Monday, May 20, 2019
Today the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Ritzen Group, Inc. v. Jackson Masonry, LLC, which involves the federal district courts’ appellate jurisdiction over certain bankruptcy court orders The question presented is: “Whether an order denying a motion for relief from the automatic stay is a final order under 28 U.S.C. § 158(a)(1).”
Today the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. v. Albrecht. Justice Breyer authored the majority opinion, which was joined by Justices Thomas, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Gorsuch. It begins:
When Congress enacted the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, ch. 675, 52 Stat. 1040, as amended, 21 U. S. C. §301 et seq., it charged the Food and Drug Administration with ensuring that prescription drugs are “safe for use under the conditions prescribed, recommended, or suggested” in the drug’s “labeling.” §355(d). When the FDA exercises this authority, it makes careful judgments about what warnings should appear on a drug’s label for the safety of consumers.
For that reason, we have previously held that “clear evidence” that the FDA would not have approved a change to the drug’s label pre-empts a claim, grounded in state law, that a drug manufacturer failed to warn consumers of the change-related risks associated with using the drug. See Wyeth v. Levine, 555 U. S. 555, 571 (2009). We here determine that this question of pre-emption is one for a judge to decide, not a jury. We also hold that “clear evidence” is evidence that shows the court that the drug manufacturer fully informed the FDA of the justifications for the warning required by state law and that the FDA, in turn, informed the drug manufacturer that the FDA would not approve a change to the drug’s label to include that warning.
Justice Thomas joins the majority opinion but also writes a separate concurring opinion arguing that the preemption defense should fail as a matter of law. (The majority remands the case for the lower courts to address whether the plaintiff’s state-law tort claim is preempted in this case).
Justice Alito writes a concurring opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kavanaugh. Justice Alito agrees that this is a question of law to be decided by courts rather than juries, but he is “concerned that [the majority’s] discussion of the law and the facts may be misleading on remand.”
Tuesday, May 14, 2019
Yesterday the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt, covered earlier here. Justice Thomas’s majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, begins:
This case, now before us for the third time, requires us to decide whether the Constitution permits a State to be sued by a private party without its consent in the courts of a different State. We hold that it does not and overrule our decision to the contrary in Nevada v. Hall, 440 U. S. 410 (1979).
Justice Breyer authored the dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan.
Tuesday, April 30, 2019
Calendared for the Supreme Court’s May 16th conference is an interesting cert petition in Graviss v. Department of Defense, which was recently featured as one of SCOTUSblog’s petitions of the week. Graviss involves 5 U.S.C. § 7703(b)(1)(A)’s 60-day deadline for federal employees to petition the Federal Circuit for review of a Merit Systems Protection Board decision. The Federal Circuit found that the 60-day deadline was a jurisdictional requirement.
The petition for certiorari presents the following questions:
1. Whether the 60-day period for seeking Federal Circuit review under 5 U.S.C. § 7703(b)(1)(A) sets a jurisdictional bar, as the panel majority held, or prescribes a claim-processing rule subject to exceptions such as forfeiture, as the dissenting judges below maintained.
2. Whether the Government forfeited its timeliness defense.
As readers well know, the Supreme Court has decided numerous cases over the last decade or so addressing the distinction between jurisdictional and nonjurisdictional requirements. 14 law professors signed onto this amicus brief, which argues that that the Federal Circuit misapplied the Court’s recent case law in concluding that the 60-day deadline was jurisdictional. Other amici supporting the petitioner include the American Federation of Government Employees, the Federal Circuit Bar Association, the National Veterans Legal Services Program, and the National Organization of Veterans’ Advocates.
As for the law professors’ brief, my personal thanks to the distinguished group of signatories who joined the brief, and to Stanley Blackmon and Scott Burnett Smith at Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP for their great work.
Stay tuned, everyone!
Friday, April 26, 2019
Ronald Brand has published Recognition of Foreign Judgments in China: The Liu Case and the “Belt and Road” Initiative, 37 J.L. & Com. 29 (2018). Here’s the abstract:
In June, 2017, the Wuhan Intermediate People’s Court became the first Chinese court to recognize a U.S. judgment in the case of Liu Li v. Tao Li & Tong Wu. The Liu case is a significant development in Chinese private international law, but represents more than a single decision in a single case. It is one piece of a developing puzzle in which the law on the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments in China is a part of a larger set of developments. These developments are inextricably tied to the “One Belt and One Road,” or “Belt and Road” Initiative first announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping on a visit to Kazakhstan in 2013. This article traces the development of the Liu case, from the first judgment in California to the decision to recognize and enforce that judgment in Wuhan, China. It then provides the context within which the decision on recognition and enforcement was made, and the way the decision fits within President Xi’s “Belt and Road” Initiative and the pronouncements of the Chinese People’s Supreme Court which have encouraged the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments as part of that Initiative.
Wednesday, April 24, 2019
SCOTUS decision in Lamps Plus v. Varela: interpreting ambiguous arbitration agreements to allow classwide arbitration
Today the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in Lamps Plus, Inc. v. Varela. The majority opinion, authored by Chief Justice Roberts and joined by Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, addresses whether the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) bars an order requiring class arbitration when an arbitration agreement is “ambiguous” about the availability of class arbitration. According to the majority, it does.
The Court first rules that § 16(a)(3) of the FAA permits appellate review when a party seeks an order compelling individual arbitration but the district court issues an order compelling arbitration on a classwide basis. It then decides that “[c]ourts may not infer from an ambiguous agreement that parties have consented to arbitrate on a classwide basis.” [Op. 12] The Court does not, however, address whether the availability of class arbitration is necessarily a question for the judge—rather than the arbitrator—to decide. Footnote 4 emphasizes that “the parties agreed that a court, not an arbitrator, should resolve the question about class arbitration.”
Justice Thomas joins the majority opinion but authors a brief concurring opinion. There were four dissenting opinions: one by Justice Ginsburg, which was joined by Justices Breyer and Sotomayor; one by Justice Breyer; one by Justice Sotomayor; and one by Justice Kagan, which was joined by Justices Ginsburg and Breyer and partially joined by Justice Sotomayor.
Tuesday, March 26, 2019
SCOTUS Decision in Republic of Sudan v. Harrison: Service of Process on a Foreign State under the FSIA
This case concerns the requirements applicable to a particular method of serving civil process on a foreign state. Under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA), a foreign state may be served by means of a mailing that is “addressed and dispatched . . . to the head of the ministry of foreign affairs of the foreign state concerned.” 28 U. S. C. §1608(a)(3). The question now before us is whether this provision is satisfied when a service packet that names the foreign minister is mailed to the foreign state’s embassy in the United States. We hold that it is not. Most naturally read, §1608(a)(3) requires that a mailing be sent directly to the foreign minister’s office in the minister’s home country.
Justice Thomas dissented, writing: “I would hold that respondents complied with the FSIA when they addressed and dispatched a service packet to Sudan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs at Sudan’s Embassy in Washington, D. C.”
Now on the Courts Law section of JOTWELL is my essay, When American Pipe Met Erie. I review a recent article by Steve Burbank and Tobias Wolff, Class Actions, Statutes of Limitations and Repose, and Federal Common Law, 167 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1 (2018).
Wednesday, March 20, 2019
Today the Supreme Court issued its decision in Frank v. Gaos (covered earlier here). The Court had initially granted certiorari to decide “[w]hether, or in what circumstances, a cy pres award of class action proceeds that provides no direct relief to class members supports class certification and comports with the requirement that a settlement binding class members must be ‘fair, reasonable, and adequate.’” Following oral argument, however, the Court ordered supplemental briefing on whether any plaintiff had Article III standing under the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in Spokeo v. Robins.
Today’s per curiam opinion remands the case for the lower courts to consider the standing question:
After reviewing the supplemental briefs, we conclude that the case should be remanded for the courts below to address the plaintiffs’ standing in light of Spokeo. The supplemental briefs filed in response to our order raise a wide variety of legal and factual issues not addressed in the merits briefing before us or at oral argument. We “are a court of review, not of first view.” Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U. S. 709, 718, n. 7 (2005). Resolution of the standing question should take place in the District Court or the Ninth Circuit in the first instance. We therefore vacate and remand for further proceedings. Nothing in our opinion should be interpreted as expressing a view on any particular resolution of the standing question.
Justice Thomas dissented. He would have found that the plaintiffs’ allegations were sufficient to establish standing but that “the class action should not have been certified, and the settlement should not have been approved.”
Wednesday, February 27, 2019
SCOTUS: Rule 23(f)’s 14-day deadline for class-certification appeals is not subject to equitable tolling
Yesterday the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Nutraceutical Corp. v. Lambert, which involves Rule 23(f)’s 14-day deadline for seeking permission to appeal a district court’s class-certification ruling.
In Justice Sotomayor’s opinion, the Court makes clear that the 14-day deadline is not jurisdictional, which means that it “can be waived or forfeited.” [Slip op. at 3-4] Nonetheless, the Court found that it is not subject to equitable tolling:
“Whether a rule precludes equitable tolling turns not on its jurisdictional character but rather on whether the text of the rule leaves room for such flexibility. Here, the governing rules speak directly to the issue of Rule 23(f)’s flexibility and make clear that its deadline is not subject to equitable tolling.” [Slip op. at 4]
Howard Wasserman has a more detailed recap at SCOTUSblog.
Tuesday, February 26, 2019
Whether the “discovery rule” applies to toll the one (1) year statute of limitations under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692, et seq., as the Fourth and Ninth Circuits have held but the Third Circuit (sua sponte en banc) has held contrarily.
Monday, February 25, 2019
Today the Supreme Court decided Yovino v. Rizo, issuing a per curiam opinion that begins:
A judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the Honorable Stephen Reinhardt, died on March 29, 2018, but the Ninth Circuit counted his vote in cases decided after that date. In the present case, Judge Reinhardt was listed as the author of an en banc decision issued on April 9, 2018, 11 days after he passed away. By counting Judge Reinhardt’s vote, the court deemed Judge Reinhardt’s opinion to be a majority opinion, which means that it constitutes a precedent that all future Ninth Circuit panels must follow. See United States v. Caperna, 251 F. 3d 827, 831, n. 2 (2001). Without Judge Reinhardt’s vote, the opinion attributed to him would have been approved by only 5 of the 10 members of the en banc panel who were still living when the decision was filed. Although the other five living judges concurred in the judgment, they did so for different reasons. The upshot is that Judge Reinhardt’s vote made a difference. Was that lawful?
The answer is no. The opinion concludes:
Because Judge Reinhardt was no longer a judge at the time when the en banc decision in this case was filed, the Ninth Circuit erred in counting him as a member of the majority. That practice effectively allowed a deceased judge to exercise the judicial power of the United States after his death. But federal judges are appointed for life, not for eternity.
We therefore grant the petition for certiorari, vacate the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Tuesday, January 15, 2019
Today the Supreme Court issued an 8-0 decision in New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira. Justice Gorsuch authors the opinion (Justice Kavanaugh did not participate).
The case involves § 1 of the Federal Arbitration Act, which provides that “nothing herein contained shall apply to contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” This provision
The Court addresses two questions. The first is: “When a contract delegates questions of arbitrability to an arbitrator, must a court leave disputes over the application of §1’s exception for the arbitrator to resolve?” [Op. at 1] The answer is no. “Given the statute’s terms and sequencing, we agree with the First Circuit that a court should decide for itself whether §1’s ‘contracts of employment’ exclusion applies before ordering arbitration.” [Op. at 4 (emphasis added)]
The second question is: “[D]oes the term ‘contracts of employment’ refer only to contracts between employers and employees, or does it also reach contracts with independent contractors?” [Op. at 1] The answer is that contracts with independent contractors can also be excluded from the FAA. Justice Gorsuch reasoned that “Congress used the term ‘contracts of employment’ in a broad sense to capture any contract for the performance of work by workers,” [Op. at 10 (emphasis in original)], and that the term ‘workers’ “easily embraces independent contractors.” [Op. at 10]
This part of Justice Gorsuch’s opinion emphasizes that statutory terms “generally should be interpreted as taking their ordinary meaning at the time Congress enacted the statute.” [Op. at 6 (citation omitted)]. Justice Ginsburg writes a brief concurring opinion to stress that there may be some exceptions to this interpretive principle, because Congress “may design legislation to govern changing times and circumstances” [Ginsburg Op. at 1]. Her opinion notes that “sometimes, words in statutes can enlarge or contract their scope as other changes, in law or in the world, require their application to new instances or make old applications anachronistic.” [Ginsburg Op. at 2 (citation omitted)]
Friday, January 11, 2019
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., requires plaintiffs to exhaust claims of employment discrimination with the EEOC before filing suit in federal court. Id. § 2000e-5(b), (f)(1).
The question presented is: Whether Title VII’s administrative exhaustion requirement is a jurisdictional prerequisite to suit, as three Circuits have held, or a waivable claim-processing rule, as eight Circuits have held.
Tuesday, January 8, 2019
Today the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Henry Schein, Inc. v. Archer & White Sales, Inc. Justice Kavanaugh’s opinion—his first on the Supreme Court—begins:
Under the Federal Arbitration Act, parties to a contract may agree that an arbitrator rather than a court will resolve disputes arising out of the contract. When a dispute arises, the parties sometimes may disagree not only about the merits of the dispute but also about the threshold arbitrability question—that is, whether their arbitration agreement applies to the particular dispute. Who decides that threshold arbitrability question? Under the Act and this Court’s cases, the question of who decides arbitrability is itself a question of contract. The Act allows parties to agree by contract that an arbitrator, rather than a court, will resolve threshold arbitrability questions as well as underlying merits disputes. Rent-A-Center, West, Inc. v. Jackson, 561 U. S. 63, 68−70 (2010); First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U. S. 938, 943−944 (1995).
Even when a contract delegates the arbitrability question to an arbitrator, some federal courts nonetheless will short-circuit the process and decide the arbitrability question themselves if the argument that the arbitration agreement applies to the particular dispute is “wholly groundless.” The question presented in this case is whether the “wholly groundless” exception is consistent with the Federal Arbitration Act. We conclude that it is not. The Act does not contain a “wholly groundless” exception, and we are not at liberty to rewrite the statute passed by Congress and signed by the President. When the parties’ contract delegates the arbitrability question to an arbitrator, the courts must respect the parties’ decision as embodied in the contract.
Friday, November 16, 2018
SCOTUS grants cert to decide the scope of discovery in case challenging 2020 census question about citizenship status
The petition for a writ of mandamus is treated as a petition for a writ of certiorari. The petition for certiorari is granted. Petitioners' brief on the merits is to be filed on or before Monday, December 17, 2018. Respondents' brief on the merits is to be filed on or before Thursday, January 17, 2019. The reply brief is to be filed on or before Monday, February 4, 2019. The case is set for oral argument on Tuesday, February 19, 2019.
The question presented is:
Whether, in an action seeking to set aside agency action under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. 701 et seq., a district court may order discovery outside the administrative record to probe the mental processes of the agency decisionmaker—including by compelling the testimony of high-ranking Executive Branch officials—when there is no evidence that the decisionmaker disbelieved the objective reasons in the administrative record, irreversibly prejudged the issue, or acted on a legally forbidden basis.
Friday, November 2, 2018
There’s been a flurry of recent Supreme Court activity involving Juliana v. United States, a case pending in U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon (covered earlier here and here). Twenty-one young plaintiffs are suing the federal government alleging that it has contributed to climate change in violation of the their constitutional rights.
On October 18, the Solicitor General applied for a stay of discovery and trial. The Supreme Court granted the stay on October 19, “pending receipt of a response, due on or before Wednesday, October 24, 2018, by 3 p.m., and further order of the undersigned or of the Court.” The plaintiffs filed their response on October 22, and the Solicitor General file a reply on October 24.
At this point, there’s been no further ruling from the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court proceedings are captioned In re United States and the docket is here.
UPDATE: Late Friday afternoon, the Supreme Court issued an order denying the Solicitor General’s motion. The Court indicated, however, that “adequate relief may be available in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.”
Friday, September 28, 2018
This action was commenced when Citibank, N.A. filed a routine state-court collection action against respondent George W. Jackson. Petitioner Home Depot U. S. A., Inc. was not a party to that action and never became a party to that collection dispute. Jackson then filed a counterclaim against Citibank asserting class-action consumer-protection claims. In addition to naming Citibank, Jackson named Home Depot and another company as original defendant to that counterclaim class action. The Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, Pub. L. No. 109-2, 119 Stat. 4, permits "any defendant in a state-court class action to remove the action to federal court if it satisfies certain jurisdictional requirements. Petitioner Home Depot is an original defendant in the class action at issue here and was never a plaintiff in any claim associated with this case.
The question presented is: Whether an original defendant to a class-action claim can remove the class action if it otherwise satisfies the jurisdictional requirements of the Class Action Fairness Act when the class action was originally asserted as a counterclaim against a co-defendant.
The Court also directed the parties to address the following question:
Should this court’s holding in Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100 (1941)—that an original plaintiff may not remove a counterclaim against it—extend to third-party counterclaim defendants?
Friday, August 10, 2018
Today Wikileaks was served via Twitter, pursuant to FRCP 4(f)(3), in Democratic National Committee v. The Russian Federation et al., No. 18-cv-3501 (SDNY).
Here's the tweet effecting service:
Here's the court's order (from earlier this week) authorizing service via Twitter:
Here's the plaintiff's motion:
Wednesday, August 8, 2018
Yesterday the Ninth Circuit issued its decision in Rodriguez v. Swartz. It’s a particularly interesting case in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decisions in Ziglar v. Abbasi and Hernandez v. Mesa.
By a 2-1 vote, the panel affirmed the district court’s refusal to dismiss a claim against a U.S. Border Patrol agent who, while standing on American soil, shot and killed a teenage Mexican citizen who was walking down a street in Mexico. (In the interest of full disclosure, I joined an amicus brief on behalf of law professors in support of the plaintiff-appellee.)
Judge Andrew Kleinfeld’s majority opinion concludes:
Under the particular set of facts alleged in this case, Swartz is not entitled to qualified immunity. The Fourth Amendment applies here. No reasonable officer could have thought that he could shoot J.A. dead if, as pleaded, J.A. was innocently walking down a street in Mexico. And despite our reluctance to extend Bivens, we do so here: no other adequate remedy is available, there is no reason to infer that Congress deliberately chose to withhold a remedy, and the asserted special factors either do not apply or counsel in favor of extending Bivens.
Of course, the facts as pleaded may turn out to be unsupported. When all of the facts have been exposed, the shooting may turn out to have been excusable or justified. There is and can be no general rule against the use of deadly force by Border Patrol agents. But in the procedural context of this case, we must take the facts as alleged in the complaint. Those allegations entitle J.A.’s mother to proceed with her case.
Judge Milan Smith dissented, arguing that no Bivens action was available.