Venue, mandamus, en banc review, and reading tea leaves

“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.

Abstention and “All Writs” issues in preliminary injunction case

Plaintiffs obtained a preliminary injunction against enforcement of a school voucher program, alleging it violated a desegregation consent decree.  Moore v. Tangipahoa Parish School Board, No. 12-31218 (Jan. 14, 2013, unpublished).  The Fifth Circuit found an abuse of discretion in denying a stay pending appeal.  One reason was Pullman abstention, which arises “when an unsettled area of state law . . . would render a decision on the federal issue unnecessary,” and where the Court said the defendant had a “a strong likelihood of establishing” it in light of pending state litigation about the constitutionality of the law under state law.  Another was jurisdiction under the All Writs Act, where the Court said the plaintiffs’ evidence of harm was “based merely on general financial information and speculation.”  A dissent further discussed Pullman abstention and advocated outright dismissal of the case.  The opinion appears to have been unpublished because of its expedited procedural posture, and a later panel will fully address the merits on a conventional briefing schedule.  Id. at 4 n.1