Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

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The case involves the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the Cato Institute (Plaintiffs) who sued the U.S. Department of Education and its officials (Defendants) over a one-time account adjustment announced by the Department. The adjustment was intended to count months or years that student-loan borrowers spent in excessive forbearance status towards debt forgiveness. The Plaintiffs, being nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations and qualified public service employers under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, argued that this adjustment would harm their ability to recruit and retain employees.The case was initially heard in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, where the court dismissed the Plaintiffs' complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, concluding that the Plaintiffs lacked standing. The Plaintiffs appealed this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision. The court held that the Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that they suffered an injury in fact, a requirement for establishing standing. The court rejected the Plaintiffs' arguments that they had competitor standing and that they were deprived of a procedural right. The court found that the Plaintiffs' claims were speculative and unsupported by specific facts. Consequently, the court affirmed the dismissal of the Plaintiffs' complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. View "Mackinac Center for Public Policy v. Cardona" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a dispute over a 15,000 square foot vacation home, the Chesapeake, located in Currituck County, North Carolina. The home is owned by Elizabeth LeTendre and has been the subject of litigation for over a decade regarding its compliance with county and state zoning requirements. The home's design includes a central area and two side wings, each structurally independent and less than 5,000 square feet. LeTendre's neighbors, Marie and Michael Long, contested that the Chesapeake violated a county zoning ordinance, which was upheld by the North Carolina Court of Appeals. The County then sued LeTendre to enforce the mandate and hold her in contempt if she refused to comply.LeTendre removed the case to federal court, seeking a declaratory judgment that the Chesapeake now complies with both county and state requirements. She argued that a recent amendment to North Carolina’s state zoning law abrogated the previous ruling. The district court agreed with LeTendre, holding that the County’s interpretation of a single-family detached dwelling, as applied to the Chesapeake, is “inconsistent with the State Building Code’s definition of a dwelling.”The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that the Building Code Council’s determination that the Chesapeake is “a building” controls. The court rejected the appellants' arguments that the district court's ruling violated principles of res judicata and the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, stating that the court was not reviewing whether the previous rulings correctly interpreted the Ordinance, but rather that the zoning amendment made the Council decision controlling. View "Currituck County v. LeTendre" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a dispute between a condominium association and the owner of two commercial units over parking and storage space. The commercial owner, Cooper Leasing, claimed ownership of certain parking spots and a storage area within the condominium property. The condominium association, Woronzof Condominium Association, disputed this claim.The Superior Court of the State of Alaska ruled that the condominium’s governing documents did not grant the commercial owner ownership of any parking spots. However, it ruled in favor of the commercial owner on the storage dispute, finding that the association had agreed decades earlier to swap the condominium’s general storage area with the area designated for commercial storage.Cooper Leasing appealed the ruling on parking, and the association cross-appealed the ruling on storage. The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska affirmed the ruling on parking, but vacated the ruling on storage. The court held that the terms of the declaration, in light of relevant extrinsic evidence, were ambiguous as to whether it was intended to give the commercial units the exclusive rights to use certain parking spots. The court also held that owners of condominiums have a property interest in both their own units and in the common areas of the condominium. Because a special test for when the doctrine of quasi-estoppel can be used to defeat record title to real property was not applied to the commercial owner’s quasi-estoppel claim to the storage space, the court vacated and remanded for further proceedings. View "Cooper Leasing, LLC v. The Woronzof Condominium Association" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, Ronald Hittle, was the Fire Chief for the City of Stockton, California. He alleged that he was terminated from his position due to his religion, specifically his attendance at a religious leadership event. The City of Stockton, former City Manager Robert Deis, and former Deputy City Manager Laurie Montes were named as defendants. The City had hired an independent investigator, Trudy Largent, to investigate various allegations of misconduct against Hittle. Largent's report sustained almost all of the allegations, including Hittle's use of city time and a city vehicle to attend a religious event, his failure to properly report his time off, potential favoritism of certain Fire Department employees based on a financial conflict of interest not disclosed to the City, and endorsement of a private consultant's business in violation of City policy.The United States District Court for the Eastern District of California granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The court found that Hittle failed to present sufficient direct evidence of discriminatory animus in the defendants' statements and the City's notice of intent to remove him from City service. The court also found that Hittle failed to present sufficient specific and substantial circumstantial evidence of religious animus by the defendants.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court held that employment discrimination claims under Title VII and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act are analyzed under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. The court concluded that Hittle failed to present sufficient direct evidence of discriminatory animus in the defendants' statements and the City's notice of intent to remove him from City service. Hittle also failed to present sufficient specific and substantial circumstantial evidence of religious animus by the defendants. The court found that the district court's grant of summary judgment in the defendants' favor was appropriate where the defendants' legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for firing Hittle were sufficient to rebut his evidence of discrimination, and he failed to persuasively argue that these non-discriminatory reasons were pretextual. View "HITTLE V. CITY OF STOCKTON" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reviewed a case involving a group of plaintiffs who owned properties near proposed wind turbine sites in Page County, Iowa. The plaintiffs sued the county, its board of supervisors, and county officials after the board issued a commercial wind energy permit to Shenandoah Hills Wind Project, LLC (SHW). The plaintiffs claimed that the issuance of the permit violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Iowa Constitution, Iowa Code, and county ordinances. They also claimed that county officials violated the Iowa Open Meetings Act by holding nonpublic meetings on SHW's application. The defendants removed the case to federal court based on the federal due process claim.The district court dismissed the federal due process claim for lack of prudential standing and as implausibly pleaded under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). It also dismissed the state claims as time-barred under Iowa law and implausibly pleaded under Rule 12(b)(6). After the district court's decision, the county revoked the permit. Despite the revocation, the plaintiffs appealed the district court's order.The Court of Appeals held that the county's revocation of SHW's permit mooted the plaintiffs' claims, except for their claims under the Iowa Open Meetings Act. The court affirmed the district court's exercise of supplemental jurisdiction over these remaining claims and its dismissal of them. The court vacated the remainder of the district court's order and remanded the case to the district court with instructions to dismiss the non-Open Meetings claims as moot. View "Hunter v. Page County, Iowa" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute between a lawyer, George Fleming, and his former clients, referred to as the "Wilson plaintiffs". Fleming had represented over 8,000 plaintiffs in a mass-tort action against the manufacturer of a diet pill known as "fen-phen". The Wilson plaintiffs are about 4,000 of Fleming’s former clients. Fleming had spent roughly $20 million to medically screen over 40,000 potential claimants, about 20% of whom became his clients. In 2006, Fleming settled the case for $339 million and reimbursed himself for the costs of the screenings by deducting that amount from the settlement funds. He charged his clients not just for their own medical-screening costs but also for those of approximately 32,000 people who never became his clients and who did not participate in the underlying case. This financial choice led to further litigation, with Fleming as the defendant in various actions brought by his former clients.In the lower courts, Fleming successfully opposed a motion for class certification in a federal court case brought by two of his former clients, arguing that the claims of his former clients were not sufficiently common for aggregate treatment. After the denial of class certification, another group of about 650 former clients sued Fleming for breaches of contract and fiduciary duty. Following a verdict against Fleming in this case, the Wilson plaintiffs moved for summary judgment on the ground that the verdict collaterally estopped Fleming from contesting the merits of their claims against him. Fleming successfully opposed that motion, arguing that the issues presented by the other plaintiffs were not identical to those of the Wilson plaintiffs. The trial court denied the Wilson plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment without explanation. Later, Fleming moved for summary judgment, asserting defensive collateral estoppel against the Wilson plaintiffs.The Supreme Court of Texas affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals, but for a different reason. The court concluded that Fleming was judicially estopped from establishing an essential component of his summary-judgment motion. The court found that Fleming's assertions in prior litigation clearly and unequivocally contradicted his summary-judgment motion’s assertions regarding whether the Wilson plaintiffs’ legal and factual positions were materially identical to those of the other plaintiffs. The court held that Fleming was estopped from asserting that the thousands of remaining plaintiffs’ claims were materially indistinguishable. View "FLEMING v. WILSON" on Justia Law

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The case involves two attorneys, Jeffrey Peterzalek and Molly Weber, who sought to quash subpoenas for their depositions in a civil rights case brought by Charis Paulson against her employers, the State of Iowa and the Iowa Department of Public Safety (DPS). Paulson alleged gender-motivated discrimination and retaliation. Weber had represented DPS in its response to Paulson's civil rights complaint before the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC), while Peterzalek had represented DPS and its leaders in various other matters over the years. The district court declined to quash the subpoenas but ordered that the depositions be sealed. The attorneys then filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court of Iowa.The Supreme Court of Iowa granted the writ and retained the case. The attorneys argued that the court should adopt the Shelton test, which narrowly limits the circumstances in which opposing counsel may be deposed. They also argued that they should not be deposed or, alternatively, that substantial limitations should be imposed if their depositions were allowed.The Supreme Court of Iowa agreed with the attorneys' argument to adopt the Shelton test. Applying the test, the court concluded that Weber's deposition should be quashed as she was opposing counsel in the ongoing dispute and the information sought could be obtained by other means and was protected by the work-product doctrine. However, the court affirmed the district court's refusal to quash the subpoena for Peterzalek's deposition, as he was not opposing counsel in the ongoing dispute. The court remanded the case for further proceedings, including the entry of an order quashing the subpoena for Weber's deposition. View "Peterzalek v. Iowa District Court for Polk County" on Justia Law

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An elderly woman, Janice Geerdes, and her long-time friend, Albert Gomez Cruz, had a partnership raising hogs on a piece of land. Initially, Janice deeded half of her interest in the land to Albert. Over a decade later, she deeded the rest of her interest in the land to Albert, receiving nothing in return. About six months later, Janice’s adult daughters were appointed her conservator and guardian. The conservator challenged the validity of the quitclaim deed based on undue influence and lack of capacity.The district court set aside the deed, finding that there was undue influence through a confidential relationship and that Janice lacked the necessary capacity to deed her interest in the land. The court of appeals affirmed the decision on the basis of lack of capacity.The Supreme Court of Iowa, however, disagreed with the lower courts. The Supreme Court found that the conservator did not establish by clear, convincing, and satisfactory evidence that there was undue influence or that Janice lacked capacity at the time of the gift. The court found that the lower courts gave too much weight to the perceived improvidence of the transaction and too little weight to the testimony of the third-party accountant who witnessed the transaction. Therefore, the Supreme Court vacated the decision of the court of appeals, reversed the district court judgment, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Conservatorship of Janice Geerdes v. Cruz" on Justia Law

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Emilio Puente, a police officer for the City of Iowa City, resigned from his position and later attempted to rescind his resignation. When the City rejected his attempt, Puente filed an action with the Civil Service Commission of Iowa City (Commission) for review of the City’s refusal to reinstate him. The Commission dismissed Puente's complaint, agreeing with the City that it was untimely. Puente then filed a petition for judicial review in the Johnson County District Court, which was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The court concluded that Puente’s “petition for judicial review” was not a “notice of appeal” as required by Iowa Code § 400.27.The Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision. The court of appeals relied on the differences between a chapter 17A proceeding and an appeal under section 400.27 to conclude that the petition for judicial review could not be deemed a notice of appeal. The court of appeals noted that the two are initiated differently, have different venue provisions and service requirements, and have different standards and scopes of review.The Supreme Court of Iowa reversed the lower courts' decisions. The Supreme Court found that Puente had substantially complied with the requirements for filing a notice of appeal from the Commission’s decision to the district court. The court noted that Puente's petition sought "judicial review" of the Commission’s decision, identifying the Commission as a “respondent” rather than a “defendant.” The court concluded that Puente's reference to the wrong Code provision for venue did not mean he failed to substantially comply with the correct Code provision. The court vacated the decision of the court of appeals, reversed the district court judgment dismissing Puente’s appeal from the Commission’s decision, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Puente v. Civil Service Commission of Iowa City" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Alabama reviewed a case involving a dispute over an undeveloped island ("the island") located within a canal system on Ono Island, a residential subdivision. The island was created during the development of the canal system and was later sold in a tax sale. F Family South, LLC ("FFS") acquired the island and sought to construct a boat shelter on it. The Property Owners Association of Ono Island, Inc. ("the POA") objected, arguing that the island was subject to certain covenants restricting its use.The Baldwin Circuit Court ruled in favor of the POA, finding that the island was subject to both express and implied covenants restricting its use. The court also invalidated the 1995 tax sale through which FFS had obtained ownership of the island, and declared the POA as the island's owner.FFS appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in voiding the 1995 tax sale and in concluding that the island was subject to the covenants. The Supreme Court of Alabama reversed the trial court's decision to void the tax sale, but affirmed the finding that the island was subject to implied restrictive covenants governing its use. The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the Supreme Court's opinion. View "F Family South, LLC v. Property Owners Association of Ono Island, Inc." on Justia Law