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).

2 RICO holdings and 1 general observation –

brasher-img9-perschke-o-bgBonnie Pereida’s estate successfully brought RICO claims against a dealer in rare coins, arguing that it systematically deceived Ms. Pereida about the quality of the coins she bought from it. The Fifth Circuit agreed with the estate that the RICO claim survived her, finding that “RICO’s remedial purpose predominates” over its penal purposes. But, it reversed as to the proof of a “pattern of racketeering activity,” finding that the relevant time period was too short and did not qualify as “open-ended.” It noted that on remand, the plaintiff could potentially still elect a remedy in common-law fraud where this problem would not arise.

During that analysis, the Court offered a telling general comment: “[Plaintiff] contends that the Defendants waived this challenge to the ‘pattern’ element by raising it for the first time in their motion for a new trial. It should have been raised, he argues, in a motion for summary judgment so he would have known that this was a contested issue. The argument says a lot about modern civil litigation in which summary judgment, rather than trial, has become the focus. But when a case does go to trial, the burden is on the plaintiff to prove every element.” Malvino v. Dellniversita, No. 15-41435 (Oct. 20, 2016) (emphasis added).

Musings on the recent en banc vote

conservative snapshotA recurring theme in my CLE presentations about the Fifth Circuit is that the phrase “a conservative court” is largely meaningless. To be sure, a majority of Fifth Circuit judges were appointed by Republican presidents, and many judges on the court have “conservative” philosophies, but what that actually means in a specific case about separation of power between judge and jury, trial and appellate courts, branches of government, etc. can vary a great deal.

Consider the recent 8-7 vote against en banc rehearing in Passmore v. Baylor Health, discussed in yesterday’s post, which involved a close Erie question about state law pre-suit requirements. In a slide I just prepared for the upcoming Advanced Civil Appellate course in Austin, you can see the nominees of Republican presidents in red and those of Democratic presidents in blue — the “for” vote was 5-2 and the “against” vote was 5-3. (The judges with stars by their names joined a dissent.) Perhaps that split just shows that this technical issue is not ideological, but I think it also shows that there is far more to judicial philosophy than the simple label of “conservative.”

The Erie Railway keeps a-rollin’

erie railwayThe Fifth Circuit recently denied en banc review — by a “photo finish” 8-7 vote — of Passmore v. Baylor Health System, which concluded that Texas’s expert report requirements for medical malpractice cases were procedural and did not apply in federal court under the Erie doctrine. A dissent argued that this vote was inconsistent with the recent en banc opinion in Flagg v. Stryker Corp. that analyzed a comparable requirement of Louisiana law.

But it wasn’t published!

lawbooksIn a case about the scope of a “drilling rig” exclusion in an insurance policy, a party asked the Fifth Circuit to not follow a previous unpublished opinion because it was not binding precedent. The Court disagreed, stating: “While [Appellant] is correct, we find Cash’s reasoning compelling,” and then applying the precedents cited by the opinion. Nonbinding precedent has persuasive power. Richard v. Dolphin Drilling Ltd., No. 16-30003 (Aug. 1, 2016).

Tie goes to the Fifth Circuit

  • cobb slidingBy short per curiam orders resulting from 4-4 votes, the Supreme Court affirmed the Fifth Circuit’s opinion that upheld an injunction of major parts of President Obama’s immigration program, Texas v. United States, 809 F.3d 134 (5th Cir. 2015), and an important opinion about the jurisdiction of Indian tribal courts, Dolgencorp v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, 746 F.3d 167 (5th Cir. 2014).
  • These rulings are a “split decision” for Judge Jerry Smith, who wrote for the panel majority in Texas while dissenting in Dolgencorp.
  • It is unfortunate that the political process has not produced a ninth Supreme Court Justice, so that the voice of the nation’s highest court could be heard on these important questions of public policy.

Improper joinder clarified, maybe.

joinderAlleging that a toe joint implant did not work properly, Flagg sued “Manufacturing Defendants” (who built the implant) and “Medical Defendants” (who surgically installed it in Flagg’s foot.)  The Manufacturing Defendants were diverse from Flagg,  a Louisiana citizen, while the Medical Defendants were not.

Affirming the district court while reversing the panel, an 11-4 en banc opinion holds “the plaintiff had improperly joined the non-diverse defendants because [he] has not exhausted his claims against those parties as required by statute.”  That Louisiana statute requires review by a “medical review panel” before suit is filed against a health care provider; the Fifth Circuit concluded that pursuant to it, “there is no doubt that the state court would have been required to dismiss the Medical Defendants from the case,” as no such review had occurred at the time of removal.  A vigorous dissent raised questions about the Court’s standard for analyzing claims of improper joinder, as well as whether this kind of state statute (“a non-adjudicative, non-comprehensive, waivable process since concluded in this case”) was a proper foundation for an improper joinder claim.  Flagg v. Stryker Corp., No. 14-31169 (March 24, 2016) (en banc).

“Please, no more Deepwater Horizon appeals.”

bplogoJustice Blackmun famously declared, “From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.”  Callins v. Collins, 510 U.S. 1141 (1994).  In less dramatic fashion, in the 9th appeal from a ruling about the administration of the Deepwater Horizon settlement, the Fifth Circuit has declared: “If the discretionary nature of the district court’s review is to have any meaning, the court must be able to avoid appeals like this one which involve no pressing question of how the [BP] Settlement Agreement should be interpreted or implemented, but simply raise the correctness of a discretionary administrative decision in the facts of a single claimant’s case.”  In re Deepwater Horizon, No. 15-30395 (March 8, 2016).

SCOTUS takes immigration appeal.

In unsurprising but still important news, the Supreme Court has decided to review the Fifth Circuit’s opinion in Texas v. United States, the challenge to President Obama’s immigration initiatives.  The order granting the petition notes: “In addition to the questions presented by the ice_logopetition, the parties are directed to brief and argue the following question: ‘Whether the Guidance violates the Take Care Clause of the Constitution, Art. II, §3.'”

TransCanada arrives in the Fifth Circuit . . .

keystonegraphicTransCanada has sued in Houston federal court about the Keystone Pipeline, alleging that President Obama exceeded his Constitutional authority by denying the necessary permission to proceed.  While this just-filed lawsuit is a long way from Fifth Circuit review, and TransCanada has a substantial business presence in Houston, it comes as no surprise after the rejection of President Obama’s immigration policies in Texas v. United States that this challenge to executive power would be filed in this Circuit.  Here is the complaint in TransCanada v. Kerry.

Immigration Injunction Affirmed — UPDATED

ice_logoIn an opinion with enormous policy impact, the Fifth Circuit has affirmed the injunction of President Obama’s executive actions about immigration. Texas v. United States, No. 15-40238 (revised Nov. 25, 2015).  Judge Smith wrote for the 2-judge majority, joined by Judge Elrod — an unsurprising outcome, since they formed the majority in the Court’s earlier opinion that denied an interim stay.  Judge King dissented.  A petition for Supreme Court review is a certainty.  A good representative article about the decision appears in The Atlantic.

Final 2014-15 SCOTUS notes

SCOTUS1.  As the Supreme Court term wound down, it affirmed the panel opinion in Baker Botts LLP v. ASARCO, holding that under the Bankruptcy Code: “Section §330(a)(1) does not permit bankruptcy courts to award fees to §327(a) professionals for defending fee applications.” No. 14–103 (U.S. June 15, 2015).

2.  The Supreme Court also granted review of Dolgencorp Inc. v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, 746 F.3d 167 (5th Cir. 2014), which addresses Indian tribal court jurisdiction over a tort claim.

Obergefell Aftermath

rainbowringsIn three opinions — one for each state in the Fifth Circuit — the Court remanded the “gay marriage” cases in light of Obergefell v. Hodges.  E.g., De Leon v. Abbott, No. 14-31037 (July 1, 2015).  Noting that the Supreme Court addressed both the Fourteenth and First Amendments in its opinion, the Fifth Circuit observed: “We express no view on how controversies involving the intersection of these rights should be resolved but instead leave that to the robust operation of our system of laws and the good faith of those who are impacted by them.”  (I was recently quoted by the Dallas Morning News about other matters related to Obergefell.)

Immigration Appeal – familiar faces

In Texas v. United States, the high-profile challenge to the Obama Administration’s immigration policies, the oral argument panel has been announced for the “merits” argument on July 10 — Judges King, Smith, and Elrod.  Of course, Judges Smith and Elrod were the two majority votes on the “preliminary stay” panel that ruled for the plaintiffs and denied a stay, strongly signalling how they will the view the issues presented in this phase of the case.

Look away, look away, look away, license plate . . .

confederate plateIn a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court reversed the Fifth Circuit’s 2-1 panel opinion in the “Confederate Flag License Plate Case,” :reasoning: “Texas’s specialty license plate designs constitute government speech, and thus Texas was entitled to refuse to issue plates featuring [the Sons of Confederate Veteran’s] proposed design.”  A thoughtful dissent begins: “The Court’s decision passes off private speech as government speech and, in doing so, establishes a precedent that threatens private speech that government finds displeasing.”

Still More Marshall Mandamus

saturn rocketMore mandamus news of Trinity Industries, the Fifth Circuit, and the Marshall Division of the Eastern District of Texas. Recall that last October, the Fifth Circuit issued an unusual mandamus ruling that denied Trinity’s request for relief on the eve of trial in a high-profile qui tam case, but expressed concern that the federal government had “found the defendant’s product sufficiently compliant with federal safety standards and therefore fully eligible, in the past, present and future, for federal reimbursement claims.” The case went forward, the jury returned a large verdict against Trinity, and a later mandamus petition by Trinity was unavailing.  Judgment has not yet been entered.

The same players have returned to a similar stage. In January 2015, in a product liability case arising from a North Carolina automobile accident, Trinity moved to transfer venue from the Marshall Division. As discovery deadlines approached, Trinity filed an emergency stay application on May 6, and after hearing no response, sought mandamus relief from the Fifth Circuit on May 15.  Later that day, the trial court ordered a transfer to North Carolina, mooting the mandamus petition.

Now it was the trial court’s turn to comment, adding an unusual “addendum” to its opinion. The trial court pointed out that it was already in the process of drafting an order to transfer venue when Trinity filed its mandamus petition. The court further noted that “Trinity has stumbled in its race for credibility” by seeking mandamus intervention, and counseled greater patience from litigants in the future in light of crowded docket conditions.

These events, aside of their dramatic nature, highlight a practical and important challenge of “rocket dockets.” Busy dockets, coupled with tightly compressed discovery schedules, can force counsel into “Catch-22” situations. Counsel either advises their clients to endure extensive, fast-paced litigation activity that they believe is in the wrong place, or risk the ire of courts by “bugging” them for dispositive rulings.

(This blog’s author represents Trinity but not in either matter referred to above.)

Immigration panel announced — UPDATED

The panel has been announced for Friday’s arguments in “the immigration case,” Texas v. United States:  Judges Smith, Elrod, and Higginson.  Like the recent panel in Crane v. Johnson (No.14-10049, April 2, 2015), this panel draws from the major “wings” of the Court – a senior Reagan appointee, a recent Bush appointee (both from Texas) and the second-newest appointee by Obama.

The similarity of panel makeup suggests the potential for a similar result.  Interestingly, while Judge Smith is a strong separation-of-powers conservative (consider his dissent in the en banc False Claims Act case of Riley v. St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital, 252 F.3d 749 (5th Cir. 2001)) he is also a strong voice for judicial action when there is jurisdiction; for example, he has led the Court toward expanded pretrial oversight of district courts in opinions such as In re: Radmax.  Judge Higginson, while new, has a record of thorough opinions that comport with the majority view of legal issues (consider his recent opinion in the False Claims Act case of United States ex rel. Shupe v. Cisco Systems, Inc., 759 F.3d 379 (5th Cir. 2014)).  The panel will give the plaintiffs a full hearing but may well find problems with their standing theories.

At the risk of reading one tea leaf too many, it is worth noting that Judge Elrod dissented from the denial of en banc rehearing in Radmax, as well as a recent panel opinion that granted mandamus relief on a forum issue, In re Lloyd’s Register North America, Inc., No. 14-20554 (Feb. 24, 2015).  The analogy between the Court’s mandamus jurisdiction and the justiciability issues in Texas v. United States is not powerful – and indeed, Judge Smith was on the opposite side of both matters from Judge Elrod – but it does suggest a healthy concern for judicial constraint.

Immigration showdown looms

highnoonThe district court has denied an interim stay of its injunction against the Obama Administration’s immigration policies; the Fifth Circuit has recently rejected, on standing grounds, a comparable case; and oral argument is set for April 17 before the Fifth Circuit on an appellate motion to stay the injunction.  I was recently interviewed by Law360 about the matter and anticipate announcement by the Court of the panel for the April 17 argument in the near future.

Immigration appeal — game on.

With a stay motion still pending in the district court, the United States has asked the Fifth Circuit for an emergency stay of the recent ruling that enjoins President Obama’s immigration program.  No. 15-40238.  A short clerk’s order, which does not reveal the identity or involvement of any judge “behind the curtain,” has set a response date of March 23.  Law360 has written a good article with more detail about the current status in the district court.

En banc review denied, barely, in high-profile whistleblower case

In November, a Fifth Circuit panel affirmed the NLRB’s $30,000 award in a retaliation case based on the employer’s handling of a whistleblower.  Halliburton Co. v. Administratve Review Board, U.S. Dep’t of Labor, No. 13-60323.  The full court has now denied the petition for en banc review, by the close margin of 7 judges for review and 8 against.  A 3-judge dissent criticizes the “ad hoc nature” of the panel opinion and warns that it will lead to confusion about what specific conduct can amount to a materially adverse employment action in the context of a retaliation claim.

Immigration appeal — watch for the panel . . .

Monday evening, a district judge in South Texas enjoined President Obama’s immigration program; the full text of his opinion is available here.  (The case has the remarkably awkward caption of “Texas v. United States.”)  An appeal has not yet been docketed with the Fifth Circuit.  As with the recent gay marriage arguments, the makeup of the panel will be critical to the resolution of this extremely important case.  The Washington Post story is a good example of the media coverage of the ruling.

Court News for the New Year

1.  The Fifth Circuit heard oral arguments on Friday, January 9, in the gay marriage appeals from each of the three states in the Circuit.  Here is a representative news article about the arguments, and the recording of the arguments is available here.

2.  Also on January 9, the Court denied en banc review of a Clean Water Act case arising from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  The vote was 6 in favor of review, 7 opposed, with a short dissenting opinion. I have not followed this opinion previously, and the en banc split is not as telling about commercial cases as a a trio of other votes, but it is nevertheless an uncommon insight on the full Court’s view of an issue.

SCOTUS and CTA5 — recent review decisions

The Supreme Court has granted review of the Fifth Circuit’s opinion in Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans v. Vandegriff, a First Amendment case about Texas’s denial of a request for a specialty license plate featuring the Confederate battle flag.

The Supreme Court has denied review of BP’s challenges to the Deepwater Horizon settlement, resolved by the Fifth Circuit earlier this year in a complicated series of panel opinions and denials of rehearing.

More Marshall Mandamus

After an unusual pretrial mandamus ruling by the Fifth Circuit in a high-profile False Claims Act case, and after the jury returned a plaintiff’s verdict for $175 million — which could be trebled upon final judgment — the defendants returned to the Fifth Circuit last week. They filed a renewed mandamus petition  — drawing on the Court’s statements in the prior ruling — supported by amici filings from Texas A&M and another company.  In re: Trinity Industries, Inc., No. 14-41297.  The Court has requested a response, presently due on December 1.  Further briefing, and the ultimate disposition of this mandamus petition, will be of interest both procedurally and substantively.  (Disclaimer: I am not counsel of record in this proceeding, but do represent Trinity.)

En banc review of standard for bankruptcy fee applications

This summer, in the panel opinion of  Barron & Newburger, P.C. v. Texas Skyline, Ltd., No. 13-50075 (July 15, 2014), the Fifth Circuit affirmed the partial denial of a fee application based on its earlier opinion of  In re: Pro-Snax Distributors, Inc., 157 F.3d 414 (5th Cir. 1998). That earlier opinion rejected a “reasonableness” test in the application of Bankruptcy Code § 330 — which would have asked “whether the services were objectively beneficial toward the completion of the case at the time they were performed” — in favor of a “hindsight” approach, asking whether the professionals’ work “resulted in an identifiable, tangible, and material benefit to the bankruptcy estate.”  All three panel members joined a special concurrence asking the full Court to reconsider Pro-Snax en banc, and that invitation was recently accepted by a majority of active judges.  Law360 provides some good additional commentary about the en banc vote.

The Arc of the Discovery Rules is Long, but it Bends Toward Proportionality

The concept of “proportionality” in discovery began its modern ascendance in  Bell Atlantic Corp v. Twombly, with observations such as these: “Probably, then, it is only by taking care to require allegations that reach the level suggesting conspiracy that we can hope to avoid the potentially enormous expense of discovery in cases with no ‘reasonably founded hope that the [discovery] process will reveal relevant evidence’ to support a § 1 claim.”  127 S.Ct. 1955, 1968 (2007).

Over time, the “proportionality” concept has moved from the discovery rules to pervade the entire system of federal procedure.  Consider Advisory Committee Note to revised Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 1 (approved by the Judicial Conference in September 2014 and now before the Supreme Court): “Effective advocacy is consistent with — and indeed depends upon — cooperative and proportional use of procedure.”

While arising under state law rather than the Federal Rules, the recent Texas Supreme Court of In re National Lloyds Ins. Co. illustrates the concept of proportionality in a highly practical context. The plaintiff in an insurance bad faith case sought evidence about similar claim denials, arguing “that the trial court’s discovery order was (1) limited in time, because it compelled only production of evidence relating to the two storms at issue, and (2) limited by location, because it involved only properties in Cedar Hill.”  ___ S.W.3d ___, No. 13-0761 (Tex. Oct. 31, 2014) (per curiam).

That Court disagreed: “Scouring claim files in hopes of finding similarly situated claimants whose claims were evaluated differently from [plaintiff’s] is at best an ‘impermissible fishing expedition.’ . . . [Plaintiff] is correct that discovery must be reasonably limited in time and geographic scope.   But such limits in and of themselves do not render the underlying information discoverable.”   It concluded that there were still too many likely differences between this set of claims and the plaintiff’s case to justify the discovery request.

More polish on the crystal ball . . .

Because the Fifth Circuit rarely acts en banc in business-related cases, votes by the full court on civil matters deserve careful review as examples of the judges’ broader philosophical leanings.  As detailed in another post, I place particular emphasis on (1) the vote to deny en banc review in the Daubert case of Huss v. Gayden (balancing judicial authority with the jury’s); (2) the vote to grant mandamus relief in the venue dispute of In re Volkswagen (balancing appellate authority with that of the trial court); and (3) the 7-8 vote to deny en banc review in the venue case of In re Radmax (same).  

The issue in the recent en banc case of McBride v. Estis Well Service, LLC, No. 12-30714 (revised Oct. 24, 2014), while facially addressing an important but technical issue of admiralty law, offers insight about the judges’ views of another topic — the authority of the judiciary as opposed to Congress’s. The introduction to Judge Higginson’s dissent succinctly captures that point: “The question presented by this case is whether seamen may recover punitive damages for their employer’s willful and wanton breach of the general maritime law duty to provide a seaworthy vessel. Because the Supreme Court has said that they can, and Congress has not said they can’t, I would answer in the affirmative, and REVERSE.”

Nine judges (spread across three opinions) saw the answer differently.  The conclusion to the majority opinion begins: “In the words of the Supreme Court, ‘Congress has struck the balance for us.'” (citing Mobil Oil Corp. v. Higginbotham, 436 U.S. 618, 623 (1978)).  Two concurrences make similar observations. Notably, all of the active judges appointed by a Democratic president at the time of en banc submission are in dissent.

Mandamus denied. Sort of.

On Friday October 10, the Fifth Circuit denied mandamus relief on the eve of trial in a high-stakes False Claims case, In re Trinity Industries, Inc. — but took the unusual step of making an additional statement: “The court is compelled to note, however, that this is a close case. The writ is timely and the litigation stakes–the potential for a $1 billion adverse judgment–are unusually high. This court is concerned that the trial court,  despite numerous timely filings and motions by the defendant, has never issued a reasoned ruling rejecting the defendant’s motions for judgment as a matter of law.”  The Court went on to cite several specific opinions that caused its concern.

CLE September 9 at Belo with FIVE 5th Circuit judges

On September 9 at noon at the Belo Mansion in downtown Dallas, a panel consisting of Judges Gregg Costa, Jennifer Elrod, James Graves, and Stephen Higginson — and moderated by Judge Catharina Haynes — will offer tips about effective advocacy before the Fifth Circuit.  It is sponsored by the DBA’s Business Litigation Section; co-sponsored by the Appellate Law & Trial Skills Sections.  Terrific opportunity for advice that comes straight from the source.


Keep an eye on the proposed amendments to the FRCP, which will be considered by the Judicial Conference in September and then forwarded on to the Supreme Court and Congress if approved.  Two major features are:

  • –A redefined scope for permissible discovery in Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1) [page 10 of the linked document above]
  • –Revised sanctions rules about the spoliation of electronic evidence in Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(e)(1) and (2) [page 37 of the above]

The Advisory Committee notes, while lengthy, are particularly informative about the reasons for these revisions and how they are intended to work in practice.

Race is a difficult issue.

On Monday the 14th, a 2-1 Fifth Circuit opinion affirmed the free speech rights of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.  On Tuesday the 15th, a 2-1 Fifth Circuit opinion rejected a constitutional challenge to the “top ten percent” admissions policy of the University of Texas: “[T]he backdrop of our efforts here includes the reality that accepting as permissible policies whose purpose is to achieve a desired racial effect taxes the line between quotas and holistic use of race towards a critical mass. We have hewed this line here, persuaded by UT Austin from this record of its necessary use of race in a holistic process and the want of workable alternatives that would not require even greater use of race, faithful to the content given to it by the Supreme Court.”  Fisher v. University of Texas, No. 09-50822.  Both opinions — and the dissents — offer thoughtful analyses of the institutional, historical, and precedential structure of the law governing highly sensitive issues of race, in the geographic area that was once the western portion of the Confederacy. Ideological sound bites will fly about both cases, as the First Amendment allows and encourages, but their reasoning deserves respect and study.

600 Camp Goes Seriously High-Tech

At the recent University of Texas Conference on State and Federal Appeals, Fifth Circuit Clerk Lyle Cayce gave a  presentation about the Court that included a demonstration of a remarkable new technology.  After an attorney files a brief, the Court has software that quickly adds hyperlinks for all case and record citations (which is the reason for the recent local rule change to standardize the form for record references).  Those links are then available to the judges and staff on their computers and tablets.  Among other implications, this new technology means that pre-argument, review of the record is no longer limited to the parties’ record excerpts.

Costa Confirmed

The full Senate confirmed Judge Gregg Costa’s appointment to the Fifth Circuit yesterday. While great news for the Court and bar, it bears mention that the seat was open for 837 days, and two vacancies still remain on the Fifth Circuit.  Just as it is difficult to balance the sound of an orchestra missing musicians, it is hard to balance the powers of a government missing key officials.

9-0 reversal on forum selection

In a 9-0 opinion, the Supreme Court reversed a Fifth Circuit panel about the enforcement of a forum selection clause.  Atlantic Marine Construction v. U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, 571 U.S. ___ (December 3, 2013).  The panel opinion questioned enforceability when the district of suit was otherwise proper under the federal venue statutes; a strong dissent by Judge Catharina Haynes argued otherwise. The Supreme Court endorsed her position: “When the parties have agreed to a valid forum-selection clause, a district court should ordinarily transfer the case to the forum specified in that clause.  Only under extraordinary circumstances unrelated to the convenience of the parties should a §1404(a) motion be denied. And no such exceptional factors appear to be present in this case.”  Procedurally, while the Supreme Court noted in its introduction that the case arose in a mandamus context, it nowhere discusses how that posture affects the analysis — a significant point that divided the Fifth Circuit’s recent en banc vote in the case of In re Radmax.  

New Briefing Rules

Two new briefing rules took effect in the Fifth Circuit on December 1.  The first eliminates the requirement of a separate statement of the case, and consolidates a matter’s procedural and substantive history into a single statement of facts.  The second standardizes record citations.  “For multiple record cases, parties will cite ‘ROA’ followed by a period, followed by the Fifth Circuit appellate case number of the record they reference, followed by a period, followed by the page of the record. For example, ‘ROA.13 12345.123.’  In single record cases, parties cite the short citation form, ‘ROA,’ followed by a period, followed by the page number. For example, ‘ROA.123.'”  This standardized form should help the Court in electronically matching record citations and the actual record.

Spin the bingo wheel again

The Fifth Circuit has voted to rehear en banc the case of Department of Texas, VFW v. Texas Lottery Commission.  Texas allows charitable bingo if the sponsoring organization does not use the proceeds for political advocacy and several charities challenge that restriction on First Amendment grounds.  The case presents the challenging question whether this limitation violates the “unconstitutional conditions” doctrine.

Young guns

The Court released a revised opinion in National Rifle Association v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, a gun control case of broad general interest that has grown in social significance since its original release in October of 2012.  No. 11-10959 (revised April 29, 2013).  A thoughtful opinion rejects a Second Amendment challenge to restrictions on handgun purchases by 18-to-20 year-olds, noting: “considerable historical evidence of age- and safety-based restrictions on the ability to access arms . . . .”  The Court rejected challenges to the standing of the NRA as an organization to sue on behalf of members with personal interests in the dispute.  This case was found to control in a later dispute about a similar law, NRA v. McCraw, No. 12-10091 (revised May 22, 2013).

Five Tips for Fifth Circuit Business Cases in 2013

The Fifth Circuit’s 2012 business litigation opinions suggest these five tips for the New Year:

1.  Plead key details.   While not removing the limits on Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b), the Court has reminded twice of the importance of “what,” “how,” and “when” in pleading under Twombly and Iqbal.  It also reversed a Rule 12 dismissal in a contract case because the plaintiff adequately pleaded an industry custom about the relevant terms.

2.  Plead reasonably.  The Federal Circuit, applying Fifth Circuit law, reversed the denial of Rule 11 sanctions for what it saw as an objectively unreasonable construction of a patent.

3.  Stretch the long arm carefully.  Applying recent Supreme Court authority, the Fifth Circuit found no personal jurisdiction over cases about an “off-the-shelf” software contract, a distributorship arrangement based outside the forum state, and an alleged corporate “alter ego” situation.

4.  Watch the eight corners.   During 2012, the Court reversed once, and then again, to reject exceptions to Texas’s “eight corners” rule about insurance coverage, but also reversed to allow a mistake claim to proceed despite that rule.

5.  Don’t count on mandamus.  After granting mandamus in a high-profile venue dispute in 2008, the Court has since declined to grant the writ as to the wrongful denial of a remand motion and an alleged error about a forum selection clause.

Judge Jones resigns as Chief

Judge Edith Jones has resigned as Chief Judge of the Fifth Circuit, to be succeeded by Judge Carl Stewart from Louisiana.  She will continue to serve on the Court.  This change returns the Court to a familiar balance seen with Chief Judges Henry Politz and Carolyn King, when a Democratically-appointed Chief presided over a court with a majority of Republican-appointed judges.

Top 5 Business Cases from the Second 1/3 of 2012

From the second third of 2012, here are 5 commercial litigation cases from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit worth knowing:

1.  Personal jurisdiction.  “[O]ff-the-shelf, out-of-the-box” software contract did not create a “long-term interactive business relationship” with TexasPervasive Software v. Lexware GMBH & Co., No. 11-50097 (5th Cir. July 20, 2012).

2.  Class certification.  No “commonality” for claims about “whether each individual qualified for the discount based on the evidence in his or her file.”  Ahmad v. Old Republic Nat’l Title Ins., No. 11-10695 (5th Cir. Aug. 13, 2012).

3.  Daubert challenges rejected.  Several issues about mechanical engineering testimony “ultimately . . . affected the weight of the evidence” rather than admissibility.  Roman v. Western Manufacturing, No. 10-31271 (5th Cir. Aug. 17, 2012)

4 and 5.  Satisfying Twombly and Iqbal 

Not enough: pleading that “invokes three potentially cognizable theories of liability,” but “does not identify by date or amount or type of service, any of the alleged bad-faith denials and delays . . . .”  Patrick v. Wal-Mart, 681 F.3d 614 (5th Cir. 2012).

Not enough: “no allegations regarding the types of businesses . . . the size . . . where they are located, or what laws and regulations they have violated.”  Bowlby v. City of Aberdeen, 681 F.3d 215 (5th Cir. 2012).

Compare: “Particularity” standard under FRCP 9(b) “require[s] a plaintiff pleading fraud to specify the statements contended to be fraudulent, identify the speaker, state when and where the statements were made, and explain why the statements were fraudulent. . . . the who, what, when, where, and how of the events at issue.”  E.g., Dorsey v. Portfolio Equities, 540 F.3d 333, 339 (5th Cir. 2008).

“Top Five” opinions from the 1st third of 2012

From the first third of 2012, here are 5 commercial litigation cases from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit worth knowing:

1. Unenforceable arbitration clause. A clause in an employee manual, which could be amended by giving appropriate notice, was illusory and not enforceable.  Carey v. 24 Hour Fitness, 669 F.3d 202 (5th Cir. 2012).

2. Personal jurisdiction. The defendant’s 55 transactions in Mississippi were not sufficiently related to the claim to create personal jurisdiction. This was the Circuit’s first jurisdiction case since two major Supreme Court cases in 2011.  ITL International, Inc. v. Sonstenla, S.A., 669 F.3d 493 (5th Cir. 2012).

3. Sufficient causation evidence. A thorough opinion finds that expert testimony was not needed in a personal injury case, but even then, the evidence of causation was not sufficient.  Huffman v. Union Pacific Railroad, 675 F.3d 412 (5th Cir. 2012).

4. Business Torts Damages 101. The defendants’ acts were not actionable in fraud, did not amount to fraudulent inducement, but did support liability for misappropriation of trade secrets.  Bohnsack v. Varco, 668 F.3d 262 (5th Cir. 2012).

5. Statute of Frauds 101. Sufficient evidence to satisfy the Statute of Frauds is different than what may establish contract liability.  Preston Exploration Co. v. GSF, LLC, 669 F.3d 518 (5th Cir. 2012).


Attorney General provides letter on judicial review

In response to a pointed request by the argument panel in a health care case, Attorney General Holder filed a letter brief on April 5 that affirms DOJ’s recognition of Marbury v. Madison while also defending its right to contest federal jurisdiction.   The request, and the letter brief, form part of the national debate now before the Supreme Court about the constitutionality of recent health care legislation.