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Category: Civil Procedure

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Assessing Twiqbal

Several months ago, the FJC put out a well-publicized study assessing the results of Twombly-Iqbal on motions practice.  It concluded that there was little reason, overall, for concern that the Supreme Court’s new pleadings jurisprudence had worked a revolutionary change down below.  Lonny Hoffman (Houston) has just released an important new paper which questions the methods and conclusions of the FJC’s work.  He pulls no punches:

“This paper provides the first comprehensive assessment of the Federal Judicial Center’s long-anticipated study of motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim after Iqbal v. Ashcroft. Three primary assessments are made of the FJC’s study. First, there are reasons to be concerned that the study may be providing an incomplete picture of actual Rule 12(b)(6) activity. Even if the failure to capture all relevant motion activity was a non-biased error, the inclusiveness problem is consequential. Because the study was designed to compare over time the filing and grant rate of Rule 12(b)(6) motions, the size of the effect of the Court’s cases turns on the amount of activity found. Second, even if concerns are set aside that the collected data may be incomplete, it misreads of the FJC’s findings to conclude that the Court’s decisions are having no effect on dismissal practice. The FJC found that after Iqbal, a plaintiff is twice as likely to face a motion to dismiss. This sizeable increase in rate of Rule 12(b)(6) motion activity represents a marked departure from the steady filing rate observed over the last several decades and means, among other consequences, added costs for plaintiffs who have to defend more frequently against these motions. The data regarding orders resolving dismissal motions even more dramatically shows the consequential impacts of the Court’s cases. There were more orders granting dismissal with and without leave to amend, and for every case category examined. Moreover, the data show that after Iqbal it was much more likely that a motion to dismiss would be granted with leave to amend (as compared to being denied) both overall and in the three largest case categories examined (Civil Rights, Financial Instruments and Other). Employment Discrimination, Contract and Torts all show a trend of increasing grant rates. In sum, in every case type studied there was a higher likelihood after Iqbal that a motion to dismiss would be granted. Third, because of inherent limitations in doing empirical work of this nature, the cases may be having effects that the FJC researchers were unable to detect. Comparing how many motions were filed and granted pre-Twombly to post-Iqbal cannot tell us whether the Court’s cases are deterring some claims from being brought, whether they have increased dismissals of complaints on factual sufficiency grounds, or how many meritorious cases have been dismissed as a result of the Court’s stricter pleading filter. Ultimately, perhaps the most important lesson to take away from this last assessment of the FJC’s report is that empirical study cannot resolve all of the policy questions that Twombly and Iqbal raise.”

I should disclose that I provided Lonny comments on an earlier draft, and overall I think he’s done an incredible (and generally very fair) job.  One thing to think about, as always when evaluating litigation data, is the degree to which we would expect to see any results at all given case selection effects.  That Lonny does observe such substantively significant changes notwithstanding selection tells us something about how dramatic the Twiqbal decisions really were.

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Same-Sex Couples and Divorce

Later this month, New York will join six other jurisdictions in permitting same-sex couples to marry. The other six jurisdictions are Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and the District of Columbia. When the marriages begin, same-sex couples from all over the United States will be able to marryin New York, because New York (like the other jurisdictions listed above) has no residency requirement for marriage.

As a recent article in the NYTimes describes, however, many of the estimated 80,000 married same-sex couples are finding it difficult to divorce if and when the need arises. As I explain in forthcoming article in the Boston University Law Review, this difficulty is “the result of the confluence of two factors.” First, many same-sex couples are unable to get divorced in their home states because they live in states with statutory and/or constitutional provisions stating that the jurisdiction will not recognize marriages between two people of the same sex. Second, they may be unable to divorce somewhere other than their home state because “it is widely understood that for a court to have the power to grant a divorce, one of the spouses must be domiciled in the forum[.]”

Being unable to get divorced is not simply a theoretical problem. During the time in which the parties remain married (despite their efforts to the contrary), the parties continue to accrue rights and responsibilities vis-à-vis each other. They may, for example, continue to accrue rights to marital property and obligations for debt incurred during the continued relationship.

My Article, Modernizing Divorce Jurisdiction: Same-Sex Couples and Minimum Contacts, considers why this anomalous jurisdictional rule arose in the first instance, why it has persisted over time, and whether it can be squared with contemporary principles of personal jurisdiction. Previously, divorce jurisdiction and the domicile rule were subjects of significant interest to the courts and to legal scholars. Likely to the surprise of many today, the Supreme Court decided a number of cases involving these issues in the middle of the last century. More recently, however, (with a few notable exceptions) there has been little contemporary judicial or scholarly engagement with the issue. Instead, the domicile rule is generally accepted today as an example of family law exceptionalism.

In my piece, I resist the myth of family law exceptionalism by critically considering whether the domicile rule can be reconciled with general principles of state court jurisdiction. Ultimately, as others including Rhonda Wasserman have done, I argue that the domicile rule should be abandoned. Instead, actions to terminate a marriage should be governed by the usual rules of personal jurisdiction. While this change alone would help many of the “wedlocked” same-sex couples (to borrow an apt phrase from Mary Pat Byrn and Morgan Holcomb), some may still be stranded. Accordingly, I conclude the Article by offering a set of normative proposals to ensure that all spouses have at least one forum in which to divorce.

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Pennoyer v. Neff, By God!

One of Kevin Clermont’s Cornell civil procedure students lives “about ten minutes away from where our esteemed friend Sylvester Pennoyer is buried.”  Pennoyer, as you will recall, is a party in one of the best known Supreme Court cases of all times — at least, best known by lawyers.  The student took some photos of Pennoyer’s grave, which Kevin then shared with the Civ Pro Listserv.

Pennoyer rests at “Riverview Cemetery … located just south of Portland overlooking the Willamette river.”  RIP, Sylvester.

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Corporate Control in the Courtroom

Corporate litigation has long followed a predictable pattern. When a corporation announces a restatement or similar bad news, shareholders race to the courtroom, filing nearly identical complaints in multiple courts. Congress sought to halt this practice in federal securities cases through the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, but the practice continues unabated in state law cases. The Delaware Court of Chancery has been the clear loser of this filing strategy. Empirical evidence suggests that shareholder lawsuits are leaving Delaware in droves. Defense lawyers even claim that plaintiffs now use an “Anywhere but Chancery” approach when filing state law class actions and derivative suits.

The Delaware Court of Chancery recently suggested one way for corporations to protect themselves from these practices. Last summer, Vice Chancellor Laster stated in dicta that “if boards of directors and stockholders believe that a particular forum would provide an efficient and value-promoting locus for dispute resolution,” these corporations should adopt a charter provision selecting this forum as the exclusive venue for shareholder lawsuits.  This idea was not unprecedented—a small number of companies had already included such provisions in their governing documents—but it was the first time (to my knowledge) that the concept received judicial approval.  The defense bar quickly picked up the charge, with Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz recommending to its corporate clients that they adopt a charter amendment requiring that the Delaware Court of Chancery be the “sole and exclusive forum” for any breach of fiduciary duty suit filed against the company or its officers, directors, or shareholders. A recent memorandum by Latham & Watkins reports that more than 70 companies have included these provisions in their bylaws or charters.

This development raises intriguing questions about how much control corporations should have when it comes to lawsuits filed by their shareholders. Read More

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What Difference Representation: Case Selection and Professional Responsibility

Thanks for the invitation to participate in this interesting and provocative symposium.

I’m a legal services attorney in Boston. My employer, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI), has as one of its primary tasks to connect the state’s field programs, where individual client representation occurs, with larger political bodies, including legislatures and administrative agencies, where the systemic changes affecting our clients most often take place. (The legal services programs in many states include organizations comparable to MLRI; we are sometimes known by the somewhat infelicitous name “backup centers.”) Among the programs with which MLRI is in communication is the Harvard Legal Assistance Bureau, and I would take this moment to acknowledge the high regard in which I and my colleagues regard their work.

The substantive area of my work is employment law. It is no surprise that during the past three years of our country’s Great Recession, the importance of the unemployment insurance system for our clients has increased enormously and, consequently, it has occupied a greater portion of my time than might otherwise have been the case.

I’m not a statistician nor do I work in a field program representing individual clients, so my comments will not address in any detail the validity of the HLAB study or the conclusions that may properly be drawn from it. As one member of the community of Massachusetts legal services attorneys, however, I have an obvious interest in the way the study portrays us: we are variously described as self-protective, emotional, distrustful of being evaluated, and reluctant to the point of perverseness in participating in randomized studies of the kind the authors wish to conduct. Our resistance in this regard has itself already been the subject of comment here. Happily, it is not often that one looks into what seems to be a mirror and sees the personage looking back wearing a black hat and a snarl. But when it does happen, it’s hard to look away without some effort at clarification. So I will devote my contribution to the symposium to the topic of the perceived reluctance of the legal services community to cooperate in randomized trials. It goes without saying, but the following thoughts are those of only one member of a larger community.

My understanding is that in the HLAB study, no significant case evaluation occurred prior to randomization. Many of us in legal services view with trepidation the idea of ceding control over case selection to the randomization process. Others have more sanguine views, either because they assume that randomization is already taking place or that it ought to be. For example, in his comments from a few months ago, Dave Hoffman was working under the assumption that to randomize client selection would not change an agency’s representation practices at all, and on that basis, he criticized resistance to randomized control trials as “trying to prevent research from happening.”

The authors of the study are enthusiastic about randomization not only because of its scientific value in statistical research but also because it can help to solve one of the thorniest problems facing legal services programs – the scarcity of resources as compared to the demand. As long as the demand for legal assistance outstrips the supply, Professor Greiner has said, randomization – a roll of the dice or the flip of a coin — is an easy and appropriate way to decide who gets representation and who does not.

I believe it’s erroneous to assume that randomization would not change representation practices, at least in the area of legal services in which I work. I also acknowledge that it is possible, at least theoretically, for all the cases in a randomized control trial to have met the provider’s standards for representation. This would provide some measure of reassurance. However, in one area of law, immigration asylum cases, the authors have concluded that time constraints make such an effort unworkable.

Read More

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UCLA Law Review Vol. 58, Issue 3 (February 2011)

Volume 58, Issue 3 (February 2011)


Articles

Good Faith and Law Evasion Samuel W. Buell 611
Making Sovereigns Indispensable: Pimentel and the Evolution of Rule 19 Katherine Florey 667
The Need for a Research Culture in the Forensic Sciences Jennifer L. Mnookin et al. 725
Commentary on The Need for a Research Culture in the Forensic Sciences Joseph P. Bono 781
Commentary on The Need for a Research Culture in the Forensic Sciences Judge Nancy Gertner 789
Commentary on The Need for a Research Culture in the Forensic Sciences Pierre Margot 795


Comments

What’s Your Position? Amending the Bankruptcy Disclosure Rules to Keep Pace With Financial Innovation Samuel M. Kidder 803
Defendant Class Actions and Patent Infringement Litigation Matthew K. K. Sumida 843


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Salutary Legislative Efforts to Permit Pseudonymous Litigation

Cyber harassment often invades victims’ privacy by exposing their sensitive personal information, revealing photographs, and the like.  Because search engines reproduce information cached online, time’s passage cannot alleviate their reputational, emotional, and physical damage.  Unlike newspapers, which were once only easily accessible in libraries after their publication, search engines now index all content on the web, and can produce it instantaneously.  Victims must live with digital privacy invasions that are deeply humiliating, reputation-harming, and potentially dangerous, as well as searchable and accessible from anywhere, and by anyone, in the world.  Often, the information is taken out of context, producing a distorted and damaging view of the person.

While lawsuits can serve to redress victims for these harms, they also risk compounding the severity of these privacy problems.  Law often permits victims to sue perpetrators for intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, and defamation.  But victims typically must bring such civil lawsuits in their own names.  As a result, the complaints, which are available to the press and interested individuals, further publicize the cyber harassment, exacerbating the privacy harms suffered by victims.  In turn, victims may refrain from pursuing their harassers in court not because they lack legitimate claims but because they fear exposing themselves to further privacy invasions.

Hawaii’s proposed Senate Bill 288, if enacted, could be invoked to combat this problem when the online harassment occurs in domestic abuse cases.  The bill would permit pseudonymous papers “in cases of alleged domestic abuse where the alleged victim has already received an order of protection, temporary restraining order, or protective order against the accused party.”  The bill covers cases where pseudonymous filing is “reasonably necessary to protect the privacy of the alleged victim and will not unduly prejudice the prosecution of the defense.”  The proposed legislation permits victims of domestic abuse, including cases involving online harassment, to bring law’s coercive power to bear against perpetrators.  Because the bill allows courts to weigh the victim’s interest in privacy against the public’s interest in disclosure, it aims to protect privacy and transparency.  Disappointingly, however, the bill only covers cases involving domestic abuse, thus failing to reach instances of online harassment involving privacy invasions where victims may refuse to sue their attackers for fear of publicity.


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Cognitive Illiberalism and the Speech-Conduct Distinction

The partisanship and bad faith of judges who disagree with us has never been more obvious, or more pernicious. For many, the most irritating personality flaw of judicial politicos (and their fellow-travelers) isn’t the bottom-line results of the opinions themselves, it is that judges refuse to acknowledge their own biases, though it’s evident that they aren’t neutral umpires, but rather players in the game.  Indeed, almost every decision you read about these days comes accompanied by a reference  to the political party of the appointing President – as if you needed the help!  As Orin Kerr has brilliantly pointed out, “people who disagree with me are just arguing in bad faith.”

For the Cultural Cognition Project, the way that we talk about legal decisions – and decisionmakers – is a subject of study and concern.  We decided to take a careful look at this topic — which we’ve previously touched on in work like Whose Eyes Are You Going To Believe. Our motivation was to investigate how constitutional norms requiring neutrality in fact finding interact with individuals’ tendencies to perceive facts and risks in ways congenial to their group identities.  Building on Hastorf/Cantril’s social psychology classic, They Saw a Game: A Case Study, we’ve written a new piece about how motivated cognition can de-stabilize constitutional doctrine, render legal fact-finders blind to their own biases, and inflame the culture wars. Our resulting paper, “They Saw a Protest”: Cognitive Illiberalism and the Speech-Conduct Distinction, results from my collaboration with Dan Kahan, Don Braman, Danieli Evans, and Jeff Rachlinski.  The paper is just up on SSRN, and I figured to jump-start the conversation by using this post to talk about our experimental approach and findings.  (I think that Kahan is blogging on Balkinization later in the week about the normative upshot of Protest.)

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Munger’s Vision Comes to Florida Foreclosure Proceedings

Recently billionaire Charlie Munger offered this vision of financial justice in a bailout era:

We “shouldn’t be bitching about a little bailout” of the banks, Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Vice Chairman Charles Munger told students at the University of Michigan on Sept. 14. . . . Munger feels the bank bailouts were “required to save your civilization.” He suggested that burdening the economy with bank failures would have results similar to the economic collapse in Germany after World War I and led to the rise of Adolf Hitler. Meanwhile, “the culture dies” if you bail out individuals. People in economic distress should “suck it up and cope.”

Via Yves Smith & Mother Jones magazine, there are reports that Florida courts are doing their best to make Munger’s vision a reality. According to an account of one judge’s speech to his court:

[He] says that if the bank is foreclosing, he’s not going to consider any evidence that the foreclosure is in error (servicing errors, plaintiff can’t provide proof it owns the note, which means it might not be the right party and procedurally, means it lacks standing to take action). He says he has already heard everything, there is a lot of unemployment in the area; he is going to schedule a court date, but that is merely a deadline for negotiation. In other words, he makes it abundantly clear he has no interest in hearing evidence. When he gets to seeing a defendant after his speech to the court, he rubber stamps what the bank wants without even considering the evidence. And apparently his entire day went like that.

Citing other sources, Smith says “There is actually much more of the same, multiple instances with particulars, with the judge clearly operating from the presumption that the borrowers were all deadbeats and the sale would go forward.” In other words, “suck it up and cope.” The “sanctity of contract” is for AIG (and perhaps other counterparties of Goldman, which Munger’s firm has a big stake in)—not for you.

PS: Now is as good a time as ever to support the University of Miami’s foreclosure defense group.

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A Tale of Two Gay Marriage Litigations: To Stay or Not to Stay?

While Perry and the Prop 8 litigation has been getting most of the attention in the media and blogosphere, the Massachusetts District court decisions in Gill v OPM and Massachusetts v. Dep’t of Health & Human Services striking down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act  are in some ways the more interesting (and if upheld more meaningful) decisions.  Today, though, I noticed reporting that Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) the Massachusetts-based gay rights group that ligated Gill among many other major LGBT rights cases (including the MA gay marriage case, Goodrich) had agreed to stay the ruling while the DOJ decided whether to take an appeal.  I thought this was an interesting contrast to Boies and Olson’s decision to fight the stay of Perry at each stage.  Of course there are a number of legal differences between the cases — in the press release GLAD points to not wanting to have to pay back benefits if the decision is overturned and  there is a possibility that the Obama administration may relent in its opposition to the suit — but I find the strategic/political perspective even more intriguing here.  Would Olson and Boies have been perceived to have let down their backers if they did not fight the stay, whereas as more institutional repeat player like GLAD has already built up significant goodwill?  Are there good strategic reasons why the Perry litigators want to try and accelerate their litigation while the Gill ones want to maintain the typical pace, or is this instead a matter of the litigators’ own interests?  Are Boies and Olson more confident of a good reception than the Gill lawyers at the Supreme Court now, and are they right to be?  Which case is the one someone supportive of these efforts should want to see get to the cert stage first?  How does the standing to appeal issue in Perry fit in to the calculation?  Part of it may also just be a reflection of the slowness of the 9th Circuit’s typical docket as compared to the lithe 1st Circuit, such that even with the stay acceleration in Perry the Gill case gets resolved first.  Lots of questions and few answers, but I thought others might have interesting thoughts…