Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

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Ron Koenig was the superintendent and principal of the Warner Unified School District (the district). He and the district entered an agreement to terminate his employment one year before his employment agreement was due to expire. Under the termination agreement, Koenig agreed to release any potential claims against the district in exchange for a lump sum payment equivalent to the amount due during the balance of the term of his employment agreement, consistent with Government Code section 53260. The district also agreed to continue to pay health benefits for Koenig and his spouse "until Koenig reaches age 65 or until Medicare or similar government provided insurance coverage takes effect, whichever occurs first." The district stopped paying Koenig's health benefits 22 months later. Koenig then sued to rescind the termination agreement and sought declaratory relief he was entitled to continued benefits pursuant to his underlying employment agreement, which provided that Koenig and his spouse would continue receiving health benefits, even after the term of the agreement expired. After a bench trial, the trial court determined the district's promise in the termination agreement to pay health benefits until Koenig turned 65 violated section 53261, was unenforceable, and rendered the termination agreement void for lack of consideration. Both Koenig and the district appealed the judgment entered after trial. Koenig contended the trial court properly determined the termination agreement was void but should have concluded he was entitled to continued health benefits until the age of 65. The district contended the trial court erred when it concluded the termination agreement was void; rather, the trial court should have severed the termination agreement's unenforceable promise to continue paying benefits, enforced the remainder of the termination agreement, and required Koenig to pay restitution for benefits paid beyond the term of the original agreement. The Court of Appeal concluded the termination agreement's unlawful promise to pay health benefits in excess of the statutory maximum should have been severed to comply with sections 53260 and 53261, Koenig did not establish he was entitled to rescind the termination agreement, and the district was entitled to restitution for health benefits paid beyond the statutory maximum. Judgment was reversed and the trial court directed to enter judgment in favor of the district for $16,607. View "Koenig v. Warner Unified School District" on Justia Law

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The Swartzes acquired horses, goats, and a donkey on their Washington County, Indiana hobby farm. In 2013, the county’s animal control officer, Lee, contacted Dr. Lovejoy, an Indiana State Board of Animal Health veterinarian, for help evaluating a thin horse he observed on the Swartzes’ property. Lee and Lovejoy visited the Swartzes’ farm to evaluate the animals four times. Lovejoy reported a significant decline in the animals’ welfare and expressed concerns about the conditions in which they were kept. Lee sought, in a standard, ex parte proceeding, a finding of probable cause to seize the animals. The Superior Court of Washington County determined that there was probable cause to believe animal neglect or abandonment was occurring and entered an order to seize the animals (IC 35-46-3-6). The animals were seized and the state filed animal cruelty charges against the Swartzes. The court eventually ordered permanent placement of the animals for adoption. The state deferred prosecuting the Swartzes with a pretrial diversion agreement. The Swartzes filed a federal suit, alleging a conspiracy to deprive them of their property. The Seventh Circuit vacated the district court’s rulings (in favor of the defendants) and remanded for dismissal due to a lack of federal subject matter jurisdiction. The Swartzes’ claims are inextricably intertwined with state court judgments, requiring dismissal under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. View "Swartz v. Heartland Equine Rescue" on Justia Law

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Attorney-defendant Peter Porter represented plaintiff Elise Sharon in a lawsuit resulting in a 2008 default judgment entered in favor of Sharon. In October 2015, a judgment debtor wrote to Sharon, claiming the judgment was void. In November 2015, Sharon’s new attorney correctly opined that the judgment was indeed void. In September 2016, the debtor filed a motion to vacate the judgment, which was granted the following month. In May 2017, Sharon filed a legal malpractice lawsuit against Porter. During a court trial on stipulated facts, the trial court found the judgment had been valid until it was vacated. The court also found the statute of limitations applicable to Sharon’s lawsuit had been tolled until “actual injury” first occurred in September 2016, when Sharon began incurring hourly attorney fees to oppose the judgment debtor’s motion to vacate the judgment. After review, the Court of Appeal reversed, finding the default judgment was void independent of it being vacated. "Discovery of the void judgment and whatever injury resulted therefrom occurred at least by November 2015 when the judgment debtor wrote to Sharon and her new attorney claiming the judgment was void. The statute ran one year from that date. Sharon’s 2017 lawsuit was time-barred." View "Sharon v. Porter" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit dismissed plaintiff's appeal of two district court orders based on lack of jurisdiction. The first order requires that plaintiff pay costs under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(d), and the second administratively closes the case pending such payment. The court held that these orders were not final judgments, and thus did not fall within any exception to the final judgment rule and mandamus relief was inappropriate. View "Sammons v. Economou" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sued, claiming that certain Tristar pressure cookers had defective lids that could come open while the cookers were in use, exposing the user to possible injury. The district court certified three separate state classes for trial: Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Colorado. During a trial recess, the parties agreed to a settlement with a nationwide class. The parties agreed to the principal amount but, with Tristar’s agreement not to dispute an award at or below $2.5 million, deferred determination of attorneys’ fees. Class members would receive a coupon to purchase a different Tristar product and a warranty extension. The court calculated the value of the coupons and warranty extensions as $1,020,985 and approved attorneys’ fees of $1,980,382.59. At a fairness hearing, Arizona made its first appearance, arguing as amicus, along with the U.S. Department of Justice, that the settlement was unfair because of the division between the principal settlement and attorneys’ fees. None of the class joined in objections to the settlement. The court indicated that it would approve the settlement. Before the court issued its order, Arizona sought to officially intervene under either Rule 24(a) Rule 24(b). The court rejected each of Arizona’s requests for lack of Article III standing. The Sixth Circuit dismissed an appeal, rejecting the state’s arguments that it had standing under the parens patriae doctrine, under the Class Action Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. 1715, and because it has a participatory interest as a “repeat player.” View "Kenneth Chapman v. Tristar Products, Inc." on Justia Law

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Wisconsin prisoner Brown cut himself severely while in restrictive housing. Brown sued the prison nurses, asserting that they had exhibited deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. The Wisconsin Department of Justice and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin have a 2018 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that covers 42 U.S.C. 1983 lawsuits by an incarcerated person, when those cases must undergo initial screening by the district court under 28 U.S.C. 1915A. In the MOU, the state DOJ gives “limited consent to the exercise of jurisdiction” by Magistrate Judges over several things, including, without qualification, the initial screening. Following its routine procedures and the MOU, the district court sent the case to Magistrate Duffin for initial screening. Brown consented (28 U.S.C. 636(c)) to the authority of the magistrate to resolve the entire case. Duffin found that Brown failed to state a claim, stating that “[t]his order and the judgment to follow are final” and appealable to the Seventh Circuit. Under Circuit precedent, a magistrate judge does not have the authority to enter a final judgment in a case when only one party has consented to the magistrate’s jurisdiction. Two defendants had not been served. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the state defendant may consent in advance to the magistrate’s jurisdiction to conduct the initial case screening and, if the plaintiff has also filed consent, the magistrate may enter final judgment dismissing the case with prejudice. View "Brown v. Doe" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Ron Gipson challenged Snohomish County’s response to a records request under Washington’s Public Records Act. Gipson requested records that related to allegations of workplace sexual harassment against him. At the time of his request, Gipson was under investigation for those allegations. Due to the voluminous request, Snohomish County responded by producing the documents in five installments over the course of several months, but asserted the active and ongoing investigation exemption under the Act for each installment. Gipson argued treating each installment with the exemption was improper under the Act. The Washington Supreme Court disagreed, finding Snohomish County properly applied the active-and-ongoing-investigation exemption and affirmed. View "Gipson v. Snohomish County" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and others filed a class action against defendants, alleging claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Nebraska law, arising out of an eight-week student-driver training program operated by defendants and intended for new truck drivers. The Eighth Circuit agreed with defendants that the district court abused its discretion by granting plaintiffs' request to extend the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16(b) disclosure deadline, despite finding that good cause for the extension had not been shown, based on an erroneous application of Rule 37(c)(1). The court held that the error was not harmless because the jury clearly relied on the opinion of plaintiff's expert in reaching the damages award. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded for further proceedings. View "Petrone v. Werner Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law

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At issue are motions by several news organizations to intervene in a pending appeal and to unseal an unredacted letter filed by Deutsche Bank on August 27, 2019. Deutsche Bank filed the letter in an appeal from an order denying a preliminary injunction sought by President Trump and others to prevent compliance with subpoenas seeking production of numerous documents, including tax returns. The Second Circuit granted the motions to intervene, because news media have a right to intervene to seek unsealing of documents filed in a court proceeding. However, the court denied the motions for unsealing, because the sealed letter was not relevant to any issue in the underlying appeal and thus it was not a judicial document within the meaning of the decisions requiring unsealing of documents with a court. Furthermore, the letter was not a record of any court which, absent special circumstances, would be available for public scrutiny. View "Trump v. Deutsche Bank AG" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit vacated the decision of the district court dismissing for failure to state a claim this suit challenging the federal government's decision not to waive indefinitely the cabotage provision of the Jones Act for Puerto Rico following the destruction wrought by Hurricane Maria, holding that Plaintiffs lacked standing and dismissal was required on jurisdictional grounds. In this suit, Plaintiffs challenged the provision of the Jones Act, which applies to Puerto Rico and prohibits foreign-flag vessels from transporting merchandise between United States coastwise points. The district court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The First Circuit vacated the judgment below and remanded for the claims to be dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, holding that Plaintiffs, each of whom owned real estate and/or personal property in Puerto Rico, failed to set forth allegations in their complaint that were sufficient to establish standing. View "Perez-Kudzma v. United States" on Justia Law