Wednesday, January 06, 2021

JOTWELL: Mullenix on Russell on frivolous defenses

The new Courts Law essay comes from Linda Mullenix (Texas), reviewing Thomas D. Russell, Frivolous Defenses, which focuses on tort defendants' non-compliance with the rules governing responsive pleadings. I spend time in Civ Pro on this subject, especially the way that defendants refuse to respond to allegations (common response: "Neither admit nor deny and strict proof demanded thereof," which is nonsense) and the refusal of any judge other than Milton ShadurZ"L of the ND Ill. to hold attorneys to account for these practices.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 6, 2021 at 09:41 AM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (3)

More movie stars and diversity jurisdiction

Elizabeth Taylor has company in the Civ Pro canon. The S.D.N.Y. denied a motion to remand in Rapp v. Fowler, an action for sexual assault against Kevin Spacey. (H/T: Volokh Conspiracy). The victims filed the action in New York state court. Spacey removed, alleging he is a Maryland citizen. The plaintiffs moved to remand, arguing that Spacey is domiciled in the U.K., making him stateless and not subject to suit on diversity. The court denied the motion, for now, because the only evidence of Spacey's intent was a declaration from Spacey that he intends to return to Maryland; the contrary evidence was a declaration from the plaintiffs' attorney, who lacks personal knowledge. The court allowed the parties to take jurisdictional discovery and for the plaintiffs to perhaps renew the motion.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 6, 2021 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (7)

Monday, January 04, 2021

Court smacks down dumbest election lawsuit and its lawyers

The dumbest election lawsuit was the one in the District of D.C. against Pence, the Electoral College, Congress, and a bunch of state officials, alleging that Article II requires that a state legislature certify the results post-election so any electors appointed without that certification (i.e., all 538) were invalid and could not cast lawful votes. District Judge Boasberg initially gave the plaintiffs busywork of providing proof of service on all defendants, including the Electoral College (which, of course, is not a thing that can be sued). When no such service occurred after twelve days, the court declined to wait any longer and denied the motion for preliminary injunction.

And Boasberg was not messing around. The suit would have been "risible were its target not so grave: the undermining of a democratic electionfor President of the United States." Plaintiffs’ "theory that all of these laws are unconstitutional and that the Court should instead require state legislatures themselves to certify every Presidential election lies somewhere between a willful misreading of the Constitution and fantasy." And this is the closer:

Yet even that may be letting Plaintiffs off the hook too lightly. Their failure to make any effort to serve or formally notify any Defendanteven after reminder by the Court in its Minute Orderrenders it difficult to believe that the suit is meant seriously. Courts are not instruments through which parties engagei n such gamesmanship or symbolic political gestures.As a result, at the conclusion of this litigation, the Court will determine whether to issue an order to show cause why this matter should not be referred to its Committee on Grievances for potential discipline of Plaintiffs’ counsel.

Many have noted the absence of sanctions in these cases, despite all being patently sanctionable. One reason may be the details of FRCP 11 and the incentives of parties and courts. Rule 11(c) imposes a safe harbor--before seeking sanctions, a party must notify the opposing party of its intent to seek sanctions (by serving, without filing, a copy of the proposed motion for sanctions) and give the party 21 days to cure the sanctionable conduct, as by withdrawing or amending the challenged paper. But the defendants in these cases want these cases to go away, not to drag the cases out by giving the plaintiffs time to cure. And most courts have held that the safe harbor means that sanctions cannot be sought after dismissal, so post-dismissal sanctions are not possible. Meanwhile, judges have the same interest as defendants in making these cases go away and no desire to keep them around with additional rounds of satellite litigation.

This was was unique in several respects, so it makes sense that it might trigger sanctions activity. Because plaintiffs never bothered serving anyone, the case never reached an adversarial posture; the judge was on his own own. And the theory and construction of the case was uniquely loony. That combination raised the suspicion, more than the other Kraken cases, that this was a political show and nothing more.

One more thing, because it is something I expect to see in the coming months. The plaintiffs alleged that they had been "disenfranchised," which Boasberg said was not true since they had voted and their votes counted. But "disenfranchisement" means something different in the minds of these groups of voters and advocates. The "franchise" means not that I was able to vote or that my vote was counted, but that I was able to elect the candidate of my choosing; I am disenfranchised if my candidate loses. This framing is not new. Many of the early Tea Party rallies in 2009 and 2010 were covered as complaints of disenfranchisement--the protesters were disenfranchised because the person they did not vote for had one and he was pursuing policies they did not favor. That is certainly grounds for protest; it is not disenfranchisement and should not be accepted as such.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 4, 2021 at 03:20 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (10)

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Where are they now: Tolan v. Cotton

The Washington Post on Friday ran a story on Robbie Tolan, a baseball player who was the victim of a 2008 police shooting in Texas that ended his potential career. His lawsuit was the subject of Tolan v. Cotton (2014), the rare case in which the Court reversed the grant of summary judgment on qualified immunity, when the lower court defined the context of the right despite factual disputes. I wrote about the case. Following remand, Tolan settled for $ 110,000; the newspaper story describes how he has gotten on with his life twelve years later. (H/T: Jonah Gelbach).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 2, 2021 at 07:10 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Third-party universality

A judge in the Northern District of California has universally enjoined the President's Executive Order on diversity training. Plaintiffs are several non-profit LGBT education and advocacy organizations that do trainings and education programs for local businesses, governments, and health-care providers. These programs cover systemic bias, anti-racism, white supremacy, and other issues the EO attempts to stop. The court held that the EO violates the First Amendment.

The court made the injunction universal/nationwide, based on third-party effects. "Permitting Plaintiffs to provide training regarding “divisive concepts,or to promote those concepts,would do Plaintiffs little good if their sources of employment and funding remain subject to the Executive Order." Pointing to evidence of third-party cancellation of programs in which the plaintiffs were scheduled to participate, "[i]njunctive relief is necessary to allow third parties to hire and/or fund Plaintiffs without fear of violating the Executive Order."

Third-party effects can expand the scope of a particularized injunction, in the sense of protecting those with whom the protected plaintiff engages in its protected capacity. For example, the injunction stopping enforcement of the Muslim travel ban as to the University of Hawaii protected actual and potential students; the injunction stopping enforcement as to HIAS protected actual and potential HIAS clients. Similarly, the court is correct that protecting these plaintiffs requires protecting those who do business with them.

But it did not follow that the injunction stopping the travel ban should protect other state universities, other immigration organizations, or other potential immigrants who have nothing to do with those plaintiffs. Similarly, it does not follow that this injunction must protect other training providers who have nothing to do with these plaintiffs or other entities who do not and would never do business with the plaintiffs. Giving relief to other grantees/contractors, who have nothing to do with the plaintiffs, is not necessary to give the plaintiffs complete relief.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 24, 2020 at 01:04 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, December 18, 2020

Godwin's Law of Standing

An intentionally provocative framing of Friday's standing decision: A mayor (to keep the numbers small) issues a memorandum ordering department heads to identify, "to the extent practicable or feasible," all Jewish municipal employees so they may be excluded from receiving annual raises. Jewish employees must be identified by December 31, the date on which annual raises are triggered.

Could it really be that a Jewish employee does not have standing to challenge that memorandum prior to being identified and denied a raise? That each employee must wait until he is denied the raise, then sue?

And if not, how is this different than the census case? Is it numbers--there are more undocumented immigrants in the United States than Jews working in my hypothetical municipality, so it is more likely that all Jews can be identified? Is it the certainty of harm--no raise as opposed to maybe a loss of money or seats?

I should add I know there is no logic or consistency in standing analysis. But it is worth thinking about.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 18, 2020 at 11:56 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (6)

Malevolence + Incompetence = No Standing

That is the gist of the Per curiam decision dismissing the challenge to exclusion of undocumented persons from the census for lack standing/ripeness (at this point they are the same and we should stop treating them as distinct). Government agencies are struggling to identify undocumented persons and exclude them from the count--in other words, struggling to implement the presidential memorandum--by the December 31 deadline. This creates "contingencies" and "speculation" as to the extent of the harm (how many millions of people will be identified and affected) that "impedes judicial review."

Breyer dissented for Sotomayor and Kagan. Money quotation:

To repeat, the President’s stated goal is to reduce the number of Representatives apportioned to the States that are home to a disproportionate number of aliens without lawful status. The Government has confirmed that it can identify millions of these people through administrative records. But if the Census Bureau fails to fulfill its man-date to exclude aliens without lawful status and reduce the number of Representatives to which certain States are en-titled, it will be for reasons not in the record. Where, as here, the Government acknowledges it is working to achieve an allegedly illegal goal, this Court should not de-cline to resolve the case simply because the Government speculates that it might not fully succeed.

Otherwise, we have a new principle: Plaintiffs lack standing if government is too incompetent to get its shit together and commit the violation it intends, as a matter of announced formal policy, to commit.

Oh, and I forgot to add: I presume folks in the Trump Administration now believe standing requirements are great and necessary constitutional bulwarks and not technicalities and dodges wielded by fearful Justices.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 18, 2020 at 10:30 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Departmentalism and the First Amendment

Last month I speculated that government officials might enact laws they know will not survive judicial review but that make good political and constitutional statements.

Case in point is the bill that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed Wednesday. The bill prohibits the state from selling or displaying "symbols of hate," defined to "include, but not be limited to, symbols of white supremacy, neo-Nazi 10 ideology or the Battle Flag of the Confederacy." And it calls for the enactment of measures to prohibit the sale of symbols of hate on the grounds of the state fair or other fairs receiving public funds. The first clause is fine, although largely symbolic (not sure how many New York office buildings are flying swastikas). The second is almost certain to be declared invalid if challenged in court; the prohibition is a viewpoint-discriminatory restriction on speech that will occur in a limited public forum.

Cuomo acknowledged that constitutional questions surround the bill and promised to work with the legislature on "technical changes" to correct potential constitutional problems, although I am not sure what small change will save the fairgrounds portion. Eugene Volokh points out that the law likely cannot be challenged at this point because it does not ban anything; it orders a state agency to enact regulations. Perhaps this is why Cuomo believes there is an opportunity for changes that avoid constitutional problems.

Cuomo explained his reason for signing despite the constitutional questions:

This country faces a pervasive, growing attitude of intolerance and hate — what I have referred to in the body politic as an American cancer,” Cuomo wrote in his approval message.

“By limiting the display and sale of the confederate flag, Nazi swastika and other symbols of hatred from being displayed or sold on state property, including the state fairgrounds, this will help safeguard New Yorkers from the fear-installing effects of these abhorrent symbols.”

So did Cuomo act in an "unconstitutional manner" or violate his constitutional oath? It depends on whether he believes the law is valid, apart from what courts might conclude. And the concerns Cuomo describes--intolerance and hate is a problem--can be part of the legislative and executive calculus. He seems to be trying to thread a needle here--signing a broad law for show, then attempting to dial it back to address constitutional concerns. But in a broad departmentalist sense, what he did is fine.

Is there a difference between what Cuomo and New York did here and what other states have done with strict abortion bans? None of these laws will survive judicial review under current jurisprudence. One difference is that the abortion bans are designed to create litigation with the hope/expectation that a different SCOTUS majority will change its constitutional interpretation and render the laws valid. I doubt Cuomo expects SCOTUS to change its views on hate speech, viewpoint discrimination, or public forums. Should that matter to how we evaluate a departmentalist executive?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 17, 2020 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Universality and the facial/as-applied distinction

An aspect of universality about which I have not written is its intertwinement with the distinction between facial and as-applied challenges to the laws.

Normatively, it should not matter. Dick Fallon has it right in arguing that facial/as-applied relates to the scope of the precedent rather than the scope of the judgment. A facial challenge produces precedent pre-determining the validity of the law as to non-parties and future cases, which future courts will apply as firmer precedent in resolving the second lawsuit. But any injunction in that first lawsuit remains limited to prohibiting enforcement only against the plaintiff. Descriptively, however, suggestions that a challenge to a law is facial bleeds into questions of who will be protected by the resulting judgment.

Case in point is Tuesday's First Circuit decision on a First Amendment challenge to Massachusett's ban on surreptitious recording, even of government officials performing public functions in public. In consolidated cases, the panel* the panel found one challenge ripe (Martin) and affirmed a declaratory judgment prohibiting enforcement as to recording of police in public spaces, while finding a second challenge (Project Veritas) not ripe as applied to recordings of all public employees and other individuals lacking expectations of privacy.

[*] The panel was David Barron, an Obama and potential Biden short-lister, who wrote the opinion; Justice Souter riding circuit; and Bruce Selya of the large vocabulary. Interesting note on seniority on the panel, which goes: Active Circuit, Retired SCOTUS, Senior Circuit

There was preliminary wrangling over whether Martin was facial or as-applied. Here is how Judge Barron resolved the back-and-forth:

This battle over labels is not fruitful. The Martin Plaintiffs' challenge takes aim at only a portion of Section 99, but it seeks to block it in circumstances beyond the Martin Plaintiffs' own recording. The challenge thus has both "as-applied" and "facial" characteristics. There is no obvious sense in which one predominates.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court has confronted similar half-fish, half-fowl First Amendment challenges and instructed that where the challengers "do[] not seek to strike [a statute] in all its applications" but the relief sought "reach[es] beyond the particular circumstances of [the] plaintiffs," they must "satisfy [the] standards for a facial challenge to the extent of that reach." John Doe No. 1 v. Reed, 561 U.S. 186, 194 (2010) (emphasis added); see also Showtime Ent., LLC v. Town of Mendon, 769 F.3d 61, 70 (1st Cir. 2014). We thus proceed on the understanding that the Martin Plaintiffs seek the invalidation -- facially -- of Section 99 but only insofar as it applies to bar the secret, nonconsensual audio recording of police officers discharging their official duties in public spaces.

We emphasize, though, that the Martin Plaintiffs contend that Section 99 is unconstitutional as applied to their own recording. In that respect, they are not bringing a First Amendment overbreadth challenge. Nor are they seeking, however, to invalidate the measure only insofar as it applies to their own conduct. They are bringing a challenge to a portion of Section 99 that they contend cannot be applied to bar such recording, whether undertaken by them or by anyone else, because it is not tailored in the way that they contend the First Amendment requires.

With the Martin Plaintiffs' challenge now better in view, we are well positioned to explain why we conclude that it is ripe.

The court addressed this it affected ripeness. But note how scope-of-remedy bleeds into the analysis. Twice the court describes the plaintiffs as attempting to stop recording "beyond [their] own recording" and "whether undertaken by them or by anyone else." But  a party cannot, as a matter of the judgment and absent class certification, stop enforcement of the law as to anyone else or anyone else's conduct. Speaking in these terms creates that remedial confusion, even where, as here, only a declaratory judgment and not an injunction is sought.

Other than this remedial quibble, this is another great addition to the burgeoning body of law establishing a First Amendment right to record.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 16, 2020 at 10:07 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Not a technicality, still a distraction (Updated)

Standing is the word of the weekend, as the lame-duck President took to Fox to decry the reliance on "little technicalities, like a thing called standing," before expressing shock and awe that "the President of the United States does not have standing."

I prohibit my students from using the word "technicality" in class or in their work. Another word for technicality, I tell them, is "the law." It is not a technicality when evidence is excluded because police executed an unlawful search, because there are laws prohibiting police from doing that and those laws are no less important than the law prohibiting some action as a crime. And it is not a technicality when a court dismisses (or refuses to hear) case because it lacks the authority to hear it (as standing is understood), because the laws limiting the court's adjudicative authority is as important as the Electors Clause.

Update: Trump later tried his hand at textualism, insisting that SCOTUS' original jurisdiction is enumerated in the Constitution. But so is standing (descriptively derived as it is from the "case or controversy" language), in the prior clause of the same section of the same article.

Trump's complaint also ignores that one court found standing before rejecting all the merits arguments. The court's standing analysis is debatable. I agree that Trump was injured and that an injunction prohibiting certification would remedy that injury (subject to whatever happens next under state law). But any standing here would have been Third Party standing--Trump asserting the rights of the Wisconsin legislature to set election rules. The court either needed to find the other elements of third-party standing (close connection between Trump and the real right-holder and some barrier to the right-holder asserting its rights) or conclude that, as in Bond v. U.S., a party with standing can assert any alleged constitutional defect in a law.

All that said, I continue to believe that standing is jurisdictionalized merits. What courts have made a jurisdictional threshold is a merits determination: "Your constitutional/statutory rights have not been violated in this case because the law does not recognize those rights, so you lose on the merits." That is what standing measures--"perhaps the Constitution or law was violated in some way, but it did not affect you so you cannot be the one to pursue the claim and obtain a judicial remedy." Would we be better off if courts spoke about it in those terms, rather than as a threshold that can be waved away by non-lawyers as a technicality?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 13, 2020 at 01:02 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (9)

Friday, December 11, 2020

JOTWELL: Carroll on Martinez on judges behaving badly

The new Courts Law essay comes from new contributor Maureen Carroll (Michigan), reviewing Veronica Root Martinez, Avoiding Judicial Discipline, 115 Nw. U. L. Rev. 223 (2020), considering how to create mechanisms for holding judges accountable for misconduct when they no longer are on that court.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 11, 2020 at 11:04 AM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, December 10, 2020

New Fed Courts cases from SCOTUS (Updated)

As the Court wrestles with absurd original-jurisdiction cases, some procedure decisions from SCOTUS today, with some interesting twists and background points.

Carney v. Adams involved a challenge to Delaware law controlling party affiliation for judges; a unanimous Court, per Justice Breyer, held the plaintiff lacked standing because he failed to show he was "able and ready" to do something to be injured by the challenged law. Bare testimony that he "would apply" for a judgeship but for the party limitations was insufficient to establish a particularized harm, especially when balanced against the sequence of events (he never applied for any judgeship, retired as an attorney, read a law review article about the invalidity of these party limits, unretired, changed his party affiliation from Democrat to Independent, then filed the lawsuit about a week later). Basically, he got Lujaned--he did not have the judicial-application equivalent of a plane ticket. Justice Sotomayor concurred to comment on some issues that might arise on the merits of a future challenge to laws such as these.

Tanzin v. Tanvir, unanimously per Justice Thomas, held that federal officers could be sued for damages under RFRA; the action was brought against FBI agents who allegedly placed three Muslim men on the "No Fly List" when they refused to act as informants. A lot of discussion. RFRA provides an express cause of action against governments, which includes officials and other persons acting under color of law, terms which include personal-capacity claims against government employees. The Court uses § 1983 to establish background understanding for concepts such as under color and damages as a remedy for constitutional violations.

Qualified immunity lurked in the background in Tanvin in two interesting respects. First, the Court drops in a footnote that everyone agrees that the officers can assert qualified immunity, which pre-ordains what will happen in this action on remand (it will not be clearly established that placing someone on the List in retaliation for not spying on their neighbors violates religious freedom). I guess it makes sense as a policy matter that qualified immunity applies. But why does it work as a statutory matter. The logic of qualified immunity and § 1983 is that a qualified-immunity-type defense existed at common law in 1871 and was incorporated as background in § 1983 in the absence of a plain statement rejecting the defense. (The dissimilarity between modern QI and what existed at common law is the basis for Will Baude's criticisms). The logic of qualified immunity and Bivens is that Bivens is the federal counterpart to § 1983. But what is the source of qualified immunity to assume it was incorporated (again by silence) into RFRA? I guess the argument would be that RFRA displaced § 1983 and Bivens and was modeled after both, so any defense built into these was built and incorporated into the new statute. (Update: Doug Laycock confirms this, along with the belief that QI was a necessary concession to get a damages remedy in the statute. Thomas describes the scope of § 1983 at the time of RFRA as permitting "monetary recovery against officials who violated 'clearly established' federal law.").

Second, Thomas is the one Justice who expressed an interest in at least reconsidering QI. It thus is interesting that he incorporates into RFRA the broad understanding of under color to include suits against any official acting as an official in his personal capacity. One argument for broad QI (as Will discusses in his article) is as a counterweight to a broad conception of under color--Screws/Monroe were wrong, so QI corrects that imbalance without overruling those cases. But I wonder what Thomas' broad adoption of under color means for his views on QI.

United States v. Briggs unanimously held that certain rape prosecutions under the UCMJ were timely, an unfortunate loss for Steve. Justice Gorsuch concurred to express his continuing view that SCOTUS lacks jurisdiction to review decisions from the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (an Article I Court).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 10, 2020 at 11:50 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Hungary and Germany arguments

Here is my SCOTUSBlog recap of Monday's arguments in Hungary, which focused on comity abstention; the Germany argument focused on FSIA jurisdiction.

My (usually wrong) quick take is that the judges were sympathetic to the plaintiffs' arguments that abstention is categorically unavailable where FSIA accords jurisdiction. But several justices wondered whether that issue is mooted if it holds that the expropriation exception does not apply in Germany. I need to re-listen to the Germany argument; initial reports suggest at least some justices were skeptical of allowing FSIA's expropriation exception to reach these sorts of foreign genocide claims.

The lawyer for the plaintiffs in Germany mentioned abstention in his opening and closing, including with an awful baseball metaphor.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 9, 2020 at 10:13 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, December 07, 2020

Kraken the 11th Amendment

Judge Parker of the Eastern District of Michigan denied a preliminary injunction in the Michigan Kraken suit. One basis for dismissal, which I had not seen in these suits, was 11th Amendment. The court held that Ex Parte Young did not allow the § 1983 claims against the individual officers because the requested injunction is retroactive rather than prospective. EPY requires that the plaintiff seek prospective relief to end a continuing violation of federal law. This is not the mine-run EPY action, in which the plaintiff seeks to stop continuing enforcement of a constitutionally invalid law; the plaintiffs seek to "undo what has already occurred"--the certification of the election and the slate of Michigan electors.

This does not seem quite right to me. This is not a completed past violation. Plaintiffs do feel the ongoing effects of the constitutionally defective election and certification--the wrong candidate was certified as winner and the wrong electors appointed, in violation of these plaintiffs' constitutional rights. The relief, if granted, would have prospective effect--they would be back in the place they would be had the violative certification not occurred and in a position to have their rights remedied prospectively by a proper future certification. The analogy is a reinstatement claim, which is allowed under EPY--the unlawful firing occurred in the past, the plaintiff continues to feel the ongoing effects of the firing, and the court order will restore the plaintiff to where she would have been had she not been unlawfully fired.

The plaintiffs cannot get the remedy sought for other reasons--I doubt the court could order decertification, not to mention that their rights were not violated to begin with. But that does not mean the remedy is not "prospective" or the violation not "ongoing." Another way that all of these doctrines conflate jurisdiction, merits, and remedies.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 7, 2020 at 01:00 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, December 04, 2020

It's been a long time since my civil procedure class

As the lawyer for President Trump said to a doubtful federal judge in the lawsuit challenging the election results. While asking a federal court to "remand" something to the Wisconsin legislature. I may need to replace or supplement the long-standing motto atop my course blog.

Meanwhile, I have to decide whether to give students the scheduling order from Chief Judge Pepper in the Wisconsin Kraken suit, in which she enumerates Sidney Powell's substantive and procedural mistakes, then agrees to decide the TRO motion on the pleadings and without evidence, as the plaintiff requested. Some of the stuff in the order will not make sense to students new to procedure. But it highlights what happens when you ignore or do not understand how courts operate.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 4, 2020 at 04:26 PM in Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Botching jurisdiction and merits, Ex. No. 613

Here is an awful jurisdiction/merits decision from the Fifth Circuit, involving the treatment of state action/under color in a § 1983 action. (H/T: Jack Preis).

A public-school educational aide sues a contract sheriff's deputy assigned to the school, claiming excessive force from the deputy punching him. The district court denies qualified immunity, while noting in passing some doubt about state action but that the defendant conceded the issue. The deputy appeals the Q/I denial under the collateral order doctrine. The Fifth Circuit remands, on the ground that by failing to determine action under color, the district court failed to establish its subject matter jurisdiction before ruling on the merits.

This is many shades of wrong. State action/action under color is an element of a § 1983 action and has nothing to do with the court's subject matter jurisdiction. This is true as a logical matter--merits ask who can sue whom and for what conduct, which is what state action determines in a constitutional case (whether this defendant can be sued for this conduct because it was under color). But it is especially true after Arbaugh and Morrison, which labels as merits issues those affecting the "reach" of a law, meaning what the law "prohibits"--what conduct (under color or not under color) can form the basis for liability in a § 1983 constitutional claim. It has nothing to do with subject-matter jurisdiction, which is established because federal law "creates" the rights plaintiff is asserting (Fourth Amendment) and his right of action (§ 1983).

The court may have found itself bound by a 1980 circuit precedent saying state action was required to "invoke the district court's jurisdiction." But that case (both the majority and dissent) uses the term jurisdiction in the thoughtless way the Court (particularly Justice Ginsburg) has tried to rein in the past twenty years. And it is inconsistent with how Morrison and Arbaugh framed the definition of merits issues. A Third Circuit panel was willing to overrule circuit precedent that could not stand in light of those recent cases. Perhaps this panel was unwilling to do the same. But then perhaps tee this for en banc review.

One other note: This decision is a stew of bad Fed Courts doctrine. The only reason the court was in position to consider the issue at this point is the immediate appealability of qualified-immunity denials, which some have argued contribute to the over-protection of police. Immediate review is designed to speed litigation. Instead, the court avoided immunity to create a new round of district-court (and probably appellate) litigation of an issue that should not have been before the court of appeals.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 2, 2020 at 04:24 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (1)

Federal Rules of Trumpist Procedure

I started to add this to my earlier post about Trumpist Procedure (great article title), but decided it needs to stand alone.

Powell's Wisconsin lawsuit, which includes a plaintiff who never agreed to the lawsuit, included a "Motion for Declaratory, Emergency, and Permanent Injunctive Relief." It had to be filed twice because the lawyers filed a draft. They filed both without saying whether they had provided notice to the defendants or otherwise complied with FRCP 65(b) and local rules or whether they wanted a hearing. The court issued an order refusing to do anything, which is the best kind of order. Brad Heath of Reuters put it well:

Just an amazing pattern of lawyers showing up with what they say are the most important cases ever filed and botching the basics. Even the President's lawyers screwed up the everyday rules for suing people. These are the mistakes you see when prisoners represent themselves.

Courts are going to have to figure this out. But I am not sure demanding that the Trumpist lawyers adhere to the rules, refusing to act if they do not is the solution, and issuing (rightfully) annoyed orders is the answer. First, doing so ignores that their point is to make official-sounding noise in any forum; a court with "rules" is no different than a Courtyard-by-Marriott without rules. Second, orders such as this one make the court, especially an Obama appointee, part of the expanding conspiracy.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 2, 2020 at 01:13 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (2)

Judges, procedure, and Trumpist litigators (Updated Again and Again and Moved to Top)

We have seen some strangeness the past two days over one of Sydney Powell's Kraken lawsuits in Georgia. That lawsuit seeks, among other things, an order seizing and impounding voting machines in the state and allowing plaintiffs to perform a forensic inspection. On Sunday afternoon, the court issued a scheduling order that included a TRO prohibiting the state from scrubbing data from the machines. Later, the court issued a second order, rescinding the TRO, apparently because the state does not control the machines; counties do and the counties were not sued. On Sunday evening, the court issued a third order following a Zoom conference, reinstating the TRO prohibiting defendants from scrubbing or allowing scrubbing of the machines, limited to three counties, apparently on the understanding that plaintiffs will amend the complaint to add them as defendants. This morning came a fourth order, certifying the third order for immediate review under § 1292(b).

Why the insanity? I agree with several online lawyer-commenters. The judge issued a routine, non-adversary scheduling order that sought to preserve the status quo. And Powell, Lin Wood, etc. reacted by taking to Twitter to crow about a giant initial step towards exposing the massive international voter-fraud conspiracy, a substantive victory. Then the defendants pointed out the problems with the litigation and thus with even that routine order--the plaintiffs sued the wrong people and the machines probably cannot be subject to a plaintiff-run forensic audit, at least without more allegations and proof of wrongdoing. And the court sought a middle ground by allowing someone (not clear who) to appeal an otherwise-unappealable order. And questions remain about what the controlling question of law could--whether it was proper to issue a TRO before the amended complaint was filed? whether a forensic audit is available? It might be that the 11th Circuit could reject any appeal (the court of appeals must agree with the district court's certification that appeal is appropriate).

The lesson is that courts must be as cautious as everyone else in these waters. Routine litigation is not routine litigation with these lawyers or with their public followers, because they are not here for judicial resolution. The most innocuous order or statement by the court will be seized upon and trumpeted either further evidence of the vast international conspiracy of which the judge is a part or as a heroic step by a heroic judge to stopping the greatest evil in human history. (Recall Jenna Ellis's insistence that Giuliani had won the argument in the MDPa case, as evidenced by the judge recommending places for the lawyers to get a drink). But unless courts begin to use the tools at their disposal to stop these abuses, they must think twice about even the smallest procedural step or statement.

Updated on Tuesday: Politico has the full story based on the transcript of the Sunday conference, with commentary. The first two orders were proposed drafts circulated among the court and parties that were publicly disclosed and promoted by plaintiff counsel, thus far without consequence. The judge seems less unreceptive to these allegations than others; while stating that the allegations are backed by "precious little proof," he appears to take them as sufficiently plausible to warrant ordering limited preservation. The § 1292(b) order was entered in response to the state's desire to appeal, although still no word on the controlling question of law. No appeal has been filed.

My basis point in this post stands: Trumpist litigators are going to abuse the system. And judges have to be ready for it.

Updated on Wednesday: Instead, the plaintiffs appealed the TRO granting them narrow relief (no clearing machines in three counties). And they did not rely on the § 1292(b) certification, which appears to have been at the state's request. Instead, plaintiffs argue that this is an appeal as of right of an injunction under § 1292(a), based on Eleventh Circuit precedent from the Terri Schiavo litigation treating a TRO as an appealable preliminary injunction where the grant or denial "might have a serious, perhaps irreparable, consequence, and can be effectually challenged only by immediate appeal." In Schiavo, the consequence was that Schiavo would die; I doubt the consequences here are so grave.

Meanwhile, the notice of appeal argued that the appeal divests the district court of jurisdiction. This caused the district court to stay its scheduling order, including the briefing schedule (state briefs were due today) and a Friday hearing, both of which are off. This was unnecessary and probably unwise, because the district court must begin anew when the case returns (probably quickly) from the court of appeals. The district court was was not pleased, stating in the order that any delay in briefing and holding a hearing upon remand would be attributable to the plaintiffs and not the court.

Mike Dunford has more on how bad the lawyering has been in this case. Again, my basic point: This is about using the system to put on a show for a segment of the public. 

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 2, 2020 at 08:32 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Defending Trump's lawyers on hearsay (Updated Twice)

The Trump Campaign is attempting to appeal an early defeat in Michigan state court. A core piece of evidence was an affidavit by Trump poll watcher Jessica Connarn, testifying that an unknown poll worker had come to hear, in tears, and told her that another unknown poll worker had told her to change the dates on ballots. The trial court rejected this as hearsay-within-hearsay. The brief argues that Connarn's affidavit is not hearsay, because she was describing her first-hand impressions (that the unknown poll worker spoke, that she was crying, that other people yelled at her). The arguments have drawn the scorn of law Twitter.

I want to offer an argument that some of this is not necessarily inadmissible hearsay, although not for the reasons the Campaign argues in its brief.

There are two layers of hearsay--Unknown poll worker # 1 to Connarn and Unknown Poll Worker # 2 to Unknown Poll Worker # 1. Connarn can describe what she saw UPW #1 do. But the Campaign wants her to testify to what UPW #1 said UPW #2 said. That is the additional layer the Campaign seems to ignore.

As I like to map these problems for class:

    Connarn---UPW # 1 ("Someone told me to change the dates")---UPW # 2 ("Change the dates")

In a case with multiple declarants, each layer must be admissible under the rules. Working from the outside in until we get to the witness:

    # 2 to # 1: We do not know what was said. But it seems that #2's words to #1 are a command ("change the dates"), which is not a statement. Alternatively, and more powerfully, the command to change the dates is the unlawful conduct--manipulating ballots--alleged in the case. So what # 2 said to # 1 is a verbal act (the wrongdoing of commanding the change of dates requires words) which is not treated as a statement offered T/M/A. If # 1 testified, I do not think hearsay would bar her from testifying to what # 2 told her to do.

    #1 to Connarn: This is a statement (# 1 asserts that # 2 told # 1 to do this) and it is offered T/M/A (it must be true that # 2 told #1 to do this). But if # 1 was crying, does that make this an excited utterance--she is describing the event (being ordered to change the dates) while under the stress of excitement (shown by her crying) caused by being order to change the dates. Perhaps not, but that is the argument the Campaign could make; that it is not making it shows how bad the lawyering is.

To be sure, there are reliability concerns with Connarn's testimony, since both declarants are unknown and she probably has serious credibility problems. Perhaps that undermines the relevancy. Or perhaps it triggers a solid 403 objection. Or perhaps a court decides that the second statement (# 1 to Connarn) is not admissible as an excited utterance because the specific circumstances of the particular statement (unknown people reporting something to an unreliable witness) indicate untrustworthiness--some courts add this element to the 803(2) analysis. But I do not  think it is as simple as saying "this is hearsay."

Please tell me why I am wrong.

Update: The commenter below says there is an additional layer of hearsay--Connarn did not speak to the crying poll worker, but was told by an unknown Republican poll challenger about what the crying UPW #1 said. Looking at the Affidavit, this is right. The affidavit says: "I was approached by a Republican Party poll challenger, who stated that a hired poll worker of the TCF Center, in Wayne County, Michigan, was nearly in tears because she was being told by other hired poll workers at her table to change the date the ballot was received when entering ballots into the computer."

So, as the commenter says, on my model we have:

    Connaran--GOP--UPW #1---UPW #2.

There is no argument to get that new innermost leg (GOP to Connaran) in under the rules. Even if the GOP person was crying or speaking right after it happened, she is describing/upset by what she was told by UPW #1 and Connaran is repeating that for T/M/A. I give a similar example in class to distinguish a declarant excited by and describing an event and a declarant excited by and repeating what someone else says about an event.

But if this is correct, Thor may be in some trouble. Here is how the brief summarizes Connaran's affidavit:

    p.4: Jessica Connarn testified in her affidavit that she personally witnessed a poll worker’s distress because that poll worker was instructed to count ineligible ballots being tallied as lawful votes at the Detroit central counting board.

    p.17: Jessica Connarn’s affidavit describes how an election poll worker told Jessica Connarn that the poll worker “was being told to change the date on ballots to reflect that the ballots were received on an earlier date.”

    p.22: Jessica Connarn’s affidavit describes how an election poll worker told Jessica Connarn that the poll worker “was being told to change the date on ballots to reflect that the ballots were received on an earlier date.”

The brief three times states that  crying UPW # 1 told Connarn personally, not the "Republican poll challenger," about the date-change command. Unless Connarn submitted a second affidavit at some point. Which then puts her to the task of explaining away the contradictory sworn testimony.

Updated Again: Unless (I know, I am spending too much time on this): One could read the original affidavit (not the situation described in the brief) a bit differently: Not as the GOP challenger being told by # 1 what # 2 had told her to do, but as the GOP challenger having witnessed first-hand the exchange between #1 and #2 and reported it to Connarn. The affidavit does not make clear how GOP found out what # 2 told # 1. So perhaps we have:

    Connarn---GOP ("2 told # 1 to change dates and # 1 was crying")---#2 ("change dates")

#2's statement remains a verbal act, witnessed by GOP and about which GOP could testify without hearsay objection. What about that inner leg from GOP to Connarn? I think it could be a present sense impression, depending on when GOP spoke to Connarn, or an excited utterance, if GOP was somehow upset by what she witnessed and is describing; we need some foundation. Either way, GOP is describing an event or condition (#2's verbal act) to the person who will take the stand.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 1, 2020 at 02:49 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Saturday, November 28, 2020

More state universality (Updated)

A judge in the Eastern District of Kentucky enjoined a Kentucky executive order closing schools, finding it violated the First Amendment rights of a K-12 religious school. (H/T: Eugene Volokh). It is unsurprising in its analysis--the order was not generally applicable because it applied to K-12 schools but not preschools or colleges and universities. Whatever--I have given up reading these decisions as anything other than a sub silentio reading of the First Amendment to opt-outs for religious institutions and behaviors, no matter the societal costs. Update: The Sixth Circuit reversed.

More interesting to me is that the court made the injunction universal/non-particularized, prohibiting enforcement of the EO as to all religious schools, not only the plaintiff. The court did not use the words universal or non-particularized and did not acknowledge the ongoing scope-of-injunction controversy, while providing further evidence that this issue is not limited to challenges to federal law. I presume the key here is that the lawsuit was brought not only by the school, but also by the Attorney General on behalf of the Commonwealth. "Complete relief" for the AG must protect all members of the public.

In the Before Times of 2018, I spoke on universal injunctions before the meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General. I suggested they might be of two minds on the issue. On one hand, universality works against them as the defendants to be enjoined from enforcing many state laws. On the other hand, they want universality when suing the federal government to stpp. This is a third hand--the AG suing the Governor to stop enforcement of a provision of state law.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 28, 2020 at 12:29 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 27, 2020

Making students thirsty for Civ Pro

The Third Circuit unanimously rejected the Trump Campaign's appeal seeking leave to amend and to enjoin Pennsylvania certification pending appeal. Other commenters have described this vivisection of an opinion. I will add a few random thoughts.

• Trump attorney Jenna Ellis says the quiet parts out loud by complaining that the "activist judicial machinery in Pennsylvania continues to cover up the allegations of massive fraud," before cheering that it is "on to SCOTUS." Never mind that the complaint pointedly does not allege fraud, which is part of the problem. The "activist judicial machinery" is three Republican appointees, including a Trump appointee as the opinion author. Under what possible definition is this decision--declining to undo the results of the majoritarian process--activist? Unless, as we all suspect, activist is a decision that rules against us.

• I was glad to see the court reject the argument that due process or other federal law requires partisan poll watchers, let alone that poll watchers be given particular access or vantage. This has been creeping into the political arguments, including during Trump's press conference at the Irresolute Desk when he extolled poll watchers as "sacred in our country."* They are not, never have been, and need not be, as a matter of federal constitutional law.

[*] He surrounded this with an unusual use of his "a lot of people don't know this" verbal tic. Usually that tic accompanies something true that everyone (except Trump, presumably) has always known, such as that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican. Here, he is using it with a statement that no one knows because it is not true.

• The opinion throws Twiqbal and FRCP 15(a) into the public eye, which should make my students long for Civ Pro next semester. The case offers a somewhat different example of undue delay. The paradigm case is "we're 15 months into litigation, discovery is closed, we are three months from trial, why did you wait so long." Here, the delay is undue because of the plaintiff's litigation posture--a motion on your original pleading is fully briefed and amending now requires us to start over, contra your particular request to the court to rule quickly on time-sensitive injunctive relief.

• I agree with those who have said that Judge Bibas is a wonderful writer--crisp and able to turn a phrase, without being showy or obnoxious. A good example of legal writing.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 27, 2020 at 04:57 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

JOTWELL: Vladeck on the new Supreme Court Practice

The new Courts Law essay comes from Steve Vladeck (Texas), reviewing the new 11th edition of Supreme Court Practice.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 27, 2020 at 02:56 PM in Article Spotlight, Books, Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Dumping Rule 11

I have been thinking about dropping Rule 11 from Civ Pro. I have had trouble getting to Erie the past few years, a problem made worse  being remote (everything takes just a bit longer, which adds up over 13 weeks) and the likely addition of a new personal-jurisdiction case in Ford. I enjoy teaching it and it is a good source for essay questions. But I think Erie is more important.

The clown show that is the Trump Campaign litigation in the Middle District of Pennsylvania (and now the Third Circuit) confirms the choice. No one will be sanctioned for pursuing litigation violating 11(b)(1), (2), and (3). Even the great find precedent the Campaign has touted (they brought the plaintiff to last week's hearing) does not stand for the proposition they say it does. And beyond this single extraordinary case, the reality is that sanctions are imposed on the most-egregious behavior after four or five freebies. Against all of that, class time is better spent on other things.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 24, 2020 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (11)

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Trump campaign loses big in Pennsylvania (Updated)

Update: Just wanted to highlight a few things discussed below, as the Pennsylvania litigation continues apace. First, Trump's lawyers are as bad at appellate procedure as they are at civil procedure--the motion for expedited review insists that they are only challenging the denial of leave to amend to file a Second Amended Complaint, not the dismissal of the First Amended Complaint. And they have not asked for an injunction pending appeal, which means Pennsylvania could certify the results today and moot the case. Second, Trump's lawyers are being hoisted on their Twiqbal petards. They continue to insist they are entitled to discovery and the chance to present evidence at trial, ignoring the obligation to plead a plausible claim, including standing. Third, liberal delight in flaunting Twiqbal is disturbing.

Opinion here. This was always a weak case, so the result is unsurprising. Giuliani's involvement brought a brighter spotlight to it than its merits deserved, making it more farce than lawsuit. But the decision is as much of a smackdown as people are saying, with the court dropping occasional phrases suggesting annoyance. Some quick thoughts.

1) This case further convinces me that standing as a merits-independent threshold inquiry makes no sense. For the two voter plaintiffs, the court focuses on the fact that they sued the wrong people, people who did not violate their rights and thus injure them. That should be part of the merits--your county violated your rights by treating you poorly, but other counties do not violate your rights by treating other people favorably (as permitted by law). Similarly, redressability was framed in terms of remedy--the plaintiffs lacked standing because they requested the wrong remedy--which should be a post-merits determination. The goal seems to be to make what are effectively merits determinations while denying the case is about constitutional merits.

2) The Campaign asserted associational standing,which the court rejected. But it did not assert third-party standing on behalf of voters. Was this another pleading error? Political campaigns have always struck me as a classic example of third-party standing--their interests align with the voters and individual voters lack the incentive to bring broad-based litigation.

3) Given the GOP campaign against universal injunctions the past four years (with which I agree, of course), it is ironic that they requested the ultimate universal injunction. The plaintiffs asked the court to stop Pennsylvania from certifying the election--functionally nullifying every vote in the state--to remedy the violation suffered by two voters who were denied equal protection by the actions of a non-party. But it also would have been insufficiently universal, in that they only wanted to stop certification of the presidential election but no other election, although the voters were denied equal protection to cure their votes in those elections, as well (unless they could allege that they only voted in the presidential election).

4) The case illustrates the disconnect between litigation, which is often small-bore and centered on discrete violations of discrete people's discrete rights, and the vast international and technological conspiracy that Trump's lawyers sought to prove. Put aside that the evidence does not exist. There was no room for such evidence on the claims alleged. But does this create a catch-22? The Campaign will complain that it never had an opportunity to present its evidence in court (as people have been demanding), because the court never accepted its unsubstantiated allegations (which is all a complaint is supposed to be) and allowed it to find and present that evidence. At the same time, this is how much litigation works since Twiqbal--a state of affairs about which Civ Pro scholars have been complaining for almost 15 years.

5) I liked Judge Brann putting citations in footnotes, a practice I am surprised has not caught on more (some judges on the 5th and 6th Circuits do this). On that note, check out footnote 80, sure to go down in history as the new footnote 4.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 22, 2020 at 10:47 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (7)

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Procedure matters

Civ Pro is a spring class at FIU, so I do not get them until January. But I hope they are paying some attention to the Trump litigation campaign, particularly the case in MDPa. That mess shows how much procedure matters, if only to getting the court to take you seriously as a competent advocate and thus your claims seriously as presented. But Giuliani (and other's) complete lack of understanding of how litigation operates at the level of a basic Civ Pro class--when leave to amend must be sought, what claims and allegations are or not in a case, the meaning of pleading standards--has been stunning. Grasp of procedure also marks the difference between legal and political activities, which supports news reports that Giulian's gambit is entirely the latter and none of the former.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 18, 2020 at 08:38 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, November 12, 2020

JOTWELL: Levy on Garder and McAlister on nonbinding authority

The new Courts Law essay comes from Marin Levy (Duke), reviewing Maggie Gardner, Dangerous Citations (forthcoming N.Y.U. L. Rev.) and Merritt E. McAlister, Missing Decisions (forthcoming U. Pa. L. Rev.), each addressing different problems related to the use of nonbinding authority.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 12, 2020 at 02:23 PM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 25, 2020

"Zombie statutes," non-universality, and judicial departmentalism

The opening paragraph of this Fifth Circuit opinion by Judge Costa accurately describes judicial review (H/T: Josh Blackman):

It is often said that courts “strike down” laws when ruling them unconstitutional. That’s not quite right. See Jonathan F. Mitchell, The Writ-of-Erasure Fallacy, 104 VA.L.REV. 933, 936 (2018). Courts hold laws unenforceable; they do not erase them. Id. Many laws that are plainly unconstitutional remain on the statute books. Jim Crow-era segregation laws are one example. See Gabriel J. Chin et al., Still on the Books: Jim Crow and Segregation Laws Fifty Years After Brown v. Board of Education, 2006 MICH.ST.L.REV. 457 (highlighting the segregationist laws still present in the codes of several states); see also Josh Blackman, The Irrepressible Myth of Cooper v. Aaron, 107 GEO.L.J. 1135, 1199 (2019) (noting that the Texas law criminalizing sodomy at issue in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), remains in the state code).

The opinion deals with what Costa calls "zombie statutes"--laws in one state that remain on the books but are unenforceable (at least judicially, more on that below) in light of SCOTUS precedent declaring an identical law from a different state invalid. The challenge here was to a Houston ordinance requiring initiative/petition circulators to be registered voters; SCOTUS in Buckley v. American Constitutional Law Foundation declared an identical Colorado law to violate the First Amendment. The Fifth Circuit held that the plaintiffs had standing and that the case was not moot--there was sufficient threat of enforcement despite Buckley and the city's addition of an Editor's Note to its code--stating that it would accept petitions from non-registered voters and provided a form for such petitions--was not sufficient to moot the case.

This "zombie law" concept is interesting. I wish I had it in front of me (or had thought of the term myself) when writing about the link between non-universality and judicial departmentalism. Because those concepts inform what makes a zombie law.

Because of non-universality, the concept should not be limited to the situation at hand--State B's law is a zombie because of a decision involving State A's law. State B's law can be a zombie because of a decision involving that law as to non-parties to the prior litigation. It also means we could have federal zombie laws. The point is the same in all--the prior judgment spoke to the challenged law and the involved party, not to any other law or any other party.

Because of judicial departmentalism, it is arguably unfair to call any law a zombie law. Because if the government believes, in its independent judgment, that the law is constitutionally valid, it acts within the full scope of its constitutional power in enacting or enforcing it, regardless of contrary precedent. In that sense, the law is alive and enforceable. On the other hand, maybe zombie is the right term because the laws are undead--they are alive in remaining on the books and in remaining enforceable by a departmentalism government, but the actual or threatened enforcement is DOA in court, where SCOTUS precedent binds and determines the outcome. On a third hand, maybe we need distinct terms to capture distinct concepts--law on the books but no intention to enforce v. law on the books with intention to enforce--rather than lumping everything as a zombie.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 25, 2020 at 11:56 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (9)

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Declaratory judgment of protected speech

ElDfrdHUcAEQYGkThe Lincoln Project erected these billboards in Times Square, suggesting lack of concern about COVID by Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. Attorney Marc Kasowitz sent the Lincoln Project a two-paragraph letter stating the billboards are "an outrageous and shameful libel" and that if they "are not immediately removed, we will sue you for what will doubtless be enormous compensatory and punitive damages."

Needless to say, the statements on the billboard are not libelous, regardless of whether they are outrageous or shameful. And it is doubtful that Javanka will recover compensatory and punitive damages, let alone enormous ones. The billboards imply callous disregard for COVID deaths, which is non-actionable opinion. The quotation from Jared comes from a Vanity Fair article about the administration's COVID response. The full statement is that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo did not do enough to get PPE, so "his people are going to suffer and that's their problem." It is at least ambiguous whether "their" refers to Cuomo or "his people" (meaning New Yorkers); so even if it leaves a false impression, it does not rise to actual malice. The juxtaposition of their photos with body bags and death tolls is hyperbole. And, again, these are government officials.

Anyway, this letter is no different from the many bumptious letters that President Trump and other Republicans send to their human and bovine critics over plainly protected speech. They often give attorneys a chance to wave the banner of the First Amendment in their responses. But Popehat views these letters as a genuine threat to free speech when in furtherance of "abusively frivolous" defamation claims (which this letter is). So he offers a proposal:  The "'That's Not Defamation' Declaratory Relief Act:"

Under the statute, the Lincoln Project could send a demand to Kasowitz and the Kushners to withdraw the threat. If they don’t withdraw the threat, Lincoln Project can sue under the statute seeking a declaration that the speech is not defamatory. They can bring the equivalent of an anti-SLAPP motion immediately. If they prevail, they get an order that the speech is not defamatory ....AND they get attorney fees collectible from (this is key) either the Kushners or Kasowitz. If the judge finds the threat was frivolous, he or she can impose penalties on top of the fees. Would make legal threats have consequences.

White views attorneys as a big part of the problem. We expect people who believe they have been wronged to be angry and to lash out. We perhaps should expect more restraint from public officials and in the past we got it, but the human reaction is understandable. Attorneys are supposed to understand the law, to recognize the difference between hurt feelings and actionable defamation, and to talk their clients off the ledge, especially from throwing around money and power. An attorney who sends a letter such as this does the opposite; indeed, he exacerbates those money-and-power imbalances.

A declaratory judgment of protectedness is theoretically available under the current Declaratory Judgment Act, but defendants do not avail themselves of the option. Likely because most such letters are empty threats (Donald Trump has yet to sue over 2016 reporting of sexual-assault allegations) and the defendant's prefer avoid litigation, especially because attorney's fees are not recoverable under the current law. White's proposal makes the attorney demand part of the game.

There is an interesting Fed Courts angle to this. Under Skelly Oil, an action seeking a declaration that speech is constitutionally protected/non-defamatory does not arise under federal law, because the underlying enforcement action (a defamation suit) would not arise under federal law. It could only reach federal court on diversity. So if White wants these cases in federal court, the statute should include a jurisdictional grant that does not rely on the Well Pleaded Complaint Rule.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 24, 2020 at 12:51 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (9)

Friday, October 23, 2020

Still getting jurisdictionality wrong

An unpublished Ninth Circuit opinion holds the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over a copyright dispute because, as alleged, all infringing acts occurred outside the United States. But this should be a merits rather than jurisdictional issue. That the infringement took place outside the United States means U.S. copyright law was not violated because it does not "reach" or "prohibit" non-U.S. conduct. And the plaintiff's rights under U.S. copyright were not violated. All of which, Morrison v. Australia National Bank tells us, are merits questions to be resolved on 12(b)(6), not jurisdictional questions under 12(b)(1). It is amazing that courts continue to get this wrong. Especially since the court cited Twiqbal and looked only to the allegations in the complaint, which lacked any facts showing U.S.-based conduct.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 23, 2020 at 08:26 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, October 09, 2020

Ford arguments

Here is the transcript from Wednesday's argument in Ford and here is my SCOTUSBlog story. A few additional thoughts:

The Justices do not seem to understand or recognize that the prevailing analytical approach has 3 parts (at least as it has developed): 1) Purposeful availment; 2) Relatedness; 3) Unreasonableness. A lot of the hypos conflated the three. The Chief's hypo about the small manufacturer in Maine could be resolved on the third prong (much like Justice Breyer's hypos about Egyptian shirts and Brazilian coffee in his Nicastro concurrence). Other hypos were about purposeful availment rather than relatedness. Justice Kavanaugh tried to disaggregate them in his colloquy with plaintiff counsel, giving him a chance to describe the differences between the first two steps and why they do not run together. But I do not know whether it will take. (There is an argument that the three-step approach is wrong and inconsistent with Shoe, but this is where we are until the Court changes it. So it would be helpful if they recognized their analysis).

Justice Kavanaugh explored the World Wide connections with both sides, including quoting specific language from the case. Counsel for Ford argued that the issue is open because Audi and VWA did not challenge jurisdiction. Counsel for plaintiffs argued that there is a reason for that--jurisdiction over a nationwide manufacturer for defects in its products forms the "core" of specific jurisdiction.

I am bad at predictions, so I will not make one. But the Justices were less hostile to the plaintiffs' position than I anticipated. I do not know what that means for the outcome.

On a different note, it was easier writing the argument recap (what I have found the hardest of the three SCOTUSBlog pieces for each case) under the new argument format because it was easier to take notes and to organize the piece--Intro and nine mini colloquies per side, with less need to scour many pages for common themes. Although I was raised in the Scalia-led free-for-all that also is reflected in law-school moot court, this format is growing on me and I am curious if they will maintain some version of this when the Court returns to face-to-face. And if Court membership expands.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 9, 2020 at 01:11 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

JOTWELL: Effron on Rose on online class action notice

The new Courts Law essay comes from Robin Effron (Brooklyn), reviewing Amanda M. Rose, Classaction.gov (U. Chi. L. Rev., forthcoming), on a government website to handle class-action administration.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 9, 2020 at 10:47 AM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

"Relatedness" in personal jurisdiction--Ford and World Wide Volkswagen

SCOTUS on Wednesday hears arguments in Ford v. Montana Eighth Judicial District and Ford v. Bandemer, considering whether there can be specific jurisdiction over a defendant who sells and ships products into the forum state but not the specific unit involved in the events at issue. The Court must decide whether "give rise or relate to" reflects one concept or whether "relate to" is a distinct and broader concept and how much broader. I am covering the case for SCOTUSBlog. Larry Solum offers some thoughts.

This case is the spiritual successor to World Wide Volkswagen, answering questions that were unnecessary 40 years ago and reflecting recent doctrinal shifts. Audi and Volkswagen of America did not challenge personal jurisdiction, recognizing that they were subject to jurisdiction based on the large number of cars that they sold, marketed, serviced, and shipped to the state, although they did not sell or ship the Robinson's car to Oklahoma (they shipped that to NY). Whether this was general "doing business" jurisdiction or some broader conception of specific jurisdiction was unresolved, although it was the topic of academic debate between Mary Twitchell and Lea Brilmayer.

The Court's recent decisions (several authored by Justice Ginsburg) narrowing general jurisdiction to "home" (meaning principal place of business and state of incorporation for corporations) changes the calculus for Ford, which stands in the same position as Audi and VWA. There is no general jurisdiction, because Ford is not incorporated or headquartered in Montana or Minnesota, just as Audi and VWA were not incorporated or headquartered in Oklahoma. So this squarely presents how far (or not far) relatedness extends, including whether it reaches cases in which the defendant has contacts with the forum that are "identical" or "similar to" the out-of-state contacts that caused the accident.

This could be the most significant of the recent wave of P/J cases. If the Court narrows the relatedness standard and finds no specific jurisdiction, it could make it difficult for plaintiffs to sue manufacturers in the locus of the accident, which usually is the plaintiff's home. Instead, often-less-resourced plaintiffs will have to travel to the better-resourced defendant's home (having to sue Ford in Michigan) or to some third state where the defendant did have contacts (such as where Ford manufactured or made first sale of the car at issue). Either is less convenient and more burdensome for the plaintiff. Waiting to hear arguments, but I expect the Court to be more divided on this case than in most of the other recent PJ cases.

Finally, on a teaching point. I use World Wide to show the intersection between subject matter and personal jurisdiction and the strategic choices that parties must make. Depending on the outcome in Ford, everything about WW would be different if the case arose now.

The Robinsons sued Audi, VWA, World Wide (the regional distributor), and Seaway (the dealer) in Oklahoma state court in 1975. Audi and VWA recognized they were stuck in Oklahoma, but wanted to be in federal court. WW and Seaway, both from New York, destroyed complete diversity because the Robinsons were from New York (the accident in Oklahoma prevented them from reaching Arizona and establishing the new residence so as to change their domiciles). So Audi and VWA financed WW and Seaway to challenge personal jurisdiction through the OK courts and to SCOTUS. Following the SCOTUS decision and the dismissal of WW and Seaway in 1980, Audi and VWA removed. But that strategy is unavailable under current law. In 1988, Congress amended what is now § 1446(c)(1) to prohibit renoving later-becomes-removeablae diversity cases more than one year after filling. So Audi and VWA now gain nothing from financing WW and Seaway to get out of the case. Given the cost of litigation, would WW and Seaway thus decline to challenge personal jurisdiction, litigate in Oklahoma, and hope to shift the blame onto the manufacturers?

On the other hand, if the Court rejects jurisdiction in Ford, Audi and VWA would have a different strategy--join WW and Seaway in getting the case dismissed from Oklahoma.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 6, 2020 at 09:55 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (6)

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Proving anti-Jewish discrimination

Eugene Volokh unearths a 10-year-old S.D.N.Y. decision in an action alleging co-workers in a government job referred to him as a "dumb Jew" or "fucking Jew."

Eugene focuses on one defense--that the plaintiff was not Jewish because his mother was not Jewish, he had not converted, and he was not practicing. The court rejected the argument, deeming it not the court's place to define who is Jewish and finding it sufficient that the plaintiff defined himself as being of Jewish "heritage," even if not practicing. One of Eugene's commentators nominates this as the new definition of chutzpah--calling someone a "fucking Jew," then arguing that he is not Jewish.

The rest of the decision is interesting apart from the chutzpah. The court denied summary judgment on a Title VII claim against the city. But the court dismissed a § 1981 claim, because the plaintiff alleged religious rather than racial discrimination. This seems like a pleading error. Courts will treat Judaism as more than a religion for § 1981 purposes. And that would have been an appropriate approach in this case, where the plaintiff did not practice Judaism and focused more on his "heritage" than his religion.

The court  granted summary judgment on claims against several harassing co-workers. Although there was evidence the co-workers had created a hostile religious environment, they were not state actors because they were not his supervisors. This is incoherent. The under-color question should be whether the defendant used his official position to engage in unconstitutional conduct and whether that position made the unconstitutional conduct possible. That should be satisfied here--the unconstitutional conduct is the religiously motivated harassment and they could engage in that harassment only because of their official positions in government. Harassment does not require a supervisory relationship, so it should be irrelevant to the under-color/state-action analysis.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 27, 2020 at 01:36 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 25, 2020

JOTWELL: Campos on Civ Pro Unavailability Workshop

The new Courts Law essay comes from Sergio Campos (Miami), discussing the Civil Procedure Unavailability Workshop, a remote civ pro workshop that Suzanna Sherry (Vanderbilt) and Adam Steinman (Alabama) established late last spring. (I did one of the talks, on Erie and SLAPP laws). Edward Cheng (Vanderbilt) originated the program with an evidence workshop.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 25, 2020 at 11:16 AM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Jamelle Bouie misunderstands judicial supremacy and other comments

Jamelle Bouie calls on Democrats to reject judicial supremacy. Unfortunately, he does not seem to understand what judicial supremacy is or what it means to fight it. Instead, he conflates challenges to judicial supremacy with court reform. He offers the historical example* of Jeffersonians undoing the Midnight Judges Act--eliminating judgeships, restoring a SCOTUS seat, and restoring circuit riding. But none of that had anything to do with judicial supremacy. That was a dispute between competing parties in the political process about the structure of the federal courts, which everyone agrees was and remains within congressional control. It has nothing to do with who, if anyone, gets the final word on constitutional meaning. And the Court had no say in either the original act or the Jeffersonian response. One can support court packing or other  proposals for reforming the structure of the courts while believing in judicial supremacy.

[*] Bouie's other example is Lincoln's First Inaugural, where he suggests ignoring Dred Scot as precedent as to the validity of the Missouri Compromise, while recognizing that he is stuck with the judgment in that case. This envisions judicial departmentalism--bound by the judgment, free to ignore precedent.

Kevin Drum comments on Bouie's column and understands the issues better, arguing for jurisdiction stripping as the answer. This hits on something I did not consider or address in my work on judicial departmentalism. Departmentalism collapses into judicial supremacy because many (most?) constitutional questions devolve into judicial ones, producing a court judgment that the executive must enforce and obey, on pain of contempt. The solution--for those who want one--is stripping the courts of jurisdiction to decide some constitutional issues. But not because it eliminates courts' power to make new precedent--since the the other branches can ignore that. But because it eliminates courts' power to produce new judgments, which the other branches cannot ignore.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 22, 2020 at 10:23 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, September 04, 2020

Getting qualified immunity wrong

This letter, from the lobbyist from the Oregon Coalition of Police and Sheriffs to an Oregon legislative committee considering a host of police-reform bills. Benefit of the doubt: The author (according to his LinkedIn page) is not an attorney and he might be talking about some state tort qualified immunity doctrine  rather than § 1983 federal qualified immunity. But presuming he is talking about § 1983, this is not good.

The letter says:

• "Qualified immunity is a legal principle that applies not only to law enforcement officers, but all public employees and officials" (emphasis in original): The only legally accurate statement in here.

• "It states that a public official cannot be sued . . . so long as those actions occur legally within the scope of the public employee's official duties. Qualified immunity is never a shield for illegal activity. It is not applicable if a public employee is acting outside the scope of their responsibilities." (emphasis in original). This is so wrong, which is why I was unsure whether he was talking about a state tort defense as opposed to § 1983. But as an explanation of § 1983, it conflates "under color of law" with immunity. A public official acts under color, and subject to liability, when performing his public job responsibilities; whether immunity applies is a second and distinct question. And the argument ignores the mounting cases in which courts find that an officer, under color of law, did something unlawful (e.g., making a prisoner sit in feces for four hours or stealing property in executing a warrant) but is not liable because no prior officer did the precise thing in the precise manner within that federal circuit.

• "The purpose of Qualified Immunity is to ensure that litigation does not completely place a public employee at the mercy of litigious counterparties." Sort of. It does not protect those employees just because. It protects them so that they will do a better job of policing when they can exercise judgment free from the fear of litigation. But when the result of a doctrine is that some (many?) officers acting as if they are unchecked, that doctrine may not be serving its intended purpose.

• I will not quote the whole thing, but the letter argues that qualified immunity also protects legislators. who are "uniquely and powerfully positioned to broadly deprive individuals of their rights." Again assuming he is talking about immunity from federal suit, he is wrong in the opposite direction. Legislators enjoy absolute immunity for their votes and legislative actions. But that distinction is based on the fact that individual legislators are less able to harm someone, there are political and electoral checks, and any violation is caused by the enforcement of legislation, remedied by a suit against the enforcing executive (who, of course, can claim qualified immunity). Executive immunity is (and should be) more limited than legislative immunity because executives interact with the public and can act individually to violate rights. Oh, and they can shoot people.

Again, if he is attempting to talk about state tort immunity, ignore the above--I know nothing about Colorado law so I do not know if what he says is correct. But if he is attempting to talk about federal claims under § 1983 or if he confused the two, this is a poor piece of advocacy.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 4, 2020 at 01:31 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Universality, facial invalidity, and the First Amendment

I am a couple of days late to this Third Circuit decision declaring invalid as-applied, but not facially, the age-verification, labeling, and record-keeping requirements of the Child Online Protection Act. But the court reversed on scope-of-injunction, limiting the bar on enforcement to the named plaintiffs.

Two bits of good news. The court dropped a footnote that "nationwide" is the imprecise term, citing Justice Thomas' Trump v. Hawaii concurrence that the problem is not geographic scope but "universal character." And the court ended in the right place--with an injunction particularized to the individual plaintiffs.

The bad news is how it got there. These plaintiffs--journalists, commercial photographers, and producers of sex-education materials--were niche actors and different from typical players in the pornography industry. Given their unique facts and positions, the remedy protecting them should not protect differently situated actors. But that should not matter. Even if non-party pornographers were similarly situated to the plaintiffs, absent class certification, the injunction should not protect beyond the plaintiffs; it is unnecessary to accord complete relief or to remedy the violation of those plaintiffs' constitutional rights.

One point of confusion is that two associations--the Free Speech Coalition and the American Society for Media Photographers--were plaintiffs in the case, although their claims were dismissed for lack of associational standing. An injunction protecting an associational plaintiff can become broader, as in protecting the association it must protect its members (Michael Morley describes this as a de facto class action). But this injunction never protected the associations, who lacked standing. But that proves the point. There is no reason to consider the organizations' standing if the injunction protects them at the end of the day. Particularity in the injunction is more consistent with the other rules of civil litigation.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 3, 2020 at 03:25 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Separation of powers, separation of parties, and subpoena enforcement

Following on Monday's post about the D.C. Circuit holding the House lacked a cause of action to enforce a subpoena: I mentioned that Congress could fix this by enacting a statute creating a right to sue. But that effort would offer an interesting test of the Levinson & Pildes "separation of parties, not separation of powers" thesis.

The President would likely veto any such bill. He will not want to subject himself and the executive branch to subpoena-enforcement actions. And he will want to retain control over subpoena enforcement actions, through DOJ.

The question then becomes whether Congress will override that veto. A legislature committed to separation of powers--and the Madisonian conception of ambition counteracting ambition--would override the veto, asserting its institutional prerogatives against executive recalcitrance. But Congress has been interested in checking the executive only when he is from the opposing party. So the question is whether sufficient Republicans in both houses would override a Trump veto or sufficient Democrats in both houses would override a Biden veto. And the answer to that is not clear. Perhaps each party will play a long game--"override my co-partisan President now so the power exists when the opposing party is in the White House." But the answer is not clear.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 1, 2020 at 09:22 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 31, 2020

D.C. Circuit has a busy day

As has been widely discussed, today is Judge Griffith's last day on the court, so it wanted to get some things out.

First, the en banc court in an 8-2 per curiam denied Sullivan's Michael Flynn's petition for writ of mandamus, concluding that Flynn had an adequate alternative remedy via district court proceedings on the motion (which may result in dismissal) or appeal or further mandamus of any district court decision. The court also declined to order the case reassigned to another district judge. Griffith wrote a short concurrence, emphasizing the purely legal (rather than political) nature of the dispute in the case.

Second, Griffith wrote for a 2-1 panel that the House (held by the en banc court to have standing to sue to enforce a subpoena against Don McGahn) could not sue to enforce because it lacked a cause of action to sue. Neither Article I (the source of the right to subpoena information), equity, nor the Declaratory Judgment Act provides an existing cause of action. Congress can fix the problem by enacting a statute creating a right to sue. This confirms why, as I wrote following the en banc decision, standing is such a colossal waste of time. It also reflects a D.C. Circuit (and perhaps Supreme Court) that seems determined to push the House to start fining and jailing witnesses who refuse to comply with subpoenas by cutting-off the civil-suit alternative. Like its predecessor, it may not withstand en banc review.

Judges Rogers dissented, arguing that Art. I and the DJA provide a right to sue. She continues to argue there is jurisdiction over the action under § 1331, a point the majority found unnecessary to address. McGahn argued there was no jurisdiction over an action by the House because no statute grants that jurisdiction, while  § 1365 grants jurisdiction over actions by the Senate. The implication is that § 1365 provides the sole basis for jurisdiction in actions by the Senate, superseding § 1331. And since there is no House counterpart to § 1365, the House cannot rely on § 1331. But this ignores the plain text of § 1331, which gives jurisdiction over anything that arises under, without Congress having to do more. As Rogers pointed out, § 1365 was enacted when § 1331 had an amount-in-controversy requirement, so a separate statute was necessary to give jurisdiction over all possible actions. Many separate jurisdiction grants were enacted for similar reasons. But since Congress eliminated the AIC requirement in 1980, none has been read as anything more than vestigial and certainly not as precluding § 1331.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 31, 2020 at 03:01 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Palin lawsuit against New York Times continues

Sarah Palin sued The Times over an editorial describing a link between the shooting of Gabby Giffords and Palin's PAC's publishing a map featuring gun sights "targeting" Democratic districts. The case has a convoluted procedural history. The district court held an evidentiary hearing on a 12(b)(6) motion seeking information to aid the plausibility analysis, then granted a 12(b)(6); the Second Circuit held that the evidentiary hearing was improper, then reversed the order granting the 12(b)(6).

The district court on Friday denied summary judgment to both parties. Palin had moved, arguing that stare decisis on constitutional issues is less rigid and that actual malice should not apply in the changed factual and media circumstances of the 55 years since New York Times. The court made quick work of rejecting that argument, explaining the difference between horizontal and vertical stare decisis and dropping the cute line that "binding precedent . . . does not come with an expiration date."*

[*] Usually.

The court denied the defendants' motion. It concluded that a reasonable jury could find the editor (and thus the paper) acted with actual malice as to alternative, defamatory meanings of the words in the editorial and actual malice as to the falsity of that alternative meaning. This is an unusually (although arguably appropriately) forgiving view of actual malice. The court sounds at several points as if it believes the evidence favors the defendants and does not believe (by clear-and-convincing evidence) they acted with actual malice. But the court is conscious that the weighing of evidence is not appropriate for summary judgment and must be the subject of a trial.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 29, 2020 at 02:41 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 28, 2020

3d Circuit reveals division on union clawbacks

After Janus v. AFSCME declared invalid union agency-fee statutes as violative of the First Amendment , the next question became whether the non-members could clawback frees from within the past 2-3 years (within the statute of limitations). The Seventh, Second, Sixth, and Ninth Circuits said no and without dissent, relying on some form of good-faith defense to § 1983--because the unions believed the fees permissible under state law and judicial precedent.

The Third Circuit joined the chorus in an action against the Pennsylvania Teacher's Union, but  revealed the first deep divides. Judge Rendell adopted the prevailing view of a good-faith defense, along with principles of equity and fairness, to preclude liability where a private actor relied on prevailing law. Judge Fisher concurred in the judgment, relying on a historic principle that that judicial decisions declaring laws invalid or overruling precedent did not generate retroactive civil liability. And Judge Phipps dissented, arguing that neither defense existed at common law, so the actions to recover past fees should proceed.

Curious to see if this issue makes its way to SCOTUS before the Court fully pursues qualified immunity.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 28, 2020 at 05:25 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

JOTWELL: Steinman on Jacobi & Sag on laughter at SCOTUS

The new Courts Law essay comes from Adam Steinman (Alabama) reviewing Tonja Jacobi & Matthew Sag, Taking Laughter Seriously at the Supreme Court, 72 Vand. L. Rev. 1423 (2019), analyzing the frequency of laughter during SCOTUS arguments and its dark side as a "weapon of advocacy."

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 11, 2020 at 11:12 AM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 07, 2020

Standing for nothing

I agree with the majority of the en banc D.C. Circuit that the House has standing to enforce its subpoena against former W.H. counsel Don McGahn.

But it reaffirms how little sense standing makes as a threshold Article III inquiry. As Marty Lederman notes, more important questions remain about whether the House has a cause of action, whether there is testimonial immunity, and other executive-privilege objections to the subpoenas. But we now have spent 17 months fighting over this issue and are no closer to a resolution before January 3, when Congress ends, the subpoena expires, and the whole mess becomes moot.

Worse, some of the arguments and disagreement between majority and dissent conflate standing and merits, a common and unavoidable problem. For example, McGahn and Judge Griffith's dissent argue that the House lacks standing because the case raises separation of powers problems and separation of powers underlies standing (sort of). But those stand-alone S/P concerns go to the merits of the case--to whether the subpoena or something sought through the subpoena is valid or whether the executive/legislative balance protects against some disclosures. The result is an attempt at double-counting: Using the possible failure of the House subpoena on its merits with what is supposed to be, but is not, a distinct question.

The court also splits on questions of legislative/executive cooperation and bargaining and perverse incentives that arose in Mazars. The majority argued that without judicial enforcement, the executive would have no reason to bargain, because the House would have no alternative means to ensure compliance (the executive may not pursue contempt against itself and inherent contempt authority has fallen into disuse). The dissent argues that the House will run to the courts rather than negotiate (this is the same argument the Chief Justice used in Mazars).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 7, 2020 at 02:54 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Anti-SLAPP fee-shifting in federal court

I have argued in prior posts that the solution to SLAPP suits is not the  heightened standards from state laws (which cannot apply in federal court) but attorney fee-shifting. The paradox has been that most fee-shifting provisions apply to actions disposed of under the statutory standard, but not under a different standard. Thus, if the state statutory standard does not apply and the case is resolved on a simple 12(b)(6), the fee-shift does not apply.

But not so with the Florida anti-SLAPP law, according to Judge Martinez of the Southern District of Florida. Florida law provides for fees for any action that is "without merit" and based on constitutionally protected speech. The determination that the action is without merit can be made under any procedural device, such as 12(b)(6) (as in this case). In other words, the statute is a garden-variety fee-shifting provision serving substantive policy ends, the same as other fee-shifting provisions held to apply in federal diversity actions. So an action dismissed on a 12(b)(6) can provide the basis for an award of fees.

This is unique to Florida's anti-SLAPP statute. But it produces a conclusion that balances the requirements of the REA/Erie/Hanna against First Amendment interests.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 6, 2020 at 03:38 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Judge Reeves on qualified immunity

An opinion to behold from Judge Reeves of the Southern District of Mississippi. (H/T: Michael Masinter). the 72-pager includes a lengthy history of § 1983 from passage in 1871 to the creation of qualified immunity; it calls out racial bias in policing and in society at large (especially in Mississippi) to explain why a search was not consensual. It calls out appellate judges for creatively interpreting Reconstruction statutes to protect older white men while failing to protect African-Americans against government misconduct. It calls directly and explicitly on the Supreme Court to do something (while admitting to not knowing what that should be). And it uses a cute three-point Star Wars allusion to organize the opinion ("§ 1983: A New Hope;" "Qualified Immunity: The Empire Strikes Back;" and "The Return of § 1983"). All while granting the officer qualified immunity for an egregious Fourth Amendment violation (traffic stop and lengthy search with no cause to be found) because he has no choice under current law.

For those who believe in such a thing (I don't), is this judicial activism? Does the judge's role, especially a lower-court judge, include railing against the state of the law, its horrific incorrectness, and its negative effects, especially in such sharp terms? Judge Reeves "applied the law rather than making the law," so he behaved consistent with that typical definition. An opinion is an essay having no direct force or effect. But should judges use these essays for such a cri de coeur?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 5, 2020 at 03:40 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (21)

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Judicial departmentalism and particularity on Twitter (Updated)

In 2019, the Second Circuit held that Donald Trump could not ban people from following him on Twitter for viewpoint-discriminatory reasons, affirming a declaratory judgment. Trump and Daniel Scavino, the aide who runs his Twitter account, unblocked the plaintiffs and many others. But they did not unblock two groups--those who had been blocked before Trump became President (where there was no First Amendment problem with blocking them because he was not a government official at the time of blocking) and those who cannot point to a specific tweet that caused them to be blocked (where there is no evidence of viewpoint discrimination).

The Knight Foundation on Friday filed a new lawsuit on behalf of those two groups, asking for a declaratory judgment and injunction ordering the unblocking of these new plaintiffs.

Once again, inefficient but appropriate. Trump unblocked the plaintiffs, as we was obligated to do by the judgment. He negotiated with the Knight Foundation to unblock others, not out of an immediately enforceable legal obligation but a recognition of what would happen if he did not unblock--a motion to extend the existing judgment to additional individuals, which would succeed and which would impose that legal obligation. But he identified two groups differently situated than the plaintiffs who, in Trump's view, have not suffered similar violations of their First Amendment rights. This requires new litigation, a new analysis of the First Amendment, and a new declaration of First Amendment rights, duties, and relations.

Update: A further thought on the process: We know the plaintiffs recognized the particularized scope of the original judgment by the fact that they filed a new lawsuit on behalf of these plaintiffs. Had the original judgment protected these non-parties to that action, they could have moved to enforce the judgment, to hold Trump or Scavino in contempt, or to convert the declaratory judgment into an injunction.

For better or worse, this how the process should work. And Trump should not be accused of disobeying a court order or otherwise ignoring the court.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 1, 2020 at 06:41 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (8)

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

JOTWELL: Singer on Reichman, Sagy, & Balaban on machines and judges

The new Courts Law essay comes from guest reviewer Jordan Singer (New England Law-Boston), reviewing Amnon Reichman, Yair Sagy, & Shlomi Balaban, From a Panacea to a Panopticon: The Use and Misuse of Technology in the Regulation of Judges, 71 Hastings L.J. 589 (2020).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 28, 2020 at 10:32 AM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 24, 2020

(Update) Grab your fedora, we are all journalists now and other thoughts on the Portland TRO

A federal judges issued a TRO preventing federal paramilitary force in Portland from targeting journalists and legal observers. An existing preliminary injunction, to which the City stipulated, does the same as to Portland police. Some thoughts and questions.

First, the TRO requires journalists and legal observers to identify themselves through badges or distinctive clothing (hats, press passes, etc.). Some concerns and questions.

Vintage-reporter-fedora-hat-camera-picture-id510580998First, it is about time we revived this look from His Girl Friday or The Brady Bunch.

Second, this seems to run afoul of the principle that the press does not have special status from other speakers when it comes to what they can say and their access to spaces. The key access cases speak of information-gathering by the press and the public. I expect that some non-press people in the mix of these protests are there to observe and record. And they possess or can possess the same equipment that allows a reporter to do her job--a device that takes photographs, moving pictures, and audio recordings. And I assume fedoras can be purchased online. Maybe the point should be to not have paramilitary forces using force and effecting arrests indiscriminately against anyone who happens to be in a crowd but is not engaging in unlawful activity, not only those with J.D.s or an institutional affiliation.

Second, the government tried to defeat the plaintiffs' standing with a string of cases making it difficult to challenge practices within the criminal-justice system (choke holds during arrests, discriminatory bail or sentencing); the cases rest on the refusal to speculate that the plaintiff will break the law and thus come in contact with the criminal-justice system and be subject to those policies. The court rejected that because threat to plaintiff arose not from breaking laws, but from engaging in protected First Amendment activity--"It is one thing to ask citizens to obey the law in the future to avoid future alleged harm. But it is quite another for the Federal Defendants to insist that Plaintiffs must forgo constitutionally protected activity if they wish to avoid government force and interference." Good call.

Third, the court orders wide dissemination of the order, including to Bill Barr and Ken Cuccinelli and those with supervisory authority over agents in Portland. The reason is that "the Court considers any willful violation of this Order, or any express direction by a supervisor or commander to disregard or violate this Order, to be a violation of a clearly established constitutional right and thus not subject to qualified immunity" in any Bivens action. This is odd. The violation of the order is not necessarily the same as a violation of the underlying constitutional rights protected by the order, but only the latter would be the basis for a Bivens action. The court seems to be couching its power to enforce its order with its power to award damages should an injury occur. That is, it will use its equitable power to enforce its equitable order by imposing a legal remedy. Equity cannot enjoin a crime, but can it enjoin a constitutional tort? Any way, I am troubled by the practice--made necessary by unwise qualified-immunity doctrine--of courts announcing that "henceforth, some right is clearly established.

Update: From a conversation with a Remedies colleague: A court can enforce an injunction through civil contempt, which can be compensatory. A court could order the violating defendant to pay money to the plaintiff in the amount of the injury suffered. And if that injury were physical (e.g., medical expenses from being shot), the remedy would look like compensatory damages. But Bivens and qualified immunity still have nothing to do with this. A plaintiff need not bring a Bivens claim if the remedy is contempt for an existing court order in an ongoing case. And qualified immunity should have no role to play in the court enforcing an existing order.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 24, 2020 at 08:26 AM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Anti-SLAPP law does not apply in Second Circuit

The Second Circuit has joined the chorus holding that state anti-SLAPP laws (in that case, California's) do not apply in federal court. The case arises out of a lawsuit against Joy Reid over two tweets with a photo of a woman in a MAGA hat interacting with a Latinx teen at a city council meeting; one tweet described the plaintiff as shouting epithets at the teen (who said their interaction was civil), while the other juxtaposed the infamous 1957 photograph of the screaming white teen in Little Rock.

The Second Circuit joins the Fifth, Eleventh, and D.C. Circuits in not applying them, compared with the Ninth and First that. The court followed the prevailing approach--FRCP 12 and 56 provide the standards for pre-trial resolution, leaving no room for state law. The court rejected the amici argument that the SLAPP law serves a "distinct function of protecting those specific defendants that have been targeted with litigation on the basis of their protected speech," supplementing rather than conflicting with the FRCP. But this is a policy argument, one that contradicts the policies underlying the FRCP themselves. The court also rejected the defendant's argument that she can recover attorney's fees under the statute for a 12(b)(6) dismissal; the statute allows fees when the defendant prevails on the statutory motion to strike, not on some other basis.

Tellingly, the four most recent cases have gone this way, while the First Circuit decision is from 2010 and the seminal Ninth Circuit cases is from 1999, with several Ninth Circuit judges calling for its reconsideration in 2013. The courts of appeals are congealing around the correct Erie answer and may not require SCOTUS resolution, one point of percolation.

But that might not be the correct answer as a matter of the First Amendment and the need to protect speakers, especially media, against frivolous lawsuits by powerful individuals designed to chill public criticism. (Query whether this is such a case, but bracket that for a moment). Many First Amendment advocates want a full federal anti-SLAPP statute. For the moment, I think a fee-shifting statute, combined with vigorous use of Twiqbal would be sufficient to get rid of cases early in the process and to protect defendants from the intentional imposition of litigation costs. But I need to look in greater detail at how federal courts have looked at defamation claims under that pleading standard.

SLAPP and Erie aside, this case may be more troubling for Reid going forward. The court held that the plaintiff (who spoke and was photographed at city council meetings advocating against sanctuary-city laws) was not a limited-purpose public figure; she lacked media access, did not thrust herself into a public controversy, and stepped forward for interviews only after the first alleged defamation. Thus, the plaintiff had to allege negligence, not actual malice. The court also rejected Reid's argument that the second tweet (juxtaposing the photos) was not an actionable assertion of fact, because a reasonable reader could understand it as equating the plaintiff's conduct with "archetypal racist conduct."

It is interesting that this case came to litigation. When the plaintiff's lawyer asked Reid to delete the posts, Reid did so and apologized, which would seem to suggest the absence of negligence. But the plaintiff sued anyway. And we continue forward.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 15, 2020 at 07:01 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 13, 2020

Universal v. Nationwide, Again

The Ninth Circuit affirmed an injunction prohibiting enforcement of DOJ's sanctuary-city regulations as to California and the City and County of San Francisco. This comes after the Second Circuit denied rehearing en banc of a panel decision declaring the regulations valid. We now have a clear circuit split, although I imagine nothing will happen at SCOTUS if Biden wins and the regulations go away.

The Ninth Circuit did narrow the injunction to prohibit enforcement within California but nowhere else. It did so in terms that seem to contemplate the distinction between the injunction's who and where:

Plaintiffs here, a state and a municipality, “‘operate in a fashion that permits neat geographic boundaries.’” . . . Because Plaintiffs do not operate or suffer harm outside of their own borders, the geographical scope of an injunction can be neatly drawn to provide no more or less relief than what is necessary to redress Plaintiffs’ injuries. This is distinguishable from a case involving plaintiffs that operate and suffer harm in a number of jurisdictions, where the process of tailoring an injunction may be more complex.

The court distinguished a case involving asylum organizations that operate in California and other states, where an injunction limited to California would not address the harm from losing a client in Texas.

On the other hand, the court "acknowledge[d] the 'increasingly controversial' nature of nationwide injunction," a framing that confuses the point. There should be nothing controversial about nationwide injunctions, which the court faced here--injunctions that protect the plaintiffs wherever they operate. The controversy is over universal injunctions--injunctions that attempt to protect beyond the plaintiffs. Still, we are slowly getting there.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 13, 2020 at 03:46 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)