on the oft-cited but inapposite Rules of Decision Act; and
(4) ignores the judiciary’s authority to fill gaps in procedural codes with federal common law.
This Article is also the first to extensively explore how FRCP 83’s authorization of gap-filling undermines Hanna’s approach to choice of law.
Second, preemption doctrine implementing the Supremacy Clause should fill the choice-of-law role that courts mistakenly assign to Hanna. Under the Supremacy Clause, valid federal law — including federal common law — preempts state law on matters within the federal law’s scope. The “unguided” Hanna inquiry is misguided because it invents a distracting alternative to preemption analysis.
Third, reframing choice of law in terms of preemption spotlights policy questions that courts applying Hanna overlook. Preemption can occur only when a particular federal law is a valid exercise of federal lawmaking power and encompasses a disputed issue. Courts considering whether to apply federal law — including federal common law — must therefore assess the federal law’s validity and breadth. Relevant questions include:
(1) whether the federal government has authority to create law covering the issue;
(2) if so, which federal institutions — Congress or the judiciary — can create law; and
(3) whether federal courts should interpret the ensuing federal law broadly or narrowly to embrace or avoid conflict with state law.
These sensitive policy questions would benefit from direct attention and should not be blurred with Hanna’s tangents.
This approach would make choice of law analysis more coherent, enhance understanding of federal common law, and require courts to directly engage the federalism and separation of powers concerns at Erie’s core.
Friday, July 3, 2020
The Akron Law Review has published its symposium issue on federal appellate procedure, featuring contributions by Andrew Pollis, Joan Steinman, Andra Robertson & Greg Hilbert, Mike Solimine, Bryan Lammon, and Adam Steinman.
Unfortunately we were unable to gather together for the in-person symposium because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But it’s great to see the issue “in print.” Thanks to the law review editors for their terrific work!
Thursday, July 2, 2020
Today’s Supreme Court order list was a big one for the international side of civil procedure and federal courts. The Court granted certiorari in four interesting cases:
Republic of Hungary v. Simon presents the following question: “May the district court abstain from exercising jurisdiction under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act for reasons of international comity, where former Hungarian nationals have sued the nation of Hungary to recover the value of property lost in Hungary during World War II, and where the plaintiffs made no attempt to exhaust local Hungarian remedies?”
Federal Republic of Germany v. Philipp presents two questions:
1) Whether the “expropriation exception” of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(3), which abrogates foreign sovereign immunity when “rights in property taken in violation of international law are in issue,” provides jurisdiction over claims that a foreign sovereign has violated international human-rights law when taking property from its own national within its own borders, even though such claims do not implicate the established international law governing states’ responsibility for takings of property.
2) Whether the doctrine of international comity is unavailable in cases against foreign sovereigns, even in cases of considerable historical and political significance to the foreign sovereign, and even where the foreign nation has a domestic framework for addressing the claims.
Nestlé USA, Inc. v. Doe I presents two questions:
1) Whether an aiding and abetting claim against a domestic corporation brought under the Alien Tort Statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1350, may overcome the extraterritoriality bar where the claim is based on allegations of general corporate activity in the United States and where plaintiffs cannot trace the alleged harms, which occurred abroad at the hands of unidentified foreign actors, to that activity.
2) Whether the Judiciary has the authority under the Alien Tort Statute to impose liability on domestic corporations.
And Cargill Inc. v. Doe I presents two related questions:
1) Whether the presumption against extraterritorial application of the Alien Tort Statute is displaced by allegations that a U.S. company generally conducted oversight of its foreign operations at its headquarters and made operational and financial decisions there, even though the conduct alleged to violate international law occurred in—and the plaintiffs’ suffered their injuries in—a foreign country.
2) Whether a domestic corporation is subject to liability in a private action under the Alien Tort Statute.
The Court has consolidated Nestlé and Cargill for briefing and oral argument.
Here’s where to go if you want to find the cert-stage briefing and follow the merits briefs as they come in:
Monday, June 29, 2020
Today the Supreme Court issued its decision in June Medical Services L.L.C. v. Russo. By a 5-4 vote, the Court strikes down Louisiana’s admitting-privileges law (Act 620) as imposing an undue burden on women seeking an abortion. The five-Justice majority comes from Justice Breyer’s opinion, which is joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, and Chief Justice Roberts’ concurring opinion. Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh dissent—each of them authoring dissenting opinions.
In addition to the substantive constitutional issues regarding access to abortion, the case implicates some interesting civil procedure and federal courts issues: standing, standards of review, and stare decisis.
The standing issue is whether the plaintiffs, who were abortion providers and clinics, could challenge the Louisiana law as infringing their patients’ rights. Justice Breyer’s opinion concludes that Louisiana waived its standing argument:
The State’s argument rests on the rule that a party cannot ordinarily “‘rest his claim to relief on the legal rights or interests of third parties.’” Kowalski v. Tesmer, 543 U. S. 125, 129 (2004) (quoting Warth v. Seldin, 422 U. S. 490, 499 (1975)). This rule is “prudential.” 543 U. S., at 128–129. It does not involve the Constitution’s “case-or-controversy requirement.” Id., at 129; see Craig v. Boren, 429 U. S. 190, 193 (1976); Singleton v. Wulff, 428 U. S. 106, 112 (1976). And so, we have explained, it can be forfeited or waived. See Craig, 429 U. S., at 193–194.
Louisiana had argued in the lower courts that “there was ‘no question that the physicians had standing to contest’ Act 620.” This was an “unmistakable concession,” according to Justice Breyer. He adds that “even if the State had merely forfeited its objection by failing to raise it at any point over the last five years, we would not now undo all that has come before on that basis.” He explains:
What we said some 45 years ago in Craig applies equally today: “[A] decision by us to forgo consideration of the constitutional merits”—after “the parties have sought or at least have never resisted an authoritative constitutional determination” in the courts below—“in order to await the initiation of a new challenge to the statute by injured third parties would be impermissibly to foster repetitive and time-consuming litigation under the guise of caution and prudence.” 429 U. S., at 193–194 (quotation altered).
Justice Breyer also questions whether Louisiana’s standing argument would be persuasive in any event, noting that “[w]e have long permitted abortion providers to invoke the rights of their actual or potential patients in challenges to abortion-related regulations.”
Chief Justice Roberts concurs in Justice Breyer’s standing analysis: “For the reasons the plurality explains, ante, at 11–16, I agree that the abortion providers in this case have standing to assert the constitutional rights of their patients.”
2. Standard of Appellate Review
Another procedural issue is the standard of appellate review regarding the district court’s findings. Justice Breyer’s opinion notes:
We start from the premise that a district court’s findings of fact, “whether based on oral or other evidence, must not be set aside unless clearly erroneous, and the reviewing court must give due regard to the trial court’s opportunity to judge the witnesses’ credibility.” Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 52(a)(6). In “‘applying [this] standard to the findings of a district court sitting without a jury, appellate courts must constantly have in mind that their function is not to decide factual issues de novo.’” Anderson v. Bessemer City, 470 U. S. 564, 573 (1985) (quoting Zenith Radio Corp. v. Hazeltine Research, Inc., 395 U. S. 100, 123 (1969)).
And the opinion concludes:
We conclude, in light of the record, that the District Court’s significant factual findings—both as to burdens and as to benefits—have ample evidentiary support. None is “clearly erroneous.” Given the facts found, we must also uphold the District Court’s related factual and legal determinations. These include its determination that Louisiana’s law poses a “substantial obstacle” to women seeking an abortion; its determination that the law offers no significant health-related benefits; and its determination that the law consequently imposes an “undue burden” on a woman’s constitutional right to choose to have an abortion. We also agree with its ultimate legal conclusion that, in light of these findings and our precedents, Act 620 violates the Constitution.
Chief Justice Roberts also emphasizes the deferential standard of review:
The question is not whether we would reach the same findings from the same record. These District Court findings “entail[ed] primarily . . . factual work” and therefore are “review[ed] only for clear error.” U. S. Bank N. A. v. Village at Lakeridge, LLC, 583 U. S. ___, ___, ___ (2018) (slip op., at 6, 9). Clear error review follows from a candid appraisal of the comparative advantages of trial courts and appellate courts.
3. Stare Decisis
And of course, the case presents important questions of stare decisis, especially in light of the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which struck down Texas’s admitting privileges requirement. Stare decisis is key to Chief Justice Roberts’ tie-breaking fifth vote in favor of the plaintiffs: “I joined the dissent in Whole Woman’s Health and continue to believe that the case was wrongly decided. The question today however is not whether Whole Woman’s Health was right or wrong, but whether to adhere to it in deciding the present case.” Roberts concludes:
Stare decisis instructs us to treat like cases alike. The result in this case is controlled by our decision four years ago invalidating a nearly identical Texas law. The Louisiana law burdens women seeking previability abortions to the same extent as the Texas law, according to factual findings that are not clearly erroneous. For that reason, I concur in the judgment of the Court that the Louisiana law is unconstitutional.
Friday, June 26, 2020
SCOTUS Upholds IIRIRA's Restrictions on Federal Habeas Review of Asylum Claims: DHS v. Thuraissigiam
Yesterday the Supreme Court issued a 5-2-2 decision in Department of Homeland Security v. Thuraissigiam. The majority rejected a constitutional challenge—based on the Suspension Clause and the Due Process Clause—to provisions of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) that restrict federal habeas review of rejected asylum claims.
Justice Alito authored the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh. Alito writes:
Respondent’s Suspension Clause argument fails because it would extend the writ of habeas corpus far beyond its scope “when the Constitution was drafted and ratified.” Boumediene v. Bush, 553 U. S. 723, 746 (2008). Indeed, respondent’s use of the writ would have been unrecognizable at that time. Habeas has traditionally been a means to secure release from unlawful detention, but respondent invokes the writ to achieve an entirely different end, namely, to obtain additional administrative review of his asylum claim and ultimately to obtain authorization to stay in this country.
Respondent’s due process argument fares no better. While aliens who have established connections in this country have due process rights in deportation proceedings, the Court long ago held that Congress is entitled to set the conditions for an alien’s lawful entry into this country and that, as a result, an alien at the threshold of initial entry cannot claim any greater rights under the Due Process Clause. See Nishimura Ekiu v. United States, 142 U. S. 651, 660 (1892). Respondent attempted to enter the country illegally and was apprehended just 25 yards from the border. He therefore has no entitlement to procedural rights other than those afforded by statute.
Justice Breyer authors a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Ginsburg, which agrees only that IIRIRA’s limit on federal habeas review comports with the Suspension Clause as applied “in this particular case” (emphasis in original). He reasons that the respondent had been apprehended “just 25 yards inside the border” and “has never lived in, or been lawfully admitted to, the United States.” And Breyer also argues that the respondent’s claims were either “challenges to factual findings” rather than claims of “legal error,” or “procedural claims” that “concern not the outright denial (or constructive denial) of a process, but the precise way in which the relevant procedures were administered.”
Justice Sotomayor authors a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Kagan, which begins:
The majority declares that the Executive Branch’s denial of asylum claims in expedited removal proceedings shall be functionally unreviewable through the writ of habeas corpus, no matter whether the denial is arbitrary or irrational or contrary to governing law. That determination flouts over a century of this Court’s practice. In case after case, we have heard claims indistinguishable from those respondent raises here, which fall within the heartland of habeas jurisdiction going directly to the origins of the Great Writ. ***
Making matters worse, the Court holds that the Constitution’s due process protections do not extend to noncitizens like respondent, who challenge the procedures used to determine whether they may seek shelter in this country or whether they may be cast to an unknown fate. The decision deprives them of any means to ensure the integrity of an expedited removal order, an order which, the Court has just held, is not subject to any meaningful judicial oversight as to its substance.
Yesterday the House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 (H.R. 7120). Section 102 addresses qualified immunity, although only in the context of actions against law enforcement officers. Here’s the relevant text:
Section 1979 of the Revised Statutes of the United States (42 U.S.C. 1983) is amended by adding at the end the following:
“It shall not be a defense or immunity in any action brought under this section against a local law enforcement officer (as such term is defined in section 2 of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020), or in any action under any source of law against a Federal investigative or law enforcement officer (as such term is defined in section 2680(h) of title 28, United States Code), that—
“(1) the defendant was acting in good faith, or that the defendant believed, reasonably or otherwise, that his or her conduct was lawful at the time when the conduct was committed; or
“(2) the rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws were not clearly established at the time of their deprivation by the defendant, or that at such time, the state of the law was otherwise such that the defendant could not reasonably have been expected to know whether his or her conduct was lawful.”
Wednesday, June 24, 2020
Today a panel of the D.C. Circuit issued a 2-1 decision in In re Flynn, granting in part Michael Flynn’s petition for a writ of mandamus. Judge Rao authored the majority opinion, joined by Judge Henderson. Judge Wilkins dissented in part.
The majority “order[s] the district court to grant the government’s Rule 48(a) motion to dismiss the charges against Flynn” and vacates the district court’s order appointing retired EDNY District Judge John Gleeson as an amicus curiae to argue against the government’s motion to dismiss the charges. The majority refuses, however, to grant Flynn’s request to order reassignment of the case to a different district court judge.
It’s a politically important case, obviously, but the competing views on when a writ of mandamus is an appropriate method of appellate court intervention are worth a read in their own right.
Monday, June 22, 2020
The William & Mary Law Review has published its symposium issue, The Role of Courts in Politically Charged Moments. It features contributions by Jack Beermann, Erwin Chemerinsky, Barry Cushman, Bert Huang, Alli Larsen, Marin Levy, and Mary-Rose Papandrea.
Friday, June 19, 2020
Yesterday the Supreme Court issued its decision in Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of University of California. As folks are surely aware by now, the Court voted 5-4 to vacate the Trump administration’s rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program as “arbitrary and capricious” under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).
The case raised some interesting issues relating to civil procedure and federal courts that are worth flagging. The first is pleading. On the APA issue, Chief Justice Roberts authors the majority opinion, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. But the plaintiffs had also argued that the rescission of DACA violated the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment because the rescission was motivated by discriminatory animus. In Part IV—which Justice Sotomayor did not join—Chief Justice Roberts finds that the plaintiffs’ allegations of animus were “insufficient.” He writes:
To plead animus, a plaintiff must raise a plausible inference that an “invidious discriminatory purpose was a motivating factor” in the relevant decision. Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp., 429 U. S. 252, 266 (1977). Possible evidence includes disparate impact on a particular group, “[d]epartures from the normal procedural sequence,” and “contemporary statements by members of the decisionmaking body.” Id., at 266–268. Tracking these factors, respondents allege that animus is evidenced by (1) the disparate impact of the rescission on Latinos from Mexico, who represent 78% of DACA recipients; (2) the unusual history behind the rescission; and (3) pre- and post-election statements by President Trump. Brief for New York 54–55.
None of these points, either singly or in concert, establishes a plausible equal protection claim.
Justice Sotomayor does not join this part of Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion, and she writes a partial dissent on the equal protection issues. From her opinion:
Respondents’ equal protection challenges come to us in a preliminary posture. All that respondents needed to do at this stage of the litigation was state sufficient facts that would “allo[w a] court to draw the reasonable inference that [a] defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U. S. 662, 678 (2009). The three courts to evaluate respondents’ pleadings below held that they cleared this modest threshold. 908 F. 3d 476, 518–520 (CA9 2018) (affirming the District Court’s denial of the Government’s motion to dismiss); see also Batalla Vidal v. Nielsen, 291 F. Supp. 3d 260, 274 (EDNY 2018).
I too would permit respondents’ claims to proceed on remand. The complaints each set forth particularized facts that plausibly allege discriminatory animus.
The Supreme Court’s handling of the equal protection claims raises another recurring chestnut for federal courts enthusiasts: the Marks rule and nonmajority opinions. The dissenting justices on the APA issue—Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh—write that they “concur in the judgment insofar as the Court rejects [the] equal protection claim.” It’s not clear, however, whether and how those votes can be added to the four-justice plurality on the plaintiffs’ pleading of their equal protection claims to generate a binding “majority” opinion on that issue.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the Court avoided the recurring-yet-still-unaddressed question of nationwide injunctions (see, e.g., here). Footnote 7 of Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion explains that, because the Supreme Court affirmed the D.C. federal court’s order vacating the Trump administration’s rescission of DACA, it was “unnecessary to examine the propriety of the nationwide scope of the injunctions” that had been issued by other federal courts.
Tuesday, June 9, 2020
Last week, Representative Justin Amash and 17 original cosponsors introduced H.R. 7085, the Ending Qualified Immunity Act.
The Bill finds (among other things) that qualified immunity “has severely limited the ability of many plaintiffs to recover damages under section 1983 when their rights have been violated by State and local officials” and that “[a]s a result, the intent of Congress in passing the law has been frustrated, and Americans’ rights secured by the Constitution have not been appropriately protected.”
The operative text would add the following language to the end of 42 U.S.C. § 1983:
‘‘It shall not be a defense or immunity to any action brought under this section that the defendant was acting in good faith, or that the defendant believed, reasonably or otherwise, that his or her conduct was lawful at the time when it was committed. Nor shall it be a defense or immunity that the rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws were not clearly established at the time of their deprivation by the defendant, or that the state of the law was otherwise such that the defendant could not reasonably have been expected to know whether his or her conduct was lawful.’’
You can follow the bill’s progress here.
Thursday, June 4, 2020
In addition to Monday’s decision on Article III standing in Thole v. U.S. Bank, here are some other notable developments at One First Street this week...
The Court issued a 7-2 decision in Banister v. Davis. Justice Kagan’s majority opinion holds that a habeas petitioner’s FRCP 59(e) motion to alter or amend the habeas court’s judgment is not a second or successive habeas petition for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 2244. Justice Alito writes a dissent, joined by Justice Thomas. Check out Steve Vladeck’s analysis at SCOTUSblog.
The Court issued a unanimous decision in GE Energy Power Conversion France SAS v. Outokumpu Stainless USA, LLC. Justice Thomas’s opinion holds that the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (a.k.a. the New York Convention) does not conflict with domestic equitable estoppel doctrines permitting the enforcement of arbitration agreements by nonsignatories. Justice Sotomayor authors a concurring opinion. Ronald Mann analyzes the decision at SCOTUSblog.
The Court issued a 7-2 decision in Nasrallah v. Barr. Justice Kavanaugh’s majority opinion interprets 8 U.S.C. § 1252(a)(2) to permit the federal courts of appeals to review a factual challenge to an order denying relief under the Convention Against Torture, even for individuals who committed a crime specified in § 1252(a)(2)(C). Justice Thomas writes a dissent, joined by Justice Alito. Check out Jennifer Chacon’s analysis at SCOTUSblog and Bryan Lammon’s post at Final Decisions.
Finally, Monday’s order list included denials of certiorari in two cases—Comcast v. Tillage and AT&T Mobility v. McArdle—involving FAA preemption of state law on the enforceability of contractual provisions that waive a party’s right to seek public injunctive relief. Alison Frankel has coverage at Reuters (On the Case).
Wednesday, June 3, 2020
Monday, June 1, 2020
Today the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in Thole v. U.S. Bank N.A. Justice Kavanaugh’s majority opinion concludes that the plaintiffs lacked Article III standing. Some excerpts:
Plaintiffs James Thole and Sherry Smith are two retired participants in U. S. Bank’s retirement plan. Of decisive importance to this case, the plaintiffs’ retirement plan is a defined-benefit plan, not a defined-contribution plan. In a defined-benefit plan, retirees receive a fixed payment each month, and the payments do not fluctuate with the value of the plan or because of the plan fiduciaries’ good or bad investment decisions. * * *
We affirm the judgment of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit on the ground that the plaintiffs lack Article III standing. Thole and Smith have received all of their monthly benefit payments so far, and the outcome of this suit would not affect their future benefit payments. If Thole and Smith were to lose this lawsuit, they would still receive the exact same monthly benefits that they are already slated to receive, not a penny less. If Thole and Smith were to win this lawsuit, they would still receive the exact same monthly benefits that they are already slated to receive, not a penny more. The plaintiffs therefore have no concrete stake in this lawsuit. To be sure, their attorneys have a stake in the lawsuit, but an “interest in attorney’s fees is, of course, insufficient to create an Article III case or controversy where none exists on the merits of the underlying claim.” Lewis v. Continental Bank Corp., 494 U. S. 472, 480 (1990); see Steel Co. v. Citizens for Better Environment, 523 U. S. 83, 107 (1998) (same). Because the plaintiffs themselves have no concrete stake in the lawsuit, they lack Article III standing.
Justice Kavanaugh does leave open one possible avenue for participants in a defined-benefit plan to satisfy Article III’s standing requirements:
One last wrinkle remains. According to the plaintiffs’ amici, plan participants in a defined-benefit plan have standing to sue if the mismanagement of the plan was so egregious that it substantially increased the risk that the plan and the employer would fail and be unable to pay the participants’ future pension benefits. Cf. Clapper v. Amnesty Int’l USA, 568 U. S. 398, 414, n. 5 (2013); Lee v. Verizon Communications, Inc., 837 F. 3d 523, 545–546 (CA5 2016); David v. Alphin, 704 F. 3d 327, 336–338 (CA4 2013). But the plaintiffs do not assert that theory of standing in this Court. In any event, the plaintiffs’ complaint did not plausibly and clearly claim that the alleged mismanagement of the plan substantially increased the risk that the plan and the employer would fail and be unable to pay the plaintiffs’ future pension benefits. It is true that the plaintiffs’ complaint alleged that the plan was underfunded for a period of time. But a bare allegation of plan underfunding does not itself demonstrate a substantially increased risk that the plan and the employer would both fail.
Footnote 2 adds a wrinkle to the wrinkle, however:
Even if a defined-benefit plan is mismanaged into plan termination, the federal PBGC by law acts as a backstop and covers the vested pension benefits up to a certain amount and often in full. For example, if the plan and the employer in this case were to fail, the PBGC would be required to pay these two plaintiffs all of their vested pension benefits in full. * * * Any increased-risk-of-harm theory of standing therefore might not be available for plan participants whose benefits are guaranteed in full by the PBGC. But we need not decide that question in this case.
Justice Thomas authors a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Gorsuch, arguing that in a future case the Court should reconsider its precedents suggesting a need to make “analogies to trust law” when deciding Article III standing.
Justice Sotomayor authors a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan. It begins:
The Court holds that the Constitution prevents millions of pensioners from enforcing their rights to prudent and loyal management of their retirement trusts. Indeed, the Court determines that pensioners may not bring a federal lawsuit to stop or cure retirement-plan mismanagement until their pensions are on the verge of default. This conclusion conflicts with common sense and longstanding precedent.
Friday, May 29, 2020
The Notre Dame Law Review has published its symposium issue, Federal Courts, Practice & Procedure: State Standing. It features contributions by Tara Grove, Ernie Young, Andy Hessick, Brad Mank & Mike Solimine, Jonathan Nash, Ann Woolhandler & Michael Collins, Robert Mikos, Katherine Crocker, Seth Davis, and Aziz Huq.
Tuesday, May 26, 2020
Today the Ninth Circuit rejected federal jurisdiction over two lawsuits against various energy companies based on the effect of fossil fuels on climate change. One action (County of San Mateo v. Chevron) was initially filed in state court but removed to federal court. Another (City of Oakland v. BP) was initially filed in federal court. Judge Ikuta writes the opinion in both cases, joined by Judges Christen and Lee.
The San Mateo decision begins:
In this appeal, we consider a district court’s order remanding complaints to state court after the defendants had removed the complaints to federal court on eight separate grounds. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(d), we have jurisdiction to review the remand order only to the extent it addresses whether removal was proper under § 1442(a)(1), see Patel v. Del Taco, Inc., 446 F.3d 996, 998 (9th Cir. 2006), which authorizes removal by “any person acting under” a federal officer, 28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1). We conclude that the defendants did not carry their burden of establishing this criteria for removal. Because we lack jurisdiction to review other aspects of the remand order, we dismiss the remainder of the appeal.
The Oakland decision begins:
Two California cities brought actions in state court alleging that the defendants’ production and promotion of fossil fuels is a public nuisance under California law, and the defendants removed the complaints to federal court. We hold that the state-law claim for public nuisance does not arise under federal law for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and we remand to the district court to consider whether there was an alternative basis for subject-matter jurisdiction.