Justia Civil Procedure Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
Johnson v. NPAS Solutions, LLC
The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court, in approving the class action settlement underlying this appeal, repeated several errors that have become commonplace in everyday class action practice. First, the district court violated the plain terms of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(h) by setting a schedule that required class members to file any objection to the settlement—including any objection pertaining to attorneys' fees—more than two weeks before class counsel had filed their fee petition. However, on the record, the district court's error was harmless. Second, the district court ignored on-point Supreme Court precedent by awarding the class representative a $6,000 incentive payment as acknowledgement of his role in prosecuting the case on behalf of the class members.Finally, in approving class counsel's fee request, overruling objections, and approving the parties' settlement, the district court made no findings or conclusions that might facilitate appellate review. Rather, the district court offered only rote, boilerplate pronouncements ("approved," "overturned," etc.). Therefore, the district court violated the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the court's precedents requiring courts to explain their class-related decisions. Accordingly, the court reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for the district court to adequately explain its fee award to class counsel, its denial of the interested party's objections, and its approval of the settlement. View "Johnson v. NPAS Solutions, LLC" on Justia Law
Sowers v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.
After Charles Sowers died of lung cancer caused by smoking cigarettes, plaintiff filed suit against the manufacturer of the cigarettes, R.J. Reynolds, under Florida's wrongful death statute. A jury found the company liable for his death and awarded compensatory damages.The Eleventh Circuit found no merit in R.J. Reynolds' contentions that it was entitled to a new trial based on an evidentiary ruling and based on statements plaintiff's attorney made in closing. The court also held that plaintiff is entitled to a trial on the issue of whether she should receive punitive damages on the negligence and strict liability claims and, if so, how much. Furthermore, the new trial on punitive damages that plaintiff is entitled to will not open up the liability and compensatory damages judgment that she has already obtained in the first trial. In this case, the findings underlying the first jury's comparative fault verdict are concerned solely with determining the amount of compensatory damages that will be awarded, and those findings do not overlap with the punitive damages findings that the remand jury will be called on to make in the course of deciding whether to punish R.J. Reynolds and attempt to deter others from similar conduct.Finally, unless it is successful in getting the court's judgment vacated or reversed, R.J. Reynolds will have to pay plaintiff the compensatory damages award, plus any applicable interest, promptly after the court's mandate issues instead of delaying payment until after the trial on punitive damages and any resulting appeal from the judgment in that trial is completed. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded with instructions. View "Sowers v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co." on Justia Law
John Doe #6 v. Miami-Dade County
Plaintiffs, former sex offenders and currently homeless residents of the County, filed suit alleging that County Ordinance No. 05-206, which restricts certain sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of a school, violates the ex post facto clauses of both the federal and state constitutions because the residency restriction amounted to an impermissible retroactive criminal punishment.The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying plaintiffs' Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 motion to conform their pleadings to the evidence. The court explained that Rule 15(b) allows parties to add unpled issues to a case if those issues have been tried with the express or implied consent of the parties, but one must comply with the notice demands of procedural due process before an unpled issue can be added. In this case, plaintiffs failed to give fair notice to the County of their as-applied theory of relief, and the County says it would have defended the Ordinance differently had it known that plaintiffs sought this relief. View "John Doe #6 v. Miami-Dade County" on Justia Law
Santiago v. Raytheon Technologies Corp.
In 1996, when she was an infant, Cynthia's family moved to the "Acreage" in Palm Beach County, Florida, about 10 miles from undeveloped land that Pratt used for tests that contaminated the soil. By 1993, most of the soil at the site required removal. Cynthia’s parents allege that in 1993-2000, Pratt excavated contaminated soil that was sold as “fill” for the Acreage and that runoff from the contaminated soil leached into the Acreage’s water supply. In 2009, the Florida Department of Health found a cluster of pediatric brain cancer cases in the Acreage. In 2009, doctors diagnosed Cynthia with ependymoma brain cancer, which metastasized to her spine. Doctors detected thorium-230 in Cynthia’s spine hundreds of times higher than would normally be expected. Cynthia turned 18 in 2014 and filed suit, alleging she was unaware of the contamination until 2014. Cynthia died in 2016. Her Florida law wrongful death by negligence and trespass claims were untimely under Florida's four-year limitations period. With respect to claims under the Price-Anderson Act, 42 U.S.C. 2210(n)(2), her parents cited the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601, which tolls the statute of limitations until a plaintiff knows (or reasonably should have known) her injury was caused by a hazardous substance, or until the plaintiff reaches the age of majority.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit CERCLA’s discovery-tolling provision applies only to actions “brought under State law.” Actions under the Price-Anderson Act borrow from the state where the incident occurred, so Florida’s four-year statute of limitations governs. View "Santiago v. Raytheon Technologies Corp." on Justia Law
Thomas v. Albany Area Primary Healthcare Inc.
Plaintiffs filed a medical malpractice suit against AAP and several other defendants. Under the Federally Supported Health Care Assistance Act of 1999 (FSHCAA), 42 U.S.C. 233, the government removed the case to federal district court. The government sought to have the United States substituted as the defendant and the suit converted to an action under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). Then the government acknowledged that its section 233 scope-of-employment certification was in error, withdrew the certification, and stipulated to the remand of the case to state court. The district court then remanded the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Defendants Dr. Tolliver and AAP Healthcare appealed, seeking review of the district court's order remanding the case.The Eleventh Circuit held that 28 U.S.C. 1447(d) precludes the court from reviewing the district court's order remanding this action to state court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Accordingly, the court dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. View "Thomas v. Albany Area Primary Healthcare Inc." on Justia Law
Sellers v. Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Co.
Nationwide appealed both the district court's order denying Nationwide's motion in limine and the final judgment entered in favor of plaintiff, as assignee of Gary Gardner & Gary Gardner Builders, Inc. At issue is the preclusive effect of a judgment entered by a federal court exercising diversity jurisdiction on a nonparty to an earlier federal action.The Eleventh Circuit held that when determining the preclusive effect of an earlier judgment rendered by a federal court exercising diversity jurisdiction, federal common law adopts the rules of issue preclusion applied by the State in which the rendering court sits. In this case, the court held that the district court was required to apply Alabama's rules of issue preclusion. Instead, the district court applied a federal rule of issue preclusion and that federal rule is not substantively similar to Alabama's rule on nonparty issue preclusion. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's order denying Nationwide's motion in limine, vacated the final judgment in favor of plaintiff, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Sellers v. Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Patel v. Hamilton Medical Center, Inc.
After the Medical Center suspended plaintiff's medical privileges, plaintiff filed suit against the Medical Center, an injunction against the suspension, and a declaration that the Health Care Quality Improvement Act provided no immunity from damages to the Medical Center.The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court's judgment and remanded with instructions to dismiss plaintiff's complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Plaintiff contends only that federal question jurisdiction exists over his suit, but a request for declaratory relief that a federal law does not entitle the opposing party to a defense ordinarily does not raise a federal question under 28 U.S.C.1331. The court explained that, because the Declaratory Judgment Act does not enlarge the court's jurisdiction, plaintiff must still assert an underlying ground for federal court jurisdiction. In this case, plaintiff's complaint does not establish that the Medical Center could file a coercive action under federal law. Furthermore, a plaintiff cannot create federal question jurisdiction by seeking a declaration that a federal defense does not protect the defendant. Therefore, plaintiff's request for declaratory judgment does not establish federal question jurisdiction. View "Patel v. Hamilton Medical Center, Inc." on Justia Law
Securities and Exchange Commission v. Quiros
The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court's entry of a bar order barring appellants' claims against the settling appellees based on its conclusion that the bar order was essential to appellees' settlement because the order was essential to facilitating all settlement payments. The court held that the district court abused its discretion in entering the order, because a bar order was not essential to resolving the parties' dispute. In this case, the settling parties would have settled their dispute even without the bar order. View "Securities and Exchange Commission v. Quiros" on Justia Law
Carrizosa v. Chiquita Brands International, Inc.
In this multidistrict litigation (MDL), plaintiffs contend that a Colombian paramilitary group killed their family members, and that Chiquita paid the paramilitary group over $1.7 million to quell labor unrest and drive other guerilla groups out of the banana-growing regions of Colombia. All plaintiffs obtained a protective order prohibiting the disclosure of "private facts" that could reveal their identities or personal information.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision to revoke the privacy protections, holding that the district court acted within its discretion when it held that plaintiffs failed to meet their necessary burdens. In this case, the district court had ample comparator evidence to support its ruling; the evidence does not compel the finding that litigants pursuing tort claims against a paramilitary-affiliated entity in the United States face similar risks of harm; and the court rejected the idea that the district court's pseudonym ruling conflicts with its forum non conveniens ruling. Furthermore, the district court engaged in balancing sufficient to satisfy Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(c), where it weighed plaintiffs' safety interests against Chiquita's interests in administrative feasibility. View "Carrizosa v. Chiquita Brands International, Inc." on Justia Law
Corley v. Long-Lewis, Inc.
Plaintiffs, Charles and Myra Corley, filed suit in state court against dozens of companies that allegedly supplied products containing asbestos that caused Charles's malignant mesothelioma. After removal to federal court, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation then transferred the suit to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which eventually returned it to the Northern District of Alabama. After the Northern District of Alabama granted plaintiffs' motion to voluntarily dismiss the last two companies in the suit, plaintiffs then sought review of an order entered by the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denying their motion to reconsider a partial summary judgment in favor of several companies. In the motion, plaintiffs argued for the first time that the district court should apply maritime law, not state law, to determine the merits of their claims.The Eleventh Circuit held that an order granting a voluntary dismissal without prejudice is a final order; the court has territorial jurisdiction to review an interlocutory decision by an out-of-circuit district court that merged into the final judgment of a district court in this circuit; and plaintiffs have standing to appeal from the final judgment accompanying an order granting the motion for a voluntary dismissal. Finally, the court affirmed the judgment against plaintiffs, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to allow plaintiffs to argue that a different substantive law governed their complaint at this late stage in the litigation. View "Corley v. Long-Lewis, Inc." on Justia Law