Griffith sued his former employer under state law, referring in the pleading to a charge he filed with the EEOC and its issuance of a right-to-sue notice. Alcon removed based on federal question jurisdiction; the district court accepted the removal and granted summary judgment to the employer. The Fifth Circuit reversed: “Although Griffith indeed referenced his dealings with the EEOC in his complaint, he did not mention Title VII or any similar federal statute. As such, the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiciton and was not entitled to render judgment in Alcon’s favor.” Griffith v. Alcon Research, No. 17-20290 (Dec. 6, 2017, unpublished).
PlainsCapital asserted federal jurisdiction over a collection action on two large notes, contending that it would have to establish holder in due course status under federal law to recover (the notes came to PlainsCapital via assignment from the FDIC after a bank failure). The Fifth Circuit disagreed, reversing the district court’s summary judgment for the bank. As to the well-pleaded complaint rule, the Court observed: “PlainsCapital conflates the terms ‘holder’ and ‘holder in due course.’ A ‘holder is ‘the person in possession of a negotiable instrument that is payable either to bearer or to an identified person that is the person in possession. By contrast, a party’s status as a holder ‘in due course’ merely ‘determines the applicable defenses which a defendant . . . ‘ may assert.” PlainsCapital Bank v. Rogers, No. 16-41654 (Oct. 25, 2017).
In a 2-1 decision, the Fifth Circuit found that Ezekiel Elliott failed to exhaust remedies within the NFL’s dispute-resolution process before filing suit, meaning that the federal courts lacked subject matter jurisdiction over his complaints. A dissent found a sufficient question about the adequacy of the process to justify the exercise of jurisdiction under the relevant authorities. NFLPA v. NFL, No. 17-40936 (Oct. 12, 2017). While of enormous interest to Cowboys fans, so far as arbitration goes, the opinion is centered on issues unique to collective bargaining agreements.
At oral argument, the appellant in a technical dispute about the appointment of arbitrators “argued for the first time that ‘if maritime jurisdiction applies, then . . . there is appellate jurisdiction over the appeal.'” The Fifth Circuit observed: “We do not usually allow parties to raise a new argument for the first time at oral argument. . . . Of course, an argument that this court lacks jurisdiction cannot be waived, but here the argument is that the court has jurisdiction, a matter the appellant is required to prove.” Bordelon Marine, LLC v. Bibby Subsea ROV, LLC, No. 16-30847 (April 14, 2017, unpublished).
“In 2004, an Iraqi insurgent group kidnapped and murdered twelve Nepali men as they traveled through Iraq to a United States military base to work for . . . a Jordanian corporation that had a subcontract with . . . Kellogg Brown Root.” Adhikari v. Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc., No. 15-20225 (Jan. 3, 2017). The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of tort claims against KBR brought by the representatives of the deceased, including a claim based on the Alien Tort Statute.
The ATS is a cryptic part of the Judiciary Act of 1798, stating: “The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” In 2013, the Supreme Court clarified and limited the extraterritorial scope of the statute in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 133 S. Ct. 1658. Applying Kiobel, the panel majority found no ATS claim stated, despite the strong policy against the human trafficking that was alleged to be involved in this case. A dissent read Kiobel to establish a “touch and concern” test as to contact with the United States, and would have found a cognizable ATS claim pleaded on these facts.
The Romans sued Ford Motor Co. and a Houston AutoNation dealer. The dealer moved to compel arbitration; the district court denied the motion; and the dealer appealed. Unfortunately, the Fifth Circuit was “not satisfied, based on the record before it, that [the dealer] does not share citizenship with the Romans.” Reminding that the Federal Arbitration Act is not an independent basis for federal jurisdiction, the Court vacated the district court’s order and remanded for determination of subject matter jurisdiction — with instructions to dismiss if diversity was not established. Roman v. AutoNation Ford Gulf Freeway, No. 16-20047 (Oct. 13, 2016, unpublished).
The plaintiff in GlobeRanger Corp. v. Software AG won a $15 million judgment for misappropriation of trade secrets. The Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding:
- After a thorough review of Circuit precedent – not all entirely consistent – “that GlobeRanger’s trade secret misappropriation claim requires establishing an additional element than what is required to make out a copyright violation: that the protected information was taken via improper means or breach of a confidential relationship. Because the state tort provides substantially different protection than copyright law, it is not preempted.”
- Recognizing the “jurisdictional Catch-22” created by that ruling, and referring back to an earlier panel opinion from the time of the case’s removal: “As the complaint [then] alleged only conversion of intangible property for which there is equivalency between the rights protected under that state tort and federal copyright law, complete preemption converted the conversion claim into one brought under the Copyright Act that supported federal question jurisdiction at the time of removal and supplemental jurisdiction after it was dismissed.”
- Found that GlobeRanger had offered sufficient evidence of: (1) what specifically constituted its claimed trade secrets; (2) whether Software AG acquired trade secrets improperly or with notice of impropriety, particularly in light of federal contracting regulations; and (3) whether Software AG “used” any trade secret.
The opinion concluded with an unfortunately apt observation about the business litigation that is the focus of this blog: “This case demonstrates the unfortunate complexity of much of modern civil litigation. A trial involving a single cause of action—misappropriation of trade secrets (plus a derivate conspiracy claim)—has resulted in an appeal raising numerous issues that span the lifecycle of the lawsuit: jurisdiction; preemption; federal contracting regulations; expert testimony on damages; and jury instructions.
The plaintiff in Watson v. City of Allen sued, in Texas state court, several Texas cities about the operation of their “red light camera” programs.No. 15-10732 (May 5, 2016). The cities removed based on his RICO claim and CAFA. Plaintiff then dropped the RICO claim and sought remand based on CAFA’s “local controversy” and “home state” exceptions. The district court kept the case, finding it untimely as to CAFA, finding supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims, and dismissing many claims for lack of standing. The Fifth Circuit reversed, concluding:
- The 30-day deadline in 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) does not apply to CAFA mandatory abstention provisions, since it “does not deprive federal courts of subject matter jurisdiction, but rather, acts as a limitation upon the exercise of jurisdiction granted by CAFA.”
- The CAFA motion was filed within a reasonable time of removal, when “[a]ll indications are that [Plaintiff] acted diligently to gather evidence,” and because “fifty-two days is simply not a very long time.”
- The “home state” exception applied because “[t]his suit’s primary thrust is an attempt to declare unconstitutional red light camera scheme,” meaning that the State of Texas and its municipalities were the “primary defendants,” and not the companies hired to carry out the program.
- The district court should have declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction, since “Texas courts have a strong interest” in the remaining issues and the plaintiff’s “motion to amend . . . to delete the federal claims is not a particularly egregious form of forum manipulation, if it is manipulation at all.”
Appellants, investors who lost money in their dealings with Allen Stanford, began a FINRA arbitration against Pershing LLC, a clearing broker. The panel rejected appellants’ $80 million claim, awarding only $10,000 in arbitration-related expenses. Pershing sought confirmation in federal court and encountered a split in authority about the amount-in-controversy requirement — the “demand” approach, which would allow jurisdiction, and the “award” approach, which would not. The Fifth Circuit sided with the “demand” approach, finding that it “recognizes the true scope of the controversy between the parties,” and was consistent with the corresponding test for claims filed in district court. A lengthy concurrence suggested that a “general approach” was not needed, given the different fact patterns that can give rise to this kind of dispute about the amount in controversy. Pershing LLC v. Kiebach, No. 15-30396 (April 6, 2016).
The attorney general of Mississippi served Google with a broad administrative subpoena about Google’s efforts to reduce copyright infringement, drug trafficking, and other undesirable uses of its search technology. Google responded with a federal lawsuit seeking an injunction against the subpoena and further proceedings about it. The Fifth Circuit found federal jurisdiction, as “Google’s claims seeking to enjoin a state officer’s alleged violations of federal law invoke federal-question jurisdiction,” and found no reason to abstain under Younger v. Harris. But the Court went on to find that the action was not yet ripe: “there is no current consequence for resisting the subpoena and the same challenges raised in the federal suit could be litigated in state court.” Google, Inc. v. Hood, No. 15-60205 (April 8, 2016). Accordingly, it vacated the injunction granted by the trial court, and remanded with instructions to dismiss.
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).
Continuing to rhyme with “-ata,” the Fifth Circuit rejected an attempt to create appellate jurisdiction in Luvata Grenada LLC v. Danfoss Industries S.A. de C.V., No. 15-60477 (Feb. 11, 2016). Luvata Grenada sued Danfoss US and Danfoss Mexico. Danfoss Mexico won a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, after which Luvata and Danfoss US stipulated to a voluntary dismissal without prejudice. “However, it is well settled in this circuit that parties cannot manufacture appellate jurisdiction by agreeing to dismiss remaing claims without prejudice. . . . The parties did not obtain a Rule 54(b) certification from the district court, and they cannot achieve the same result by ‘self help.'”
Boaz Legacy LP sued Roberts about ownership of land. Roberts argued that the land was located to the north of “the vegetation line along the south bank of the Red River,” which places the land in Oklahoma under the terms of the Red River Boundary Compact. Accordingly, Texas state and federal courts lacked subject matter jurisdiction under the “local action doctrine.” Boaz argued that the Compact did not apply to a boundary dispute among private landowners, but the Fifth Circuit disagreed: “[T]his argument conflates the underlying dispute with the present determination, which is purely jurisdictional.” Boaz Legacy LP v. Roberts, No. 15-10439 (Jan. 11, 2016, unpublished).
Collins challenged bankruptcy court jurisdiction over “illusory indemnity and contribution claims” that he alleged had no conceivable effect on the bankruptcy estate due to their lack of merit. The Fifth Circuit rejected his argument: “Both the Supreme Court and this court have gravitated away from conflating jurisdiction and merits, and Collins’s proposed standard results in exactly that conflation.” The Court also noted that the claims, based on a principal’s alleged commitment to indemnify its agent, were not “wholly insubstantial and frivolous” on their merits. Collins v. Sidharthan, No. 14-41226 (Dec. 15, 2015).
In one of its infrequent but steady appearances in the Fifth Circuit, the Rooker/Feldman doctrine arose in a federal court lawsuit alleging misconduct in state court about the confirmation and enforcement of a large arbitration award. Building on Truong v. Bank of America, 717 F.3d 377 (5th Cir. 2013), the Court affirmed the dismissal of claims about collection efforts, finding that “the [state court judgment itself was the source of these injuies.” As to civil rights claims about the proceedings leading up to confirmation, however, “the timing of the injury was before the state court entered judgment. And unlike . . . the conversion claim described above, none of the alleged conspirators was acting under the authority of the turnover orders in seeking to obtain a remedy.” Land & Bay Gauging, LLC v. Shor, No. 14-40259 (Aug. 21, 2015, unpublished).
A medical group sued a payor for underpayments. The payor removed under ERISA complete preemption, contending that “about 98% of [Plaintiff’s] claims are claims for ERISA plan benefits.” The district court kept the case and entered judgment for the payor; the Fifth Circuit reversed: “a claim that implicates the rate of payment as set out in the Provider Agreement, rather than the right to payment under the terms of the benefit plan, does not run afoul of [Aetna Health, Inc. v. Davila, 542 U.S. 200 (2004)] and is not preempted by ERISA.” Kelsey-Seybold Medical Group v. Great-West Healthcare of Texas, No. 14-20506 (Aug. 10, 2015, unpublished).
1. Improper joinder when the acts of the nondiverse employee that allegedly tortiously interfered with the plaintiff’s contract were ratified by the employer. Denson v. Beavex, Inc., No. 14-20534 (May 22, 2015, unpublished).
2. No appellate jurisdiction when the district court administratively closed the case in favor of arbitration. “[A]n order by the district court administratively closing a case is tantamount to a stay, and bars appellate review.” Walker v. TA Operating, LLC, No. 14-41046 (May 22, 2015, unpublished).
3. “[A] district court cannot permissively abstain from exercising jurisdiction in proceedings related to Chapter 15 [cross-border bankruptcy] cases.” Firefighters’ Retirement System v. Citco Group Ltd., No. 14-30857 (revised August 6, 2015).
4. A lawyer who intervenes in a client’s case to protect a fee interest must independently establish diversity of citizenship and the requisite amount in controversy. Samuels v. Twin City, No. 14-31203 (May 18, 2015, unpublished).
The defendants in a wrongful foreclosure case removed and the district court dismissed the borrower’s claims on the pleadings. The Fifth Circuit reversed for jurisdictional reasons. Smith v. Bank of America, No. 14-50256 (revised March 20, 2015, unpublished).
As to diversity jurisdiction, which was based on improper joinder of several defendants, the Court reminded: “[W]hen confronted with an allegation of improper joinder, the court must determine whether the removing party has discharged its substantial burden before proceeding to analyze the merits of the action.”
Several labor unions arbitrated disputes with American Airlines about pilot seniority. Mackenzie v. Air Lines Pilots Association, No. 11-11098 (Dec. 23, 2014, unpublished). Two pilots sought to bring a class action to challenge the arbitration award. The Fifth Circuit dismissed for lack of standing: “[W]hen a CBA formed pursuant to the RLA establishes a mandatory, binding grievance procedure and vests the union with the exclusive right to pursue claims on behalf of aggrieved employees, an aggrieved employee whose employment is governed by the CBA lacks standing to attack the results of the grievance process in court—the sole exception being the authorization of an aggrieved employee to bring an unfair representation claim.” (citing Mitchell v. Continental Airlines, 481 F.3d 225 (5th Cir. 2007)). The Court’s analysis of this issue resembles discussion about the broader topic of claim preclusion, arising from a privity relationship, based on another party’s litigation activity.
Plaintiff bought a Nissan Murano, paying $39,289 in total. She sued for breach of warranty and related state law claims, and the defendants removed. The issue addressed on appeal was whether the claim fell within the $50,000 amount-in-controversy requirement of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. Scarlott v. Nissan North America, Inc., No. 13-20528 (Sept. 30, 2014). The Fifth Circuit found it did not — the plaintiff’s invocation of a “Level One” Discovery Control Plan under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure did not specify a claim amount, and the defendants did not offer sufficient evidence of dimunution of value, repair costs, or lost profits to bring the claim about the threshold. Notably, under the Magnuson-Moss statute, in calculating the amount in controversy a court may not consider attorneys fees, personal injury damages, or damages associated solely with pendent state-law claims.
In Houston Refining, LP v. United Steel Workers, an arbitrator found that the suspension of a company’s 401(k) plan, after its bankruptcy filing, violated the company’s CBA with a union. No. 13-20384 (Aug. 25, 2014). Two judges agreed that the parties had not “clearly and unmistakably” allowed the arbitrator to decide arbitrability, noting this provision of the parties agreement: “At arbitration, the parties shall reserve all rights to present any and all arguments and advance any and all defenses to them including, without limitation, arguments concerning whether or not an applicable collective bargaining agreement was in effect at the time that a particular grievance arose.” A dissent stressed other provisions of the agreement and the limited scope of review in the CBA context. All three judges agreed that the court had subject matter jurisdiction, but differed on the rationales, in the specific context of an alleged breach of a contract controlled by federal labor law.
In Galaz v. Galaz, a bankruptcy debtor sued her ex-husband for the fraudulent transfer of a royalty interest in the works of the Ohio Players, a popular funk band in the 1970s. Nos. 13-50781, 50783 (Aug. 25, 2014). Her ex-husband brought third-party claims against a music producer, who in turn brought counterclaims. The resulting litigation produced judgments in favor of both the debtor and the producer against the ex-husband. On appeal, in a landscape formed by the legacy of Stern v. Marshall, 131 S. Ct. 2594 (2011), the Fifth Circuit held:
1. While the debtor’s fraudulent transfer claim was not the “paradigmatic” case where assets are transferred out of the estate, it could still “conceivably” affect the estate, and the bankruptcy court thus had statutory jurisdiction because these non-core claims related to her bankruptcy;
2. The producer’s counterclaims, however, had no connection to the estate and the bankruptcy court had no statutory jurisdiction over them;
3. Under Stern, in light of the present posture of cases from this Circuit and one awaiting Supreme Court review, the implied consent of the parties cannot confer constitutional jurisdiction on the bankruptcy court to enter final judgment such as the debtor’s claim here.
Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded, hinting that the bankruptcy court could prepare proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law for the district court as to the debtor’s claims. The Court also noted that the debtor had standing as a creditor under the Texas Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act even though her personal interest in the royalties flowed through a business she partly owned.
A bankruptcy court entered judgment against Defendants, who the filed a new federal lawsuit for a declaratory judgment that the bankruptcy court lacked jurisdiction. Jacuzzi v. Pimienta, No. 13-41111 (August 5, 2014). The district court found that it lacked jurisdiction over that suit, and the Fifth Circuit reversed. Noting that as a general matter, it is procedurally proper to attack a judgment for lack of jurisdiction in a collateral proceeding, the Court found that the lawsuit raised federal questions about due process rights and compliance with the federal rules for service of process. Accordingly, there was federal jurisdiction to hear the challenge to the bankruptcy court judgment.
“The central issue in this case is whether a district court has jurisdiction over an inventorship dispute where the contest patent has not yet issued.” Camsoft Data Systems v. Southern Electronics Supply, Inc., No. 12-31013 (June 19, 2014). After a removal based on patent jurisdiction, the plaintiff amended to add federal antitrust and RICO claims. The Fifth Circuit held: “where — as here — a plaintiff [timely] objects to jurisdiction at removal, that plaintiff does not waive her jurisdictional arguments via post-removal amendment to her complaint.” Then, as to patent jurisdiction — acknowledging some uncertainty in the law on this specific topic — the Court found that the Patent & Trademark Office had “sole discretion” over a pending patent, not the federal courts. Returning to the other federal claims, because those claims had not proceeded to trial, a potential argument against remand based on Caterpillar, Inc. v. Lewis, 519 U.S. 61, was unavailable. Accordingly, the district court’s order of remand to state court was affirmed.
Aransas Project v. Shaw presented a challenge to an injunction against the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, prohibiting the TCEQ from issuing new permits to withdraw water from rivers that feed the estuary where whooping cranes live. No. 13-40317 (June 30, 2014). The whooping crane, described in the opinion as a “majestic bird that stands five feet tall,” is an endangered species, and the only known wild flock lives in Texas during winter.
The Fifth Circuit first rejected an argument for Burford abstention, finding that this case presented a “broader grant of administrative and judicial authority by state law to remedy environmental grievances” than a prior opinion where it allowed abstention in a similar sort of environmental dispute. Cf. Sierra Club v. City of San Antonio, 112 F.3d 789 (5th Cir. 1997).
The Court then reversed the injunction, finding no causation “in the face of multiple, natural, independent, unpredictable and interrelated forces affecting the cranes’ estuary environment.” While couched in language about proximate causation and environmental law, the Court’s analysis is a classic illustration of the recurring Daubert problem of excluding alternate causes. (In the course of this discussion, the butterfly effect theory makes a cameo appearance in footnote 10.)