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Category: Civil Procedure

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News for Civil Procedure Fans

During the fall semester, my civil procedure class covers personal jurisdiction. While most personal jurisdiction cases tend towards the staid, Calder v. Jones provides some possibility for fun. As my comrades in civil-procedure arms will know, the case involves a defamation suit brought by Shirley Jones, the mother from the Partridge Family. Every semester, this connection has great promise to generate some good cheer about the case, but of late I have been disappointed. This year, I desperately asked: “Don’t you remember the Music Man? or the Partridge Family?” (I thought about singing “I think I love you” but thankfully I ignored that foolish impulse). All I got was blank stares, a clear sign that I am helplessly unhip. My disappointment, however, may come to an end: NBC has just announced plans to reinvent the Partridge Family for prime-time television. Now, I just have to hope that my future students tune in. Amidst all of terrible news about the economy, this may lift spirits, even momentarily for civil procedure fans.

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GMAC v. HTFC: Update on the World’s Worst Deposition

I’ve blogged before about GMAC v. HTFC, criticizing Judge Robreno’s contempt ruling against attorney Joseph Ziccardi:

The big picture question here is the degree to which attorneys should be punished for failing to affirmatively prevent their clients’ incivility. Some punishment of this client is certainly warranted. But punishing the “mild-mannered” solo practitioner attorney as if he were equally culpable goes too far. I hope that the Court walks it back a bit.

Guess Judge Robreno isn’t a reader of the blog. On August 13, he issued a memorandum and opinion denying the motion to reconsider his judgment. (Read Part I and Part II). The gist, putting aside the high bar for reconsideration & the procedural objections, is that the Court found it appropriate to fine Ziccardi $30K for failing to stop his client from being obstructive at the deposition, even while accepting that he had vigorously counseled his client “offline” to behave. Ziccardi’s silence during the deposition was, per se, sanctionable.

Appellate standards for review of discovery orders being what they are, I guess that Ziccardi won’t prosecute an appeal, but this decision strikes me as overreaching.

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Monster Cases

ApocalypseStSeverFol148vHorsesWithHeadsOfLions2.jpgHere’s a challenge: what’s the oldest active litigation pending in the federal district courts? I’m coding dockets (as always) and I came across a monster in the Southern District of Ohio that has been pending since 1991 (it’s a CERCLA case relating to the United Scrap Lead site located in Troy Ohio). The government continues, it seems, to seek pockets to pay cleanup costs, seventeen years into the case.

Can you beat that?

(Image Source, Wikicommons, Folio 148v of the Apocalypse of St. Sever (St. Sever Beatus), The horses with heads of lions.)

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Oddities from Docketland

I’m hip deep in my latest docketology project, which, on my end, involves organizing lots of RAs who read many dockets and code them. Apart from the $10/hr wage, and the occasional lunch, the only thing my RA team gets in return for spending too much time on this tedious task is the chance to see a few small nuggets of random nuttiness emerging from the glorious mess that is our litigation system. Take, for example, this claim:

“TRAVEL BARGAINS USA is reasonably assumed to have a Corporate Charter or otherwise a Mission Statement which does not include as part of its ordinary Charter the act of threatening such other business entities as Plaintiff A VACATION 4 YOU, by, for example, stating that You’re up shits creek because if you do not honor the certificates, or refund our money in full on the distributorship, we WILL put you out of business. It will only take a few complaints from people. You started this war, and now you have to deal with ME! “

Of course, such nutbar pleading rarely survives judicial scrutiny. It’s thus a surprise to see one particular set of phrases repeated in over a dozen totally distinct, veil piercing cases:

“Any character assassination will activate Instrumentality Rule and pierce the corporate veil of the United States and all agencies,”

and

“All testimony will be without immunity – piercing the corporate veil and Instrumentality Rule.”

images.jpgMy RAs and I have tracked this language, which sometimes appears in a counterclaim and sometimes in the complaint, to The Court Watcher’s document page, which lists a “counter-claim“. That document, in turn, appears to suggest that filers ought to check to see if the other side has violated any particular provisions of the declaration of independance as a way to frame their pleading. I particularly like the following form paragraph:

“Was there a treaty or alliance or letter of Marque and reprisal imposed against you by the public servant? __ Yes __ No Explain”

A letter of marque? Avast mateys!

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Tribal Court Jurisdiction (II)

Yesterday I argued that Plains Commerce Bank has a number of flaws. Today I want to discuss the fundamental uniqueness of tribal court jurisdiction in the American system. (As a caveat, the following analysis is intentionally brief and leaves out much of the complexity of the field to keep it relatively generally accessible.)

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Tribal Court Jurisdiction

Thanks to Dan and the rest of the Concurring Opinions staff for having me here this month. I’ve been reading the blog since its inception and I’m thrilled to get the chance to be a part of it.

I am a little late to the party, but I thought I would join in the chorus of commentary on last week’s developments in the Supreme Court. I’m talking, of course, about Plains Commerce Bank v. Long Family Land & Cattle Co., the Court’s most recent foray into the jurisdiction of tribal courts, one of my research areas. (I think the court might have decided another case as well).

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Sanctioned Lawyer Throws Himself on the Mercy of the Court

[Updated and bumped, for update see below]

Readers may recall the case of GMAC Bank v. HTFC Corp. GMAC is infamous because of an opinion by E.D.Pa. Judge Robreno discussing the deposition of HTFC CEO Aaron Wider, in which Wider profanely abused plaintiff’s counsel Robert Bodzin. If you need to see it, and are in environment where lots of cursing isn’t going to get you in trouble, hit play and shudder at the decline of civility in American life:

In his opinion, Robreno also sanctioned Wider’s attorney Joseph Ziccardi for failing to restrain his client and even (allegedly) snickering at the bad conduct. Ziccardi was stripped of his pro hoc admission, fined $29,000 (equally with his client) and referred to the Bar.

Ziccardi has filed a motion for reconsideration. I found it quite persuasive. In the memorandum in support of the motion, and the reply, Ziccardi provides evidence that he didn’t snicker at Wider’s profane conduct but instead tried to stop it off the record. The evidence was purportedly not submitted earlier because Ziccardi was still representing Wider and lacked notice that the Court was considering sanctioning him under the discovery rules as a co-offender. Ziccardi has provided affidavits from (among others) himself and Wider. The latter in particular is a must read. Wider falls on his sword for his former lawyer, stating that Ziccardi had repeatedly cautioned him not to act out and worked to prevent his outbursts behind the scenes. (Oddly, based on this document, I’m not sure that anyone is currently representing Wider. The affidavit is very much not in his interest, but sounds like it was a lawyer-generated document. Ziccardi’s conflict is quite acute at this point, as he realizes, and I wonder how he handled that communication.)

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Docketology in Print

I’m happy to point out that my article, Docketology, District Courts and Doctrine, is now in print in Volume 85 of the Washington University Law Review. You can find previous discussion of the piece on this blog, starting here. The final version is significantly improved over the drafts, so I hope you’ll check it out. If anyone is motivated by the article to try some dockets research, let me know know, and I will tell you all the ways I’ve messed it up in the past!

Coming next: Docketology, Part II.

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Calder and World-Wide and Shoe, Oh My!

Betty-boop-opening-title.jpg

If, like me, you are teaching the jurisdictional portion of Civil Procedure this semester, and if, like me, your students are eager for cases that relate to the age of the internet (for me, the second most popular request after “more hypotheticals”), here’s some candy for you: Dudnikov v. Chalk & Vermilion Fine Arts. In a clearly-written opinion, the 10th Circuit applies all of our old friends, from International Shoe to World-Wide Volkswagen, from Burger King to Calder (even a mention of Keeton!) to an eBay dispute.

So here’s what happens: Ms. Dudnikov and her husband run a “small and unincorporated” business selling fabric on eBay from their home in Colorado; their Colorado location is clear from their eBay auction page. One type of fabric uses a design by Erte, a 20th century artist, but replaces the elegant character in the design with Betty Boop and her dog, Pudgy. Chalk & Vermilion (a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Connecticut) is the American agent of a British corporation that owns the copyright to Erte’s works. Chalk decides that this fabric infringes their copyright, and instead of playing nice and sending Dudnikov a cease and desist letter, it files a “notice of claimed infringement” or NOCI with eBay (in California), which terminates the fabric auction and puts a “black mark” on Dudnikov’s eBay record (which until now has enjoyed a 99.9% satisfaction rating). Dudnikov offers to remove the offending fabric if Chalk pulls the NOCI; Chalk refuses and notifies Dudnikov that it plans to file suit in federal court with in 10 days to prevent the fabric auction from being reinstated. Not so fast — in the meantime, Dudnikov and her husband file suit against Chalk and its British counterpart in Colorado federal court, seeking a declaratory judgment and an injunction against interference with future fabric sales. You can see where this is all going — defendants enter a special appearance and move to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. And that’s where the fun begins! Plenty of good times to go around.

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On Remand from the U.S. Supreme Court, the Oregon Supreme Court Reinstates $75.9 Million Punitive Damages Award

philip morris.jpgHoward Bashman has a nice summary of why the Oregon Supreme Court was able to reinstate $75.9 million in punitive damages against Philip Morris. In short, Philip Morris had two claims on appeal. One rested on a procedural due process claim “asserting that a defendant’s due process rights are violated if a jury assesses punitive damages to punish a defendant for having caused harm to persons other than the plaintiff.” The other substantive due process claim argued “that the punitive damages award was unconstitutionally excessive because, among other reasons, it was nearly 100 times larger than the award of compensatory damages.” The Supreme Court ruled only on the procedural due process claim and that is why Oregon could reinstate the damages.

Specifically, Philip Morris used jury instructions that were objectionable. As Bashman explains, “Under Oregon law, a party has no right to have a trial court deliver its proposed jury instruction unless the instruction is entirely unobjectionable.” Here, the Oregon court found other errors and so reinstated the claim. Bashman goes into whether Philip Morris will have a good chance of another Supreme Court case on the substantive claim. His analysis makes sense but I leave it to others to go into that aspect of Supreme Court litigation tactics.

His last point is the one that may be of most use to attorneys “the reason Philip Morris failed to benefit from the U.S. Supreme Court’s punitive damages ruling in its favor in this very case is that the trial lawyers for Philip Morris tried to slant their proposed punitive damages instruction too far in the defendant’s favor.”