Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Supreme Court
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A class of Texas municipalities was awarded a multi-million dollar judgment against online travel companies over the calculation of hotel occupancy taxes. To prevent execution on that judgment pending appeal, the companies obtained supersedeas bonds. The Fifth Circuit determined that the companies had not underpaid their taxes. The companies sought $2.3 million in costs, primarily for premiums paid on the supersedeas bonds.Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 39 establishes the procedure for assessing and taxing costs relating to appeals. Subdivision (e) lists categories of “costs on appeal” that “are taxable in the district court for the benefit of the party entitled to costs under this rule,” including premiums paid for a supersedeas bond.The Fifth Circuit and the Supreme Court affirmed that the district court lacked the discretion to deny or reduce those costs. Rule 39 creates a cohesive scheme for taxing appellate costs, giving discretion over the allocation of appellate costs to courts of appeals. Rule 39(a) establishes default rules for cost allocation based on the outcome of an appeal; those apply unless the court “orders otherwise.” Rule 39(a)(4) suggests that a court of appeals may apportion costs based on each party’s relative success. A determination that a party is “entitled” to a certain percentage of costs would mean little if the district court could take a second look at the equities.Limiting a district court’s discretion to allocate appellate costs will not cause confusion with the equitable discretion district courts have over certain costs incurred in the district court, customarily taxed under Rule 54(d). It makes sense for Rule 39 costs to be taxed in the district court because they relate to events in that court, which can ensure that the amount is “correct,” 28 U.S.C. 1924. View "San Antonio v. Hotels.com, L. P." on Justia Law

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IRS Notice 2016–66 requires taxpayers and “material advisors” to report information about "micro-captive" insurance agreements. The consequences for non-compliance include civil tax penalties and criminal prosecution. Before the first reporting deadline, CIC challenged the Notice as invalid under the Administrative Procedure Act and sought injunctive relief. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the action, citing the Anti-Injunction Act, 26 U.S.C. 7421(a), which generally requires those contesting a tax’s validity to pay the tax before filing a legal challenge.A unanimous Supreme Court reversed. A suit to enjoin Notice 2016–66 does not trigger the Anti-Injunction Act even though a violation may result in a tax penalty; it is not an action to restrain the “assessment or collection” of a tax, even if the information will help the IRS collect future tax revenue. CIC seeks to set aside the Notice itself, not the tax penalty that may follow its breach. CIC stands nowhere near the cusp of tax liability. The presence of criminal penalties forces CIC to bring an action in this form, with the requested relief framed in this manner. To disobey the Notice and pay the resulting penalty before suing for a refund would risk criminal punishment. Allowing CIC’s suit to proceed will not open the floodgates to pre-enforcement tax litigation. Because the IRS chose to address its concern about micro-captive agreements by imposing a reporting requirement rather than a tax, suits to enjoin that requirement are outside the Anti-Injunction Act. View "CIC Services., LLC v. Internal Revenue Service" on Justia Law

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Baltimore sued energy companies in Maryland state court, alleging that they concealed the environmental impacts of the fossil fuels they promoted. The companies removed the case to federal court invoking, among other grounds, the federal officer removal statute, 28 U.S.C. 1442. The district court remanded. Although an order remanding a case to state court is ordinarily unreviewable on appeal, appellate review is available for orders “remanding a case to the State court from which it was removed pursuant to section 1442 or 1443,” 28 U.S.C. 1447(d) The Fourth Circuit concluded the provision authorized appellate review only for the part of a remand order deciding the section 1442 or 1443 removal ground and that it lacked jurisdiction to review the rejection of the other removal grounds.The Supreme Court vacated and remanded. The ordinary meaning of section 1447(d)’s text permits appellate review of the district court’s entire remand order when a defendant relies on section 1442 or 1443 as a ground for removal. It makes no difference that the defendants removed the case “pursuant to” multiple federal statutes. Section 1447(d) contains no language limiting appellate review to cases removed solely under 1442 or 1443. The Court focused on the statute’s use of the word “order.” Allowing full appellate review may actually help expedite some cases. Baltimore’s contention that this reading of 1447(d) will invite defendants to frivolously add 1442 or 1443 to their other grounds for removal has already been addressed by other statutes and rules, which provide for sanctions. View "BP p.l.c. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore" on Justia Law

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Petitioners, whose applications for disability benefits were denied by the Social Security Administration (SSA) unsuccessfully challenged their adverse determinations before an SSA administrative law judge (ALJ). The SSA Appeals Council denied discretionary review in each case. Thereafter, the Supreme Court decided Lucia v. SEC, holding that the appointment of Securities and Exchange Commission ALJs by lower-level staff violated the Constitution’s Appointments Clause. The SSA ALJs were also appointed by lower-level staff. The Courts of Appeals held that the petitioners could not obtain judicial review of their Appointments Clause claims because they failed to raise those challenges in their administrative proceedings. The Supreme Court reversed. The Courts of Appeals erred in imposing an issue-exhaustion requirement on petitioners’ Appointments Clause claims. Administrative review schemes commonly require parties to give the agency an opportunity to address an issue before seeking judicial review of that question. If no statute or regulation imposes an issue-exhaustion requirement, courts decide whether to require issue exhaustion based on “an analogy to the rule that appellate courts will not consider arguments not raised before trial courts.” In the context of petitioners’ Appointments Clause challenges, two considerations tip the scales against imposing an issue-exhaustion requirement: agency adjudications are generally ill-suited to address structural constitutional challenges, which usually fall outside the adjudicators’ areas of technical expertise, and the Supreme Court has consistently recognized a futility exception to exhaustion requirements. Petitioners assert purely constitutional claims about which SSA ALJs have no special expertise and for which they can provide no relief. View "Carr v. Saul" on Justia Law

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Ford, incorporated in Delaware and headquartered in Michigan, markets, sells, and services its products across the U.S. and overseas and encourages a resale market for its vehicles. Montana and Minnesota courts exercised jurisdiction over Ford in products-liability suits stemming from car accidents that injured state residents. The vehicles were designed and manufactured elsewhere, and originally were sold outside the forum states.The Supreme Court affirmed the rejection of Ford's jurisdictional arguments. The connection between the claims and Ford’s activities in the forum states is close enough to support specific jurisdiction. A state court may exercise general jurisdiction only when a defendant is “essentially at home” in the state. Specific jurisdiction covers defendants less intimately connected with a state if there was “some act by which [defendant] purposefully avails itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum State” and the claims “must arise out of or relate to the defendant’s contacts” with the forum.Ford purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting activities in both states. There is no requirement of a causal link locating jurisdiction only in the state where Ford sold the car in question or the states where Ford designed and manufactured the vehicle. Specific jurisdiction attaches in cases in which a company cultivates a market for a product in the forum state and the product malfunctions there. Ford advertises and markets its vehicles in Montana and Minnesota and fosters ongoing connections to Ford owners. Because Ford systematically served a market in Montana and Minnesota for the very vehicles that the plaintiffs allege malfunctioned and injured them in those states, there is a strong “relationship among the defendant, the forum, and the litigation.” View "Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court" on Justia Law

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Uzuegbunam, a Georgia Gwinnett College student, talked with interested students and handed out religious literature on campus until a campus police officer informed him that campus policy prohibited distributing religious materials outside two areas designated for that purpose. Speaking about religion or distributing religious materials in those areas required a permit. Uzuegbunam obtained a permit and tried to speak in a free speech zone. A campus officer again asked him to stop, saying that people had complained. Campus policy prohibited using the free speech zone to say anything that “disturbs the peace and/or comfort of person(s).” Uzuegbunam complied. Another student decided not to speak about religion because of these events. The students sought injunctive relief and nominal damages. College officials discontinued the challenged policies. The Eleventh Circuit held that the students’ plea for nominal damages could not establish standing, absent a request for compensatory damages.The Supreme Court reversed. A request for nominal damages satisfies the redressability element necessary for Article III standing where a plaintiff’s claim is based on a completed violation of a legal right. To establish Article III standing, the Constitution requires a plaintiff to identify an injury in fact that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct and to seek a remedy likely to redress that injury. Under common law, a party whose rights are invaded can recover nominal damages without furnishing evidence of actual damages, without a plea for compensatory damages. Nominal damages are not purely symbolic. One dollar may not provide full redress, but the partial remedy satisfies the redressability requirement and constitutes relief on the merits. In addition to redressability, the plaintiff must establish the other elements of standing and satisfy other relevant requirements, such as pleading a cognizable cause of action. View "Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski" on Justia Law

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The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) allows a plaintiff to bring certain state-law tort claims against the United States for torts committed by federal employees acting within the scope of their employment if the plaintiff alleges six statutory elements of an actionable claim, 28 U.S.C. 1346(b). The judgment in an action under section 1346(b) bars “any action by the claimant” involving the same subject matter against the federal employee whose act gave rise to the claim. King sued the government under the FTCA after a violent encounter with federal task force members and sued the officers individually under “Bivens.” The district court dismissed his FTCA claims, holding that the government was immune because the officers were entitled to qualified immunity under Michigan law, then dismissed King’s Bivens claims. The Sixth Circuit found that the dismissal of King’s FTCA claims did not trigger the judgment bar to block his Bivens claims.A unanimous Supreme Court reversed. The dismissal was a judgment on the merits of the FTCA claims that can trigger the judgment bar, similar to common-law claim preclusion. Whether the undisputed facts established all the elements of King’s FTCA claims is a quintessential merits decision. The court also determined that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction because, in the unique context of the FTCA, all elements of a meritorious claim are also jurisdictional. Generally, a court may not issue a ruling on the merits when it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, but when pleading a claim and pleading jurisdiction entirely overlap, a ruling that the court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction may simultaneously be a judgment on the merits. View "Brownback v. King" on Justia Law

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The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) allows a plaintiff to bring certain state-law tort claims against the United States for torts committed by federal employees acting within the scope of their employment if the plaintiff alleges six statutory elements of an actionable claim, 28 U.S.C. 1346(b). The judgment in an action under section 1346(b) bars “any action by the claimant” involving the same subject matter against the federal employee whose act gave rise to the claim. King sued the government under the FTCA after a violent encounter with federal task force members and sued the officers individually under “Bivens.” The district court dismissed his FTCA claims, holding that the government was immune because the officers were entitled to qualified immunity under Michigan law, then dismissed King’s Bivens claims. The Sixth Circuit found that the dismissal of King’s FTCA claims did not trigger the judgment bar to block his Bivens claims.A unanimous Supreme Court reversed. The dismissal was a judgment on the merits of the FTCA claims that can trigger the judgment bar, similar to common-law claim preclusion. Whether the undisputed facts established all the elements of King’s FTCA claims is a quintessential merits decision. The court also determined that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction because, in the unique context of the FTCA, all elements of a meritorious claim are also jurisdictional. Generally, a court may not issue a ruling on the merits when it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, but when pleading a claim and pleading jurisdiction entirely overlap, a ruling that the court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction may simultaneously be a judgment on the merits. View "Brownback v. King" on Justia Law

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German Jewish art dealers owned a collection of medieval relics. Their heirs allege that the Nazi government unlawfully coerced the consortium into selling the collection to Prussia for a third of its value. The relics are currently maintained by an instrumentality of the Federal Republic of Germany and displayed at a Berlin museum. After unsuccessfully seeking compensation in Germany, the heirs brought claims in the U.S. Germany argued that the claims did not fall under an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act for “property taken in violation of international law,” 28 U.S.C. 1605(a)(3) because a sovereign’s taking of its own nationals’ property is not unlawful under the international law of expropriation. The heirs countered that the purchase was an act of genocide, a violation of international human rights law. The D. C. Circuit affirmed the denial of a motion to dismiss.The Supreme Court vacated. Under the expropriation exception, a foreign sovereign’s taking of its own nationals’ property remains a domestic affair. Historically, a sovereign’s taking of a foreign national’s property implicated international law because it constituted an injury to the state of the alien’s nationality. A domestic taking did not interfere with relations among states. The FSIA’s expropriation exception emphasizes property and property-related rights, while human rights violations are not mentioned. Germany’s interpretation of the exception is more consistent with the FSIA’s goal of codifying the restrictive theory of sovereign immunity, under which immunity extends to a sovereign’s public, but not private, acts. Other FSIA exceptions confirm Germany’s position; those exceptions would be of little consequence if human rights abuses could be packaged as violations of property rights and brought within the expropriation exception. View "Federal Republic of Germany v. Philipp" on Justia Law

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In 1992, Salinas began seeking disability benefits under the Railroad Retirement Act (RRA) based on serious injuries he suffered during his 15-year railroad career. He was granted benefits after his fourth application in 2013. He timely sought reconsideration of the amount and start date. After reconsideration was denied, he filed an administrative appeal, arguing that his third application, filed in 2006, should be reopened because the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board had not considered certain medical records. The Board affirmed the denial of the request to reopen because it was not made “[w]ithin four years” of the 2006 decision. The Fifth Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of jurisdiction.The Supreme Court reversed. The Board’s refusal to reopen a prior benefits determination is subject to judicial review as a "final decision of the Board.” The decision was the “terminal event” in the Board’s administrative review process. Salinas’ only remaining recourse was to seek judicial review. A reopening decision is one “by which rights or obligations have been determined, or from which legal consequences will flow.” Any ambiguity in the meaning of “any final decision” must be resolved in Salinas’ favor under the “strong presumption favoring judicial review of administrative action.” The Board could decline to offer reopening but, having chosen to provide it, the Board may not avoid the plain text of 45 U.S.C. 355(f ). View "Salinas v. Railroad Retirement Board" on Justia Law