Thursday, August 26, 2021
Yesterday U.S. District Judge Linda Parker of the Eastern District of Michigan issued a 110-page opinion in King v. Whitmer, imposing sanctions against the plaintiffs and their attorneys in a case brought by supporters of Donald Trump in the wake of the 2020 election. Here is the full opinion:
And here are some excerpts from Judge Parker’s introduction:
This lawsuit represents a historic and profound abuse of the judicial process. It is one thing to take on the charge of vindicating rights associated with an allegedly fraudulent election. It is another to take on the charge of deceiving a federal court and the American people into believing that rights were infringed, without regard to whether any laws or rights were in fact violated. This is what happened here. ***
The attorneys who filed the instant lawsuit abused the well-established rules applicable to the litigation process by proffering claims not backed by law; proffering claims not backed by evidence (but instead, speculation, conjecture, and unwarranted suspicion); proffering factual allegations and claims without engaging in the required prefiling inquiry; and dragging out these proceedings even after they acknowledged that it was too late to attain the relief sought.***
Indeed, attorneys take an oath to uphold and honor our legal system. The sanctity of both the courtroom and the litigation process are preserved only when attorneys adhere to this oath and follow the rules, and only when courts impose sanctions when attorneys do not. And despite the haze of confusion, commotion, and chaos counsel intentionally attempted to create by filing this lawsuit, one thing is perfectly clear: Plaintiffs’ attorneys have scorned their oath, flouted the rules, and attempted to undermine the integrity of the judiciary along the way.3 As such, the Court is duty-bound to grant the motions for sanctions filed by Defendants and Intervenor-Defendants and is imposing sanctions pursuant to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 28 U.S.C. § 1927, and its own inherent authority.
Monday, July 26, 2021
Sixth Circuit Decision on Appellate Jurisdiction and Manufactured Finality (Guest Post by Andrew Pollis)
Andrew Pollis presents the following guest post on a very interesting Sixth Circuit decision:
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Last week, in Rowland v. Southern Health Partners, Inc., the Sixth Circuit issued a split decision on the vexing question of manufactured finality in civil actions—that is, a party’s dismissal of unadjudicated claims as a means of securing appellate jurisdiction over the district court’s resolution of an adjudicated claim. The majority rejected the maneuver, explaining its rationale in the opening paragraph of the decision:
Can a litigant circumvent the requirements of Rule 54(b) by the expedient of voluntarily dismissing her surviving claims in order to seek immediate appellate review of an adverse judgment on her resolved claims, with the intention of reinstating the dismissed claims should she obtain a favorable outcome on appeal? Eight years ago, we answered this question no, because such a dismissal does not create a final order under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. Page Plus of Atlanta, Inc. v. Owl Wireless, LLC, 733 F.3d 658, 658 (6th Cir. 2013). The answer is still no.
The majority reiterated the court’s previous holding in Page Plus that there are only two circumstances that permit the appeal to go forward in the face of manufactured finality: (1) when “a voluntary dismissal comes at a cost,” such as when “a party assumes the risk that the statute of limitations, any applicable preclusion rules or any other defenses might bar recovery on the claim”; and (2) when “a claim voluntarily dismissed without prejudice must be re-filed in a separate action,” which removes the “risk that the same case will produce multiple appeals raising different issues.” The majority also noted that its holding was consistent with the holdings of other appellate courts to address the issue, save the Second Circuit.
Judge Karen Moore, in dissent, took issue primarily with the majority’s characterization that the plaintiff had in fact assumed no risks in agreeing to dismiss her unresolved claims:
Unlike in Page Plus, here nothing in the district court’s order states or even hints that the parties agreed that Defendants would not assert any time-based affirmative defenses against the voluntarily dismissed state-law claims. In fact, Defendants have explicitly stated that they believe that any re-filing of the voluntarily dismissed claims would be time-barred.
But perhaps the most interesting feature of Judge Moore’s dissent is her discussion of the inconsistent rulings courts have issued in these types of cases. She noted that litigants’ efforts to manufacture finality have “troubled courts of appeals for over forty years” and that “[n]early every circuit has weighed in on this question with inter- and intra-circuit splits causing confusion and frustration for both courts and litigants.” And she lamented the “disturbing lack of predictability in circuits that allow or do not allow litigants to employ Rule 41(a) dismissals without prejudice to gain appellate review; intra-circuit splits and unclear exceptions exist both in circuits with a bright-line rule disfavoring such appeals and in circuits that routinely allow them.” She admonished litigants that the “disagreement and confusion sown by the circuits” require parties to be “very wary of using Rule 41(a) as a mechanism for obtaining immediate appellate review. . . . Nothing is certain, even in a circuit that purports to allow parties to utilize Rule 41(a)(2) voluntary dismissals to secure appellate review.” Judge Moore also suggested that the Supreme Court “may eventually “intervene and decisively bar litigants from using Rule 41(a) voluntary dismissals without prejudice as an option to pursue appellate review,” given its holding in Microsoft Corp. v. Baker, 137 S. Ct. 1702 (2017), that “evinces a strong respect for rulemaking as the proper avenue for determining when a decision is final for purposes of [28 U.S.C. § 1291] or when a decision is otherwise appealable.”
Tuesday, June 29, 2021
Yesterday’s decision dismissing the FTC’s complaint against Facebook is a high-profile example of the Twombly/Iqbal pleading framework in action. From District Judge Boasberg’s introduction:
Although the Court does not agree with all of Facebook’s contentions here, it ultimately concurs that the agency’s Complaint is legally insufficient and must therefore be dismissed. The FTC has failed to plead enough facts to plausibly establish a necessary element of all of its Section 2 claims — namely, that Facebook has monopoly power in the market for Personal Social Networking (PSN) Services. The Complaint contains nothing on that score save the naked allegation that the company has had and still has a “dominant share of th[at] market (in excess of 60%).” Redacted Compl., ¶ 64
Judge Boasberg did, however, give the FTC 30 days to file an amended complaint.
Monday, June 21, 2021
Today the Supreme Court issued its decision in Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. v. Arkansas Teacher Retirement System. Justice Barrett writes the opinion, which is unanimous as to some parts and a majority opinion as to the rest. Here’s the full breakdown:
BARRETT, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and BREYER, KAGAN, and KAVANAUGH, JJ., joined in full; in which THOMAS, ALITO, and GORSUCH, JJ., joined as to Parts I and II–A; and in which SOTOMAYOR, J., joined as to Parts I, II–A–1, and II–B. SOTOMAYOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part. GORSUCH, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which THOMAS and ALITO, JJ., joined.
The case involves a securities-fraud class action against Goldman Sachs. The district court certified the class and the Second Circuit affirmed class certification. Here’s how Justice Barrett summarizes the decision:
In this Court, Goldman argues that the Second Circuit erred twice: first, by holding that the generic nature of its alleged misrepresentations is irrelevant to the price impact inquiry; and second, by assigning Goldman the burden of persuasion to prove a lack of price impact.
On the first question, the parties now agree, as do we, that the generic nature of a misrepresentation often is important evidence of price impact that courts should consider at class certification. Because we conclude that the Second Circuit may not have properly considered the generic nature of Goldman’s alleged misrepresentations, we vacate and remand for the Court of Appeals to reassess the District Court’s price impact determination. On the second question, we agree with the Second Circuit that our precedents require defendants to bear the burden of persuasion to prove a lack of price impact by a preponderance of the evidence. We emphasize, though, that the burden of persuasion should rarely be outcome determinative.
Tuesday, April 13, 2021
Last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued a decision in Circuitronix, LLC v. Shenzen Kinwong Electronic Co., which addresses (among other things) FRCP 6(a)(3)’s provision for extending a filing deadline when “the clerk’s office is inaccessible . . . on the last day for filing.”
In that case, the district court’s chief judge “had designated July 5 as a holiday such that ‘the Court will be closed.’” The Eleventh Circuit rejected the argument that “the clerk’s office remained accessible on July 5 because Kinwong could have filed its motion electronically.” Noting that “Rule 6 refers to the clerk’s physical office,” it held that “[t]he clerk’s office is inaccessible when its building is officially closed or otherwise unavailable, even if the parties are still able to submit filings electronically.”
H/T: C.E. Petit
Friday, April 9, 2021
This week’s Supreme Court decision in Google LLC v. Oracle America, Inc. is mostly about copyright law. But there was a very interesting procedural question in the case regarding what standard of review the Court should use in connection with the jury’s verdict in favor of Google on its fair use defense. The answer is: it’s complicated. Justice Breyer’s majority opinion does say that “the ultimate ‘fair use’ question” is subject to de novo review. But he also states that “subsidiary factual questions” must be reviewed deferentially—and that deference ends up playing a very important role in the Court’s decision.
In this post I want to make two quick points about how the Court handles the standard of review issue. First, as I’ve argued in a recent article, I don’t think that Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides that a court may displace a jury’s verdict only when “a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue,” allows a court to declare that a certain issue (like fair use) is categorically subject to de novo review. But second, Justice Breyer’s deference to the jury on implicitly-found “subsidiary” facts leads to an analysis of fair use that—at the end of the day—isn’t so different from the sort of deferential review Rule 50 would require.
Thursday, April 8, 2021
Now on the Courts Law section of JOTWELL is Suja Thomas’s essay, Should the Rules Committees be Remade? Suja reviews Brooke Coleman’s recent article, #SoWhiteMale: Federal Procedural Rulemaking Committees, 68 UCLA L. Rev. Disc. 370 (2020).
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.
Thursday, February 18, 2021
Jeff Parness has posted Proposed Amendment to the Federal Civil Procedure Rule 27(c): Federal Presuit Information Preservation Orders on SSRN. Here’s the abstract:
Professor Jeffrey A. Parness submitted a proposed amendment to Federal Civil Procedure Rule 27(c) on November 13, 2020. It urged that federal civil procedure laws allowing presuit information preservation orders should be expanded in order to promote greater uniformity across the country and greater compliance with current substantive and procedural laws on the preservation duties involving civil litigation information. These new laws were said to be best placed in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The proposal includes the rationales, some guidelines, and suggested language for a new FRCP 27(c). In particular, the proposal suggests the following language (additions underlined): "This rule does not limit a court's power to entertain an action to perpetuate testimony and an action involving presuit information preservation when necessary to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive resolution of a possible later federal civil action."
Monday, February 8, 2021
Last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued an important decision on class actions, Cherry v. Dometic Corp. Judge William Pryor’s unanimous opinion for the panel rejects the view that “administrative feasibility” is a requirement for class certification under Rule 23.
The court does recognize that administrative feasibility is “relevant” for Rule 23(b)(3) class actions—because of the “manageability criterion of Rule 23(b)(3)(D).” But even so, “the district court must balance its manageability finding against other considerations.” Therefore, “administrative difficulties—whether in class-member identification or otherwise—do not alone doom a motion for certification.”
Wednesday, January 27, 2021
Today on the Courts Law section of JOTWELL is Christine Bartholomew’s essay, The Reality of Class-Action Appeals. Christine reviews Bryan Lammon’s recent article, An Empirical Study of Class-Action Appeals.
Wednesday, December 16, 2020
Today the Supreme Court granted certiorari in TransUnion LLC v. Ramirez, which presents the question: “Whether either Article III or Rule 23 permits a damages class action where the vast majority of the class suffered no actual injury, let alone an injury anything like what the class representative suffered.”
(The cert petition presented a second question relating to punitive damages, but the grant is limited to Question 1.)
Monday, October 26, 2020
The Supreme Court’s first batch of oral arguments this Term included Google LLC v. Oracle America, Inc., a high-profile and high-stakes ($9 billion) lawsuit about Google’s use of Java programming code to develop its Android operating system. Google prevailed after a jury trial, but the Federal Circuit reversed. Google’s Supreme Court cert petition initially presented two questions: (1) whether copyright protection extends to a software interface; and (2) whether, as the jury found at trial, Google’s use of Oracle’s software interface constituted fair use for purposes of copyright law. That second question, however, prompted the Court to ask its own question: what was “the appropriate standard of review” for the jury’s fair use verdict?
I’ve written a piece that examines this standard of review issue, Appellate Courts and Civil Juries, 2021 Wisconsin L. Rev. 1 (forthcoming). There’s a lot more detail in the full article, but I wanted to highlight a few points in the wake of the recent oral argument—during which there were several questions about the standard of review.
Thursday, October 15, 2020
Yesterday, Judge Polster partially granted the plaintiffs’ motion for sanctions against the Allergan and Teva defendants in the In re: National Prescription Opiate Litigation MDL. The issue was “whether the Plaintiffs are entitled to some relief, given that they only recently received a critical document (‘the Cegidim Report’), even though the Court ordered the Report must be produced and even though Plaintiffs asked Allergan and Teva for it numerous times during discovery in the last 18 months.”
Judge Polster explained:
[I]f the Cegidim Report supported, rather than contradicted, assertions Teva and Allergan made in their summary judgment briefing, it seems awfully likely the defendants would have worked more diligently to find it. And that is the level of diligence that was required, regardless.
Here is the full order:
Tuesday, September 29, 2020
I posted on SSRN a draft of my article, Appellate Courts and Civil Juries. Here’s the 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, which has led to confusion regarding 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.
As the abstract indicates, the Supreme Court may be wrestling with this issue this coming Term in Google LLC v. Oracle America, Inc., which is scheduled for oral argument (telephonically) next Wednesday.
Thanks to the Southeastern Association of Law Schools for letting me present an earlier draft of this paper back in July at the SEALS 2020 Annual Conference Federal Courts and Procedure Panel. I got a lot of great feedback.
Friday, September 25, 2020
Yesterday, the Sixth Circuit issued a 2-1 decision in In re National Prescription Opiate Litigation, a much-anticipated case about the certification of a negotiation class in the Opioid MDL.
The majority reversed the district court’s certification of a negotiation class. Judge Clay’s majority opinion called it a “novel form of class action.” He observes that Rule 23 “does not mention certification for purposes of ‘negotiation’ or anything along those lines” and writes that “a new form of class action, wholly untethered from Rule 23, may not be employed by a court.” He also found that the district court’s certification of the negotiation class had “papered over the predominance inquiry” required by Rule 23(b)(3).
Judge Moore disagrees, with a 40+ page dissent that begins:
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were not written and have never been interpreted to manacle district courts that innovate within the Rules’ textual borders. The district court has breathed life into a novel concept—a class certified for negotiation purposes—to aid in its Promethean duty to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive resolution of this byzantine multidistrict litigation. We should be in the business of encouraging, not exterminating, such resourcefulness. Certifying a negotiation class honors the Rules’ equitable heritage, complements the settlement class’s history, hews to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23’s textual requisites, and stirs no constitutional or policy qualms. So, with respect, I dissent.
The entire dissent is worth a read. Before proceeding to analyze whether the district court properly certified the proposed negotiation class, Part I of Judge Moore’s opinion addresses the proper approach to interpreting and applying the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and Part II provides an engaging history of Rule 23.
Wednesday, August 26, 2020
Judge Patrick Higginbotham, Judge Lee Rosenthal, and Professor Steve Gensler have published Better by the Dozen: Bringing Back the Twelve-Person Civil Jury in the latest issue of Judicature. Their article begins:
A jury of 12 resonates through the centuries. Twelve-person juries were a fixture from at least the 14th century until the 1970s. Over 600 years of history is a powerful endorsement. So too are the many social-science studies consistently showing that a 12-person jury makes for a better deliberative process, with more predictable (and fewer outlier) results, by a more diverse group that is a more representative cross-section of the community. To that, add the benefit of engaging more citizens in the best civics lesson the judiciary offers. To all of that, add our common sense telling us that 12 heads are better than six, or eight, or even ten.
History. Social science. Civics. Common sense. That’s a powerful quartet. And yet, most federal judges today routinely seat civil juries without the full complement of 12 members. Why? Because in 1973 the United States Supreme Court said it was okay. Since then, the smaller-than-12-person jury has become a habit. For many courts, it has become the default.
Monday, August 10, 2020
The Ninth Circuit recently issued its decision in Judd v. Weinstein. Judge Murguia’s opinion reverses the district court’s dismissal of Ashley Judd’s state-law sexual harassment claim against producer Harvey Weinstein.
In doing so, the court confronts an issue of “first impression under California law” and proceeds to “predict how the California Supreme Court would resolve it.” The court also finds that Judd’s complaint passes muster under Iqbal, despite Weinstein’s argument that she failed to adequately allege a professional relationship at the time of the alleged harassment:
Judd sufficiently alleged a “business, service, or professional relationship” at the time of the alleged harassment: Judd alleged that she established a professional relationship with Weinstein after working on the 1995 Miramax film Smoke, and went to the Peninsula Hotel in hopes of building upon that existing relationship to discuss future professional endeavors. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (“A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”). Moreover, Judd alleged that “at the time of the harassment, [she] was discussing potential roles in films produced or distributed by Weinstein or Miramax.” This is more than enough to allege a professional relationship at the time of the alleged harassment.
(H/T: Aaron Caplan)
Tuesday, August 4, 2020
Elizabeth Cabraser and I have posted on SSRN our recent article, What Is a Fair Price for Objector Blackmail? Class Actions, Objectors, and the 2018 Amendments to Rule 23, 24 Lewis & Clark L. Rev. 549 (2020). Here’s the abstract:
As part of a symposium addressing what the next 50 years might hold for class actions, mass torts, and MDLs, this Article examines a recent amendment to Rule 23 that offers a new solution to the persistent problem of strategic objections. Most significantly, Rule 23 now requires the district judge to approve any payments made to class members in exchange for withdrawing or forgoing challenges to a class action settlement. Although the new provision is still in its infancy, it has already been deployed to thwart improper objector behavior and to bring for-pay objection practice out of the shadows. The 2018 changes — along with other on-the-ground developments — are important steps toward improving the class action settlement process.
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.
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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