The district court granted the plaintiff’s motion for conditional class certification under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The defendant sought mandamus review, and the Fifth Circuit held the petition in abatement for more information: ” Although there is generally no ‘inflexible rule requiring district courts to file a written order explaining their decisions,” in this case the district court’s ‘lack of explanation makes it impossible for us to determine’ whether mandamus relief would be appropriate here.” In re Schlumberger Tech. Corp., No. 16-20267 (May 13, 2016, unpublished).
The receiver for the affairs of Allen Stanford assigned some fraudulent transfer claims to a committee of creditors. The defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that while a federal court may hear the claims of a federally-appointed receiver, it may not hear those brought by his assignee. The panel majority, noting that “[n]either side of this dispute has cited any controlling cases” on the point, found that the district court did not “clearly and indisputably err, if it erred at all,” because the point did not have a clear resolution. A dissent would have heard the case, observing: “It is unfortunate that the [defendants] should be forced to litigate this case to conclusion, if they can afford it, before resolving this difficult and novel jurisdictional issue.” In re American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities, No. 15-11188 (March 3, 2016). This exchange echoes several others in recent years about mandamus and the balance of power between the trial and appellate levels of the court system. (Thanks to 600Camp friend Jeff Levinger for flagging this one.)
In the cases of In re: Radmax and In re: Volkswagen of America, the Fifth Circuit asserted its power to oversee the transfer of cases under 28 USC § 1404(a). In the recent case of In re: Archer Directional Drilling Co., the Court stayed and partially remanded a venue appeal for the district court to make findings on the relevant factors: “Here, unlike in Volkswagen and Radmax, the district court failed to provide any analysis supporting its denial of Archer’s motion to transfer the case. Articulating the basis for the denial of a change of venue motion is ‘the better practice’ for a district court. . . . In the present case, the lack of explanation makes it impossible for us to determine whether the district court clearly abused its discretion, which is required in order for us to decide whether to
grant mandamus relief.” (citations omitted). No. 15-41539 (Jan. 13, 2016, unpublished).
Red Barn Motors sued its lender in a Louisiana district court. That court transferred the case to Indiana based on a forum selection clause. Three months later, the dealer sought mandamus relief from the Fifth Circuit, which denied its request. The Court noted that the case was no longer in the Circuit – meaning that the only possible remedy would be to ask the Indiana court to return the case, which would require a “very extreme case.” “Despite the potential availability” of this limited opportunity for mandamus relief, the Court found that the unexplained three-month delay in seeking review showed a lack of diligence that defeated the petition. In re: Red Barn Motors, Inc., No. 15-30067 (July 20, 2015).
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.)
Jefferson sued Delgado Community College, alleging that it was “an agency or instrumentality of the government of the State of Louisiana.” The Louisiana Attorney General appeared for the State, argued that she had not correctly named the State in the case, and suggested how to properly serve the college. Jefferson v. Delgado Community College, No. 14-30379 (March 12, 2015, unpublished). The district court denied the AG’s motion to dismiss, pointing to what the pleading said. The AG sought appellate review and the Fifth Circuit found it had no jurisdiction. The ruling was not appealable as a collateral order: “For example, personal jurisdiction implicates a defendant’s due process rights, but a defendant may not appeal the denial of a motion to dismiss based on lack of personal jurisdiction under the collateral order rule.” The Court also denied mandamus relief, noting that the district court’s ruling was not clearly erroneous given the language of the pleading, and suggesting that the parties may wish to consider the AG’s suggestion about proper service for future proceedings in the case.
Pearl Seas sued Lloyd’s Register North America (“LRNA”) for inadequate performance in certifying a cruise ship (the “Pearl Mist,” seen to the right.) LRNA moved to dismiss on the grounds of forum non conveniens in favor of England, citing a forum selection clause contained in its rules. The district court denied the motion without explanation and the Fifth Circuit reversed in a 2-1 panel opinion. In re Lloyd’s Register North America, Inc.. No. 14-20554 (Feb. 24, 2015), re-released after initial publication as a per curiam opinion on February 18.
The Court held: (1) as in the case of In re: Volkswagen, 545 F.3d 304 (5th Cir. 2008) (en banc), which involved the denial of a motion to transfer venue, mandamus is appropriate in the context of forum non conveniens; (2) it is an abuse of discretion to “grant or deny a[n FNC] motion without written or oral explanation” as to the relevant factors; and (3) the plaintiff was plainly bound by LRNA’s rules under the doctrine of direct-benefit estoppel, since its claim “referenced duties that must be resolved by reference to the classification society’s rules.” (citing Hellenic Inv. Fund v. Det Norkse Veritas, 464 F.3d 514 (5th Cir. 2006)). (A panel reached a similar result in Vloeibare Pret Limited v. Lloyd’s Register North America, Inc., No. 14-20538 (April 16, 2015, unpublished).
A dissent by Judge Elrod argued that the majority’s analysis of direct-benefit estoppel expanded the Court’s prior holdings in two areas — the degree to which the claim incorporated the relevant rules, and the timing of when the plaintiff learns of the rules. The dissent also expressed concern that the substantive claim would not be recognized in England.
The point of division between the majority and dissent — whether an error is “clear” or not — resembles a similar split between the majority and dissent in the mandamus case of In re Radmax, 720 F.3d 285 (5th Cir. 2013), which granted the writ as to the erroneous denial of an “intra-district” motion to transfer venue. Interestingly, Judge Higginson was the dissenter in Radmax, and also dissented from the denial of en banc review of that panel opinion, while here he forms part of the two-judge majority that grants mandamus relief. Judge Smith, who was in the majority of the Radmax panel opinion, is the author of this opinion after its initial release as per curiam.
In the press of year-end business, I neglected to cover a notable mandamus opinion in 2014 from the Federal Circuit, In re Google, Inc, No. 2014-147, 2014 WL 5032336 (Oct. 9, 2014). Reminiscent of that Court’s opinion in In re Genentech, 566 F.3d 1338 (2009), and the Volkswagen/Radmax line of cases from the Fifth Circuit, In re: Google addresses the denial of a motion to transfer patent litigation from the Eastern District of Texas.
The district court focused on “each defendant mobile phone manufacturer’s ability to modify and customize” the relevant platform. The Federal Circuit disagreed and granted mandamus relief, emphasizing the “substantial similarity involving the infringement and invalidity issues in all the suits.” That Court also rejected an argument based on the first-filed rule, finding that on these facts, “the equities of the situation do not depend on this argument.” (quoting Kerotest Mfg. Co. v. C-O-Two Fire Equip Co., 342 U.S. 180, 186 n.6 (1952). Concluding with a review of the practical considerations listed by 1404(a), the Court noted that the product at issue was developed in the Northern District of California, and thus the “bulk of the relevant evidence” is there as well.
A helicopter crashed in the Gulf of Mexico. Its owner sued three defendants — Rolls-Royce, who built the engine bearing in question; the designer of the “pontoon flotation” system that deployed after the crash; and a repair company that worked on that system. Rolls-Royce sought severance and transfer to Indiana, based on a forum selection clause in its warranty, and relying on the recent case of Atlantic Marine Construction v. Western District of Texas, 134 S. Ct. 568 (2013). The district court denied its motions; in a 2-1 decision, the Fifth Circuit reversed. In re: Rolls Royce Corp., 775 F.3d 671 (5th Cir. 2014).
After confirming that mandamus relief was available, despite the novel procedural context of a combined transfer and venue motion, the majority reviewed the applicability of Atlantic Marine. “For cases where all parties signed a forum selection contract, the analysis is easy: except in a truly exceptional case, the contract controls.” For a situation such as this one, however, the analysis is more subtle: “While Atlantic Marine noted that public factors, standing alone, were unlikely to defeat a transfer motion, the Supreme Court has also noted that section 1404 was designed to minimize the waste of judicial resources of parallel litigation of a dispute. The tension between these centrifugal considerations suggests that the need — rooted in the valued public interest in judicial economy — to pursue the same claims in a single action in a single court can trump a forum-selection clause.”
The dissent “believe[s] the majority have erroneously and confusingly diminished the scope of Atlantic Marine,” concluding: “Simple two-party disputes are near a vanishing breed of litigation. It seems highly unlikely that the Supreme Court granted certiorari and awarded the extraordinary relief of mandamus simply to proclaim that a forum selection clause must prevail only when one party sues one other party. The Court is not naive about the nature of litigation today.”
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.)
The district court ordered Glay Collier, a bankruptcy attorney, to stop advertising for “no money down” Chapter 7 services. Despite efforts by Collier, some online ads remained. The district court found him in contempt and ordered him confined for 48 hours “[a]s a result of the violation of this Court’s order, without any reasonable excuse other than ‘I forgot[.]'” In re Glay Collier, No. 14-30887 (Sept. 19, 2014, unpublished). The Fifth Circuit granted mandamus, finding that this order involved criminal rather than civil contempt, and thus triggered procedural safeguards that had not been invoked. Among other considerations, the Court noted that “the sanction was for an unconditional term of imprisonment,” that Collier “could have taken additional steps to comply with the court’s order by the time he was remanded into custody,” and that the district court cited “‘the violation’ of [its] order (not the continued non-compliance) as the basis for its finding of civil contempt.” A similar order was treated in the same fashion in the later case of Wheeler v. Collier, No. 14-30961 (March 5, 2015, unpublished).
The dispute presented by the petition for a writ of mandamus in In re Times-Picayune, LLC was a criminal defendant’s ability to have identifying information about online commentators on the defendant’s case produced for in camera review; the defendant contending that the commentators were federal prosecutors. No. 14-30298 (April 8, 2014, unpublished). The Fifth Circuit denied the petition, reasoning: “Here, we are not persuaded that the district court’s (1) balancing of the speech rights of anonymous commenters against the due process interests of [defendant] and (2) ordering the Times-Picayune to turn over information for in camera review was clearly and indisputably erroneous. As an initial matter, there is little case law illuminating how the competing interests in situations comparable to this one should be balanced. . . . Even in the absence of precedent, however, we cannot say that the district court here clearly reached the wrong decision.” [The short opinion is worth comparing to the concurrence in All Plaintiffs v. Transocean Offshore from 2013, about the availability of mandamus relief for discovery matters.] And subsequently, the district court concluded that the commentator at issue was not a prosecutor.
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.
“What does Judge X think about my issue?” If Judge X has served on the Fifth Circuit for some time, his or her votes in two cases can provide good insight: (1) the denial of en banc rehearing in Huss v. Gayden, 585 F.2d 823 (5th Cir. 2009), a difficult Daubert case, and (2) the en banc opinion of In re Volkswagen, 545 F.3d 304 (5th Cir. 2008), which granted mandamus relief for the denial of a 1404 venue transfer motion from the Eastern District of Texas. A third case has now joined that list — the recent 7-8 vote to deny en banc rehearing for In re Radmax, 730 F.3d 285 (5th Cir. 2013). The Radmax panel granted mandamus relief to compel an intra-district transfer under section 1404. Judge Higginson, who dissented from the panel, also dissented from the en banc vote, pinpointing the issue as whether the ruling “propounds appellate mandamus power over district judges which the Supreme Court has said we do not have.” The votes in Huss, Volkswagen, and Radmax signal much about a judge’s philosophy as to the power and role of a district judge.