The 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 Employers Resource v. NLRB, No. 16-60034 (Nov. 1, 2016, unpublished).
Bonnie 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).
A 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 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.
In 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).
- By 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.
In a 4-3 opinion written by Justice Kennedy, the Supreme Court affirmed the Fifth Circuit’s exhaustive analysis and validation of the admissions policies used by the University of Texas at Austin. Fisher v. University of Texas, No. 14–981 (U.S. June 23, 2016). The Dallas Morning News has an excellent summary of this case’s long history.
I recently spoke at the University of Texas appellate course to provide an update on recent Fifth Circuit cases, here is my PowerPoint from that presentation.
Alleging 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).
Justice 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).
Principled and provocative, Justice Scalia served as the Supreme Court’s liaison to the Fifth Circuit for many years. Vaya con Dios.
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 petition, 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.'”
Here is a reprint of my article this week in the Texas Lawbook, Federal Litigation in the Fifth Circuit in the New Year. I hope you find it informative and helpful.
TransCanada 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.
In 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.
1. 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.
Moving to dismiss? Drafting a complaint? Educating a colleague? Check out the newly-revised Twombly/Iqbal page on 600Camp, which includes the recent insights from Wooten v. McDonald Transit Associates, No. 13-11035 (June 7, 2015) (statutory employment claim), Owens v. Jastrow, No. 13-10928 (June 12, 2015) (scienter), and mortgage servicing cases.
At mid-year 2015, you can see here my recommendations for five cases from the last 3 months that are well worth a read.
In 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.)
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.
In 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.”
More 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.)