Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
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Some public-sector employees join their local unions; others do not. If a collective-bargaining agreement contains an “agency-fee” provision, both union members and nonmembers must pay a portion of union dues. A Pennsylvania statute authorizes such a “fair share fee” arrangement, 71 Pa. Stat. 575(b). Nonmembers pay only the amount spent on the union’s collective-bargaining activities and do not subsidize political activity. In 2018, the Supreme Court decided Janus v. AFSCME, holding that forcing nonmembers to pay agency fees violates the First Amendment, striking down an Illinois statute. Janus said nothing about Pennsylvania law but its holding was clear. Public-school teachers who had to pay agency fees under Pennsylvania law sued, seeking a declaration that the agency-fee provisions in their collective-bargaining agreements, and the Pennsylvania statutes authorizing them, were unconstitutional. When the Supreme Court issued its Janus decision, the Pennsylvania State Education Association instructed public schools to stop deducting agency fees from teachers’ paychecks and set up refund procedures. Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and its Attorney General notified public-sector employers that they could no longer collect agency fees. The district court dismissed, noting the change in the law and the unions’ compliance with it. The Third Circuit affirmed, finding the case moot. The teachers no longer face any harm. Just because a statute may be unconstitutional does not mean that a federal court may declare it so; without any real dispute over the statute’s scope or enforceability. View "Hartnett v. Pennsylvania State Education Association" on Justia Law

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In 2009, D. was delivered at Sharon Hospital by Dr. Gallagher and sustained an injury, allegedly causing her shoulder and arm permanent damage. In 2010-2011, preparing to file D.’s malpractice case, counsel requested records from Sharon and Gallagher, limited temporally to the delivery. Counsel believed that Gallagher was privately employed. Sharon was private; Gallagher was listed on the Sharon website. Counsel did not discover that Gallagher was employed by Primary Health, a “deemed” federal entity eligible for Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 1346(b), malpractice coverage. D.'s mother had been Gallagher's patient for 10 years and had visited the Primary office. In contracting Gallagher, counsel used the Primary office street address. Gallagher’s responses included the words “Primary Health.” The lawsuit was filed in 2016; Pennsylvania law tolls a minor plaintiff’s action until she turns 18. The government removed the suit to federal court and substituted the government for Gallagher. The district court dismissed the suit against the government for failure to exhaust administrative remedies under the FTCA. The case against Sharon returned to state court. After exhausting administrative remedies, counsel refiled the FTCA suit. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit as untimely, rejecting a claim that D. was entitled to equitable tolling of the limitations period because counsel had no reason to know that Gallagher was a deemed federal employee or that further inquiry was required. D. failed to show that she diligently pursued her rights and that extraordinary circumstances prevented her from timely filing. View "D.J.S.-W. v. United States" on Justia Law

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New Jersey and New York agreed more than 50 years ago to enter into the Waterfront Commission Compact. Congress consented to the formation of the Waterfront Commission Compact, under the Compacts Clause in Article I, section 10, of the U.S. Constitution, 67 Stat. 541. In 2018, New Jersey enacted legislation to withdraw from the Compact. To prevent this unilateral termination, the Waterfront Commission sued the Governor of New Jersey in federal court. The district court ruled in favor of the Commission. The Third Circuit vacated. The district court had federal-question jurisdiction over this dispute because the Complaint invoked the Supremacy Clause and the Compact (28 U.S.C. 1331) but that jurisdiction does not extend to any claim barred by state sovereign immunity. Because New Jersey is the real, substantial party in interest, its immunity should have barred the exercise of subject-matter jurisdiction. View "Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor v. Governor of New Jersey" on Justia Law

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Wayne challenged the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC)’s authority to regulate its proposed fracking activities. Riverkeeper, an environmental group, was permitted to intervene under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24. Three Pennsylvania State Senators also sought to intervene, on the side of Wayne, in their official capacities. The Senators asserted that the “DRBC is nullifying the General Assembly’s lawmaking power by effectively countermanding the directives of duly enacted laws that permit” fracking-related activities. They did not specify the relief they sought. Riverkeeper contended that the Senators lacked standing to intervene. The district court denied the Senators’ motion without discussing standing, holding that the Senators had failed to establish the conditions necessary for Rule 24(a) intervention of right. The court later granted DRBC’s motion to dismiss. On remand from the Third Circuit, the Senators again sought to intervene, requesting that the court “invalidate the de facto moratorium and enjoin its further enforcement,” as exceeding the DRBC’s scope of authority, or, alternatively, that the DRBC “provide just compensation." The district court denied the motion because the Senators had not shown a “significantly protectable interest in th[e] litigation.” The Third Circuit vacated and remanded, reasoning that the Senators appear to be seeking relief different from that sought by the plaintiff. The district court erred in ruling on the merits of the Rule 24 motion before considering whether the Senators need to establish Article III standing for either of their proposed claims. View "Wayne Land and Mineral Group LLC v. Delaware River Basin Commission" on Justia Law

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The Coalition, an association of franchised New Jersey new car dealerships, filed suit under the New Jersey Franchise Practices Act on behalf of 16 Mazda dealer-members. Mazda had an incentive program for its franchised dealers (MBEP), which provides incentives, per-vehicle discounts or rebates on the dealers’ purchases of vehicles from Mazda, to dealers who make certain investments in their physical facilities that highlight their sale of Mazda vehicles or dedicate their dealerships exclusively to the sale of Mazda vehicles. The incentives come in different tiers, with the highest tier available to dealers who have exclusive Mazda facilities and a dedicated, exclusive Mazda general manager. Mazda dealers also earn incentives if they meet customer experience metrics. Mazda dealers who sell other brands of vehicles as well as Mazdas, do not receive incentives for brand commitment. Only three of the 16 Mazda dealers in the Coalition qualified for the highest tier; eight others qualified for some tier of incentives. The complaint alleged that the MBEP creates unfair competitive advantages for dealers who qualify for incentives under the MBEP at the expense of those dealers who do not, and even among incentivized dealers through different tiers. The Third Circuit reversed the dismissal of the case, rejecting as too narrow the district court’s rationale--that the Coalition lacked standing because only five of the 16 Mazda dealers would benefit from the lawsuit, so the Coalition cannot possibly be protecting the interests of its members. View "New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers, Inc. v. Mazda Motor of America Inc" on Justia Law

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On April 3, 2020, 20 immigration detainees filed a habeas petition (28 U.S.C. 2241), seeking immediate release, claiming that due to underlying health conditions, their continued detention during the COVID-19 pandemic puts them at imminent risk of death or serious injury. The district court found that the petitioners face irreparable harm and are likely to succeed on the merits, that the government would “face very little potential harm” from their immediate release, and that “the public interest strongly encourages Petitioners’ release.” Without waiting for a response from the government, the court granted a temporary restraining order (TRO) requiring the release. The government moved for reconsideration, submitting a declaration describing conditions at the facilities, with details of the petitioners’ criminal histories. The court denied reconsideration, stating that the government had failed to demonstrate a change in controlling law, provide previously unavailable evidence, or show a clear error of law or the need to prevent manifest injustice. The court extended the release period until the COVID-19 state of emergency is lifted but attached conditions to the petitioners’ release. The government reports that 19 petitioners were released; none have been re-detained. The Third Circuit granted an immediate appeal, stating that the order cannot evade prompt appellate review simply by virtue of the label “TRO.” A purportedly non-appealable TRO that goes beyond preservation of the status quo and mandates affirmative relief may be immediately appealable under 28 U.S.C. 1292(a)(1). View "Hope v. Warden Pike County Correctional Facility" on Justia Law

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E.O.H.C. and his daughter fled Mixco, Guatemala, a city plagued by violence, crossed into the U.S. and presented themselves to Border Patrol officers. The government began removal proceedings, scheduling a hearing in San Diego. Under a new DHS policy, the Migrant Protection Protocols, the government returned the two to Mexico to await their hearing. They were left to fend for themselves in Tijuana. E.O.H.C. told the IJ that he did not fear going back to Guatemala. He later alleged that a Border Protection officer advised him to say this. He was not then represented by counsel. The IJ ordered removal. E.O.H.C. waived the right to appeal, allegedly because he feared being returned to Mexico. They were transferred to a Pennsylvania detention facility, where they argued that E.O.H.C.’s appeal waiver was invalid. The BIA granted an emergency stay of removal. The government flew them to San Diego for return to Mexico. They filed an emergency mandamus petition. The government returned them to Pennsylvania. They challenged the validity and applicability of the Protocols and argued that returning them to Mexico would interfere with their relationship with their lawyer and would violate several treaties. The district court dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Third Circuit reversed in part. When a detained alien seeks relief that a court of appeals cannot meaningfully provide on a petition for review of a final order of removal, 8 U.S.C.1252(b)(9) and 1252(a)(4) do not bar consideration by a district court. One claim, involving the right to counsel, arises from the proceedings to remove them to Guatemala and can await a petition for review. The other claims challenge the plan to return the petitioners to Mexico in the meantime. For these claims, review is now or never. View "E.O.H.C. v. Secretary United States Department of Homeland Security" on Justia Law

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UGI builds natural gas pipelines. It obtained authorization to construct and operate an underground pipeline along 34.4 miles of land in Pennsylvania under the Natural Gas Act, 15 U.S.C. 717, The Landowners rejected UGI’s offers of compensation for rights of way, so UGI sought orders of condemnation. UGI prevailed; only the amount of compensation remained. The Landowners’ expert set the before-taking value of the land by comparing properties in the area and estimating what each is worth relative to the market but, in estimating the post-taking property values, the expert relied on his own “damaged goods theory,” drawing on his experience working in his grandfather’s appliance shop. The expert cited the impact on real estate values from the Three Mile Island nuclear incident in 1979, the Exxon Valdez Alaskan oil spill in 1989, and assorted leaking underground storage tanks. The expert’s reports contain no data relating to those incidents. The district court agreed “that some form of ‘stigma’ attaches to the property as a whole” and adjusted the awards accordingly. The Third Circuit vacated. Rule 702 requires reliable expert testimony that fits the proceedings. The expert testimony presented by the Landowners bound only to speculation and conjecture, not good science or other “good grounds.” View "UGI Sunbury LLC v. Permanent Easement for 1.7575 Acres" on Justia Law

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The Paperas sued the Company. The court sent the case to mediation. In May 2016, the Paperas reported that the parties had settled and asked for “a sixty (60) day Order of Dismissal,” to be followed by an agreement for the court’s approval. The May 2016 Order stated that the case was dismissed and the parties had 60 days to finalize the settlement. The order’s minute entry stated the dismissal was “without prejudice”; to reinstate the action if a settlement was not consummated, a party would have to show good cause within 60 days. The court never got a settlement agreement. After the 60-day period elapsed, the court did not dismiss with prejudice. In September 2016, the Paperas asked for a conference call. On that call, the court reportedly stated that “it no longer had jurisdiction” and that it had administratively closed the case. A month later, the Paperas filed a new complaint. It was assigned to the same judge, who granted summary judgment based on claim preclusion and declined to reopen the May 2016 Order. The Third Circuit vacated and remanded. Because the order dismissing the first suit did not clearly say that the dismissal was involuntary or with prejudice, it did not preclude the second suit. For a dismissal to preclude claims, it must be with prejudice. View "Papera v. Pennsylvania Quarried Blueston Co." on Justia Law

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Danziger, a Texas law firm, claims that it referred potential qui tam clients (including Epp) to an Ohio firm, Morgan Verkamp and had an oral contract to collect one-third of the attorney’s fees from the Epp suit. Epp retained Morgan Verkamp but never promised Danziger a referral fee. After years of litigation, the U.S. Government intervened and settled for hundreds of millions of dollars. Morgan Verkamp collected several million dollars in attorney’s fees. Danziger sought the referral fee in Pennsylvania state court by filing a “writ of summons,” which allows a plaintiff to seek discovery before filing a complaint. Danziger finally filed a complaint. Morgan Verkamp removed the case to federal court before the deadline for filing preliminary objections, then sought dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction or, alternatively, for a transfer to Ohio. Danziger suggested a transfer to Texas. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. There is no specific jurisdiction because Danziger’s claims neither arise out of nor relate to Morgan Verkamp’s activities in Pennsylvania. Nor did Morgan Verkamp consent to personal jurisdiction by participating in pre-complaint discovery; Pennsylvania law does not let defendants object to jurisdiction until the plaintiff files a complaint. A defendant who removes to federal court does not thereby consent to personal jurisdiction. Danziger does not need a transfer; it could timely refile its claims in another forum. View "Danziger & De Llano LLP v. Morgan Verkamp LLC" on Justia Law