New test for maritime contract – UPDATED

A unanimous en banc opinion simplified the Fifth Circuit’s test for “whether a contract for performance of specialty services to facilitate the drilling or production of oil or gas on navigable waters is maritime.” The Court now asks: “First, is the contract one to provide services to facilitate the drilling or production of oil and gas on navigable waters? . . . Second, if the answer to the above question is ‘yes,’ does the contract provide or do the parties expect that a vessel will play a substantial role in the completion of the contract?” Larry Doiron, Inc. v. Jackson , No. 16-30217 (revised Jan. 11, 2018).

Of the common law and “chymistry”

Melton v. Phillips, No. 15-10604 (Nov. 13, 2017), a difficult qualified immunity case that required en banc review to resolve, features a concurrence with the unusual verb “cross-pollinated” to describe a confluence of two lines of authority. That perspective on the development of common law recalls the concept of “vegetation” in early scientific thought, used to describe vigorous and lively growth not just in plant life, but throughout nature. Indeed, no less than Isaac Newton wrote a paper about “Chymystry” titled “On Nature’s Obvious Laws and Processes in Vegetation”:


Should you capitalize “Internet”?

Yes, according to Alexander v. Verizon Wireless Services LLC:

Although many style guides, such as the Chicago Manual of Style, and news sources, such as the Associated Press, no longer instruct writers to capitalize “Internet,” we decline to follow this trend. For many, such as the New York Times, the reason for the change to “internet” is simple: others were doing it, so they thought they should, too.  “Internet,” however, was originally capitalized to distinguish the global network from other internets—short for “inter networks”—which are collections of smaller networks that communicate using the same protocols.  In our view, this still makes the word a proper noun, regardless of how often people refer to other internets. Furthermore, to the extent “decapitalizing [I]nternet is part of a universal linguistic tendency to reduce the amount of effort required to produce and process commonly-used words,” we reject the tasks of striking an additional key or reading over a capital “I” as persuasive reasons to alter a word.

No. 16-31227 n.12 (Nov. 13, 2017) (citations omitted).

Fifth Circuit Pro Bono Program

The Fifth Circuit describes its newly-created Pro Bono Program as follows. Great opportunity for quality appellate experience!

“The Program assists the Court by facilitating the appointment of pro bono counsel to represent pro se litigants. Pro Bono Panel members will, at the Court’s invitation, be appointed in civil appeals that, for example, present issues of first impression, complex facts or legal questions, or potentially meritorious claims warranting further briefing and/or oral argument.

Pro bono appointments are made by the Court, and are limited to proceedings before this Court. Although oral argument is not guaranteed, cases selected for the Program are likely to meet the Court’s criteria for granting oral argument.

Attorneys wishing to join the Pro Bono Panel should submit to the CMJS Office a cover letter (including statement of types of cases, if any, that counsel prefers or does not prefer), resumé, writing sample (appellate brief or brief of substantive motion), and statement of good standing in the Fifth Circuit Bar. Applications for panel membership should be emailed to the CMJS Office at Questions about the program may be directed to Kate Clark, Administrative Attorney, at that email address or by telephone at 504-310-7799.”

Four New Fifth Circuit Judges Nominated

Former Texas Solicitor General Jim Ho and Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett have been nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The Texas Lawbook features a thorough discussion of the nominations, as does the Dallas Morning News. From Louisiana, President Trump has also nominated Stuart Duncan and U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt; The Advocate has a good summary of their backgrounds.

Federal Circuit grants mandamus relief about EDTEX venue.

The four-part venue test adopted by the Eastern District of Texas after the Heartland opinion was short-lived, as the Federal Circuit granted mandamus relief in In re Cray, noting: “[O]ur analysis of the case law and statute reveal three general requirements relevant to the inquiry: (1) there must be a physical place in the district; (2) it must be a regular and established place of business; and (3) it must be the place of the defendant.”

If a holding is not a holding, what does it hold?

After last week’s opinion in In re: DuPuy Orthopaedics, the plaintiffs have sought en banc review of a panel majority’s statements about the trial court’s ruling on the key issue of waiver. The petition raises interesting and basic questions about the scope of opinions. (For more on that general topic, check out David Coale & Wendy Couture, Loud Rules, 34 Pepperdine L. Rev. 715 (2007)).

How to get en banc rehearing –

The Fifth Circuit recently granted rehearing en banc in two civil cases – Ariana M. v. Humana Health Services, 853 F.3d 753 (5th Cir. 2017), which reviewed the decisions of an ERISA plan administrator, and In re: Doiron, 849 F.3d 602 (5th Cir. 2017), which addressed whether a contract was “maritime” in nature. The common thread? Both opinions made express appeals to the full court for review:

  • In Ariana, all three panel members who joined in the same opinion also joined in a special concurrence:  “As any sports fan dismayed that instant replay did not overturn a blown call learns, it is difficult to overcome a deferential standard of review. The deferential standard of review our court applies to ERISA decisions often determines the outcome of disputes that are far more important than a sporting event: decisions made by retirement and health plans during some of life’s most difficult times, as this case involving a teenager with a serious eating disorder demonstrates. So it is striking that we are the only circuit that would apply that deference to factual determinations made by an ERISA administrator when the plan does not vest them with that discretion.” (emphasis added)
  • And the conclusion of the unanimous Dorian panel opinion said: “It is time to abandon the Davis & Sons test for determining whether or not a contract is a maritime contract. The test relies more on tort principles than contract principles to decide a contract case. It is too flexible to allow parties or their attorneys to predict whether a court will decide if a contract is maritime or non-maritime or for judges to decide the cases consistently. The Supreme Court’s decision in Kirby reinforces this conclusion. Just as important, the above test will allow all parties to the contract to more accurately allocate risks and determine their insurance needs more reliably.” (emphasis added)

Practical tip for private eyes

In a break from the usual topics about federal procedure, today’s post about the case of Foster v. Woods provides some practical advice for private investigators. Foster, a licensed private investigator, tailed a car into a school parking lot and observed it for a short period before realizing that the driver was his target’s teenaged son. Unfortunately for Foster, the son observed him and told a friend, whose father was the local sheriff. After Foster left the school grounds the sheriff arrested him and unsuccessfully attempted to prosecute him for having brought a firearm onto school grounds (although Foster held a concealed-carry permit, and neither he nor the firearm left the car while in the school parking lot. Foster sued for wrongful arrest; the Fifth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the sheriff: “Relevant here, Woods knew that Foster was not a student, that he followed a student’s vehicle into a student parking lot posted with a ‘no trespassing” sign, and that Foster remained in the lot for some time as students were arriving for school. . . . Given the facts known to Woods, he had knowledge that would warrant a reasonable officer to believe that Foster violated the trespass statute.” Advice – use caution when entering private property.

First Amendment v. Security – not about travel bans –

In an interesting parallel to the ongoing litigation about travel bans (which most recently produced a District of Hawaii opinion granting a TRO), the Fifth Circuit denied en banc review in Defense Distributed v. U.S. Dep’t of State, which affirmed a preliminary injunction about the use of 3-D printing technology to make certain firearms. A dissent observes: “Certainly there is a strong public interest in national security. But there is a paramount public interest in the exercise of constitutional rights, particularly those guaranteed by the First Amendment . . . ” No. 15-50759 (March 15, 2017).

Summary of circuit split about “cross-appeal” rule –

It is well-settled nationally that “an appellate court may not alter a judgment to benefit a nonappealing party” because “it takes a cross-appeal to justify a remedy in favor of an appellee.” Greenlaw v. United States, 554 U.S. 237, 244–45 (2008). The Fifth Circuit treats that principle as jurisdictional. See, e.g., Amazing Spaces, Inc. v. Metro Mini Storage, 608 F.3d 225, 250 (5th Cir. 2010) (“[T]his circuit follows the general rule that, in the absence of a cross-appeal, an appellate court has no jurisdiction to modify a judgment so as to enlarge the rights of the appellee or diminish the rights of the appellant.”) Some other Circuits, however, take a different view. See, e.g., Am. Roll-On Roll-Off Carrier LLC v. P&O Parts Baltimore, Inc., 479 F.3d 288, 295 (4th Cir. 2007) (“This circuit views the cross-appeal requirement as one of practice, rather than as a strict jurisdictional requirement.”) (Thanks to my LPCH colleague Russ Herman for pointing this out.)

Potential new Fifth Circuit judges

Texas Lawyer reports that six candidates are under consideration for the two vacancies on the Fifth Circuit – “Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett; U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor of Fort Worth; former Texas solicitor general James Ho; Andy Oldham, a deputy general counsel to Gov. Greg Abbott; Michael Massengale, a justice on Houston’s First Court of Appeals; and Brett Busby, a justice on Houston’s Fourteenth Court of Appeals” – the full story appears here.

A picture is worth a thousand words –

Press coverage of Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court has noted his intelligent and accessible writing style, including use of a sentence diagram (left) in a criminal case that turned on what elements of the crime required proof of intent. In the same spirit, in dissent from the denial of en banc rehearing in a highly technical case about protection of the dusky gopher frog (right), Judge Edith Jones used a pair of Venn diagrams to illustrate her view of how the Endangered Species Act should operate (below left), contrasted with the panel opinion’s (below right). Markle Interests v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, No. 14-31008 (Feb. 14, 2017).



persistenceThe NLRB consistently holds that an agreement requiring arbitration of individual claims (and thus foreclosing class actions) violates federal labor law; the Fifth Circuit consistently reverses the NLRB on this point. After again reversing the NLRB and citing the Circuit’s “rule of orderliness” about deference to prior panel decisions, the Court noted the NLRB’s remarkably candid litigation position: “The Board concedes that this court has squarely rejected both of those decisions, and that our precedents necessitate rejecting its arguments here. The Board further acknowledges that it seeks to manufacture a circuit split in order to ‘facilitate Supreme Court review.'”  Employers Resource v. NLRB, No. 16-60034 (Nov. 1, 2016, unpublished).