In LLOG Exploration Co. v. Signet Maritime Corp., after affirming a declaratory judgment about delay damages under a maritime towage contract, the Fifth Circuit found that it lacked jurisdiction over the related award of attorneys’ fees: “[I]n its award of fees and costs to LLOG, the district court did not set a set a specific amount. This court held in S. Travel Club, Inc. v. Carnival Air Lines, Inc., 986 F.2d 125, 131 (5th Cir. 1993), ‘that an order awarding attorney’s fees or costs is not reviewable on appeal until the award is reduced to a sum certain.'” No. 15-31123 (Dec. 23, 2016, unpublished).
In a dispute about a home loan, the district court wrote an opinion found for the defendant mortgage servicer in all respects, including its counterclaim for judicial foreclosure. The final judgment, unfortunately, did not address that claim or otherwise contain “catch-all” language. Because “[t]he district court’s ‘final judgment’ neither adjudicates ‘all claims . . . of all parties,’ nor expressly styles itself as a partial final judgment pursuant to Rule 54(b). . . . this Court has no appellate jurisdiction and cannot review the merits of the case.” Wease v. Ocwen Loan Servicing LLC, No. 16-10521 (Dec. 29, 2016, unpublished).
The ECF records for the Western District of Texas showed that the appellant in Sudduth v. Texas Health & Human Services Commission filed her notice of appeal on August 31 — one day late. Following Franklin v. McHugh, 804 F.3d 627 (2d Cir. 2015), the Fifth Circuit found the ECF notices dispositive and dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The Court observed that the Western District local rules and Fed. R. App. P. 4(a)(5) allow a party to seek relief from the district court in the event of technical problems with the ECF filing, which the appellant did not do here. Finally, “Sudduth argues that she was not made aware of any jurisdictional defect until this court requested briefing on this issue and that, at the very least, Franklin should not be retroactively applied to her case because it is new law. But, as previously discussed, the local rules and procedures here were sufficiently clear as to the requirements for timely filing, and the onus is on Sudduth, not the court, to be aware of and cure any deficiencies in the notice of appeal.” No. 15-50764 (July 18, 2016).
Bechuck sued Home Depot and Advantage Sales for injuries allegedly suffered in a Home Depot store. After a pretrial conference at which the district court expressed skepticism about the claims against Home Depot, and a flurry of resulting orders and motions, a final order of dismissal resulted that Bechuck challenged in several ways. The Fifth Circuit largely agreed with him, concluding, (1) placing a a restriction on where a case can be refiled is not appropriate for a Rule 41(a)(1) or (a)(2) voluntary dismissal, absent any prior history of forum-shopping or other forum-related gamesmanship; and (2) while labelling a Rule 12 dismissal as one under Rule 41(a)(2) is an abuse of discretion, so long as it without prejudice or undue condition, there is no harm because the matter can be freely refiled. Bechuck v. Home Depot USA, No. 15-20219 (Feb. 17, 2016).
Cal Dive settled a hard-fought lawsuit against Schmidt, one of its divers, who alleged that he suffered a debilitating brain injury on the job. A year after the settlement, having continued with surveillance that it conducted during the litigation, Cal Dive brought an “independent action” under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(1) to set aside the settlement, alleging “that, after reaching the Agreement but before signing the Release, Schmidt had acquired a driver’s license and purchased a new car. In the months following the settlement, Schmidt was observed “cutting his grass, shopping, driving, and jogging for at least two miles.” The Fifth Circuit affirmed dismissal of Cal Dive’s action for failure to plead reliance, noting that during the litigation, “Cal Dive did not believe Schmidt’s allegations or testimony and hired its own experts to examine him over several years.” Cal Dive Int’l v. Schmidt, No. 15-30300 (Jan. 21, 2016, unpublished).
Ybarra sued the Dish Network, alleging that he received seven calls from it in violation if the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. The trial court granted partial summary judgment for Ybarra on three of the calls, after which the parties agreed to the dismissal of the remaining claims. Dish appealed, and Ybarra objected because the final judgment did not reserve Dish’s right to appeal. Distinguishing the much-criticized case of Amstar Corp. v. Southern Pacific, 607 F.2d 1100 (5th Cir. 1979), the Fifth Circuit concluded: “Amstar only precludes the appeal of a claim directly covered by the consent judgment. Here, claims subject the partial summary judgment are independent of the settled claims. The reservation of a right to appeal [in the settlement agreement] was effective.” Ybarra v. Dish Network, No. 14-11316 (Oct. 20, 2015).
The Fifth Circuit reversed a ruling that declined to enforce a Moroccan judgment in the case of Dejoria v. Maghreb Petroleum Exploration, S.A., No. 14-51022 (Sept. 30, 2015). Acknowledging that the Moroccan court system has been criticized for a lack of independence from that country’s king, the Court concluded that “we cannot agree that the Moroccan judicial system lacks sufficient independence such that fair litigation in Morocco is impossible,” and that the defendant had not shown that “Morocco would not recognize an otherwise enforceable foreign judgment only because the judgment was rendered in Texas.” The Court distinguished other cases involving Iranian “revolutionary courts” and the Liberian court system during that country’s civil war, saying they “exemplify how a foreign judicial system can be so fundamentally flawed as to offend basic notions of fairness.”
Revisiting the forum non conveniens question whether Mexico is an “available alternative” forum for a tort claim, the Fifth Circuit reaffirmed that the damages caps imposed by Mexican law do not disqualify it as a forum, and that this defense may be raised even in the context of moving to set aside a default judgment. Moreno v. LG Electronics, USA, Inc., No. 14-40563 (Sept. 8, 2015).
The plaintiff in Wooten v. McDonald Transit Assocs. sued for age discrimination and the defendant defaulted. The trial court received damages evidence and entered judgment for the plaintiff. The defendant then appeared – unsuccessfully – but obtained reversal from the Fifth Circuit. No. 13-11035 (Jan 2, 2015).
“On appeal, the [defaulted] defendant, although he may not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence, is entitled to contest the sufficiency of the complaint and its allegations to support the judgment.” Here, the majority saw the pleading as a “threadbare recital of a cause of action,” especially weak as to causation. At the hearing, however, “[P]laintiff’s live testimony provides sufficient evidence of each of the elements of his ADEA cause of action to support the entry of default.”
After a careful review of the language of the rules, precedent, and policy, the majority emphasized the pleadings over the evidence: “As there can be no judgment absent competent pleadings, it strains the text of [Rule 55] to suppose that this investigatory power encompasses the adduction of facts necessary to render the pleadings competent in the first place.” The trial court should have either dismissed or, in one of various ways, ordered amendment of the pleadings and afforded the defendant the chance to answer them. A dissent found that “[t]his result is inordinately lopsided and, even worse, favors the wearer of the black hat over the wearer of the white hat.”
Sundown Energy could access its oil and gas production facility via the Mississippi River, but had to cross Haller’s land to access it from the highway. They litigated about Sundown’s rights and reached a settlement, which their counsel read into the record on the day set for trial. The Fifth Circuit found that the parties had reached a settlement, which the district court had the authority to enforce pursuant to their agreement. The Court reversed, though, as to the district court’s resolution of several logistical issues: “Here, the district court erred by imposing several terms which either conflicted with or added to the agreement read into the record by the parties. Although the parties gave the district court the authority to enforce and interpret the settlement agreement, the district court did not have the power to change the terms of the settlement agreed to by the parties.” Sundown Energy L.P. v. Haller, No. 13-30294 et al. (Dec. 8, 2014).
A mortgage servicer sued two individuals, alleging a conspiracy to defraud; the defendants argued that the servicer lacked standing because the notes in question were not properly conveyed. The case settled during trial, and as part of the settlement “the parties stipulated to several facts, including the fact that the Trusts were the owners and holders of the Loans at issue.” An agreed judgment followed. BAC Home Loans Servicing, L.P. v. Groves, No. 13-20764 (Nov. 3, 2014, unpublished).
The defendants then moved to vacate under FRCP 60(b), arguing that the plaintiff lacked standing. The district court denied the motion and the Fifth Circuit affirmed. It first noted that “the court will generally enforce valid appeal waivers, [but] a party cannot waive Article III standing by agreement . . .” Further noting that “parties may stipulate to facts but not legal conclusions,” the Court held: “That is exactly what happened here. [Defendants] conceded facts that establish [plainitiff’s] status; thus, the district court appropriately reached the resulting legal conclusion that [plaintiff] has standing.”