Monday, July 26, 2021

AALS Section on Fed Courts: Best Article

The AALS Section on Federal Courts is pleased to announce the annual award for the best article on the law of federal jurisdiction by a full-time, untenured faculty member at an AALS member or affiliate school—and to solicit nominations (including self-nominations) for the prize to be awarded at the 2022 AALS Annual Meeting.

The purpose of the award program is to recognize outstanding scholarship in the field of federal courts by untenured faculty members. To that end, eligible articles are those specifically in the field of Federal Courts that were published by a recognized journal during the twelve-month period ending on September 1, 2021 (date of actual publication determines eligibility). Eligible authors are those who, at the close of nominations (i.e., as of September 15, 2021), are untenured, full-time faculty members at AALS member or affiliate schools, and have not previously won the award. Nominations (and questions about the award) should be directed to Prof. Leah Litman at the University of Michigan Law School ([email protected]). Without exception, all nominations must be received by 11:59 p.m. (EDT) on September 15, 2021. Nominations will be reviewed by a prize committee comprised of Professors Curt Bradley (University of Chicago), Maggie Gardner (Cornell), Leah Litman (Michigan), Joanna Schwartz (UCLA), and Diego Zambrano (Stanford), with the result announced at the Federal Courts section program at the 2022 AALS Annual Meeting.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 26, 2021 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Framing constitutional violations

The New York Times op-ed board discusses the "Fuck Biden" signs in Roselle Park, NJ as an example of "a growing sense among many Americans that the United States cannot afford to maintain the full measure of its foundational commitment to free speech." It concludes that "The right to hang banners is a small thing, but the value of free speech inheres in acts of individual expression just as much as in grand statements of collective purpose." The authors are correct and show why the township is going to regret doing this.

I take issue with the introductory paragraph, less for how it affects this than for what it says about the SB8 lawsuit and my current project on the process of constitutional litigation. Here is the opening:

There is little question that Gary Bundy, a municipal court judge in New Jersey, violated the constitutional rights of Andrea Dick this month by ordering her to remove three banners emblazoned with crude messages about President Biden.

In constitutional litigation, we would not say Judge Bundy violated Dick's rights through his order. We would say Roselle Park (or some responsible municipal officer, whoever it might be) violated Dick's rights by issuing the citation and prosecuting the code violation over protected speech. Judge Bundy could have halted the violation by upholding Dick's First Amendment defense. But in failing to do so, Bundy did not violate her rights. Rather, his (IMO) incorrect decision allowed the municipality's violation to continue. But his decision is subject to appellate review and reversal--stopping the municipality's constitutional violation--including by SCOTUS if this ridiculous thing makes it that far.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 24, 2021 at 04:41 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 22, 2021

JOTWELL: Re on Varsava on judicial opinion-writing

The new Courts Law essay comes from guest Richard Re (Virginia), reviewing Nina Varsava, Professional Responsibility and Judicial Opinions (Hous. L. Rev., forthcoming), on judges have (too much?) fun in their opinions.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 22, 2021 at 12:36 PM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 16, 2021

Congress and universal injunctions

My latest, published at Cardozo Law Review De Novo. The essay analyzes the role of Congress in ending the controversy over universal/non-particularized injunctions. It considers the details, wisdom, and efficacy of five legislative proposals to eliminate or limit universal/non-particularized injunctions; it concludes that one approach resolves the problem—a flat and unequivocal prohibition on injunctions that protect anyone other than the plaintiffs.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 16, 2021 at 04:04 PM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Constitutional rhetoric meets constitutional litigation

In an email exchange, someone highlights ¶¶ 17-19 of the SB8 Complaint:

17. At bottom, the question in this case is whether Texas may adopt a law that sets about to “do precisely that which the [Constitution] forbids.” Terry v. Adams, 345 U.S. 461, 469–70 (1953) (striking down a Texas law attempting to insulate white-only political primaries from federal court review). 

18.The answer to that question must be no. Otherwise, states and localities across the country would have free rein to target federal rights they disfavor. Today it is abortion providers and those who assist them; tomorrow it might be gun buyers who face liability for every purchase. Churches could be hauled into far-flung courts to defend their religious practices because someone somewhere disagrees with them. Same-sex couples could be sued by neighbors for obtaining a marriage license. And Black families could face lawsuits for enrolling their children in public schools. It is not hard to imagine how states and municipalities bent on defying federal law and the federal judiciary could override constitutional rights if S.B. 8 is permitted to take effect. 

19.Plaintiffs urgently need this Court to put a stop to Texas’s brazen defiance of the rule of law and the federal constitutional rights to which Texans are entitled.

That sounds nice in the abstract. But it does not describe how constitutional litigation works. Federal courts do not stand ready to strike down invalid laws (because they do not, in fact, "strike down" anything) whenever a plaintiff asks. Nor are federal courts the only forum in which constitutional litigation occurs. There is a process, beginning with someone enforcing the law. Where that enforcer is a state actor and enforcement is imminent, rights-holders can go to federal court in what is (in this case) essentially an anti-suit injunction. When enforcement is not imminent or when the enforcer is not a state actor, it must follow a different process of defensive litigation in state court. The plaintiffs' argument is that the former process is constitutionally required as a matter of due process; that has never been the case.

Here is the analogy I have been using: A state enacts a defamation statute that is inconsistent with New York Times v. Sullivan (e.g., allows liability for any plaintiff on simple negligence). That law is invalid under prevailing First Amendment doctrine. But pre-enforcement litigation would be impossible, because there is no one under color charged with enforcing that law. The First Amendment would be available as a defense if and when a speaker is sued for his protected speech. And that is true of the parade of horribles in ¶ 18. The Constitution does not require anything more.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 14, 2021 at 03:13 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

SB8 lawsuit

I am in the early days of a co-authored piece on Texas' fetal-heartbeat law, including why pre-enforcement federal litigation may be impossible. Complicating that argument, reproductive-health providers in Texas on Tuesday filed suit in federal court. Much of this will become part of the article. But some analysis after the jump.

A

The law's main feature is the prohibition on public enforcement of the law in favor of reliance on private enforcement through actions (by any person) for statutory damages, injunctive relief, and attorney's fees. That made pre-enforcement litigation impossible, because there was no responsible executive officer to sue to enjoin enforcement. This left them in state court and having to raise constitutional issues as a defense. These plaintiffs tried different targets.

    • State court judges (through a defendant class action), who would rule on the cases. I do not think this works because the judges have not done anything or threatened to do anything. They wait for someone to file suit, then rule on it, bound by oath and the Supremacy Clause to adhere to federal law. That is, the "enforce" the law, but only in the sense that someone else takes the executive action of initiating litigation. Plus, I think parity--the assumption that state judges follow federal law and are equal to federal courts in protecting federal rights--weighs against a federal court enjoining state judges before state judges have had an opportunity to do anything.

    • Clerks of court (through a defendant class action), who would accept the filings. This does not work because the clerks perform a ministerial function--accepting the filing--that does not alone cause any injury or constitutional violation. The mere filing of a lawsuit does not violate anyone's rights. Otherwise, a plaintiff could sue the clerk as a joint tortfeasor in an abuse-of-process claim.

    • Mark Dickson, the head of East Texas Right to Life. They allege he acts under color because he has been "deputized" to bring lawsuits enforcing SB8. This is the traditional-public-function theory I argued could work--by surrendering all public enforcement in favor of private litigation, private plaintiffs perform the traditional public function of enforcing the law. This does not place all private attorneys general under color; but the complete surrender of enforcement authority goes one step further. The problem is that it is not clear that Dickson (or anyone else) will bring or plans to bring a lawsuit; he (and everyone else) is empowered to do so, but we do not know anything beyond that. So there may be an imminence problem. The complaint also alleges that Dickson pushed for this law; basing a state action finding on that conduct raises serious First Amendment problems.

    • The heads of the state medical board and board of nursing. This one is cute. The argument is that the boards are responsible for enforcing laws governing medical and nursing practice through administrative and licensing proceedings. Those proceedings can be instituted against a doctor or nurse who violates any state laws related to medical care--including the provisions of SB8. In other words, licensed professionals must adhere to all laws and regulations governing the practice of medicine, including SB8, and the boards can institute disciplinary proceedings for failing to follow any laws or regulations, including SB8.

        This offers a partial solution for some plaintiffs, but only goes so far. Some plaintiffs are not providers, but non-profits who provide information, guidance, and funding to women seeking abortions and are worried about being sued under the broad aiding-and-abetting provisions (which would likely violate their First Amendment rights). But they are not subject to regulation by these Boards and so they cannot bring claims against the board.

        Also, note the scope of any injunction that issued. The Boards would be enjoined from bringing licensure or other actions against providers for violating the fetal-heartbeat law. But that injunction would not protect other plaintiffs from private suit, nor would it stop other actors (such as the many deputized individuals) from bringing lawsuits nor would it stop future use of anything else in the statute.

B

SB8 includes a provision allowing for recovery of attorney's fees to any defendant who prevails in a challenge to the validity of any abortion restriction or regulation. This is intended to deter plaintiffs from filing suit. It cannot apply in federal court, where § 1988 (an Act of Congress) controls and allows defendants to recover fees only if the claim is frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation. But SB8 creates a state law cause of action to recover fees. Plaintiffs argue that § 1988 preempts state law, because it conflicts and would frustrate congressional policy (which was to incentivize § 1983 suits without the chill from a true loser-pays system). I think the preemption argument is a good one, but I am not sure it is proper in this case because we do not know who would be responsible for bringing that action and thus who could be enjoined. Preemption could be a defense if someone attempts to bring a state-law claim for attorney's fees in the future, but I do not think it is up for pre-enforcement review because we again do not know the enforcer.

C

The complaint generally complains about the unfavorable procedures built into SB8--anyone can sue anyone involved or advocating for abortions, statewide venue, attorney's fees and high statutory damages, providers cannot raise the constitutional rights of pregnant women as a defense; the complaint describes the enforcement proceedings as "rigged."

The complaint attempts to constitutionalize certain legislative judgments about the structure and organization of the judiciary, such as venue and fee-shifting, that are ordinarily not subject to constitutional limitations. As a due process argument, it fails. But they frame it as an equal-protection argument--these unique procedures applied to one category of favored claim against disfavored defendants for a disfavored activity; that could work. The question is what level of scrutiny would apply, which doubles back to whether the right to choose is a fundamental right. If it is fundamental, then strict scrutiny would apply; otherwise, it would be rational basis.

The providers do have a due process argument against the provision preventing providers from raising the constitutional rights of women as a defense. Several scholars have described a "valid-rule due process" defense--a law must be valid to be enforced against anyone and anyone subject to enforcement of a law has the right to raise any constitutional defect in that law, even if involves someone else's rights. While abortion providers are described as asserting third-party standing to enforce their patients' rights, it looks more like first-party standing when the providers are the targets of the law.

But these arguments remain defenses that can be raised in the state-court enforcement action and nothing indicates that state judges will not follow federal law in adjudicating them. There is still no basis for a pre-enforcement challenge.

 

SB8, and the attempts to frame litigation to challenge it, illustrates the procedural framework within which judicial review operates. Federal courts do not issue free-standing pronouncements that a law violates the federal Constitution and the mere existence of even a blatantly unconstitutional (according to judicial precedent) law is not enough to get into federal court or to ask a federal court to rule. Sometimes constitutional litigation remains in state court, no matter how strong the federal arguments, and goes from there. It may not be how we like it. But that is how it functions.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 14, 2021 at 12:31 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 12, 2021

A textual defense of the diversity theory of the 11th Amendment

Eric Segall discusses everything wrong with the Court's 11th Amendment/sovereign immunity jurisprudence, discussing its evolution and incoherence. I agree with just about everything, particularly the point that states should not have sovereign immunity from federal-question actions because states are not sovereign as to federal law.

I depart on one point: Eric argues that the only truly "textualist" interpretation is that the 11th Amendment prohibits all suits against a state by a citizen of another state, regardless of the nature of the case, but is silent as to suits against a state by its own citizens, regardless of the nature of the case. He argues that the diversity theory--a state cannot be sued by a citizen of another state on diversity, but could be sued on some other basis, such as federal question--is not textualist. This makes Gorsuch, who adopted that view in PennEast, is a "fake textualist."

I disagree with Eric at my peril. But I want to try to make a textualist defense of the diversity theory.

There are two key issues here. One is whether textualism requires us to read all relevant provisions or one provision in isolation, especially when dealing with amendments--do we read the 11th Amendment alone or must we also look at the text of Article III § 2, which was the target of the amendment. The other is how we understand a constitutional amendment--how much of the prior provision does it amend and do we look to a specific clause within a provision or to the provision as a whole in figuring that out.

Article III § 2 enumerates the jurisdiction that federal courts can exercise if authorized by Congress. Each basis for jurisdiction stands alone as a distinct and independent ground for a federal court to hear a case; a case need only satisfy one ground, although it could satisfy more than one. The list includes controversies "between a State and Citizens of another State" and between "a State . . . and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects." These provisions grant diversity or alienage jurisdiction--jurisdiction over the controversy because of the identity of the parties. These  grants are distinct from the grants earlier in § 2 to hear "all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States" or to hear "Cases of Admiralty."

Thus imagine a suit by a citizen of South Carolina against Georgia for violating a federal statute. Prior to 1795, a federal court would have had two constitutional bases for exercising jurisdiction over that case--it arises under the Laws of the United States and it is between a State and a Citizen of another State.

The Eleventh Amendment strips courts of jurisdiction over "any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State." The amendment's text copies the text of the diversity and alienage clauses of § 2, carving out one half of those grants. Given the linguistic overlap, we can read the 11th Amendment as amending the diversity clause, but not all of Article III. For example, the diversity clause and the 11tm Amendment together say the judicial power extends to "controversies between a State and Citizens of another State, but not to a suit commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State." (This is a long way of saying the grant of judicial power in diversity cases is limited to controversies commenced by a State against Citizens of another State). But the diversity clause is one part of § 2, independent of the other, unamended jurisdictional grants, such as the grant of federal-question jurisdiction or the grant of admiralty jurisdiction.

So return to the suit by a citizen of South Carolina against Georgia for violating a federal statute. After the 11th Amendment, there is no diversity jurisdiction, because this case falls within the 11th Amendment's exception to the diversity clause (stated differently, the case no longer falls within the amended clause granting diversity jurisdiction). But the case still satisfies a distinct-and-independent jurisdictional grant, in that it arises under the Laws of the United States. The 11th Amendment did not amend that clause of Article III, which provides a  stand-alone basis for the court to hear this case. By its plain terms, the amendment jurisdiction because the suit is one "commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by a citizens of another State," but is silent as to another basis for jurisdiction (such as arising under).

It seems to me this reading is not atextual or fake-textual. It relies on the text the 11th Amendment, read in conjunction with the text of the clause it amended, without pulling in extra-textual historical, purpose, or policy considerations.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 12, 2021 at 10:21 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 09, 2021

Texas continues race to bottom with Florida

Texas and Florida are locked in a bizarre race to the bottom in enacting the most stupid and constitutionally problematic laws. Florida jumped into the censor-social-media-in-the-name-of-stopping-censorship and was smacked down in federal court.

Texas decided to follow suit, proposing its own absurd law (nice summary here). It includes some new features, including record-keeping, notification, public-disclosure, and process requirements surrounding how sites moderate content that I expect the state will justify in the name of consumer protection but which might be vulnerable to challenge. It tries to learn from Florida's mistakes--no Disney exception and targeted sites are not defined by size. And Texas does not prohibit sites from appending statements, comments, criticisms, or warnings to posts; it does not attempt to stop sites from engaging in counter-speech in response to user content.

But the same problems remain The definitions exclude news sites and others that "preselect" content and for which user content (such as comments) is incidental to presentation of that preselected material; the news-organization exception was one of the content-based defects Judge Hinkle noted in Florida. It defines censorship as to "block, ban, remove, deplatform, demonetize, de-boost, restrict, deny equal access or visibility to, or otherwise discriminate against expression," which limits the order and manner in which sites can have material presented--any listing of sites puts one thing over another, which treats some material better than other; chronological or alphabetical would be the only options. And it prohibits that "censorship" on the basis of viewpoint, which means sites cannot  prohibit any expression--Nazis, racists, anyone--because of disagreement with an otherwise constitutionally protected message.

Expect a carbon-copy opinion from a court in Texas soon.

 

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 9, 2021 at 05:28 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 08, 2021

Scope of discovery

A recurring theme with Donald Trump lawsuits is a stated hope that he will sue and the case will go forward, subjecting him to discovery and the exposure of all the things he has been trying to hide all these years about his taxes, his private conduct, his dishonesty and corruption, etc. This is especially true for his many threats to sue for defamation, where the need to prove the falsity of the allegedly defamatory statements makes relevant inquiry into his conduct underlying those statements.

Some have floated that same idea with respect to his latest lawsuits, expressing the hope that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube will not get the actions dismissed, but will let the case proceed into discovery and a deep-dive into Trump's secrets. But filing a lawsuit does not open a plaintiff to discovery about anything and everything in his life; it has to be relevant (meaning calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence) to the claims and defenses in the case. The only issues in this case will be whether the companies act under color based on their relationship to the government and whether the speech that Trump engaged in was constitutionally protected. Whether Trump paid taxes, sexually assaulted women, or self-dealt as President is not relevant to those claims or defenses.

So this will not happen, not because Facebook has no incentive to do it, but because it has nothing to do with the case.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 8, 2021 at 03:02 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Today in dumb lawsuits

Coming to my neck of the woods in the Southern District of Florida: Class action lawsuits by Trump against Twitter and Jack Dorsey; YouTube and Sundar Pichai; and Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg; all allege violations of the First Amendment and the constitutional invalidity of § 230 (I guess because by protecting private actors, it incentivized their censorship or improperly delegated censorial power).

I think we can agree that this is stupid, for many of the reasons that this lawsuit was stupid. But wait, this one gives us more:

• There may not be personal jurisdiction here. Some of the named defendants are not Florida citizens. Trump was still President and residing (if nor domiciled) and tweeting from D.C. when Twitter and Facebook banned him. So the act of banning him was not "aimed at" Florida.

• Venue may not be proper. My understanding is that terms of service agreements include forum-selection clauses that funnel these cases to California. I have to look into that further. Update: Yep. Brad Heath of Reuters reports that Twitter and Facebook both require that federal lawsuits be in the Northern District of California]

• I do not know how you get a declaratory judgment that a law is invalid without suing the person charged with enforcing that law. Facebook, Twitter, et al., do not "enforce" § 230. They enforce their private terms of agreement and the rules for their sites. If § 230 has the effect of converting them into state actors (it does not, but work with me) in banning Trump and others, they still are enforcing their own private terms of service; but those terms of service have been converted into public regulations subject to First Amendment limits. The companies are not enforcing § 230. Enforcement of § 230 rests with someone in the executive branch. But no government officials have been sued. Update: Another problem with this issue that has been raised: Challenges to the constitutional validity of all provisions of the CDA of 1996, including § 230, must be heard by a three-judge district court.

• The purported class is everyone banned since June 1, 2018 within the United States, which includes a whole of people engaged in unprotected speech (as opposed to Trump's protected-but-false-and-offensive speech), That may be too broad to certify.

• The captions list the first plaintiff as "DONALD J. TRUMP, the Forty-Fifth President of the United States," which might be one of the saddest things in any pleading. And I teach the case brought by "NARUTO, a Crested Macaque." This is worse.

• Yes, the lawyers who filed this nonsense should be held up to public ridicule and potential clients should take this into account in deciding whether to retain them.  Also, referring to "Democrat lawmakers" works on Twitter and the Republican echo chamber; in real life, it is disrespectful. This tells us one of two things: 1) The lawyers are talking to the public rather than the court or 2) The lawyers assume the judge will be as hacky as they are; neither is likely to play well with the judge. Whether that warrants sanctions or PR consequences is another story.

Update: A point I saw raised: Trump spent four years arguing that he was not a state actor when blocking people from his Twitter and Facebook pages, while now arguing that those who created the site he was using are state actors. Are those positions reconcilable? If Twitter and Facebook are state actors, how does that affect the people who use those sites in their relationships to other users? If the site is state-run, does that make every piece of the site state-run, such that the individual user also is a state actor?

Another Update: How does the invalidity of § 230 affect the under-color argument? The defendants act under color (allegedly) because § 230 gives them immunity from suit and delegates censorial power and because the threatened repeal coerced/compelled/induced them to censor certain messages. But if § 230 is invalid (facially, according to the complaint), would it not be a good thing that Congress sought to amend or repeal? Alternatively, if the court declares § 230 invalid, does that eliminate the close nexus, so the defendants no longer are under color?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 7, 2021 at 12:28 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 02, 2021

Reconsidering doctrine

From the final Orders List: Justice Thomas again calls for reconsidering qualified immunity (p.30 of List), including that it makes no sense to us the same standard for police officers making split-second decisions as for a college administrator making deliberate and calculated choices about enacting and enforcing policies (here, creating free-speech zones  on campus). Thomas again calls for reconsidering New York Times (p.41 of doc) and Justice Gorsuch has joined as a wingman (p.44), which suggests this campaign might begin to have legs.

The assault on NYT is notable because it runs opposite to the trend among  free-speech advocates and scholars--their view is that NYT, while great, is insufficient and requires additional protection through anti-SLAPP statutes to stop the filing of bad lawsuits (those that fail under NYT) to bankrupt and silence defendants. Gorsuch adds an odd bit about how few defamation cases go to trial, ignoring that few cases go to trial on any topic because of how 12(b)(6) and summary judgment have been interpreted and applied.

The danger of the emerging Thomas/Gorsuch position is figuring out what it means to "reconsider" NYT. Does it mean eliminating the entire First Amendment edifice (standard of proof, burden of persuasion, protection for parody and satire, protection for anything other than provable statements of fact) and leaving everything to state law? Or does it mean eliminating actual malice as the state-of-mind requirement but leaving the rest in place? And how much of the difficulties that Gorusch decries for defamation plaintiffs derives from actual malice as opposed to the rest of that constitutional edifice? Neither Thomas nor Gorsuch says.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 2, 2021 at 01:12 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Zuckerberg and Facebook do not act under color

Nor surprising, but quite definitive.

Facebook cannot be sued because entities, as opposed to individuals, are not proper targets of Bivens actions. The stupidity of this case aside, this is problematic, because it creates another way in which Bivens is not parallel to § 1983--the company could be sued if a state or local government coerced or conspired with it to do something, but not if the federal government does that.

The claims against Zuckerberg failed in part because the complaint did not plead facts showing direct involvement by Zuckerberg with respect to the plaintiff organization's page, as opposed to running Facebook generally. The court refused to infer direct involvement from allegations of Zuckerberg being a "hands-on CEO" making it "highly likely" that he was. Any coercion or encouragement government officials gave Facebook to limit vaccine misinformation did not connect to any specific actions against the plaintiff. And § 230 immunity did not encourage or coerce this conduct, because that immunity does require Facebook or Zuckerberg to do anything and immunity does not hinge on Facebook doing anything.

The court dismissed without prejudice and denied leave to amend. The plaintiffs moved to "supplement" the controlling complaint with new information about the Biden Administration's efforts to stop online vaccine misinformation. The court treated this as a preview of what new allegations plaintiffs would put in a new pleading and concluded they would be insufficient for the same reason the current allegations are insufficient. So the case is over and the next stop is the Ninth Circuit.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 30, 2021 at 12:05 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Executive v. Legislative and Twitter blocking

Judge Domenico of the District of Colorado held that Rep. Broebert did not act under color and thus did not violate the First Amendment in blocking a viewer from her @laurenboebert account on January 6 (but not from her official @RepBoebert House account). According to the court, Broebert started this account before she was elected to Congress and uses this account to discuss political issues, her legislative agenda, and bills she has introduced. This case is analogous to a Tenth Circuit decision from January finding no state action in blocking people from an account started during an initial campaign and containing more campaign-related material than office-related.

The court did a few things I believe are incorrect and problematic along the way and may confound these cases going forward, even if the result is probably correct.

First, Domenico went on a brief discursive about why there might not be a cause of action, citing Ziglar v. Abbasi and noting the recent retrenchment of Bivens, although he does not resolve that issue because Boebert did not raise the issue. This is wrong. In shrinking Bivens actions for damages, the Court has never suggested that it also wished to shrink Ex Parte Young actions against federal officials. In fact, Ziglar recognized the availability of injunctive relief, despite the absence of an express cause of action authorizing injunctive relief, as a special factor counseling against recognizing the Bivens claim. He rejects the plaintiff's assumption that the court's equitable powers provide the cause of action because "equity follows the law." But that ignores SCOTUS' statement in Armstrong: "The ability to sue to enjoin unconstitutional actions by state and federal officers is the creation of courts of equity, and reflects a long history of judicial review of illegal executive action, tracing back to England." Not sure what Domenico is aiming at, but that is a pretty clear statement that equitable actions are not the same as Bivens actions and do not require an express right of action.

Second, Domenico adopts a very cribbed understanding of the official actions of legislators. As he puts it, "legislators legislate. Their state-created powers are to propose legislation and to voteand little else." Later he says that "Individual legislators do not have the constitutional power to either make law or abridge speech, and thus their individual actions are not within the First Amendment’s coverage." But legislators do a lot more as part of their jobs. One thing they do is communicate with their constituents. If an individual legislator held a press conference, gave a speech, or convened a constituent town hall and excluded certain people from the event because of their viewpoints, that legislator acts under color and could be subject to a First Amendment suit. I have never heard anyone question this. This is the social-media version of that. It may be, as the court later says, that it is impossible to distinguish a legislator's statement as legislator from her statements as candidate for reelection. But that is different from saying a legislator's public statements are never under color of law.

It seems to me Domenico conflates legislative functions (proposing and voting on legislation) and official functions performed by a legislator, such as public communications. The latter are covered by legislative, or Speech-or-Debate, immunity, while the former are not. But the under-color question is supposed to be whether the defendant's conduct was made possible by his public position and authority. Legislators can do a lot more than purely legislative functions as a result of their office, some of which could violate the First Amendment. Domenico tries to reframe the question as authority to act on behalf of the state, but that has never been the standard. Domenico relies on West v. Atkins, which was about when private individuals are under color, a different inquiry.

Third, Domenico argues that the First Amendment says "Congress" shall make no law, which means "Congress, not its individual members, commands the federal government, and it is that body that the First Amendment sought to constrain." But the First Amendment has not been limited to formal legislative enactments. This would mean that the First Amendment does not "constrain" an executive officer (e.g., an FBI agent) from arresting someone because he did not like the person's speech or because of his religious views. I presume Domenico did not mean to say that.

Fourth, Domenico's approach draws a sharp line between legislative and executive officials. Because the executive's actions have practical legal effects that an individual legislator's actions do not, the former act under color in running their Twitter feeds in ways the latter do not. The factors that governed in Trump and Davison (content, appearance to the public, ways of operating the feed) are irrelevant to legislators. Again, that works if the standard is whether an official's actions "bind" the government as policy; it does not work if the question is (as it should be) whether the actions are "made possible" by the official position, because legislators do a lot of things made possible by their positions.

Again, I am not sure Domenico did not reach the correct result, because the Davison/Trump factors make this look like a private rather than official feed. But his analysis misses the mark in many ways that would have bad and far-reaching effects on the First Amendment and constitutional litigation.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 29, 2021 at 06:58 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 27, 2021

SCOTUS, standing, and HB8

SCOTUS decided two significant standing cases this Term, both with implications for challenges to Texas's HB8 fetal-heartbeat law.

California v. Texas (ACA) reaffirms that it will be impossible to bring a pre-enforcement suit against state officials. California held that individuals had no standing to challenge the zeroed-out mandate, because the government had nothing to enforce, there is "no one, and nothing, to enjoin." "[N]o unlawful Government action 'fairly traceable' to §5000A(a) caused the plaintiffs’ pocketbook harm. Here, there is no action—actual or threatened—whatsoever. There is only the statute’s textually unenforceable language." Similarly, "no unlawful government action is fairly traceable" to HB8 that injures the plaintiffs. The reason differs. In California, the provision of ACA was unenforceable. HB8 is enforceable--it provides for damages and injunctive relief against those who provide or facilitate abortions--but not by the government. The end point--no government enforcement and no government official to enjoin--is the same.

TransUnion v. Ramirez sparked some conversations about HB8, which accords a private statutory right to people who can point to no historically recognized "real" and "concrete" injury. Likely HB8 plaintiffs have suffered less of an actual or threatened injury than the class members in TransUnion. But TransUnion controls standing in federal court under Article III; it says nothing about standing in Texas courts under the Texas Constitution. So it has no direct effect on the validity of the procedures in HB8. The question is whether it could have indirect or persuasive effect. As I wrote (citing an expert on the Texas Constitution), Texas courts follow Article III but accord greater deference to legislative authorizations of suit. The defendant in the first HB8 suit will raise lack of standing and argue that Texas courts should (but are not required to) follow TransUnion and impose the same limits on the legislative power to create new rights. Stay tuned.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 27, 2021 at 03:10 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 25, 2021

Standing up to standing

SCOTUS held Friday in TransUnion LLC v. Ramirez  that most of a class lacked standing to sue over inaccurate information under the Fair Credit Report Act. Justice Kavanaugh wrote for five; Justice Thomas dissented for Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan; and Kagan wrote a shorter dissent for Breyer and Sotomayor. This marks another case (the third, I believe) in which Barrett replacing Ginsburg presumably changed the outcome of the case.

The result is not surprising, given the direction of standing cases, but it is the most explicit the Court has been. The majority makes explicit that "under Article III, an injury in law is not an injury in fact," a violation of a statutory right is not sufficient for standing, and Congress cannot create new private statutory rights that provide a basis to sue unless they are the same or analogous to historically recognized legal rights (physical injury, monetary loss, or recognized intangible harms) as determined by the Court. Purely procedural rights, even for an individual, are not sufficient.

Thus, the 1800+ class members whose false information was disseminated (including the named plaintiff) and included information about being on a list of "specially designated nationals" who might be drug dealers or terrorists had standing to sue. The 6000+ remaining class members, whose reports contained false information but were not disseminated, did not have standing; although the false information in the report violated the statute, it was speculative whether or when the information would be disseminated. The entire class lacked standing to challenge the failure to provide them with accurate information and information on how to correct inaccurate information, because the information was provided but in the wrong manner (split into two incomplete mailings); while violative of the statute, it caused no concrete harm.

According to Thomas' dissent, the problem with today's decision is it fails to distinguish public and private rights. Standing limitations make sense when Congress creates a public right and allows for private enforcement; it makes sense to require the plaintiff to show a direct injury from the public statutory violation. This explains Lujan and Laidlaw, for example. It makes no sense when Congress creates a private right for an individual and allows that individual to sue, as in Spokeo and here; and that should include informational and procedural injuries.

Kagan's separate dissent emphasizes an analytical point I make in class: We must "rewrite" the story that standing is being about the "single idea" of separation of powers and limiting the judicial power when the Court can and does override congressional creation of a legal right and remedy. That is, if Congress decides that some conduct should be unlawful and the target of that unlawful conduct should be able to sue and recover for her injury, it is inconsistent with separation of powers and a limited judicial power for the Court to override that decision and require plaintiffs to show, in addition to the statutory violation, something extra that the Court demands. This decision impairs Congress' Article I power to regulate and stop conduct it deems harmful and aggrandizes the Court's power. This goes to the other aspect of the Fletcher argument--not only is standing a merits concern, but the Court should defer to Congress' choice as to statutory merits.

The case also exposes the fault lines around the role of common sense in standing analysis. According to the majority, the risk of disclosure for the 6000+ was speculative because there was no evidence of disclosure or attempted disclosure, and there was no harm from the inaccurate reports because people may not have opened the envelopes and may not have bothered to correct them. But "tap[ping] into common sense," it should not be speculative that a company in the business of selling credit reports will sell those credit reports or that someone who requests their credit report will open it and seek to correct erroneous information.

Interestingly, the Kagan trio departed from Thomas over whether a congressional cause of action is always sufficient. Thomas says it is, at least for private rights. Kagan says Congress is limiting to recognized rights that are "real" and "concrete" but that the Court should override a statutory right to sue " when but only when Congress could not reasonably have thought that a suit will contribute to compensating or preventing the harm at issue," which practically means never.

One final point: It seems to me that the Thomas and Kagan opinions should have been designated as "concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part." They agreed with the majority as to the result (standing existed) for the 1800+ class members whose information was disclosed.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 25, 2021 at 11:21 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Another bad universal injunction decision

A new exhibit in the MUIGA (Make Universal Injunctions Great Again) campaign: Judge Howard (a GWB appointee) of the Middle District of Florida universally enjoined (even though she says nationwide, because judges cannot get this right) the socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers provision of the American Rescue Plan Act. That provision sets money aside for loan forgiveness and other aide for farmers and ranchers from historically disadvantaged groups. The lawsuit was brought by one white farmer in Florida.

The scope portion followed the usual pattern: Hand-wringing about the "great caution" required before issuing a universal injunction, plus citations to Thomas and Gorsuch questioning the authority to do so. Then this is the complete analysis:

Plaintiff has shown a likelihood of success on the merits of his claim that Section 1005 is unconstitutional and, if implemented, would deprive him of his right to equal protection under the law. The implementation of Section 1005 will be swift and irreversible, meaning the only way to avoid Plaintiff’s irreparable harm is to enjoin the program.

Once again, the justifications offered for universality cover every case--what program, that appears to violate someone's equal protection rights, is not implemented in a "swift and irreversible" manner? This would mean that any program that would deprive a plaintiff of his rights must be universally enjoined, unless the program someone will not be swiftly implemented. Is there something uniquely swift and irreversible here, where other programs will be implemented slowly and reversibly? The court never explains.

The bigger problem is that there is an obvious non-universal remedy that would accord complete relief: Give the plaintiff--and only the plaintiff--access to the program. That remedies the constitutional violation of treating him differently because of his race and the injury of his exclusion from the program. Nothing more need be done to protect or vindicate the plaintiff's rights.

There might be an argument that universality is necessary because the pool of money is limited and affected by the number of applicants; there is $ X to be distributed, divided by the number of applicants, so universality is necessary until we can determine the number of constitutionally eligible applicants. If money continues to be distributed, that will reduce the amount plaintiff can recover. This was the theory behind universality in the sanctuary-cities cases: Requiring that San Francisco receive funds but allowing Chicago to continue to be denied funds does not allow a proper determination of amount and would mean that, upon final resolution, there might be no funds left for Chicago. But that does not appear to be the case here--the pool is not limited and funds are means-tested, so the amount recovered is determined by each applicant's circumstances, not the number of applicants. In any event, the court never discusses this or offers this as the explanation.

Compounding what appears to be the judge's misunderstanding of universality, she adds a footnote saying she "reaches this conclusion without regard to any incidental benefit to other similarly situated White farmers." This is nonsense. By making the injunction universal, she accords more than incidental benefit to other white farmers--she has made them direct beneficiaries of the injunction, on par with the plaintiff.

There is another way of looking at this case: The plaintiff does not seek the debt relief available under this section, but seeks to stop the government from giving that relief to anyone else. On that understanding, complete relief comes not from making the plaintiff eligible for the funds, but from stopping the award of funds to anyone.

But the plaintiff should not have standing to seek that remedy--he is not injured by some people receiving a benefit that he is not interested in receiving. The court cites Gratz  to identify the equal-protection injury as "the inability to compete on an equal footing." But if the plaintiff's injury here is the inability to compete for the funds on an equal footing, it can be remedied by allowing him to compete for funds; an injunction stopping everyone else from receiving funds is not commensurate with the violation. This case looks like a lawsuit by someone who has no interest in attending the University of Michigan seeking to enjoin the University of Michigan from considering race of people who are interested in attending the University of Michigan. Equal protection standing should not extend that far.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 24, 2021 at 09:46 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

More on Lafayette Square Lawsuits

The district court dismissed some, but not all, of the claims arising from the clearing of Lafayette Square in June 2020. Despite news reports, the case is not over.

The plaintiffs have standing to proceed against federal defendants for injunctive relief over continued restrictions on access to Lafayette Square. And their claims against local law enforcement officials for First Amendment violations were well-pleaded and not barred by qualified immunity. The latter point is surprising and perhaps not long for this world. The court defined the rights at issue (restriction on speech, retaliation for disfavored message) at a high level of generality, without demanding prior case law or a prior similar context. This contrasted with a demand for an identical prior case in according qualified immunity on Fourth Amendment claims.

The piece getting the most attention is the rejection of the Bivens claims against Donald Trump, Bill Barr, Mark Esper, and other high-level federal officials, in addition to the federal officers on the ground. But the outcome of those claims was obvious before the lawsuit was filed. Courts have read SCOTUS's recent cases to all-but preclude Bivens actions, especially for new rights (SCOTUS has never allowed a Bivens action in a First Amendment case) in a situation remotely touching on national security and presidential security, which has become a buzzword for rejecting Bivens. I look at this case less as a bad decision than as a decision faithfully applying impossible SCOTUS rules.

We are nearing the point that plaintiffs will be unable to seek damages for constitutional violations unless Congress acts. Unfortunately, Congress either cannot or will not act.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 22, 2021 at 09:52 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Universal injunctions are good again

So says a Trump-appointed judge on the Western District of Louisiana in a challenge by a red state (Louisiana) to a Biden Administration's pause in issuing new oil and gas leases. Here is the total analysis on scope: "This Court does not favor nationwide injunctions unless absolutely necessary. However, it is necessary here because of the need for uniformity. Texas, 809 F.3d at 18788. The Agency Defendants’ lease sales are located on public lands and in offshore waters across the nation. Uniformity is needed despite this Court’s reluctance to issue a nationwide injunction."

This is another example of why there is no meaningful limitation on universality, a judge's pearl-clutching "reluctance" not withstanding. All federal law applies "across the nation." If there is a need for uniformity, it is not limited to oil and gas leases, but applies to all challenges to all federal law. So all injunctions, at least as to enforcement of federal law, must be universal or there is no logical basis for making some universal and others not.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 16, 2021 at 02:22 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

JOTWELL: Malveaux on Spaulding on "actual" procedure

The new Courts Law essay comes from Suzette Malveaux (Colorado), reviewing Norman W. Spaulding, The Ideal and the Actual in Procedural Due Process, 48 Hastings Const. L.Q. 261 (2021) on how much of civil procedure occurs outside of federal court and the need for legal education to acknowledge and reflect that reality.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 9, 2021 at 09:39 AM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 07, 2021

On suing the wrong defendant

What happens if a constitutional plaintiff sues the wrong defendant and why does that happen? The answer is neither clear nor consistent, as two cases reveal.

Last week, the Northern District of Texas dismissed a challenge to a Lubbock ordinance prohibiting abortions in the city but providing no mechanism for municipal enforcement. Planned Parenthood sued the city, but the court recognized that the city is not responsible for enforcement of the law and does not control the private individuals who do enforce the law. The court therefore held that plaintiffs lacked standing. This decision presages the likely result when Planned Parenthood or another provider sues to challenge HR8.

Also last week, the Fifth Circuit ordered dismissal of a challenge to the rejection of online voter-registration applications using a photograph of a signed application form, under the "wet signature" requirement that applications have an actual ink signature. Acceptance or rejection of registration applications rests with country registrars. The Secretary of State had issued a press release reminding voters that online registration is not available, a press release that prompted several county registrars to change course and reject online applications. The Texas Democratic Party and others sued the Secretary. The court held that the Secretary had sovereign immunity, because she was not the responsible executive officer for a proper Ex Parte Young action.

The defect in both actions is the same--the plaintiff sued the wrong defendant, a person/entity not responsible for enforcing the challenge law and thus causing the challenged harm. It makes no sense to use distinct doctrines to get at the same idea. And a court could recast one as the other. The Fifth Circuit could have held that Planned Parenthood lacked standing to sue the Secretary, because the Secretary's press release did not cause the injury and an injunction against the Secretary would not remedy their harm. The Lubbock case could not be recast as sovereign immunity because a municipality is not a sovereign. But imagine when Planned Parenthood sues theTexas Commissioner of State Health Services. The court could say no standing, on the same grounds as in Lubbock. Or the court could follow Texas Democratic Party and say the Commissioner has sovereign immunity because he is not responsible for enforcing the heartbeat law and does not control those who do. Again, it is incoherent to fold the same idea into two doctrines.

Worse, to the extent the court wants to tie this to Ex Parte Young and sovereign immunity, it should be about the merits of the claim. The issue under § 1983 is not that states (and state officials sued in their official capacities) have sovereign immunity. The issue is that states (and state officials sued in their official capacities) are not "persons" for purposes of § 1983. So a state/state official should not claim sovereign immunity; it/he should claim that an element of § 1983--a person as defendant--is not satisfied. But that is a merits question that the court cannot resolved as a jurisdictional issue at the outset.

And all of this asks the § 1983 question--did the named defendant "subject or cause[] to be subjected" the plaintiff to a violation of her rights. If the defendant is not responsible for enforcing the challenged law, the answer is no. Which again reflects failure of an element of a § 1983 action, not competing jurisdictional ideas.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 7, 2021 at 12:16 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 04, 2021

Mike Lindell sues Dominion

MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell's new lawsuit against Dominion is a rerun and expansion of the suit the company filed last month, throwing in a civil RICO claim along with more of the same absurd factual allegations about election fraud and nonsense constitutional arguments.

Lindell's state action arguments fail for the same reasons as MyPillow's state action arguments--Dominion does not "administer" elections beyond providing infrastructure (any more than the handcuff manufacturer uses excessive force) and, if it did, it does not become a state actor for all purposes beyond running those elections.

This is garbage on the merits. But there are procedural issues attached to both actions that are worth considering.

Both sets of claims could have been brought as counterclaims in Dominion's defamation action in the District of D.C. At bottom, both actions allege that Dominion's lawsuit is part of a campaign to silence Lindell/MyPillow about election fraud; both suits allege that the Dominion suit is an abuse of process and a First Amendment violation.

One question is whether they would be compulsory; the answer is probably not, because the MyPillow/Lindell claims do not arise out of the same transaction or occurrence as Dominion's claims. This illustrates a common sequence: X does something to injure A, A files suit to remedy that injury, and X files a counterclaim alleging that those remedial efforts violate X's rights. Most courts say this is not STO because the real-world events giving rise to A's claims are based on whatever X did, while the event giving rise to X's counterclaims is A filing that lawsuit. There is a but-for relationship: But for X's actions, A would not have sought remedy; but for A seeking a remedy, X would not have a basis to sue. But that is not the necessary logical connection between the real-world events. Here, MyPillow/Lindell made false statements about Dominion, Dominion sought a remedy by suing, and MyPillow/Lindell argue that suit is tortious/violates the First Amemdment/violates RICO; that is the but-for relationship courts deem insufficient.

Nevertheless, they could have been brought as permissive counterclaims--there is diversity jurisdiction and/or some of the claims arise under federal law.

A second question is whether personal jurisdiction and venue is proper in Minnesota. The action that MyPillow and Lindell challenge is the filing of the lawsuit, which took place in D.C. The question is the same as one I considered about the Texas heartbeat law: Is suing a Minnesota citizen (and serving process on that Minnesota citizen in Minnesota) outside of Minnesota sufficient to establish personal jurisdiction? Again, this arises in the legal-malpractice and patent context and courts seem split on it.

A third question is whether the court should transfer venue to D.D.C. A court in Minnesota would be reluctant to adjudicate a lawsuit challenging the validity of a lawsuit in another court while that lawsuit is ongoing, as both turn on the same underlying facts (the truth of Lindell's original allegations against Dominion). The convenience of witnesses and evidence would seem to favor transfer--the validity of MyPillow/Lindell's claims depends on the validity of Dominion's defamation claim, which is occurring in D.C. The "situs" of the events in the counterclaim is the situs of the allegedly abusive defamation action, which is D.C. I would think both cases are better litigated in the same place, if not the same action, as the underlying lawsuit alleged to be violative.

Update: Commentators elsewhere point out a choice-of-law problem. Lindell points to Minnesota law on the abuse-of-process claim. But the prevailing view is that such claims are governed by the law of the place in which the allegedly abusive proceeding was filed. In other words, D.C. law. Which makes sense. A plaintiff who chooses to file a claim that is not abusive in one jurisdiction should not bear the risk that it might be abusive in a different jurisdiction. The choice-of-law issue also affects the transfer analysis, discussed above. What law applies is one of the public-interest factors that gets balanced--if D.C. law applies, that will favor the Minnesota court sending the case to D.C.

Further Update: The attorney from the firm Barns & Thornburg, who signed the complaint as local counsel, has been defenestrated. The firm says it did not know about the lawsuit.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 4, 2021 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Breyer's first (and last?) assignment

I am late on this, but thought I would mention: The Court decided Van Buren v. United States on Thursday, holding that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act did not reach a case in which the defendant lawfully accessed the computer for an improper purpose. The line-up was Barrett writing for Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, with the Chief, Thomas, and Alito in dissent.

That unusual line-up makes this (according to all-things empirical SCOTUS Adam Feldman) the first time Breyer has assigned a majority opinion. And since many on the left hope Breyer retires at the end of the Term and that line-up of Justices is unlikely to recur, perhaps his last.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 4, 2021 at 08:11 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 03, 2021

No standing when abortion law privately enforced

I mentioned the dry run for the standing/federal forum problems in challenging HB8 was a lawsuit over a Lubbock ordinance banning abortions within city limits and utilizing private enforcement.

The district court on Wednesday dismissed Planned Parenthood's challenge to the ordinance, finding PP lacked standing to sue the city. Because the city was not charged with enforcing the law and the city had no control over the private individuals who could bring private actions, there was neither causation nor redressability. The court (rightly) rejected the idea of a declaratory judgment or injunction against the non-responsible party as a way to persuade everyone else to comply. And the Fifth Circuit has precedent denying standing to plaintiffs in pre-enforcement challenges to laws that rely on private enforcement; apparently, Texas has attempted this in the past.

An alternative holding was Pullman abstention, as it is unclear whether a municipality has the power under state law to create private rights of action. The interesting piece there was over the source of the state-law ambiguity. The substantive provision challenged as violating the 14th Amendment--the ban on abortions--was not ambiguous; it was clear what the provision did. The ambiguity was over validity of the private enforcement mechanism. Both parties proceeded from the belief that any ambiguity must be "intertwined with" or directly related to the federal constitutional claim--that is, the ambiguity is in the substantive provision challenged on constitutional grounds. And in the mine run of cases it is--did the Railroad Commission have the power to enact the regulations or is the challenged law capable of a limiting construction. But the court did not find Pullman so limited. A state-law defect in any piece of the ordinance renders the entire statute invalid (or at least unenforceable), mooting the federal issue.

The case is on to the Fifth Circuit, which I expect to affirm. Meanwhile, we have a good sense of what will happen to pre-enforcement challenges to HB8.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 3, 2021 at 08:27 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

More stupid lawsuits, ep. 81

Something called the "Job Creators Network" has sued MLB, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, the MLBPA, MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clar, and a bunch of John Does, claiming constitutional (equal protection and Dormant Commerce clause) and contract claims over MLB moving the All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia's voter-suppression laws. Nothing new here; more bad lawyering by bad lawyers using the courts to make political noise. Some thoughts on where this goes wrong.

MLB Under Color:

The § 1983 claim depends on MLB acting under color. The complaint tries to get there two ways, neither of which works.

The first, passing argument, is that MLB is not covered by the antitrust laws, a substantial benefit. Receipt of governmental benefits, disconnected from the challenged conduct, is not sufficient to place a private actor under color. This is not a case in which government gave a private actor a benefit on condition of the private actor doing something constitutionally violative. Quite the opposite. MLB's decision to move the game pissed off some congressional demagogues, who threatened to strip MLB of its antitrust exemption.

Moreover, if the antitrust exemption were sufficient, the alleged benefit comes from the federal government, not the state or local government. MLB therefore would be color of federal law and this would be a Bivens claim (in a new context, so not going anywhere), not a § 1983 claim.

The primary argument is that MLB teams act under color by virtue of playing in publicly owned or publicly financed stadiums; thus MLB, as an association of those teams, acts under color. Two problems. First, while I agree that playing in public stadiums places teams under color for some purposes--namely running those ballparks during games--it does not make them under color for all purposes. The Yankees are perhaps bound by the First Amendment in regulating fans' cheering speech during games at the publicly owned stadium; they are not bound by equal protection in firing a ticket-office employee. So if the teams are not under color for all purposes, MLB is not under cover for all purposes. Second, and more conclusive, a private association of state actors located in multiple states does not act under color because it is not tied to the law of any state. The NCAA does not act under color despite having actual state entities--public universities--from multiple states as members. It follows that MLB, which stands in the same position to teams as the NCAA does to schools, does not act under color.

Diversity Jurisdiction:

This is minor and not outcome-determinative, but the Civ Pro geek in me remains amazed at how often lawyers get diversity wrong.

According to the complaint, the following is true: The JCN is a not-for-profit corporation, incorporated in DC with its PPB in Texas.  MLB is an unincorporated association whose members are the 30 teams; it is a New York entity with its PPB in New York. The MLBPA is the players' union, a New York entity with its PPB in New York. Manfred is a New York citizen and Clark a New Jersey citizen. The complaint does not say so, but I believe the plaintiffs see this as  JCN(TX/DC) v. MLB (NY), MLBPA (NY), Manfred (NY), and Clark (NJ).

But an unincorporated association's state of creation or PPB is irrelevant; what matters is the citizenship of its members. The complaint acknowledges that MLB's members are the 30 teams, all of which are corporations or unincorporated association; if the latter, we need further level(s) of inquiry as to the members/partners of each team and perhaps the members/partners of each member. MLB therefore is not a New York citizen (or not solely a New York citizen); it is a citizen of any state in which a member/partner in any team ownership group is a citizen. We do not know every state, I imagine at least one team has at least one member who is a citizen of Texas or DC. Similarly, a union's state of creation or PPB is irrelevant; it is a citizen of every state in which a union member is a citizen. Again, I imagine at least one current MLB player is a citizen of DC or Texas.

This does not matter to the outcome of the case, because the complaint alleges (and there is) supplemental jurisdiction over the state claims. But I become skeptical of any complaint when the attorney gets the basics so wrong.

Standing

JCN purports to be an association of small businesses injured by MLB moving the game. It asserts associational standing on behalf of its members and organizational standing for the time and money it has spent fighting MLB's actions.

The problem is that the claim seeks primarily damages as a remedy, whereas associational standing works in injunctive actions. One element of the Hunt test for associational standing is that "neither the claim asserted nor the relief requested requires the participation of individual members in the lawsuit." Damage are, by definition, individualized to each plaintiff and thus require the participation of each member. The complaint attempts to get around that by asking the court to order that the defendants pay damages into a common fund, from which moneys are distributed to each plaintiff. But that is not how damages are calculated or awarded. I cannot think of a major constitutional case in which an association has been able to pursue damages on behalf of its members.

Remedies

The complaint asks for compensatory damages of at least $ 10 million and punitive damages of at least $ 1 billion, as well as an injunction ordering MLB to move the game back to Atlanta. That injunction is not happening. The punitive damages request is interesting because a punitive-damages ration exceeding 10:1 presumptively violates due process.

The least-stupid contract claim might be promissory estoppel, although that still fails. But even if it worked, the damages on a P/E claim are limited to what was spent in reliance on the promises, not what they would have made had the defendants followed through on their promise. Did businesses spend $ 10 million+ on the expectation of the game coming to Atlanta?

Whither the First Amendment

At its core, the claim here is that by engaging in the First Amendment activity of protesting Georgia election policy through its business decisions, MLB, et al. interfered with the power of Georgia to enact policy and the equal protection rights of those who support those policies. The Complaint spends some time defending Georgia's new laws, as if the propriety (in the plaintiff's views) of the laws lessens the First Amendment rights of those who protest. I do not believe the level of First Amendment protection for expressive activities turns on the "correctness" of the position asserted. That would have some broad implications.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 2, 2021 at 08:58 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Standing for (a challenge to) the national anthem or Standing up to zombie laws

There is a potential problem surrounding challenges to Texas' new law requiring the national anthem be played before all professional sporting events that receive state or local funds: While the law is a zombie, there may he problems challenging its validity in court.

No Texas-based professional sports team (there are 13) has indicated that it does not want to play the anthem. This kerfuffle began in February because the Mavericks did not play the anthem before pandemic games in empty arenas, but the team resumed playing it mid-season once everyone freaked out and once fans returned to the venue. That means no one will want to litigate the issue because no one will object to the legal requirement that they do something they intended to do.

Alternatively, if a team that did not intend to not play the anthem brought a lawsuit, it would be dismissed for lack of standing. The team could not show an intention to engage in a course of conduct arguably affected with a constitutional interest, but proscribed by a statute. The team does not suffer an injury-in-fact if it does not wish to engage in the conduct (not playing the anthem) regulated by the law.

Moreover, no team appears to have a choice, because every league requires its teams to play the anthem. That again means no injury because the team is not able to engage in the constitutionally protected conduct. It also means no traceability and no redressability. The obligation to play the anthem, even against the team's wishes, comes from the league, not the Texas law; the team would be obligated to play the anthem if the law did not exist and an injunction prohibiting enforcement of the law would not allow the team to play the anthem.

The opening may be that the law is not written as a regulation ("all teams must play the anthem"). It imposes a contractual obligation--all contracts under which teams would receive public funds must include a provision in which the team promises to play the anthem and a provision stating that failure to play the anthem constitutes a default, subjects the team to a penalty, and may bar the team from future public contracting. A team thus could establish standing based on the injury of having to make the promise to play the anthem as a condition of receiving public funds, even if it intends to (or must, per league rules) play the anthem. Having to make the contractual promise violates the First Amendment and injures the team, even if it intends to comply.

I hope the latter is the case. Otherwise, the state could enact performative zombie legislation aimed at a non-existent problem and immunize that legislation from challenge because there is no actual problem. Meanwhile, state officials would point to teams playing the anthem and say "see, our law worked and we are protecting your interests and the interests of America."

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 30, 2021 at 12:02 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 29, 2021

State action and free speech at Yankee Stadium

Bbf29345cc669fc1d263a670ebc12445-1Two fans at Thursday's game at Yankee Stadium were ejected from Yankee Stadium after hanging this banner from the mezzanine, to a chorus of verbal and nonverbal counterspeech. The men were removed for the stadium, but not arrested and allowed to keep the sign.

Newsmax finds this an affront to the First Amendment. First Amendment Twitter (literally, an account run by the First Amendment itself) says "I protect you from the government, not from the Yankees." Much as I hate to agree with anything appearing on Newsmax, it is not as simple as the First Amendment and its responders make it sound.

At old Yankee Stadium (1923-2008, as renovated in 1976), this would be an obvious First Amendment case. The old Stadium was owned by New York City and leased to the Yankees for exclusive use on highly favorable terms. Plus, security was provided by off-duty New York police officers pursuant to a departmental program.

The NYCLU brought a lawsuit in 2009 on behalf of two fans who were ejected for refusing to stand in place when God Bless America was played during the Seventh-Inning Stretch. There were strong arguments that the Yankees--by virtue of their exclusive and beneficial use of publicly owned property and the involvement of off-duty officers in enforcing team policy--acted under color because of a "symbiotic relationship" with the city. A district court accepted it as to MLB in 1978 in holding that MLB violated the First Amendment by excluding female reporters from the locker room during the 1976 World Series  at the newly reopened Stadium. There also was an argument that the Yankees and the NYPD "jointly participated" in the alleged constitutional violation, because the Yankees used detailed officers to enforce their policies. The 2009 suit settled, with the Yankees taking a judgment for $ 10,001 and attorney's fees of $ 12,000.

The current stadium is owned by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), a not-for-profit entity that is not a city agency. Its governing board has 27 members--7 appointed by the mayor at his discretion, 10 appointed by the mayor from nominees from the Borough Presidents and Speaker of the City Council, 10 appointed by the chair from a list approved by the mayor. The park cost about $ 2.3 billion, $ 1.1 in public money, and about $ 670 million from the team. I do not know the terms of the lease between the NYCEDC or the Yankees and whether they are as favorable as the terms of the lease with NYC on the old Stadium--although I cannot imagine the team gets less from this stadium than from the previous. I also do not know if security is provided through the NYPD program--pictures in the linked stories show people in uniform speaking with the banner holders.

There is a good argument that NYCEDC, given the manner in which its members are appointed, acts under color under Brentwood's entwinement test. But the Yankees, not NYCEDC, make and enforce these policies. The question is whether a private entity can have a symbiotic relationship with a public-private entity--do the Yankees act under color because they have a symbiotic relationship with an entity that itself acts under color because of its entwinement with the government? Alternatively, the plaintiffs might try to show symbiotic relationship from its exclusive use of a facility that was paid for largely with public funds, regardless of who holds title to the facility. A third option is carrying the joint-participation argument from the old Stadium, depending on whether the team has the same security arrangement with the NYPD.

If the bannermen can establish state action, do they have a First Amendment claim? Team policy requires that banners be "baseball-related, in good taste," not affixed to the stadium in any manner, and not obstruct anyone's view. The question is whether they were ejected for  displaying a banner in an improper manner or because of the content of the banner. I also would argue that the "baseball-related" limitation is invalid, given the broad scope of  the "cheering speech" fans engage in and (much as sports like to deny it) the historic link between social/political issues and sports. Fans can orally chant non-baseball-related stuff during the game, including that "Trump one." It should follow that a non-obstructive and non-affixed non-baseball related banner should be permissible.

Two last points. First, this should not be seen as the camel's nose for arguments that YouTube/Twitter/Facebook act under color; the connection to government is not bad. Second, I believe we can agree that Newsmax would be covering this story differently had the banner read "1/6 Commission Now" or "Trump Should Be Prosecuted."

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 29, 2021 at 04:48 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Further Updates on the procedure of the Texas fetal heartbeat law

A few points in update to my post on the Texas fetal heartbeat law and the procedural insanity it spawned, following some developments and some discussions on the Civ Pro Prof Listserv.

• My proposal (made not entirely seriously) that providers change domicile to create diversity and remove the enforcement action would not work. A listserv member pointed out that the district court upon removal would not dismiss for lack of standing, it would remand, putting the case back in state court. In addition, it would be too easy to avoid; Billy Bob could join a Texas-based doctor as defendant and eliminate complete diversity. I did not think that one all the way through.

• Another pre-enforcement option floated: Sue the state-court judge assigned to hear the private action. This raises the same Younger problems as suing Billy-Bob-as-state-actor, but not the state action problems. I do not believe this works for two reasons. First, a judge cannot be enjoined in the first instance in a § 1983 action; the plaintiffs must get a declaratory judgment first, then go back for a second round of litigation if the DJ is ineffective. Second, and more importantly, the judge is not the target of anti-suit litigation; the target is the litigant in that underlying litigation (such as the executive official charged with enforcing the law).  It would be highly unusual to enjoin a judge from allowing a case to go forward, although perhaps this is an extraordinary case.

• Some people seem a lot higher on the Lugar-based argument that Billy Bob acts under color. I hope not. I disagree with the Lugar line of cases and would not want it extended. And it would be deeply troubling if filing a lawsuit, without more, subjected someone to a § 1983 suit. Consider that MyPillow's lawsuit against Dominion, legal nonsense in current form, would look much different if this were the rule. I am more willing to go with the public-function argument, which is narrower and limited to a unique context in which a state delegates all enforcement to the private sector precisely to avoid pre-enforcement litigation. But I do not trust courts to find the nuance there.

• We have a test run for these arguments in a challenge to a Lubbock ordinance banning abortions within city limits and using private enforcement (although the complaint alleges some public-enforcement mechanisms, so it may be less clear than HB8). Planned Parenthood sued the city and the city moved to dismiss for lack of standing. Stay tuned.

• There is a separate question, which I am not competent to address, of whether Billy Bob will have standing to bring the private enforcement action under HB8. According to Charles "Rocky" Rhodes (South Texas), the expert on the Texas Constitution, Texas courts generally follow Article III standing doctrine, but are more accepting of standing when the legislature authorizes the suit.

• A wild proposal from a different emailer: What if a blue state created a cause of action against Billy Bob--allowing any person to sue for damages anyone who brings a claim under HB8? All sorts of extra-territoriality and personal-jurisdiction puzzles there.

• A different version: What if a blue state enacts a clawback statute, allowing anyone (or at least anyone within the blue state) held liable in a Texas HB8 suit to bring a claim in the blue state's courts to recover the amount paid in the Texas litigation. This raises a specific PJ question--is suing a New York corporation (knowing it is a NY corporation) in  a lawsuit that is tortious under New York law purposefully aiming actions at the forum for Walden/Calder purposes? (I believe there are legal malpractice actions that get at the same idea).

This also could raise issues about relationships among state judiciaries and whether the courts of one state can halt litigation in another. Countries enact clawback statutes designed to recover any judgment paid under the laws of another country (e.g., Japan allows a clawback action against U.S. antitrust plaintiffs). Federal courts are split on whether and why they can enjoin those proceedings to "protect or effectuate" their judgment in the underlying case. Could a Texas court, having issued a judgment for Billy Bob against Planned Parenthood, enjoin the NY clawback action?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 27, 2021 at 10:45 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Against the Well Pleaded Complaint Rule

A point I neglected to make in my post on the Texas fetal-heartbeat law: This illustrates the strongest criticism and biggest problem with the Well Pleaded Complaint Rule.

The argument against the rule is that the benefits of a federal forum--uniformity, respect for federal rights, and expertise in federal law--apply regardless of where and how a federal issue arises. A federal forum is as necessary for a federal defense or a counterclaim as for a claim. Just as The New York Times would have liked a federal forum against Alabama officials using state-law defamation as the functional equivalent of seditious libel against truthful reporting of government misconduct, so does Planned Parenthood need a federal forum against random Texans attempting to bankrupt them into practically depriving women of their opportunity to engage in constitutionally protected activity.

Preenforcement challenges to state laws are important not only because it allows a rights-holder to assert her rights without having to face legal jeopardy, but because they give the rights-holder access to a federal forum. Combining purely private enforcement with the WPC deprives Planned Parenthood of any federal forum (save the unlikely SCOTUS review) in these cases.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 25, 2021 at 01:54 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law Review Review | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 23, 2021

JOTWELL: Erbsen on Gluck & Burch on MDL

The new Courts Law essay comes from Allan Erbsen (Minnesota), reviewing Abbe R. Gluck & Elizabeth Chamblee Burch, MDL Revolution, 96 N.Y.U. L. Rev. ___ (forthcoming 2021).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 23, 2021 at 02:25 PM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Procedural morass of the Texas Fetal Heartbeat Law (Updated)

Texas Governor Greg Abbott yesterday signed SB 8, a "fetal heartbeat" law that bans abortions as early as six weeks. What makes this different than the spate of similar laws from red states is that the law is not publicly enforceable. Instead, it creates a cause of action for "any person" to bring a civil action against any person who performs or induces an abortion or who aides or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion, the latter covering paying, insuring, and reimbursing the costs of an abortion, as well as (I presume) publicizing the availability or option of abortion. Remedies include injunctions, statutory damages of not less than $ 10,000 per abortion, and attorney's fees.

This is a mess, although picking it apart will take work.

A

Josh Blackman is correct about two things.

First, the ordinary route to challenging abortion restrictions--Planned Parenthood or other doctors and providers of reproductive-health services brings a pre-enforcement § 1983/Ex Parte Young action against the governor, AG, Secretary of Health and Human Services, or other public official for a declaratory judgment and injunction prohibiting enforcement--is not available. Because no government officials are responsible for enforcing he law, there is no "responsible executive officer" to sue or to enjoin from enforcing the law. Courts may frame this a number of ways--lack of standing (because the officer does not enforce the law, the injury is not fairly traceable to the officer or redressable by an injunction), sovereign immunity (the elements of the EPY exception are not satisfied), or (my preferred way) that official is not violating the plaintiff's substantive rights. The legislature is immune from suit for enacting the law. And, in any event, the existence of the law (the thing for which the legislature is responsible) does not violate anyone's rights.

Second, the enforcement actions will stay in state court, because any federal defense that the law is invalid is not a basis for removal. One workaround on this would be for providers to reincorporate and/or change their principal places of business out of Texas. That would create diversity jurisdiction and allow for removal on that basis. And once the case is in federal court, the defendant should be able to have it dismissed for lack of standing. There could be fun games with the amount-in-controversy requirement. Attorney's fees are generally not included in calculating the amount in controversy, so that remedy is excluded from the calculation. Would a plaintiff limit the claim to recovering the statutory minimum and only for seven abortions to keep it under the amount? What is the "cost" of a prevented abortion procedure? Alternatively, would we see plaintiffs coming from outside Texas to bring these actions? "Oh, Planned Parenthood is incorporated in New York, let's find a New Yorker to bring this suit."

Alternatively, this is where § 1443 would come in handy, as it appears this law will deny defendants the ability to assert certain rights (see below). But that provision is limited to state laws that deny federal equal rights, not to laws denying non-equality constitutional rights such as due process.

B.

The law attempts to limit or deny defendants the right to assert the constitutional rights of women to challenge the validity of the underlying abortion fetal-heartbeat ban as an affirmative defense. This is framed as a limit on third-party standing and as a statutory provision codifying the requirements of the constitutional test. It also removes the affirmative defense if Roe or Casey is overruled, even after the challenged conduct.

This demonstrates the problem with using the language of third-party standing to describe constitutional challenges to laws regulating and criminalizing the conduct of the providers bringing these actions. It is not third-party standing but first-party standing, because the challenged law regulates the party to the action. These cases do not involve a law prohibiting conduct by 18-year-old men and a lawsuit brought by the bar owner injured by the loss of business. These cases involve laws prohibiting conduct by and imposing punishments on reproductive-health-services providers. Planned Parenthood is asserting first-person standing to raise its own rights not to be held liable or sanctioned under a constitutionally invalid law. True, the law is invalid because it violates someone else's constitutional rights. But the law still targets the party to the action, not the non-party rights-holder. This looks more like United States v. Bond, in which the Court held that a defendant can raise federalism and separation-of-powers defects in the law under which she is prosecuted, without viewing it as vicarious assertion of state interests.

I came up with the following analogy: A state wants to silence a critical newspaper. It enacts a statute prohibiting "mean and critical speech" and creates a cause of action to sue for damages and attorney's fees the companies that provide ink and paper to the newspaper that publishes mean-and-critical speech. I believe a court would allow the defendants to argue that the law is invalid because it prohibits protected speech, even if the speech regulated (thus the constitutional right violated) belongs to the newspaper and not the ink or paper companies. The companies' conduct is regulated by the law and thus they must be able to defend themselves.

Is the civil action under SB8 materially different from that case? In both, someone is being made liable under an invalid law. Maybe the difference is (or should be) between pre-enforcement and enforcement actions. We might limit who can bring pre-enforcement challenges and what rights can be asserted in pre-enforcement challenges. But those limitations should not apply when the invalid law is enforced to impose liability on someone; that defending party must be able to raise the full range of defects in the law to avoid liability and damages.

To the extent the statute purports to limit defendants' ability to challenge the invalidity of the underlying ban, does that violate procedural due process?

Again, this gets litigated in Texas state court. Will state courts faithfully apply SCOTUS precedent to this zombie law and dismiss the enforcement actions? The assumption is that they will not, contra the assumption of parity that guides the study of fed courts. And SCOTUS could review the underlying defenses that the law is invalid. Would SCOTUS touch this? Would a majority object to the temerity of either the state legislature for enacting this or for the state courts in disregarding current precedent?

C.

An Erie problem, because this disaster has everything. Section 4 provides that an attorney or organization who unsuccessfully challenges the validity of any state law regulating or restricting abortion or funding of abortion or represents a plaintiff in an unsuccessful challenge, in state or federal court, is liable for the defendant's attorney's fees.

It is pretty obvious this cannot apply in federal court. An Act of Congress controls the question of attorney's fees in constitutional actions in federal court--§ 1988, which has been interpreted to make fees virtually automatic for prevailing plaintiffs but recoverable by prevailing defendants only if the case was frivolous and even then relatively rarely. So there is no room for the state law, which directly conflicts with § 1988, to operate.

Section 4 circumvents problem by providing a distinct cause of action to recover attorney's fees within three years of the end of the prior litigation. So a plaintiff who prevails in federal court could bring a new lawsuit in state court seeking fees. Does that create a converse-Erie problem?

D

This is a good, if unfortunate, lesson that most people in law and politics do not take procedural arguments seriously, but use them as cover for substantive preferences. The conservative legal project for 30+ years has been limiting standing and causes of action in environmental- and consumer-protection cases, including using Article III to defeat legislative efforts to enable private enforcement. I guess those limitations do not apply in the areas some people care about.

E (Update)

This is becoming a Fed Courts exam.

A reader proposes that the private state-court litigation under invalid state law equals state action under Shelley v. Kramer and New York Times v. Sullivan. So perhaps Planned Parenthood can bring a § 1983 action against the Texas plaintiff once the lawsuit is filed (but perhaps before service), seeking to enjoin the private action because the underlying law is invalid. I do not think it works, but it is worth exploring.

I describe this situation as state action without a state actor (or a person acting under color of law). There is state action in the creation of state law (statutory or common law) and its enforcement in state courts, thus the Constitution plays a role as a defense in the private litigation. The Shelleys could argue that equal protection means they must prevail in the state-court action to divest them of title to the property, The Times could argue that the First Amendment means it must prevail in the state-court defamation action, and Planned Parenthood could argue that due process protects it from liability for performing or facilitating abortions.

But it requires another step to say that Kramer (the neighboring property owner), Sullivan, or Texas anti-choice advocate Billy Bob Smith is a state actor (or acts under color of state law) and thus is subject to a § 1983 suit for filing those civil actions.  That generally does not happen in these state tort cases with constitutional undertones. And rightly so. A private person who avails himself of state law and state processes, even if constitutionally invalid, does not become a state actor and should not become a state actor. Think of the major constitutional decisions involving state tort or other causes of action; all arose as defenses in the civil action rather than by suing the would-be state plaintiff in federal court. Lugar v. Edmondson Oil represents the exception, where the Court found state action because the use of state law (ex parte pre-judgment attachment) required coordination with the clerk of court and the sheriff, so it was more than availing oneself of state law. (Lugar does the state-action work in the series of post-Janus actions to claw back previously paid agency fees). I happen to believe Lugar is wrong. If we are stuck with it, however, it should not extend to the situation of filing a lawsuit under presumptively valid state law.

On the other hand, let me try a different state-action argument that might work. Texas enacted a new law banning some conduct, then delegated to private individuals lacking any connection to the conduct at issue the exclusive power to enforce that law while declaiming all governmental enforcement. And it declaimed government enforcement specifically to prevent pre-enforcement challenges. Perhaps enforcing state law is a "traditional-and-exclusive government function," delegation of which creates a state actor. This is not to say that every private attorney general acts under color. But perhaps it is different if the government turns all enforcement to the private AG. That argument is at least non-frivolous.

If Planned Parenthood could get past that state-action problem, another hurdle awaits--Younger. In the ordinary case, Planned Parenthood would bring a pre-enforcement action in federal court against the responsible executive official to enjoin enforcement. But it has a time window in which to act--if the state initiated an action to enforce the abortion ban, Younger prohibits Planned Parenthood from running to federal court to enjoin that pending enforcement action. Under HB8, however, Planned Parenthood cannot sue the private plaintiff because it has no idea who the private plaintiff will be--it could be anyone. So it must await for Billy Bob to identify himself by filing the lawsuit, at which point Younger arguably kicks in.

But Younger is uncertain in three respects. First, under Sprint, Younger bars federal actions in deference to three classes of state litigation--criminal cases, civil enforcement actions brought by the state, and ordinary civil litigation involving court orders that are uniquely central to the state court's authority (e.g., contempt and pre-judgment attachment). Billy Bob's lawsuit does not fall within any of those three, unless the court extends the second category to include civil enforcement by a private attorney general. Second, if Younger applies to this type of case, it would test Younger's "flagrantly and patently violative" exception, because it is hard to imagine a law more flagrantly and patently violative under Roe/Casey than a ban on abortions at six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant. Finally and alternatively, this might fit the bad-faith exception, because the plaintiff could not win a valid (under current judicial precedent) judgment. A district court held earlier this year that the exception applied to a new action to sanction Masterpiece Cakeshop for refusing to back a cake for a trans woman following the SCOTUS decision. It is even more obvious that a fetal-heartbeat law is invalid under Roe/Casey and that any judgment would be invalid.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 20, 2021 at 11:22 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 17, 2021

Fed Courts Day at SCOTUS

Monday was the seemingly annual day in which the Court drops multiple Fed Courts decisions.

CIC Servs. v. IRS held unanimously that an action challenging the validity of a reporting requirement, even one backed by a tax penalty for noncompliance, is not barred by the Anti Injunction Act. The Court identified three features that define whether the purpose of an action is to restrain assessment or collection of a tax: Whether the challenged rule imposes costs separate from any tax, how attenuated the tax payment is from the challenged rule, and whether noncompliance is enforced through non-tax mechanisms, such as criminal penalties. Justice Sotomayor concurred to suggest the answer might be different in a challenge brought by a taxpayer as opposed to a tax adviser (the plaintiff in this case), because those three features, especially costs, play differently for the taxpayer. Justice Kavanaugh concurred to seemingly broaden the Court's opinion as allowing all challenges to regulations backed by tax penalties ("Do X or pay a tax penalty) even if the result of a successful suit would preclude assessment or collection of a tax. Would his reading mean that the ACA individual mandate was not barred by the AIA not because it was not a tax, but because it was a regulation backed by a tax penalty?

B.P. v. Mayor of Baltimore held 8-1 that when a case is removed in part under § 1442 (federal-officer removal) and the district court remands, all bases for removal may be raised on appeal, even those bases for removal that could not have been appealed independently. Section 1447(d) says "order remaning," which includes all possible bases and grounds for the order remanding. Justice Sotomayor dissented and I think has the better of the argument; the text is not as clear as the majority suggests and the potential mischief--borderline frivolous federal-officer or civil rights removal followed by appeal of other grounds not otherwise appealable--would undermine the purposes of § 1447(d) in limiting appeals of remand orders.

Edwards v. Vannoy held 6-3 that Ramos v. Louisiana (holding last term that the Sixth Amendment required unanimous juries) did not apply retroactively to habeas actions. The Court held that new procedural rules cannot apply on habeas, eliminating Teague's exception for "watershed" rules of criminal procedure because no rule had ever been held to be such a watershed. Justice Thomas (joined by Justice Gorsuch) concurred to argue that the case should have been resolved under AEDPA--the state court's decision upholding Edwards' conviction could not have been unreasonable prior to the Court changing the law in Ramos. Gorsuch (joined by Thomas) concurred to provide a disquisition on the history and evolution of habeas to argue that modern habeas review of state court judgments does not reflect the original purposes of habeas corpus and does not authorize federal courts to reopen final state court judgments. Justice Kagan (joined by Justices Breyer and Sotomayor) dissented.

Apart from the details, the case included one interest exchange. Justice Kavanaugh wrote the majority here and supported the judgment in Ramos (he joined Gorsuch's plurality in part and concurring in part), while Kagan dissented in Ramos and here. Kavanaugh objected to Kagan criticizing the Court was failing to live up to the promise of Ramos and "impugn[ing]" the Court for shortchanging defendants. Kavanaugh argued that defendants are better off under his (and the Court's) view--some defendants (those whose cases are pending and whose convictions have not completed direct review) benefit, even if not all do. That is better off than if Kagan's view in Ramos had prevailed. Kagan responded that the force of stare decisis shifted--it supported her position in Ramos, but Ramos having been decided as it was, stare decis "was on its side" and the Court must "take the decision on its own terms, and give it all the consequence it deserves." Given recent stories about Kagan's efforts to reach out to Kavanaugh, Kavanaugh seemed put off by Kagan "rhetoric" and what he perceived as an implication of bad faith.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 17, 2021 at 02:01 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Fed Courts Puzzle

After Twitter banned Donald Trump and others, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a Civil Investigative Demand (CID), a demand from the Consumer Protection Division seeking documents relevant to an investigation into possible violations of state consumer-protection law. Twitter filed suit in the Northern District of California, seeking a declaratory judgment and injunction stopping investigation or action to enforce the demand, alleging that investigation was begun to retaliate against Twitter for content decisions Texas did not like.

The Northern District of California dismissed the action as not ripe. The demand is not self-executing and requires the state to initiate an enforcement action in state court; absent a court order, Twitter can ignore the demand without penalty. The initiation of a retaliatory investigation, without more, is not sufficient adverse action to make a retaliation claim. The court distinguished precedent involving employment investigations, which carry the threat of termination or other adverse employment action, and subpoenas and other investigatory documents that carried sanctions without court involvement. Here, Texas would have to file an action in state court and any consequences on Twitter come from a state court finding that demand is valid. Because "to date,no action has been taken to enforce the CID," Twitter's action is premature.

But the effect will be to lock Twitter out of federal court on its First Amendment claim. Once the AG initiates the enforcement proceeding, Twitter would have an opportunity to raise its First Amendment arguments.  That the means the federal court might have to abstain under Younger--this would be a civil enforcement proceeding akin to a criminal proceeding, in which the state as party seeks enforce its laws, the proceeding would be pending, and Twitter would have an adequate opportunity to raise its federal constitutional arguments. Alternatively, should the state court find the CID valid, Twitter would be complaining about a state court judgment, triggering Rooker-Feldman. At a minimum, issue preclusion would prevent federal relitigation of the First Amendment questions raised and decided in the state enforcement proceeding. Twitter's only option is to appeal the enforcement action through the Texas system and hope SCOTUS would take the case on review. In the meantime, it can do nothing about the threat over its head and the chilling effect it is intended to create.

Update: An emailer shares my skepticism, wondering why this case should not be Steffel v. Thompson--a declaratory judgment on the First Amendment defense to any enforcement action. He suggests this was an error in framing. The court described Twitter's sought remedies, quoting the complaint, as an injunction prohibiting "any action to enforce the CID or to further the unlawful investigation" and a declaratory judgment that the "First Amendment bars . .. Paxton's January 13, 2021 CID and the investigation." By framing the DJ around the investigation rather than enforcement--whether on her own or based on the complaint--the court pulled the case out of Steffel. The result is to keep Twitter out of federal court, except through SCOTUS review.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 13, 2021 at 02:38 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 10, 2021

Twiqbal and accrual

The Eighth Circuit held last week that a claim for retaliation accrues at the time of the retaliatory actions and comments suggesting retaliatory motive. (H/T: Volokh Conspiracy's Short Circuit). The case arises from the 1989 kidnapping and murder of an 11-year-old in central Minnesota, a national-obsession case I had never heard of; I plowed through the In the Dark podcast on the case over two bike rides this weekend.

Daniel Rassier and his mother, Rita, owned the farm at the end of the driveway near which the abduction occurred; the killer turned around and parked in that driveway for a time on the night of the attack. Beginning around 2004, Daniel publicly criticized the new county sheriff, who had begun focusing on Daniel as a possible suspect. In 2009, the sheriff sent the victim's mother into a conversation with Daniel wearing a wire, hoping to catch him saying something incriminating; Daniel instead criticized the sheriff and the investigation. Upon hearing those critical comments on the wire, the sheriff obtained a search warrant for the Rassier home and publicly named Daniel a "person of interest" (a meaningless term that should be retired). During the search, the sheriff allegedly twice told Daniel, "this is what happens when you talk." The sheriff repeated these statements to the podcast reporter, suggesting there are ways a person should not speak about an investigation. Daniel obviously became a social pariah after these accusations, including losing his business giving private music lessons.

The killer, Danny Heinrich, was identified in 2016 and confessed, pleading guilty to one count of possession of child pornography (the podcast discusses the reasons for that). The sheriff never apologized or acknowledged the mistake in suspecting Daniel. This plays into the podcast's theme that the police screwed the case up (they identified the perpetrator within a few days, then failed to put together the necessary information) and that this county sheriff's office has a notorious track record for failing to solve major violent crimes.

Daniel and Rita sued in 2017, less than a year after Heinrich's confession but seven years after the search (the limitations period is six years). Daniel argued that the claim did not accrue until 2016, when two things happened: 1) Heinrich confessed, thus establishing Daniel's innocence of the crime; and 2) Daniel read an unsealed copy of the sheriff's warrant affidavit, which he said was the first time he had written proof of retaliatory motive. (The podcast reports on a the transcript of the warrant hearing, which shows law enforcement making stuff up). The court rejected the argument, holding that 1) there is no requirement of certain innocence before the claim can accrue and 2) the sheriff's oral statements gave Daniel notice and a basis to believe there was a retaliatory motive, starting the clock on the claim.

Had Daniel sued prior to 2016, he would have alleged the sheriff's statements, along with facts describing the search, his criticism of the investigation, the various investigative failures, and his innocence of the crime. The court states that those facts gave Daniel notice of a viable claim. The court implies that this would have been sufficient to state a claim and that he could have found the affidavit in discovery and used it to prove his case.

But would those facts, without the allegations based on the affidavit or the sheriff's later stattements, have survived a 12(b)(6) under Twiqbal? The court might have held that the sheriff's isolated statements are ambiguous or capable of alternative understandings, rendering retaliation a possible-but-not-plausible conclusion from the facts. Other allegations of retaliatory motive, without the evidence of the affidavit or other specific facts showing intent, might have been rejected as conclusory. So might the allegations that Daniel was innocent of the kidnapping/murder. Thinking of what Daniel could have known between 2010 and 2016, it is unlikely he had enough to survive dismissal.

This case places the problem in some relief. A claim is said to accrue when the injured person "can file suit and obtain relief." For a retaliation claim, that is the time of the retaliatory act combined with some basis to believe there was a retaliatory motive. But Twiqbal disconnects filing suit and obtaining relief. The information sufficient for the claim to accrue and to compel suit might not, when reduced to writing, be sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss. That seems problematic.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 10, 2021 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Judge Newsom goes Full Fletcher

The Eleventh Circuit held Thursday that a hearing-impaired individual has standing to bring ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims for damages against a municipality for failing to make videos on its web site accessible to the hearing impaired. (H/T: Longtime reader Asher Steinberg).

The notable part is the 50+-page concurrence from Judge Newsom, who goes Full William Fletcher to argue that there is no distinct Article III standing inquiry distinct from the merits, using examples from Fletcher's foundational article. What gets called standing is about the existence of a cause of action and the violation of a legal right and remedy, going to the merits of the claim and not to the court's jurisdiction. Congress' power to create causes of action is not unlimited. But the limitation comes not from Article III, but Article II and the power of the President to execute the laws. The requirement of a particularized injury is a way to distinguish public from private rights or actions to vindicate the rights of the individual--which Congress can enable--from actions, such as criminal prosecutions, to vindicate the rights of the general public--which reside with the executive and cannot be delegated to private individuals. Newsom acknowledges that his approach does not eliminate difficult line-drawing and hard questions to divide public from private rights. But there is value in focusing on Article II rather than Article and thus "seeking answers in the right place." And, I would add, value to analyzing it as a matter of merits rather than jurisdiction.

I could not have said this better myself. And I have tried in this space, a lot.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 6, 2021 at 07:28 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 26, 2021

CFP: Civ Pro Workshop Summer Works-in-Progress Series

The following is posted at request of Brooke Coleman (Seattle) and David Marcus (UCLA).

The organizers of the Civil Procedure Workshop (“CPW”), an annual gathering of civil procedure scholars, look forward to an in-person gathering at Northwestern University in May 2022.  In the meanwhile, we invite all interested in civil procedure scholarship to participate in an online works-in-progress series the CPW has scheduled for July 15, 2021, and August 12, 2021.  Both sessions will proceed from 1:00-3:00 pm east coast.  Anyone who wishes to present a paper on a topic related to civil procedure is welcome and encouraged to do so.  We will organize participants into small discussion groups, to enable all authors to present their work and receive feedback from colleagues.

Authors are encouraged to present their work in whatever form it takes.  Full drafts are welcome, but so too are shorter summaries or partially completed papers. 

Those who do not wish to present their work are also encouraged to attend.  We hope that these sessions will give colleagues a chance to a gather, if only online, and continue to support our national community of procedure scholars that many of us enjoy so much.  

Please register for the works-in-progress series here.

You are encouraged to attend both sessions and are welcome to present at one, both, or neither.  If you plan to present your work, we ask that you submit your paper to the organizers by July 1, 2021, for the July 15 session, and by July 29, 2021, for the August 12 session, to give organizers a chance to assemble groups and distribute papers to participants.  If you are presenting a full draft, we ask that you also submit a ten-page excerpt that readers can particularly focus on in advance of the discussions.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 26, 2021 at 04:02 PM in Civil Procedure, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, April 24, 2021

JOTWELL: Coleman on Gadson on stolen plausibility

The new Courts Law essay comes from Brooke Coleman (Seattle) reviewing Marcus Alexander Gadson, Stolen Plausibility, __ Geo. L.J. ___ (forthcoming 2021), on courts preventing plaintiffs from relying on facts from other cases and other investigations as a way to satisfy Twiqbal.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 24, 2021 at 10:31 AM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 19, 2021

Bad state action arguments (Updated)

MyPillow, facing a billion-dollar defamation lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems over Mike Lindell's post-election nuttery, has sued Dominion (note: It is a new action, not a counterclaim--not sure why). It asserts claims for violations of the First Amendment and due process.

How? Here is ¶ 89: "Defendants, at all times relevant hereto, were performing and fulfilling a traditional and exclusive state and governmental function of administering public elections, pursuant to state statutes, ordinances, regulations, customs, rules and policies established thereunder, and as such, were acting under color of state law."

Administering elections qualifies as a traditional-and-exclusive public function, when the government delegates or turns control over the election machinery to a private entity, such as the Democratic Party in Jim Crow Texas. It does not apply to government contractors who support the government in performing those traditional-and-exclusive government functions. So this argument is silly and doomed to fail. Although I suppose it at least has a better doctrinal base compared with those arguing that Twitter, YouTube, et al. act under color because managing a "speech forum" is a public function or because § 230 immunity makes them the government or because saying they are committed to free expression makes it the government.

Update: Fleshing this out a bit following an email exchange with a reader.

    First, none of this matters to the present action. Even if Dominion acted under color in performing election-related functions, it does not act under color for all purposes. The allegation in this action is that Dominion violated the First Amendment by publicly criticizing and suing MyPillow for defamation. Dominion is not under color in doing that, because it is not wielding any authority derived from government. The claim is not saved by the argument that Dominion was responding to MyPillow criticisms of Dominion's allegedly under-color election conduct. The chain of causation does not extend so far. Devin Nunes--an actual government official--does not act under color when he sues cows for criticizing how he performs his (under color of law) government functions.

    Second, Dominion's supposed malfeasance was all over the place in the post-election litigation and various Kraken and Kraken-adjacent complaints were loaded with allegations of how Dominion voting machines helped throw the election to Biden. No one thought to include Dominion in any of those suits on this theory?

    My presumption in these arguments is that Dominion's role is limited to selling/renting the machines to the government, installing them, training government officials on them, and providing technical support where necessary; Dominion is not more actively involved in running the collection and counting of votes. This makes Dominion like the company that provides tasers or handcuffs for police--even if those devices somehow contribute to the constitutional injury, providing them does not alone create state action. A greater level of joint cooperation with government officials might change the conclusion, creating joint participation and a nexus because government enables the private misconduct. (The example from a reader is police hiring private security to provide additional crowd control at a public event). The complaint does not provide any facts showing a greater level of engagement by Dominion.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 19, 2021 at 04:18 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Universality in Tandon v. Newsom

Christopher Sprigman started a Twitter thread contemplating what happens if California disregards or circumvents the order in Tandon v. Newsom. A different thread derides the suggestion as "stupid." I do not believe California will attempt this, so the issue is academic. But we can illustrate how litigation operates by parsing this specific case.

We need to break down what state officials might attempt to do and against whom.

Tandon was a lawsuit by ten plaintiffs, individually. Newsom and other California officials are enjoined from enforcing COVID restrictions against these ten individuals and the religious groups they head. Any attempt to enforce against them would constitute disregard for a court order. It could be punishable by contempt, sanctionable by fines and, in the extreme, jail. And yes, Biden would be obligated to send in US Marshals, if not the 101st Airborne, to enforce the court's order against state officials as to these ten plaintiffs.

No court order prohibits Newsom and other California officials from attempting to enforce the regulations against anyone other than those ten individuals. State officials therefore would not be in contempt of any court order in attempting to do so. Nor would they be "disobeying" the Supreme Court, because the Supreme Court did not order them to refrain from doing anything as to anyone other than those ten plaintiffs. And Biden and the US Marshals would play no role, because there is no court order to enforce.

What would happen if Newsom or other state officials attempted or threatened to attempt this?

    • The new targets would sue in federal court, asking for an injunction to protect them.* They should get it, although a lot depends on how much precedential force these per curiam shadow-docket "decisions" or "orders," even with five justices behind them, carry. They may carry force less as precedent than as a looking threat--lower courts are on notice that failure to enjoin will be summarily reversed by SCOTUS, which now sees it as its job to superintend litigation without awaiting finality or full briefing. Either way, it seems likely that the district court would issue that injunction prohibiting enforcement against these new targets. The new targets also could obtain attorney's fees as prevailing parties, which might be the strongest drag on pursuing this strategy. This new judgment and injunction protects these individuals against enforcement by these state officials. Were officials to continue enforcement efforts as to these plaintiffs, they would be disobeying a court order; subject to contempt, fines, or other sanctions; and subject to action by US Marshals.

[*] Alternatively, they might join as plaintiffs in the current action and ask the court to expand the injunction. There are some close Rule 20 joinder issues there.

    • The new targets also might ask for damages from the attempt or threat to enforce, even if only nominal. The question then is whether the defendants would lose qualified immunity for their actions. Is it now clearly established that COVID regulations treating religious practice less favorably than any other activity (comparable or not) violates the First Amendment? Again, it depends on how courts treat these orders as precedent that clearly establishe a right.

Would Justices Thomas and Gorsuch, both on record as rejecting application of injunctions beyond the names plaintiffs to that case, disagree with any of this?

This is the first time we have seen this idea from the left; previous talk of "resistance" efforts came from the right, in response to Brown and Obergefell. And it does no good to distinguish this case as involving a "rule that religious people get to ignore the law." Any framing--here, in Brown, or in Obergefell--reduces to disagreement with the substance of a decision and an attempt to convert disagreement into a suggestion of illegitimacy.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 11, 2021 at 05:12 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thoughts on Caron Nazario lawsuit

Here is the complaint. A few thoughts.

• The complaint is uniquely specific and precise about the facts because the plaintiff obtained the officers' body-camera footage and footage from his cellphone. He could review (and cite to) evidence in the pleading. No need to rely on boilerplate, to plead on "information and belief," or to plead in general terms. No Twiqbal problems here.

• The First Amendment claim is interesting. He alleges that the officers threatened to retaliate against him by pursuing charges if he exercised his First Amendment petition rights and complained, then filed false reports in furtherance of that effort. First Amendment retaliation is tough--the plaintiff must prove the officers did not have probable cause to arrest for anything, which typically  is tough to show. But the camera footage helped in framing that claim.

• The complaint does not try to do too much. Nazario sues only the officers for the immediate violations. He does not try to weave a failure-to-blank theory to establish municipal liability based on patterns of past misconduct by these or other officers. The complaint also does not spend pages weaving this action into the broader national problem of police abuse. It does not employ outraged rhetoric to appeal to the reader's emotion. Such information would not be legally important to this case (except in furtherance of the failure-to-train theory that the plaintiff does not pursue). But it would be politically important in placing this case in a bigger picture and drawing public interest and attention to the case. Beth Thornburg coined the term "pleading as press release" to describe using the complaint to speak to, and litigate one's position in, the public . Whatever the merits of doing that, it is interesting that this plaintiff and his lawyer did not try it. Maybe the video, which is all over the internet, performs the work that the language of the complaint ordinarily would perform--news stories can describe the video rather than quoting outraged rhetoric in the pleading.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 11, 2021 at 01:05 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 08, 2021

JOTWELL: Thomas on Coleman on the Rules Committees

The new Courts Law essay comes from Suja Thomas (Illinois), reviewing Brooke D. Coleman, #SoWhiteMale: Federal Procedural Rulemaking Commitees, 68 UCLA L. Rev. Disc. 270 (2020), which explores the race and gender composition of the rules committees and the problems lack of diversity creates.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 8, 2021 at 01:38 PM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Tenth Circuit adds to the pantheon of awful qualified-immunity decisions

From the Tenth Circuit, in a case arising from Denver police seizure of a tablet computer from a bystander who filmed police using force against another person. This involves less egregious facts than six hours in a feces-laden cell or stealing coins while executing a warrant.  But it demonstrates how far afield the analysis has gone.

Denver police department told officers in their training that the First Amendment protected the right to record. The officers disregarded express departmental guidelines--that is, they knew their conduct violated the First Amendment as they had been instructed on it. The court said that was irrelevant because: 1) the officers' subjective knowledge of their wrongdoing is irrelevant under Harlow's objective standard and 2) only judicial opinions can clearly establish rights because the Constitution means what the courts say, regardless of any training by the executive department.

This seems wrong for several reasons.

First, the standard that SCOTUS has floated in recent cases is that qualified immunity protects "all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law." What does that second point mean if it does not allow immunity to be lost when the officer knows the law and still violates it. Second, SCOTUS has looked at departmental guidance in the qualified immunity analysis. In Wilson v. Layne, the Court pointed to US Marshal regulations allowing media ride-alongs and said they could establish the lawfulness of conduct, so long as they were not obviously unconstitutional; it should follow that guidance can establish what is not lawful. In Hope v. Pelzer, the fact use of the hitching post was prohibited by Alabama Bureau of Prisons guidelines helped clearly establish the right, along with not-quite-on-point precedent. And the Third Circuit in Fields v. City of Philadelphia considered the role of departmental policy in clearly establishing a right, although the court there said the regs did not clearly establish the constitutional right because it was not clear that the regs were grounded in the First Amendment as opposed to good policy. Nevertheless, the parties and the court worked on the understanding that departmental policy is part of the analysis. At the same time, of course, the existence of department policy instructing officers allows the city to avoid municipal liability because they had trained their officers on a highly protective version of the First Amendment.

Second, the sort of naked judicial supremacy is unwarranted and unjustified. Yes, executive interpretation will yield to judicial understanding once matters hit court. But the court leaves no room for departmentalist interpretation and training.

Third, the court pulled an interesting sleight-of-hand in looking at law from other circuits circa 2014 (when these events occurred). Four circuits had recognized some First Amendment protection for recording of police pre-2014. A "robust consensus" of non-SCOTUS authority can clearly establish. But the court said none of those courts had found the right clearly established; the court was more persuaded by the non-finding of the right as clearly established (although some cases were not for damages and thus immunity was not in issue) than by the conclusion that the First Amendment was violated. And one of the cases had a dissent (Judge Posner dissented in the Seventh Circuit case), suggesting a disagreement among judges that precludes a right being clearly established.

Fourth, the court bypassed the merits. Why? Because everyone in the case agrees that the First Amendment right to record exists and was violated here. And the constitutional question is best resolved in an adversarial posture featuring powerful arguments on both sides. So not only are these officers are off the hook, this case does not put the next officer on the hook for the same misconduct. And the court may have offered officials a wonderful new strategy in § 1983 cases: Concede the merits, prompting the court to skip ruling on the merits and allowing the officers to prevail because the right is not clearly established for lack of necessary judicial precedent. Of course, the court will never provide that precedent. And if formal government policy cannot clearly establish a right, litigation concessions certainly cannot do so.

A depressing piece of work. I am curious to see if it survives en banc review. Or if this will be the case that prompts reconsideration of this mess.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 30, 2021 at 02:38 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Trying and failing to keep standing and merits distinct

The Eighth Circuit offers the latest example, in a First Amendment challenge by vegan food producers and advocates to a Missouri law prohibiting misrepresentations of products as "meat" when not derived from animals.

The majority held the plaintiff had standing but had not shown a likelihood of success on the merits entitling it to a preliminary injunction, while the dissent argued that the action should have been dismissed for lack of standing. But everything turned on the same issue--whether the plaintiffs' proposed conduct violated the law and whether they were likely to have the law enforced against them, given that they did not "misrepresent" their plant-based products as being "meat." The majority said that standing is analyzed under Susan B. Anthony List, which requires a showing that the statute "arguably" reaches the plaintiff's conduct and there exists a "credible" threat of enforcement. But SBA "does no work" beyond standing; the merits of the claim (and the first prong of your injunction analysis) asks whether the plaintiffs' conduct was "likely to be seen" as violating the statute. On the other hand, the dissent took those same facts as not establishing standing.

The majority cited circuit precedent acknowledging that standing "tracks" merits and is "closely bound up" with whether the plaintiff is entitled to relief. But the court insists they are not "coextensive" and must not be "conflate[d]." But if the concepts turn on the same fact, they are doing more than tracking one another. If two judges look at the same fact and one uses it to find the absence of a cause of action and one uses it to find a lack of standing, they begin to sound coextensive. Which raises the question of why courts bother--why spend so much time on standing only to use the same fact to find a failure on the merits.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 30, 2021 at 11:34 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Court finds personal jurisdiction in Ford

SCOTUS decided Ford on Thursday, with all Justices agreeing that jurisdiction was proper. Kagan wrote for five (Chief, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kavanaugh); Alito concurred in the judgment; Gorsuch, joined by Thomas, concurred in the judgment. My SCOTUSBlog analysis is here.Kagan's opinion makes for a good teaching case, with a nice overview and summary of the doctrine (I am going back and forth about whether to use this instead of WW--I have a week to decide). On the relatedness question, Kagan concludes that a claim can "arise out of" the defendant's minimum contacts or it can "relate to" the defendant's minimum contacts; the former suggests causation, while the latter can looks for "an affiliation between the forum and the underlying controversy, principally, [an] activity or occurrence that takes place in the forum State and is therefore subject to the State’s regulation." Relate to contemplates relationships lacking that causal showing. This is where Alito jumped off. Arise out of and relate to mean the same thing and both require some causation, which was present here. Gorusch and Thomas question the entire International Shoe framework, without identifying what might replace it.
The case leaves many unanswered questions.

What is the status of the reasonableness factors that are supposed to be the third step in the analysis? The Court has not mentioned or relied on them in any recent case. But they should control the result in the local-company hypos in FN 4 of Kagan's opinion (about a retiree wood-carver in Maine) and in Breyer's Nicastro concurrence (about Kenyan coffee producers); the defendant had contacts and the contacts gav rise, but it would be unreasonable to drag these small defendants to distant forums. Kagan alludes to considerations such as fairness  to the defendant and notice to the defendant and the competing interests of the forum state and other states in adjudicating, but appears to bury them in the first two prongs, rather than leaving them as a third step.

What else would satisfy relate to but not arise under? Some courts or judges have argued that relate to allows a longer causal chain, while arise under looks for  a transactional connection. For example, in Clemens v. McNamee (Roger Clemens' defamation suit against the former trainer who narced him out to the Mitchell Commission), the dissent argued that McNamee had contacts with Texas through his training activities in Texas (he traveled there 30+ times) and that those contacts "related to" Clemens' defamation claim because the Texas-based training put McNamee in a position to know about Clemens' PED use. Brennan made a similar move in his Helicol dissent--all the contracts and preliminaries for the relationship with Helicol were negotiated and entered into Texas, contacts that made the deal, and thus the accident, possible. Would the same majority endorse those views?

There has been some interesting discussion on the Civ Pro Profs List of what must be "related" for the second prong. Is it a relationship between the defendant's contacts and the claim and the forum? Or between the plaintiff's claim and the forum? Or some combination of the two.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 27, 2021 at 03:42 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

JOTWELL: Kalajdzic on Salib on AI class actions

The new Courts Law essay comes from Jasminka Kalajdzic (Windsor) reviewing Peter Salib, Artificially Intelligent Class Actions, ___ Tex. L. Rev. ___ (forthcoming), which explores how AI might be used in class-action certification.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 24, 2021 at 08:48 PM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Qualified immunity, inconsistency, and level of generality

A practical problem with qualified immunity is its inconsistency. This is especially true with respect to the level of generality at which a right is defined, which often determines whether a right is clearly established--the broader the level of generality, the more likely that precedent, created on different facts, can clearly establish. Case in point: The District of New Mexico holding that it was clearly established in 2019 or 2020 that a local elected official violates the First Amendment by blocking people from their private Facebook page.

At first glance, this seems impossible. SCOTUS has never addressed this, nor has the Tenth Circuit (which includes New Mexico). The two appellate decisions holding that the First Amendment prevents government officials from blocking people on social media--the Second Circuit in Knight Foundation and the Fourth Circuit  in Davison--came in 2019. That is not a "robust consensus" of lower-court of precedent. But the court did not look for such factual specificity. Rather, the rights at issue were to be free from viewpoint discrimination in online spaces used as "metaphysical" public fora and from viewpoint-based retaliation in those public forums.

This stands in sharp contrast to the typical approach. Even outside the absurd cases ("precedent saying it is unlawful to steal drugs during a search does not clearly establish that it is unlawful to steal coins during a search"), courts look for at least some factual similarity beyond general free-speech principles. An official blocking a user from her private page, while leaving that person otherwise free to say whatever he wants wherever he wants, is a far cry from a state banning individuals from all social media.

Perhaps this is how things should be. If qualified immunity must remain, perhaps courts should think about rights more broadly and in a less fact-bound way. But it is out of step with current immunity doctrine, including from the Tenth Circuit, that "viewpoint discrimination" is not a sufficiently specific right.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 21, 2021 at 03:11 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Civ Pro: No Coke, Pepsi

Two fun things in recent Civ Pro classes.

First, I taught Scott v. Harris today. For the first time, not one student took the position that the video might support the plaintiff and show that the use of force was unreasonable. Maybe everyone who took that position had her camera and did not feel like doing hand-raise. But I was surprised.

Second,we Discovery last week, with a group argument over Coca-Bottling v. Coca-Cola, a dispute over discoverability of the formula for Coca Cola (what is now Classic) and the discovery and sanctions order coming from that dispute. But then, because I could not resist and believe I should impose my pop-culture preferences on them as much as the other way around:



Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 18, 2021 at 01:48 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Zombie revivals

Michael Dorf writes about a new Arkansas law that bans all abortions except to save the life of the woman in the case of a medical emergency. Dorf wonders why Arkansas (or any other state) does this rather than attempting to enforce an existing law. He argues it is partly political--current legislators and the current governor want the political trophy of such a law, as opposed to give the attorney general the glory of new enforcement. There also is the problem that Arkansas or another state may be under an injunction not to enforce the existing laws, so the new law is necessary to create a new enforcement opportunity. Alternatively, the AG would have to ask the district court to lift the injunction, which may be difficult when done in anticipation of SCOTUS overruling precedent.

Some good thoughts here that I want to incorporate into my Zombie Laws paper.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 11, 2021 at 04:11 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Twiqbal and voting

I  doubt I am in the first person to draw this connection, but here goes:

The political group(s) pushing to restrict voting rights are the same group(s) who seek to restrict access to courts and to civil justice. The real reasons for restricting access are the same--the people they want to win will not win if there is broad access (Republican candidates v. governments/businesses/persons who engage in certain types of wrongdoing). But they cannot acknowledge those real reasons. So they create evidence-free arguments equating expanded access with abuse of the system (massive voter fraud  producing an incorrect, inaccurate winner v. frivolous litigation with burdensome and disproportionate discovery hurting innocent companies and producing coerced or inaccurate judgments).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 11, 2021 at 08:58 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Cascading Fed Courts issues

I have not given enough thought to how one SCOTUS decision on one issue produces a cascade of other issues. Janus provides a nice case in point.

SCOTUS held that mandatory non-member agency fees violate the First Amendment. That triggered a wave of actions against unions by non-members to recoup fees paid prior to Janus, which courts of appeals have uniformly and all-but-unanimously rejected via a defense of good-faith immunity (the Fourth Circuit joined the chorus yesterday).

The Seventh Circuit on Monday considered a different downstream effect: A union sued the state attorney general challenging state law requiring unions to represent free-riders, claiming that mandatory representation violates the union's First Amendment rights against compelled expression and association. The court of appeals held that the union lacked standing.* No freeriding nonmember had grieved the union for failing to represent it. The attorney general (the defendant in the action) had not initiated or threatened an action against the union for unfair (or non-) representation. And the union had not alleged an intent to not represent freeriders to set-up a pre-enforcement challenge. So while the court acknowledged the issue was unavoidable post-Janus and would eventually require resolution, there was no live case or controversy teed up.

[*] While acknowledging that it also could have been unripe. But wouldn't it all be so much easier to say that nothing had (yet) caused a violation of the union's constitutional rights?

That leads to a further downstream effect: If a freerider files a grievance or the state brings a failure-to-represent action, would a federal court abstain under Younger from the union's action? It may depend on the state laws and procedures governing state labor proceedings. I think abstention would be required in the AG action, because the action sounds comparable to an attorney-grievance proceeding. The freerider grievance may be a bit more open after Sprint, since the state would not be a party.

This is far from played out, as the Seventh Circuit recognized. I wonder if the Janus majority anticipated this three years ago.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 9, 2021 at 10:57 AM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, March 08, 2021

Nominal damages, past injury, and a morass to come

SCOTUS decided Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski Monday, holding 8-1 (Thomas for the Court, Roberts dissenting) that nominal damages are a retrospective remedy and plaintiffs can pursue them as the sole remedy for a past constitutional violation. The decision allows plaintiffs to vindicate rights (e.g., the right to protest in a time, place, and manner to which the plaintiff was entitled) that are easily violated but rarely, if ever, worth a lot of money. It also strips government of the power to moot cases after they have begun by repealing the challenged policies, at least where the plaintiff can show an injury from when the policy was in effect.

But the decision leaves many issues open and to be resolved by lower courts going forward.

One is how prevalent this practice will become. Will every plaintiff challenging the validity of a policy include a nominal-damages claim to guard against the government mooting the case? And how will this affect the willingness of courts to say the prospective claim is moot if there is a retroactive claim keeping the case alive? Courts are all over the map on when the repeal of an executive or department policy moots a case and when it is the sort of voluntary cessation that does not moot the case. On one hand, a court may hold the prospective claim not moot, since the nominal-damages claim will keep the case in court. On the other, it may be happy to dump the prospective claim and focus on a small-money claim for a likely de minimis past injury.

Second is how this affects attorney's fees, which was the hidden import of this case. A plaintiff who recovers nominal damages is a prevailing plaintiff entitled to fees under § 1988. Had this case come out the other way, it would have upped the incentive for government to repeal challenged policies, mooting the case and immunizing itself from fees.

But even if fees are available, the amount of recovery may be limited where the plaintiff only receives nominal damages after seeking more--when a plaintiff recovers nominal damages but nothing else, the reasonable fee may be "nothing." Courts might narrow the degree to which the plaintiff prevails, and the amount of fees she recovers, where the government repeals the challenged policy; the plaintiff prevails "only" on the past violation and can recover only for that legal work. An increase in nominal-damages actions may produce a drawback in the amount of fees courts are willing to award.

Third, Jim Pfander proposes that Congress should amend § 1983 to allow plaintiffs to bring claims seeking nominal damages--foregoing compensatory, punitive, and other substantial damages in exchange for the defendant being unable to assert qualified immunity. On one hand, this case treats nominal damages as a remedy consistent with Article III and thus within Congress' power to enact by statute. But the logic of Pfander's proposal is that nominal damages function like an injunction or declaratory judgment, neither of which is subject to qualified immunity. But today's decision paints nominal damages as s a retrospective remedy. Of course, the policy concern for an officer paying out of his own pocket disappears if he only will pay $ 1. But the validity of the proposal turns on that policy, not on the analogy between injunctions and nominal damages.

Fourth, the case illustrates the Court ongoing use of Article III to constitutionalize all sorts of merits questions. The majority talks about the need to show standing and a cognizable cause of action, assuming they are obviously distinct and never recognizing their unavoidable overlap. The Justices continue to make Article III and justiciability as a vehicle to discuss what injuries plaintiffs can recover for and what remedies they can get for those injuries, which should be core merits issues.

Roberts' dissent is worse. He argues (adopting the position of the United States and echoing his dissent in Campbell-Ewald) that a defendant can moot a nominal-damages case by depositing $ 1, avoiding a resolution on the merits. But an action for past injury (as the majority characterizes a claim for nominal damages) never becomes moot. Unlike an ongoing injury that ends when the policy causing injury is repealed, the past injury occurred and does not disappear with payment of money. The payment remedies the injury, putting the plaintiff where she would have been had the past violation of her rights not occurred. But the injury does not disappear and it does not become moot. Unfortunately, Kavanaugh wrote a one-paragraph concurrence to agree with that point in Roberts' dissent, meaning two members of the Court for that absurd position.

Finally, whether characterized as merits or mootness, the question remains whether government can do what the U.S. and Roberts/Kavanaugh would allow: Render the claims recognized in this case meaningless by depositing that $ 1 and demanding the government enter judgment, even if the plaintiff would rather not accept the settlement.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 8, 2021 at 01:53 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)