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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Eleventh Circuit flunks Civ Pro

We just started Erie last week and one of my students found this Eleventh Circuit decision from March. The Erie analysis (at pp. 25-31) is so utterly ridiculous and facile as to make me wonder if any of the judges (or their clerks) ever took Civ Pro. (Note: The conclusion is right; it's the analysis that would warrant an F on an essay exam).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 18, 2015 at 06:40 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink


I don't see what is so ridiculous and facile about the analysis.

Posted by: TJ | Apr 18, 2015 10:25:03 PM

Federal courts apply state substantive law and federal procedural law? As an ultimate conclusion, that's generally how the cases work out. As analysis, it is meaningless.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Apr 18, 2015 10:41:46 PM

Howard, that line, which is a direct quote from a SCOTUS case, seems to be only the first line of a larger set of citations regarding Erie standards. What's more, the Erie issue in the opinion -- should a federal court to adhere to heightened state pleading standards -- was already decided by the 11th Circuit in a published opinion; so it doesn't seem like any extended Erie analysis is really necessary. Do you expect the 11th Circuit to re-analyze Erie issues like this one each time it's brought up? (With the crushing load the 11th Circuit is under, that doesn't seem like a particularly efficient use of time.) You are right that this would be an awful law school exam answer. Fortunately, legal opinions shouldn't read like law school exam answers.

Posted by: Bryan G. | Apr 19, 2015 12:10:55 AM

But the line is taken out of context, since it is followed in the same paragraph by a disclaimer of reliance on that substance-procedure line and in the same opinion by a complete reworking of the analysis where an FRCP and the REA is in play.

No, the court did not need to do a full Erie analysis. How about: "Under the RDA and the Supremacy Clause, a valid federal statute or a federal rule of civil procedure applies when it controls an issue. We previously have held that FRCP 8(a)(2) controls federal pleading and that it is a valid rule of procedure; it thus provides the applicable standard for pleading state-law claims in federal court. The district court erred in demanding that the plaintiffs satisfy Florida' heightened pleading standard."

I don't think that would add too much to the 11th Circuit's caseload. And it has the benefit of being correct.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Apr 19, 2015 1:48:11 AM

Actually, it would have been helpful if the court gave readers some specifics about Florida's heightened pleading requirement. Some of those requirements are "substantive" rather than procedural, as is the case, for example, with expert affidavits that must accompany medical malpractice complaints under many state laws. The federal pleading standards surely do not trump those.

Posted by: Alex Stein | Apr 19, 2015 7:16:44 AM

Good point, Alex. The federal practice generally gives way to those state rules (and I believe the 11th Circuit is one of the courts to already say so on this). In any event, the analysis would be entirely different. Again, why "state substance and federal procedure" is not analytically correct even as shorthand.

Posted by: Howard Wasser134man | Apr 19, 2015 8:28:59 AM

I don't mind the analysis terribly much, but a sentence fragment in a circuit opinion surprises me:

It is well established that, where, as here, “the Erie doctrine also applies to pendent state claims litigated in federal courts.”

Posted by: Asher | Apr 19, 2015 4:55:40 PM

Well, we could nail that sentence (or fragment) for talking about pendent jurisdiction rather than supplemental jurisdiction. A small point, but it demonstrates the general sloppiness of the court's analysis.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Apr 19, 2015 5:12:52 PM

By the way, I realize I put a lot of this on the court, when some of the responsibility for the poor quality of the opinion rests with the parties. The defendant actually thought to argue that Florida pleading rules applied. And it may be that the plaintiff was the one who thought "federal procedure, state substance" was appropriate analysis.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Apr 19, 2015 5:15:00 PM

It's a quote, but that aside I think courts still make the pendent/ancillary distinction for purposes of precision, and because there's still some confusion over whether some types of ancillary jurisdiction exist independently of 1367. So referring to pendent rather than ancillary or supplemental generally makes clear that one isn't talking about that stuff.

Posted by: Asher | Apr 19, 2015 7:50:43 PM

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