Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Supreme Court

by
Kisor, a Vietnam veteran, unsuccessfully sought VA disability benefits in 1982, alleging that he had developed PTSD from his military service. In 2006, Kisor moved to reopen his claim. The VA then agreed he was eligible for benefits, but granted benefits only from the date of his motion to reopen, not from the date of his first application. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals, Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, and Federal Circuit affirmed, citing deference to an agency’s reasonable reading of its own ambiguous regulations. The Supreme Court vacated and remanded, reasoning that when the reasons for the presumption in favor of deference do not hold up, or when countervailing reasons outweigh them, courts should not give deference to an agency’s reading. Confining its 1997 decision, Auer v. Robbins, the plurality stated that a court should not afford deference unless, after exhausting all “traditional tools” of construction, the regulation is genuinely ambiguous. If genuine ambiguity remains, the agency’s reading must fall “within the bounds of reasonable interpretation” and the court must independently determine the character and context of the agency interpretation. The interpretation must be the agency’s authoritative or official position and must implicate its substantive expertise. The basis for deference ebbs when the subject matter of a dispute is distant from the agency’s ordinary duties. The agency’s reading of a rule must reflect its “fair and considered judgment” not a “convenient litigating position,” or an “unfair surprise.” The plurality declined to overrule Auer and a “long line of precedents” finding no “special justification.” In Kisor's case, the Federal Circuit found the VA’s regulation ambiguous before applying all its interpretive tools and assumed too fast that deference should apply. View "Kisor v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

by
Scott Township passed an ordinance requiring that “[a]ll cemeteries . . . be kept open and accessible to the general public during daylight hours.” Knick, whose 90-acre rural property has a small family graveyard, was notified that she was violating the ordinance. Knick sought declaratory relief, arguing that the ordinance caused a taking of her property, but did not bring an inverse condemnation action. The Township withdrew the violation notice and stayed enforcement of the ordinance. The state court declined to rule on Knick’s suit. Knick filed a federal action under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the ordinance violated the Takings Clause. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of her claim, citing Supreme Court precedent (Williamson County) that property owners must seek just compensation under state law in state court before bringing a federal claim under section 1983. The Supreme Court reversed. A government violates the Takings Clause when it takes property without compensation; a property owner may bring a Fifth Amendment claim under section 1983 at that time. The Court noted that two years after the Williamson County decision, it returned to its traditional understanding of the Fifth Amendment in deciding First English Evangelical Lutheran Church. A property owner acquires a right to compensation immediately upon an uncompensated taking because the taking itself violates the Fifth Amendment. The Court expressly overruled the state-litigation requirement as "poor reasoning" resulting from the circumstances in which the issue reached the Court. The requirement was unworkable in practice because the “preclusion trap” prevented takings plaintiffs from ever bringing their claims in federal court. There are no reliance interests on the state-litigation requirement. If post-taking compensation remedies are available, governments need not fear that federal courts will invalidate their regulations as unconstitutional. View "Knick v. Township of Scott" on Justia Law

by
McDonough processed ballots as a board of elections commissioner in a Troy, New York primary election. Smith was specially appointed to investigate and to prosecute a case of forged absentee ballots in that election. McDonough alleges that Smith fabricated evidence against him and used it to secure an indictment and at two trials before McDonough’s December 21, 2012 acquittal. On December 18, 2015, McDonough sued Smith under 42 U.S.C. 1983, asserting fabrication of evidence. The Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit as untimely under a three-year limitations period. The Supreme Court reversed. The statute of limitations began to run when the criminal proceedings against McDonough terminated in his favor—when he was acquitted at the end of his second trial. An accrual analysis begins with identifying the specific constitutional right at issue--here, an assumed due process right not to be deprived of liberty as a result of a government official’s fabrication of evidence. Accrual questions are often decided by referring to common-law principles governing analogous torts. The most analogous common-law tort is malicious prosecution, which accrues only once the underlying criminal proceedings have resolved in the plaintiff’s favor. McDonough could not bring his section 1983 fabricated-evidence claim before favorable termination of his prosecution. The Court cited concerns with avoiding parallel litigation and conflicting judgments and that prosecutions regularly last nearly as long as—or even longer than—the limitations period. View "McDonough v. Smith" on Justia Law

by
PDR compiles information about prescription drugs. Its producer sent health care providers faxes stating that they could reserve a free copy of a new e-book PDR. A recipient filed a putative class action, claiming that the fax was an “unsolicited advertisement” prohibited by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(C). The Fourth Circuit vacated the dismissal of the suit, reasoning that the district court was required to adopt the interpretation of “unsolicited advertisement” set forth in a 2006 FCC Order: “any offer of a free good or service.” The court noted that the Hobbs Act provides that courts of appeals have “exclusive jurisdiction to enjoin, set aside, suspend ... or to determine the validity of” certain “final orders of the Federal Communication Commission,” in a challenge filed within 60 days after the entry of the order, 28 U.S.C. 2342(1). The Supreme Court vacated and remanded for consideration of preliminary questions that were not considered below. Is the Order the equivalent of a “legislative rule,” issued by an agency pursuant to statutory authority, having the “force and effect of law” or is it the equivalent of an “interpretive rule,” which simply advises the public of the agency’s construction of the statutes and rules it administers? If the Order is the equivalent of an “interpretive rule,” a district court may not be required to adhere to it. In addition, did the Hobbs Act’s exclusive-review provision afford a “prior” and “adequate” opportunity to seek judicial review of the Order under 5 U.S.C. 703? If not, the Administrative Procedure Act may permit PDR to challenge its validity in this enforcement proceeding. View "PDR Network, LLC v. Carlton Harris Chiropractic, Inc." on Justia Law

by
After the 2010 census, Virginia redrew legislative districts for its Senate and House of Delegates. Voters sued, claiming racial gerrymandering. The House of Delegates intervened. The district court held that 11 districts were unconstitutionally drawn, enjoined Virginia from conducting elections for those districts before adopting a new plan, and gave the General Assembly several months to adopt that plan. Virginia’s Attorney General announced that the state would not appeal. The Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by the House for lack of standing. To establish standing, a litigant must show a concrete and particularized injury, that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct and is likely to be redressed by a favorable decision. Standing must be met at every stage of the litigation. To appeal a decision that the primary party does not challenge, an intervenor must independently demonstrate standing. The state itself had standing to appeal, and could have designated agents to do so, but did not designate the House to represent its interests. Under Virginia law, authority to represent the state’s interests in civil litigation rests exclusively with its Attorney General. The House has consistently purported to represent only its own interests and lacks standing to appeal in its own right. A judicial decision invalidating a state law does not inflict a discrete, cognizable injury on each organ of government that participated in the law’s passage. Virginia’s Constitution allocates redistricting authority to the “General Assembly,” of which the House constitutes only a part. The issue is the constitutionality of a concededly enacted redistricting plan, not the results of the chamber’s poll or the validity of any counted or uncounted vote. Redrawing district lines may affect the chamber’s membership, but the House as an institution has no cognizable interest in the identity of its members. View "Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill" on Justia Law

by
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, 42 U.S.C. 2000e–2(a)(1). A complainant must file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which notifies the employer and investigates. The EEOC may attempt informal methods of conciliation and has the first option to sue the employer. If the EEOC does not sue, the complainant is entitled to a “right-to-sue” notice and then may commence a civil action against her employer. Davis filed a charge against her employer, Fort Bend, claiming sexual harassment and retaliation for reporting the harassment. While the charge was pending, Fort Bend fired Davis because she failed to come to work on a Sunday, going to a church event instead. Davis attempted to supplement her EEOC charge by handwriting “religion” on an “intake questionnaire.” She did not amend the formal charge document. Upon receiving a right-to-sue letter, Davis filed suit, alleging discrimination on account of religion and retaliation for reporting sexual harassment. After years of litigation, only the religion-based discrimination claim remained. Fort Bend then asserted for the first time that the court lacked jurisdiction because the EEOC charge did not state a religion-based discrimination claim. The Fifth Circuit reversed dismissal of the suit. The Supreme Court affirmed. Title VII’s charge-filing requirement is not jurisdictional. A claim-processing rule requiring parties to take certain procedural steps during or before litigation may be mandatory so that a court must enforce the rule if timely raised. A mandatory rule of that sort, unlike a prescription limiting the kinds of cases a court may adjudicate, is ordinarily forfeited if not timely asserted. Title VII’s charge-filing requirement is discrete from the statutory provisions empowering federal courts to exercise jurisdiction over Title VII actions. View "Fort Bend County v. Davis" on Justia Law

by
Taggart owned an interest in an Oregon company. That company and its other owners (respondents) sued, claiming that Taggart had breached the company’s operating agreement. Before trial, Taggart filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The Bankruptcy Court issued a discharge order that released Taggart from liability for most pre-bankruptcy debts. The Oregon state court subsequently entered judgment against Taggart in the pre-bankruptcy suit and awarded attorney’s fees to respondents. The Bankruptcy Court found respondents in civil contempt for collecting attorney’s fees in violation of the discharge order. The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel and the Ninth Circuit applied a subjective standard to hold that a “creditor’s good faith belief” that the discharge order does not apply to the claim precludes a finding of contempt, even if that belief was unreasonable. The Supreme Court vacated. Neither a standard akin to strict liability nor a purely subjective standard is appropriate. A court may hold a creditor in civil contempt for violating a discharge order if there is no fair ground of doubt as to whether the order barred the creditor’s conduct. Civil contempt principles apply to the bankruptcy statutes, which specify that a discharge order “operates as an injunction,” 11 U.S.C. 524(a)(2), and that a court may issue any “order” or “judgment” that is “necessary or appropriate” to “carry out” other bankruptcy provisions. A party’s subjective belief that she was complying with an order ordinarily will not insulate her from civil contempt if that belief was objectively unreasonable. The Court remanded, noting that subjective intent is not always irrelevant. Civil contempt sanctions may be warranted when a party acts in bad faith, and a party’s good faith may help to determine an appropriate sanction. View "Taggart v. Lorenzen" on Justia Law

by
The Social Security Act permits judicial review of “any final decision . . . after a hearing” by the Social Security Administration (SSA), 42 U.S.C. 405(g). Claimants for Title XVI supplemental security income disability benefits must generally proceed through a four-step process before federal-court review: seek an initial determination of eligibility; seek reconsideration; request a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ); and seek review of the ALJ’s decision by the Appeals Council within 60 days of receiving the ALJ’s ruling. If the claimant misses that deadline and cannot show good cause for doing so, the Appeals Council dismisses the request. Smith’s claim for disability benefits was denied on initial determination, upon reconsideration, and on the merits by an ALJ. The Appeals Council dismissed Smith’s request for review as untimely. Smith sought judicial review of the dismissal. The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal for lack of jurisdiction, holding that the Appeals Council’s dismissal of an untimely petition is not a “final decision.” A unanimous Supreme Court reversed. An Appeals Council dismissal on timeliness grounds after a claimant has had an ALJ hearing on the merits qualifies as a “final decision . . . made after a hearing” under section 405(g). The Appeals Council’s dismissal is the final stage of review, 20 CFR 416.1472; Smith obtained the kind of hearing that section 405(g) most naturally suggests. The dismissal is not merely collateral but an end to a proceeding in which a substantial factual record has been developed. The Court noted that “Congress designed [the statute as a whole] to be ‘unusually protective’ of claimants” and “the strong presumption that Congress intends judicial review of administrative action.” View "Smith v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

by
Citibank filed a state court debt-collection action, alleging that Jackson was liable for charges incurred on a Home Depot credit card. Jackson responded by filing third-party class-action claims against Home Depot and another, alleging that they had engaged in unlawful referral sales and deceptive and unfair trade practices under state law. Home Depot filed a notice to remove the case from state to federal court. The district court remanded, finding that controlling precedent barred removal by a third-party counterclaim defendant. The Fourth Circuit and the Supreme Court affirmed. The general removal provision, 28 U.S.C. 1441(a) does not permit removal by a third-party counterclaim defendant; the section refers to “civil action[s],” not “claims.” In other removal provisions, Congress has clearly extended removal authority to parties other than the original defendant but has not done so here. The Class Action Fairness Act, section 1453(b), does not alter section 1441(a)’s limitation on who can remove, suggesting that Congress intended to leave that limit in place. Section 1453(b) and 1441(a) both rely on the procedures for removal in section 1446, which also employs the term “defendant.” Interpreting that term to have different meanings in different sections would render the removal provisions incoherent. View "Home Depot U.S.A., Inc. v. Jackson" on Justia Law

by
The False Claims Act permits a private person (relator) to bring a qui tam civil action in the name of the Federal] Government, 31 U.S.C. 3730(b), against any person who “knowingly presents . . . a false or fraudulent claim for payment” to the Government or to certain third parties acting on the Government’s behalf. The Government may choose to intervene. An action must be brought within either six years after the statutory violation occurred or three years after the “the official of the United States charged with responsibility to act in the circumstances” knew or should have known the relevant facts, but not more than 10 years after the violation, section 3731(b)(2). The later date starts the limitations period. In November 2013, Hunt filed suit alleging that defense contractors (Cochise) defrauded the Government by submitting false payment claims for providing security services in Iraq until early 2007. Hunt claims that he revealed Cochise’s allegedly fraudulent scheme during a November 30, 2010, interview with federal officials about his role in an unrelated contracting fraud. The United States declined to intervene. The Eleventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of the case. A unanimous Supreme Court affirmed. Section 3731(b)(2) applies in a relator-initiated suit in which the Government has declined to intervene. Both Government-initiated suits and relator-initiated suits are “civil action[s] under section 3730,” so the plain text of the statute makes the two limitations periods applicable in both types of suits. The relator in a non-intervened suit is not “the official of the United States” whose knowledge triggers section 3731(b)(2)’s three-year limitations period. A private relator is neither appointed as an officer of nor employed by the United States; private relators are not “charged with responsibility to act.” View "Cochise Consultancy, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law