Review of Remand Orders: One Man’s Obsession

And I mean obsession in a good way. I never thought I’d get out-geeked on the subject of jurisdiction, and especially not on the subject of appellate jurisdiction, but I think Jones Day partner Mark Herrmann pulled it off today at his Drug & Device Law blog. In a long joint post there regarding when an appellate court may review an order remanding a case back to the state court from which it was removed, Herrmann and his blog partner Jim Beck of Dechert LLP not only chronicle the history of Supreme Court jurisprudence in this area and propose sensible reform, they start their discussion by citing Herrmann’s 22-year-old law review article on the subject as evidence that he was “obsessessed with this question [of when review is allowed].” I’ve described myself as a jurisdictional “geek” plenty of times, but never as “obsessed”!

Substantively, the post is remarkably thorough and fun to read. (Herrman’s obsession isn’t the only humorous point.) It concludes with interesting detail on the most recent Supreme Court decision and a discussion of practical consequences.

(For Ninth Circuit practitioners, it may be interesting to note that the trigger for Herrmann’s and Beck’s post was last month’s Supreme Court decision in Carlsbad Technology, Inc. v. HIF Bio, Inc., 556 U.S. __ (2009). Carlsbad came from the Federal Circuit, which had split from several others, including the Ninth, to hold that 28 USC § 1447(d) precludes appellate review of a remand order based on the district court’s discretionary decision under 28 USC § 1367(c) not to assert supplemental jurisdiction over state claims. The Supreme Court’s reversal vindicates the Ninth Circuit’s wisdom (not to mention adherence to stare decisis) when it declined the invitation to reconsider its position in last year’s California Dept. of Water v. Powerex ___ F.3d ___ (9th Cir. 2008). [I’ll update that cite for you later when I have access to the reporters.] By the time of the California Dept. of Water case, the rule was well-established in the Ninth Circuit that review was available by petition for writ of mandate. However, the Ninth was forced by intervening Supreme Court authority to find that review is available by appeal. My coverage of Powerex is here.)

Lawyers Must Eat — Getting Your Attorney Fees on Appeal

You’d be hard pressed to find a better overview of federal appellate review of attorney fee awards than Moreno v. City of Sacramento, case no. 06-15021 (9th Cir. .July 28, 2008). Judge Kozinski’s analysis begins with the truism “lawyers must eat,” then goes on to analyze the district court’s attorney fee award under 42 U.S.C.§ 1988, and thus looks at the issue from the perspective of the policies underlying attorney fee awards in civil rights cases.

Of particular interest is the section on fees for the appeal. Here’s a two-question quiz.

Do you know the proper forum for making your application for fees on appeal? If you said the court of appeals, you’re wrong! Fee applications are brought in the district court after remand.

You probably already know that the standard of review on a fee award is abuse of discretion. Is it any different when reviewing an award for fees on appeal? Well, yes and no. The award is still reviewed for abuse of discretion but the court of appeals will “look more closely” at fee awards involving appeals. Call it an enhanced review for abuse of discretion, if you will.

The district court trimmed the appellate fees by a third! But it did so without offering a good explanation . . . a problem that pervaded its fee determination. It’s interesting to see how Judge Kozinski analyzes the time and fees on appeal versus the time and fees for a summary judgment motion in the case:

The district court noted that plaintiff’s counsel spent twice as long on the appeal than on the summary judgment, but this does not mean the additional time spent on appeal was unjustified; after all, plaintiff lost claims at summary judgment that he won on appeal. More fundamentally, preparing summary judgment motions and appeals are not commensurate tasks, though they have some elements in common. What matters is whether spending more time winning on appeal than losing on summary judgment was an imprudent use of hours. The district court points to nothing to support the conclusion that it was.

Then there is the discussion of the “cost effectiveness of various law firm models” for staffing cases, and which personnel get assigned which tasks at which rates. As I read through it, I thought, “All this concern over hourly rates and who did what! What would the court do if the firm charged a flat fee and didn’t keep track of anyone’s hours?”

I haven’t seen a fee decision based on a flat fee without time records. But the courts still appear to be in love with the “lodestar” system: reasonable hourly rate times reasonable time expended. Which is why I tend to keep time records even when I charge a flat fee.

Now I’m really curious. If anyone knows of a case analyzing the propriety of a fee award based on a flat fee, please send me the cite.

UPDATE (8/7/08): California Attorney’s Fees examines some of the standards employed by the Moreno court to fees incurred prior to appeal, notes the significance of the case, and responds to my query about flat fees.

Appealing a Remand Order, and Intra-Circuit Stare Decisis

When I was in BigLaw, removing a case to federal court seemed a virtually automatic response to any suit that we believed implicated federal jurisdiction. If the federal district court refuses to exercise supplemental jurisdiction and remands the case back to the state court, how do you contest that ruling?

That was the question facing the court in California Dept. of Water v. Powerex, case no. 06-15285 (9th Cir. July 22, 2008), and the answer required it to answer two jurisdictional questions. First, does 28 USC §1447(d) preclude the court from exercising jurisdiction to review the remand order in any fashion? If not, then what is the method by which the order may be reviewed: appeal or writ of mandamus?

Powerex removed to federal court, claiming that the case arose under federal law. The district court denied DWR’s motion to remand and dismissed, finding that the case was within the sole jurisdiction of the Federal Enerergy Regulatory Commission. DWR amended its complaint to request only declaratory relief in order to take the case outside FERC’s jurisdiction and renewed its motion to remand. The district court held that the amended complaint raised only state law contract issues, declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction, and remanded the case to state court. Powerex appealed, asserting that the complaint still had claims that arise under federal law.

Section 1447(d) appears to deny review of any remand order unless removed under 28 USC §1443 [applicable to certain civil rights cases]. The court notes, however, that section 1447 has been held to prohibit review only of remand orders based on grounds specified in section 1447(c); remands based on other grounds may be reviewed.

That obstacle cleared, the court turned to the question of whether review is by writ or appeal. Here, the court departs from its prior line of rulings, which held that review was by way of writ, because the intervening SCOTUS case of Quackenbush v. Allstate Insurance Co. (1996) 517 U.S. 706, undercut the rationale of the Ninth Circuit’s prior cases. Remand orders resulting from a refusal to exercise supplemental jurisdiction are reviewable by appeal.

Besides a pretty good discussion about the scope of section 1447(d), DWR v. Powerex is worth reading for its explanation of intra-circuit stare decisis; that is, when can a panel depart from circuit precedent that has not been overruled by an en banc decision in the circuit?

Everyone Got It Wrong on the Deadline to Appeal

It is a critical question, and one that can occasionally confound: what is the deadline to appeal? 

In Hearns v. San Bernardino Police Department, case no 05-56214 (9th Cir. July 1, 2008), neither the parties nor the trial court got it right. Believing his deadline to appeal an order dismissing his compaint had already passed, Plaintiff filed a Rule 60(b)(6) motion for relief from the order.  The district court denied the motion, but granted a 10-day extension of time to appeal.  After plaintiff appealed, defendants cross-appealed the order granting the extension.

Clearly, all of the parties and the district court thought that the extension was necessary.

It wasn’t! Plaintiff’s appeal was timely even without the extension, and the Ninth therefore dismisses the cross-appeal as moot.

Determining the deadline to appeal is the very first thing I do when talking to a client — even before I determine whether the order is appealable — because the consequences of missing it are so severe.  This is especially important in California state court, where the deadline is jurisdictional.  This is why readers who click on the “Need a Lawyer on Appeal?” link at the top right of this blog are directed to a page with big, bold, capital, red letters near the top telling them to “act fast!”

UPDATE (7/1/08): As if to prove my point, the Third District Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal yesterday because the notice of appeal was untimely.  See California Appellate Law for details.

California Attorney Fee Recovery Preempted by ADA – and a Note on Missed Issues

It’s quite common for plaintiffs to sue under similar state and federal provisions.  The disabled plaintiffs who sued under both the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the California Disabled Persons Act in Hubbard v. Sobreck LLC, case no. 06-56870 (9th Cir. June 27, 2008) did themselves a favor by doing so, as the court finds that the prevailing defendant’s right to attorney fees under the CDPA is preempted by the more stringent fee provision in the ADA.

The ADA fee provision makes fees discretionary, but that has led to a practice of awarding fees to defendants only where the plaintiff’s case is frivolous.  The CDPA, on the other hand, makes fees recoverable by the “prevailing party.”  Since liability is coextensive – a violation of the ADA is a violation of the CDPA  –  the   federal provision wins out.

From an appellate angle, the interesting thing about the case is that the court addressed the preemption issue even though it was not raised in the district court.  Because it is an issue of law, the Ninth Circuit had discretion to consider the issue for the first time on appeal.

More interesting yet, this wasn’t the first time a district court missed the issue.  The defendants cited two district court opinions that awarded fees to prevailing defendants sued under both the ADA and the CDPA, but the Ninth cites a major flaw in both of them: “Neither of these cases, however, considered the issue of preemption.”  The Ninth finds a third district court decision consistent with its own, but even that decision failed to address preemption.

I suppose it’s easy to say that at least one of the lawyers or judges in these three cases should have seen and dealt with the preemption issue.  But in the the throes of litigation, the parties and the court sometimes miss an issue that later seems obvious in hindsight.  That can be dangerous, as the appellate court won’t always be able or inclined to address the missed issue.

Order Removing Trustee in Ongoing Bankruptcy Proceeding is Appealable

As my first substantive post on this blog pointed out, determining whether a bankruptcy order is appealable can be tricky.  28 U.S.C. § 158(d) gives the Courts of Appeals jurisdiction over appeals from “final decisions, judgments, orders, and decrees entered” either by the district courts or the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel.

In In re AFI Holding, Inc., case no. 06-56621 (9th Cir. June 17, 2008), the Ninth faces for the first time the issue of whether an order removing a trustee in an ongoing bankruptcy case is appealable, and, joining several other circuits, concludes that it is because it conclusively resolves a “discrete issue”:

Although the bankruptcy proceedings may continue, and here, in fact they have, the removal order resolves and seriously affects the substantive rights of the parties to a disinterested trustee and finally determines the discrete issue to which it is addressed—whether the bankruptcy court’s finding of a lack of disinterestedness was cause for the trustee’s removal under [11 U.S.C.]§ 324

See my earlier post for reference to a case that gives excellent guidance for evaluating the language of an order and the procedural posture of the bankruptcy case as aids in determining appealability.

Waiver of Appeal Rights in Plea Agreements

Plea agreements often waive the right to appeal, but they aren’t always what they seem, especially when it comes to how they define the scope of the waiver. For a lesson in how to determine whether a defendant has waived the right to bring a particular appeal, check out United States v. Cope, case no. 06-50441 (9th Cir. June 4, 2008).

Cope pled guilty to a single count of possession of child pornography and was sentenced to 120 months imprisonment and lifetime supervised release. His plea agreement stated that he waived appeal of his sentence so long as it met three criteria. On appeal, he challenged the length of his supervised release

The court walks you right through the steps, applying these rules:

  • The waiver of a statutory right to appeal is reviewed de novo.
  • A knowing and voluntary waiver of statutory rights to appeal a sentence is valid.
  • The scope of a waiver in a plea agreement is subject to the same rules of interpretation as used for any other contract (at least, “for the most part”).
  • Any ambiguity will be construed against the drafter (usually, the government).

It’s the last of these that allows Cope to reach the merits of his challenge to the length of his supervised release.  Because part of the language defining the scope of Cope’s waiver – which waived appeal of any sentence “within or below the range corresponding to the determined total offense level and criminal history category” – defines a non-appealable sentence in terms of criteria that apply only to the term of imprisonment, and not to the term of the supervised release, the court finds the provision ambiguous and construes it against the government:

As drafted, however, this provision cannot sensibly be applied to a term of supervised release. Under the Sentencing Guidelines, the offense level and criminal history category do not control the term of supervised release, as they do the term of imprisonment. Rather, the type of offense determines the length of the Guidelines range for the term of supervised release. See U.S.S.G. § 5D1.2(a) (Nov. 2002) (specifying supervised release range for Class C felonies); 18 U.S.C. § 3559(a)(3) (Class C felony defined as a crime with a maximum term of imprisonment between 10 and 25 years); 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(b)(2) (2003) (maximum term for Cope’s crime is 20 years). This ambiguity in the waiver provision makes it impossible for us to determine whether the prerequisites for waiver have been met with regard to Cope’s term of supervised release. Because we “steadfastly” apply the rule that “any lack of clarity” in a plea agreement should be construed against the government as drafter, [citation], we hold that this ambiguity in the waiver provision permits Cope to appeal the length of his term of supervised release.

It does Cope little good in the end, however.  While the court entertains his appeal, it affirms the lifetime supervised release.

Successive or Amended Habeas Petition?

Sometimes, it’s nice to be pro se. I’m not sure the pro se habeas petitioner in Woods v. Carey, case no. 05-55302 (May 13, 2008) would have received the same relief if represented by counsel when he filed a second habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 while his first was pending in the district court. Both petitions asserted deprivation of rights in connection with his parole eligibility and procedures, and the district court dismissed the second petition as an impermissible “successive” petition. The court of appeals reverses with instructions to contstrue the later petition as a motion for leave to amend the original petition.

The Ninth first lays out the statutory scheme applicable to federal habeas petitions by state prisoners:

“Generally, a new petition is ‘second or successive’ if it raises claims that were or could have been adjudicated on their merits in an earlier petition.” Cooper v. Calderon, 274 F.3d 1270, 1273 (9th Cir. 2001). The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”) implemented a gatekeeper function, requiring that successive § 2254 petitions be dismissed unless they meet one of the exceptions outlined in 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(2). Under that provision, a successive application is permissible only if it rests on a new rule of constitutional law, facts that were previously unavailable, or facts that would be sufficient to show constitutional error in the petitioner’s conviction. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(2). Even if a petitioner can demonstrate that he qualifies for one of these exceptions, he must seek authorization from the court of appeals before filing his new petition with the district court. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(3).

Woods never obtained authorization for the second petition, but argued that the Ninth should adopt the rule in the Second Circuit, which construes subsequent petitions filed while one or more are still pending as motions for leave to amend the original petition. The Second adopted the rule in part because of the “tension between the liberal amendment policy embodied in Fed. R. Civ. P. 15 . . . and the AEDPA’s restrictions on bringing successive collateral attacks to criminal conviction.” The Second reconciled that tension in favor of treating the later petition as a motion to amend — even where the earlier petitions were on appeal when the latest was filed — because it saw the risk of abuse as minimal, since amendment is subject to the district court’s discretion, putting it in a position to thwart abusive tactics.

The Ninth finds this rationale particularly persuasive as to pro se petitioners:

The Second Circuit’s logic applies with special force in the context of pro se litigants. “A document filed pro se is ‘to be liberally construed,’ and a ‘pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.’ ” [Citations.]. If Woods had the benefit of counsel at the time he filed the instant petition, that counsel certainly would have filed the 2004 claims as an amendment to the 2003 petition. Accordingly, we follow the persuasive reasoning of the Second Circuit[.]

(Emphasis added.)

This explanation leaves open the possibility that the Ninth might not be so generous in cases of represented petitioners, though I think it should be (and I am betting that the Second Circuit petitioners were represented, which would also support similar treatment for represented petitioners). The tension between liberality of amendment and the restrictions in the AEDPA on successive petitiones exists regardless of whether the petitioner is represented or not. Still, I hope the court is correct that attorneys will “certainly” file additional claims as amendments, rather than risk exploitation of the apparent loophole left by the Ninth’s logic in Woods.

Ninth Circuit Amends Garcia on Appellate Jurisdiction

According to Ninth Circuit Blog, the Ninth Circuit “came to its jurisdictional senses” with its amended opinion in U.S. v. Garcia, case no. 05-30356 (9th Cir. Nov. 19, 2007, amended Apr. 17, 2008). While I might have said that a little more gently, I agree with the sentiment.

I covered the relevant holding regarding appellate jurisdiction in my original coverage:

The two defendants challenging their sentences in this case claimed that the trial court erred even though the sentences imposed were within the ranges stipulated in their respective plea agreements made under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C). Both defendants contended that the trial court’s miscalculation under the sentencing guidelines and its failure to consider all section 3553 factors led it to impose higher sentences than it otherwise should have, and thus the sentences, even though they were within the ranges stipulated in the plea agreements, were “in violation of law,” which would make them appealable under Title 18 United States Code section 3742(a)(1).

The Ninth disagrees, holding that even if the trial court miscalculated the guidelines or erred in applying section 3553, section 3742 does not confer appellate jurisdiction over an appeal from a sentence that is within the range stipulated in a Rule 11 plea agreement. The court points out that the agreements permitted the trial court “full discretion to impose a sentence” within the stipulated range, and thus the defendants received the benefit of their bargains regardless of where in that range they were sentenced.

The Ninth has previously held that a sentence within the statutory guidelines may be reviewed if it is challenged as “unreasonable” under application of section 3553 factors. However, the court refuses to apply the same rule to sentences within the stipulated guidelines of a plea agreement, effectively holding that section 3553 does not apply to stipulated sentencing ranges, at least where the plea agreement does not explicitly require it.

The amended opinion holds that the court has jurisdiction to hear the appeal because a Rule 11 plea in itself deprive the court of appeals of jurisdiction and the defendants did not explicitly waive their appeal rights in their plea agreements.

Preserve Your Sentencing Objections

In United States v. Grissom, case no. 06-10688 (9th Cir. Apr. 15, 2008), the Ninth Circuit reviews what it calls “novel circumstances” and looks beyond the form of a sentencing objection to determine whether the government had preserved the issue for appeal. Whether you view the analysis as a more lenient test or simply the application of the old test in new circumstances, it seems likely to lead to more sentencing appeals.

Grissom pled guilty to one drug distribution count involving 49 grams of cocaine base in exchange for dismissal of the remaining two counts, which involved a total of 56 grams of cocaine base. The government contended that the trial court erred by not including the drug quantities from the dismissed counts in the calculation of the base offense level.

The district judge announced his reasoning for imposing an 87-month sentence —  including her decision not to include the drug quantities from the dismissed counts — and asked if there was any legal cause why sentence should not be imposed. Then:

The government responded, “No, your honor. I would simply note the government’s objection on the record.” At that point, the court stated, “I know. You know what you can do with that. Take it to appellate court, if that’s what you want to do. I don’t think it’s worth it myself, but that’s something you have to decide.”

Ordinarily, to preserve a sentencing objection for appeal, it “must have a specific substantive basis” in order to apprise the district court of the specific nature of the objection for its due consideration. Here’s the dilemma faced by the Ninth:

But what happens when the district court indicates that it has understood, and rejected, the substance of a party’s objection? This case presents the issue of forfeiture in novel circumstances. Neither party disputes that the government objected to the sentence imposed on Grissom. Before the government articulated a basis for its objection, however, the district court stated “I know[,]” and the government pursued the matter no further. The government now contends that its own general objection, coupled with the district court’s terse statement, reflects that the district court was fully aware of the government’s legal position regarding relevant conduct.

It turns out to be not such a dilemma after all, as the court looks past the facially deficient objection to find that the government had made its position plain throughout the sentencing process:

Despite the seeming facial inadequacy of the objection, we agree with the government that where the district court indicates that it understands the basis for the objection and that further argument is not desired, and the record reflects this understanding, a general objection may suffice to preserve an issue for appeal. As the government argues, the purpose of a specific objection is to allow for meaningful review by the district court and, if necessary, the appellate panel. Santiago, 466 F.3d at 803. Thus, the court’s reassurance that it “know[s]” the substance of a party’s complaint helps to allay concerns about the ability of the district court to address it. Cf. United States v. Pineiro, 470 F.3d 200, 204-05 (5th Cir. 2006) (concluding that the government preserved its objection to recalculating the defendant’s sentence by making statements throughout the sentencing hearing arguing that the prior calculations were still appropriate); United States v. Curry, 461 F.3d 452, 459 (4th Cir. 2006) (excusing the government’s failure to object at the end of the sentencing colloquy where the government argued vigorously throughout the hearing, such that it “made unmistakably clear its position”).

Reviewing the record, we are satisfied that the district court was indeed fully aware of the government’s position regarding the district court’s calculation of relevant conduct. First, the government consistently advanced its view that quantities of crack cocaine from the dismissed counts of the indictment should count for sentencing purposes. The plea agreement, PSR, and both parties’ sentencing memoranda all calculated Grissom’s offense level based on the total amount, 105 grams, rather than the 49 grams charged in the count of conviction. Neither party challenged this calculation at the sentencing hearing. Second, the district court’s comments indicate an awareness that its decision not to consider the amount from the dismissed counts produced the government’s objection. After commenting that determining the calculation based on 105 grams would not “amount to dismissing the other two [counts] because [the government would] still . . . count them out anyway[,]” the district court changed the base offense level to “reflect[ ] the 49 grams.” In short, the district court knew it was deviating from a calculation based on the total amount. Responding to the government’s objection, the district court challenged the government to “take it to appellate court, if that’s what you want to do.” The district court’s challenge to the government to appeal strongly suggests the district court recognized and disagreed with the claimed error. Therefore, we hold that the government’s objection was sufficient under the circumstances to preserve its objection to the district court’s calculation of Grissom’s sentence.

Bottom line: what matters is not so much the actual presentation of the objection, but whether the record discloses that the district court was well-enough advised of the nature of the objection that it could give it due consideration.

En Bancs on the Upswing under Chief Judge Kozinski

Alex KozinskiImage from Wikipedia

In yesterday’s Daily Journal, Staff Reporter John Roemer has a front-page article about an apparent surge in en banc rehearings granted by the Ninth Circuit since Alex Kozinski became Chief Judge. (Full disclosure: yours truly is quoted in the article.)

Are the two phenomena related? Not according to Judge Kozinski, whom the article quotes:

“I’ve always been more en banc friendly than many of my colleagues,” he wrote in the e-mail. “But I frankly doubt that my being chief judge will have any effect on the process. I’ve had my share of successes as well as failures when calling for en banc review.

“There are not – and should not be – extra points for being chief judge. It is not a bully pulpit, nor is it a platform for proliferation of my substantive views .”

Roemer provides interesting background on Judge Kozinski’s history of fervent advocacy for en banc review, including a colorful description of his frequent dissents from orders denying rehearing en banc as “prose hand grenades lobbed to blast the court away from the status quo.” I think Judge Kozinski would approve.

It seems possible, at least, that the judges may be more willing to take on en banc rehearings since last July, when it reverted to 11-member en banc panels after a brief experiment with 15-member panels. That would make a greater number of en bancs more manageable. But I don’t have any information on whether en bancs went down during the roughly 18 months they required 15-member panels, so I have no idea if the size of the panel is affecting the judges’ thinking.

For anyone considering petitioning for rehearing en banc, the article contains some sobering numbers: 1,097 petitions for rehearing en banc were filed in 2007, and through November, only 18 had been granted. That’s less than 2%.

By the way, Judge Kozinski is the subject of the cover article in April’s California Lawyer.

Appealing from an Order of Dismissal

An order dismissing a complaint is not a “final decision,” so such an order is generally not appealable under 28 USC § 1291. A dismissal order may be appealable, however, when it appears that the district court intended the order to dispose of the action.

What to make of the district court’s intent when its order dismissing a complaint does not specify whether or not leave to amend is granted? In Mendiondo v. Centinela Hospital, case no. 06-55981 (9th Cir. Apr. 1, 2008), the Ninth Circuit notes that failure to address amendment means that the court denied leave to amend. Accordingly, it infers that the district court intended the order to finally dispose of the action, and that it has jurisdiction over an appeal from the order under section 1291.

Almost En Banc

There’s a very unusual course of events leading up to the innocuous order dismissing the appeal in Foulon v. Klayman & Toskes, case no. 05-35383 (9th Cir. Mar. 24, 2008). For details on this strange tale of the unrequested en banc hearing that almost was (yes, you read that right), check out California Appellate Report, where Professor Martin calls what happened “sufficiently rare that it took me quite a while to figure out even what happened.” Then see why Appellate Law & Practice refers to at least one step in the procedure as “judicial activism.”

Is Summary Judgment Unconstitutional?

That’s surely a heretical thought to many. And not one that would have popped into my head had reader Joe Norman not commented on my post regarding new trial motions following summary judgment by sending a link to an article by University of Cincinnati College of Law professor Suja Thomas entitled “Why Summary Judgment is Unconstitutional.” Before you laugh off that idea, you ought to read the abstract at that link. An excerpt:

While other scholars question the use of summary judgment in certain types of cases (for example, civil rights cases), all scholars and judges assume away a critical question: whether summary judgment is constitutional. The conventional wisdom is that the Supreme Court settled the issue a century ago in Fidelity & Deposit Co. v. United States. But a review of that case reveals that the conventional wisdom is wrong: the constitutionality of summary judgment has never been resolved by the Supreme Court. This Essay is the first to examine the question and takes the seemingly heretical position that summary judgment is unconstitutional. The question is governed by the Seventh Amendment which provides that “[i]n Suits at common law, . . . the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.”

Odds are slim that I can read the article any time soon, so if anyone reads it, I’d sure be interested in your comments, which I encourage you to leave on this post.

New Trial Motions after Summary Judgment

Can you move for a new trial when your case was disposed of by summary judgment?  This question undoubtedly causes some degree of cognitive dissonance in many lawyers: a new trial when there was no trial?

But the answer is “yes.”

A reminder comes in the form of Doe v. United Airlines, case no. B192865 (2d Dist. Mar. 20, 2008).  After United successfully moved for summary judgment, Doe moved for a new trial on the ground of “newly discovered evidence” that purportedly raised a triable issue of fact precluding summary judgment.

Not that it ultimately did her any good.  The court of appeal holds that the trial court abused its discretion in granting the new trial motion and affirms on plaintiff’s protective cross-appeal from the grant of summary judgment.

There are lots of post-trial and appellate tidbits in this case.  Nothing new, just well-established principles for which the case provides a reminder.  I’ll probably be putting up separate posts on them (or consolidate them into a new post) in the next few days.

Scope of Remand Limits District Court Authority

In United States v. Davis, case no. 06-10527 (9th Cir. Mar. 19, 2008), we have a case where the district court either didn’t realize its limitations or just didn’t read the mandate right.  Whatever the cause, this case provides a succinct and to-the-point reminder of the point made in the title of this post.

The Ninth originally remanded with instructions to strike a conviction and sentence on count four and for the court to determine if it would have imposed the same sentence if it had known that the sentencing guidelines were advisory rather than mandatory.  The district court struck the conviction and sentence on count four, declared it would have imposed the same sentence had it considered the guidelines advisory only, but then substantially increased the sentence on count three.

Where this court expressly limits the scope of remand, the district court is without authority to reexamine other sentencing issues on remand. United States v. Pimentel, 34 F.3d 799, 800 (9th Cir. 1994). In this case, the district court exceeded its authority when it increased Davis’s sentence on count three. We therefore vacate Davis’s sentence and instruct the district court to reimpose his original sentence, except that no sentence shall be imposed on count four. No adjustment shall be made with respect to any other count.

As if worried that didn’t get the point across, the opinion finishes by noting the case is remanded “for the sole purpose of resentencing as provided in this opinion. ”

Point made.  By the way, Davis is a wonderfully succinct opinion that is barely longer than this post.

Surprised by Jurisdiction

It’s hard not to be a pessimist when filing a petition for writ of mandate.  Getting past a summary denial is always tough.  But it’s pretty easy In re Copley Press, case no. 07-72143 (9th Cir. Mar. 4, 2008), where the Ninth holds that it has appellate jurisdiction to review the order.  Thus, the court converts the writ proceedings into an appeal, then decides it on the merits.

The order at issue is an order unsealing documents related to a plea agreement.  The order rather obviously meets both criteria for review under the collateral order doctrine because it “conclusively decides an issue” and “it is effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment,” both for the same reason: once secret documents are made public, there’s no going back.

E-Filing in C.D. Cal Made Easy?

As southern California federal practitioners know, e-filing became mandatory this year for nearly all civil cases in the Central District of California. Now comes a handy bit of information via Kimberly Kralowec at The UCL Practitioner, where she posts: “Attorney Martin W. Anderson has made our lives easier by creating ‘The Unofficial E-Filing Manual for the United States District Court, Central District of California,” available for free download at his site.'” For links to the guide and to the Daily Journal article from which Kimberly learned about it, see her post.

A “Cautionary Tale” on Post-Judgment Interest when Court of Appeals Directs Entry of Money Judgment

It’s always frustrating when you have to litigate over issues stemming from a court’s failure to do something that it should have done or even was required to do. Just ask the Oakland Raiders, who saw their new trial order reversed because the trial judge’s order did not satisfy the Code of Civil Procedure. The issue also arises in California courts where the trial court fails to rule on objections to evidence in the context of a summary judgment motion. The consequences of such failure have been discussed on a number of blogs recently, and The Appellate Practitioner has an excellent post regarding the Supreme Court’s recent grant of review in a case on that issue.

In Planned Parenthood v. American Coalition, case no. 06-35733 (Feb. 11, 2008), we see an example in the context of a federal requirement; specifically, where the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure impose an obligation ot the Court of Appeals and the court fails to honor it.

The rule at issue is FRAP 37(b), which provides that “[i]f the court modifies or reverses a judgment with a direction that a money judgment be entered in the district court, the mandate must contain instructions about the allowance of interest.” In a previous appeal in the case, the Ninth reversed a punitive damages award as violative of due process and remanded for retrial unless the creditors accepted the judgment with a reduced punitive damages component, but the court failed to include in its mandate the date on which interest started to accrue on the judgment. The trial court entered a new judgment allowing for accrual of post-judgment interest as of the date of the original judgment.

The Ninth holds that failure to specify a judgment accrual date where required by FRAP 37(b) precludes a district court from entering the newly mandated judgment with interest accruing from the date of the original judgment. Interest accrues from the date where the amount of the judgment is “meaningfully ascertained.” and this ordinarily means the date of the mandate from the Court of Appeals if the mandate directs entry of a money judgment different from that in the original judgment.

Here, however, the judgment creditors get interest from the date of the original judgment in any event. The court recognizes that its omission was inadvertent and that despite the reduction in punitive damages on remand, the creditors’ right to interest on the reduced amount had been “meaningfully ascertained” in the original trial. Accordingly, it exercises its right to recall its prior mandate and amends it to include interest from the date of the original judgment.

That said, the court makes clear that it is affording this courtesy only because its prior jurisprudence was unclear, and that litigants should treat this case as a cautionary tale:

Henceforth, we expect that litigants in this circuit will clearly understand that if we modify or reverse a judgment with a direction that a money judgment be entered in the district court, our mandate must contain instructions about the allowance of post-judgment interest. Fed. R. App. 37(b). If our mandate omits such instructions, a party that believes it is entitled to interest from a date other than the date of entry of judgment on remand must expeditiously seek reform of the mandate.

Professor Martin calls this “an entirely just and equitable opinion.” I think that’s correct. But keep the court’s caution in mind.

I think a federal court litigant in this situation can have much more peace of mind than a party in a California case involving a new trial or summary judgment situation mentioned above. A party can expect a ruling one way of the other on a motion to recall and amend the mandate. Pleas to California trial courts to rule definitively on evidentiary objections often fall on deaf ears. And a party seeking a new trial is prohibited from doing too much to facilitate the trial court’s compliance with new trial procedures. Nonetheless, this greater peace of mind only applies if the party remembers to “expeditiously seek reform of the mandate.”

More on Appealable Denials of Summary Judgment

Wow, who’d have thought two cases in two days involving interlocutory appeals from denial of summary judgment premised on qualified immunity grounds?  Bingue v. Prunchak, case no. 05-16388 (9th Cir. Jan. 15, 2008) actually came out a day earlier than the case in my immediately prior post, but I’m catching up in reverse chronological order, so I saw it second.

Anyway, in my first post on the topic, I reminded you that one exception to the general rule against interlocutory appeals is that an order denying summary judgment sought on qualified immunity grounds may be appealed.

In Bingue, the plaintiff complained that the court could not review the denial of summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds because the existence of qualified immunity depended on the resolution of disputed material facts and the court’s appellate jurisdiction extends only to questions of law in such appeals.  But there are two  ways around this.  First, the court can review as a matter of law by assuming the truth of the facts set forth by the plaintiff.  Second, the court can determine that the disputed facts are not actually material.

Here, the court uses the former analysis to evaluate whether qualified immunity exists under the facts as asserted by the plaintiff.  And finds that it does.

Appeal from a Denial of Summary Judgment?

Can’t do it, right? Petition for a writ of mandate, instead. Right?

Not so fast, as we are reminded by today’s decision in KRL v. Aquaro, case no. 06-16282 (9th Cir. Jan. 16, 2008). The case is an appeal from the denial of summary judgment that was sought on qualified immunity grounds, and the court notes that interlocutory appeal is allowed in such cases. The rule dates back to Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511 (1985), which applied as its starting point the general rule that

a decision of a district court is appealable if it falls within “that small class which finally determine claims of right separable from, and collateral to, rights asserted in the action, too important to be denied review and too independent of the cause itself to require that appellate consideration be deferred until the whole case is adjudicated.” [Citation.]

In analysis a little too detailed for me to go into here, the Mitchell court concluded that the denial of a claim of qualified immunity fit this test. Read Mitchell, and you’ll learn of a few others.

Mootness with a Local Angle

Feldman v. Bomar, case no. 06-55675 (9th Cir. Jan. 10, 2008) caught my eye because of its local angle (full disclosure: I may also know one of the appellants; I know a fellow Boat School-er named Bob Puddicombe, but I have no idea if it’s the same guy). The case involves a challenge to an environmental action regarding Santa Cruz Island, one of the five islands in the Channel Islands chain just off our coast here in Ventura (links to sites about the Channel Islands National Park, one of the appellees, are here, here and here; the link to Santa Cruz Island is from one of these sites).

As luck would have it, the case also provides an appellate lesson on mootness.

The national park and other appellees had approved a plan to replenish the native population of foxes on the island by killing off the non-native feral pig population through a concentrated hunt. Appellants sued to prevent the kill, claiming the pig population should be physically removed from the island or eradicated by more humanitarian means, such as sterilization. Appellants lost on summary judgment in the trial court. Unfortunately (for both the appellants and the pigs), by the time the appeal could be heard, the kill was complete. Appellees moved to dismiss on mootness grounds, and the court grants the motion.

Though a Court of Appeals may exercise jurisdiction over a case rendered moot with respect to injunctive relief where declaratory relief is sought, even then it may do so

only when the challenged government activity is not contingent, has not evaporated or disappeared, and, by its continuing and brooding presence, casts what may well be a substantial adverse effect on the interests of the petitioning parties. [Citation.]

Reviewing past exercises of jurisdiction in such circumstances, the court finds that

[t]he common thread in these cases is that “the violation complained of may have caused continuing harm and . . . the court can still act to remedy such harm by limiting its future adverse effects. [Citation.]

Since the pigs had already been killed, “Appellants have suffered whatever harm could conceivably result from the challenged agency action.”

Appellant’s arguments that there may still be a live pig left on the island and that the court could still reverse or mitigate the damage fail. The former relies on speculation. The latter ignores that a continuing ability to reduce or reverse damage refers to secondary effects. Here, the only alleged harm was the purportedly inhumane eradication of the pig population.

Likewise lacking is appellants’ argument that dismissing the appeal will encourage government actors to fulfill their illegal plans quickly, before the courts can stop them. Although sympathizing with this argument somewhat in the abstract, the court finds it has no application to this case. The appellants waited two years to file suit, had an opportunity to file for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction (the denial of which had been affirmed in a previous appeal), and the appellees had moved quickly on the eradication because the pigs’ presence was an environmental hazard, not because they were attempting to evade review.

Finally, even though the court may assert jurisdiction in a case “capable of repetition, yet evading review,” that doctrine has no application here because the appellants challenged a single, non-repetitive plan for the pig eradication.

Thus, even though the burden on appellees to establish mootness is “a heavy one,” the appellees here carry it off by proffering proof that the pigs are all gone.

Chutzpah on Appeal

Chutzpah” is about the most polite word I could come up with for the appellant’s audacity in United States v. Moreland,  case no. 05-30541 (9th Cir., Dec. 13, 2007).

Moreland apparently swindled people out of $73 million, so I’m going to assume he had a little bit of money, legitimately earned, set aside for his defense.  Yet he fought tooth and nail to proceed pro se, which is where all his problems started.

The decision is covered very well, and in some detail, in this post at Decision of the Day, which begins:

In my line of work, I see all kinds of appellate arguments: brilliantly creative, colossally stupid, and everything in between. I enjoy the wacky ones the most, because they tend to inspire spirited opinions, which in turn gives me something interesting to blog about. But occasionally, an appellant makes a wacky argument that really gets under my skin. The Ninth Circuit dealt with three such examples in a decision issued yesterday.

Worthy reading.  And it’s worth noting that Moreland was represented on appeal.  I have to wonder if his lawyers winced as they filed the brief.

Process Serving Gamesmanship

It sometimes surprises me that in this information age, we are still required to make personal service of sumons. But, absent special circumstances, we are.  Even when the defendant is overseas.

Which was the situation in SEC v. Shaw, case no. 06-15204 (9th Cir. Dec. 11, 2007). The SEC had summons personally served on Shaw in England. Shaw defaulted, then waited more than three years to move to set aside the default judgment on the ground of lack of personal jurisdiction.

The Ninth holds that a defendant with actual notice of the proceedings, as Shaw had, bears the burden of proving he was not served with summons. Shaw can’t make that case here.

Nor does he prevail on his argument that even if he was served, service was invalid for failing to comply with the Hague Convention. Never raised that in the district court, you see.

It is gamesmanship like this that makes for eventual unpleasantness, as when a colleague of mine had a defendant personally served with summons at the defendant’s daughter’s wedding (or reception, I forget which). The defendant had deftly avoided service for some time, so my colleague figured the defendant “had it coming” to be served in the one place my colleague couuld find him.

Cyber Law Update

Professor Eric Goldman has a post up at his Technology & Marketing Law Blog with an important update on Perfect 10 v. Amazon.com, which I blogged about last May.  Specifically, the Ninth Circuit issued an amended opinion Monday that reverses itself on the issue of which party has the burden of proof on a fair use defense in a copyright preliminary injunction context.  As Professor Goldman sums up:

In the original Ninth Circuit Perfect 10 v. Amazon ruling, the court put the burden on the plaintiff to disprove fair use as part of its PI obligations. Now, in an amended opinion, the Ninth Circuit has put the burden on the defendant to establish fair use to defeat the PI.

This doesn’t change the result.  The injunction is still dissolved.

Professor Goldman’s post is well worth reading for anyone at all interested in cyber law.  He explains how this is a continuation of the Ninth Circuit’s struggles with cyber law, that the significance of the issue extends beyond cyberspace, how the press gets the case wrong (shock!),  and conveniently excerpts the relevant language from the original and amended opinions.

If you want more, go get the original opinion and the amended opinion.

“Restyled” Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Take Effect Today

The new Federal Rules of Civil Procedure go into effect today. Previous posts (here, here and here) have linked to articles about whether the changes, intended merely to “restyle” the rules without substantively changing them, will accomplish that purpose. I guess we’ll find out soon enough if they don’t.

In the meantime, AbsTracked has a post with some useful links regarding the changes, including an advisory committee report and a change comparison chart.

Thanks to Legal Writing Prof Blog for the link.

“Confronting Confrontation”

That’s the title given by the Los Angeles Daily Journal to my article, which it published in its November 19, 2007 issue, regarding U.S. v. Larson, the en banc Ninth Circuit’s confusing “resolution” of the perceived split of authority on the standard of review in Confrontation Clause challenges based on limitations on cross-examination. The article (PDF link) grew out of this blog post giving my initial impressions about the case on the day it was published. I followed up that post with another providing links to some other blog coverage of the case.

Sufficient Merit to Proceed

When does an appeal or petition have “sufficient merit to proceed” so that a vexatious litigant subject to a pre-filing review order can move forward with it without counsel and without a certification of good faith from the district court? The Ninth realizes in In re Keith Thomas, case no. 01-80091 (9th Cir. Nov. 29, 2007) that it has never quite made it clear:

Because our decisions pursuant to a pre-filing review order are rarely published, we have not yet clarified the standard for determining whether an appeal or petition has sufficient merit to proceed. We take the opportunity to do so now.

The court examines standards in cases of summary affirmance and trial court summary dismissals, then settles on a standard. But the standard is not stated in terms of what makes for sufficient merit. Instead, it is stated in terms of what kind of case lacks sufficient merit, and that test is quite restrictive:

[W]e hold that when we have imposed prefiling requirements, we can preclude an appellant from proceeding with a petition or appeal only when it is clear from the face of the appellant’s pleadings that: (i) the appeal is patently insubstantial or clearly controlled by well settled precedent; or (ii) the facts presented are fanciful or in conflict with facts of which the court may take judicial notice.

I guess this is something lawyers don’t really need to know, since vexatious litigant orders restrain litigation only be self-represented litigants. But I know that non-lawyers stumble across this blog as well, and it’s interesting to see how the Ninth limits access by vexatious litigants.

In this case, Thomas filed 17 appeals or petitions in the Ninth Circuit before the court entered the pre-filing order in 2001, 28 appeals and petitions after the order, and more than 69 separate civil actions in the Eastern District of California alone.

He gets nowhere with this one. Applying the standard it has just announced, the Ninth finds that the appeal lacks sufficient merit to proceed. The appeal is from a magistrate judge’s order recommending dismissal of his lawsuit. The lawsuit? Thomas was suing four district judges “to challenge the judges’ rulings in prior actions filed by [him].”

Why sue the judges instead of appealing? After all, we know the guy has heard of an appeal, having filed 41 appeals or petitions already.

Follow the Rules – A Lesson from the Ninth

Today’s decision in Sekiya v. Gates, case no. 06-15887 (9th Cir. November 29, 2007) is a reminder that the dismissal sanction is lurking out there for any parties to an appeal that fail to follow the rules. The Ninth finds the appellant’s opening brief so deficient that it is “compelled to strike it in its entirety and dismiss the appeal.”

The brief wasn’t merely “deficient.” It sounds like it did not resemble a brief at all.

The brief fails to provide the applicable standard of review, and makes virtually no legal arguments. Furthermore, it lacks a table of contents, a table of authorities, citations to authority, and accurate citations to the record.

You’re thinking, “Well, that’s what you get for proceeding in propria persona,” right? Think again. Appellant had counsel. Yet the analysis and citation to evidence (it was an appeal from summary judgment) were also deficient:

Bare assertions and lists of facts unaccompanied by analysis and completely devoid of caselaw fall far short of the requirement that counsel present “appellant’s contentions and the reasons for them.”

Despite the court’s assertion that it was publishing the case “as a reminder that material breaches of our rules undermine the administration of justice and cannot be tolerated,” it nonetheless conducts an independent review of the record in recognition of “the harshness of this rule, especially as its application could, if unwisely applied, leave a meritorious appellant without a legal remedy when the fault lies solely with his or her counsel.”

With this concern in mind, and despite the abject deficiency of the brief, we have reviewed Sekiya’s case on the merits based on a review of the district court record, and we are satisfied that the district court did not err.  Sekiya, however, is not “entitled to have us expatiate on our reasons for finding [her] case unmeritorious.” [Citation.]

Maybe the part I liked best was this quote:

In order to give fair consideration to those who call upon us for justice, we must insist that parties not clog the system by presenting us with a slubby mass of words rather than a true brief. [Citation.]

I think if I were a legal writing professor, I might talk about this case with my students and keep the phrase “slubby mass of words” handy.

UPDATE (12/5/07):  Lowering the Bar coins the term “Slubby Mass Rule” and delves into the etymology of “slubby.”

Looking for Help re Anonymous Habeas Case

Howard Bashman at How Appealing is looking for an explanation why the habeas petitioner in yesterday’s Doe v. Woodford, case no. 06-16054 (9th Cir. Nov. 27, 2007) opinion was kept anonymous despite the facts that (1) it appears to be a substitute opinion for an earlier opinion under the same case number, in which the petitioner was identified and (2) the PACER records for the case continue to identify the petitioner by name.  The opinion itself is silent on the reason for anonymity.

Anyway, Bashman would appreciate it if you can e-mail him with any information that may help explain the anonymity of the habeas petitioner in yesterday’s opinion.