Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries
W. J. v. Health and Human Services
In this case, the parents of W.J., a young man with a chromosomal abnormality and autism, brought a case under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 against the Secretary of Health and Human Services, claiming that the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella vaccine administered to their son had caused or significantly aggravated his health issues. They filed their petition more than 15 years after the vaccine was administered, well beyond the Act's three-year statute of limitations. The parents argued that the statute of limitations should be equitably tolled due to their son's mental incapacitation, his minority status, and the government's alleged fraudulent concealment of a connection between the vaccine and autism.The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the decision of the United States Court of Federal Claims, which had denied the parents' petition for review and confirmed a special master’s decision to dismiss the case as untimely. The court concluded that the mental incapacitation of the son did not qualify as an "extraordinary circumstance" warranting equitable tolling because the parents, as his legal guardians, had failed to demonstrate that they were unable to file a claim on his behalf. The court also rejected the arguments for minority tolling and fraudulent concealment, finding no basis for these in the Vaccine Act or its legislative history. The court further held that the special master had not erred in raising the issue of the statute of limitations, nor in dismissing the claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. View "W. J. v. Health and Human Services" on Justia Law
Swiss Re Corporate Solutions America Insurance Co. v. Fieldwood Energy III, L.L.C.
In this case, Fieldwood Energy LLC, and its affiliates, who were previously among the largest oil and gas exploration and production companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2020 due to declining oil prices, the COVID–19 pandemic, and billions of dollars in decommissioning obligations. In the ensuing reorganization plan, some companies, referred to as the "Sureties", who had issued surety bonds to the debtors, were stripped of their subrogation rights. The Sureties appealed this loss in district court, which held their appeal to be statutorily and equitably moot. The Sureties appealed again to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, contending that a recent Supreme Court decision altered the landscape around statutory mootness and that the district court treated Section 363(m) as jurisdictional. However, the appellate court affirmed the district court’s decision, concluding that the Supreme Court’s recent decision did not change the application of Section 363(m) in this case, the district court did not treat the statute as jurisdictional, and the Sureties’ failure to obtain a stay was fatal to their challenge of the bankruptcy sale. The court also determined that the provisions stripping the Sureties of their subrogation rights were integral to the sale of the Debtors’ assets, making the challenge on appeal statutorily moot. View "Swiss Re Corporate Solutions America Insurance Co. v. Fieldwood Energy III, L.L.C." on Justia Law
Andrade v. Western Riverside Council of Governments
The plaintiff, SanJuana Andrade, filed a lawsuit against the Western Riverside Council of Governments (Council) on the basis that she had been fraudulently enrolled in a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program. She claimed that her signature was forged on the PACE loan agreements, resulting in a lien on her home and increased property tax assessments that she had not agreed to. Following an investigation by the state Department of Financial Protection and Innovation, which confirmed the contractors’ fraud, the Council released its assessment and the lien on Andrade’s home. In January 2022, Andrade filed a motion for attorney’s fees and costs under Civil Code section 1717, which provides for attorney’s fees in any action on a contract where the contract specifically provides for such fees. The trial court denied Andrade’s motion, concluding that the contractual fee provisions were limited in scope and did not entitle Andrade to attorney’s fees because they concerned fees for “a judicial foreclosure action.”On appeal, the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One, reversed the trial court's decision. It held that under section 1717, a fee provision must be construed as applying to the entire contract unless each party was represented by counsel in the negotiation and execution of the contract, and the fact of that representation is specified in the contract. The Court found that limiting the fee provisions to foreclosure proceedings would be the precise kind of lopsided arrangement that section 1717 prohibits. The Court remanded the case back to the trial court to determine whether Andrade is “the party prevailing on the contract” and therefore entitled to attorney's fees. View "Andrade v. Western Riverside Council of Governments" on Justia Law
Sony Music Entertainment v. Cox Communications, Incorporated
In this case, Sony Music Entertainment and numerous other record companies and music publishers sued Cox Communications, alleging that Cox's customers used its internet service to infringe their copyrights. The plaintiffs argued that Cox should be held accountable for its customers' copyright infringement. A jury found Cox liable for both willful contributory and vicarious infringement of over 10,000 copyrighted works owned by the plaintiffs and awarded $1 billion in statutory damages.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that Cox was not vicariously liable for its customers' copyright infringement because Cox did not profit from its subscribers’ acts of infringement, a legal prerequisite for vicarious liability. However, the court affirmed the jury’s finding of willful contributory infringement because Cox knew of the infringing activity and materially contributed to it.The court vacated the $1 billion damages award and remanded the case for a new trial on damages, holding that the jury’s finding of vicarious liability could have influenced its assessment of statutory damages. The court did not vacate the contributory infringement verdict. View "Sony Music Entertainment v. Cox Communications, Incorporated" on Justia Law
Palkon v. Maffei
In the Court of Chancery of the State of Delaware, the plaintiffs Dennis Palkon and Herbert Williamson, shareholders of TripAdvisor, Inc. and Liberty TripAdvisor Holdings, Inc., filed a lawsuit against the directors of the companies. The directors had resolved to convert the companies from Delaware corporations into Nevada corporations, a decision approved by controlling stockholder Gregory B. Maffei. The plaintiffs argued that Nevada law offers fewer litigation rights to stockholders and provides greater litigation protections to fiduciaries, alleging that the directors and Maffei approved the conversion to secure these protections for themselves.The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that it failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted. The court denied the motion except regarding the plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief. The court held that the conversion constituted a self-interested transaction effectuated by a stockholder controller, and conferred a non-ratable benefit on the stockholder controller and the directors, triggering entire fairness review.The court found it reasonably conceivable that the conversion was not substantively fair, as the stockholders would hold a lesser set of litigation rights after the conversion. It also found it reasonably conceivable that the conversion was not procedurally fair, as the stockholder controller and the board did not implement any procedural protections. The court concluded that the plaintiffs had stated a claim on which relief can be granted. However, the court stated that it would not enjoin the companies from leaving Delaware, as other remedies, including money damages, could be adequate. View "Palkon v. Maffei" on Justia Law
PREMIER PEDIATRIC PROVIDERS, LLC v. KENNESAW PEDIATRICS, P.C.
In the case before the Supreme Court of Georgia, Premier Pediatric Providers, LLC was sued by Kennesaw Pediatrics, P.C. for access to its business records. The lower court granted Kennesaw Pediatrics summary judgment, which Premier appealed. Under state law, Premier had 30 days to file the hearing transcript as part of the appeal record, which it failed to do. Months later, Kennesaw Pediatrics moved to dismiss the appeal citing Premier's inexcusable and unreasonable delay in filing the transcript. Premier countered by filing the transcript and explaining that it had mistakenly believed the transcript was filed shortly after the notice of appeal. The trial court found the delay not inexcusable and denied Kennesaw Pediatrics' motion to dismiss. However, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's order and dismissed the appeal. The Supreme Court of Georgia granted review to clarify the standard for appellate review of a trial court’s decision whether to dismiss an appeal under state law and to assess whether the Court of Appeals correctly applied the statute.The Supreme Court of Georgia vacated in part and reversed in part the Court of Appeals’ decision. The court held that the Court of Appeals correctly noted that the trial court’s order was subject to review for abuse of discretion. However, the Supreme Court disagreed with the Court of Appeals' conclusion that the trial court abused its discretion in denying Kennesaw Pediatrics’s motion to dismiss the appeal. The Supreme Court also clarified that an appellate court may not dismiss an appeal based on the failure to timely file a transcript. Instead, the statute gives the trial court discretion to decide whether to dismiss an appeal. View "PREMIER PEDIATRIC PROVIDERS, LLC v. KENNESAW PEDIATRICS, P.C." on Justia Law
Brown v. Pouncy
The case was brought before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The plaintiff, Jarius Brown, alleged that officers from the DeSoto Parish Sheriff's Office attacked him without provocation, leaving him to languish in a jail cell with a broken nose and eye socket. Almost two years later, Brown sued Javarrea Pouncy and two unidentified officers in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the alleged use of unreasonable force in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as under Louisiana state law for battery. However, the district court dismissed Brown's Section 1983 claim as untimely under Louisiana's one-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims. Brown appealed this decision, arguing that the one-year period should not apply to police brutality claims brought under Section 1983 as it discriminates against such claims and practically frustrates litigants' ability to bring them.The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision, holding that precedent required them to do so. The Court reasoned that while Brown's arguments that a one-year limitations period is too restrictive to accommodate the federal interests at stake in a civil rights action, the Supreme Court has yet to clarify how lower courts should evaluate practical frustration without undermining the solution it has already provided for the absence of a federal limitations period for Section 1983 claims. This was based on the principle that the length of the limitations period and related questions of tolling and application are governed by state law. The Court also noted that states have the freedom to modify their statutes to avoid being outliers in this regard. View "Brown v. Pouncy" on Justia Law
Barclift v. Keystone Credit Services LLC
In this case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the appellant, Paulette Barclift, sued Keystone Credit Services, LLC ("Keystone") for allegedly violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"). Barclift claimed that Keystone unlawfully communicated her personal information to a third-party mailing vendor, RevSpring, without her consent. She sought to represent a class of similarly situated plaintiffs. The District Court dismissed her suit on the grounds that she did not allege an injury sufficient to establish standing under Article III of the United States Constitution.Upon appeal, the Third Circuit agreed with the lower court that Barclift lacked standing, but modified the District Court's order so that the dismissal would be without prejudice. The court found that Barclift's alleged harm—embarrassment and distress caused by the disclosure of her personal information to a single intermediary (RevSpring)—did not bear a close relationship to a harm traditionally recognized by American courts, such as the public disclosure of private facts. Therefore, the court concluded that Barclift did not suffer a concrete injury and could not establish Article III standing. The court further held that the possibility of future harm was too speculative to establish a concrete injury. The case was dismissed without prejudice, allowing Barclift the opportunity to amend her complaint if she can allege a concrete injury. View "Barclift v. Keystone Credit Services LLC" on Justia Law
Marriage of Tara and Robert D.
In this case, a father, Robert D., appealed a final custody order claiming that the court had abused its discretion by not granting a continuance after his attorney withdrew from the case on the day before the trial. Robert argued that this action deprived him of the ability to retain new trial counsel. The Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District Division One, State of California, found that the trial court had indeed abused its discretion by refusing to assess how long a continuance might be required for Robert to obtain a new lawyer and balance that against other pertinent circumstances. However, the appellate court also found that Robert failed to demonstrate that the court’s error resulted in a “miscarriage of justice,” thus the court affirmed the final custody order. The court noted that while the trial court should have performed the necessary inquiry about the length of the continuance being sought, the error did not necessarily lead to a fundamentally unfair trial. The appellate court, therefore, maintained the trial court's decision awarding Tara sole legal custody and both parents equal physical custody of their children. View "Marriage of Tara and Robert D." on Justia Law
La Union del Pueblo v. Bettencourt
A Texas law, Senate Bill 1 (S.B. 1), related to voter registration and election integrity, was challenged by a group of plaintiffs (collectively referred to as LUPE) on the grounds that it chilled voter registration and was enacted with intent to discriminate against racial minorities. During the discovery phase of the lawsuit, LUPE sought documents and communications from the Harris County Republican Party (HCRP), which had been sent to or exchanged with the Texas Legislature and various members of the Texas executive branch regarding S.B. 1. The state defendants and non-party appellants (legislators) argued that some of these materials were protected by legislative privilege. The district court ruled that the legislative privilege did not apply.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's decision. The appellate court held that the legislative privilege was properly invoked and covered communications between the legislators and Alan Vera, the chair of the HCRP Ballot Security Committee, who had been involved in the legislative process relating to S.B. 1. The court further held that the legislative privilege did not yield under the circumstances of the case, as it did not meet the criteria for being an "extraordinary civil case" in which the privilege must yield. Therefore, the documents and communications sought by LUPE were protected by legislative privilege and not subject to discovery. View "La Union del Pueblo v. Bettencourt" on Justia Law