Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiff Juan Morales-Hurtado filed a vehicular negligence claim against defendant Abel Reinoso. The Supreme Court shared the Appellate Division's view that the cumulative effect of multiple errors deprived plaintiff of a fair trial and of a verdict based on the merits of the parties’ claims, and that he was entitled to a new trial. The Court took the opportunity to comment on the Appellate Division’s reversal of the trial court’s decision to exclude the opinion of Dianne Simmons-Grab, a certified life care planner. Simmons-Grab was not a physician or other health care provider, and was in the Court's estimation, "clearly unqualified to opine on plaintiff’s prognosis or to identify any medication, surgery, therapy, or other care necessary to treat his injuries over his lifetime." The trial court found that Simmons-Grab’s opinion was based on unreliable sources of information and excluded her testimony. As the court observed, she relied on medical records and questionnaires that she “prepared in detail . . . and submitted to the doctors for their markings and then sign off.” Although the questionnaires were “purportedly filled out . . . by the medical providers,” the court noted that “[t]he responses . . . by the medical providers were not certified,” and there was no indication that each physician had offered an opinion to a reasonable degree of medical certainty within his area of expertise. The Supreme Court held that in appropriate circumstances, an expert witness could rely on the opinion of another expert in a relevant field. "That principle, however, does not obviate the need to demonstrate that the treating physician on whom the life care expert relies actually holds the opinion attributed to him or her, which can be accomplished by means of a report by the treating physician, his or her trial testimony, or other competent evidence. . . . In the event that plaintiff seeks to present the expert testimony of Simmons-Grab on remand -- and defendant challenges the reliability of that opinion -- the trial court should conduct a hearing pursuant to N.J.R.E. 104(c), and determine the question of admissibility in accordance with the standards prescribed by N.J.R.E. 702 and N.J.R.E. 703." View "Morales-Hurtado v. Reinoso" on Justia Law

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This "highly contentious" marriage dissolution case had heretofore been active for more than fourteen years, and had an "astonishing" six hundred and fifty docket entries. Through it all, the parties had shown an utter unwillingness to co-parent. "Making no secret of the disdain they have for each other," they continued to fight over their son, then age thirteen. Accepting review in its original jurisdiction, the Colorado Supreme Court determined this case presented a rare opportunity to address a legal question of public importance that arose with some frequency in domestic relations cases: When does a motion to restrict parenting time (“motion to restrict”) pursuant to section 14-10-129(4), C.R.S. (2019), require a hearing within fourteen days of the filing of the motion? A magistrate in Arapahoe County District Court applied the analytical framework espoused by the court of appeals in In re Marriage of Slowinski, 199 P.3d 48 (Colo. App. 2008), and found that no hearing was required on Father’s motion to restrict. On appeal, the district court sided with Heidi Wollert (“Mother”) and adopted the magistrate’s order. The Supreme Court overruled Slowinski and held that the particularity requirement in C.R.C.P. 7(b)(1) provided the proper standard to review a section 14-10-129(4) motion. Applying Rule 7(b)(1), the Supreme Court concluded that Father’s motion was sufficiently particular to require a hearing within fourteen days. View "In re the Marriage of Wollert" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs are retired participants a defined-benefit retirement plan, which guarantees them a fixed payment each month regardless of the plan’s value or its fiduciaries’ investment decisions. Both have been paid all of their monthly pension benefits so far and are legally entitled to those payments for the rest of their lives. They filed a putative class-action suit under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001, alleging violations of ERISA’s duties of loyalty and prudence by poorly investing the plan’s assets. They sought the repayment of approximately $750 million to the plan in losses suffered due to mismanagement; injunctive relief, including replacement of the plan’s fiduciaries; and attorney’s fees. The Eighth Circuit and the Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of the case. Because the plaintiffs have no concrete stake in the lawsuit, they lack Article III standing. Win or lose, they will still receive the exact same monthly benefits they are entitled to receive. Participants in a defined-benefit plan are not similarly situated to the beneficiaries of a private trust or to participants in a defined-contribution plan; they possess no equitable or property interest in the plan. The plaintiffs cannot assert representative standing based on injuries to the plan where they themselves have not “suffered an injury in fact,” or been legally or contractually appointed to represent the plan. The fact that ERISA affords all participants—including defined-benefit plan participants—a cause of action to sue does not satisfy the injury-in-fact requirement. Article III standing requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation. The Court rejected an argument that meaningful regulation of plan fiduciaries is possible only if they may sue to target perceived fiduciary misconduct; defined-benefit plans are regulated and monitored in multiple ways. View "Thole v. U. S. Bank N. A." on Justia Law

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ThyssenKrupp entered into contracts with F. L. for the construction of mills at ThyssenKrupp’s Alabama steel manufacturing plant. Each contract contained an arbitration clause. F. L. entered into a subcontract with GE for the provision of motors. After the motors allegedly failed, Outokumpu (ThyssenKrupp's successor) sued GE, which moved to compel arbitration, relying on the arbitration clauses in the F. L.-ThyssenKrupp contracts. The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards allows enforcement of an arbitration agreement only by the parties that actually signed the agreement. A unanimous Supreme Court reversed. The Convention does not conflict with domestic equitable estoppel doctrines that permit the enforcement of arbitration agreements by nonsignatories. The Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) grants federal courts jurisdiction over actions governed by the Convention and provides that “Chapter 1 applies to actions and proceedings brought under this chapter to the extent that [Chapter 1] is not in conflict with this chapter or the Convention,” 9 U.S.C. 208. Chapter 1 does not “alter background principles of state contract law regarding the scope of agreements (including the question of who is bound by them).” The state-law equitable estoppel doctrines permitted under Chapter 1 do not “conflict with . . . the Convention,” which is silent on whether nonsignatories may enforce arbitration agreements under domestic doctrines such as equitable estoppel. Nothing in the Convention could be read to conflict with the application of domestic equitable estoppel doctrines. The court, on remand, may address whether GE can enforce the arbitration clauses under equitable estoppel principles and which body of law governs that determination. View "GE Energy Power Conversion France SAS v. Outokumpu Stainless USA, LLC" on Justia Law

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Shane Berryhill fainted and fell out of an 18-foot deer stand while hunting five days after undergoing major heart surgery. Plaintiffs Berryhill and his wife sued his surgeon, Dr. Dale Daly, and Savannah Cardiology (collectively “defendants”), claiming Daly’s negligent prescribing caused him to faint. The trial court instructed the jury on assumption of risk, and the jury returned a defense verdict. The Court of Appeals reversed and held that the instruction should not have been given. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari and found there was at least slight evidence presented at trial to warrant the instruction: Berryhill knew he had just had major surgery for serious cardiac problems, and evidence (although contradicted) existed to show that he had been instructed not to engage in strenuous activity and not to lift more than ten pounds, bend, or stoop over for at least seven days after his procedure. Even though Berryhill was not informed of the specific risk of fainting, violating such explicit medical instructions immediately after major heart surgery "poses an obvious cardiovascular risk to which competent adults cannot blind themselves," and constituted the slight evidence needed here to warrant a jury instruction. Judgment was reversed. View "Daly v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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This appeal challenges the legality of lease-leaseback agreements used by school districts for construction and modernization projects. The trial court entered judgment dismissing plaintiff's remaining conflict of interest claims because the challenged projects had all been completed, which it held rendered the reverse validation action moot. The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment of dismissal, holding that allowing plaintiff's claims to proceed long after the projects have been finished would undermine the strong policy of promptly resolving the validity of public agency actions. In this case, the lease-leaseback agreements were subject to validation, and plaintiff's conflict of interest claims necessarily challenge the validity of the agreements, regardless of label or remedy. Because the projects were completed, plaintiff's claims are moot. View "McGee v. Torrance Unified School District" on Justia Law

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The mother of an autistic child filed a petition for a protective order against the child’s father, alleging that the father kicked the child during an altercation that took place at the Extreme Fun Center in Wasilla, Alaska. At the hearing on the long-term protective order, the court admitted the mother’s recording of statements the son made to her approximately 30-35 minutes after the incident. The son stated that the father kicked him in the buttocks; the only disinterested witness with personal knowledge of the incident testified that the father did not kick his son. Relying on the recording and testimony from the child’s mother and therapist, the superior court found that the father committed assault; relying on the mother’s testimony, the court found that the father committed criminal trespass and granted the mother’s petition. The court also required the father to undergo a psychological evaluation and pay the mother’s attorney’s fees. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court vacated and remanded the superior court’s assault finding, and reversed the court’s trespass finding. The Court determined the superior court made its findings by a "bare preponderance" of the evidence. It was an abuse of discretion for the superior court to admit the recording without making threshold findings as to the child's competency and the recording’s trustworthiness. The protective order was vacated, as was the order for the father to undergo a psychological evaluation. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Stephan P. v. Cecilia A." on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from a group of fourteen diversity cases that were consolidated by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation and transferred to the Northern District of Oklahoma. The plaintiffs in all fourteen cases were cancer treatment providers who purchased multi-dose vials of Herceptin, a breast cancer drug, from defendant Genentech, Inc. (Genentech). Plaintiffs alleged that Genentech violated state law by failing to ensure that each vial of Herceptin contained the labeled amount of the active ingredient, and by misstating the drug concentration and volume on the product labeling. After the cases were consolidated, Genentech moved for summary judgment, arguing that plaintiffs’ claims were pre-empted by federal law. The district court agreed with Genentech and granted its motion for summary judgment. Plaintiffs appealed. The Tenth Circuit disagreed with the district court's conclusion that plaintiffs' claims were preempted, and consequently, reversed summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re: MDL 2700 Genentech" on Justia Law

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After movant filed a putative class action against SquareTrade, plaintiff filed a similar suit. Movant moved to intervene in plaintiff's suit, plaintiff and SquareTrade then reached a proposed class settlement, and the district court in plaintiff's case denied the motion to intervene. The Eighth Circuit affirmed, holding that, although movant is situated so that disposing of plaintiff's action may impair his interests, movant is adequately represented by plaintiff, who seeks the same relief for the same claims as movant. Furthermore, there was insufficient evidence that the plaintiff settlement constituted a reverse auction. Therefore, the motion to intervene was properly denied. Finally, the court lacked jurisdiction to review the denial of the motion for stay under the first-to-file rule based on lack of pendent jurisdiction. View "Swinton v. Starke" on Justia Law

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Subcontractor Construction Drilling, Inc. (CDI) appealed a trial court’s judgment on the merits in its breach-of-contract claim against Engineers Construction, Inc. (ECI). CDI contended the trial court erred in: (1) holding that the terms of the parties’ subcontract required CDI to request a change order before it billed ECI for “drilling in obstructions” in excess of CDI’s bid price; (2) denying CDI’s motions to reopen the evidence and for a new trial; and (3) awarding ECI $234,320 in attorneys’ fees under the Prompt Payment Act. ECI cross-appealed, arguing the trial court improperly allowed CDI’s owner to offer opinion testimony absent a finding of reliability under Vermont Rule of Evidence 702 and maintaining that his testimony could not have met this standard in any event. Therefore, should the Vermont Supreme Court reverse the trial court’s denial of CDI’s breach-of-contract claim, ECI asserted the matter had to be remanded for a new trial without such testimony. The Court affirmed the trial court, and therefore did not reach the issue raised in ECI’s cross-appeal. View "Construction Drilling, Inc. v. Engineers Construction, Inc." on Justia Law