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, 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.
Thursday, May 21, 2020
Last month, the Ninth Circuit issued an interesting decision in LN Management v. JPMorgan Chase Bank. The opinion is authored by Sixth Circuit Judge Danny Boggs (sitting by designation). It begins:
There are a number of ways to accomplish litigation regarding interests once held by a dead person. One can institute or join probate proceedings, for instance, or sue the executor of an estate in courts of general jurisdiction, or in some circumstances proceed directly against the successors of the deceased. Rarely do we see efforts to actually engage the dead in litigation. This case turns on such a question, which is of first impression in this circuit: can you sue a dead person?1
The answer may seem obvious. Yet strangely, in the 129-year history of this court, we have never been called upon to rule on this issue. We do so today, and we resolve the question in the negative.
And here is footnote 1:
There is ample extrajudicial literature bearing on this question. Dead men, we know from multiple authorities, would not make good litigants. They “tell no tales,” so they would be bad witnesses and deponents. See PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES (Walt Disney Pictures 2017). Since “you can’t take it with you,” they are judgment-proof defendants. See GEORGE S. KAUFMAN & MOSS HART, YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU 75 (Dramatists Play Svc., Inc. 1937). And there is persuasive authority that, in whichever of the two traditional locations the deceased is now to be found, obtaining personal jurisdiction and serving of process would be difficult. See U. S. ex rel. Mayo v. Satan & his Staff, 54 F.R.D. 282, 283 (W.D. Pa. 1971) (finding no personal jurisdiction over defendant notwithstanding the “unofficial account” of The Devil and Daniel Webster); State Senator Ernie Chambers v. God, No. 1075-462, (Neb. Douglas Cty. Dist. Ct. Oct. 8, 2008) (dismissing case due to impossibility of service on Defendant), appeal dismissed; order vacated (Neb. Ct. App., No. 08-1180, Feb. 25, 2009).
Friday, May 1, 2020
And here are some cases that present interesting procedural, jurisdictional, or other fed-courts-y issues:
Wednesday, May 6:
(1) Whether a litigant who is directly protected by an administrative rule and has been allowed to intervene to defend it lacks standing to appeal a decision invalidating the rule if the litigant is also protected by an injunction from a different court; and
(2) Whether the court of appeals erred in affirming a nationwide preliminary injunction barring implementation of the final rules.
Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants (19-631) has an interesting severance issue. Here’s the question presented: Whether the government-debt exception to the TCPA's automated-call restriction violates the First Amendment, and whether the proper remedy for any constitutional violation is to sever the exception from the remainder of the statute.
Monday, May 11:
McGirt v. Oklahoma (18-9526) presents the question: Whether Oklahoma courts can continue to unlawfully exercise, under state law, criminal jurisdiction as “justiciable matter” in Indian country over Indians accused of major crimes enumerated under the Indian Major Crimes Act--which are under exclusive federal jurisdiction.
Tuesday, May 12:
In Trump v. Mazars USA (19-715) and Trump v. Deutsche Bank AG (19-760), the Court has directed the parties to file supplemental briefs addressing “political question doctrine or related justiciability principles.”
Wednesday, May 13:
Colorado Department of State v. Baca (19-518) presents this question on standing (among others): Whether a presidential elector who is prevented by their appointing State from casting an Electoral College ballot that violates state law lacks standing to sue their appointing State because they hold no constitutionally protected right to exercise discretion.
Monday, March 2, 2020
Big Article III Standing and Severability Questions in Today's SCOTUS Cert Grants on the Affordable Care Act
Today the Supreme Court granted certiorari in California v. Texas and Texas v. California and consolidated the two cases. These cases involve the constitutionality of the minimum-coverage provision (also known as the “individual mandate”) of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). They also present important questions regarding Article III standing (whether the individual and state plaintiffs have standing to challenge the minimum-coverage provision of the ACA) and severability (if the minimum-coverage provision is unconstitutional, can it be severed from the rest of the ACA).
Friday, February 7, 2020
Today a D.C. Circuit panel (Judges Henderson, Tatel & Griffith) issued its decision in Blumenthal v. Trump. The per curiam opinion begins:
In this case, 215 Members of the Congress (Members) sued President Donald J. Trump based on allegations that he has repeatedly violated the United States Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause (Clause). The district court’s denial of the President’s motion to dismiss begins with a legal truism: “When Members of Congress sue the President in federal court over official action, a court must first determine whether the dispute is a ‘Case’ or ‘Controversy’ under Article III of the United States Constitution, rather than a political dispute between the elected branches of government.” Blumenthal v. Trump, 335 F. Supp. 3d 45, 49–50 (D.D.C. 2018). Although undoubtedly accurate, the district court’s observation fails to tell the rest of the story, which story we set forth infra. Because we conclude that the Members lack standing, we reverse the district court and remand with instructions to dismiss their complaint.
Wednesday, January 22, 2020
Last week the Ninth Circuit issued a decision in Juliana v. United States, covered earlier here and here. Judge Hurwitz authored the majority opinion, joined by Judge Murguia, finding that the plaintiffs lacked Article III standing to pursue their claims against the federal government. The opinion begins:
In the mid-1960s, a popular song warned that we were “on the eve of destruction.” The plaintiffs in this case have presented compelling evidence that climate change has brought that eve nearer. A substantial evidentiary record documents that the federal government has long promoted fossil fuel use despite knowing that it can cause catastrophic climate change, and that failure to change existing policy may hasten an environmental apocalypse.
The plaintiffs claim that the government has violated their constitutional rights, including a claimed right under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to a “climate system capable of sustaining human life.” The central issue before us is whether, even assuming such a broad constitutional right exists, an Article III court can provide the plaintiffs the redress they seek—an order requiring the government to develop a plan to “phase out fossil fuel emissions and draw down excess atmospheric CO2.” Reluctantly, we conclude that such relief is beyond our constitutional power. Rather, the plaintiffs’ impressive case for redress must be presented to the political branches of government.
District Court Judge Josephine Staton, sitting by designation, wrote a dissenting opinion. It begins:
In these proceedings, the government accepts as fact that the United States has reached a tipping point crying out for a concerted response—yet presses ahead toward calamity. It is as if an asteroid were barreling toward Earth and the government decided to shut down our only defenses. Seeking to quash this suit, the government bluntly insists that it has the absolute and unreviewable power to destroy the Nation.
My colleagues throw up their hands, concluding that this case presents nothing fit for the Judiciary. On a fundamental point, we agree: No case can singlehandedly prevent the catastrophic effects of climate change predicted by the government and scientists. But a federal court need not manage all of the delicate foreign relations and regulatory minutiae implicated by climate change to offer real relief, and the mere fact that this suit cannot alone halt climate change does not mean that it presents no claim suitable for judicial resolution.
Plaintiffs bring suit to enforce the most basic structural principle embedded in our system of ordered liberty: that the Constitution does not condone the Nation’s willful destruction. So viewed, plaintiffs’ claims adhere to a judicially administrable standard. And considering plaintiffs seek no less than to forestall the Nation’s demise, even a partial and temporary reprieve would constitute meaningful redress. Such relief, much like the desegregation orders and statewide prison injunctions the Supreme Court has sanctioned, would vindicate plaintiffs’ constitutional rights without exceeding the Judiciary’s province. For these reasons, I respectfully dissent.
Friday, December 6, 2019
SCOTUS cert grant on Article III standing (and severability and political balance on the Delaware courts)
(1) Does the First Amendment invalidate a longstanding state constitutional provision that limits judges affiliated with any one political party to no more than a “bare majority” on the State’s three highest courts, with the other seats reserved for judges affiliated with the “other major political party”?
(2) Did the Third Circuit err in holding that a provision of the Delaware Constitution requiring that no more than a “bare majority” of three of the state courts may be made up of judges affiliated with any one political party is not severable from a provision that judges who are not members of the majority party on those courts must be members of the other “major political party,” when the former requirement existed for more than fifty years without the latter, and the former requirement, without the latter, continues to govern appointments to two other courts?
The Court also directed the parties to brief and argue “whether respondent has demonstrated Article III standing.”
Friday, November 8, 2019
Today Judge Klausner of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California certified both a damages class and an injunctive relief class in Morgan v. United States Soccer Federation. The plaintiffs are members of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, alleging violations of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII based on discrepancies in pay between them and the Men’s National Team.
Here is today’s order:
Friday, October 4, 2019
The Friday Before First Monday: SCOTUS Cert Grant in Louisiana Abortion Case Presents Questions About Standing
Today the Supreme Court granted petitions for certiorari arising from a challenge to Louisiana’s abortion regulations. The cases are June Medical Services LLC v. Gee (18-1323), and Gee v. June Medical Services, LLC (18-1460).
The first petition asks whether the Louisiana law is unconstitutional, especially in light of the Court’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, 136 S. Ct. 2292 (2016). The second petition is about standing, presenting the following questions:
1. Can abortion providers be presumed to have third-party standing to challenge health and safety regulations on behalf of their patients absent a “close” relationship with their patients and a “hindrance” to their patients’ ability to sue on their own behalf?
2. Are objections to prudential standing waivable (per the Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, Tenth, and Federal Circuits) or non-waivable (per the D.C., Second, and Sixth Circuits)?
Friday, September 13, 2019
Today, the Second Circuit issued its decision in Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. Trump, a lawsuit against President Trump alleging violations of the Emoluments Clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Judge Leval’s majority opinion begins:
Plaintiffs—Eric Goode, a restaurateur and hotelier, and Restaurant Opportunities Center United (“ROC”), a non‐partisan, member‐based organization of restaurants and restaurant workers—appeal from the judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Daniels, J.) dismissing their complaint against Defendant Donald J. Trump, the President of the United States, for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief for the President’s alleged violations of the Domestic and Foreign Emoluments Clauses of the United States Constitution. The President moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), arguing that Plaintiffs did not have standing to sue. The district court granted the motion, concluding that Plaintiffs lack Article III standing, they fall outside the zone of interests of the Emoluments Clauses, their claims do not present a ripe case or controversy within the meaning of Article III, and their suit is barred by the political question doctrine. For the reasons below, we vacate the judgment and remand for further proceedings.
Judge Walker authored a dissenting opinion.
Tuesday, July 23, 2019
Seth Davis has published The New Public Standing, 71 Stan. L. Rev. 1229 (2019). Here’s the abstract:
Today’s public litigants are not citizens or individual taxpayers who, suffering no injury of their own, seek instead to stand for the public. Instead, they are states that have suffered financial injuries. In recent years, states have brought many high-profile public law cases against the federal government based upon financial injuries. State standing to sue the federal government for financial injuries is the new public standing.
This Article’s goal is to offer a comprehensive account of the new public standing. It argues that we should not hope—or expect—that the federal courts will treat the new public standing with the disfavor they have shown to citizen and taxpayer standing. Nor, however, should we hope or expect that the federal courts will treat the new public standing as indistinguishable from private standing based upon financial injuries.
One aspect of this thesis is doctrinal and normative. Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s Article III jurisprudence, financial injuries are the paradigmatic example of an injury in fact that supports standing to sue, as contrasted with an ideological injury that does not suffice for standing. What makes the new public standing doctrinally difficult is that while some financial injuries to states mirror those to private parties, others do not. And what makes these cases normatively difficult is that the state attorneys general who sue based upon financial injuries to their states are ideological litigants. The new public standing thus requires us to rethink the terms of the debate about state standing to sue the federal government.
Another aspect of this thesis is descriptive and positive. To ground its normative analysis, this Article attempts to identify the ideological, institutional, and political factors that have contributed to the new public standing and that will shape its future prospects. Analysis of these factors leads to the conclusion that the Court will preserve the new public standing while tinkering with its remedial scope. The new public standing will prove more durable than citizen and taxpayer standing for the public, but will not substitute for the promise of an individual standing upon her conscience in federal court.
Monday, June 17, 2019
SCOTUS Decision in Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill: Virginia House Lacks Standing to Appeal Ruling Striking Down 2011 Legislative Districts
Today the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill. Justice Ginsburg authors the majority opinion, joined by Justices Thomas, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Gorsuch. The Court rules that the Virginia House of Delegates lacks standing to appeal a three-judge district court’s decision that Virginia’s 2011 legislative districts had been racially gerrymandered in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
The majority first rejects the argument that the State of Virginia had designated its House of Delegates to litigate on its behalf. It then finds that the House of Delegates lacks “standing in its own right,” because it had suffered no “legally and judicially cognizable” injury. Justice Ginsburg writes: “This Court has never held that a judicial decision invalidating a state law as unconstitutional inflicts a discrete, cognizable injury on each organ of government that participated in the law’s passage.”
Justice Alito authors a dissenting opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Breyer and Kavanaugh.
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.”
Tuesday, August 7, 2018
Ray Brescia has published On Objects and Sovereigns: The Emerging Frontiers of State Standing, 96 Or. L. Rev. 363 (2018). From the conclusion:
By taking positions at time adverse to the federal government in the courts through public law litigation, regardless of the administration or political party in power, states can serve as political and constitutional counterweights when they perceive that the federal government is threatening their interests and those of their constituents. They do this by bringing very public law litigation and making sweeping allegations of unconstitutional behavior of the federal government. States appear able to pursue such claims through the federal courts, even when the courts have expressed a reluctance to recognize state authority to sue in a representational capacity and when standing doctrine more generally appears less willing to recognize public harms. By characterizing the harms they allege as those that resemble what a private litigant might assert, however, states appear to have found an approach to vindicating public law interests dressed down in the raiment of private law harms. By doing so, their claims appear to have faced courts more receptive to such harms and more willing to entertaining such suits. Whether this approach generates the type of concrete adverseness the standing doctrine is supposed to surface and brings to light the true nature of the harms at stake that deserve attention by the courts, remains to be seen.
Thursday, July 26, 2018
SDNY rules on motions to dismiss cases challenging addition of a citizenship status question to 2020 census
Today U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman (S.D.N.Y.) issued an opinion and order granting in part and denying in part the defendants’ motion to dismiss two related cases, New York v. United States Department of Commerce and New York Immigration Coalition v. United States Department of Commerce. The plaintiffs in these cases are challenging—on a number of grounds—Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s decision to reinstate a question on citizenship status for the 2020 census. The upshot, as the court summarizes is this:
Plaintiffs’ claims under the Enumeration Clause — which turn on Secretary Ross’s power rather than his purposes — must be and are dismissed. By contrast, their claims under the APA (which Defendants seek to dismiss solely on jurisdictional and justiciability grounds) and the Due Process Clause — which turn at least in part on Secretary Ross’s purposes and not merely on his power — may proceed.
In reaching this conclusion, the opinion covers a number of interesting issues, including Article III standing, the political question doctrine, and whether the plaintiffs plausibly alleged discriminatory animus for purposes of their equal protection claim under the Due Process Clause.
Thursday, June 21, 2018
Sarah Swan has published Plaintiff Cities, 71 Vand. L. Rev. 1227 (2018). Here’s the abstract:
When cities are involved in litigation, it is most often as defendants. However, in the last few decades, cities have emerged as aggressive plaintiffs, bringing forward hundreds of mass-tort style claims. From suing gun manufacturers for the scourge of gun violence, to bringing actions against banks for the consequences of the subprime mortgage crisis, to initiating claims against pharmaceutical companies for opioid-related deaths and injuries, plaintiff cities are using litigation to pursue the perpetrators of the social harms that have devastated their constituents and their communities.
Many courts and commentators have criticized these plaintiff city claims on numerous grounds. They argue that, as a doctrinal matter, cities lack standing, fail to meet causation standards, and stretch causes of action like public nuisance beyond all reasonable limits. Further, they argue that, as a theoretical matter, plaintiff cities are impermissibly using litigation as regulation, overstepping their limited authority as “creatures of the state,” and usurping the political and legislative process. This Article demonstrates that each of these critiques is mistaken. Plaintiff city claims are legally, morally, and sociologically legitimate. And, as a practical matter, they are financially feasible even for cash-strapped or bankrupt cities. Moving beyond mere economic accounting, though, plaintiff city claims have value of a different sort: for plaintiff cities, litigation is a form of state building. By serving as plaintiffs and seeking redress for the harms that impact a city’s most vulnerable residents, plaintiff cities are demanding recognition not just for those impacted constituents, but also for themselves, as distinct and meaningful polities. In so doing, plaintiff cities are renegotiating the practical and theoretical meaning of cities within the existing political order, and opening up new potential paths for urban social justice.
Monday, April 23, 2018
Today a panel of the Ninth Circuit issued its decision in Naruto v. Slater (the Monkey Selfie case), covered earlier here. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) brought suit as the next friend of Naruto, who “was a seven-year-old crested macaque that lived—and may still live—in a reserve on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia.” The majority opinion by Judge Carlos Bea begins:
We must determine whether a monkey may sue humans, corporations, and companies for damages and injunctive relief arising from claims of copyright infringement. Our court’s precedent requires us to conclude that the monkey’s claim has standing under Article III of the United States Constitution. Nonetheless, we conclude that this monkey—and all animals, since they are not human—lacks statutory standing under the Copyright Act.
Although the majority opinion stated that “[w]e gravely doubt that PETA can validly assert ‘next friend’ status to represent claims made for the monkey,” it wrote:
Even so, we must proceed to the merits because Naruto’s lack of a next friend does not destroy his standing to sue, as having a ‘case or controversy’ under Article III of the Constitution. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17, which authorizes “next friend” lawsuits, obligates the court “to consider whether [incompetent parties] are adequately protected,” even where they have no “next friend” or “guardian.” U.S. v. 30.64 Acres of Land, 795 F.2d 796, 805 (9th Cir. 1986). Within this obligation, the court has “broad discretion and need not appoint a guardian ad litem [or next friend] if it determines the person is or can be otherwise adequately protected.” Id. (citing Roberts v. Ohio Casualty Ins. Co., 2556 F.2d 35, 39 (5th Cir. 1958) (“Rule 17(c) does not make the appointment of a guardian ad litem mandatory.”)). See also Harris v. Mangum, 863 F.3d 1133, 1139 n.2 (9th Cir. 2017) (noting circumstances in which “appointing a guardian ad litem . . . could hinder the purpose of Rule 17(c),” and thus was not required). For example, “the court may find that the incompetent person’s interests would be adequately protected by the appointment of a lawyer.” Krain v. Smallwood, 880 F.2d 1119, 1121 (9th Cir. 1989) (citing Westcott v. United States Fidelity & Guaranty Co., 158 F.2d 20, 22 (4th Cir. 1946). Indeed, courts have done just this, and the fact that those courts did not then dismiss the case proves that the lack of a next friend does not destroy an incompetent party’s standing. See, e.g., Westcott, 158 F.2d at 22 (affirming judgment against minor who was represented by an attorney but not a guardian ad litem).
Proceeding to Naruto’s constitutional standing, the majority concluded that Naruto’s claim satisfied Article III:
Here, the complaint alleges that Naruto is the author and owner of the Monkey Selfies. The complaint further alleges that Naruto has suffered concrete and particularized economic harms as a result of the infringing conduct by the Appellees, harms that can be redressed by a judgment declaring Naruto as the author and owner of the Monkey Selfies.
In reaching these conclusions, the majority found that it was bound by an earlier Ninth Circuit decision—Cetacean Cmty. v. Bush, 386 F.3d 1169 (9th Cir. 2004). In a footnote, however, the majority argued that Cetacean was “incorrectly decided” and “needs reexamination.”
Ultimately, the panel found that the district court correctly dismissed the case because “Naruto—and, more broadly, animals other than humans—lack statutory standing to sue under the Copyright Act.”
Judge N.R. Smith wrote a concurring opinion that disagreed with the majority’s handling of PETA’s lack of next-friend standing.
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Today the Ninth Circuit issued its decision in In re United States of America (earlier coverage of the case here). As the opinion describes the litigation: “Twenty-one young plaintiffs brought suit against the United States, the President, and various Executive Branch officials and agencies, alleging that the defendants have contributed to climate change in violation of the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.”
The district court had denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction and failure to state a claim, prompting the defendants to seek a writ of mandamus from the Ninth Circuit. Chief Judge Sidney Thomas authors a unanimous opinion denying the government’s petition without prejudice. The opinion is joined by Judges Marsha Berzon and Michelle Friedland. Judge Alex Kozinski was on the panel when oral argument occurred, but he was replaced by Judge Friedland following his retirement.
Judge Thomas’s opinion is structured around the Bauman factors—which have long guided the Ninth Circuit when it comes to mandamus petitions. They are:
(1) whether the petitioner has no other means, such as a direct appeal, to obtain the desired relief; (2) whether the petitioner will be damaged or prejudiced in any way not correctable on appeal; (3) whether the district court’s order is clearly erroneous as a matter of law; (4) whether the district court’s order is an oft repeated error or manifests a persistent disregard of the federal rules; and (5) whether the district court’s order raises new and important problems or issues of first impression.
Here are the opinion’s concluding paragraphs:
We are mindful that some of the plaintiffs’ claims as currently pleaded are quite broad, and some of the remedies the plaintiffs seek may not be available as redress. However, the district court needs to consider those issues further in the first instance. Claims and remedies often are vastly narrowed as litigation proceeds; we have no reason to assume this case will be any different. Nor would the defendants be precluded from reasserting a challenge to standing, particularly as to redressability, once the record is more fully developed, or from seeking mandamus in the future, if circumstances justify it. And the defendants retain the option of asking the district court to certify orders for interlocutory appeal of later rulings, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b).
Because petitioners have not satisfied the Bauman factors, we deny the petition without prejudice. Absent any discovery order, the mandamus petition is premature insofar as it is premised on a fear of burdensome discovery. The issues pertaining to the merits of this case can be resolved by the district court, in a future appeal, or, if extraordinary circumstances later present themselves, by mandamus relief. For these reasons, we decline to exercise our discretion to grant mandamus relief at this stage of the litigation.
Monday, February 26, 2018
A couple of decisions from the federal circuits in recent weeks:
In Hagy v. Demers & Adams, the Sixth Circuit addressed Article III standing and the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in Spokeo. Judge Sutton’s opinion dismisses a case brought under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) “[b]ecause the complaint failed to identify a cognizable injury traceable to [the defendant] and because Congress cannot override this baseline requirement of Article III of the U.S. Constitution by labeling the violation of any requirement of a statute a cognizable injury.” (H/T: Howard Bashman)
In Simpson v. Trump University, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s approval of a class action settlement involving seminars offered by Trump University. Here’s the introduction from Judge Nguyen’s opinion:
Trump University, now defunct, was a for-profit entity that purported to teach Donald J. Trump's “secrets of success” in the real estate industry. During the 2016 presidential election, Trump University and Trump were defendants in three lawsuits alleging fraud and violations of various state and federal laws: two class actions in the Southern District of California, and a suit by the New York Attorney General in state court. Each suit alleged that Trump University used false advertising to lure prospective students to free investor workshops at which they were sold expensive three-day educational seminars. At these seminars, instead of receiving the promised training, attendees were aggressively encouraged to invest tens of thousands of dollars more in a so-called mentorship program that included resources, real estate guidance, and a host of other benefits, none of which ever materialized.
In the California cases, the district court certified two classes of over eight thousand disappointed “students,” and scheduled the cases for trial in late November 2016. On November 8, 2016, Trump was elected President of the United States. Within weeks, the parties reached a global settlement on terms highly favorable to class members. Plaintiffs would receive between 80 to 90 percent of what they paid for Trump University programs, totaling $21 million. The defendants agreed to pay an additional $4 million in the case brought by the Attorney General of New York.
This appeal involves a lone objector, Sherri Simpson, who seeks to opt out of the class and bring her claims in a separate lawsuit, which would derail the settlement. Simpson does not dispute that she received, at the class certification stage, a court-approved notice of her right to exclude herself from the class and chose not to do so by the deadline. She argues, however, that the class notice promised her a second opportunity to opt out at the settlement stage, or alternatively, that due process requires this second chance. Neither argument is correct. We affirm.
(H/T: Adam Zimmerman) (Full disclosure: I joined an amicus brief on behalf of civil procedure professors in support of the objector in this case.)