Tuesday, March 9, 2021
Ann Woolhandler and Julia Mahoney have posted on SSRN a draft of their article, Federal Courts and Takings Litigation. Here’s the abstract:
Disagreements about takings claims extend to both substantive and jurisdictional issues. Many advocates of deference to state and local government land use decisions also oppose a significant role for federal courts in adjudicating disputes over these decisions, while a number of property rights advocates argue that federal courts are an appropriate forum for such disputes. These issues were brought into sharp relief by the Supreme Court’s 2019 decision in Knick v. Township of Scott, which allows property owners to resort to federal court without first pursuing compensation in state court.
While Knick clearly expands the lower federal court role in takings claims, many questions remain, for it is not yet clear whether federal courts will embrace a robust federal judicial role in land use cases. This Article surveys the history of takings claims in the federal courts and recommends that going forward federal courts develop an abstention doctrine particular to takings cases in order to ensure prudent deployment of judicial resources. This Article also explains why § 1331 actions may be superior vehicles for takings cases than § 1983 actions.
Monday, March 8, 2021
Today the Supreme Court issued an 8-1 decision in Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, which addresses whether claims for nominal damages can satisfy Article III’s redressibility requirement. They can.
Here are some highlights from Part III of Justice Thomas’s majority opinion:
Because nominal damages were available at common law in analogous circumstances, we conclude that a request for nominal damages satisfies the redressability element of standing where a plaintiff’s claim is based on a completed violation of a legal right. . . .
This is not to say that a request for nominal damages guarantees entry to court. Our holding concerns only redressability. It remains for the plaintiff to establish the other elements of standing (such as a particularized injury); plead a cognizable cause of action, Planck v. Anderson, 5 T. R. 37, 41, 101 Eng. Rep. 21, 23 (K. B. 1792) (“if no [actual] damage be sustained, the creditor has no cause of action” for some claims); and meet all other relevant requirements. We hold only that, for the purpose of Article III standing, nominal damages provide the necessary redress for a completed violation of a legal right.
Applying this principle here is straightforward. For purposes of this appeal, it is undisputed that Uzuegbunam experienced a completed violation of his constitutional rights when respondents enforced their speech policies against him. Because “every violation [of a right] imports damage,” Webb, 29 F. Cas., at 509, nominal damages can redress Uzuegbunam’s injury even if he cannot or chooses not to quantify that harm in economic terms.
Chief Justice Roberts dissents, arguing that Article III is not satisfied because “an award of nominal damages does not alleviate the harms suffered by a plaintiff, and is not intended to.” Even under the majority’s view, however, Roberts contends that “[w]here a plaintiff asks only for a dollar, the defendant should be able to end the case by giving him a dollar, without the court needing to pass on the merits of the plaintiff ’s claims.” And he further asserts that such a defendant might invoke FRCP 68 and thereby “render the plaintiff liable for any subsequent costs if he receives only nominal damages.”
Justice Kavanaugh joins the majority opinion, but he writes a one-paragraph concurring opinion endorsing the view—which was also urged by the Solicitor General in this case—that a defendant “should be able to accept the entry of a judgment for nominal damages against it and thereby end the litigation without a resolution of the merits.”
Friday, March 5, 2021
Today: Alabama Law Review Virtual Symposium, Ten Years of the Supreme Court's Personal Jurisdiction Revival
It’s not too late to register for the Alabama Law Review’s virtual symposium (via Zoom), Ten Years of the Supreme Court’s Personal Jurisdiction Revival. The program will run from 9:00am–3:30pm central time. You can register here.
Hope to see you all soon!
Thursday, February 25, 2021
There’s a lot of interesting stuff in Justice Thomas’s opinion for the Court, but the basic takeaway is that the judgment in an FTCA suit against the federal government can trigger the judgment bar—and thereby preclude claims against the responsible government employees—even when the result of the FTCA suit is a dismissal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. In this case, the plaintiff’s tort claims against the federal government “failed to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss,” meaning that “the United States necessarily retained sovereign immunity, also depriving the court of subject-matter jurisdiction.” As Justice Thomas puts it: “where, as here, pleading a claim and pleading jurisdiction entirely overlap, a ruling that the court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction may simultaneously be a judgment on the merits that triggers the judgment bar.”
The Supreme Court leaves open one important issue—whether the judgment bar applies to the dismissal of claims raised in the same lawsuit. In footnote 4, Justice Thomas leaves this issue for the Sixth Circuit to address on remand, and Justice Sotomayor writes a concurring opinion “to emphasize that, while many lower courts have uncritically held that the FTCA’s judgment bar applies to claims brought in the same action, there are reasons to question that conclusion.”
Thursday, February 4, 2021
Yesterday, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in PennEast Pipeline Co. v. New Jersey. The petition raises the question of whether the Natural Gas Act delegates to FERC certificate holders the power to assert the federal government’s eminent domain powers over state-owned land. But the Court added a second question in granting cert: “Did the Court of Appeals properly exercise jurisdiction over this case?”
Yesterday the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Federal Republic of Germany v. Philipp, which addresses the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act’s expropriation exception. Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion begins:
The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act provides that foreign nations are presumptively immune from the jurisdiction of United States courts. The statute, however, sets forth several specific exceptions. One such exception provides that a sovereign does not enjoy immunity in any case “in which rights in property taken in violation of international law are in issue.” 28 U. S. C. §1605(a)(3). The question presented is whether a country’s alleged taking of property from its own nationals falls within this exception.
The answer is no, because of the “domestic takings rule,” which “assumes that what a country does to property belonging to its own citizens within its own borders is not the subject of international law.” Roberts concludes: “We hold that the phrase ‘rights in property taken in violation of international law,’ as used in the FSIA’s expropriation exception, refers to violations of the international law of expropriation and thereby incorporates the domestic takings rule.”
The Court punted, however, on a couple of other interesting issues in the case. First, it did not consider Germany’s argument that federal courts were “obligated to abstain from deciding the case on international comity grounds.” Second, the Court did not address the plaintiffs’ argument that the individuals whose property was taken “were not German nationals at the time of the transaction,” directing the lower courts “to consider this argument, including whether it was adequately preserved below.”
Tuesday, January 26, 2021
Yesterday’s Supreme Court order list included orders in two cases, Trump v. CREW and Trump v. District of Columbia, in which the plaintiffs have alleged that Donald Trump’s business activities while serving as President violated the Emoluments Clauses. In both cases, the Supreme Court granted Trump’s cert petition, vacated the judgment, and remanded with instructions to dismiss the case as moot—citing United States v. Munsingwear, Inc., 340 U. S. 36 (1950). Although the Court provided no further explanation, it appears that these claims were moot because Trump is no longer President. (The cases sought only declaratory and injunctive relief.)
Unfortunately, the Munsingwear mootness vacatur wipes out a thoughtful Fourth Circuit en banc majority opinion rejecting Trump’s petition for a writ of mandamus. One particularly intriguing question—which was one of the questions presented in Trump’s cert petition—is whether the court of appeals may use mandamus to require the district court to certify an order for an interlocutory appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b). If folks are interested, I discuss that issue—and other questions of appellate jurisdiction that have arisen in the Trump Emoluments litigation—in a recent article that was part of the Akron Law Review’s recent symposium on federal appellate procedure.
Monday, January 25, 2021
Today the Supreme Court decided Henry Schein, Inc. v. Archer & White Sales, Inc. (See our earlier coverage here). The case was argued in December, and the per curiam ruling dismisses the writ of certiorari as improvidently granted.
Today’s DIG (dismissed as improvidently granted) leaves in place a Fifth Circuit decision on whether arbitration contracts delegate questions of arbitrability to the arbitrator.
Monday, January 11, 2021
Today’s lengthy Supreme Court order list includes a denial of certiorari in IQVIA Inc. v. Mussat. The Seventh Circuit’s decision below (covered earlier here) had concluded that “the principles announced in Bristol-Myers do not apply to the case of a nationwide class action filed in federal court under a federal statute.”
The question presented in the cert petition was “[w]hether a district court with jurisdiction coextensive with a state court in the district can exercise personal jurisdiction over absent class members’ claims as part of a putative class action when the court concededly could not exercise personal jurisdiction over the absent class members’ claims if they had been brought in individual suits.”
Friday, December 18, 2020
Today the Supreme Court issued a decision in Trump v. New York, a case involving the Trump administration’s policy to exclude aliens without lawful status from the 2020 census count. In a per curiam opinion, the majority finds the case to be non-justiciable on standing and ripeness grounds, vacating the district court’s judgment against Trump. It concludes:
At the end of the day, the standing and ripeness inquiries both lead to the conclusion that judicial resolution of this dispute is premature. Consistent with our determination that standing has not been shown and that the case is not ripe, we express no view on the merits of the constitutional and related statutory claims presented. We hold only that they are not suitable for adjudication at this time.
Justice Breyer authors a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Sotomayor and Kagan. From the dissent (citations omitted):
Waiting to adjudicate plaintiffs’ claims until after the President submits his tabulation to Congress, as the Court seems to prefer, risks needless and costly delays in apportionment. Because there is a “substantial likelihood that the [plaintiffs’] requested relief . . . .will redress the alleged injury,” I would find that we can reach plaintiffs’ challenge now, and affirm the lower court’s holding.
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.)
Thursday, December 10, 2020
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) prohibits the Federal Government from imposing substantial burdens on religious exercise, absent a compelling interest pursued through the least restrictive means. 107 Stat. 1488, 42 U. S. C. §2000bb et seq. It also gives a person whose religious exercise has been unlawfully burdened the right to seek “appropriate relief.” The question here is whether “appropriate relief” includes claims for money damages against Government officials in their individual capacities. We hold that it does.
First, the Court finds that government officials can be sued in their personal capacities. Justice Thomas explains: “A suit against an official in his personal capacity is a suit against a person acting under color of law. And a suit against a person acting under color of law is a suit against ‘a government,’ as defined under RFRA. §2000bb–1(c).”
Second, the Court approves of claims for monetary damages against such officials: “A damages remedy is not just ‘appropriate’ relief as viewed through the lens of suits against Government employees. It is also the only form of relief that can remedy some RFRA violations.” In a footnote, however, Justice Thomas raises the possibility of qualified immunity:
Both the Government and respondents agree that government officials are entitled to assert a qualified immunity defense when sued in their individual capacities for money damages under RFRA. Indeed, respondents emphasize that the “qualified immunity defense was created for precisely these circumstances,” Brief for Respondents 22, and is a “powerful shield” that “protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who flout clearly established law,” Tr. of Oral Arg. 42; see District of Columbia v. Wesby, 583 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2018) (slip op., at 13–15).
This case concerns a Delaware constitutional provision that requires that appointments to Delaware’s major courts reflect a partisan balance. Delaware’s Constitution states that no more than a bare majority of members of any of its five major courts may belong to any one political party. Art. IV, §3. It also requires, with respect to three of those courts, that the remaining members belong to “the other major political party.” Ibid.
The plaintiff, a Delaware lawyer, brought this lawsuit in federal court. He claimed that Delaware’s party-membership requirements for its judiciary violate the Federal Constitution. We agreed to consider the constitutional question, but only if the plaintiff has standing to raise that question. We now hold that he does not.
The Court’s analysis looks closely at the summary judgment record, including Adams’ answers to interrogatories and deposition testimony, noting that “[t]his is a highly fact-specific case.” It ultimately concludes that “the record evidence fails to show that, at the time he commenced the lawsuit, Adams was ‘able and ready’ to apply for a judgeship in the reasonably foreseeable future.” He therefore “failed to show that ‘personal,’ ‘concrete,’ and ‘imminent’ injury upon which our standing precedents insist.”
Justice Sotomayor authors a concurring opinion. Although she agrees that Adams lacked standing, she observes that the constitutional challenge to Delaware’s system “will likely be raised again.” Accordingly, she briefly identifies “two important considerations” relevant to such a challenge, including the difficulty in determining whether Delaware’s major party and bare majority requirements are severable from one another. On severability, Justice Sotomayor suggests that federal courts may be “well advised to consider certifying such a question to the State’s highest court.”
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.
Monday, October 19, 2020
Today’s Supreme Court order list contained some high-profile grants of certiorari that include some interesting federal courts issues.
Wolf v. Innovation Law Lab involves a challenge to the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, which had been enjoined by lower federal courts. One of the four questions presented is “[w]hether the district court’s universal preliminary injunction is impermissibly overbroad.”
Trump v. Sierra Club involves the Trump administration’s diversion of Department of Defense (DoD) funds to build portions of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The first question presented is whether the plaintiffs “have a cognizable cause of action to obtain review of the Acting Secretary’s compliance with Section 8005’s proviso in transferring funds internally between DoD appropriations accounts.”
Here's where you can check out the cert-stage briefing and follow the merits briefs as they come in:
Supreme Court website:
Friday, October 16, 2020
Today the Supreme Court set oral argument in Trump v. New York for Monday, November 30. Here are the questions presented, which include a question on the lower court's authority to grant relief under Article III:
Congress has provided that, for purposes of apportioning seats in the House of Representatives, the President shall prepare “a statement showing the whole number of persons in each State * * * as ascertained under the * * * decennial census of the population.” 2 U.S.C. 2a(a). It has further provided that the Secretary of Commerce shall take the decennial census “in such form and content as he may determine,” 13 U.S.C. 141(a), and shall tabulate the results in a report to the President, 13 U.S.C. 141(b). The President has issued a Memorandum instructing the Secretary to include within that report information enabling the President to implement a policy decision to exclude illegal aliens from the base population number for apportionment “to the maximum extent feasible and consistent with the discretion delegated to the executive branch.” 85 Fed. Reg. 44,679, 44,680 (July 23, 2020). At the behest of plaintiffs urging that the exclusion of illegal aliens would unconstitutionally alter the apportionment and chill some persons from participating in the census, a three-judge district court declared the Memorandum unlawful and enjoined the Secretary from including the information in his report. The questions presented are:
(1) Whether the relief entered satisfies the requirements of Article III of the Constitution.
(2) Whether the Memorandum is a permissible exercise of the President’s discretion under the provisions of law governing congressional apportionment.
Tuesday, October 6, 2020
The Supreme Court hears oral argument tomorrow in the much-anticipated Ford cases—the latest in the Court’s recent run of decisions on personal jurisdiction. Oral argument in the two consolidated cases was originally scheduled for last spring, but it was postponed until this week due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The two cases involve a similar fact pattern. The plaintiffs were injured in accidents involving Ford vehicles, and they sued Ford in the state where they lived and where the accidents occurred. Ford is actively involved in marketing its automobiles in those states (as it is throughout the United States), including the specific kinds of automobiles involved in these accidents. Ford, however, has argued against specific jurisdiction because the vehicles involved in these accidents were initially sold to customers in other states. The vehicle involved in the Minnesota accident was initially sold to a customer in North Dakota. The vehicle involved in the Montana accident was initially sold to a customer in Washington State. Accordingly, Ford contends that its contacts with Minnesota and Montana were not the “cause” of the accidents that occurred there. The plaintiffs, on the other hand, argue that “[s]pecific jurisdiction over a defendant is permissible where a plaintiff has been injured in the forum by a product that the defendant has systematically marketed, sold, and serviced in the forum.”
Numerous law professors have filed amicus briefs supporting personal jurisdiction in Ford (here, here, here, here, and here) and weighed in with blog posts (e.g., here and here). There is also a remarkable amicus brief filed by 39 states and the District of Columbia arguing in support of jurisdiction—a brief joined by many states whose administrations would hardly be considered friends of the plaintiffs’ bar.
Although the Supreme Court has decided lots of cases about when a defendant’s contacts are constitutionally sufficient for specific jurisdiction, it has yet to provide meaningful guidance on what sort of forum-controversy “affiliation” is required to justify specific jurisdiction. I’ve argued elsewhere that the appropriate affiliation touchstone is rationality—that is, whether there is a rational basis for the forum state to adjudicate the availability of judicial remedies in that particular case. But the Supreme Court need not go that far to uphold specific jurisdiction in Ford. The test proposed by the plaintiffs is a sensible one that vindicates the well-established notion that a defendant is subject to personal jurisdiction when it seeks to serve the market for its product in the forum state and its product causes injury there.
There’s a lot more to be said, but with this quick post I want to highlight an additional concern about Ford’s causation argument—one that could sweep beyond the precise facts of these cases and into more traditional “stream of commerce” cases where the product is purchased initially by a customer in the forum state. The plurality and concurring opinions in the Supreme Court’s McIntyre decision indicate that a single product entering the forum state is not a sufficient contact for establishing personal jurisdiction—even if that single product is the one that gives rise to the litigation. Yet Ford’s proposed causal requirement suggests that the only relevant contact is the single vehicle or piece of machinery that was involved in the accident. If that’s right, then every case might turn into McIntyre. Regardless of whether the flow of the defendant’s products into the forum state is a stream, an eddy, or a rushing river, the only contact that would count is the single drop that caused the plaintiff’s injuries. And a single drop is never enough. That would be a radical, unfortunate departure from established doctrine—and it’s another reason why the Court should uphold personal jurisdiction in the Ford cases.
Larry Solum has posted Two Suggestions re Ford Motor Company v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court (Personal Jurisdiction Case to Be Argued Tomorrow) on the Legal Theory Blog.
Monday, October 5, 2020
The Supreme Court begins oral argument by telephone conference this morning. If you want to listen in, here’s some information from the Supreme Court’s press release:
The Court will hear oral arguments by telephone conference on October 5, 6, 7, 13, and 14. In keeping with public health guidance in response to COVID-19, the Justices and counsel will all participate remotely. The oral arguments are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. On days when more than one case will be heard, there will be a three minute pause before the second case begins.
The Court will provide a live audio feed of the arguments to ABC News (the network pool chair), the Associated Press, and C-SPAN, and they will in turn provide a simultaneous feed for the oral arguments to livestream on various media platforms for public access. * * *
The oral argument audio and a transcript of the oral arguments will be posted on the Court's website following oral argument each day.
Today’s arguments include Carney v. Adams, which presents some interesting standing and severability issues.
Friday, October 2, 2020
The question presented involves the permissible scope of an appellate court’s review of a district court’s order remanding a case to state court. From the cert. petition:
Section 1447(d) of Title 28 of the United States Code generally precludes appellate review of an order remanding a removed case to state court. But Section 1447(d) expressly provides that an “order remanding a case * * * removed pursuant to” the federal-officer removal statute, 28 U.S.C. 1442, or the civil-rights removal statute, 28 U.S.C. 1443, “shall be reviewable by appeal or otherwise.” Some courts of appeals have interpreted Section 1447(d) to permit appellate review of any issue encompassed in a district court’s remand order where the removing defendant premised removal in part on the federal-officer or civil-rights removal statutes; other courts of appeals, including the Fourth Circuit in this case, have held that appellate review is limited to the federal-officer or civil-rights ground for removal. The question presented is as follows:
Whether 28 U.S.C. 1447(d) permits a court of appeals to review any issue encompassed in a district court’s order remanding a removed case to state court where the removing defendant premised removal in part on the federal-officer removal statute, 28 U.S.C. 1442, or the civil-rights removal statute, 28 U.S.C. 1443.