Archive for the ‘Civil Procedure’ Category
posted by Gerard Magliocca
Based on the comments coming out of this morning’s oral argument in Perry, it appears that there are only two possible outcomes:
1. Petitioners have no standing. The Ninth Circuit opinion is vacated.
2. The writ of certiorari is dismissed as improvidently granted. The Ninth Circuit opinion stands.
Now here’s my question. Can a concurring opinion that does the latter count as a “controlling opinion” of the Court for purposes of ascertaining the holding? I guess it does, though arguably it does not because it is not really an opinion at all. Any precedent on that?
posted by Gerard Magliocca
Here’s a question. Article III, Section Two of the Constitution states that “the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact . . . .” The power of factual review was given largely because in maritime cases factual disputes were often critical and resolved on appeal (at least that’s what people said in the 1780s).
What I’m wondering is when was the last time the Justices formally reversed or vacated an opinion because its factual findings were clearly erroneous? This probably happened with some regularity before certiorari jurisdiction was firmly established in the 1920s, but I’m not sure. Any thoughts?
posted by Danielle Citron
In a 6-3 decision authored by Justice Ginsburg (who taught and wrote about civil procedure as a professor at Columbia Law School), the Supreme Court held last week that plaintiffs in securities fraud class actions do not have to prove materiality at the class certification stage. A class of plaintiff shareholders (Connecticut Retirement Funds) alleged that Amgen and its executives misled investors about the safety and efficacy of two drugs in violation of Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5. One of the alleged material misstatements involved the company’s public statement that the FDA would not be addressing one of its drug’s safety at a particular meeting when in fact it was. Plaintiff’s class action asserted the fraud-on-the-market theory, which creates a rebuttable presumption that securities purchasers relied on publicly available information in purchasing stock in an efficient market. During class certification, Amgen argued that Rule 23(b)(3) required that plaintiffs needed to do more than plausibly plead that a misrepresentation materially affected the stock price. Amgen insisted that plaintiff needed to prove materiality to ensure that the questions of law or fact common to the class will “predominate over any questions affecting only individual members.” Both the district court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Amgen’s argument.
The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeal’s judgment, holding that proof of materiality is not a prerequisite to class certification in securities fraud cases. The majority noted that Rule 23(b)(3) “requires a showing that questions common to the class predominate, not that those questions will be answered, on the merits, in favor the class.” The Court held that plaintiffs need not prove materiality to ensure that questions of law or fact common to the class will predominate for two reasons. The first related to the objective nature of the materiality question. As Justice Ginsburg explained, because materiality is judged according to an objective standard, it can be proved through evidence common to the class. Thus, materiality is a “common question for purposes of Rule 23(b)(3).” For the second, the Court reasoned that failure of proof on the common question of materiality posed no risk that individual questions will predominate. Quite the contrary, explained Justice Ginsburg. Because materiality is an essential element of a 10b-5 claim, a failure of proof on this claim will “end the case for one and all.” The Court determined that to make the plaintiffs prove materiality at the certification stage would effectively be “putting the cart before the horse.” The Court noted,
Although we have cautioned that a court’s class-certification analysis must be “rigorous” and may “entail some overlap with the merits of the plaintiff’s underlying claim,” Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U. S. ___, ___ (2011) (slip op., at 10) (internal quotation marks omitted), Rule 23 grants courts no license to engage in free-ranging merits inquiries at the certification stage. Merits questions may be considered to the extent—but only to the extent—that they are relevant to determining whether the Rule 23 prerequisites for class certification are satisfied. See id., at ___, n. 6 (slip op., at 10, n. 6) (a district court has no “‘authority to conduct a preliminary inquiry into the merits of a suit’” at class certification unless it is necessary “to determine the propriety of certi fication”); Advisory Committee’s 2003 Note on subd. (c)(1) of Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 23, 28 U. S. C. App., p. 144 (“[A]n evaluation of the probable outcome on the merits is not properly part of the certification decision.”).
Amgen suggests that securities fraud class actions are not special vis-a-vis other kinds of classes. It does not appear that they have additional prerequisites than what is already required in certifying other types of class actions. To be sure, securities fraud class action are special but in the way that Congress required in the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act with its heightened pleading requirements, limits on damages, mandatory sanctions for frivolous litigation, etc. In citing Professor Richard Nagreda’s NYU Law Review piece on aggregate litigation (which Justice Scalia relied on in Walmart to flesh out commonality of 23(a)(2)), Justice Ginsburg seemed to reminding us, as she did in the dissent in Walmart, that Professor Nagreda’s point about common injuries and common reasons for them pertained to Rule 23(b)(3), as in Amgen, not the commonality question of 23(a) (as the Walmart majority invoked it for its finding). I’m not sure if Amgen signals a ratcheting back of the common question/common answer inquiry in 23(a)(2), but it may be worth watching and waiting.
posted by Dave Hoffman
For some time, I’ve been mulling over how closely parties can tailor the rules of civil procedure to their own purposes. That is: can parties write enforceable contract terms which state that if they sue each other, the ordinary procedural rules won’t apply? Do such contracts exist? For example, parties might contract to be able to take 5 depositions in a case instead of the default 10. Or they might dispose of the rules of hearsay. The literature on this topic of private procedure arguably started with the Scott/Triantis piece, Anticipating Litigation in Contract Design, and has gotten new momentum from Bone, Kapeliuk/Klement, Dodge, and Drahozal/Rutledge. My contribution, freshly up on SSRN, ended up being slightly more empirical than I’d expected — though I guess this won’t surprise any of our long-time readers. In Why Is Privatized Procedure So Rare?, I try to explain why there is actually so little private procedure in places we’d expect to see it:
“Increasingly we hear that civil procedure lurks in the shadow of private law. Scholars suggest that the civil rules are mere defaults, applying if the parties fail to contract around them. When judges confront terms modifying court procedures — a trend said to be explosive — they seem all-too-willing to surrender to the inevitable logic of private and efficient private ordering.
How concerned should we be? This Article casts a wide net to find examples of private contracts governing procedure, and finds a decided absence of evidence. I search a large database of agreements entered into by public firms, and a hand-coded set of credit card contracts. In both databases, clauses that craft private procedural rules are rare. This is a surprising finding given recent claims about the prevalence of these clauses, and the economic logic which makes them so compelling.
A developing literature about contract innovation helps to explain this puzzle. Parties are not rationally ignorant of the possibility of privatized procedure, nor are they simply afraid that such terms are unenforceable. Rather, evolution in the market for private procedure, like innovation in contracting generally, is subject to a familiar cycle of product innovation. Further developments in this field will not be linear, uniform and progressive; they will be punctuated, particularized and contingent.”
posted by Stanford Law Review
The Stanford Law Review Online has just published an Essay by Matthew I. Hall entitled How Congress Could Defend DOMA in Court (and Why the BLAG Cannot). Professor Hall argues that the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group lacks standing to defend DOMA:
In one of the most closely watched litigation matters in recent years, the Supreme Court will soon consider Edith Windsor’s challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The Court surprised many observers by granting certiorari, not only on the merits of Windsor’s equal protection and due process claims, but also on the question whether the defendants—the United States and the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives (the BLAG)—have Article III standing to defend DOMA. The United States has agreed with plaintiffs that DOMA is unconstitutional, prompting the BLAG to intervene for the purpose of defending DOMA’s constitutionality. No lower court has yet addressed whether the BLAG has standing, so the Supreme Court will have the first crack at the issue. But it turns out that the answer is straightforward: Under settled precedent, the BLAG lacks authority to represent either the United States or Congress, and having claimed no interest of its own, it therefore lacks Article III standing.
Congress could solve these problems by statute or resolution, but until it does so the BLAG is a mere bystander, with no stake in defending DOMA. This lack of standing may play a decisive role in the Windsor litigation. Both the BLAG and the executive branch defendants appealed the District Court’s judgment to the Second Circuit, and petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari. If the BLAG lacks standing, however, then it had no authority to appeal or to seek Supreme Court review, and the Court’s jurisdiction must turn on whether the United States, which has agreed with the plaintiff that DOMA is unconstitutional, has standing to proceed with the case. Interestingly, the BLAG itself has argued that no such standing exists—a controversial position that is beyond the scope of this short piece. But if the BLAG is correct, then there is no case or controversy before the Court, and the Court will have to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. The widespread expectation that Windsor will be a significant decision appears to be well-founded. But it remains to be seen whether its significance will lie in the area of individual rights or in the areas of federal court jurisdiction and the separation of powers.
Read the full article, How Congress Could Defend DOMA in Court (and Why the BLAG Cannot) at the Stanford Law Review Online.
January 28, 2013 at 10:30 am Tags: Civil Procedure, Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, same sex marriage, standing, Supreme Court Posted in: Civil Procedure, Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Courts, Current Events, Law Rev (Stanford), Supreme Court Print This Post One Comment
Suing Lance Armstrong for Lying in His Books: the Hurdle of Specificity and Plausibility under FRCP Pleading Rules?
posted by Danielle Citron
The lawsuit filed against Lance Armstrong for lying in his books: a gift to civil procedure professors working through heightened pleading requirements of FRCP 9(b) and Twombly-Iqbal. This morning, NPR’s Only a Game show featured a “lawsuit of the week” segment. With some laughter, the host talked about how two individuals filed a class action suit against Lance Armstrong and his publisher. The complaint alleges that defendants defrauded the class into buying Armstrong’s books and seek remedy for being tricked into believing he was a champion. The lawsuit alleges that the plaintiff class would not have bought the book had they known it contained lies about Armstrong’s doping.
This case sounds a whole lot like litigation brought against Three Cups of Tea author Greg Mortenson, his co-author, their publisher, and marketing consultants after plaintiffs discovered that the book lied about Mortenson’s humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan. Long story short, the complaint alleged that Mortenson tricked readers into thinking he was a hero and he really wasn’t. As the federal district court Judge Hannon explained in his opinion and order on defendants’ motion to dismiss:
Plaintiffs contended they purchased one or more of Mortenson’s books for approximately $15 each. They claim that the books should not be categorized as nonfiction, as a number of misstatements relating to their contents have surfaced, and that Mortenson, Relin, MC, CAI, and Penguin entered into a fraudulent scheme to falsely portray Mortenson as a hero in order to boost book sales.
The complaint asserted claims for RICO, fraud, breach of contract, implied contract, unjust enrichment, among others. Plaintiffs had amended their complaint three times before defendants moved to dismiss. As the motion was pending, the court allowed plaintiffs to amend the complaint for a fourth time. Defendants moved to dismiss on the grounds that the complaint failed “(1) to plead fraudulent activity with particularity, (2) meet plausibility standards, (3) plead necessary elements, and (4) allege cognizable injuries.” Read the rest of this post »
Professor Sherrilyn Ifill on Fisher v. University of Texas: Still Litigation Without Minority Representation
posted by Danielle Citron
My colleague Sherrilyn Ifill has generously offered to share her insights on the Fisher case. Professor Ifill is a nationally recognized expert on civil rights litigation: we are lucky to have her aboard as a guest commentator. Here is Professor Ifill’s post:
Since the Bakke v. California case, higher education affirmative action cases have largely been litigated between white applicants who claim they were excluded from university admissions as a result of affirmative action, and historically white universities who have in the last 30 years sought to diversify their student bodies. Minority students, whose interests are deeply affected by the litigation in these cases, are often relegated to the sidelines.
This troubling phenomenon was first the result of the federal court’s interpretation of intervention of a right under Rule 24 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A year after the Bakke case, Professor Emma Coleman Jordan (nee Jones) wrote powerfully about the refusal of the federal trial court in that case to allow black students to intervene in her Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review article Litigation Without Representation: The Need for Intervention to Affirm Affirmative Action.
Post-Grutter, the exclusion of minority students as parties at trial may be even more firmly fixed. By grounding affirmative action’s constitutionality in the First Amendment rights of universities, the Court saved affirmative action in higher education, but may also have further reinforced the redundancy of minority student participation as full litigants in these cases.
The result is that the Fisher v. University of Texas case was litigated at trial almost entirely between white applicants and a majority white public university. No lawyer arguing the case in the Supreme Court represents the interests of minority students. Certainly it’s true that civil right litigators at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund were permitted to file briefs and to present oral argument in the Court of Appeals in the Fisher case. But the real issue is the refusal of courts to allow minority students party status at trial.
The exception was the University of Michigan case, Grutter v. Bollinger, where black, Latino, Asian-American and Arab-American students were permitted to intervene at the trial phase of the case. Their robust defense of the school’s affirmative action policy included strong and direct testimony and evidence about the school’s history of discrimination against blacks. Strikingly, in contrast to the law school’s defense, the minority students challenged the University’s over-reliance on the LSAT in its admissions decisions, to the detriment of minority students, describing the LSAT as providing a “sharp, undeserved, disadvantage for minority LSAT-takers, and a sharp unearned advantage for white LSAT-takers.”
The participation of minority students as parties at trial is important because we can only expect universities like Michigan and Texas to defend their affirmative action initiatives in the furtherance of their own interests and goals. Thus, the University of Michigan was unlikely, in the Grutter case, to explore its strong reliance on applicant LSAT scores in admissions. Nor does the brief filed by Texas lay out in detail the history of discrimination at the University of Texas, and the ongoing alienation experienced by black students at the state’s flagship university, as set out in a recent article co-authored by Professor Lani Guinier.
Although some of the most compelling arguments advanced in this case are contained within the amicus briefs filed in the Fisher case, including one filed by the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. on behalf of black students, another by the Advancement Project highlighting the history of discrimination by the University of Texas, and still another filed by the family of the man who challenged and defeated segregation at UT 60 years ago, amicus status is no substitute for party status at the trial phase. All good litigators know that the ability to shape and develop a cause of action at trial, first by the allegations advanced in the complaint, then by the information sought on discovery and finally by the theory of the case advanced at trial – determines the substantive scope of the findings ultimately made in the case. Thus, party standing in these cases is particularly important.
In fact, the trial judge in Fisher permitted the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the NAACP to submit amicus briefs at trial “in lieu of intervention,” and expressly denied permission to LULAC to submit any evidence in the case.
It’s certainly true that despite the party status of minority students in Grutter, the Supreme Court in its majority opinion appeared to ignore the students’ contribution to the case, not even mentioning the intervenors’ participation in the recitation of the procedural history of the case. Some suggest that this demonstrates that even when intervention is permitted, courts may ignore the presentation made by minority students. But the mere fact that an appellate court fails to acknowledge the contribution of intervenors, is not evidence that those intervenors did not play an important role in shaping the record to which the appellate court was bound for its review.
There’s something deeply disquieting about higher education affirmative action cases in which blacks and Latinos are virtually litigation bystanders. More than thirty years after the Bakke case, affirmative action in higher education has survived and may yet survive this latest challenge in Fisher, but the voice of racial minorities in shaping the presentation of these issues is at a low ebb.
posted by UCLA Law Review
Volume 59, Issue 5 (June 2012)
|Implicit Bias in the Courtroom||Jerry Kang et al.||1124|
|The Supreme Court’s Regulation of Civil Procedure: Lessons From Administrative Law||Lumen N. Mulligan & Glen Staszewski||1188|
|Techniques for Mitigating Cognitive Biases in Fingerprint Identification||Elizabeth J. Reese||1252|
|Credit CARD Act II: Expanding Credit Card Reform by Targeting Behavioral Biases||Jonathan Slowik||1292|
|Shocking the Conscience: What Police Tasers and Weapon Technology Reveal About Excessive Force Law||Aaron Sussman||1342|
July 1, 2012 at 2:39 pm Posted in: Administrative Law, Behavioral Law and Economics, Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Consumer Protection Law, Courts, Evidence Law, Law Rev (UCLA) Print This Post No Comments
posted by Dave Hoffman
As I explored in a previous post, some terrific co-authors and I have written a paper which taxonomizes federal complaints- that is, we find patterns in the kinds of causes of action that attorneys plead. In this post, I’m going to explore those patterns in some more detail.
In our data, spectral clustering revealed eight clusters of causes of action. Each grouping organizes together causes of action that are more likely to be pled together than they are to be pled with others. (This eight-cluster finding is probably not generalizable to all litigation – the paper goes into some detail about the kinds of cases that we included and excluded from our dataset.) When you think about it, that there will be some patterns from this kind of exercise is obvious — there are only a limited number of legally cognizable fact patterns that can cause injury, and attorneys often follow form books/precedent when pleading. Still, we didn’t know what the patterns would be before completing the analysis.
The Figure below provides the most common two or three causes of action per cluster:
This illustrates how, for example, intellectual property claims (like trademark infringement) often travel together with consumer protection claims; civil rights claims (like 1983 allegations) accompany state law torts; and tort claims often fit with contract and fraud claims. This should be old news to anyone who has ever practiced law. Moreover, the Figure doesn’t give us a good handle on how alike or unlike each pattern is from another. Follow me after the jump for the Figure that tries to accomplish just that.
posted by Jaya Ramji-Nogales
For those who thought Civ Pro was boring, this will liven up the end of your semester:
posted by Danielle Citron
Lucky for us, my brilliant colleague Lee Kovarsky took some time out of his whirlwind schedule to help walk us through the Supreme Court’s post-conviction decision in Martinez v. Ryan. I’ve blogged about Professor Kovarsky before–he is an expert on habeas corpus whose newest work, entitled “A Constitutional Theory of Habeas Power,” will be published by the Virginia Law Review. He is also amidst writing a textbook for Foundation Press entitled “Federal Habeas Corpus: Executive Detention and Post-Conviction Litigation” (forthcoming 2013) (with Brandon Garrett). Professor Kovarsky recently argued a habeas case before the Fifth Circuit and helped write the ABA Amicus Brief in Martinez.
Martinez and the Roberts Post-Conviction Project*
Almost under the radar, the Roberts Court has reconfigured the way this country conducts post-conviction review. Years from now, we may consider a case decided this Tuesday, Martinez v. Ryan, a seminal entry in that shift. Perhaps Martinez was reported so sparingly because it was so complicated, but its complexity shouldn’t obscure its importance. (Stephen Vladeck has a characteristically insightful explanation of Martinez up on SCOTUSBLOG.)
The “Roberts Post-Conviction Project” has two moving parts. First, the Project involves a series of decisions promoting state collateral review as the “main event” for post-conviction challenges. Second, and at the same time, the Project has generated incentives for states to provide more process and better lawyers in those proceedings. The Project is hardly a return to thick, Warren-era habeas review of state criminal procedure, but it does slightly moderate one rhetorical excess of Rehnquist post-conviction jurisprudence—the proposition that state judges are always as good as their federal counterparts at enforcing federal constitutional rights.
Criminal process for convicted state prisoners subdivides roughly into the following phases: (1) direct appellate review of the conviction; (2) a state post-conviction disposition subject to state appellate review; and (3) a federal habeas proceeding with federal appeals. For decades, Congress and the Supreme Court have been recalibrating federal habeas review to defer to state post-conviction outcomes. Most recently, in Cullen v. Pinholster (2011), the Supreme Court held that (generally) federal habeas relief could issue only on evidence presented to a state post-conviction court.
The problem is that, for decades, state post-conviction review—the first place that a prisoner may assert many important constitutional challenges to a conviction—has been a legal swamp of vague rules, spotty process, and substandard representation. Many prisoners litigate state post-conviction claims pro se, and many counseled prisoners enjoy no constitutional entitlement to competent representation. Even for strong constitutional claims, forfeiture often follows a state prisoner’s failure to successfully navigate unthinkably complex state post-conviction law either (1) without representation or (2) with a bad lawyer that the state underpays.
And federal habeas law imposes all sorts of severe penalties when state post-conviction representation goes predictably awry. For instance, the federal limitations statute was—until recently—unforgiving about lost portions of the limitations period attributable to even the most appalling state post-conviction representation. Moreover, at least pre-Martinez, when incompetent state post-conviction representation forfeited a claim on a state procedural ground, that claim would be inexcusably defaulted on federal habeas review.
The Court heard Martinez v. Ryan on October 4, 2011. Twenty-four State Attorneys General signed an Amicus Brief in support of Arizona, as did the United States. By mid-March 2012, the Court had still failed to announce a decision. It was clear that something serious was happening, but nobody had a good sense of what that something was. As it turns out, the prisoner won pretty big. Although the opinion stopped short of announcing a constitutional right to a state post-conviction attorney, its decision will nonetheless improve the representation provided at that phase of criminal process.
Kennedy wrote, and was joined by Roberts, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, and Kagan. (Scalia and Thomas dissented.) The head count is a pleasant surprise for those who remain skeptical that Roberts and Alito are willing to break meaningfully from Scalia and Thomas on the harsh application of procedural rules on federal habeas review. Read the rest of this post »
posted by Stanford Law Review
Volume 64 • Issue 2 • February 2012
Elective Shareholder Liability
March 6, 2012 at 3:51 am Posted in: Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Corporate Finance, Corporate Law, Courts, Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Law Rev (Stanford), Law Rev Contents, Privacy (Law Enforcement), Technology Print This Post No Comments
posted by Dave Hoffman
In last year’s McIntyre v. Nicastro, Justice Kennedy, writing for four Justices, emphasized that personal jurisdiction rested on purposeful availment of the forum state. But, he quickly qualified, “in some cases, as with an intentional tort, the defendant might well fall within the State’s authority by reason of his attempt to obstruct its laws.” As many have noted, this leaves the Calder v. Jones libel jurisdiction line of cases up in the air. Do they remain good law? Would it matter if the libel happened only over the ‘net?
I guess we’ll see. Read the complaint in O’Keefe v. Current Media. It’s a good example of what’s coming — a news report delivered mostly on the web, which happened to reach New Jersey, where the plaintiff now seeks redress in State Court for libel. Does New Jersey have jurisdiction over Current Media, Keith Olberman, and David Shuster? Only Justices Breyer and Alito know.
posted by Danielle Citron
Sometimes, opening sentences tell you exactly what you need to know about what’s to follow. That’s certainly true of literature. Consider the beginning of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground (translation Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky): “I am a sick man . . . I am a wicked man. An unattractive man. I think my liver hurts.” Genius, really. And this notion is definitely true of opinions. Take, as an example, Wal-mart Stores v. Dukes: “We are presented with one of the most expansive class actions ever.” Justice Scalia, from the get go, made clear that the class was doomed. I imagine that readers have other humdingers of beginnings, do tell.
posted by Dave Hoffman
(Update: Fixed a typo in the figure. See the comment thread.)
posted by Stanford Law Review
Volume 64 • Issue 1 • January 2012
The Ghost That Slayed the Mandate
State Sovereign Standing:
Establishing Official Islam?
Lobbying, Rent-Seeking, and the Constitution
posted by Danielle Citron
I’m just at the start of my pleadings journey with my Civil Procedure II students, which has got me reading lots of terrific scholarship on the regrettable impact of Twombly and Iqbal. Federal district court Judge Chen’s recent dismissal of the third amended complaint in Levitt v. Yelp, 2011 WL 5079526, seems a perfect example of why Twombly and Iqbal’s insistence upon factual plausibility before discovery transforms FRCP 12(b)(6) motions into something far different from sussing out “fair notice” and more like summary judgment as Suja Thomas astutely suggests. (Scott Dodson and Adam Steinman also have insightful pieces on Twombly and Iqbal — New Pleading, New Discovery” and “The Pleading Problem,” respectively).
Let me first tell you a bit about the Levitt suit against Yelp. Plaintiffs, two subclasses of business owners, alleged that Yelp unlawfully manipulated its business review pages to induce them to pay for advertising in violation of California’s civil extortion statute. In a previous ruling, the court dismissed the complaint with leave to amend because it lacked factual allegations from which a threat might be plausibly inferred. The Third Amended Complaint (TAC) added allegations concerning Yelp’s dealing with plaintiff Wheel Techniques (WT) in late 2008 and early 2009. According to the TAC, soon after WT noticed negative reviews on its Yelp page that did not correspond with its actual customers, it received calls from Yelp representatives seeking advertisements. Plaintiffs alleged that Yelp created false reviews to induce WT to advertise with it and that “200 Yelp employees or individuals acting on their behalf have written reviews of businesses on Yelp.” Plaintiffs alleged that when Wheel Techniques contacted Yelp to ask why a competitor had a high rating on Yelp, the Yelp representative told him the competitor advertised and “we work with your reviews if you advertise with us.” Id. ¶ 78. On March 8, 2010, Wheel Techniques was again contacted to purchase advertising. Upon declining, Plaintiffs allege that a 1–star review was moved to the top of the business page “within minutes” as a threat to induce Wheel Techniques to advertise. Id. ¶¶ 79–81. Plaintiffs allege that Wheel Techniques owner John Mercurio was told several Yelp employees had been fired and computers had been frozen “as a result of scamming related to advertising.” Id. ¶ 82.
The district court ran through the Twombly-Iqbal standard, with a few tweaks. It explained that a complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim if it lacks a cognizable legal theory or sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory. Citing Twombly, the court noted that a motion to dismiss should be granted if a plaintiff fails to plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,’ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” The court stated that “allegations of material fact are taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” (The “construed in the light most favorable” to the non-movant language was absent in Iqbal). Citing Iqbal, the court said that: it “need not, however, accept as true pleadings that are no more than legal conclusions or the ‘formulaic recitation of the elements’ of a cause of action. Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief … [is] a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” The court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim. Here’s the court’s explanation:
The TAC, like the SAC, fails to allege facts sufficient to support a conclusion that Yelp created any content. Plaintiffs have added an allegation that “approximately 200 Yelp employees or individuals acting on behalf of Yelp have written reviews of businesses on Yelp,” TAC 37, and that “Yelp has paid users to write reviews,” id. ¶ 38. Despite these allegations, however, it remains “entirely speculative that Yelp manufactures its own negative reviews or deliberately manipulates reviews to the detriment of businesses who refuse to purchase advertising,” and “[t]he [TAC] provides no basis from which to infer that Yelp authored or manipulated the content of the negative reviews complained of by plaintiffs,” Order Dismissing SAC at 17. That Yelp employees have written reviews, even for pay, does not raise more than a mere possibility that Yelp has authored or manipulated content related to Plaintiffs in furtherance of an attempt to “extort” advertising revenues. See Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950 (“[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]‘-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.’ ”) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). Similarly, that Wheel Techniques noticed negative reviews of its business that did not match its customer records does not support the logical leap that Yelp created those reviews. See TAC ¶¶ 74–75. Nor does an allegation that Mr. Mercurio (Wheel Techniques’ owner) “was told” by an unnamed source “that a former Yelp employee stated that Yelp, upon information and belief, terminated a group of sales employees … as a result of scamming related to advertising” and that “the computers of sales employees were, at one point, frozen to prohibit employees from being able to change reviews” raise more than a speculative possibility that Yelp employees created or substantively manipulated the content of Plaintiffs’ reviews in this case. See TAC ¶ 82. “Scamming related to advertising” could have referred to a host of practices not involving manufacturing of false reviews.
Despite the court’s claim that it would draw all inferences in plaintiffs’ favor, it seemed to do the opposite. The plaintiffs provided a factually plausible account of extortion: that Yelp employees write reviews; that after WT notice negative reviews that did not accord with its customer records, a Yelp representative called seeking advertising; that a Yelp employee told WT that it works with customers that advertise with it; that as soon as WT refused Yelp’s advertising solicitation, a one-star rating appeared at the top of its Yelp page; and that WT’s owner learned that Yelp employees had been fired due to scamming related to advertising. Nonetheless, the court reads the allegations seemingly in the light most favorable to defendant movant, reasoning that scamming related to advertising could have referred to a host of practices not involving false reviews and that even if Yelp hired people to write reviews it does not raise more than a mere possibility that it manipulated content regarding WT to extort advertising revenues. The court seemingly ignores the allegations related to the solicitation calls and the subsequent negative review appearing on WT’s page after it declined Yelp’s second advertising solicitation. It’s difficult to imagine what more plaintiffs could have alleged at this stage in the game. Taking a cue from Scott Dodson’s article “New Pleading, New Discovery,” plaintiffs need discovery to figure out if Yelp employees did what the circumstances suggest–manipulate reviews to bully WT and other plaintiffs into buying advertising. In the end, Suja Thomas has it right. This whole endeavor sounds a lot more like a summary judgment motion than a motion to dismiss.
posted by Derek Bambauer
Today, you can’t get to The Oatmeal, or Dinosaur Comics, or XKCD, or (less importantly) Wikipedia. The sites have gone dark to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act, America’s attempt to censor the Internet to reduce copyright infringement. This is part of a remarkable, distributed, coordinated protest effort, both online and in realspace (I saw my colleague and friend Jonathan Askin headed to protest outside the offices of Senators Charles Schumer and Kirstin Gillibrand). Many of the protesters argue that America is headed in the direction of authoritarian states such as China, Iran, and Bahrain in censoring the Net. The problem, though, is that America is not alone: most Western democracies are censoring the Internet. Britain does it for child pornography. France: hate speech. The EU is debating a proposal to allow “flagging” of objectionable content for ISPs to ban. Australia’s ISPs are engaging in pre-emptive censorship to prevent even worse legislation from passing. India wants Facebook, Google, and other online platforms to remove any content the government finds problematic.
Censorship is on the march, in democracies as well as dictatorships. With this movement we see, finally, the death of the American myth of free speech exceptionalism. We have viewed ourselves as qualitatively different – as defenders of unfettered expression. We are not. Even without SOPA and PROTECT IP, we are seizing domain names, filtering municipal wi-fi, and using funding to leverage colleges and universities to filter P2P. The reasons for American Internet censorship differ from those of France, South Korea, or China. The mechanism of restriction does not. It is time for us to be honest: America, too, censors. I think we can, and should, defend the legitimacy of our restrictions – the fight on-line and in Congress and in the media shows how we differ from China – but we need to stop pretending there is an easy line to be drawn between blocking human rights sites and blocking Rojadirecta or Dajaz1.
Cross-posted at Info/Law.
January 18, 2012 at 5:31 pm Posted in: Advertising, Architecture, Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Culture, Current Events, Cyberlaw, First Amendment, Google & Search Engines, Google and Search Engines, Innovation, Intellectual Property, Media Law, Movies & Television, Politics, Technology, Web 2.0, Wiki Print This Post No Comments
posted by Dave Hoffman
On tap today in civil procedure: the dispiriting Walker case, in which Justice Stewart holds that the collateral bar rule trumps the First Amendment. It’s a terrific case to teach early in the semester, and scheduling it immediately after MLK Monday can be especially gripping. In Duncan Kennedy’s framing (from The Reproduction of Hierarchy), Walker is a hot, hot case, which makes students quite angry, but leaves them ultimately unsure on how to channel that anger in a legally appropriate manner. Shouldn’t MLK and the ministers have petitioned the court even though it was futile? Isn’t Justice Stewart sort of right that such general rules can’t abide small exceptions, lest we fail to “pay for the civilizing hand of law”? Surely there’s an argument that courts, who lack armies, require special solicitude which the executive and legislative branches don’t.
Well, I’m not so sure about the merits of those arguments, but I recognize what effect they are likely to have on 1Ls. As Kennedy wrote:
“Most students can’t fight the combination of cold cases and hot cases. The cold cases are boring, but you have to do them if you want to be a lawyer. The hot cases cry out for response, seem to say that if you can’t respond you’ve already sold out, but the system tells you to put away childish things, and your reaction to the hot cases is one of them. Without any intellectual resources, in the way of knowledge of the legal system and of the character of legal reasoning, it will appear that emoting will only isolate and incapacitate you.”
posted by Derek Bambauer
Thanks to Danielle and the CoOp crew for having me! I’m excited.
Speaking of exciting developments, it appears that the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is dead, at least for now. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has said that the bill will not move forward until there is a consensus position on it, which is to say, never. Media sources credit the Obama administration’s opposition to some of the more noxious parts of SOPA, such as its DNSSEC-killing filtering provisions, and also the tech community’s efforts to raise awareness. (Techdirt’s Mike Masnick has been working overtime in reporting on SOPA; Wikipedia and Reddit are adopting a blackout to draw attention; even the New York City techies are holding a demonstration in front of the offices of Senators Kirstin Gillibrand and Charles Schumer. Schumer has been bailing water on the SOPA front after one of his staffers told a local entrepreneur that the senator supports Internet censorship. Props for candor.) I think the Obama administration’s lack of enthusiasm for the bill is important, but I suspect that a crowded legislative calendar is also playing a significant role.
Of course, the PROTECT IP Act is still floating around the Senate. It’s less worse than SOPA, in the same way that Transformers 2 is less worse than Transformers 3. (You still might want to see what else Netflix has available.) And sponsor Senator Patrick Leahy has suggested that the DNS filtering provisions of the bill be studied – after the legislation is passed. It’s much more efficient, legislatively, to regulate first and then see if it will be effective. A more cynical view is that Senator Leahy’s move is a public relations tactic designed to undercut the opposition, but no one wants to say so to his face.
I am not opposed to Internet censorship in all situations, which means I am often lonely at tech-related events. But these bills have significant flaws. They threaten to badly weaken cybersecurity, an area that is purportedly a national priority (and has been for 15 years). They claim to address a major threat to IP rightsholders despite the complete lack of data that the threat is anything other than chimerical. They provide scant procedural protections for accused infringers, and confer extraordinary power on private rightsholders – power that will, inevitably, be abused. And they reflect a significant public choice imbalance in how IP and Internet policy is made in the United States.
Surprisingly, the Obama administration has it about right: we shouldn’t reject Internet censorship as a regulatory mechanism out of hand, but we should be wary of it. This isn’t the last stage of this debate – like Wesley in The Princess Bride, SOPA-like legislation is only mostly dead. (And, if you don’t like the Obama administration’s position today, just wait a day or two.)
Cross-posted at Info/Law.
January 16, 2012 at 7:28 pm Posted in: Architecture, Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Culture, Cyber Civil Rights, Cyberlaw, First Amendment, Google & Search Engines, Google and Search Engines, Intellectual Property, Media Law, Movies & Television, Politics, Technology, Web 2.0 Print This Post One Comment