Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Missing the signals

Ed: This post originally was published under Dan's name because I was inadvertently signed-in on our administrative password. My apologies.

The worst thing that can be said about the Supreme Court of Alabama's mandamus decision (besides its legal reasoning, which on a quick read seems wrong and somewhat intemperate) is that the court disregarded the "signals" that have been emanating from the Court since the fall (if not since Windsor itself) about the likely outcome on this issue. A question for the signalling people (Richard and others): Does a lower court act inappropriately if it ignores (willfully or otherwise) signals and insists on applying only the formally established precedent? In a way, this feels like another aspect of the question of whether lower courts should decide cases by attempting to "predict" what SCOTUS will do or by applying their own best judgment and analysis to reach what they believe is the correct result.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 4, 2015 at 11:21 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Symbolic mandamus

Adam beat me to the announcement of the Supreme Court of Alabama issuing the mandamus ordering all non-enjoined probate judges to cease issuing marriage licenses (it is nice to have another Fed Courts geek around for a month). I have written about the mandamus petition before, but I will repeat the key points.

SCOTA is going out of its way to make its voice heard on marriage equality. This is arrogant and probably wrong, since none of the arguments against SSM hold water. But it cannot be regarded as "defiant" in any way, since the court is not acting in defiance of any legal authority.

This ultimately is entirely symbolic. As Adam notes, the mandamus order makes clear that it does not/will not apply to Judge Davis to the extent he is under the federal injunction to issue licenses to anyone. Presumably, any later-issued federal injunctions, against Davis or any other probate judge as to any other couples, will be grounds to release that judge from the mandamus, thereby avoiding any conflict with a federal order (this was Alabama's position in opposing a motion in the Southern District to stay the mandamus action).  The mandamus solidifies the legal status quo--anyone wanting a license must sue the appropriate probate judge and obtain a federal court injunction. 

Two wrinkles. First is that the probate-judge defendant in that future federal action may try to argue abstention, although I expect the argument to fail, for the same reasons it failed in Oklahoma and South Carolina. Second, I wonder if anyone will ask SCOTUS to stay the mandamus pending review. [Update: An emailer reminds me that SCOTUS review might be impossible, since no license-seeker is a party to the state court action. One of the respondent probate judges would have to petition, but I don't know that any of them cares enough to appeal.]

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 3, 2015 at 11:54 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (19)

Alabama Supreme Court Enjoins Probate Judges from Issuing Marriage Licenses to Same-Sex Couples

As you may know (Howard has had some excellent coverage), we’re in the midst of a real-life fed-courts hypo here in Alabama as litigation continues over the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. There was another development this evening, when the Alabama Supreme Court issued a 134-page per curiam opinion enjoining Alabama probate judges from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The ruling was prompted by a petition for a writ of mandamus that was filed earlier this month by two groups opposing same-sex marriage, purporting to be “relators” for the State of Alabama. The petition named four probate judges who had been issuing same-sex marriage licenses as respondents, and designated all other Alabama probate judges as “Judge Does ##1-63.” One of those Doe judges, Judge Enslen of Elmore County, sought to have the Alabama ban enforced and was redesignated as an additional relator-petitioner.

This evening’s order acknowledges that one Alabama probate judge—Judge Davis of Mobile County—is the subject of a federal injunction issued by Judge Callie Granade, who back in January had declared Alabama’s ban unconstitutional.

Here’s the full text of the order that appears at the end of today’s Alabama Supreme Court opinion:

The named respondents are ordered to discontinue the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Further, and pursuant to relator Judge Enslen's request that this Court, "by any and all lawful means available to it," ensure compliance with Alabama law with respect to the issuance of marriage licenses, each of the probate judges in this State other than the named respondents and Judge Davis are joined as respondents in the place of the "Judge Does" identified in the petition. Within five business days following the issuance of this order, each such probate judge may file an answer responding to the relator's petition for the writ of mandamus and showing cause, if any, why said probate judge should not be bound hereby. Subject to further order of this Court upon receipt and consideration of any such answer, each such probate judge is temporarily enjoined from issuing any marriage license contrary to Alabama law as explained in this opinion. As to Judge Davis's request to be dismissed on the ground that he is subject to a potentially conflicting federal court order, he is directed to advise this Court, by letter brief, no later than 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 5, 2015, as to whether he is bound by any existing federal court order regarding the issuance of any marriage license other than the four marriage licenses he was ordered to issue in Strawser.

If you want to get up to speed on what’s been going on, you can find copies of all the important orders, filings, and other documents at the Civil Procedure & Federal Courts Blog

Posted by Adam Steinman on March 3, 2015 at 10:20 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Current Affairs, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, March 02, 2015

The Dress, Justice Holmes & Erie

What’s the half-life for internet-breaking social media sensations these days? It seems to get shorter and shorter, so I figured I should address #TheDress sooner rather than later. Is it White & Gold, or Blue & Black? For all the snark, memes, and celebrity tweets the dress has inspired, a crucial piece of historical context has been overlooked.

Ninety years ago, there was a kerfuffle in Bowling Green, Kentucky that bears striking similarities to the one that now threatens the marital harmony of Kim & Kanye. Back then, the dispute was between Black & White taxis and Brown & Yellow taxis. A federal lawsuit was filed that made its way all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it prompted a strong dissent from Justice Holmes. Holmes attacked the majority for reading the 1842 decision in Swift v. Tyson to allow the federal court to disregard Kentucky law on the enforceability of a contract giving Brown & Yellow the exclusive ability to solicit customers at the Bowling Green train station.

To Holmes, the majority improperly accepted the “fallacy” that parties in federal court “are entitled to an independent judgment on matters of general law.” The Swift opinion itself—Holmes contended—was written by Justice Story “under the tacit domination” of this fallacy. Holmes explained: 

Books written about any branch of the common law treat it as a unit [and] cite cases from this Court, from the Circuit Courts of Appeal, from the State Courts, from England and the Colonies of England indiscriminately …. It is very hard to resist the impression that there is one august corpus, to understand which clearly is the only task of any Court concerned. If there were such a transcendental body of law outside of any particular State but obligatory within it unless and until changed by statute, the Courts of the United States might be right in using their independent judgment as to what it was. But there is no such body of law. The fallacy and illusion that I think exist consist in supposing that there is this outside thing to be found. Law is a word used with different meanings, but law in the sense in which courts speak of it today does not exist without some definite authority behind it. The common law so far as it is enforced in a State, whether called common law or not, is not the common law generally but the law of that State existing by the authority of that State ….

If a lot of these quotes sound familiar, it may be because Justice Brandeis used them liberally in Erie Railroad v. Tompkins, where he wrote the opinion overruling Swift. Black & White Taxicab v. Brown & Yellow Taxicab, in fact, was Brandeis’ Exhibit A for Swift’s “mischievous results.” And everyone from first-year law students to Supreme Court Justices have been struggling with Erie ever since.

While White & Gold v. Blue & Black may have temporarily broken the internet, Black & White v. Brown & Yellow helped to recast judicial federalism as we know it. But rest assured that if the White & Gold dress reincorporates in Tennessee so it can sue the Blue & Black dress in federal court, you’ll hear it here first.

[Cross-posted at the Civil Procedure & Federal Courts Blog]

Posted by Adam Steinman on March 2, 2015 at 09:37 AM in Civil Procedure, Culture, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (6)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

JOTWELL: Erbsen on Klerman & Reilly on forum selling

The new Courts Law essay comes from Allen Erbsen (Minnesota), reviewing Daniel Klerman & Greg Reilly's Forum Selling, which discusses how particular courts make themselves attractive places for parties to forum shop. The article and the review essay are worth a read.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 25, 2015 at 11:23 AM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Another twist in the march to marriage equality

Two weeks ago, Judge Granade enjoined Mobile Probate Judge Don Davis to stop enforcing the state's SSM ban and to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Last week, Davis refused to grant a second-parent adoption to Cari Searcy and Kimberly McKeand, the plaintiffs in the first action in which Judge Granade invalidated the state ban. Davis entered an interlocutory decree granting Searcy temporary parental rights, but declining to issue a final adoption order until after SCOTUS decides the Marriage Cases this spring. Searcy and McKeand have filed a new action against Davis, seeking not only an injunction, but also compensatory and punitive damages (I have not been able to find the complaint).

First, this illustrates the importance of determining the true and proper scope of an injunction. In Strawser, the Court enjoined Davis from enforcing the SSM ban and to issue licenses to Strawser and some other named plaintiffs. But that is the limit of the court order. It does not and cannot apply to enforcing (or not) the SSM ban as to anyone else or in any other context. Thus, the argument that Davis is bound by any court order to grant this adoption is wrong. Otherwise, we have, at most, persuasive authority that the SSM ban is unconstitutional, nothing more.

Second, this new lawsuit seems to have other problems. Adoption decisions by probate judges, unlike decisions to grant or deny marriage licenses, appear to be judicial in nature, involving petitions, hearings, evidence, interlocutory and final orders, and appeals. This raises a couple of issues. First, if this is a judicial act, Davis is absolutely immune from damages--Davis was named in Searcy's original action and this was one argument he made in his motion to dismiss. And if Davis was acting in a judicial capacity, then under § 1983 the plaintiffs at this point can only obtain a declaratory judgment but not an injunction. Second, if this is a judicial act, this action should be barred by Rooker-Feldman--Searcy and McKeand are state court losers (they did not get the remedy they wanted in state court) and functionally are asking the federal court to reverse the state court decision. This argument is a bit weaker within the Eleventh Circuit, as there is some district court caselaw that Rooker-Feldman only applies to final state court decisions but not interlocutory orders. Still, if Davis was wrong to deny the adoption in a state judicial proceeding, the plaintiff's move is to appeal, not to run to federal court.

Update: Thanks to commenter Edward Still for sharing the Complaint, which is as bad as I thought. It asks for an injunction against a judge without having gotten a declaratory judgment; it asks for damages and attorney's fees against a judge for what the complaint itself makes clear is a judicial act; and it asks the district court to "strike" an order of a state-court judge and to command that state judge to grant parties relief. I am not big on Rule 11 sanctions against civil rights plaintiffs, but this one asks for so much that is so obviously legally barred by clear statutory language as to be a bit ridiculous.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 24, 2015 at 10:02 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

And more crazy in Alabama

With briefing moving forward in the state mandamus action, the plaintiffs in Strawser have filed an  Emergency Motion to Enforce the federal injunction, specifically by ordering Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange to assume control over the mandamus action and dismiss it; the government has responded. (H/T: Reader Edward Still, a civil rights attorney in Alabama). The gist of the plaintiffs' argument is that the Attorney General controls all litigation brought by or on behalf of the state, including through private relators; in order to comply with the injunction, which prohibits him from enforcing the state ban on same-sex marriage, he must end the state litigation.

The state's response is interesting for what it acknowledges about the mandamus action, confirming that it is largely symbolic and annoying.

First, the state acknowledges that the mandamus, if issued, cannot run against Probate Judge Don Davis of Alabama, who is a party in Strawser and is enjoined from denying licenses to same-sex couples. The state also acknowledges that, even if the mandamus issues, a couple denied a license could sue the denying probate judge in federal court and obtain an injunction, and that judge would be compelled to comply with that injunction. In other words, the state mandamus action does not set-up any conflict with the federal court or federal court orders, which the state acknowledges would trump the mandamus, whether existing orders or future orders. Thus, the sole effect of the mandamus would be to prevent non-party probate judges from being persuaded by Judge Granade's order or from issuing licenses so as to avoid suit and an award of attorney's fees. The only way they could issue licenses is if sued and ordered by a federal court to do so, which in turn has the effect of forcing every couple to sue every probate judge in the state. This is annoying and time-consuming. But, again, it does not reflect state defiance so much as state legal obstinacy.

Second, as has frequently been the case here, the big question is one of Alabama law--how much control the attorney general has over privately initiated litigation on behalf of the State. The Attorney General can seize control over litigation initiated as the state by local prosecutors and other executive officers; it is less clear whether he can do the same when suit is brought by private actors. The plaintiffs argue for a a broad understanding of FRCP 65 as to the scope of injunctions.

Third, as predicted, the state tries to play the abstention card. Also as predicted, they screwed it up. The state tries to argue that the Anti-Injunction Act bars the federal court from enjoining this pending state proceeding, emphasizing the narrowness of the statute's exceptions. But one exception is when Congress expressly authorizes an injunction by statute, which it did in enacting § 1983. Strawser and all other actions challenging SSM bans are § 1983 actions, so the AIA imposes no limit on the injunction here. The state also tries to argue Rooker-Feldman, a doctrine which also has no application here, since the plaintiffs are not state-court losers or even parties to the state court action.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 17, 2015 at 05:22 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (8)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

If possible, Alabama could get more confusing

Al Jolson said it best. Two anti-marriage-equality groups have filed a Petition for Writ of Mandamus in the Alabama Supreme Court's original jurisdiction, seeking an order preventing probate judges from issuing licenses on the strength of Judge Granade's decision and ordering them to wait until a "court of competent jurisdiction"--which petitioners define as only SCOTUS--decides the matter. The court ordered briefing on the petition, with two justices dissenting; Chief Justice Moore apparently took no part in the decision.

So how will this play out and what effect will it have?

This sort of mandamus action has been attempted before, in a slightly different context. In Oklahoma and South Carolina, state attorneys general sought to mandamus individual county clerks who intended to issue licenses in light of a federal appeals court decision invalidating SSM bans in other states. These clerks were under no federal injunction and there had been no decision addressing bans in their own states. But now-binding Fourteenth Amendment precedent made legally certain what would happen in any federal action challenging those bans, so the clerks were simply avoiding that lawsuit and injunction. The mandamus was intended to make the clerks wait and not to issue licenses unless and until compelled to do so.

In Alabama, probate judges other than Don Davis of Mobile who are issuing marriage licenses are doing so on the persuasive force of the district decision, but without an injunction. They, too, are trying to avoid a lawsuit, one whose outcome is both more and less obvious than in the other two cases. Here, there is only persuasive, and not binding, federal precedent, although it involves a declaration as to this state's marriage ban.

The mandamus action raises a whole series of state-law questions. One is whether these organizations have standing, as their only injury seems to be that probate judges are doing something the petitioners don't like. It also would require the court to conclude that a probate judge is forbidden (not simply not obligated, forbidden) from adhering to district court precedent. It is not clear whether the petition also will require the court to decide the constitutionality of its marriage ban, which would be the only federal issue in play; otherwise, any decision is insulated from SCOTUS review.

The mandamus petitioners rely on one fundamental misunderstanding--that the only court of competent jurisdiction to declare the state's marriage-equality ban unconstitutional is SCOTUS. This erroneously minimizes the effect of lower-court precedent. While only SCOTUS precedent binds state courts, here probate judges are performing administrative functions; they can be sued in federal court, where circuit court precedent will be binding and district court precedent is at least persuasive. Again, I really believe the question of federal precedent in state court is beside the point. And in taking this step, petitioners misunderstand that point.

Finally, if the mandamus issues, the real effect will depend on how broad the order is. If it simply applies until a probate judge comes under a federal-court injunction, then its effect is more practical than legal. Formally, no probate judge has any direct legal obligation to issue a license until sued in federal court and enjoined;  the mandamus would simply provide a court order emphasizing that reality. It would force every couple seeking a license to sue every probate judge individually, rather than allowing couples to gain the benefit of persuasive authority. This is inconvenient and inefficient (although not costly, since plaintiffs should get attorney's fees), but not a significant change to the landscape of actual legal obligations. The mandamus also would open the door to the probate judges trying to raise Younger, Rooker-Feldman, Pullman, and Burford in the federal district court; this is what happened in both the Oklahoma and South Carolina cases, although both courts soundly and properly rejected those arguments.

On the other hand, if the mandamus bars probate judges from issuing any licenses until SCOTUS decides the issue of marriage equality, we have genuine problems. The inevitable federal injunction would set up the very direct conflict and confusion the petitioners purport to be trying to resolve. There actually would be directly conflicting orders--a state mandamus prohibiting every probate judge from issuing a license and a federal injunction commanding a named probate judge to do so.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 15, 2015 at 11:15 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Lower federal courts and state administrative actions

Thanks to Amanda for her post about her article and the effect of lower-federal-court precedent on state courts. I look forward to reading it and using it in a larger article on the procedural insanity we are seeing between Windsor and the decision this June.

But I wonder if this issue is just a distraction here, partly triggered by Moore's memo and order, which focused heavily on it. Probate judges are not acting in a judicial capacity or deciding cases in issuing (or declining to issue) marriage licenses. They are acting in an executive or administrative capacity, such that there is no such thing as "binding" or "persuasive" precedent. Absent a federal judgment against him, precedent does not act directly on any executive or administrative actor; its force is in the fact that, if sued, the precedent will bind the court hearing the case and the executive will almost certainly be enjoined.

So the non-binding nature of Judge Granade's original decision is in play here. But not because it is not binding on state courts; rather, because it is not binding on other federal district courts. Thus, the possibility of a different district judge disagreeing with Judge Granade justifies a probate judge, acting in an administrative capacity and performing an administrative function, in not immediately following that decision.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 12, 2015 at 05:32 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Now we have a meaningful federal order

The New York Times reports that Judge Granade has enjoined Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis from denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The injunction comes in Strawser v. Strange, an action by a male couple to obtain a license. In January, Judge Granade enjoined the attorney general from enforcing the ban on same-sex marriage, an injunction that, as we have seen, has no real effect on the issuance of marriage licenses. On Tuesday, the plaintiffs amended their complaint to add Judge Davis as a defendant.

So, since even the Times article linked above does not have it quite right, let's be clear on where we are now:

1) Judge Davis is legally obligated to issue a marriage license to Strawser and his future husband; if he fails to do so, he can (and probably will) be held in contempt.

2) Judge Davis probably is not obligated by the injunction to grant anyone else a license, since there are no other couples joined as plaintiffs, this was not brought as a class action, and Judge Davis does not exercise supervisory authority or control over other probate judges. But anyone in Mobile denied a license will be able to intervene or join as a plaintiff in Stawser and Judge Granade will immediately extend the injunction to cover the new plaintiffs. So Judge Davis should pretty well understand that he should issue licenses to everyone who requests one.

3) No other probate judge in the Southern District of Alabama is obligated by the injunction to grant anyone a license. But they all should be on notice that, if they fail to do so, they will end up before Judge Granade (either because a new action goes to her or because the new plaintiff jumps into Strawser and adds the next probate judge as defendant) and she will enjoin them.

4) No probate judge in the Middle or Northern District is obligated by the injunction to do anything, nor are they bound by the precedent of her opinion. Formally, it will take a new lawsuit by a different couple and a new opinion and injunction by a judge in each district. But as I wrote earlier in the week, I believe that, once one probate judge in the state had been enjoined, everyone else would fall in line, even if not yet legally obligated to do so. So while Roy Moore may continue to shout at the rain, I would be very surprised if any other probate judge bothers denying anyone else a license; it just is not worth the effort, as I cannot see a federal judge in either district reaching a different conclusion about the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans.

Update: Important addition: If a probate judge in situations ## 3-4 did decline to issue a license to anyone, they would not be acting in disregard or defiance of Judge Granade's order, which still does not bind them or compel them to do anything. And I feel pretty confident that Judge Davis would not be acting in defiance of the order in situation # 2.  In other words, today's order likely will have the practical effect of getting probate judges statewide to fall in line; it does not have that legal effect.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 12, 2015 at 05:15 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (8)

Bazelon sort-of defends Roy Moore

Emily Bazelon makes a sort-of defense of Roy Moore in The New York Times Magazine, turning out many of the arguments I have been making here.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 12, 2015 at 09:29 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The wrong vehicle?

Judge Granade has scheduled a hearing for Thursday to decide whether to add Alabama Probate Judge Don Davis back into the case as a defendant and whether to enjoin him from enforcing the state ban on same-sex marriage. That injunction is all-but-certain to issue. Believe it or not, however, it may not end the controversy. We still have a scope-of-the-injunction problem. Since Searcey and her wife remain the only plaintiffs, the injunction would only compel Davis to allow Searcey to adopt her wife's child. That's it. Even as to Davis, the effect of the opinion as to anyone else's rights would be merely persuasive.

The problem is that Searcey may be the wrong litigation vehicle for getting probate judges to issue licenses, since it is not a marriage-license case but an adoption case. And it seems to me that it is impossible to turn it into a license case by adding new plaintiffs (through joinder or intervention) who are looking for licenses rather than to adopt, since they are seeking entirely different relief. Perhaps the fact that the same-sex marriage ban (and whether the plaintiffs are or can be married) is a common question of law or fact. But the questions are arising in such wildly different contexts and settings.

Update: Thanks to the commenter below for correcting me. The events are happening in Strawser, an action brought by a male couple in January, originally against Attorney General Luther Strange and which produced a (largely meaningless) injunction against him; Davis has been added as a defendant and a hearing on a preliminary injunction against Davis is scheduled for Thursday. In addition, according to this story, there is a second action in the Southern District by several couples, naming Davis and Moore as defendants.

Now we are beginning to see some progress. Once Davis is directly enjoined to issue licenses, expect everyone else to fall in line.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 11, 2015 at 02:31 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (10)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The irony of trying to have it both ways

Much of what is happening with same-sex marriage in Alabama right now is a product of  a hierarchical and geographically dispersed judiciary. The district courts hear cases first and may decide quickly, but the decision (beyond the parties themselves) has limited precedential value. The courts of appeals and SCOTUS create sweeping binding precedent, but it takes longer to get those decisions.

Had the Eleventh Circuit or SCOTUS ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits same-sex marriage bans, the obligations of state officials would be clearer. It would be certain that any district court would order them to issue the license because the precedent would be binding and that to not issue licenses would subject them to contempt. It also would be certain they would be on the hook for attorney's fees. And they may even be on the hook for damages, because the law would be clearly established. But we are still early in the process in Alabama, so we only have a persuasive-but-not-binding opinion from a district court. And we see what we would expect--it is persuading some actors, not persuading others; when lawsuits start coming, it may persuade some district courts and not persuade others.

In the short term, of course, this may give us Swiss cheese--one report this morning said 16 out of 67 counties are issuing licenses. Uniformity within the state comes with that binding precedent from the reviewing court. But it takes time.

There is a way to avoid Swiss cheese, of course: Have the district court decision and order stayed pending appeal. Then everyone will be able to marry at the same time--once the reviewing court provides binding precedent that same-sex marriage bans are invalid, after which everyone is bound. Of course, no one on the pro-marriage equality side wants to wait. I would guess everyone would strongly prefer marriages in 16 counties to marriages in none.

But that is the choice. You can have marriages begin without binding precedent, but not every official or court will go along with the precedent, so not everyone will gain the benefit of it. Or you can get uniformity from the eventual binding precedent so that everyone will be bound and everyone will benefit, but you have to wait. You cannot get both. And while frustrating, it is wrong to attribute this procedural reality to malfeasance by state officials.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 10, 2015 at 11:53 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

And the media does not help

Most counties in Alabama were not issuing licenses as of yesterday, not improperly so as a matter of process. But you would not know it from the media, with headlines such as Most Alabama Counties Defy Feds by Blocking Gay Marriage (ABC News, complete with video of George Wallace in the doorway) and Judicial Defiance in Alabama: Same-sex marriage begins, but most counties refuse (Wash. Post); The Supreme Court Refused to Stop Gay Marriage in Alabama, But the State's Governor and Chief Justice Are Refusing to Listen (TNR); and Alabama's Roy Moore Defies Federal Order, Refuses to Allow Gay Marriage (Slate's Mark Joseph Stern, who can't help himself, calling it a "stunning display of defiance against the judiciary").

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 10, 2015 at 07:13 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (7)

Monday, February 09, 2015

No contempt for you

Motion for Contempt denied--as expected and as appropriate. Judge Granade emphasized that Judge Davis is not a party. And she pointed out that her clarification order "noted that actions against Judge Davis or others who fail to follow the Constitution could be initiated by persons who are harmed by their failure to follow the law." In other words, plaintiffs' lawyers, pay attention to what the judge tells you.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 9, 2015 at 04:40 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Sue Moore?

Ever looking to escalate, Alabama's Chief Justice Roy Moore has issued an Administrative Order stating:

Effective immediately, no Probate Judge of the State of Alabama nor any agent or employee of any Alabama Probate Judge shall issue or recognize a marriage license that is inconsistent with [Alabama's constitutional and statutory prohibitions on same-sex marriage].

Moore seems to be relying on the fact that no probate judge is subject to Judge Granade's order. So we probably need to read this as implicitly applying "as of Sunday, February 8," but no longer effective when probate judges start getting enjoined by federal district courts on Monday morning.

But Moore's move now has me thinking that commenters to my earlier posts had it right--Moore is the statewide officer who should be named as defendant, with an injunction ordering him to order the state's probate judges to issue licenses. Moore clearly has set himself up as the official with the power to control the enforcement of this particular state law by controlling what state probate judges do, much as California's AG could control county clerks and order them all to issue licenses. Moore concedes he is acting in an administrative capacity. And since this is not a decision arising from actual litigation, neither Younger nor Rooker-Feldman should come into play.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 9, 2015 at 12:08 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (11)

Sunday, February 08, 2015

More from Alabama

This article lays out the competing sides of the dispute pretty well. And it shows how complicated this may be getting and how confused many people are by this area of the law.

First, the article talks about Alabama probate judges being jailed for contempt. This would be utterly impossible--Judge Granade cannot hold in contempt anyone who was not party to the federal action, which is only the state AG. But the story then clarifies that contempt would be for violating a future order against a probate judge sued on Monday for refusing to issue a license, not for violating Judge Granade's original order. Which is right, although unlikely--at least Judge Bowden has stated that he will comply with any injunction that may issue should he be sued.

Second, someone mentions the possibility of "sanctions" against the judges, including attorney's fees. This is one of the things Judge Granade mentioned in her "clarification" order, which block-quotes from Judge Hinkle's similar clarifying order in the Florida case

Calling this a "sanction" is wrong, in that it suggests wrongdoing by the non-issuing judge for which he would be punished. Instead, fees would be a routine part of the injunction action. Under § 1988(b), a prevailing party can recover attorney's fees; this would cover a same-sex couple that sues and obtains an injunction ordering the judge to issue the license because the state SSM ban violates the Fourteenth Amendment.

But the attorney's fee question gets another layer because Alabama has vested the licensing power in judicial officers. Section 1988(b) has an exception--"in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity such officer shall not be held liable for any costs, including attorney’s fees, unless such action was clearly in excess of such officer’s jurisdiction." This was added in 1996, along with an amendment to § 1983 which limits the availability of injunctions against a "judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity." The amendments together were intended to limit the effect of the Court's 1984 decision in Pulliam v. Allen, which held that absolute judicial immunity does not extend to injunctions or attorney's fees. The effect is to grant judges absolute immunity from attorney's fees to the same extent they enjoy absoulute immunity from damages--whenever they acted in a judicial capacity or performe a judicial function and did not act in the complete absence of jurisdiction.

It seems pretty clear that issuing a marriage license lacks the hallmarks of a judicial function (adversary proceedings, appellate review, formal processes) and lacks the exercise of the learned judgment that characterizes judicial decisionmaking and justifies judicial immunity. This is a purely ministerial function, such that a judge acts in an executive capacity in performing it. As such, a probate judge refusing to issue a license would not enjoy judicial immunity from an action for damages,* would not fall within the exception to § 1983 regarding injunctions against judges, and would not fall within the exception to § 1988(b) regarding attorney's fees against judges.

* A judge performing an executive function still can claim qualified immunity. And since it is not clearly established in Alabama that a ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, any Alabama probate judge sued next week almost certainly would enjoy qualified immunity.

Attorney's fees play an interesting and unexpected function in a situation like this--they act as a deterrent to recalcitrant state officials. While formally not bound by the district court decision invalidating the SSM, the threat of attorney's fees puts these officials to a choice: 1) Force plaintiffs to go through the additional step of another lawsuit to obtain an (almost-certain-to-issue) injunction at the risk of having to pay fees or 2) Go along with the district court, even if not legally obligated to do so, to avoid fees. Neither option is right or wrong, but § 1988(b) puts a thumb on the scales in favor of the latter.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 8, 2015 at 04:39 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (10)

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Queued up

Ben Bowden, a probate judge in Covington County, AL, announced on Friday that, on his reading of the law, he will not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Monday, when the stay of a district court injunction expires. Bowden concluded that he the district court decision and injunction invalidating the state's marriage-equality ban is not binding on him, thus he will continue to follow the state-law ban until an appropriate court directs him otherwise.

So the issue now is queued up. A couple wanting a license in Covington County can now sue Judge Bowden for an injunction compelling him to issue the license; the issue is ripe, given Bowden's announcement, and the couple will have standing. Covington County is located in the Southern District, so the case likely will be assigned to Judge Granade (most districts have a rule sending "related cases," often broadly defined, to the same judge); she will quickly issue an order reaffirming her earlier opinion that the marriage-equality ban is unconstitutional, ordering Bowden to issue the license, and refusing to stay the order. And Bowden recognized that he will be sued and insisted that he would "fully comply" with an order in a case to which he is a party.

Obviously, this is not the most efficient way of doing things. But the point is that couples will be able to get their licenses, probably on Monday, in fairly short order.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 7, 2015 at 04:13 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (8)

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Roy Moore gets it right

And without bigoted or anti-federal rhetoric.

Moore sent a memo on Tuesday to all state Probate Judges, explaining why probate judges are not bound by two recent district court decisions invalidating state marriage-equality bans. (Ed Whelan analyzes the memo at NRO). Moore makes two points, both correct: 1) The attorney general, the only defendant in both Alabama cases, is part of the executive branch while probate judges (who issue marriage licenses) are part of the judicial branch, thus the AG exercises no supervisory authority over them; and 2) federal lower-court precedent is not binding on state courts.* The memo includes an appendix analyzing how the Alabama AG came to be the sole defendant in the two Alabama cases and why he is not, in fact, the appropriate defendant in cases challenging the refusal to issue marriage licenses when (as in Alabama) that task rests with judges or court clerks.

* Citing a  recent article by FSU's Wayne Logan.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 5, 2015 at 10:13 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (24)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

If you say so

Judge Callie Granade of the Southern District of Alabama has clarified her order holding that Alabama's marriage-equality ban violates the Fourteenth Amendment. She block-quotes Judge Hinkle's position--which I previously labeled "unnecessary, ineffectual, arrogant, or extra-jurisdictional--likely some combination of all four"--that the injunction does not apply to anyone other than the Alabama A/G (the only named defendant), but that the Constitution does apply and the Constitution requires the probate judges to issue marriage licenses.

On reading it this time around, these seems a framed example of an advisory opinion. A court is telling someone what to do or not to do, but that person is not a party to a case within the court's jurisdiction and not subject to any valid order of the court. Judge Granade can insist all she wants that the Constitution requires the state's probate judges to issue marriage licenses--if they disagree, no one can do anything about it (unless and until new litigation is brought and a court with jurisdiction--perhaps Judge Granade--directly compels them to do so).

Of course, the news is not all normal, because Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore is back in the news, insisting that state law remains in place, that he will continue to follow state law, and that the probate judges should continue to do so, as well. This, in turn, prompted the Southern Poverty Law Center to file an ethics complaint against Moore, alleging he violated judicial ethics rules in commenting on a matter that will be coming before him in the coming weeks.*

* Although I am not sure why. I would expect the move for anyone denied a license would be to sue the probate judge in federal court, so I do not see how this is going to make its way through the Alabama courts.

(H/T for all of this: Josh Blackman and Howard Bashman)

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 28, 2015 at 02:58 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (8)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The process of marriage equality, once again

This time in Alabama (H/T: Josh Blackman), with the pushback coming from the state's probate judges, who are empowered under state law to issue marriage licenses. The plaintiffs asked the district court for a "clarification" of her ruling and its scope, although it is unlikely that her clarification will announce that these non-party probate judges are subject to the injunction, since, just as in Florida, they cannot be. The district court has issued a 14-day stay, so the race to figure this all out by Monday has become moot--the district judge gave the state a chance to ask the Eleventh Circuit for a stay.

Comparing this to George Wallace standing in the doorway at the University of Alabama is incredibly overstated and flat wrong. And at some level, this is on the plaintiff's lawyers--they  framed the case, only sued the Attorney General in a state in which the AG does not have the power to issue licenses or to control or advise those who do, and did not include any "responsible" executive officers in the action. The AG is ordinarily the proper defendant in an Ex Parte Young action (notably where the challenged law is a criminal provision); but not here and not for the issuance of marriage licenses. And the failure to recognize that is creating these procedural complications, at least until SCOTUS or the Eleventh Circuit weighs in.

With all that, calling everyone a bigot in a legal document is not particularly helpful.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 25, 2015 at 08:55 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

MDL consolidation and appealability

SCOTUS on Wednesday decided Gelboim v. Bank of America, holding that a district court order dismissing the sole claim in a single-claim action, consolidated with other actions for pretrial proceedings in multidistrict litigation, was a final and appealable order, even if claims remained in other actions included in the MDL. I have an opinion analysis at SCOTUSBlog. And I am happy to say I called this one.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 21, 2015 at 04:25 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Lady Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks

I was back in the saddle this week. On Thursday morning, I appeared in a California courtroom to argue an appeal. One of the issues in the case concerned whether a corporation could be served by publication under California law. The appellant, a real estate company, had once been represented in a bankruptcy proceeding by a law firm. After that proceeding was dismissed, the law firm sued its former client over its fees. When the law firm tried to serve the real estate company by personal service, however, it was unsuccessful. Rather than attempt other methods, such as service by mail or service on the California Secretary of State, the law firm moved for service by publication. Since corporations do not read newspapers, the appellant did not know it has been sued or that a large default judgment had been taken against it. Without getting into specifics, suffice it to say that many of the issues in the case turned on technical matters of statutory interpretation. 

Most students think professors don’t practice law. I would guess, however, that many professors try to keep some hand in practice. They sometimes argue appeals, for example, serve as expert witnesses in cases in their areas of expertise, or work on various pro bono matters. And that, of course, does not include the important work that law school clinics do, which is all of the above and much, much more. 

After the oral argument, the trial lawyer asked me how my job as a law professor impacted my approach to the case. Since this wasn't a particularly difficult matter, I told him, honestly, that one thing that I felt my job allowed me to do was to take a few more liberties in the briefing than I normally would. The opening brief, for example, began with the following line: “Many things about this case smell fishy.” It then used examples of dead fish, rotten fish, and smelly fish as metaphors for the law firm’s actions.

In response, the law firm argued that "[t]here was no chicanery" on its behalf, and that it did not "act in an unscrupulous manner to secure the judgment in this case. Nothing in the record suggests otherwise. In this case," it wrote, "there is no evidence that any chicanery or any other inequitable conduct or negligence of [Law Firm] caused the alleged failure of notice to Appellant.” In the reply, I quipped: "Given that Respondent is a law firm, and given the evidence in this record, its words ring hollow. This is how Shakespeare put it:

        Hamlet:                             Madam, how like you this play?

        Queen Gertrude:              The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

(William Shakespeare, HAMLET, Act III, Scene 2.)"

Some of my collagues in the appellate bar suggested I take out the Shakespeare reference. But a colleague on my faculty, who argued this case before the U.S. Supreme Court last year, liked it and suggested I leave it in. So I did. I have no idea what the three-judge panel thought. Probably not much. 

Which brings me to my question. How does being a law professor change one’s perceptions of what should or should not be done in the normal practice of law? Is there something different about the briefs that law professors write, or about the advice they give? Should there be? I’ll leave the comments open.

Posted by Eugene Mazo on January 10, 2015 at 11:22 AM in Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (12)

Saturday, January 03, 2015

The process of marriage equality, redux

I do not have the energy to provide background; SCOTUSBlog offers a nice analysis of what is happening in Florida, as an opinion by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle (N.D. Fla.) invalidating Florida's ban on marriage equality is due to take effect next Monday evening. I am simply going to link to a bunch of documents and ask whether anyone in the State of Florida has a clue about procedure, remedies, or jurisdiction.

First is a December memorandum from the attorney for the Florida Association of Clerks and Comptrollers stating, correctly, that Hinkle's a decision and injunction is binding only on the Washington County Clerk of Courts (named as defendant) and only as to the named plaintiff; all other clerks are not legally obligated to issue licenses and may, in fact, be prohibited by state law from doing so and subject to criminal penalties. (Slate's Mark Joseph Stern, somewhat losing it, labels the memo "bogus," "deceptive and borderline unethical," and "willfully misleading").

Judge Hinkle responded on Thursday with this order acknowledging that his injunction is as limited as the FACC lawyers suggested. But he then goes on to insist that "the Constitution requires the Clerk to issue" (italics in original) licesnes to other couples. Implicitly, that means the Constitution require all other clerks to issue licenses. And it reminds all clerks that other litigation may follow his ruling and that they may be subject to suit, injunction, and attorney's fees if they do not follow his ruling.

The FACC's lawyer responded that, in light of the new order (which it also interprets as threatening money damages, although the order says no such thing), all "clerks should follow the judge's ruling for all marriage-license applications or face the consequences identified by Judge Hinkle." Florida Attorney General Pam Biondi similarly responded: "This office has sought to minimize confusion and uncertainty, and we are glad the Court provided additional guidance. My office will not stand in the way as clerks of court determine how to proceed."

Finally, the Orange County Clerk of Courts sought and received a state declaratory judgment; the state judge agreed that the state prohibition on SSM violates the Constitution (essentially adopting and incorporating by reference Judge Hinkle's opinion), that the clerk could rely on the federal decision, and would not be violating state law or be subject to criminal penalties if she issues licenses to same-sex couples once the Hinkle order becomes effective next Monday.

My coments on why this all is so insane after the jump.

The original memo from the FACC's lawyer had it right. The district court's injunction only requires the named defendant clerk to issue a license to the named plaintiff. There was no class of plaintiffs or defendants before the district court. There was no statewide officer enjoined to issue, or order the issuance, of licenses across the state. The district court's declaration that the SSM ban violates the Fourteenth Amendment is not binding or preclusive as to any non-party and is not binding on any other federal or state court. The memo is a bit overwrought in suggesting that a clerk is going to be prosecuted for issuing a license. But the basic point--the district court decision is nothing more than persuasive authority to all other couples and all other clerks--is correct.

None of this is new, of course. We have been discussing procedure underlying marriage equality since last summer, when, post-Hollingsworth, we were left with an incredibly (and possibly unlawfully) overbroad injunction in California and procedural wrangling about what happens next. But Judge Hinkle's original injunction is not so broad, as he acknowledges. So any non-party clerk remains free to deny a license in light of state law on the books; it then is on any couple wanting a license to sue and challenge the constitutionality of the denial and the state SSM ban, likely winning on the strength of the persuasiveness of Hinkle's opinion. This is all messy and inefficient, but that is how constitutional litigation works, at least short of a decision by SCOTUS or a class action.

So what to make of Judge Hinkle's supplemental order? It is either unnecessary, ineffectual, arrogant, or extra-jurisdictional--likely some combination of all four. That everyone seems to be praising this order for "clarifying" things shows how just confused everyone is.

The italicized insistence that the Constitution requires the issuance of licenses by all clerks to all same-sex couples is nonsense. Yes, licenses are required by the Constitution, as interpreted by Judge Hinkle. But that interpretation is not the only one and it does not bind (or even necessarily influence) anyone not a party to that case. There is controversy enough over whether SCOTUS does/should get the last word on constitutional meaning and what the Constitution requires; there is no way that a single district judge could possibly have the last word, even within one state. But the supplemental order insists that is the effect of the original  decision--in essence, "I have announced what the Constitution means with respect to the Fourteenth Amendment and marriage equality and every clerk in the State of Florida is bound by that meaning I have identified (even if not subject to the injunction)." One district court opinion cannot be read to have that much binding effect, particularly on people outside of that judicial district and not subject to the court's jurisdiction or venue.

Moreover, since Article III courts cannot issue advisory opinions, it is logically impossible to separate the Constitution (as interpreted) from the injunction or to have the former apply more broadly than the latter. The only people who can be bound by the court's interpretation are those bound by its remedial order. And Hinkle concedes the narrowness of the original injunction.

Beyond that, the supplemental order does not tell us anything we did not already know (or should have already known). Any same-sex couple could have sued any county clerk (beside Washington County) at any time to invalidate the ban and, if successful, could have gotten an injunction and attorney's fees; Judge Hinkle's original decision would have been important binding precedent in that lawsuit, but nothing more. But the right of other couples to bring that suit does not emanate from Judge Hinkle or his order. And the threat of injunction and attorney's fees against a non-compliant clerk is a consequence of basic rules of constitutional litigation of which everyone should have been aware even without the supplemental order.

Nor should it be news that any clerk may (italics again Judge Hinkle's) follow that original ruling that the ban violates the Fourteenth Amendment. Of course a clerk may follow the ruling, for the same reason she could ignore it--absent injunction, preclusion, or binding precedent, every clerk retains the authority to decide her legal and constitutional obligations, unless and until her interpetation is overruled by a higher state official or a binding court decision. Otherwise, note the internal contradiction of the supplemental order--a clerk who agrees with him may follow the ruling, but a clerk who disagrees must follow the ruling.

Everyone is also reading the supplemental order to threaten money damages for any clerk who does not issue a license. I do not read the order as suggesting damages as a consequence. But even if Hinkle did threaten that, I do not see how any damages action could overcome qualified immunity--that it was clearly established that the Fourteenth Amendment required clerks to issue licenses to same-sex couples. There is no binding precedent on this in Florida; neither SCOTUS nor the Eleventh Circuit has spoken. We have a circuit split nationally (even if it is largely one-sided) and decisions from one federal and two state trial judges within Florida. I believe that banning same-sex marriage violates the Fourteenth Amendment. But no way is that conclusion clearly established, as that concept is currently understood. So damages are not remotely possible.

The only appropriate procedural move was by the Orange County Clerk of Courts, who got that state-court declaratory judgment. In essence, the state court established a state-court order that the SSM ban is unconstitutional and that the Orange County Clerk, as a party to the state-court action,is not bound by the state prohibition, is free to issue licenses to same-sex couples, and is now protected by an order of a court that actully had jurisdiction over her (which Judge Hinkle did not).

As a policy matter, I like where we end up: every clerk in the state is likely to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and the attorney general is not going to stop them. A mass ceremony is planned for just after midnight Tuesday in Broward County. And I am surprised that Florida, which hardly the leading edge on SSM, is not going to be one of the recalcitrant states dragged kicking and screaming to marriage equality by SCOTUS. Still, it would have been nice if everyone involved, including the federal judge, had a better sense of the underlying processes.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 3, 2015 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (7)

Friday, January 02, 2015

It's Been Real!

I think they're going to take away the keys soon, so while I still have access I wanted to say thanks for a great month on Prawfs.  I touted my current scholarship, talked about teaching, wrote a post that generated over 35 comments, and even seemed to annoy some of the so-called "scambloggers" in the process!  That sounds like a success!

I plan to head to the Markelfest tomorrow night at AALS, so I hope you'll stop by and say hello.

Posted by Josh Douglas on January 2, 2015 at 04:30 PM in Article Spotlight, Blogging, Civil Procedure, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Enforcing Medicaid Against Recalcitrant States: The Former HHS Officials' Amicus Brief in Armstrong

Back in October, I wrote a post, titled "Is Ex parte Young Doomed?," about the Supreme Court's grant of certiorari in Armstrong v. Exceptional Child Center, Inc., which the Justices limited to the following question:

Does the Supremacy Clause give Medicaid providers a private right of action to enforce § 1396a(a)(30)(A) against a state where Congress chose not to create enforceable rights under that statute?

As I wrote back then, this is the exact question that the Court ducked in its 2012 decision in Douglas v. Independent Living Centers of Southern California--a case in which, in a four-Justice dissent, Chief Justice Roberts would have dramatically curtailed the ability of private litigants to bring Supremacy Clause-based claims for injunctive relief to enforce any federal statute against a state officer if that statute didn't provide its own cause of action. Although HHS effectively mooted Douglas by approving the contested California state plan amendment while the case was pending, such a step is almost certainly not available in Armstrong--which means the Justices in the majority in Douglas, especially Justices Kennedy and Breyer, will now have to take a position on whether such a Supremacy Clause-based suit for injunctive relief is ever available for statutes lacking private causes of action. (The Supreme Court has previously endorsed the availability of such suits, but hasn't revisited those cases since its more recent jurisprudence curtailing the ability of private litigants to enforce statutes without their own cause of action, whether directly or through 42 U.S.C. § 1983).

One of the interesting back-stories to Douglas, which I covered in some detail on this blog, was the aggressive (and, in my view, disappointing) anti-private-enforcement position taken by the Solicitor General in an amicus brief filed in support of California. Leaving aside the controversial merits of the SG's Douglas brief, it was also a position that was radically inconsistent with the historical position of the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) on the private enforcement question, especially with regard to "Section 30(A)"--the Medicaid Act's requirement that states set reimbursement levels high enough so that Medicaid recipients are able to have "equal access" to median quality medical care. Without this "equal access" mandate, economic pressures would almost certainly lead states to reimburse providers at the lowest possible levels, which in turn would likely relegate Medicaid recipients to the worst available providers. The problem, as the ACA litigation helped demonstrate, is that HHS doesn't have a lot of choices when faced with a state violating the Medicaid Act. The only real "stick" HHS possesses in such a scenario is the drastic remedy of cutting off Medicaid funding--which punishes the beneficiaries far more than it punishes recalcitrant states.

To that end, and tellingly, HHS did not sign the SG's Douglas brief, even though it had signed the SG's more equivocal cert.-stage amicus in the same case (which had recommended that the Court not take the case). Instead, in Douglas, I helped to put together an amicus brief on behalf of "Former HHS Officials," explaining why, because of the reality described above, (1) HHS has historically supported private enforcement of the Medicaid Act (and Section 30(A) in particular); and (2) partly as a result of this historical pattern, and partly for other reasons, lacks the institutional, political, financial, or administrative resources effectively to enforce Medicaid all by itself. 

As in Douglas, the SG has once again sided with the states in Armstrong--albeit in an amicus brief that appears, at first blush, to be far more modest. Instead of opposing Supremacy Clause-based claims for injunctive relief in general, the SG's Armstrong amicus punts on that question, arguing that the Court need not resolve that general issue because "recognition of a private right of action under the Supremacy Clause in this case would be incompatible with the statute, the methods for its enforcement, and respondents’ claim."

And as in Douglas, a group of former HHS officials (including 15 senior administrators from three different administrations, led by former Secretaries Califano and Shalala) has now filed an amicus brief disputing the SG's position--and documenting how, 

Since the early days of the Medicaid program, federal courts have recognized that providers may sue to ensure that state Medicaid plans conform to the requirements of federal law. Congress intended for such enforcement, and HHS has understood—and come to rely upon—its existence.

The brief, which I co-authored along with Matt Hoffman and Andrew Kim from Goodwin Procter, is in some important ways different from the brief we filed back in Douglas. There, our focus was on the SG's (since abandoned) position that private enforcement of the Medicaid regime would generally interefere with HHS's enforcement authorities and discretion. Here, our focus is on the SG's more modest claim about congressional intent and judicial enforcability of Section 30(A). Thus, the SG's Armstrong brief argues that Congress never intended for such private enforcement--and, even if it did, that courts would struggle to provide such enforcement given the vague language of the "equal access" provision's mandates.

Our brief rejects both of those claims, demonstrating how, not only have courts routinely applied Section 30(A)'s procedural and substantive requirements without serious difficulty (and, indeed, would have to do the same thing if HHS started to reject state Medicaid plans on the ground that they violate Section 30(A)), but how that provision--one of the Medicaid Act's most important requirements--would effectively be unenforcable without private enforcement by Medicaid beneficiaries or providers through some vehicle.

In other words, insofar as the SG's brief tries to duck the larger question implicated in Armstrong by arguing that Section 30(A) is an especially weak federal statute to enforce through such a Supremacy Clause-based injunctive action, our brief argues that it is, in fact, a textbook case for such a claim--since it is an essential federal mandate against states that, without such private enforcement, would almost certainly be frustrated.

Idaho's opening brief is available here; the Respondents' opening brief is here. Oral argument is scheduled for Tuesday, January 20.

Posted by Steve Vladeck on December 23, 2014 at 10:51 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Steve Vladeck | Permalink | Comments (5)

Friday, December 19, 2014

Civ. Pro. is the New Black

And...they're off!  My 1Ls just began taking their exam, which I titled "Civ. Pro. is the New Black."  Eschewing Ferguson-style controversy (I hope), I'm ruining using the TV show "Orange is the New Black" as the basis for the fact pattern.  Piper and Alex are in a fight, the Correction Officers put Piper in the SHU, and there is some tainted meat sold by "Felon Meats, Inc." that makes Piper sick.  Piper sues Alex, the prison (run by a private company, Prisons R Us), Felon Meats, and one of the Correction Officers.   Various other prisoners attempt to intervene.  I made sure to vet the exam with someone who doesn't know the show so students who have never seen it are not disadvantaged.

I always feel nervous while my students are taking their exams.  Perhaps I'm just reflecting their nerves; more likely I'm afraid that I have not really taught them much over the semester, which their answers might reflect.

In this way, I suppose the exam is also an assessment of me as a teacher.  Here's to hoping I pass!

Posted by Josh Douglas on December 19, 2014 at 01:51 PM in Civil Procedure, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (9)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Civil Procedure "Creativity" Extra Credit

Stealing an idea from Andi Curcio of Georgia State University, which she shared on the Civ. Pro. list serv last year, for the past two years I have allowed my Civil Procedure students to earn extra credit by doing a "creative" project that helps to explain one of the main topics in the course.  About a quarter of the students did something this year, ranging from amusing videos, to cartoons, to a spoof on the poem "The Raven," to a magazine article about "the talk," when a young girl asks her mother, "where do lawsuits come from?!"  I show all of the projects at the beginning of the review session the day before the exam (earlier today).  In my view, these projects provide some nice stress release, help make the concepts "sticky," and allow the students to exercise their creative juices.  They often do things well beyond what I expected.  Below the jump I've posted some of my favorites from this year.  Enjoy!

Civil Procedure rap video (warning: there's a swear word at the beginning) (Alex Magara, Pete Rosene, Brandon Wells):

 

Hilter Rant Parody on International Shoe (Myranda Cotant and Emily McClure):

 

Civ. Pro. Cartoon (Ashley Angello):

Angello Cartoon

Twas the Night Before the Civ. Pro. Exam (Catie Coldiron and Mary Tanner, performed wearing tacky Christmas sweaters!)

1. ‘Twas the night before Civ Pro, and all through finals hell,

2. Not a creature was stirring, not even a 1L

3. The outlines were made so no one need cram

4. In hopes that 28 USC §1367 would be on the exam

5. The 1Ls were nestled all snug in their beds

6. While visions of A pluses danced in their heads

7. And everyone still wearing their thinking cap

8. Had just settled their brains for a long winter's nap,

9. When all of a sudden, someone’s brain shuddered

10. The rules of 28 USC §1367 began to be muttered:

11. Where district courts have initial jurisdiction

12. All related state claims in the action

13. Give district courts supplemental jurisdiction

14. United Mine Workers of America v. Gibbs

15. Clarified when a district court does have dibs:

16. A state law claim gets into court when it reacts

17. From a common nucleus of operative fact

18. I knew in a moment there was more to the rule

19. So I asked friends for help so I’d keep my cool

20. And I whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:

21. "Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!

22. On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen!

23. There is still more to say so my grade does not fall

24. Now lets recite 1367 in all:

25. Unless there’s an exception, as already stated,

26. Supplemental claims are in if sufficiently related;

27. If a claim is based just on diversity

28. There is an exception: we’ll explain so that you see—

29. There’s no jurisdiction for certain defendants

30. Rule 14, 19, 20, 24 get no pendant

31. This rule extends to plaintiffs on occasion–

32. 19 and 24 may have no relation

33. But now there’s another exception afoot:

34. Supplemental claims can still be caput!

35. There are four situations in which to apply;

36. It can make district courts seem very sly

37. If novel or complex, the state law issue at hand,

38. The court may decline, and thus would remand;

39. If the secondary claim is too much to bear

40. The court can decide it need not be heard there;

41. If the district court has dismissed all other claims

42. The secondary cause can go down in flames;

43. The final reason a district court can decline

44. It’s more broad in definition and can seem asinine.

45. In exceptional circumstances a court can refuse,

46. Their supplemental jurisdiction in this case to use

47. It’s really quite simple once all in your head

48. There’s really no reason to feel any dread;

49. So now you can see supplemental jurisdiction is a breeze

50. You are able to ace this exam with great ease,

51. So in the morning when you awake from slumber,

52. To school you will skip, not drag, moan or lumber;

53. Your fingers will fly, your brain quick as a whip

54. And nary a problem which you must skip.

55. At the end of the final you realize with delight—

56. “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

 

(The) Personal Jurisdiction (a play on The Raven) (Whitney Grider and Grant Sharp):

Once upon a Civ Pro class, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many concepts and cases of forgotten lore—

While I nodded, nearly napping (not true), suddenly there came a “Miss Grider,”

As of some one gently calling, calling my name, heart hitting the floor—

“Tis my day to be called on,” I muttered, “calling my name, heart hitting the floor—

        Hopefully this time and none more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the Mid-September;

And each classmate sighing that it was not their name called.

Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I sought to borrow

From my casebook, I thought in sorrow—sorrow for the loss of Pennoyer—

For the forgotten about Mitchell and Neff whom because of Pennoyer—

        Nameless here for evermore.

“Pennoyer!” said I, “thing of evil!—still making students learn you!—

Whether by the Professor, or whether tossed at thee from attorneys before,

Desolate the ideas of Pennoyer, deserted lands—

In this jurisdiction—is there minimum contacts? –tell me—tell me, I implore!”

        Quoth the Jurisdiction “Nevermore.”

“Be the minimum contacts needed for personal jurisdiction!” Mr. Sharp shrieked,

“Be continuous and systematic and related to the claim!”

An unrelated and isolated and infrequent contact is unconstitutional!

Leave Pennoyer in the past!—quit referring back to the forgotten lore!

Take the International Shoe doctrine, and take it out the door!

        Quoth the Jurisdiction “Nevermore.”

And Jurisdiction, never flitting, still needed, still needed

In every case or otherwise not constitutional

And first look for minimum contacts,

And look for if they offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice;

        Jurisdiction—nevermore!

Posted by Josh Douglas on December 18, 2014 at 03:51 PM in Civil Procedure, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Dodson on Twombly Creep

The following is by Scott Dodson (Hastings):

Yesterday’s Supreme Court’s opinion in Dart Cherokee held that a notice of removal need not be accompanied by evidence of the amount in controversy in a CAFA-removal case. The Court split 5-4 on the nerdy question of whether the Court could even review the issue itself because the Court of Appeals declined, in its discretion, to hear the appeal from the district court. That latter issue got quite a bit of play at oral argument, and coverage of the opinion’s resolution of that issue has overshadowed the Court’s decision on the merits, which pretty much everyone—myself included—thought fairly obvious.

But there’s something funny, and potentially important, in the merits part of the decision that people seem to be overlooking.

Section 1446(a), which sets the standards for a notice of removal, requires the defendant to file a notice “containing a short and plain statement of the grounds for removal.” This language mirrors Rule 8(a)(1), which sets the standards for pleading the jurisdictional basis for a claim filed in federal court, requiring a complaint to provide: “a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court’s jurisdiction.” The parallel language is not coincidence. In drafting the removal standard, Congress meant to borrow and incorporate the liberalized pleading standard from Rule 8(a)(1), which contains the identical language “a short and plain statement of the grounds for,” and focuses on allegations of jurisdiction. Removal, after all, is concerned primarily with jurisdiction rather than the merits of the claim.

The Court has interpreted these standards before. For jurisdictional allegations, both in cases filed in federal court and in cases removed to federal court, the amount-in-controversy alleged in good faith by the plaintiff controls unless contested by the defendant. Mt. Healthy City Bd. of Ed. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 276 (1977); St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 288 (1938). Thus, the standard for a “short and plain statement of the grounds for” the jurisdictional allegation of the amount in controversy for diversity jurisdiction is “good faith.”

This standard of a good-faith allegation leaves no room, at least prior to contestation by the defendant, for an evidentiary requirement. Dart was surely correct, then, in holding that a notice of removal requires no evidence beyond the good-faith allegation of the jurisdictional amount.

But, oddly, the Court did not phrase the question that way. The opinion sets the question presented a somewhat different way, with my emphasis added:

To assert the amount in controversy adequately in the removal notice, does it suffice to allege the requisite amount plausibly, or must the defendant incorporate into the notice of removal evidence supporting the allegation? That is the single question argued here and below by the parties and the issue on which we granted review. The answer, we hold, is supplied by the removal statute itself. A statement “short and plain” need not contain eviden­tiary submissions.

 The answer is correct: A “short and plain statement,” at least without other requirements, need not contain evidentiary submissions. But the italicized language is perplexing. It suggests that, though evidence is not required, the standard does require that the removal notice allege the requisite amount “plausibly.”

And, later, the opinion concludes (my emphasis added): “In sum, as specified in § 1446(a), a defendant’s notice of removal need include only a plausible allegation that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional thresh­old. Evidence establishing the amount is required by §1446(c)(2)(B) only when the plaintiff contests, or the court questions, the defendant’s allegation.” Again, last sentence is clearly correct. But the Court also seems to hold that the removal standard requires a “plausible” allegation of the amount in controversy.

Where in the world did the insertion of the “plausibility” standard come from? The Court offers neither citation for it, nor textual support for it, nor reasoning for it. Further, the Court’s reasoning repeats the proper standard of “good faith.” What’s up with plausibility?

The answer must be the infectious case Twombly, which established a new pleading standard of plausibility under Rule 8(a)(2) in federal court. This plausibility standard had never before been a part of any pleading regime; rather, Twombly imported it from the substantive antitrust context.

But importing plausibility to removal makes little sense. For one, removal already has a perfectly fine standard that has worked for 75 years: good faith. It is possible that the Court thinks that “plausible” is a useful, clarifying synonym for good faith. But it’s far from obvious that “good faith” and “plausible” are synonyms in this context. And there’s no indication that the standard of “good faith” was unclear (as if the gloss of “plausibility” would be helpfully clarifying).

For another, Twombly grafted plausibility onto Rule 8(a)(2), which has a different standard from either the removal standard or the Rule 8(a)(1) standard. True, all three standards use the same preliminary language requiring “a short and plain statement.” But the removal and Rule 8(a)(1) standards go on to use the phrase “of the grounds [for jurisdiction],” while the merits pleading standard of Rule 8(a)(2) uses the different language “of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” In developing the “plausibility” standard, Twombly focused on Rule 8(a)(2) and its unique concluding language: “The need at the pleading stage for allegations plausibly suggesting (not merely consistent with) agreement reflects the threshold requirement of Rule 8(a)(2) that the ‘plain statement’ possess enough heft to ‘sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief.’” Twombly’s textual support for the plausibility standard—such as it is—has no bearing on jurisdictional allegations under Rule 8(a)(1) or § 1446(a).

For yet another, the rationale of Twombly maps poorly onto plausibility for removal allegations. Twombly foisted plausibility on merits allegations to guard against excessive discovery costs imposed on defendants at the behest of an implausible claim for relief: “Probably, then, it is only by taking care to require allegations that reach the level suggesting conspiracy that we can hope to avoid the potentially enormous expense of discovery in cases with no ‘“reasonably founded hope that the [discovery] process will reveal relevant evidence”’ to support a . . . claim.” Removal, of course, merely shifts the forum; discovery cannot be avoided simply by defeating removal. And, in removal, the notice is filed by the defendant, the putative beneficiary of the plausibility standard. Applying the plausibility standard to removal turns Twombly on its head.

So, in Dart, it appears that, without citation or, frankly, any reasoning at all, “plausibility” has snuck in to yet another place where it doesn’t belong: removal. If so, this opens the door to arguments that Twombly’s standard is even more broadly applicable than previously thought.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 16, 2014 at 04:28 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (5)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Pfander on Dart

SCOTUS on Monday decided Dart Cherokee Basin Operative Co. v. Owens; the Court held that a notice of removal need only contain a short and plain statement of the amount in controversy and evidence is necessary only if the plaintiff contests the amount. It was a 5-4 decision, with Justice Scalia, joined by Justices Kennedy and Kagan and in part by Justice Thomas, in dissent, arguing that the Court lacked authority to review a court of appeals summary denial of discretionary review of a remand order. Justice Thomas also filed a separate dissent.

James Pfander and Daniel D. Birk (Northwestern) have a piece called Article III Judicial Power, the Adverse-Party Requirement, and Non-Contentious Jurisidction (Yale L.J., forthcoming); Dart fits with some of what they wrote there (see, especially, pp. 27-28 and 79-80). Jim emailed the following (posted with his permission):

Dart serves as a nice illustration of the work that a construct of non-contentious jurisdiction can do in simplifying the exercise of jurisdiction over some uncontested matters.  As you know, the problem in Dart arose from the one-sided and discretionary application for appellate review of the remand decision.  Justice Thomas, echoing a position first articulated by Justice Scalia in Hohn v. United States, argued that the petition in Dart was not a “case” in the appellate court and was therefore not a matter within the Court’s cert jurisdiction.  There were no adverse parties joined and nothing was contested.

It’s here that the construct of non-contentious jurisdiction can help.  If one recognizes that federal courts have long presided over uncontested applications for the certification or recognition of a claim of right, so long as they require the exercise of judicial judgment (as Brandeis explained in the leading case, Tutun v. United States), then the treatment of ex parte applications for discretionary review (as in Hohn and Dart) presents no real mystery.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 15, 2014 at 08:22 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Procedure week at SCOTUS

I have recaps at SCOTUSBlog of this week's oral arguments in Gelboim v. Bank of America on finality in MDL cases and in United States v. Wong/United States v. June on the jurisdictionality of the FTCA's limitations periods.

I do not predict an outcome in either recap and I usually am bad at predicting these things. But I will go out on a limb: The Court reverses in Gelboim and holds that a judgment disposing of all claims in one action within an MDL is a final judgment. The Court affirms in both Wong and June and holds that the FTCA limitations periods are non-jurisdictional and subject to equitable tolling. (Apologies in advance to all three attorneys if I just jinxed your cases).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 12, 2014 at 10:56 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

SCOTUSBlog Preview: Jurisdictionality and the FTCA

I have a SCOTUSBlog preview of tomorrow's arguments in United States v. Wong and United States v. June, which jointly consider whether the timing requirements for filing claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act are jurisdictional or procedural and whether they are subject to equitable tolling.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 9, 2014 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 08, 2014

Another police video produces confusion

Wow. It does appear that an FBI civil rights investigation still is ongoing (the mayor's claims nothwithstanding) and a § 1983 surely will follow. But this suggest the key framing of the two limits on video (and thus of body cameras): 1) Video is not certain, so everyone (courts, officials, and the public) errs when elevating video over all other evidence (call this the Scott/Plumhoff issue), but 2) What video says to you is not the same as what it says to someone else (call this the Dan Kahan issue).

This means we should not necessarily be surprised by the Eric Garner grand jury or by Hammond's mayor. They simply saw something different on that video than I (and many other people) did.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 8, 2014 at 03:48 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (1)

SCOTUSBlog Preview: Finality and MDL

I have a SCOTUSBlog preview of tomorrow's arguments in Gelboim v. Bank of America, which considers whether a decision dismissing all the claims in one action, where that action has been consolidated for pre-trial purposes with other still-pending actions through multi-district litigation, is a final and appealable order.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 8, 2014 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Repost: First Annual Civil Procedure Workshop

Repost: Please note that the deadline for submissions is Monday, December 15.

We are pleased to announce the First Annual Civil Procedure Workshop, to be co-hosted by Seattle University School of Law, the University of Washington School of Law, and the University of Arizona Rogers College of Law. The Workshop will be held at Seattle University on July 16-17, 2015. Future conferences will take place at the University of Washington and the University of Arizona.

The Workshop will give both emerging and established civil procedure scholars an opportunity to gather with colleagues and present their work to an expert audience. We hope the Workshop will strengthen the study of procedure as an academic discipline. By assembling annually, colleagues will have regular opportunities to meet to exchange ideas, to collaborate, and to participate in a national conversation on civil procedure scholarship.

Scholars whose papers are selected will present their work in small panel sessions. A senior scholar will moderate each panel and lead the commentary. Confirmed participants for 2015 include Stephen Burbank, Scott Dodson, Myriam Gilles, Suzette Malveaux, Judith Resnik, Suja Thomas, and Tobias Barrington Wolff.
We welcome all civil procedure scholars to attend this Workshop. Those wishing to present a paper for discussion in the Workshop should submit a two-page abstract by December 15, 2014. While we welcome papers from both emerging and senior scholars, preference may be given to those who have been teaching for ten years or fewer. Workshop organizers will select papers to be presented by January 31, 2015. Please send all submissions or related questions to Brooke Coleman.

The Workshop will provide meals for registrants. Participants must cover travel and lodging costs. We will provide information about reasonably priced hotels as the date approaches.

Feel free to contact us with questions:

Brooke Coleman (Seattle), colemanb@seattleu.edu
Liz Porter (UW), egporter@uw.edu
Dave Marcus (Arizona), dmarcus@email.arizona.edu

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 4, 2014 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 15, 2014

JOTWELL: Pfander on Bruhl on lower-court precedent

The latest Courts Law essay comes from Jim Pfander (Northwestern), reviewing Aaron-Andrew Bruhl's Following Lower-Court Precedent (U. Chi. L. Rev. 2014), which considers how and when SCOTUS cites to lower-court authority.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 15, 2014 at 10:31 AM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

District court invalidates South Carolina SSM ban

And spend a lot of time talking about Fed Courts stuff. Of course, the discussion mostly demonstrates that, quite often, neither parties nor courts fully understand this stuff.

1) The suit named three defendants: A probate judge (authorized under state law to issue licenses); the attorney general; and the governor. The court held that the judge and the AG were proper defendants because both were responsible for enforcing the state ban--the judge by issuing (or refusing to issue) licenses and the AG by initiating state-court litigation and by defending the ban in court. But the court held that the governor was not a proper defendant, because other than a generalized power as the chief executive, she is not responsible for enforcing these laws. The court thus dismissed that claim under the Eleventh Amendment.

The Eleventh Amendment dismissal makes no sense (to the extent any of this makes sense). The state is not a named defendant, nor is the state the "real and substantial party in interest" in an action nominally against the individual officer that would require payment from the state treasury. This was a purely equitable action against a named officer; that she is not the correct officer does not convert it back into an action against the state.

Most courts facing the "wrong Ex Parte Young defendant" rely on standing as the basis for dismissal, on the theory that the plaintiff's injury is not "fairly traceable" to that defendant's conduct. I am still not a fan of that, as I think this is all about substantive merits. But it makes at least a bit more sense than saying that suing the wrong individual creates an action against a state.

2) The AG instituted an original jurisdiction action against the probate judge in the State Supreme Court, seeking to enjoin him from issuing licenses in accordance with the Fourth Circuit's decision invalidating Virginia's ban. The supreme court stayed that action, pending resolution of an already-pending action in federal district court. The AG tried to argue that Rooker-Feldman barred jurisdiction over this action, because the issues were involved in the pending supreme court action. But the court easily swept that aside, finding 1) the state supreme court had stayed its action in deference to the federal proceedings, and 2) RF would not apply here, because the plaintiffs are not state-court losers challenging the validity of a court order or seeking to enjoin that order.

I must say, though--that the AG even brought this up reflects a misunderstanding of the recent direction of that doctrine.

3) The AG also tries to argue Younger abstention. Again, easily swept aside, since mere parallel litigation is not a basis for Younger abstention. Again, the plaintiffs want to enjoin enforcement of the SSM ban, not the state court proceedings. Again, the AG needs a Fed Courts class.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 12, 2014 at 01:51 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (11)

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Eleventh Amendment is a pain

This lawsuit, filed today, alleges that the NCAA violates the Fair Labor Standards Act by not paying student-athletes (who, it alleges, are akin to work-study students). Named defendants are the NCAA and every Division I school, many of which are state schools; the suit seeks unpaid wages and an injunction requiring the schools to stop violating the FLSA (meaning that students be paid wages going forward). The problem: States cannot be sued by name under the FLSA, which is a Commerce Clause enactment on which Congress cannot abrogate sovereign immunity. And Ex Parte Young is not available for recovering the unpaid wages, so the plaintiff cannot retrench and sue the president of each state university.

Without even getting into the FLSA merits, this is a case in which the Eleventh Amendment is genuinely a barrier to relief. The plaintiffs' best move is to try to proceed with their claims against the private schools, then hope the Department of Labor will be persuaded by the arguments and will jump into the case.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 24, 2014 at 08:36 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Subject matter jurisdiction crossword

From Spencer Weber Waller (Loyola-Chicago): The Subject Matter Jurisdiction crossword puzzle.

The answer to 12-Down is "thetutor" (Spencer's TA); the answer to 15-Down is "Locke" (that section's torts professor). New York Times rules apply, so an answer can be more than one word. Have at it.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 21, 2014 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Misunderstanding Rule 11

Via Slate, the lame-duck attorney general of Arizona cited FRCP 11 sanctions as a basis for no longer defending (or appealing, although that would be covered by FRAP 38) same-sex marriage bans. The argument, it seems, is that defending the bans (or appealing) would be seen as imposing unnecessary delay or expense or as a frivolous argument not warranted by existing law. Mark Stern at Slate and Josh Blackman both see this more as a political move. I want to suggest it must be, because the argument is wrong legally.

First, FRCP 11(b)(1) only prohibits actions done for the purpose of causing delay or expense. It is surely a legitimate purpose for government to obtain a definitive and binding Supreme Court ruling on an issue of constitutional import.

Second, since SCOTUS has not spoken on the issue, it cannot be said that Arizona's constitutional arguments, even if a clear loser in the Ninth Circuit, are frivolous before SCOTUS. As Josh points out, neither SCOTUS's undoing of stays or cert. denials are binding precedent. And the state always can pose an argument for "modifying, or reversing existing law," perhaps by seeking en banc Ninth Circuit review. Or the state can skip unfriendly Ninth Circuit law by seeking cert before the court of appeals judgment. But any of those options requires that the state first defend and appeal to the Ninth Circuit. Surely FRCP 11 cannot be read to cut-off such litigation strategies.

Finally, let's be serious. When was the last time the government was sanctioned for defending the constitutional validity of one of its laws?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 20, 2014 at 06:07 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (3)

Whose job is it, FRE edition

I finally got around to reading the argument in Warger v. Schauers, dealing with whether FRE 606(b) prohibits inquiry into jury deliberations in trying to show that a juror was untruthful during voir dire. During the argument, counsel for respondent (the defendant, who won at trial) repeatedly argued that, if the Court believes it would be better to allow juror testimony on such claims, then it is a job for Congress to change the rule. Counsel repeated this point several times, always mentioning Congress as the source of any change.

But it is not Congress's job, at least not primarily--it is the Court's job, under the Rules Enabling Act. It is true that the original 606(b) from 1973 (it was amended once, in 2006) was affirmatively enacted by Congress as part of the original Federal Rules of Evidence. But since then, changes to the FRE follow the same procedure as changes to the FRCP or FRCrP, with the advisory committees and the Court taking the lead and Congress merely exercising a power to disapprove a submitted rule. And while Congress can always amend the rules through ordinary legislation, that is not the primary or presumptive way to make a change. When litigants talk about the meaning of the FRCP or the need for amendment, it is always discussed primarily in terms of the Court and the committees. I am wondering why it should be different with the FRE.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 20, 2014 at 01:56 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Giving reasons

Richard's post on the problems created in Dart Cherokee by the court of appeals failure to explain its reasoning and Gerard Magliocca's CoOp post on recent examples of SCOTUS issuing procedural orders affecting constitutional litigation without explanation share a common theme--to what extent do courts, particularly reviewing courts, have an obligation to explain themselves. That obligation might be to reviewing courts, lower courts, current litigants, future litigants, or the public at large.

The problem is that the desire to provide explanation potentially butts against case-management concerns and the difficulty (if not impossibility) of providing reasoned explanations for every decision, including procedural decisions such as declination of discretionary review (the issue in Dart), cert. denials, and stays (or releases of stays) pending review. Courts do not have the time or resources to provide full-on reasons for every decision, particularly where reasons require consensus on a multi-member court. Then we have to figure out whether less-than-complete reasoning is better or worse than no reasoning at all. And we potentially fall back into the debates of the late '90s and early '00s about non-precedential opinions and the problems they create.

Importantly, neither Richard nor Gerard argues that courts should do this in every case, but only special cases--where failing to explain wuld effectively insulate a decision from review or the issues are signficant enough that special guidance is needed. I would reiterate that the decisions prompting the discussion involve particular procedural concerns rather than the ultimate merits.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 17, 2014 at 11:48 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Supremacy and uniformity

I generally have been understanding, if not sympathetic, to the Court's odd behavior with respect to marriage equality of late. I understood the underlying idea that the Court need not act if the circuits are taking care of business. And I am ok with the Court dropping hints in one direction (as it arguably did in denying the five cases at the beginning of the term). But two things give me some pause.

The first is this post by Mike Dorf arguing that the Court's refusal to get involved is not a problem at the inter-circuit level, but at intra-state level, where a federal court of appeals and state high court might disagree, creating some confusion. He offers an interesting example: A federal circuit court recognizes the right to marriage equality and the executive responds by ordering clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But then a spousal privilege dispute arises in a state proceeding and the state supreme court refuses to recognize the privilege because, in its view, same-sex marriages are not constitutionally required. (The case has an added wrinkle--the state supreme court also disregarding the state executive's decision to issue the marriage license, which ought to be controlling). Nevertheless, it illustrates the multiple contexts and postures in which these issues arise.

The second was re-reading the justiciability discussion in Windsor in preparation for it (and Hollingsworth) in Fed Courts this week. I had forgotten how much Kennedy emphasized "the Supreme Court's primary role in determining the constitutionality of a law" and the Court's duty to address its constitutionality (what Scalia in dissent rejected as a "jaw-dropping . . . assertion of judicial supremacy"). Despite that rhetoric, the Court now seems in far less of a rush to perform that role.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 14, 2014 at 05:17 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

SEALS

Think about proposing programming for the annual meeting, or participating in a junior scholars workshop. And if you are ever interested in serving on a committee, let Russ Weaver (the executive director) know. The appointments usually happen in the summer, but he keeps track of volunteers all year long.

Posted by Marcia L. McCormick on October 14, 2014 at 11:00 AM in Civil Procedure, Corporate, Criminal Law, Employment and Labor Law, First Amendment, Gender, Immigration, Information and Technology, Intellectual Property, International Law, Judicial Process, Law and Politics, Legal Theory, Life of Law Schools, Property, Religion, Tax, Teaching Law, Torts, Travel, Workplace Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 13, 2014

First Annual Civil Procedure Workshop

We are pleased to announce the First Annual Civil Procedure Workshop, to be co-hosted by Seattle University School of Law, the University of Washington School of Law, and the University of Arizona Rogers College of Law. The Workshop will be held at Seattle University on July 16-17, 2015. Future conferences will take place at the University of Washington and the University of Arizona.

The Workshop will give both emerging and established civil procedure scholars an opportunity to gather with colleagues and present their work to an expert audience. We hope the Workshop will strengthen the study of procedure as an academic discipline. By assembling annually, colleagues will have regular opportunities to meet to exchange ideas, to collaborate, and to participate in a national conversation on civil procedure scholarship.

Scholars whose papers are selected will present their work in small panel sessions. A senior scholar will moderate each panel and lead the commentary. Confirmed participants for 2015 include Stephen Burbank, Scott Dodson, Myriam Gilles, Suzette Malveaux, Judith Resnik, Suja Thomas, and Tobias Barrington Wolff.
We welcome all civil procedure scholars to attend this Workshop. Those wishing to present a paper for discussion in the Workshop should submit a two-page abstract by December 15, 2014. While we welcome papers from both emerging and senior scholars, preference may be given to those who have been teaching for ten years or fewer. Workshop organizers will select papers to be presented by January 31, 2015. Please send all submissions or related questions to Brooke Coleman.

The Workshop will provide meals for registrants. Participants must cover travel and lodging costs. We will provide information about reasonably priced hotels as the date approaches.

Feel free to contact us with questions:

Brooke Coleman (Seattle), colemanb@seattleu.edu
Liz Porter (UW), egporter@uw.edu
Dave Marcus (Arizona), dmarcus@email.arizona.edu

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 13, 2014 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Clearly established?

Back in June, we learned that at least the Eighth Circuit believes the right to burn a flag is clearly established. I wonder what the Seventh Circuit will think of the right not to have a police officer proselytize and hand-out information about a church in the course of a traffic stop.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 8, 2014 at 01:47 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law Review Review | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Is Ex parte Young Doomed?

Among the 11 cases in which the Supreme Court granted certiorari this morning is Armstrong v. Exceptional Child Center, a case out of Idaho (via the Ninth Circuit) that asks "Whether the Supremacy Clause gives Medicaid providers a private right of action to enforce 42 U.S.C. § 1396a(a)(30)(A) against a state where Congress chose not to create enforceable rights under that statute." This is the exact same question that the Supreme Court had before it--and narrowly ducked--two years ago in Douglas v. Independent Living Center of Southern California, a case I've written about here previously. And the fact that the Court has once again decided to take it up does not bode well for the plaintiffs--or, as I'll explain below, the future availability of remedies under Ex parte Young.

In Douglas, a 5-4 majority vacated the Ninth Circuit's affirmative answer to that question based upon an intervening change in the administrative posture in the case--without endorsing or criticizing the Court of Appeals' ruling. But in a strongly worded dissent on behalf of himself and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito, Chief Justice Roberts argued that such remedies under the Supremacy Clause should not be available, lest the Supremacy Clause provide litigants with a means of making an end-run around their inability to enforce section 30(A) (the Medicaid statute's critical requirement that states fund Medicaid at levels sufficient to guarantee "equal access" to quality providers) either directly or via 42 U.S.C. § 1983. For Chief Justice Roberts, Douglas should have followed directly from the Court's earlier decisions in Alexander v. Sandoval (limiting direct enforcement) and Gonzaga University v. Doe (limiting 1983). Taking those cases one crucial step further, the Douglas dissent would have held, for the first time, that litigants may not pursue injunctive relief against state officers for violations of federal law under Ex parte Young unless the underlying federal law is itself privately enforceable. 

The reason why such a conclusion would not be inconsistent with Ex parte Young and its progeny, the Chief Justice explained, is because "Those cases . . . present quite different questions involving the pre-emptive assertion in equity of a defense that would otherwise have been available in the State's enforcement proceedings at law.” This hyper-narrow view of the scope of Ex parte Young, which was most forcefully advanced in a 2008 Stanford Law Review article by UVa Professor John Harrison, has never been embraced by a majority of the Supreme Court, and cannot be squared with any number of subsequent Supreme Court decisions. As Justice Scalia reiterated just three years ago, “[i]n determining whether the doctrine of Ex parte Young avoids an Eleventh Amendment bar to suit, a court need only conduct a ‘straightforward inquiry into whether [the] complaint alleges an ongoing violation of federal law and seeks relief properly characterized as prospective.’" And because of these modest prerequisites, as then-Justice Rehnquist wrote in 1974, Ex parte Young "has permitted the Civil War Amendments to the Constitution to serve as a sword, rather than merely as a shield, for those whom they were designed to protect.” In other words, litigants have been able to use Ex parte Young to affirmatively and prospectively vindicate federal rights against state officers whether or not they are otherwise facing state enforcement proceedings in which those rights might provide a defense. On the Douglas dissenters' view, such remedies would only be available when such enforcement proceedings were nigh... 

And yet, Douglas came within one vote of cementing this far narrower understanding of the availability of such relief. And Justice Kennedy (who joined Justice Breyer's majority opinion in Douglas that ducked the issue) has already expressed at least some support for this view of Ex parte Young elsewhere. After Douglas came out, I wrote a short essay about the bullet that the Douglas Court dodged. With this morning's grant in Alexander, it increasingly appears that any solace one might have taken from that result may well be short-lived.

[Full disclosure: I co-authored an amicus brief on behalf of former HHS officials in support of the Respondent in Douglas--which argued, contrary to the position advanced by the Solicitor General in his amicus brief, that HHS has historically understood private enforcement of the equal access provision to be a critical part of the Medicaid scheme.]

Posted by Steve Vladeck on October 2, 2014 at 12:23 PM in Blogging, Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Scholarship in the Courts, Steve Vladeck | Permalink | Comments (10)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Washington Redskins, the Lanham Act, and Article III

As the Associated Press reported yesterday, the five Native Americans who prevailed earlier this year before the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) in their effort to have the Washington Redskins' trademarks cancelled have now moved to dismiss the lawsuit that the Redskins ("Pro-Football, Inc.") filed against them in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1071(b)(4). As I endeavor to explain in the post that follows, it certainly appears that their motion should be granted--and the Redskins' lawsuit dismissed either because the Lanham Act doesn't actually authorize such a suit, or, insofar as it does, it trascends Article III's case-or-controversy requirement in this case.

I.  The Lanham Act's Cause of Action for "Adverse" Parties

In their Complaint in Pro-Football, Inc. v. Blackhorse, the Redskins explained that they were seeking:

an Order of this Court: (1) reversing the TTAB Order scheduling the cancellation ofthe Redskins Marks; (2) declaring that the word "Redskins" or derivations thereof contained in the Redskins Marks, as identifiers ofthe Washington, D.C. professional football team, do not consist of or comprise matter that may disparage Native Americans; (3) declaring that Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a),is unconstitutional, both on its face and as applied to Pro-Football by the TTAB, under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and is void for vagueness; (4) declaring that the TTAB Order violates Pro-Football's rights under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution; and (5) declaring that Defendants' petition for cancellation in the TTAB challenging the Redskins Marks under Section 2(a) was barred at the time it was brought by the doctrine of laches.

But whereas the Redskins' Complaint routinely describes their lawsuit as an "appeal" of the decision by the TTAB (where it wouldn't be that weird to have the complaining party before the TTAB--the Blackhorse defendants--as the putative appellees), the Lanham Act actually authorizes something else altogether--a standalone, new civil action against an "adverse party" so long as that party was "the party in interest as shown by the records of the United States Patent and Trademark Office at the time of the decision complained of." The problem with application of that provision here, as the motion to dismiss quite persuasively explains, is that it's not at all clear how the defendants here are "the party in interest," at least in light of the specific nature of the Redskins' challenge:

Ordinarily, the adverse parties in an opposition or cancellation proceeding before the TTAB are two businesses claiming rights to the same or similar trademarks. Thus, when a party dissatisfied with a decision of the TTAB brings actions under 15 U.S.C. § 1071(b)(4), it is usually involved in a dispute with a business that uses a similar trademark, with the parties often joining claims for trademark infringement, unfair competition and other causes of action.

Here in contrast, there's no such relationship, and "PFI does not allege any wrongdoing on the part of the Blackhorse Defendants. PFI does not allege that they breached a contract, committed a tort, or violated any law. Instead, PFI’s allegations are directed solely against the USPTO and PFI seeks relief only against the USPTO." In effect, the Redskins' claim is that the TTAB wrongly cancelled their trademarks--which, for better or worse, has rather little to do at this point with the complainants who initiated the cancellation proceedings in the first place. Thus, it certainly appears as if 15 U.S.C. § 1071(b)(4) does not in fact provide the Redskins with a cause of action against the Blackhorse defendants--and that the suit should be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

II.  The Case-or-Controversy Requirement

But imagine, for a moment, that the Lanham Act does so provide--and that § 1071(b)(4) actually authorizes this suit. The motion to dismiss argues that, so construed, the Lanham Act would violate Article III's case-or-controversy requirement, and that seems right to me--albeit for slightly different reasons than those offered by the Blackhorse defendants.

The motion argues that "The Blackhorse Defendants’ legal and economic interests are not affected by the registration cancellations and they will not be affected by this litigation." But I think the case-or-controversy defect here goes to the Redskins' Article III standing. After all, it's black-letter law that a plaintiff must allege (1) a personal injury [“injury in fact”]; (2) that is fairly traceable to the defendant’s allegedly wrongful conduct [“causation”]; and (3) that is likely to be redressed by the requested relief [“redressability”]. Although the Redskins were clearly injured, it's not at all clear to me how the Redskins satisfy either the causation or redressability prongs.

On causation, as should be clear from the above recitation of the Redskins' claims, none of them even as alleged in the Complaint run against the Blackhorse defendants--who were the complaining parties before the TTAB. After all, even though they initiated the proceeding that produced the TTAB order the Redskins seek to challenge, they did not themselves issue that order, nor are they a competing business somehow reaping financial or noneconomic advantage from the deregistration of the Redskins' trademark.

As for redressability, neither the TTAB nor the Director of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office are parties to the Redskins' suit, and so it is impossible to see how the relief the Redskins are seeking could be provided by the Blackhorse defendants. Again, one can imagine a different set of facts where the adverse party before the TTAB could have both (1) caused the plaintiff's injuries; and (2) be in a position to redress them, but I just don't see how either is true, here. It's certainly odd to think that the defect in this suit goes to the Redskins' standing--after all, if nothing else is clear, the Redskins are certainly injured by the TTAB's cancellation decision. But standing isn't just about the plaintiff being injured by a party nominally connected to the injury...

III.  The Equities

Finally, although the motion to dismiss doesn't make this point, there's an equitable point here that I think deserves mention. Whatever the merits of the TTAB's underlying ruling, I have to think that the Lanham Act was not designed to disincentive individuals like the Blackhorse defendants from bringing non-frivolous claims seeking the cancellation of registered trademarks on the ground that they are disparaging. But if the Redskins are right, here, then any party that pursues such a proceeding before the TTAB is necessarily opening itself up to the (rather substantial) costs of a new federal civil action if it prevails, even when the subject-matter of the suit is simply an effort to relitigate the TTAB's underlying cancellation decision. (All the more so because the standard of review in the new lawsuit is de novo, with full discovery.)

Such a result strikes me not only as unwise, but as not possibly being what Congress could have intended when it enacted § 1071(b)(4). Indeed, in many ways, the Redskins' claims sure seem analogous to a SLAPP suit--all the more so when you consider that the Redskins could have, but did not, directly appeal the TTAB ruling to the Federal Circuit.

Posted by Steve Vladeck on September 23, 2014 at 08:47 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Corporate, Culture, Current Affairs, Intellectual Property, Steve Vladeck | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

A jurisdictional tragedy

Forget taxes. What is really important about Burger King's deal with Tim Horton's are the jurisdictional implications. Has Florida (and Miami in particular) lost its greatest contribution to the civil procedure canon? Might this set-up a final exam question in which a plaintiff tries to use BK's "home" in Florida to get general jurisdiction over the Canada-based parent company in Florida that will be birthed by the deal? Would BK now prefer to litigate in eastern Michigan (where Rudziewicz wanted to be), which is closer to Ontario?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 2, 2014 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Video Chutzpah, defined

Stories have begun circulating about an incident in Minneapolis in January, in which officers seemed to escalate a situation in which a man was sitting in a restricted area near a public space, then used a TASER when he refused to give his name and attempted to walk away. Charges (trespass and "obstruction of the legal process") were dropped in July. Yesterday, the chief of the St. Paul Police defended the officers, beginning with: "As is often the case, the video does not show the totality of the circumstances."

He is right, of course. But that is certainly not going to be his line or the officers' line when they inevitably move for summary judgment in the inevitable § 1983 action.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 29, 2014 at 11:06 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)