Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

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Defendants-tenants John and Rosa Castro (the tenants) leased a residential property from plaintiff-landlord Fred Graylee. The landlord brought an unlawful detainer action against the tenants, alleging they owed him $27,100 in unpaid rent. The day of trial, the parties entered into a stipulated judgment in which the tenants agreed to vacate the property by a certain date and time. If they failed to do so, the landlord would be entitled to enter a $28,970 judgment against them. The tenants missed their move-out deadline by a few hours and the landlord filed a motion seeking entry of judgment. The trial court granted the motion and entered a $28,970 judgment against the tenants under the terms of the stipulation. The tenants appealed, arguing the judgment constituted an unenforceable penalty because it bore no reasonable relationship to the range of actual damages the parties could have anticipated would flow from a breach of the stipulation. To this, the Court of Appeal agreed, and reversed and remanded this matter for further proceedings. View "Graylee v. Castro" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Aaron Jensen sued defendant-appellees West Jordan City and Robert Shober for Title VII retaliation, First Amendment retaliation, malicious prosecution, and breach of contract. At trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Jensen on all his claims and awarded $2.77 million in damages. The trial court discovered the jury did not properly fill out the verdict form, so the court instructed the jury to correct its error. When the jury returned the corrected verdict, it had apportioned most of the damages to Jensen’s Title VII claim. Because the district court concluded that Title VII’s statutory damages cap applied, the court reduced the total amount of the award to $344,000. Both parties appealed. They raised nine issues on appeal, but the Tenth Circuit concluded none of them warranted reversal and affirmed. View "Jensen v. West Jordan City" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against Envoy in state court, alleging both disparate treatment and disparate impact based on age, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). On appeal, plaintiffs contend that the district court for the northern district erred: by sua sponte transferring this action to the western district instead of remanding it to state court; and, if remand was not required, by dismissing their Texas Labor Code claim with prejudice pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) instead of without prejudice pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) (lack of jurisdiction). The Fifth Circuit rejected both claims and held that removal to the incorrect judicial district is procedural error and does not divest the district court of jurisdiction over a removed action. Accordingly, plaintiffs' challenge to the district court for the northern district's transfer pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1631 is moot, given the district court for the western district's transfer back to the northern district. The court also held that Texas Labor Code 21.202's 180-day filing requirement is mandatory but not jurisdictional. In light of this analysis, the court held that the district court, after concluding that plaintiffs failed to plausibly allege exhaustion of their mandatory administrative remedies, did not err by dismissing pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Furthermore, the district court did not err by dismissing with prejudice. View "Hinkley v. Envoy Air, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit dismissed, based on lack of appellate jurisdiction, defendants' appeal of the district court's denial of summary judgment, which resulted in a denial of qualified immunity, and the district court's denial to reconsider the summary judgment order. In this case, defendants grounded their motion for reconsideration in the district court ostensibly on both Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 59(e) and 60(b). At oral argument, defendants acknowledged that their motion for reconsideration was brought under Rule 59(e) to alter or amend the judgment. The panel held that it lacked jurisdiction over the appeal of the summary judgment order in this case, because it is untimely where there is no dispute that the appeal was filed nearly a year after the underlying summary judgment order. Furthermore, the filing of an untimely motion will not toll the running of the appeal period. The panel also held that it lacked jurisdiction over the order denying the Rule 59(e) motion for reconsideration of a denial of qualified immunity, where it did not have jurisdiction over the appeal of the underlying order. Finally, the panel declined to exercise its discretion to award plaintiff attorney's fees for this appeal. View "Hanson v. Shubert" on Justia Law

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A district court order denying a government motion to dismiss a False Claims Act case under 31 U.S.C. 3730(c)(2)(A) is not an immediately appealable collateral order. In this case, the Ninth Circuit dismissed, based on lack of jurisdiction, the government's appeal from the district court's order denying a government motion to dismiss a FCA case. The panel noted that this issue was not before the Supreme Court in United States ex rel. Eisenstein v. City of New York, 556 U.S. 928 (2009). The panel held that the collateral order doctrine did not apply because the district court's order did not resolve important questions separate from the merits. Because the interests implicated by an erroneous denial of a government motion to dismiss a FCA case in which it has not intervened are insufficiently important to justify an immediate appeal, the panel held that they fall outside of the collateral order doctrine's scope. View "United States v. United States ex rel. Thrower" on Justia Law

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In the summer of 2014, Mark and Jennifer Porcello sought to purchase property In Hayden Lake, Idaho. After making various pre-payments, the amount the couple was still short on a downpayment. Mark and Jennifer could not qualify for a conventional loan themselves. They hoped another property in Woodinville, Washington, owned by Mark’s parents, in which Mark and Jennifer claimed an interest, could be sold to assist in the purchase of the Hayden Lake property. In an effort to help Mark and Jennifer purchase the property, Mark’s parents, Annie and Tony Porcello, obtained financing through a non-conventional lender. "In the end, the transaction became quite complicated." Annie and Tony’s lawyer drafted a promissory note for Mark and Jennifer to sign which equaled the amount Annie and Tony borrowed. In turn, Mark signed a promissory note and deed of trust for the Hayden Lake house, in the same amount and with the same repayment terms as the loan undertaken by his parents. In mid-2016, Annie and Tony sought non-judicial foreclosure on the Hayden Lake property, claiming that the entire balance of the note was due and owing. By this time Mark and Jennifer had divorced; Jennifer still occupied the Hayden Lake home. In response to the foreclosure proceeding, Jennifer filed suit against her former in-laws seeking a declaratory judgment and an injunction, arguing that any obligation under the note had been satisfied in full when the Woodinville property sold, notwithstanding the language of the note encumbering the Hayden Lake property. Annie and Tony filed a counter-claim against Jennifer and a third-party complaint against Mark. A district court granted Jennifer’s request for a declaratory judgment. However, by this time, Annie and Tony had died and their respective estates were substituted as parties. The district court denied the estates’ request for judicial foreclosure, and dismissed their third-party claims against Mark. The district court held that the Note and Deed of Trust were latently ambiguous because the amount of the Note was more than twice the amount Mark and Jennifer needed in order to purchase the Hayden Lake property. Because the district court concluded the note and deed of trust were ambiguous, it considered parol evidence to interpret them. Ultimately, the district court found the Note and Deed of Trust conveyed the Hayden Lake property to Jennifer and Mark “free and clear” upon the sale of the Woodinville property. Annie’s and Tony’s estates timely appealed. Finding that the district court erred in finding a latent ambiguity in the Note and Deed of Trust, and that the district court's interpretation of the Note and Deed of Trust was not supported by substantial and competent evidence, the Idaho Supreme Court vacated judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Porcello v. Estates of Porcello" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Nicole Packer was injured when she fell from an unlit loading dock at the Kingston Plaza in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Packer, working as a vendor at a Christmas-themed exposition, alleged she had been directed to use the rear exit by a representative of Riverbend Communications, LLC, the organizer of the exposition and the occupier of the property at the heart of this litigation. The rear exit was unlit, and when Packer left the building, she was unable to re-enter. Because of the lack of light, Packer did not realize she was on a loading dock which was five feet above the adjoining pavement. When she proceeded towards the lit parking lot, she fell to the asphalt and was seriously injured. Packer sued Kingston Properties (owner of the property), as well as Riverbend Communications, LLC. Following discovery, the defendants sought and were granted summary judgment. Packer unsuccessfully moved for reconsideration. She timely appealed the district court’s decision granting summary judgment in favor of Riverbend. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court determined the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Riverbend because Packer was an invitee; the district court erred as a matter of law in determining Packer was a licensee. Because Packer was an invitee, Riverbend owed her the duty to warn her of hidden or concealed dangers and to keep the property in reasonably safe condition. On these facts, the Supreme Court concluded a jury could have reasonably concluded that Riverbend breached either or both of the duties it owed to Packer. Accordingly, the district court’s decision granting summary judgment was reversed. View "Packer v. Riverbend Communications" on Justia Law

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RYZE, an Indiana business, employs remote workers across the U.S., including Billings, who signed an employment agreement with a forum‐selection clause providing for litigation in an Indiana state court or in the Southern District of Indiana. Billings filed suit in California state court. alleging state law claims and violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, on behalf of himself and other current and former RYZE employees nationwide. RYZE removed the action to the Eastern District of California, which concluded that Billings had failed to show why the forum‐selection clause should not control and transferred venue under 28 U.S.C. 1404(a) to the Southern District of Indiana. That court granted RYZE summary judgment on Billings’s federal claims. The district court then, sua sponte, returned the case to the Eastern District of California, explaining that its docket was congested and that the California court was familiar with California labor law. When the case was docketed again in the Eastern District of California, RYZE petitioned the Seventh Circuit for a writ of mandamus directing the Southern District of Indiana to request that the Eastern District of California return the action to the Southern District of Indiana. The Seventh Circuit granted that petition, noting that forum‐selection clauses should be given “‘controlling weight in all but the most exceptional cases.’” No exceptional circumstances exist here. View "Ryze Claims Solutions, LLC v. Magnus-Stinson" on Justia Law

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Two counties sued Sherwin-Williams in state court, seeking abatement of the public nuisance caused by lead-based paint. Anticipating suits by other counties, Sherwin-Williams sued in federal court under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Sherwin-Williams claimed that “[i]t is likely that the fee agreement between [Delaware County] and the outside trial lawyers [is] or will be substantively similar to an agreement struck by the same attorneys and Lehigh County to pursue what appears to be identical litigation” and that “the Count[y] ha[s] effectively and impermissibly delegated [its] exercise of police power to the private trial attorneys” by vesting the prosecutorial function in someone who has a financial interest in using the government’s police power to hold a defendant liable. The complaint pleaded a First Amendment violation, citing the company’s membership in trade associations, Sherwin-Williams’ purported petitioning of federal, state, and local governments, and its commercial speech. The complaint also argued that the public nuisance theory would seek to impose liability “that is grossly disproportionate,” arbitrary, retroactive, vague, and “after an unexplainable, prejudicial, and extraordinarily long delay, in violation of the Due Process Clause.” The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Sherwin-Williams failed to plead an injury in fact or a ripe case or controversy because the alleged harms hinged on the County actually filing suit. View "Sherwin Williams Co. v. County of Delaware" on Justia Law

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Dr. Dominick Lembo employed Arlene Marchese in his dental practice as his office manager, and Karen Wright, a dental hygienist. Sometime before December 2011, Marchese and Wright unlawfully took possession of numerous checks totaling several hundred thousand dollars, forged Lembo’s indorsement on the checks, and deposited the proceeds from the forged checks into their personal accounts at TD Bank. In February 2015, Lembo filed a complaint against TD Bank, alleging that “TD Bank knew or should have known that Marchese and/or Wright were not permitted to negotiate checks made payable to [Lembo].” The complaint also alleged that by permitting them to negotiate checks with forged indorsements, TD Bank “aided and abetted Marchese and Wright in their fraudulent scheme and conduct.” The complaint did not assert that Lembo had a banking relationship with TD Bank. And Lembo did not file an action for conversion under the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) within the three-year limitations period. Had Lembo done so, TD Bank would have been strictly liable for depositing or cashing those checks, subject to the defenses in N.J.S.A. 12A:3-405 or N.J.S.A. 12A:3-406. The trial court granted the Bank's motion to dismiss, finding that the UCC governed Lembo's remedies against the Bank, and “common law negligence is not such a remedy” in the absence of a “special relationship” between Lembo and the bank. The court also rejected Lembo’s argument that the Uniform Fiduciaries Law (UFL) provided an affirmative cause of action against the bank. The Appellate Division reversed, reading into the complaint the basis for an affirmative UFL claim, and remanded to allow Lembo to amend the complaint to assert such a claim. The New Jersey Supreme Court concluded the Appellate Division misconstrued the purpose of the UFL, finding the Legislature enacted the UFL not to create an affirmative cause of action against a bank but to provide a defense when the bank is sued for failing to take notice of and action on the breach of a fiduciary’s obligation. "The UFL confers a limited immunity on a bank, unless the bank acts in bad faith or has actual knowledge of a fiduciary breach." The Supreme Court found no affirmative cause of action arose under the statute; whether a UFL claim was adequately pled was therefore moot. Recognizing the predominant role the UCC plays in assigning liability for the handling of checks, the Supreme Court also found Lembo had no “special relationship” with the bank to sustain the common law causes of action. View "Lembo v. Marchese" on Justia Law