Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Supreme Court
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Approximately 30 years after Arellano’s honorable discharge from the Navy, a VA regional office granted Arellano service-connected disability benefits for his psychiatric disorders. Applying the default rule in 38 U.S.C. 5110(a)(1), the VA assigned an effective date of June 3, 2011—the day that it received Arellano's claim—to the award. Arellano argued that the effective date should be governed by an exception in section 5110(b)(1), which makes the effective date the day following the date of the veteran’s discharge or release if the application “is received within one year from such date of discharge or release.” Alleging that he had been too ill to know that he could apply for benefits, Arellano maintained that this exception’s one-year grace period should be equitably tolled to make his award effective the day after his 1981 discharge.The Board of Veterans’ Appeals, Veterans Court, Federal Circuit, and Supreme Court disagreed. Section 5110(b)(1) is not subject to equitable tolling. Equitably tolling one of the limited exceptions would depart from the terms that Congress “specifically provided.” The exceptions do not operate simply as time constraints, but also as substantive limitations on the amount of recovery due. Congress has already considered equitable concerns and limited the relief available, aware of the possibility that disability could delay an application for benefits. View "Arellano v. McDonough" on Justia Law

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North Carolina amended its Constitution to require photographic identification for in-person voting. S.B. 824 was enacted to implement the amendment. In a federal constitutional challenge, the Board of Elections was defended by the state’s attorney general, a former state senator who had opposed an earlier voter identification law. Legislative leaders moved to intervene, arguing that important state interests would not be adequately represented, given the Governor’s opposition to S.B. 824, the Board’s allegiance to the Governor, the Board’s tepid defense of S.B. 824 in state-court proceedings, and the attorney general’s opposition to earlier voter-ID efforts. The Fourth Circuit ruled that the legislative leaders were not entitled to intervene.The Supreme Court reversed. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a)(2) provides that a court must permit anyone to intervene who timely claims an interest in the subject of the action unless existing parties adequately represent that interest. States possess a legitimate interest in the enforcement of their statutes. When a state allocates authority among different officials who do not answer to one another, different interests and perspectives, all important to the administration of state government, may emerge. Federal courts should rarely question that a state’s interests will be practically impaired if its authorized representatives are excluded from participating in federal litigation challenging state law. Permitting participation by lawfully authorized state agents promotes informed federal-court decision-making. North Carolina law explicitly provides that the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate “shall jointly have standing to intervene on behalf of the General Assembly as a party in any judicial proceeding challenging a North Carolina statute” or constitutional provision. View "Berger v. North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP" on Justia Law

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California’s Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) authorizes any “aggrieved employee” to initiate an action against a former employer on behalf of himself and other current or former employees to obtain civil penalties that previously could have been recovered only by California’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency. California precedent holds that a PAGA suit is a “representative action” in which the plaintiff sues as an “agent or proxy” of the state. Moriana filed a PAGA action against her former employer, Viking, alleging multiple violations with respect to herself and other employees. Moriana’s employment contract contained a mandatory arbitration agreement with a “Class Action Waiver,” providing that the parties could not bring any class, collective, or representative action under PAGA, and a severability clause. California courts denied Viking’s motion to compel arbitration.The Supreme Court reversed. The Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. 1 (FAA), preempts California precedent that precludes division of PAGA actions into individual and non-individual claims through an agreement to arbitrate. Viking was entitled to compel arbitration of Moriana’s individual claim. Moriana would then lack standing to maintain her non-individual claims in court.A PAGA action asserting multiple violations under California’s Labor Code affecting a range of different employees does not constitute “a single claim.” Nothing in the FAA establishes a categorical rule mandating enforcement of waivers of standing to assert claims on behalf of absent principals. PAGA’s built-in mechanism of claim joinder is in conflict with the FAA. State law cannot condition the enforceability of an agreement to arbitrate on the availability of a procedural mechanism that would permit a party to expand the scope of the anticipated arbitration by introducing claims that the parties did not jointly agree to arbitrate. View "Viking River Cruises, Inc. v. Moriana" on Justia Law

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Kemp and seven codefendants were convicted of drug and gun crimes. The Eleventh Circuit consolidated their appeals and, in November 2013, affirmed their convictions and sentences. In April 2015, Kemp moved to vacate his sentence, 28 U.S.C. 2255. The district court dismissed Kemp’s motion as untimely because it was not filed within one year of “the date on which [his] judgment of conviction [became] final.” Kemp did not appeal. In 2018, Kemp sought to reopen his section 2255 proceedings, arguing that the one-year limitations period on his 2255 motion did not begin to run until his codefendants’ rehearing petitions were denied in May 2014. The Eleventh Circuit agreed that his section 2255 motion was timely but concluded that because Kemp alleged judicial mistake, his FRCP 60(b) motion fell under Rule 60(b)(1), with a one-year limitations period and was untimely.The Supreme Court affirmed. The term “mistake” in Rule 60(b)(1) includes a judge’s errors of law. Because Kemp’s motion alleged such a legal error, it was cognizable under Rule 60(b)(1) and untimely under Rule 60(c)’s one-year limitations period. The Court rejected Kemp’s arguments for limiting Rule 60(b)(1) to non-judicial, non-legal errors and applying Rule 60(b)(6), which allows a party to seek relief “within a reasonable time” for “any other reason that justifies relief,” but is available only when the other grounds for relief specified in Rules 60(b)(1)–(5) are inapplicable. View "Kemp v. United States" on Justia Law

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Parties involved in arbitration proceedings abroad sought discovery in the U.S. under 28 U.S.C. 1782(a), which authorizes a district court to order the production of evidence “for use in a proceeding in a foreign or international tribunal.” One case, a contract dispute between private parties, was proceeding under the Arbitration Rules of the German Institution of Arbitration and involves a private dispute-resolution organization. The second case is proceeding against Lithuania before an ad hoc arbitration panel, in accordance with the Arbitration Rules of the U.N. Commission on International Trade Law.The Supreme Court held that the parties are not entitled to discovery. Only a governmental or intergovernmental adjudicative body constitutes a “foreign or international tribunal” under 28 U.S.C. 1782; the bodies at issue do not qualify. While a “tribunal” need not be a formal “court,” attached to the modifiers “foreign or international,” the phrase is best understood to refer to an adjudicative body that exercises governmental authority. The animating purpose of section 1782 is comity: Permitting federal courts to assist foreign and international governmental bodies promotes respect for foreign governments and encourages reciprocal assistance. Extending section 1782 to include private bodies would be in significant tension with the Federal Arbitration Act, which governs domestic arbitration; section 1782 permits much broader discovery than the FAA.The Court acknowledged that the arbitration panel involving Lithuania presents a harder question. The option to arbitrate is contained in an international treaty rather than a private contract but the two nations involved did not intend that an ad hoc panel exercise governmental authority. View "ZF Automotive U. S., Inc. v. Luxshare, Ltd." on Justia Law

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The named plaintiffs, aliens who were detained under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. 1231(a)(6) after reentering the United States illegally, filed a putative class action, alleging that aliens detained under section 1231(a)(6) are entitled to bond hearings after six months’ detention. The district court certified a class of similarly situated plaintiffs and enjoined the government from detaining the class members under section 1231(a)(6) for more than 180 days without providing each a bond hearing. The Ninth Circuit affirmed.The Supreme Court reversed. INA section 1252(f )(1) deprived the district courts of jurisdiction to entertain aliens’ requests for class-wide injunctive relief. Section 1252(f )(1) generally strips lower courts of jurisdiction or authority to “enjoin or restrain the operation of ” certain INA provisions. Section 1252(f )(1)’s one exception allows lower courts to “enjoin or restrain the operation of ” the relevant statutory provisions “with respect to the application of such provisions to an individual alien against whom proceedings under such part have been initiated.” Here, both district courts entered injunctions that “enjoin or restrain the operation” of section 1231(a)(6) because they require officials to take actions that (in the government’s view) are not required by 1231(a)(6) and to refrain from actions that are allowed; the injunctions do not fall within the exception for individualized relief. Section 1252(f )(1) refers to “an individual,” not “individuals.” View "Garland v. Gonzalez" on Justia Law

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Morgan, an hourly employee at Sundance's Taco Bell franchise, had signed an agreement to arbitrate any employment dispute. Morgan later filed a nationwide collective action asserting that Sundance had violated federal law regarding overtime pay. Sundance initially defended as if no arbitration agreement existed, filing an unsuccessful motion to dismiss and engaging in unsuccessful mediation. Months after Morgan filed suit, Sundance unsuccessfully moved to compel arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). Under Eighth Circuit precedent, a party waived its right to arbitration if it knew of the right; “acted inconsistently with that right”; and “prejudiced the other party by its inconsistent actions.”The Supreme Court vacated and remanded. The Eighth Circuit erred in conditioning a waiver of the right to arbitrate on a showing of prejudice. A court must hold a party to its arbitration contract just as the court would to any other kind and may not devise novel rules to favor arbitration over litigation. Federal policy is to treat arbitration contracts like all others, not to foster arbitration. Courts may not create arbitration-specific procedural rules. Because the usual federal rule concerning waiver does not include a prejudice requirement, prejudice is not a condition of finding that a party waived its right to stay litigation or compel arbitration under the FAA. The proper inquiry would focus on Sundance’s conduct. Did Sundance knowingly relinquish the right to arbitrate by acting inconsistently with that right? View "Morgan v. Sundance, Inc." on Justia Law

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Patel, who entered the United States illegally in the 1990s, applied for adjustment of status, 8 U.S.C. 1255. Because Patel had previously checked a box on a Georgia driver’s license application falsely stating that he was a U.S. citizen, USCIS denied the application. Section 1182(a)(6)(C)(ii)(I) renders inadmissible a noncitizen who falsely represents himself to be a citizen for any legal benefit. In removal proceedings based on his illegal entry, Patel renewed his adjustment of status request, arguing that he had mistakenly checked the “citizen” box and lacked the subjective intent necessary to violate the federal statute.The BIA dismissed Patel’s appeal from a subsequent removal order. The Eleventh Circuit held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider Patel’s claim. Section 1252(a)(2)(B)(i) prohibits judicial review of “any judgment regarding the granting of relief” under 1255, except “constitutional claims” or “questions of law.” The court concluded that the determinations of whether Patel had testified credibly and of subjective intent each qualified as an unreviewable judgment.The Supreme Court affirmed. Federal courts lack jurisdiction to review facts found as part of discretionary-relief proceedings under section 1255 and the other provisions enumerated in section 1252(a)(2)(B)(i). This case largely turns on the scope of the word “judgment." A “judgment” does not necessarily involve discretion, nor does context indicate that only discretionary judgments are covered by section 1252(a)(2)(B)(i). Using the word "judgment" to describe the fact determinations at issue here "is perfectly natural.” The Court rejected arguments that the statute is ambiguous enough to trigger the presumption that Congress did not intend to foreclose judicial review. View "Patel v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Cummings, who is deaf and blind, sought physical therapy services from Premier, requesting an American Sign Language interpreter at her sessions. Premier declined. Cummings sought damages, alleging discrimination on the basis of disability under the Rehabilitation Act and the Affordable Care Act. Premier is subject to those statutes because it receives reimbursement through Medicare and Medicaid. The district court determined that the only compensable injuries allegedly caused by Premier were emotional in nature.The Fifth Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. Spending Clause legislation, including the statutes at issue, operates based on consent; a particular remedy is available in a private Spending Clause action only if the funding recipient is on notice that, by accepting federal funding, it exposes itself to liability of that nature. Because the statutes at issue are silent as to available remedies, the Court followed the contract analogy. A federal funding recipient is on notice that it is subject to the “usual” remedies traditionally available in breach of contract suits; emotional distress is generally not compensable in contract.The Court rejected an argument that such damages may be awarded where a contractual breach is particularly likely to result in emotional disturbance. Even if it were appropriate to treat funding recipients as aware that they may be subject to rare contract-law rules, they would lack the requisite notice that emotional distress damages are available under these statutes. There is no majority rule on what circumstances may trigger the allowance of such damages. View "Cummings v. Premier Rehab Keller, P.L.L.C." on Justia Law

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Cassirer inherited a Pissaro Impressionist painting. After the Nazis came to power in Germany, she surrendered the painting to obtain an exit visa. She and her grandson, Claude, eventually settled in the United States. The family’s post-war search for the painting was unsuccessful. In the 1990s, the painting was purchased by the Foundation, an entity created and controlled by the Kingdom of Spain.Claude sued the Foundation, invoking the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), 28 U.S.C. 1602, to establish jurisdiction. FSIA provides foreign states and their instrumentalities with immunity from suit unless the claim falls within a specified exception. The court held that the Nazi confiscation of the painting brought Claude’s suit within the FSIA exception for expropriated property. To determine what property law governed the dispute, the court had to apply a choice-of-law rule. The plaintiffs urged the use of California’s choice-of-law rule; the Foundation advocated federal common law. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the choice of the federal option, which commanded the use of the law of Spain, under which the Foundation was the rightful owner.The Supreme Court vacated. In an FSIA suit raising non-federal claims against a foreign state or instrumentality, a court should determine the substantive law by using the same choice-of-law rule applicable in a similar suit against a private party. When a foreign state is not immune from suit under FSIA, it is subject to the same rules of liability as a private party. Only the same choice-of-law rule can guarantee the use of the same substantive law and guarantee the same liability. Judicial creation of federal common law to displace state-created rules must be “necessary to protect uniquely federal interests.” Even the federal government disclaims any necessity for a federal choice-of-law rule in FSIA suits raising non-federal claims. View "Cassirer v. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation" on Justia Law