Reminder about FRAP 28(j) submissions –

The Fifth Circuit website has recently posted an “Important Note Regarding FRAP 28(j) Filings,” which reminds: “Counsel sometimes file a FRAP 28(j) letter after oral argument, ostensibly to provide information requested by the court, but make supplemental argument in the filing. . . . [U]nless authorized or requested by the panel, it is improper to make supplemental argument in the letter.”

Filed first, but not first-to-file –

Green Tree Servicing, LLC v. Clayton involved an unusual argument about the “first-to-file rule, in the context of two actions pending before the same district judge. The Fifth Circuit observed: “[T]he concerns undergirding the firstto-file rule are not triggered when the cases are before the same judge. The first-to-file rule is aimed at avoiding both conflicting rulings on similar issues and duplicative rulings. But when the same judge is deciding both cases, there is no danger of conflicting rulings.” No. 16-60726 (May 18, 2017, unpublished).

No general causation in toxic tort case

“[W]here a plaintiff seeks to rely on epidemiological evidence, Texas law requires that the stifues show a statistically significant doubling of the risk of developing their alleged inuiries. . . . The studies relied on by the Plaintiffs and their experts do not . . . One of these studies did not quantify the risk of developing Plaintiffs’ chromuim-related-acute-irritation injuries at all and the other study did not find a doubling of the risk.” McManaway v. KBR, Inc., No. 15-20641 (March 27, 2017) (applying Merck & Co. v. Garza, 347 S.W.3d 256 (Tex. 2011)).

Ex Parte Young goes airborne

Air Evac contended that the Airline Deregulation Act preempted Texas workers compensation laws about reimbursement for air-ambulance services. This claim led to a dispute about the scope of Eleventh Amendment liability and the landmark Constitutional case of Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908). In a methodical analysis of Young’s history and purpose, the Fifth Circuit concluded that Air Evac could sue: “[T]he balance-billing prohibition works in concert with state defendants’ implementation of the reimbursement system, serving as a backstop against alternative methods of fee collection. State defendants’ pervasive authority to oversee and enforce Texas’ workers’-compensation system satisfies the Ex parte Young exception.” Air Evac EMS, Inc. v. State of Texas, No. 16-51023 (March 20, 2017).

A house divided against itself cannot transfer.

Just before filing for bankruptcy, Mr. Wiggins signed a “Partition Agreement” in which he and his wife divided their ownership of their home into two separate property interests. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the bankruptcy court’s conclusion that this was a fraudulent transfer: “When it became clear that Mr. Wiggains would file bankruptcy to satisfy his outstanding debts, the couple entertained various options and made their best estimate on ultimate financial benefits by having only Mr. Wiggains file after the Partition Agreement was recorded. Allowing Mrs. Wiggains to sidestep the statutory limits for homestead exemptions and obtain approximately $500,000 in proceeds that otherwise are for creditors would lay waste to the provisions of the Bankruptcy Code involved here.” Wiggains v. Reed, No. 15-11249 (Feb. 14, 2017).

Early contract termination can be a fraudulent transfer.

A group of real estate companies paid Prime LLC for consulting services. While the contract allowed termination with 60 days notice, the group and Prime agreed to end the contract without using the notice provision. A creditor complained that this termination made a fraudulent transfer, and the Fifth Circuit agreed that the claim was at least facially plausible: “While the value of the notice period lost by failure to adhere to the notice provision remains an issue for further development in the district court, at this stage we think the notice requirement secured measurable economic benefit to Prime. Assuming the facts alleged surrounding this transaction to be true, as we must under Rule 12(b)(6), Plaintiff has alleged an asset, cognizable as such under TUFTA, that was constructively transferred.” Hometown 2006-1 1925 Valley View LLC v. Prime Income Asset Management LLC, No. 15-10881 (Feb. 2, 2017)

PRACTICE TIP – Determining Diversity Details

Several unpublished opinions from the Fifth Circuit in recent weeks, most recently Smitherman v. Bayview Loan Servicing LLC, No. 16-20328 (Jan. 11, 2017, unpublished), have ordered limited remands to the district court “to permit supplementation of the record and to make findings regarding . . . citizenship.” Once completed, “the district court’s amended opinion shall return” to the panel “for appropriate action.” It appears that the Court is reviewing case files not only to confirm appellate jurisdiction, but also the necessary facts to support federal subject matter jurisdiction as well.

State is not federal

federalist-papersIn Marshall v. Hunter, a removed action, the Fifth Circuit addressed a notice of appeal from a state court ruling made before ruling about personal jurisdiction. The Court declined to hear the appeal, saying: “while state court orders and rulings remain in effect upon removal, they do not become appealable orders of the district court until the district court adopts them as its own.” No. 16-20646 (Oct. 20, 2016, unpublished).

Points to notice about notices of appeal

checklistIn Wilson v. Navika Capital Group LLC, the appellants filed this notice of appeal  from adverse rulings in an FLSA dispute. The Fifth Circuit found that the reference in the notice to “Plaintiffs Wilson et al.” did not satisfy the requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. 3 in light of the entire record — a case in which “the plaintiffs  .. were in ‘continual flux’ at the district court, as various groups of plaintiffs were dismissed at different times.” The notice was sufficient as to two plaintiffs specifically named in named in the style of the case as shown on the notice, as Rule 3 says — “The notice of appeal must: specify the party or parties taking the appeal by naming each one in the caption or body of the notice.” No. 15-20204 (Aug. 8, 2016, unpublished).

Speculation?

speculation signThe Fifth Circuit reversed an ALJ ruling in a labor dispute in DirecTV Holdings v. NLRB. The panel majority, noting that “the NLRB makes much of the fact that [the employee’s] initial suspension was transformed into a termination,” gave no weight to “unsupported speculation” as to why that change occurred. The dissent noted the timing of relevant events around the date of that decision, and gave weight to the ALJ’s credibility determinations as to the relevant witness. This exchange is a classic illustration of how reasonable minds can differ as to when an “inference” becomes impermissible “speculation.” No. 15-60257 (May 31, 2016, unpublished).

Sparring Partner

Front Runner SparAt issue in Hefren v. McDermott, Inc. was whether the Front Runner Spar (right) – a type of offshore drilling platform with a remarkable resemblance to a Jawan Sandcrawler – was “immovable” within the meaning of Louisiana law. A dispositive issue of limitations turned on that classification. Noting that the Spar could be moved with sufficient planning and preparation, the Fifth Circuit agreed with the district court that: “Like a ‘building’ under Louisiana law, there is ‘some permanence’ to the Front Runner Spar as it has not moved from its present location, is intended to remain there for its twenty year life, and has a permanent mooring system.” No. 15-30980 (April 25, 2016, unpublished).

Magistrate judges, remand rulings, and appellate review

articleiiiA magistrate judge ordered remand to state court in Davidson v. Georgia-Pacific. The Fifth Circuit concluded that because “a remand order is dispositive insofar as proceedings in the federal court are concerned,” it is “the functional equivalent of an order of dismissal.” Therefore, a magistrate judge could not make a final ruling on a motion to remand. In so holding, the Court “join[s] the uniform view of the courts of appeals that have considered this question[.]” No. 14-30925 (April 19, 2016).

ERISA fact question?

ERISA-simplifiedIn Burell v. Prudential Ins. Co., the Fifth Circuit addressed one of the many ERISA summary judgment cases in which it reviews a plan administrator’s work for abuse of discretion – or, in the somewhat cryptic language of ERISA: “our de novo review of [the] summary judgment ruling will also apply the abuse of discretion standard.”  The panel affirmed over a dissent, which is not typical in such cases.  It noted disagreement among the doctors who reviewed the claim, as well as allegations that the administrator did not follow its own review procedures, and would have found a fact issue for trial based on those matters.  No. 15-50035 (April 11, 2016).

 

Of Briefs With Imaginary Dialogue

memenoYesterday’s “Above The Law” blog offers this entertaining exchange between a recent Fifth Circuit petition for rehearing — written in part as an imaginary exchange between lawyer and client about the rehearing process — and the Fifth Circuit’s response: rejection by the panel in a short opinion that was also written as an exchange of dialogue. (Thanks to 600Camp friend Cynthia Halatyn for sending along the link.)

Assignment of error

assignment clipartIn Banco Popular v. Kanning, a dispute over entitlement to life insurance proceeds produced two reminders about important, but not often-litigated, principles in business law. No. 15-50342 (Jan. 29, 2016, unpublished).  First, an argument that a purported assignment required further actions to become effective failed when the document in question unambiguously said “hereby assign.”  The opinion reviews other language in other cases that obscured the assignor’s intent. Second, insurance policy proceeds — while obviously monetary in nature — are sufficiently specific to support an action for conversion (applying Paschal v. Great Western Drilling, 215 S.W.3d 437 (Tex. App.–Eastland 2006, pet. denied)).

No appeal of remand order

containersUnderwood Cotton sued Clark Freight Lines, seeking a declaratory judgment about alleged overcharges on invoices for shipping containers.  Clark removed the case on the basis of complete preemption, and counterclaimed for payment of the invoices.  The district court dismissed the counterclaim and remanded, finding that federal jurisdiction had not been established over the declaratory judgment or the “converse breach of contract action” brought by Clark.  The Fifth Circuit dismissed the resulting appeal, finding: “[T]he dismissal of the counterclaims did not precede the remand in logic and fact.  Dismissing the counterclaims did not deprive the court of subject-matter jurisdiction; the district court ruled it never had jurisdiction to begin with.”  Underwood Cotton Co. v. Clark Freight Lines, Inc., No. 14-11327 (Sept. 28, 2015, unpublished). The Court noted that the counterclaims could proceed in state court notwithstanding the district court’s jurisdictional ruling.

Put in the good word for 600Camp

abajournal_weblogo_2015The ABA Journal sponsors a “Blawg 100” list that recognizes legal blogs. Unlike the various top lawyer lists, the ABA encourages campaigning: (“Bloggers, by all means tell your readers about Blawg 100 Amici and invite them to send us messages on behalf of your blog.”) So if you enjoy 600Camp (or its sister blog, 600 Commerce about the Dallas Court of Appeals), please click here and fill out the ABA’s short form.  Shouldn’t take but a minute, and much appreciated.

Yes, you may not have flood insurance.

waveThe Spongs bought property on Galveston Island and obtained flood insurance under the National Flood Insurance Program.  Unfortunately, their property was located in an “coastal barrier resources system” area, ineligible for flood insurance; even more unfortunately, Hurricane Ike completely swept away everything on the property.  The record showed confusion about the property address and the records kept by FEMA and the Fish and Wildlife Service.  On an interlocutory appeal, the Fifth Circuit held that: (1) federal law did not preempt the Spongs’ claims related to “procurement,” as opposed to “claims handling,” but (2) “[i]n determining whether the property was within the CBRS and therefore eligible for a federal flood insurance policy, [the insurer] was acting as the representative of the Government, not the Spongs”; accordingly, the Spongs could not establish reasonable reliance.  Spong v. Fidelity Nat’l Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., No. 13-41317 (May 22, 2015).

How to waive a jury demand

seventh-amendment-est-1791-sticker-p217898255011801286b2o35-400Two principles – somewhat inconsistent – govern whether a court should accept an untimely request for jury trial.  First, “‘because the seventh amendment confers a fundamental right,'” a court “typically ‘should grant a motion for jury trial . . . in the absence of strong and compelling reasons to the contrary.'”  Second, “it is not an abuse of discretion to deny an untimely motion for a jury trial ‘when the failure to make a timely jury demand results form mere inadvertence on the part of the moving party.'”  In BPRE, LP v. RML Waxahachie Dodge, LLC, under the operative scheduling order, the plaintiff had to make a request for a pretrial conference by January 31, 2010.  It did not do so until February 16, and did not file a separate brief about the right to jury trial until April 12.  The Fifth Circuit found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s conclusion that this was “mere inadvertence,” and affirmed the finding of waiver.  No. 14-50339 (April 7, 2015, unpublished).

How to Interplead — UPDATED

tug-of-warIn a remarkably tangled construction dispute, the property owner interpleaded roughly $260,000, after a dispute arose between the general contractor and a sub.  One of the interpleaded parties argued that the owner “faces only separate obligations,” augmented by the fact that the Mississippi statute relied upon the subcontractor to freeze the funds was declared unconstitutional. Auto Parts Manufacturing Mississippi, Inc. v. King Construction of Houston, No. 14-60217 (May 8, 2015).  The Fifth Circuit disagreed: “The first stage of interpleader only is concerned with whether multiple claims have been asserted, or may be asserted, against a disinterested stakeholder, not whether those claims have merit.” The Court reminded that “interpleader jurisdiction is determined at the time the interpleader complaint is filed . . . ‘and subsequent events do not divest the court of jurisdiction once properly acquired.'”

Come see some good CLE

I am speaking to the Appellate Section of the Dallas Bar Association, at the Belo Mansion in downtown Dallas, at noon on Thursday March 19, with a Fifth Circuit update.  The official title is “Horses, Whooping Cranes, and Eagle Feathers: the Fifth Circuit in 2014.” Here is a copy of the PowerPoint for the presentation.

FCA case remanded a second time, district judge reassigned.

In 2012, the Fifth Circuit remanded a False Claims Act case with the direction: “The district court should determine whether the public disclosures identified in the motion for summary judgment reveal either (i) that Shell was deducting gathering expenses prohibited by program regulations, or (ii) that this type of fraud was so pervasive in the industry that the company’s scheme, as alleged, would have been easily identified.”  Little v. Shell Exploration, 690 F.3d 282 (5th Cir. 2012).  On remand, the district court again granted summary judgment for the defense, and a displeased Fifth Circuit reversed.  Little v. Shell Exploration II, No. 14-20156 (Feb. 23, 2015, unpublished).

The Court found: “Not only did the district court fail to follow these explicit instructions, but the analysis set out in its short opinion is so broad, conclusory, and unsupported by the summary judgment record that we are compelled to conclude it did not comply with our instructions.”  On the merits, the Court held that “the district court erred with respect to every category of supposed public disclosures.”  The Court went on to order reassignment to a different district judge on remand, concluding: ”  Facing a lengthy and detailed summary judgment record, the district judge issued a five-page opinion with few
citations to either record evidence or relevant legal authority—not surprising given that neither the summary judgment evidence nor the law support the conclusions he reached.”

How to agree on a postjudgment interest rate

  • This contract language binds the parties to an agreed-upon postjudgment interest rate: “All past due interest and/or principal shall bear interest from maturity until paid, both before and after judgment, at the rate of 9% per annum.”  The language “clearly, unambiguously, and unequivocally” refers to postjudgment interest.
  • This language does not: “Invoices not paid within the stated terms will be charged 1.5% per month. . . .   All freight, demurrage and other charges shall be subject to an interest charge of 1-1/2% per month beginning on the first day after the due date of invoice.”

Celtic Marine Corp. v. James C. Justice Co., No. 13-31306 (Nov. 20, 2014, unpublished) (quoting Hymel v. UNC, Inc., 994 F.2d 260 (5th Cir. 1993) (emphasis added)).

Stone Cold Trademark Infringement

wrestlingpicWorld Wrestling Entertainment sought ex parte seizure and temporary restraining orders, against unnamed defendants selling fake WWE merchandise at live events, under the Trademark Counterfeiting Act.  The district judge denied relief, noting concerns about WWE’s ability to prove a likelihood of success against an unknown defendant.  The Fifth Circuit (who reviewed the case because the district court certified the matter for interlocutory appeal) took a different view, noting: “WWE does not license third parties to sell merchandise at live events . . . The resulting confined universe of authorized sellers of WWE merchandise necessarily ‘identifies’ any non-WWE seller as a counterfeiter.”  The opinion also observed that “the very nature of the ‘fly-by-night’ imagebootlegging industry” involves “counterfeiters who, upon detection and notice of suit, disappear without a trace and hide or destroy evidence, only to reappear later at the next WWE event down the road.”  World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. v. Unidentified Parties, No. 14-30489 (Nov. 4, 2014).

600Camp among best law blogs in Texas

Four times in the last two months, 60TexasBarToday_TopTen_Badge_Small0Camp has won recognition from Texas Bar Today for a “Top 10 Post of the Week” among Texas law blogs, “based on subject matter, writing style, headline, and imagery.” The posts were  The Regulation, My Friend, is Blowing in the Wind (Sept. 16), My Five Tips for Good Legal Writing (Oct. 9), Arbitration Here, There, or Nowhere (Oct. 20), and How to Notice Mississippi (Oct. 28).  Thanks for your support!

My Five Tips for Good Legal Writing

TexasBarToday_TopTen_Badge_SmallWhile preparing a CLE for our associates, I drafted and posted my five tips for good legal writing, along with comments and examples.  The tips are:

  1. Avoid needless words.
  2. Use shorter words.
  3. Use shorter sentences.
  4. Avoid passive voice.
  5. There is no good writing. Only good re-writing.

I hope you have a chance to read the post, along with some of the linked examples, and that they are of use to you in your work.

Excess-primary relations and bad faith claims

The Fifth Circuit returned to the tension between excess and primary carriers in RSUI Indemnity Co. v. American States Ins. Co., a bad faith case under Louisiana law.  After a review of the cases on the issue, the Court held “that under the circumstances of this case, where an excess carrier alleges that a primary insurer in bad faith breached its duty to defend a common insured properly and caused exposure of the insured to an increase in the settlement value of the case above the primary policy limit, which the excess insurer must then satisfy on the insured’s behalf, the excess insurer has a subrogated cause of action against the primary insurer for any payment above what it otherwise would have been required to pay.”  No. 14-30033 (Sept. 25, 2014).

On wings of eagles . . .

McAllen Grace Brethren Church v. Salazar presents a fascinating conflict between Native American religious practice and the preservation of endangered eagle species.  No. 13-40326 (Aug. 20, 2014)  Robert Soto, a member of the Lipan Apache Tribe, sought to use eagle feathers in a tribal religious ritual.  All parties agreed that his beliefs were sincere and that the lack of the feathers would substantially burden his ministry.  The Lipan Apaches, while recognized by Texas authorities since the 1838 Live Oak Treaty between the Tribe and the Republic of Texas, are not a “federally recognized tribe” as understood by the Interior Department.  Accordingly, under the Department’s regulations that implement various statutes about the protection of eagles, he was not entitled to the feathers.

Assuming that the Department’s stated goals — eagle protection and protection of federally-recognized tribes — served compelling interests, the Fifth Circuit held that the record did not show that the regulations used the least-restrictive means to advance those interests.  The Court found the Department’s evidence of harm to be inconclusive and subject to more than one interpretation, and also found inadequate consideration of potential alternative approaches.  Acknowledging that other courts have accepted similar arguments by the Department, the Court observed: “Soto does not seek to make the practice of his religion ‘easier,’ he seeks to avoid roadblocks of the government’s own making which have made the practice of his religion not just ‘not easier’” but impossible.”  Accordingly, it reversed a summary judgment for the Department and remanded.

2 dismissals = 0 lawsuit.

A little-known but powerful part of Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(b) provides: “[I]f the plaintiff previously dismissed any federal- or state-court action based on or including the same claim, a notice of dismissal operates as an adjudication on the merits.”   The Fifth Circuit affirmed a dismissal under this rule in Cabot Golf CL-PP 1, LLC v. Nixon Peabody, No. 13-40912 (July 7, 2014, unpublished).  It began by noting that, in this context, the distinction between Rule 12 and Rule 56 was immaterial, where “the material facts are undisputed, and we address a pure question of law.”  On the merits, Plaintiff had filed a state lawsuit, filed a federal lawsuit, dismissed the state action, and then dismissed the federal case with a unilateral notice.  Plaintiff argued that the 2-dismissal rule “should apply only to serial litigation (i.e., suits which are filed after the earlier suits were dismissed), not to parallel/tandem litigation as in this case (i.e., suits which were already pending when the earlier suits were dismisssed).”  The Court rejected that argument as unsupported by case law or the plain terms of the Rule.

To license plate in Dixie . . .

“We understand that some members of the public find the Confederate  flag offensive. But that fact does not justify the Board’s decision; this is exactly what the First Amendment was designed to protect against.”  Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit found that the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board violated the free speech rights of the Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans when the Board denied the group’s application for a specialty license plate featuring the Confederate battle flag.  Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc. v. Vandergriff, No. 13-50411 (July 14, 2014).  The Court rejected a jurisdictional challenge under the Tax Injunction Act, finding that the plaintiff organization was not a taxpayer raising taxation issues.  A dissent found the matter controlled by a Supreme Court case about public monuments.  Initial coverage of the case has appeared in the Dallas Morning News and Times-Picayune.

“REMANDED for entry of order remanding . . .”

After the Supreme Court’s reversal of the Fifth Circuit in Mississippi v. AU Optronics, which held that the case was not a “mass action” under CAFA, AU Optronics argued that federal courts still had jurisdiction over the matter as a “class action.”  The Fifth Circuit disagreed, finding that it had addressed and rejected that argument in its prior panel opinion.  Mississippi v. AU Optronics, No. 12-60704 (March 19, 2014, unpublished).  Its treatment of the issue was not dicta because it was “an explication of the governing rules of law” that received the Court’s “full and careful consideration.” Because that analysis “was a proper holding, the law-of-the-case doctrine forbids its reconsideration.”  Alternatively, the point was waived when AU Optronics did not appeal it to the Supreme Court.  (While the distinction between holding and dicta is fundamental to the common law, much less appellate practice, a formal definition such as this is rare.  A detailed analysis appears in Loud Rules, an article in the Pepperdine Law Review by this blog’s author and Professor Wendy Couture of the University of Idaho Law School.)

MERS and RICO

Plaintiffs alleged that the members of MERS violated RICO by making fraudulent statements about the legal effect of mortgages nominally recorded in the name of MERS. Welborn v. Bank of New York Mellon, No. 13-30103 (March 5, 2014, unpublished).  The district court dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) on the ground that Plaintiffs impermissibly sought to enforce the Trust Indenture Act by way of a RICO action.  The Fifth Circuit affirmed, but on the alternative ground that Plaintiffs had not pleaded a RICO injury to their “business or property.”  The alleged injuries — “loss of recording fees and general damage to the integrity of public records” arose “not . . . from commercial activity, but rather from the provision of a public service — that is, a governmental function.”

Fact issues about promissory estoppel

The Fifth Circuit reversed a summary judgment on a construction subcontractor’s promissory estoppel claim in MetroplexCore, LLC v. Parsons Transportation, No. 12-20466 (Feb. 28, 2014).  The Court noted the specificity of the statements made to it by representatives of the general contractor, the parties’ relationship on an earlier phase of the project, and specific communications describing reliance.  The Court relied heavily on the analysis of a similar claim in Fretz Construction Co. v. Southern National Bank of Houston, 626 S.W.2d 478 (Tex. 1981).

Structural challenges to BP settlement rejected

After a recent panel remanded an appeal about the Deepwater Horizon settlement for further proceedings about its payment formula, another panel examined challenges to the settlement based on the guidelines of Rule 23, the Rules Enabling Act, and Article III.  In re Deepwater Horizon — Appeals of the Economic and Property Damage Class Action Settlement, No. 13-30095 (Jan. 10, 2014).  The panel found that, at the stage of certifying a settlement class, it did not violate those guidelines to have class members who may not be able to prove causation or damages on the merits: “It is sufficient for standing purposes that the plaintiffs seek recovery for an economic harm that they allege they have suffered, because we assume arguendo the merits of their claims at the Rule 23 stage.”  In particular, the panel found that outcome consistent with Wal-Mart v. Dukes, 131 S. Ct. 2541 (2011), as it requires evidence “that a particular contention is common, but not that it is correct.”  The panel also found no abuse of discretion in the district court’s handling of subclasses or damage calculations.  A dissent contended: “Absent an actual causation requirement for all class members, Rule 23 is not being used to simply aggregate similar cases and controversies, but rather to impermissibly extend the judicial power of the United States into administering a private handout program.

Upcoming Events

This blog’s author is giving the Fifth Circuit Update at the State Bar’s Annual Litigation Update Institute in Austin on January 10; here is a draft of the anticipated PowerPoint.

He will also be in an audience debate (open to the public) on the afternoon of January 8 at SMU, hosted by the SMU Communications Department and the Bush Institute.  The topic will be presidential power, the other participants are the debate coaches at the Universities of Houston and North Texas and the director of the Dallas Urban Debate Association.

A loan by any other name . . .

A business taxpayer claimed a deduction for a loan.  The Fifth Circuit affirmed the Tax Court’s finding that the transaction was not a loan.  DF Systems v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, No. 13-60322 (Dec. 10, 2013, unpublished).  Noting that “the absence of a formal loan agreement is not determinative,” and acknowledging board minutes and the taxpayer’s testimony supporting the conclusion that it was a loan, the Court stressed the “absence of . . . objective economic indicia of genuine debt” — determinable sum to be repaid, specified interest rate, repayment schedule, maturity date, or collateral.  The Court’s analysis is of general interest in other business situations involving arguments about “form over substance.”

When have good-faith negotiations reached an impasse?

The case of Carey Salt Co. v. NLRB dealt with a technical labor law question as to when negotiations between management and a union had reached an impasse.  No. 12-60757 (Nov. 21, 2013).  The general framework it uses, though, is of broad interest in court-ordered mediation, contractual dispute resolution clauses, and other situations where a party’s good faith in negotiation can come into question.  The opinion is centered on the factors identified in Taft Broadcasting Co., 163 N.L.R.B. 475, 478 (1967): “(1) the parties’ bargaining history; (2) the parties’ good faith; (3) the duration of negotiations; (4) the importance of issues generating disagreement; and (5) the parties’ contemporaneous understanding of the state of negotiations.”  That NLRB case also noted the general importance of overall “good faith.”

Gag orders, prior restraints, and a website.

Marceaux v. Lafayette City-Parish Consolidated Gov’t was a section 1983 case brought by former and current police officers against leaders of the Lafayette Police Department.  No. 13-30332 (Sept. 30, 2013).  “[T]he Officers communicated with the media concerning the case and maintained a website, www.realcopsvcraft.com (the “Website”), which contained: an image of the Lafayette Police Chief, a party in this suit; excerpts of critical statements made in the media concerning the Lafayette PD Defendants; certain voice recordings of conversations between the Officers and members of the Lafayette Police Department; and other accounts of the Lafayette PD Defendants’ alleged failings.” Acknowledging both the district court’s discretion to issue gag orders about such communications, and the powerful First Amendment protection against prior restraints, the Fifth Circuit found an abuse of discretion in ordering the shutdown of the entire website.  It remanded for consideration of a more narrowly-tailored order.

Unconstitutional construction lien statute

Auto Parts Manufacturing Mississippi hired Noatex to build a manufacturing facility.  Noatex subcontracted with King Construction.  Noatex then questioned some bills sent by King. King responded with a “Lien and Stop Notice” that trapped roughly $260,000.  Noatex v. King Construction, Nos. 12-60385 & 12-60586 (Oct. 10, 2013).  The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s conclusion that the Mississippi lien statute was unconstitutional, concluding: “The Stop Notice statute is profound in its lack of procedural safeguards.  It provides for no pre-deprivation notice or hearing of any kind . . . The statute even fails to require any affidavit or attestation setting out the facts of the dispute and the legal rationale for the attachment.”  The court rejected an argument that post-attachment penalties for a false filing could save the statute, as well as an argument based on the importance of the interest in “promotion of the health of the construction industry,” noting that no governmental official was involved in the attachment process.

Happy Birthday 600 Camp

Happy birthday today to 600camp.com.  The year had many great stories — courageous monks, generations of chickens, an itinerant ice-shaving machine and the travels of the M/V OCEAN SHANGHAI (presently on the high seas and out of range). Thanks to all readers and the author’s colleagues at Lynn Tillotson Pinker & Cox.  Please celebrate with some authentic shrimp remoulade from Galatoire’s in New Orleans.

Libel tourism: Mississippi v. Nova Scotia

Persons upset about posts on the Mississippi blog “slabbed.org” sued for defamation in Nova Scotia (some of the content related to a lodge owned there by a Mississippi resident).  After obtaining a default judgment, they sought to domesticate it in Mississippi; the defendant removed and resisted domestication under the SPEECH Act, 28 U.S.C. § 4102.  Trout Point Lodge v. Handshoe, No. 13-60002 (Sept. 5, 2013).  That law, enacted in 2010, intends to prevent “libel tourism” by plaintiffs who obtain judgments in jurisdictions with less protection of speech than the First Amendment. The Court concluded that the plaintiffs failed to meet its burden under the Act to prove either (1) that Canadian law (which allocates the burden to prove falsity differently than American law) offers as much free speech protection as Mississippi, or (2) a Mississippi court reviewing the allegations of the pleading would have found liability for defamation.  The Court found some of the pleading’s allegations conclusory and that others involved language that “[t]hough offensive . . . are not actionable . . . .”

Company vicariously liable for its employees’ kickbacks.

A remedy provision of the Anti-Kickback Statute provides: “The Federal Government in a civil action may recover from a person that knowingly engages in conduct prohibited by section [53] of this title a civil penalty equal to— (A) twice the amount of each kickback involved in the violation; and (B) not more than $[11,000] for each occurrence of prohibited conduct . . . .”  41 U.S.C. § 55(a)(1). In United States v. Kellogg Brown & Root, the Fifth Circuit found that the provision allows a suit against an employer for its employees’ acts.  No. 12-40447 (July 19, 2013).  The Court grounded its analysis in common-law agency principles, and distinguished an earlier case that imposed a “purpose to benefit [the] employer” requirement in a somewhat analogous situation under the False Claims Act, United States v. Ridglea State Bank, 357 F.2d 495 (5th Cir. 1966).

Still no restitution claim for maritime benefits

The Fifth Circuit released a revised opinion on July 12, 2013 in Boudreaux v. Transocean Deepwater, No. 12-30041.  The holding is the same as its original opinion from March 2013, finding that a Jones Act employer who establishes a defense to ongoing “maintenance and cure” liability because of a seaman’s dishonesty does not have a restitution claim for benefits already paid.  In the new opinion, the dissenting judge now separately concurs, while the majority revises its historic analysis somewhat and notes the effect of the parties’ “bracketed settlement” on the way the issue was presented to the Court.

“Much ado about nothing,” says IRS.

In Nevada Partners Fund LLC v. United States, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s approval of several IRS rulings about investment arrangements.  No. 10-60559 (June 24, 2013).  The thorough opinion details a “straddle trade” investment, which in theory can generate profit, but here “as designed and carried out, [the trades] simply could not produce a profit; they were calculated and managed to produce offsetting gains and losses.”  Various penalties based on the partnerships’ negligence and lack of care were also affirmed.

Good CLE next week

This blog’s author will speak on federal litigation trends at the Dallas Bar Association’s Business Litigation Section meeting next Tuesday, May 14, at noon in the Belo Mansion in downtown Dallas.  Here is a copy of the PowerPoint.  Also, LTPC colleague Richard Smith, who presides over 600 Commerce about the Dallas Court of Appeals, will speak about recent cases from that Court at the DBA Appellate Section meeting on Thursday May 16, also at Belo.  Please come by, we look forward to seeing you in person.

Class certification affirmed in securities case

A putative plaintiff class alleged violations of federal securities law by alleged misstatements about asbestos liabilities, the quality of certain receivables and the claimed benefits of a merger.  Erica P. John Fund Inc. v. Halliburton, Inc., No. 12-10544 (April 30, 2013).  Reviewing recent Supreme Court cases about relevant evidence at the certification stage, including one that reversed the Fifth Circuit about proof of loss causation, the Court held: “price impact fraud-on-the-market rebuttal evidence should not be considered at class certification. Proof of price impact is based upon common evidence, and later proof of no price impact will not result in the possibility of individual claims continuing.” (citing Amgen, Inc. v. Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds, ___ U.S. ___ (Feb. 27, 2013))  The Court rejected a policy argument about the potential “in terrorem” effect of not considering such potentially dispositive evidence about the merits at the certification stage.  The district court ruling about this evidence, and the resulting class certification, were affirmed.

Debt extinguished, guaranty extinguished, summary judgment affirmed.

A creditor successfully made a “credit bid” under the Bankruptcy Code for assets of a failed golf resort.  Litigation followed between the creditor and guarantors of the debt, ending with a terse summary judgment order for the guarantors: “This is not rocket science.  The Senior Loan has been PAID!!!!”  Fire Eagle LLC v. Bischoff, No. 11-51057 (Feb. 28, 2013).  The Fifth Circuit affirmed in all respects, holding: (1) the bankruptcy court had jurisdiction over the dispute with the guarantors because it had a “conceivable effect” on the estate; (2) the issue of the effect of the credit bid was within core jurisdiction and did not raise a Stern v. Marshall issue; (3) core jurisdiction trumped a forum selection clause on the facts of this case; (4) a transfer into the bankruptcy court based on the first-to-file rule was proper; and (5) the creditor’s bid extinguished the debt.  On the last holding, the Court noted that the section of the Code allowing the credit bid did not provide for fair-market valuation of the assets, unlike other Code provisions.

Be specific about offsets

Con-Drive contracted to provide an offshore diving system to ARV Offshore, did not perform, and was found liable for millions of dollars that it cost ARV to arrange a substitute system for an oil-drilling project.   ARV Offshore Co. v. Con-Dive LLC, No. 12-20098 (Feb. 22, 2013, unpublished).  A key damage issue was whether ARV was reimbursed by its customer for a substantial amount of the costs for the substitute.  The Fifth Circuit affirmed the judgment, noting a potential waiver issue because Con-Dive had not adequately pleaded offset as a defense, and found that the relevant testimony from an ARV representative was “non-specific and did not establish a basis for the district court to recompute the damage amount.”  The opinion is fact-specific but this observation has broader applicability in commercial damages litigation.

Erie and a home construction warranty claim

In affirming the dismissal of a warranty claim under Louisiana law about the construction of a home, the Fifth Circuit reviewed basic requirements for an “Erie guess” about state law.  Gines v. D.R. Horton Inc., No. 12-30183 (Oct. 17, 2012).  The analysis requires that the federal court “attempt to predict state law, not to create or modify it,” and does not allow it “to fashion new theories of recovery.”  Id. at 4 (quoting American Waste & Pollution Control Co. v. Browning-Ferris, Inc., 949 F.2d 1384, 1386 (5th Cir. 1991)).  Intermediate state court decisions receive deference “unless [we are] convinced by other persuasive data that the higher court of the state would decide otherwise.”  Id. (quoting Cerda v. 2004-EQR1 LLC, 612 F.3d 781, 794 (5th Cir. 2010)).

Injury verdict affirmed over Daubert challenges

Roman v. Western Manufacturing examined a $1mm-plus verdict about severe injuries from a pump malfunction.  No. 10-31271 (Aug. 17, 2012).  After review of the standards, id. at 5 (“It is not our charge to decide which side has the more persuasive case.”), the Court found that two qualified mechanical engineers met Daubert even though they lacked extensive experience with “stucco pumps,” declining to “make expert certification decisions a battle of labels.”  Id. at 7.  The Court also rejected technical challenges to the type of pump reviewed by the experts and the plausibility of their factual assumptions about its operation, id. at 13 (“There was certainly contrary evidence, but that was for jurors to weigh.”), as well as sufficiency challenges about the inferences made by the jury.  Id. at 16-17.  Additional challenges were found waived under Fed. R. Civ. P. 50.  This opinion is the latest in a series of thoughtful cases about Daubert after the 2009 decision in Huss v. Gayden.

“At-will” employment opinion vacated, issue certified to SCOTX

The Court vacated its earlier panel opinion in Sawyer v. du Pont, which rejected claims of fraudulent inducement by employees who the Court concluded were “at-will.”  The issue of whether at-will employees can bring such claims (which here, also involves the application of a notice provision in the employees’ CBA with their employer), has now been certified to the Texas Supreme Court.  No. 11-40454 (July 27, 2012).  The Texas Lawyer Blog has some interesting insight on the procedural history of this ruling.

Debt collector’s letter complied with FDCPA

McMurray v. ProCollect, Inc. involved a claim that a debt collector’s demand letter contained language that was inconsistent with, and that also overshadowed, the required notice required by 15 U.S.C. section 1692g(a), the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.  No. 11-20141 (July 17, 2012).  As to the claim of inconsistency, the Court found no violation because the letter did not contain a deadline for payment that conflicted with the 30-day contest period in the FDCPA.  Op. at 7.  As to the claim of overshadowing, the Court found that the letter simply encouraged payment and did not make threats, and did not use fonts or spacing to minimize the effect of the statutorily-required notice.  Op. at 8.  On both claims, the Court reviewed the letter through the lens of an “unsophisticated consumer standard.”  Op. at 5.