Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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The plaintiff, Marvel Jones, a civilly committed individual at Norfolk Regional Center in Nebraska, filed a pro se civil rights complaint against the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS), several correctional facilities, and unnamed individuals. Jones alleged that the institutions' policies and the individuals' actions obstructed his right to legal assistance and unlawfully limited his access to the courts while he was incarcerated. He claimed that the NDCS's law library policies, which prohibit prison librarians and legal aides from assisting inmates in conducting legal research and other legal activities, violated his federal rights.The defendants moved to dismiss the case, citing sovereign immunity and the applicable statutes of limitations. The district court granted the motion, finding that Jones's claims against the correctional facilities and the individual defendants in their official capacities were indeed barred by sovereign immunity and the statutes of limitations. However, the court did not dismiss the claims against the unnamed individual defendants in their individual capacities. Instead, it conditionally dismissed the case against NDCS, requiring it to provide Jones with the requested names and addresses of the unnamed defendants. NDCS appealed this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit found that the district court's order violated NDCS's sovereign immunity. The court noted that once the district court concluded that NDCS was entitled to sovereign immunity, it lacked the authority to hold NDCS in as a litigant, even on a relatively minor disclosure condition. The court reversed and vacated the portion of the district court’s order that conditioned NDCS’s dismissal on its disclosure of the identities and addresses of the unnamed defendant employees and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. View "Jones v. Dept. of Correctional Services" on Justia Law

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The case involves a group of former detainees at the Medium Security Institution (MSI) in St. Louis, who alleged that they were subjected to inhumane conditions in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. They sought to represent classes of pre-trial and post-conviction detainees, asserting that both categories of detainees were subjected to poor physical conditions and inadequate operations. After the district court denied their first motion to certify, the plaintiffs returned with new proposed classes and renewed their motion. The district court granted the renewed motion, and the City of St. Louis appealed.The district court had initially denied the plaintiffs' motion to certify four classes, citing the open-ended class periods and the City's undisputed improvements to conditions at MSI over time. However, the court suggested that a more focused claim covering a more discrete time period and a more uniform class might be appropriate for class certification. In response, the plaintiffs filed a renewed motion for class certification, proposing four new, more narrowly defined classes. The district court granted the renewed motion, certifying the four new classes.The City of St. Louis appealed the district court's decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, challenging both the decision to certify the classes and several of its procedural aspects. The appellate court reversed the certification of the classes and remanded the case for further proceedings. The court found that the district court had abused its discretion in certifying the classes, as the classes were not "sufficiently cohesive to warrant adjudication by representation." The court also found that the district court had erred in describing the standard for liability and had failed to conduct a rigorous analysis of the requirements for class certification. View "Cody v. City of St. Louis" on Justia Law

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A group of Arkansas landowners sued Lawrence County, alleging that a bridge constructed by the county had caused their farms to flood, constituting an unlawful taking of their properties without just compensation, in violation of the U.S. and Arkansas Constitutions. The landowners claimed that the bridge acted as a dam, forcing excessive water into the Cache River, which then spilled onto their farms. They presented expert testimony to support their claims and sought damages based on the fair rental value of their properties during the period of the alleged taking.The district court upheld a jury award of nearly $350,000 to the landowners but rejected their request for an order to tear down the bridge. The county appealed the damages award, arguing that the landowners had failed to offer sufficient evidence of damages since they did not calculate the value of crops actually lost. The landowners cross-appealed the denial of their request for injunctive relief.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision on the damages award, holding that the evidence permitted the jury to make a fair and reasonable approximation of damages. The court found that the landowners were not obliged to prove damages by providing evidence of the amount of crops they expected to grow versus the amount of crops they actually grew due to increased flooding. Instead, they were entitled to recover the fair rental value of the property during the period of the taking.However, the court vacated the district court's order denying injunctive relief and remanded for the court to give the landowners' request a more focused consideration. The court found that the district court had relied heavily on the law of standing, which was not at issue, and had ventured into areas that had little bearing on a proper evaluation of the request for injunctive relief. View "Watkins v. Lawrence County, Arkansas" on Justia Law

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Cory Sessler, a religious preacher, and his group were preaching loudly at a commercial festival in Davenport, Iowa. The festival was held in a fenced-off area of the city's downtown streets and sidewalks, which were typically considered a "traditional public forum". However, during the festival, pedestrian access was controlled and vendors had rented spaces to sell goods. Sessler and his group, who were not paying vendors, were asked by police officers to relocate outside the fences due to complaints from nearby vendors. Sessler later sued the officers and the city, alleging a violation of his First Amendment rights.The district court denied Sessler's request for a preliminary injunction, a decision which was affirmed by the appellate court. After discovery, the district court granted summary judgment to the defendants, concluding that the officers did not violate Sessler's rights and that they were protected by qualified immunity. The court also granted summary judgment to the city on the official-policy claims.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit agreed that qualified immunity applied to the claims against the officers. The court found that it was unclear whether the fenced-off city streets and sidewalks remained a "traditional public forum" or served as a less-protected "limited public forum" during the festival. The court also found that no reasonable trier of fact could conclude that the officers' actions were anything but content neutral or that such actions were unreasonable. The court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Sessler v. City of Davenport, Iowa" 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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KOKO Development, LLC, a real estate developer, contracted with Phillips & Jordan, Inc., DW Excavating, Inc., and Thomas Dean & Hoskins, Inc. (TD&H) to develop a 180-acre tract of land in North Dakota. However, the project faced numerous issues, leading KOKO to sue the defendants for breach of contract and negligence. KOKO did not disclose any expert witnesses before the trial, leading the district court to rule that none of its witnesses could give expert testimony. Consequently, the district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment, finding that without expert witnesses, KOKO could not establish its claims.The district court's decision was based on the complexity of the issues involved in the case, which required expert testimony. The court found that KOKO's negligence and breach of contract claims required complex infrastructure and engineering analysis, which was beyond the common knowledge or lay comprehension. KOKO appealed the decision, arguing that the district court erred in finding that it did not properly disclose witnesses providing expert testimony and that expert testimony was necessary for the case.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court found that KOKO did not identify the witnesses that would provide expert testimony and did not meet the requirements of Rule 26(a)(2). The court also agreed with the district court that the negligence and breach of contract claims required expert testimony due to the complexity of the issues in the case. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by excluding the three witnesses' expert testimony and requiring expert testimony for the negligence and breach of contract claims. View "KOKO Development, LLC v. Phillips & Jordan, Inc." on Justia Law

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A high-speed police chase initiated by a deputy from Pottawattamie County, Iowa, ended in a collision in Nebraska, injuring Kirstie Wade and her children. Wade sued Pottawattamie County in a Nebraska federal district court for damages. However, the district court dismissed the case, citing a lack of personal jurisdiction over the Iowa county.The case was then brought before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The court had to determine whether the Nebraska federal district court had personal jurisdiction over Pottawattamie County. Personal jurisdiction depends on both a forum state’s long-arm statute and general due-process principles. Nebraska’s long-arm statute authorizes “the exercise of personal jurisdiction consistent with the Constitution of the United States,” which means that the exercise of personal jurisdiction over Pottawattamie County must be “consistent with” due process.The court considered two types of jurisdiction: general and specific. General jurisdiction, which allows a court to hear any and all claims against a party, was ruled out as Pottawattamie County’s contacts with Nebraska were not continuous and systematic. However, the court found that specific jurisdiction, which covers only those claims arising out of or relating to a party’s contacts with the forum, was applicable. The court reasoned that the deputies had purposefully availed themselves of the benefits and protections of Nebraska’s laws by choosing to continue the chase across the border, and they could have reasonably anticipated being brought to court in Nebraska if something went wrong.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's decision, ruling that the Nebraska federal district court did have personal jurisdiction over Pottawattamie County. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Wade v. Pottawattamie County" on Justia Law

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Bader Farms, Inc. sued Monsanto Company and BASF Corporation, alleging that its peach orchards were damaged by dicamba drift between 2015 and 2019 due to the defendants' negligent design and failure to warn. The jury awarded $250 million in punitive damages against both Monsanto and BASF based on Monsanto’s acts in 2015-16, which the district court later reduced to $60 million. The defendants appealed the decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision except for punitive damages, holding BASF and Monsanto liable as co-conspirators in a civil conspiracy. The court remanded the case to separately assess punitive damages against Monsanto and BASF. However, before the new trial, Monsanto settled with Bader Farms. The district court did not conduct a new trial and instead ruled that BASF could not be liable for any punitive damages, dismissing all claims against BASF.Bader Farms appealed, arguing that the district court ignored the appellate court’s mandate and its holding that BASF could be assessed punitive damages for its acts in furtherance of the conspiracy. The appellate court reviewed the district court’s interpretation of its mandate de novo and found that the district court did not comply with the appellate mandate. The appellate court held that BASF is vicariously liable for Monsanto’s actions and remanded the case for a trier of fact to apportion the punitive damages award. The court reversed the judgment and remanded with instructions to hold a new trial on the single issue of punitive damages. View "Bader Farms, Inc. v. BASF Corporation" on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed a district court's decision to impose sanctions on attorney Gregory Leyh and his law firm under Missouri Supreme Court Rule 55.03 and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 for filing frivolous claims. The sanctions were requested by Martin Leigh, P.C., a party that Leyh had included in a series of lawsuits filed on behalf of Gwen Caranchini, who had defaulted on her home loan and was seeking to stop foreclosure proceedings.The district court had imposed sanctions after Leyh failed to respond to a warning letter and motion for sanctions served by Martin Leigh. On appeal, Leyh argued that the sanctions imposed were inappropriate because Martin Leigh had not complied with Rule 11(c)(2)'s safe harbor provision, which requires that a party be given an opportunity to withdraw or correct the offending document before a motion for sanctions is filed.The appellate court agreed with Leyh, finding that Martin Leigh had not adhered to the strict procedural requirements of Rule 11(c)(2). The court also noted that while Leyh's legal tactics were an abuse of the system, Martin Leigh had not pursued other possible avenues for sanctions, such as Rule 11(c)(3), 28 U.S.C. § 1927, or the court's inherent powers. The court thus reversed the sanctions and remanded the case to the district court with instructions to vacate the award. View "Martin Leigh PC v. Leyh" on Justia Law

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Christine M. Nordgren's parental rights were terminated in a Minnesota state court. Instead of appealing this decision, she filed a federal lawsuit against the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Hennepin County, and various other parties involved in her case, alleging a range of constitutional, federal, and state claims. She sought multiple forms of damages, as well as attorney’s fees and costs. The district court dismissed all federal claims and declined to exercise jurisdiction over the state law claims. Nordgren then filed a motion to alter or amend the judgment, which the district court interpreted as a request to reconsider and amend her pleadings, and denied it. Nordgren appealed this decision.The Hennepin County defendants moved to dismiss Nordgren's appeal as untimely, arguing that she did not appeal the judgment in a timely manner and that the district court's order denying her motion for reconsideration was not separately appealable and did not extend the appeal period. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit agreed with the defendants, determining that Nordgren's motion did not qualify as an appealable motion under Rule 59(e), which is designed to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence. As such, the appeal period began on the date the judgment was entered, and Nordgren's notice of appeal, filed beyond the 30-day appeal period, was untimely.Therefore, the Court of Appeals dismissed Nordgren's appeal for lack of jurisdiction. View "Nordgren v. Hennepin County" on Justia Law