Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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Hoffman, “a serial pro se class action litigant,” frequently sues under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, serving as both the sole class representative and sole class counsel. Hoffman has sued nearly 100 defendants in New Jersey state court in less than four years. Hoffman sued Nordic for its allegedly false and misleading advertisements for fish oil supplements. The suit was removed to federal court pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act. The district court dismissed the lawsuit for failure to state a claim. Hoffman filed a second suit, alleging the same facts and legal theories, but with a smaller class, to reduce the amount recoverable and defeat federal jurisdiction. Nordic again removed the suit. The district court declined to remand the case and dismissed, finding the action procedurally barred under New Jersey’s entire controversy doctrine and, in the alternative, that Hoffman’s claims under the Consumer Fraud Act failed for substantially the same reasons they failed in the earlier suit. The Third Circuit affirmed. The district court was permitted to “bypass” the jurisdictional inquiry in favor of a non-merits dismissal on claim preclusion grounds. View "Hoffman v. Nordic Naturals, Inc." on Justia Law

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Eaton manufactures truck transmissions for sale to Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), which offer “data books,” listing the options for truck parts. Customer choose among the options; the OEM sources the parts from the manufacturers and uses them to build custom trucks then sold to that customer. Eaton was a near-monopolist in supplying Class 8 truck transmissions. In 1989, ZF emerged as a competitor. Eaton allegedly sought to retain its market share by entering agreements with the OEMs, with increasingly large rebates on Eaton transmissions based on the percentage of transmissions a given OEM purchased from Eaton as opposed to ZF. ZF closed in 2003. In 2006, ZF successfully sued Eaton for antitrust violations. Separately, indirect purchasers who bought trucks from OEMs’ immediate customers brought a class action; that case was dismissed. In this case, Tauro attempt to represent direct purchasers in an antitrust suit was rejected because Tauro never directly purchased a Class 8 truck from the OEMs, but rather purchased trucks from R&R, a direct customer that expressly assigned Tauro its direct purchaser antitrust claims. The Third Circuit reversed. An antitrust claim assignment need not be supported by bargained-for consideration in order to confer direct purchaser standing on an indirect purchaser; it need only be express. That requirement was met. The presumption that a motion to intervene by a proposed class representative is timely if filed before the class opt-out date applies in this pre-certification context. View "Wallach v. Eaton Corp" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs represent a putative class of New Jersey real estate purchasers and refinancers who were overcharged $70 to $350 in fees. Plaintiffs allege that settlement agents (Defendants) intentionally charged Plaintiffs more than the county clerk charged for recording deeds and mortgages and kept the difference. The class claims total over $50 million, exclusive of treble damages and interest. Defendants sought dismissal and raised affirmative defenses, but did not seek to enforce arbitration clauses present in their contracts with Plaintiffs. The case was litigated for 30 months with the focus primarily on class certification. Both sides conducted broad discovery and contested substantive motions. Plaintiffs have served 130 non-party subpoenas and spent over $50,000 on experts. In 2011, the Supreme Court held that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) preempted state laws that had previously prohibited a party from compelling bipolar (individual) arbitration in certain situations even when it was specifically agreed to by contract. Defendants demanded enforcement of the arbitration agreements in light of this change in the law, then moved to compel bipolar arbitration. The Third Circuit affirmed in favor of Defendants. Futility can excuse the delayed invocation of the right to compel arbitration; any attempt to compel bipolar before the Supreme Court’s decision would have been futile. View "Chassen v. Fid. Nat'l Fin. Inc." on Justia Law

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Hartig filed a putative class action, alleging antitrust violations involving medicated eyedrops manufactured by the Defendants. Hartig claimed that the Defendants’ wrongful suppression of generic competition resulted in supracompetitive pricing of those eyedrops. Although not a direct purchaser of the medications, Hartig claimed it had standing to sue because of an assignment of rights from Amerisource, a direct purchaser. The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, finding that an anti-assignment clause in a distribution agreement between Allergan (the assignee of the named inventors) and Amerisource barred any assignment of antitrust claims from Amerisource to Hartig. The Third Circuit vacated; the district court erred in treating antitrust standing as an issue of subject-matter jurisdiction. The court distinguished between Article III standing and antitrust standing and stated that, when the correct procedures are followed, the court may consider the impact of the anti-assignment clause. View "Hartig Drug Co., Inc v. Senju Pharma. Co., Ltd" on Justia Law

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Nichols is a resident, property owner, and taxpayer in the City of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Rehoboth Beach held a special election, open to residents of more than six months, for approval of a $52.5 million bond issue to finance an ocean outfall project. The resolution passed. Nichols voted in the election. She then filed suit challenging the election and the resultant issuance of bonds. The district court, reasoning that Nichols was not contesting the expenditure of tax funds, but the legality of the Special Election; found that Nichols, having voted, lacked standing; and dismissed. The Third Circuit affirmed, stating that because Nichols failed to show an illegal use of municipal taxpayer funds, she cannot establish standing on municipal taxpayer grounds. The court rejected her claims of municipal taxpayer standing on the basis of two expenditures by Rehoboth Beach: the funds required to hold the special election and the funds used to purchase an advertisement in a local newspaper. View "Nichols v. City of Rehoboth Beach" on Justia Law

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For five days in September 2013, lane closures on the George Washington Bridge caused extraordinary traffic jams in Fort Lee, New Jersey. The closures were allegedly orchestrated as revenge against the Mayor of Fort Lee for his refusal to endorse New Jersey Governor Christie for reelection. In 2015, a grand jury returned a nine-count indictment against Baroni and Kelly based on the “Bridgegate” political payback scheme. With the exception of Count 9, the indictment alleges that Baroni and Kelly committed their offenses with unidentified “others.” The only other individual identified by name in that indictment is Wildstein, who has pled guilty in a separate case. A consortium of media groups took legal steps to force the disclosure of a letter, authored by one of the prosecutors, that purportedly identifies unindicted co-conspirators. The district court ordered the letter to be disclosed. “Doe” intervened and sought to block public access to the letter. The court denied his request. The Third Circuit reversed, concluding that the letter in question is a part of the general discovery process and not subject to any First Amendment or common law right of public access. View "N. Jersey Media Grp., Inc v. United States" on Justia Law

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More than 200 foreign agricultural workers allege they were exposed to the pesticide DBCP on banana farms throughout Central America, in the 1960s through the 1980s, resulting in health problems. Litigation began in 1993 with a putative class against Dole and related companies in Texas state court. Numerous suits were filed (and consolidated) in 2011 in the Eastern District of Louisiana against Dole and others. That court granted Dole summary judgment based on the statute of limitations; the Fifth Circuit affirmed. Meanwhile, in 2012, several actions were filed in the District of Delaware against the same defendants and alleging the same causes of action. That court dismissed, applying the first-filed rule, reasoning that “one fair bite at the apple is sufficient.” The Third Circuit initially affirmed, but on rehearing, en banc, held that the district court abused its discretion under the first-filed rule by dismissing the claims with prejudice and erred by refusing to transfer claims against Chiquita to another forum. The timeliness dismissals entered by the Louisiana District Court did not create a res judicata bar to the Delaware suits. The court stated that it was “untenable” that 20 years after the litigation began, no court had considered the merits. View "Chavez v. Dole Food Co., Inc" on Justia Law

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The Goldmans, proceeding before an arbitration panel operating under the auspices of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), alleged that their financial advisor and Citigroup had violated federal securities law in their management of the Goldmans’ brokerage accounts. The district court dismissed their motion to vacate an adverse award for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, stating the Goldmans’ motion failed to raise a substantial federal question. The Third Circuit affirmed. Nothing about the Goldmans’ case is likely to affect the securities markets broadly. That the allegedly-misbehaving arbitration panel happened to be affiliated with a self-regulatory organization does not meaningfully distinguish this case from any other suit alleging arbitrator partiality in a securities dispute. The court noted “the flood of cases that would enter federal courts if the involvement of a self-regulatory organization were itself sufficient to support jurisdiction.” View "Goldman v. Citigroup Global Mkts., Inc" on Justia Law

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Raab filed a civil complaint (42 U.S.C. 1983) against police officer Ruch and his employer, Ocean. Ruch had stopped his patrol car outside of Raab’s residence to investigate a trailer that had been parked on the street for a month and had no license plate. Ruch requested that it be towed. Shortly thereafter, Raab went outside and told Ruch that the trailer belonged to her brother-in-law and that she would move the trailer into her driveway. Ruch told her not to move the trailer, but she still tried. With the help of a passerby, the trailer was moved into the driveway. The parties dispute what happened next. Raab claims that Ruch grabbed her arm, handcuffed her, and threw her to the ground, then repeatedly pulled and twisted the handcuffs. Ruch claims that Raab fell to the ground while attacking him. Ruch called his supervisor, who arrived, called an ambulance, and told Ruch to remove the handcuffs. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Ocean City. Raab and Ruch settled all outstanding claims for $150,000, exclusive of attorney’s fees and costs. The court denied both parties attorney’s fees. The Third Circuit reversed in part. A settling plaintiff in a civil rights action can be a “prevailing party” where the district court sua sponte entered a dismissal order incorporating and retaining jurisdiction over the settlement agreement. The court upheld the denial of Ocean City’s motion for attorney’s fees. View "Raab v. City of Ocean City" on Justia Law

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In 2005 Constand alleged that William Cosby had drugged and sexually assaulted her at his home. During the​ discovery process, Constand’s counsel took Cosby’s deposition and questioned him regarding whether other women had ingested Quaaludes prior to a sexual encounter with Cosby. The deposition resulted in discovery disputes. The court entered an interim order, requiring the parties to file discovery documents under seal. The Associated Press (AP) moved to intervene and opposed the order. The court denied the motion, stating that the record was not yet sufficient to determine whether a permanent seal was warranted. The sealed documents reveal several damaging admissions during Cosby's deposition, including that he had: engaged in extramarital affairs; acquired Quaaludes and engaged in sexual relations with a woman after she ingested the drug; and given money to one woman and offered money to Constand. Before the court could rule on whether the documents should remain sealed permanently, Cosby and Constand reached a confidential settlement. The case was dismissed. The interim sealing order continued in effect and the documents remained sealed. Though Local Rules require that the Clerk of Court send a notice stating that the documents will be unsealed unless an objection is filed, eight years passed without the Clerk taking action. In 2015, the court unsealed the records, following a request by AP. Finding an appeal moot, the Third Circuit declined to address whether the court properly balanced the public and private interests. View "Constand v. Cosby" on Justia Law