Showing posts with label civil procedure. Show all posts
Showing posts with label civil procedure. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Court sentences 'Hotel Rwanda' activist to 25 years; U.S. plaintiffs serve Greek airline in civil action

Paul Rusesabagina
(NDLA: Creator: Erik Mårtensson/TT | Credit: TT Nyhetsbyrån CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Real-life "Hotel Rwanda" protagonist Paul Rusesabagina was sentenced in Kigali to 25 years' imprisonment on terrorism and related charges.

PRI The World's Marco Werman has an interview with journalist and author Michela Wrong about the latest in the case.  I wrote about the case in February.

Besides the concerning criminal proceeding in Kigali, the luring in 2020 of Rusesabagina, a Belgian citizen and U.S. resident, from his San Antonio, Texas, home to his abduction on a Dubai flight purportedly bound for Burundi spawned a lawsuit in the United States.  Claiming under the alien tort statute (ATS) and Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA), Rusesabagina's family sued GainJet, the Athens-based airline that conveyed Rusesabagina in his abduction to Kigali, and Constantin Niyomwungere, who the complaint alleges was a Rwandan agent pretending to be a pastor conveying Rusesabagina to speak in Burundi.

Upon news of the criminal conviction, I thought it time to check the docket in Rusesabagina v. GainJet Aviation S.A. (Court Listener; see also family statement on conviction and more at Rusesabagina Foundation).  Regrettably, there is little of substance to report.  As one might expect, the plaintiffs have struggled with service of process.

The complaint was filed in the Western District of Texas in December 2020.  In May, plaintiffs reported to the court their intention to drop Niyomwungere from the lawsuit.  Plaintiffs wrote that Niyomungere "gave statements to the Rwanda Investigation Bureau in February and August of 2020 admitting that he had helped to kidnap Mr. Rusesabagina."  However, plaintiffs wrote, Niyomwungere is believed to reside in Burundi, and Burundi is not a signatory to the Hague Service Convention.

Meanwhile, plaintiffs had had service on alleged "co-conspirator" GainJet translated into Greek and delivered to Greek authorities under the Hague convention.  In the latest docket entries, in late August, GainJet returned a waiver of service of summons without waiving any defense of jurisdiction or venue.

Plaintiffs re-alleged in the May report that GainJet told Rusesabagina he was aboard a flight to Burundi.  Then "Gainjet’s pilot and flight crew stood idly by and watched as Mr. Rusesabagina was tied up by the hands and legs, his eyes covered, and his mouth gagged," plaintiffs further alleged, and GainJet accepted payment from the Rwandan government.

A private charter service, GainJet does fly to the United States.  In 2019, the U.S. Soccer Women's National Team flew home from the World Cup in France on a GainJet 757 to New York.  But I've not been able to identify any GainJet office or assets in the United States.  That bodes ill for having a federal district court in Texas exercise jurisdiction.

At the same time, GainJet holds itself out worldwide, and in English, as a luxury charter service.  Ongoing association with the Rusesabagina case can't be good for business amid the jet set.

A defense response in the case is due in late October.

Monday, February 8, 2021

UK court: Long arm of GDPR can't reach California

Image my composite of Atlantic Ocean by Tentotwo CC BY-SA 3.0
and "hand reach" from Pixabay by ArtsyBee, licensed
A High Court ruling in England limited the long-arm reach of European (now British) privacy law in a suite of tort claims against Forensic News, a California-based web enterprise doing "modern investigative journalism."

The complainant is a security consultant investigated by Forensic News and a witness in the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee probe into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.  A British national, he accused Forensic News of "malicious falsehood, libel, harassment and misuse of private information," the latter based on violation of the British enactment of the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The extraterritorial reach of the GDPR has been a hot topic lately in privacy law circles, as U.S. companies struggle to comply simultaneously with foreign and burgeoning state privacy laws, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).  

Forensic News has no people or assets in the UK, but the complainant tried to ground GDPR application in the news organization's website, which accepts donations in, and sells merch for, pounds and euros.  No dice, said the court; it's journalism that links Forensic to the plaintiff and to the UK, not the mail-order side show.

The case is Soriano v. Forensic News LLC, [2021] EWHC 56 (QB) (Jan. 15, 2021).  Haim Ravia, Dotan Hammer, and Adi Shoval at Pearl Cohen have commentary.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Court: Family of elder-care resident may use rare 'bill for discovery' to investigate how broken foot occurred

In an unusual case last week, the Massachusetts Appeals Court allowed a "bill for discovery" to proceed despite its arguable incompatibility with rules of civil procedure.

Mary T. Atchue, an elderly resident in an assisted living facility in Worcester, Massachusetts, sustained a broken foot while being moved.  In an action maintained by her family since her death, Atchue filed a "complaint for discovery," based in equity.

The court held that the complaint could proceed, despite objection from defendant Benchmark Senior Living, LLC, that the claim would not be allowed by the state rule of civil procedure for pre-litigation discovery.  Discovery processes specified by statute and rule supersede the historic bill for discovery in equity insofar as they pertain, the court reasoned, but the bill remains available to supplement modern practice where it does not pertain.

The viability of a bill for discovery is dependent on the viability of the underlying potential claim in litigation, the court further held.  Atchue has a viable theory on tolling the statute of limitations, and her claims survive her death under the state survival statute.  So a bill for discovery remains available.

I don't usually dig into civil procedure cases, but this one caught my eye because of the unusual disposition in pre-litigation discovery.  I've written with approval about the use of the access to information law, or freedom of information act, in South Africa having been used as a pre-litigation discovery device, specifically, in fact, for a potential plaintiff to investigate the possibility of negligence in healthcare services.

Shaped by the experience of apartheid, the South African law, and comparable laws elsewhere in Africa modeled on it, allow access to information in the private sector when the complainant can demonstrate sufficient need grounded in civil rights.

The court vacated dismissal and remanded.

The case is Atchue v. Benchmark Senior Living LLC, No. 19-P-125 (Mass. App. Ct. Oct. 5, 2020).  Justice Vickie L. Henry wrote the opinion for a panel that also comprised Justices Rubin and Wolohojian.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Trump supporter vs. MSNBC's Joy Reid heats up for round 2, following reversal on free speech issues

It looks like the two-year-old defamation case by Trump supporter Roslyn La Liberte against MSNBC personality Joy Reid is about to heat up.

Racial Slurs and Other Not-So-Pleasantries

Eponymous host of MSNBC's ReidOut and "one of the few Black women to anchor a major American evening news program," Joy Reid has stirred up her share of schismatic controversy (e.g., "series of homophobic blog posts" (Glenn Greenwald), "casual Islamophobia" (Erik Wemple (pay wall))).  In June and July, on Twitter and Instagram, Reid called out MAGA-hat-bearing Roslyn La Liberte at a Simi Valley, California, City Council meeting (La Liberte at 4:17:45 to 4:19:57) for, as alleged in La Liberte's complaint, "yelling racial slurs at a minor," including that he would "'be the first deported ... dirty Mexican!,'" and "making ... racist statements and ... being racist."

A well circulated image of La Liberte and the 14-year-old boy at the council meeting, showing La Liberte mocking being choked but not actually talking to the boy, lent credence to Reid's characterization and its viral duplication.  Trolling responses came fast and furious in the Twittersphere and via email to La Liberte, the latter along the lines, "'You are a dirty white woman b***h,'" and "'I’m glad everyone in the entire world knows what a racist piece of s**t you are f**k you a*****e'" (asterisks in complaint).

However, La Liberte denied yelling racial slurs, and her story is backed up by the youth himself.  He described their exchange as "civil."  At least once during the meeting, a racial slur was directed at the boy, his mother said, but it wasn't uttered by La Liberte.  Cited in the complaint, Fox 11 L.A. untangled the story (June 29, 2018).

 

'Racist,' as a Matter of Fact

La Liberte sued Reid in the Eastern District of New York on a single count of defamation.  Alleging defamation per se, La Liberte in the complaint asserted, "Accusations of racist conduct are libelous on their face without resort to additional facts, and, as proven by this case, subject the accused to ridicule, hate, and embarrassment."

That point alone, on the merits, is interesting.  When I made a similar claim many years ago, colleagues and observers told me that an accusation of racism is opinion only, devoid of fact and incapable of defamatory meaning, even if one were asked to resign one's job as a result of the accusation.  Other colleagues, whose counsel I favor, disagreed and asserted that accusing an academic of racism is akin to accusing a youth coach of a child sex offense, in that the claim will persist indefinitely if one does not powerfully contest it.  Distinction between an individual's "racism," and "institutional" or "systemic" racism might complicate the legal analysis, but popular culture has pondered that distinction only recently.

Anti-SLAPP as the Sword of Goliath

A second compelling issue in the La Liberte case is the operation of anti-SLAPP law.  Anti-SLAPP laws, which vary in their particulars across the states, typically allow a defendant to attain fast dismissal of a lawsuit that is a "strategic lawsuit against public participation," that is, a lawsuit through which the plaintiff means to use tort law to suppress the defendant's exercise of civil rights, such as the freedoms of speech, assembly, and petition.  

That sounds good, but problems with anti-SLAPP law are legion.  One big problem is that American defamation law already tilts wildly in favor of defendants, a First Amendment prophylaxis gone corybantic, such that plaintiffs cannot usually get anywhere near the requisite burden of proof without the benefit of discovery.  Anti-SLAPP procedure allows the defendant to terminate the case before discovery can even happen.  

Joy Reid (Luke Harold CC0 1.0)
Designed in principle to protect, for paradigmatic example, a grassroots environmental campaign against the might of an unscrupulous real estate developer, anti-SLAPP in reality is more often deployed by the Goliaths of the latter ilk against Davidic pursuers.  Anti-SLAPP (ab)users include President Trump, Bill Cosby, and Big Media.  No wonder anti-SLAPP is the darling of the media defense bar.  The sad thing is that it's convinced the nonprofit media advocacy crowd to play along.

The proliferation of anti-SLAPP laws at the state level has generated a circuit split over what to do with them when a defamation case lands in federal court on diversity jurisdiction.  The analysis boils down to whether anti-SLAPP law is procedural, in which case it may not override federal rules, or substantive, in which case the federal court must apply the law of the state that governs the case.  The last couple of years have seen the emergence of a circuit split on the question, though the most recent precedents (2d, 5th, 11th, D.C. Circuits, contra 1st, 9th Circuits) point to the procedural conclusion, with which I agree.  

As a result, defamation cases that would have been smothered at birth in state court are given a chance to gasp for air in federal court.  Meanwhile, media advocates, including John Oliver—with whom I am loath to disagree, but he just doesn't get it—have been pushing hard for federal anti-SLAPP legislation.  A bill is pending in Congress, and with left-wing media advocates and right-wing mega-corporations on the same side, David's death blow might be but weeks away.

La Liberte arose amid this anti-SLAPP circuit split and was, in fact, the occasion on which the Second Circuit joined the recent majority trend.  The court reasoned that the California anti-SLAPP procedure, the defamation having occurred in California, is incompatible with Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12 and 56, governing motions to dismiss and for summary judgment.

Limited-Purpose Public Figures and the Involuntarily Infamous

La Liberte at the
City Council meeting
Also while the case rested with the Second Circuit, the court reversed the trial court on one more issue, the erroneous classification of La Liberte as a limited-purpose public figure.  That classification would compel La Liberte to prove the often fatal-in-fact fault standard "actual malice," that Reid knew her statements were false or was reckless with regard to their truth or falsity.  

La Liberte had not pleaded actual malice.  And, according to the court, her activism in speaking at city council meetings did not convert her from a private figure to a public figure.  La Liberte was never singled out in news coverage, the court observed, until after the alleged defamation catapulted her to public attention.  A defendant who is responsible for making a plaintiff infamous cannot thereafter escape liability by characterizing the plaintiff as a public figure.  

Incidentally, it's typically ironic that the media defendant here, Reid, purported to defend her free speech with the anti-SLAPP law while seeking to use the First Amendment-protected petitioning of the city council of the plaintiff, La Liberte, to defeat her effort to protect her reputation.

Enter 'the Lawyer for the Damned'

After remand to the Eastern District of New York, La Liberte terminated her representation by Wade, Grunberg & Wilson.  WG&W is a self-described "boutique firm" in Atlanta that boasts of a plaintiff's defamation practice, not a common thing, but maybe a growth area in our polarized post-truth society.  "The law of defamation is nuanced, peppered with landmines under the First Amendment, Anti-SLAPP Statutes, absolute immunities, and qualified privileges," WG&W writes on its website. "We know where those landmines are and, more importantly, how to navigate successfully around them."  WG&W notified the court of its withdrawal on September 28, 2020.

Wood, 2011 (Gage
Skidmore CC BY-SA 3.0)
The reason I suspect the case might now heat up, or at least jump on the express train to settlement town, is that on October 5, 2020, L. Lin Wood entered his appearance for the plaintiff.  Wood already had signed on some of the court papers, but he seems now to be stepping front and center.  Wood's breakthrough claim to fame was representing Richard Jewell, the man wrongly accused of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing against The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (there's a 2019 movie directed by Clint Eastwood).  His subsequent client list includes JonBenét Ramsey's parents, Gary Condit, Herman Cain, Elon Musk, and the Catholic high school student in the 2019 Lincoln Memorial confrontation, Nick Sandmann, as against The Washington Post.  Wood boasts that CBS news personality Dan Rather tagged him, "the lawyer for the damned."

The case is La Liberte v. Reid, No. 1:18-cv-05398 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 30, 2019), reversed and remanded by No. 19-3574 (2d Cir. July 15, 2020).  I've not mentioned an ISP immunity issue in the case, on which the Second Circuit affirmed in favor of the plaintiff; read more by Eric Goldman (July 30, 2020).

Monday, April 6, 2020

Colorful U.S. case of baroness, Swiss bank makes waves in international jurisdiction, student note reports

Swiss banks in Geneva. Photo by torange.biz CC BY 4.0.
Spencer K. Schneider, my eminently able teaching and research assistant, has published a short case note in a research journal, the International Journal of Procedural Law, on a Massachusetts jurisdictional case with interesting facts.
The Massachusetts Appeals Court handed a win to a Swiss heiress who claims she was suckered into a bad investment in alchemy by a fellow aristocrat, a storied Swiss bank, and American entrepreneurs. The lower court erred when it dismissed defendant Swiss bank Rothschild for want of personal jurisdiction, the American appeals court ruled in June 2019.
Mr. Schneider aptly considers: "The American approach to jurisdiction over foreign corporations via personal agency feeds the possibility of inconsistency with jurisdictional law elsewhere in the world, such as under the Brussels Convention in Europe."

The note is Spencer K. Schneider, Aristocrats’ Squabble Over Fortune Squandered on American Alchemy May Expose Swiss Bank to U.S. Jurisdiction, in Michele Angelo Lupoi, Grandes Décisions/Leading Cases, 9:2 Int'l J. Proc. L. 339, 360 (2019).

The case is Von Schönau-Riedweg v. Rothschild Bank AG, 95 Mass. App. Ct. 471, 128 N.E.3d 96 (2019) (Casetext).

Friday, April 3, 2020

Commonwealth wins two in tort: one, bad presentment; two, no duty to juvenile assaulted in contractor custody

The Commonwealth prevailed in two tort suits under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act at the end of February.  One case, a slip-and-fall, was decided by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on the procedural ground of untimely presentment.  The other case, involving a physical assault on a juvenile with tragic consequences, was decided by the Massachusetts Appeals Court on the merits of attenuated duty and causation in civil rights liability.

Leicester Town Hall, 2006.
Photo by Pvmoutside CC BY-SA 3.0.
In the first case, "plaintiff, Katherine Drake, slipped and fell at Leicester High School while picking up her grandson during school hours. She suffered multiple injuries, including a fractured knee and wrist."  Drake mailed her presentment (notice, or demand) letter to the Town of Leicester precisely on the two-year anniversary of the accident.  The Massachusetts Tort Claims Act requires presentment within two years, and the Commonwealth moved to dismiss on grounds of untimeliness.

The Supreme Judicial Court declined to construe the statute liberally.  "Drake does not contend that her mailed letter could have arrived on that same day, nor does she contest that the office of the proper executive officer received the presentment letter ... a full two years and three days after she was injured," the court observed.  "Given our conclusion that presentment occurs upon delivery to the office of the proper executive officer," the court affirmed dismissal.

Long Island in Boston Harbor, 2008.  Photo by Doc Searles CC BY-SA 2.0.
The second case described horrific injury inflicted on a juvenile in state custody.  A "youthful offender," Williams was in Casa Isla, "a program for juvenile males located in a facility (now closed) on Long Island in Boston Harbor. Casa Isla was operated by Volunteers of America of Massachusetts, Inc. (VOA), a nonprofit entity under contract with [the Department of Youth Services (DYS)] to operate youth residential programs." (There were other problems at Casa Isla, e.g., MassLive, WBUR.)  During a flag football game, Williams was randomly attacked by a 17-year-old resident of another VOA-operated treatment program on the island, Project Rebound, who "said he wanted to get 'kicked out.'"  After the attack, Williams experienced worsening headaches and bodily pain, but initially was given only ibuprofen.  After later emergency medical intervention, Williams was diagnosed as having "suffered ... a middle cerebral artery stroke, seizures, and cerebral edema. As a result, he now has severe and permanent brain damage. Williams currently resides in a residential program and requires twenty-four hour care."

The last bridge to Long Island was demolished in 2015.
Photo by Eric Kilby CC BY-SA 2.0 (2017).
Upon suit under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, the courts rejected state liability upon various theories of DYS responsibility for the conduct of contractor VOA.  DYS and the Commonwealth had no direct involvement with the management of Casa Isla or Project Rebound, so had not even the predicate knowledge that might support liability on a civil rights theory.  Accordingly, the Appeals Court affirmed in rejecting theories of Eighth Amendment, supervisory, and vicarious liability.  Similarly, absent any affirmative act by state officials, the Commonwealth, conversely, remained within the protection of state sovereign immunity.

Associate Justice William J. Meade
Drake's case reinforces the importance of legal educators continuing to teach the 19th-century "mailbox rule," however much Generations Y and Z might not intuitively apprehend its logic.  Williams's case, however sorrowful the outcome, reinforces basic (no affirmative) duty doctrine in "constitutional tort."  As a policy matter, Williams's case also might raise questions about the wisdom of outsourcing juvenile custody without providing for public accountability.  Oh, and let's make a new rule: Anytime you're going to imprison people on a harbor island with a grisly history, that raises a red flag.

The cases are Drake v. Town of Leicester, No. SJC-12781 (Mass. Feb. 28, 2020) (Court Listener, Suffolk Law, Mass. Lawyers Weekly), and Baptiste v. Executive Office of Health and Human Services, No. 18-P-1353 (Mass. App. Ct. Feb. 28, 2020) (Justia).  Justice David A. Lowy wrote for a unanimous court in Drake.  Justice Meade wrote for a unanimous panel with Shin and Singh, JJ., in Baptiste.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Anti-SLAPP is not all it's cracked up to be

John Oliver this week on Last Week revisited the defamation lawsuit he drew against HBO from Bob Murray and Murray Energy.  The piece brings viewers up to speed on the feud.


Murray just dropped the suit, which was on appeal of dismissal to the West Virginia Supreme Court.  That led Oliver to do this effective segment on the problem of strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs).  Oliver called on the 20 states without anti-SLAPP statutes to adopt them, lest nationwide speakers remain subject to lawsuit in lowest-common-denominator, plaintiff-friendly locales.

I'm a big John Oliver fan—next-level, best standup I've ever seen, not to mention having redefined social commentary through comedy—and a free speech and journalism advocate.  That said, I am on record in opposition to anti-SLAPP laws, and I remain so.  The laws are an ill fit to resolve the underlying problem of excessive transaction costs in litigation and work an unfairness against legitimate causes of action.  Our First Amendment law radically weights defamation tort law against plaintiffs like nowhere else in the world, admittedly prophylactically dismissing claims by genuinely injured plaintiffs.  Defendants don't need another weapon in their arsenal.

Oliver is right that there are plenty of cases in which litigation is abused in an effort to suppress free speech.  But anti-SLAPP laws sweep within their ambit nearly every defamation and privacy case.  Defamation plaintiffs who have been genuinely injured and have no SLAPP motivation whatsoever also must respond to anti-SLAPP motions and are likely to suffer dismissal and pain of attorneys' fees—not because their suits lack merits, but because they lack access to discovery to get their hands on real, existing evidence of malice, discovery that our civil litigation system routinely affords to tort plaintiffs in the interests of justice.

The essential concept of anti-SLAPP law is said to have originated in Colorado as a means to protect environmentalists from retaliatory litigation by developers.  If you want to see evidence of my doubts about the efficacy of anti-SLAPP legislation, look no farther than a decision by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts just today, in which, literally, a property developer is the anti-SLAPP claimant in an epic litigation that has generated enormous transaction costs over anti-SLAPP procedure without ever reaching the merits of the case.

Anti-SLAPP laws look good on paper.  But they indiscriminately undermine tort law.  The effect of denying compensation to genuinely injured plaintiffs will be the effect of a failed tort system: unfairness, increased abuse by bad actors, and, ultimately, injured persons taking the law into their own hands.  Media advocates wonder why Generation Z, et seq., are hostile toward free speech.  Be careful what you wish for.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Info reg round-up: French feud, global injunction, foreign discovery, and literal grains of paradise

I've lately been swamped by developments in global information regulation.  Here's a round-up of highlights with links to read more.

Google-France feud.  Fresh on the heels of Google v. CNIL (read more), tensions are heating up again between Google and France, as Google refuses to play ball with France's new copyright law.  The 2019 EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market aimed, inter alia, to protect publishers from the scraping of their news product for aggregators' clips and snippets without compensation.  France was the first country, and only so far, to transpose the directive's article 15 (né draft article 11) into national law.  Effective this month, the French law would compel an aggregator such as Google to pay news publishers for the content that appears in Google search results.  How much money Google makes from Google News is disputed, but it's a lot.  Google contends that news providers are well compensated by traffic driven to their websites.  The news industry doesn't feel that way and blames aggregators for killing the business model of news, public interest journalism along with it.  Now Google has said that search results in France will exclude content that would require payment under the new copyright law.  The News Media Alliance, a U.S. industry association, has called Google's move "extortion."

Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek, Austrian Green
EU: Global injunction of one country's "defamation."  The European Union (EU) continues to amp up internet service provider (ISP) accountability.  A chamber of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) ruled that European law—including EU information market directive, the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, and the freedom of expression—does not preclude a member state from issuing a global injunction to take down unlawful content.

The facts reveal the problematic scope of the state power implicated, as the case arose from a Facebook post disparaging, e.g., "traitor," an Austrian politician.  The disparagement was regarded as defamation in the Austrian courts, but would be protected as core political commentary or hyperbolic opinion in the United States and many other countries.  The prospect of a state order with global reach was raised by the recent CJEU decision in Google v. CNILSlate's take took no prisoners: "In so ruling, the court demonstrated a shocking ignorance of the technology involved and set the stage for the most censor-prone country to set global speech rules."

The case is Glawischnig-Piesczek v. Facebook Ireland Ltd., No. C-18/18 (Oct. 3, 2019).

US: Extraterritorial discovery.  The Second Circuit meanwhile published an opinion that pushes outward against the territorial bounds of U.S. law.  The court ruled that statutory civil procedure under 28 U.S.C. § 1782 may reach records held outside the United States and is co-extensive in scope with the maximum long-arm personal jurisdiction of constitutional due process.

The case arose from Banco Santander's acquisition of Banco Popular Español (BPE) after a criminal investigation and government-forced sale of the latter.  Mexican nationals and investors opposing the acquisition sought discovery in the U.S. District Court in New York against Santander and its New York-based affiliate, Santander Investment Securities (SIS), under § 1782.  The law compels discovery against a person or legal entity that "resides or is found" in the U.S. jurisdiction.

Santander New York (© Google Earth)
The court rejected Santander's contention, supported by academic opinion, that the language could not reach a mere "sojourner" in the jurisdiction.  The court furthermore held that the presumption against extraterritoriality of statutory interpretation does not apply to a jurisdictional statute, and even if it did, the design of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, with which the statute fits, plainly and expressly encompasses extraterritorial reach.

However, the court held, only SIS, not Santander, was within the reach of long-arm personal jurisdiction.  SIS was subject to general jurisdiction, but was not meaningfully involved in the BPE acquisition.  Santander had hired New York consultants to contemplate an acquisition of BPE, which could subject Santander to specific jurisdiction, but that was an entirely different transaction, prior to the government-forced sale of BPE.

Though the case deals with conventional discovery, it has important implications for transnational business in the age of e-discovery.  Expansive U.S. discovery practice is incompatible with more restrictive norms in much of the world, Europe included.  Section 1782 is a potentially powerful tool for savvy litigants to get their hands on opponents' materials when foreign courts won't allow it.  That's bound to rub transnational business and foreign regulators the wrong way.

The case is In re Del Valle Ruiz, No. 18-3226 (2d Cir. Oct. 7, 2019).  Hat tip to New York attorney Ken Rashbaum, at Barton LLP, who telephonically visited my Comparative Law class and referenced the case, and will be writing more about it soon. 

Gin labeling and grains of paradise.  OK, this is more about misinformation than information, and it is globally important.  Law and gin, two great international cultural forces and loves of my life, come together in a recently filed lawsuit over grains of paradise.  You can't make up stuff this dry yet thirst-quenching.

Bombay Sapphire Bottle (by @Justintoxicate)
In a class-action complaint removed to the U.S. Southern District of Florida in mid-September, plaintiffs accuse Bacardi USA, maker of Bombay Sapphire Gin, and Winn-Dixie supermarkets of selling "adulterated" product, because Bombay gin contains a botanical literally called "grains of paradise."  According to the complaint, grains of paradise, scientific name Aframomum melegueta, "is an herbaceous perennial plant native to swampy habitats along the West African coast."  Turns out, it's illegal under Florida law, section 562.455.

The ABA Journal explained: "The 150-year-old Florida law was passed when people thought grains of paradise was a poisonous drug. The misconception likely arose when home distillers added other, dangerous ingredients to gin to 'mask the awful distilling and make more money,' according to Olivier Ward, a British gin expert and consultant who spoke with the Miami Herald."  Bacardi is not hiding anything and maintains that its products comply with all health and safety regulations.  The complaint itself states that grains of paradise are listed in the ingredients and actually etched on the gin's blue bottle.

The case is Marrache v. Bacardi, U.S.A., Inc., No. 1:19-cv-23856 (S.D. Fla. docketed Sept. 16, 2019).

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Teachable torts, Patriots edition: Civil complaint against Antonio Brown

Antonio Brown in 2014 (by Brook Ward CC BY-NC 2.0)
New England news is afire today over the civil lawsuit filed against NFL Patriots football acquisition Antonio Brown.  It happens that many 1L law students are presently immersed in their first exposures to intentional torts and federal jurisdiction.  So here from Mnwilla at Scribd is the complaint and some comments for thought.




Notes and Questions

1. The case is filed in federal court in Florida, but the claims are all in state tort law. What is the basis for federal jurisdiction?  Why do you think the complaint was filed on Brown's first scheduled day of practice with the Patriots?

2. The fact statement is lengthy, paragraphs 14 to 74. But federal practice requires only "notice pleading."  Plaintiff's counsel gives up a lot of information about the plaintiff's theory of the case by putting more content than necessary into pleadings.  So why so much ink on factual allegations?

3. There are five straightforward counts, or causes: two in battery, one in false imprisonment, one in IIED, and one in invasion of privacy.
  • Notice how false imprisonment appears incidentally to other claims.  Unlike MBE hypotheticals, few cases in real life support false imprisonment by itself. 
  • One of the battery counts is called "sexual battery (rape)."  That's not really a distinct kind of battery in multistate common law, and it doesn't here appear to be covered by any specific statute, apart from common law.  Nevertheless, a plaintiff may claim separate counts of tort upon discrete factual bases.  What are the advantages of doing so?
  • What challenges does the plaintiff face in proving IIED?  Do the factual allegations get her there?  Is there vulnerability on this count or any other to a 12(b)(6) motion?

4. The plaintiff seeks punitive damages, and the bases for that claim are stated within the counts. Some jurisdictions require that sufficient allegations to support a claim for punitive damages be stated in a separate count, even though "punitive damages" is a damages claim, not a tort.  Can you discern the rule for punitive damages in the state jurisdiction, based on the allegations?

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Student prevails in part in UMass Amherst due process disciplinary case in First Circuit

Last week the First Circuit held in favor of a student accused of a violent assault; however, the court largely upheld as constitutional the due process provided to the student in campus adjudication.

The case adds to federal appellate precedent on the requirements of procedural due process on campus.  The First Circuit's conclusions on these facts are not new water marks.  At the same time, observers predict that the multitude of circuit disagreements in this area will lead inevitably to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

In the instant case, a male student was accused of a violent assault on a female student, his romantic partner, while studying abroad in Spain under the purview of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  The First Circuit ruled that the university failed to provide adequate notice and hearing prior to imposing a five-month suspension on the student, after the allegations but well before the adjudication.  Authored by Rhode-Island-born U.S. Circuit Judge William J. Kayatta Jr., the court's holding came from a unanimous three-judge panel that included retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter.

The court affirmed judgment for the university as to the adequacy of the campus adjudication and consequent expulsion of the accused.  The student had challenged the adjudication for the exclusion of some evidence and the lack of opportunity to confront his accuser.  Constitutional rights in the context of the campus administrative process were not offended by those omissions, the court held, applying the flexible procedural due process test of Mathews v. Eldridge (U.S. 1976). It's the latter point, confrontation, that especially vexes critics and marks arguable disagreement with other circuit courts. 

The case arises against the backdrop of a heated national debate over higher education reform.  To my consternation, Title IX has become an area in which serious cases of sexual harassment and physical assault are lumped together on the nations' campuses with gross abuses of the rights of students and faculty.  Legitimate disciplinary processes have been perverted, and therefore caused to undermine civil rights law, by overzealous bureaucrats seeking to enforce politically correct group-think on students and to undermine academic freedom and faculty governance.  Purely in my personal capacity, I filed my own observations with the Department of Education in March.

The instant case is Haidak v. University of Massachusetts-Amherst, No. 18-1248 (1st Cir. Aug. 6, 2019).

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Mass. tort opinion journeys down coal hole of history

A narrow decision from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) today is important for keeping alive plaintiff personal injury claims based on road defect injuries, especially amid the trending privatization of public services.  The opinion stops off in Boston history en route to its conclusion.  The case is Meyer v. Veolia Energy North America, No. SJC-12606 (Mass. May 8, 2019).

Reversing summary judgment for defendant Veolia Energy North America, the SJC concluded that the statutory requirement of notice within 30 days to a potential defendant alleged to be responsible for road conditions giving rise to injury applies to the governmental defendants, but not to private-sector defendants.

Sudbury Street, at Court Street, Boston, 1912. City of Boston Archives.
Plaintiff Meyer was injured when on his bicycle, on Sudbury Street in Boston, he "struck a circular utility cover one foot or less in diameter that was misaligned with the road surface."  He gave notice to the City of Boston of a potential tort claim within 30 days.  But the city denied his claim on day 31, referring Meyer to private-sector Veolia as the party responsible for the utility cover.  Upon purportedly late notice to Veolia under the statute, the lower court awarded summary judgment to the energy company.  The SJC reversed, holding the statute inapplicable.

Most of the 32-page decision concerns statutory interpretation and is worth a read if that's your jam.  A couple of points stood out for me, though, as a general observer of law American-style.  The relevant Massachusetts statutes are found in General Laws chapter 84.  The SJC observed that section 1 "reflects its origins in the preindustrial era."  Indeed, the section states, "Highways and town ways, including railroad crossings ... shall be kept in repair at the expense of the town ... so that they may be reasonably safe and convenient for travelers, with their horses, teams, vehicles and carriages at all seasons."

The SJC traced interpretation of the relevant statutes to an 1883 opinion by Justice Holmes.  Yes, that Justice Holmes, the Honorable Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., when he served on the Massachusetts high court.  Explained today's SJC, Justice Holmes for the Court, in in Fisher v. Cushing, 134 Mass. 374 (1883) (electronic page 376 of this free ebook), had

interpreted the road defect and notice statutes, and the meaning of the reference to "persons," in the course of reviewing the statutes' legislative and legal history.  As a noted scholar of legal history and the author of The Common Law (1881), Justice Holmes brought special knowledge and expertise to this interpretation. The defendant in Fisher was sued for negligently maintaining a coal hole on a Boston sidewalk.

Held the Court in Fisher, "The whole scope of that [statutory notice] scheme shows that it is directed to the general public duty [to keep the way in repair], and that it has no reference to the common
law liability for a nuisance."  Explained today's SJC,

The court therefore held that the defendants could be sued in tort for the nuisance they created with their coal hole.
The court also went on to explain the meaning of "persons": "The mention of 'persons' in the statute, alongside of counties and towns obliged to repair, is easily explained. The outline of our scheme was of ancient date and English origin. In England, while parishes were generally bound to repair highways and bridges, a person might be, ratione tenurae, or otherwise .... [W]e cannot say, and probably the Legislature of 1786 could not have said, that there were no cases in the Commonwealth where persons other than counties or towns were bound to keep highways in repair.... Even if there were not, it was a natural precaution to use the words.

Coal hole at Wakefield Town Hall in Great Britain, 2018.
(Stephen Craven CC BY-SA-2.0.)
Footnotes elucidated, "A coal hole was an underground vault covered by a hatch with a cover where coal used for heating purposes was kept for easy access" (citing S.P. Adams, Home Fires: How Americans Kept Warm in the Nineteenth Century 105-106 (2014)).  And "'[r]atione tenurae' is a Latin phrase meaning by reason of tenure," as in being an occupier of land (citing Black's Law Dictionary 1454 (10th ed. 2014)).

I'm assuming that when the Court wrote that the late, great Justice Holmes "brought special knowledge and expertise" to the case, that assertion was strictly a function of the preceding clause, "as a noted scholar of legal history and [common law]," and not, as my mind hastened to wonder, because Justice Holmes had some particular tenura with coal holes.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Court dismisses prolonged suit against Government over 2009 Ft. Hood mass shooting

From the Defense Department: "Jeffrey and Sheryll Pearson look at the
portrait of their son, Army Pfc. Michael Pearson, before the Purple Heart
and Defense of Freedom award ceremony on Fort Hood, Texas, April 10,
2015. The event honored the 13 people killed and more than 30 injured in
a gunman’s 2009 shooting rampage on the base. U.S. Army photo by Daniel
Cernero."

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, per the Hon. Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, dismissed service-member and family claims against the federal Government arising from the 2009 shooting at Ft. Hood, near Killeen, Texas, in which U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan killed 13 and injured more than 30 other persons.  CourtListener has the ruling in Manning v. Esper, No. 12-CV-1802 (D.D.C. Jan. 22, 2019).

To the dismay and torment of those involved, this case has dragged on for nearly a decade.  Hasan admitted to the shootings in a 2013 court-martial and was sentenced to death.  He is presently awaiting execution, pending judicial review, at Fort Leavenworth.  The civil claims accuse the Government of negligence in the supervision of Hasan, who was permitted to work as a medical corps psychiatrist despite superior's concerns about his own mental fitness.  While Hasan's case was under way and then on appeal, the Army repeatedly asked the trial court to stay civil proceedings, provoking "anger, frustration and suspicion" on the part of the plaintiffs, in their words.

The dismissal was predicated principally on grounds of the Feres doctrine. Arising from the 1950 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Feres v. United States (Justia), the Feres doctrine bars tort claims arising from active-duty service when the claims otherwise might be authorized by the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).  The Feres doctrine has made news in recent years in allowing the government to resist medical malpractice claims against healthcare providers of Veterans Affairs.  

Plaintiffs in the Ft. Hood case knew that Feres would be a problem, but hoped to work around it, as some victims were not on active duty at the time of the shooting, and some defendants were federal law enforcement officials rather than active-duty military.  The ambiguous status of some persons involved in the shooting, as well Hasan's motivations, was at issue in the intervening years in an ugly collateral dispute over victims' entitlements to military honors, which the Government for a time resisted.  In this same vein of ambiguity, the court did allow some plaintiffs' claims to proceed in administrative processes, dismissing them without prejudice for failure to exhaust remedies as the FTCA requires.

Information and privacy law aficionados might recollect the name of Judge Kollar-Kotelly.  For seven years after 9/11, she was the presiding judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Singapore Supreme Court rejects civil process torts

In August, the Singapore Supreme Court refused to adopt the tort of abuse of process and refused to extend the tort of malicious prosecution to the civil context.  The case is Lee Tat Development Pte Ltd v. Management Corp. Strata Title Plan No 301, [2018] SGCA 50 (Aug. 17, 2018) (summary).

Associate Justice Phang (Singapore Supreme Court)
The court opinion, which ranges over more than 100 pages, is a remarkable work of jurisprudence and should not go unnoticed by comparativist students of common law.  The opinion was authored by Associate Justice Andrew Phang Boon Leong.  Justice Phang is a Harvard LL.M./S.J.D. who worked his way up the academic ranks in law, business, and management in Singapore before his appointment to the bench about a dozen years ago.  He has a treatise in contracts among his bona fides.  I owe my awareness of this decision to James Lee, equity scholar and reader in English law at The Dickson Poon School of Law, King's College London.

My purpose here is not to get into the merits or challenges of the torts of abuse of process and malicious civil prosecution.  Suffice to say that if that is your interest, this opinion is mandatory reading.  From the 20,000-foot perspective, I'll say that for many years I did not teach these torts in 1L beyond the bare bones mentioned in my CAP casebook by Prof. Marshall Shapo.  Increasingly I'm feeling like I need to give these torts more bandwidth.  I'm not sure whether it's a function of coarsening society, a natural evolution of common law, or me just paying better attention, but I feel like these "meta-torts"—that is, torts about tort litigation; my term, not to be confused with meta-humans, nor with Birks, et al.'s quasi-tort equitable wrongs—are getting more play today than they used to.  Accordingly, this year I drafted multistate rules to guide students, and at some point, I will add the rules to my American torts primer.

Singapore Supreme Court (Terence Ong, CC BY-SA-2.0)
Instead I want to share three favorite bits of Justice Phang's opinion.  The first thing to notice here for the comparativist is that Singapore is a common law jurisdiction.  I confess, it's not the first nation I think of when reeling off a list of common law countries.  For an academic, it might ought be.  (I have been there, and it is a lovely, unique place.)  Singapore inherited English common law by way of the British East India Co., a distinction in which, of course, it is not unique.  At the same time, Singapore's unusual role as a tiny economic powerhouse, dependent on and defined by its commercial relationships with the world, make its common law a unique and worthy study in internationalism.  Thoughtful and contextualized, Justice Phang's opinion exemplifies this point.  For survey research, the court thanked academic amicus Prof. Gary Chan, a colleague of Phang's from the law school at Singapore Management University.

Of 'quenchless feuds'.  Justice Phang (¶ 1) elegantly characterized the land dispute that underlies Lee Tat:

As the Judge observed [in the High Court], this is yet another legal tussle in a series of bitterly fought litigation between the parties which stretches across more than four decades and which hitherto has resulted, inter alia, in five decisions of this court, excluding the present decision.  In the last of those decisions, this court characterised the protracted quarrel between the parties as a "marathon saga of litigation" [citation omitted].  At this juncture, some seven years and yet another set of proceedings later, it seems appropriate to say, in the words of Herman Melville, that it is a "quenchless feud" (Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (Norton, 1892) at p 169).
That this dispute arose in what appears to be a Singaporean iteration of the Hatfields and the McCoys does bolster the court's conclusion on meta-torts.  If transaction costs are part of the problem in your legal system—we know they're a huge problem in the American system—you might want to think twice about piggyback litigation.  At some point the law of diminishing returns eclipses justice in the dogged search for truth.

Of 'timorous souls' and 'bold spirits'.  In considering the wisdom of extending Singaporean common law, Justice Phang (¶ 11) broke out a Lord Denning gem:

In considering possible recognition of the torts of malicious civil prosecution and abuse of process in Singapore, we bear in mind the oft-quoted observations by Denning LJ (as he then was) in the English Court of Appeal decision of Candler v Crane, Christmas & Co [1951] 2 KB 164, where the learned judge drew (at 178) a distinction between "timorous souls who were fearful of allowing a new cause of action" and "bold spirits who were ready to allow it if justice required".  These observations have, in fact, been quoted more than once by this court itself [citations omitted].  However, there is a limit to judicial law making.

This is a beautiful treatment of the seeming conflict between common law as a law-making device, renowned for its very capacity to grow and adapt to new circumstances, and the fundamental identity of the western judiciary as a creature of only corrective justice in the Aristotelian mold.  Otherwise put, the enterprise of common law often seems at odds with the purportedly non-normative job of the judge.  To set the problem in its popular American baseball metaphor, when is a judge, whose job it is only to call balls and strikes, duty-bound to change the size of the strike zone?  This problem in relation to the nature of the common law enterprises has been a puzzler in the United States at least since Holmes's Common Law and has at times generated nuances of distinction between otherwise like-minded judges in such a way as to vex legal scholars.

William the Conqueror
Of the Norman Conquest.  In examining the policy rationale for malicious (criminal) prosecution to test its applicability in the civil context, Justice Phang (¶ 87) traced the division between criminal and civil law to 1066:

The character of a criminal prosecution, carried out with a view to punishing a public wrong, is fundamentally different from that of a civil prosecution which is carried out with a view to vindicating a private right.  The difference between these two types of proceedings was explained in the following passage from an earlier decision of this court, Public Prosecutor v. UI [2008] 4 SLR(R) 500 at [52]:

... With the reign of William the Conqueror, the [English] criminal justice system, as it then stood, changed drastically.  A distinction was created between liability for private wrongs and liability for public wrongs.  Sir William Blackstone explained clearly the distinction between public wrongs and private wrongs in Commentaries on the Law of England vol 4 (A Strahan, 15th Ed, 1809) as follows (at p5):

[P]rivate wrongs, or civil injuries, are in infringement or [a] privation of the civil rights which belong to individuals, con[s]idered merely as individuals: public wrongs, or crimes and [misdemeanours] are a breach and violation of the public rights and duties, due to the whole community, con[s]idered as a community, in [its social] aggregate capacity.

As a result of the above change in the English criminal justice system, the individual victim was replaced by the State.  The offence was considered to be committed against the State and the liability of the offender was, accordingly, owed first and foremost to the State.  This is the criminal justice system which Singapore has inherited and maintains to this day.... [emphasis added by Justice Phang].

Justice Phang (¶¶ 88-90) derived from this history three salient distinctions between criminal and civil process.  First, criminal charges more than civil claims can impugn a defendant's reputation in the community.  Second, the consequences of criminal conviction are more invasive of the defendant's rights than the consequences of civil liability.  Third, criminal prosecution is an enterprise of public authorities, while civil prosecution is a private pursuit.  In all three respects, then, the need for a remedy to malicious prosecution is greater in the criminal context than in the civil context.

A useful review of abuse of process, malicious (criminal) prosecution, and "malicious use of civil process" in American law can be found in Barry A. Lindahl, 4 Modern Tort Law: Liability and Litigation ch. 40 (updated June 2018) (available on Thomson Reuters Westlaw), which begins (§ 40.1) by differentiating the three concepts.  Meanwhile Justice Phang's opinion in Lee Tat takes an elegant snapshot of the common law world.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Mass. high court supports AG in climate change investigation of Exxon Mobil

I'm not a civ pro cognoscente, but a ruling of the Massachusetts high court on long-arm jurisdiction today caught my attention because it relates to the effort to hold Big Oil accountable for climate change.  The case is Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Attorney General, No. SJC-12376 (Mass. Apr. 13, 2018).

Mass. A.G. Maura Healey
(Edahlpr CC BY-SA 4.0)
Since 2016, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has been investigating Exxon Mobil Corp. under the state consumer protection law--the same Mass. Gen. L. chapter 93A that powerfully enhances conventional civil actions in tort in the commonwealth.  The AG tracks the investigation blow by blow online.  The AG opened the investigation after the 2015 revelation that Exxon might have known about the risk of climate change as early as the 1970s, as reported by Scientific American.

As part of the investigation, "the Attorney General issued a civil investigative demand (C.I.D.) to Exxon, seeking documents and information relating to Exxon's knowledge of and activities related to climate change."  Exxon resisted the CID on personal jurisdiction grounds.  Exxon simultaneously sought declaratory relief in federal court in Texas (No. 4:16-CV-469).  A year ago the case was transferred to New York (No. 1:17-cv-02301), and two weeks ago, Healy prevailed (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 29, 2018).  Exxon is incorporated in New Jersey and headquartered in Texas.

The analysis for specific personal jurisdiction in an investigation is not the same as in a lawsuit, the court explained.  Exxon denied "suit-related" activity in Massachusetts.  But "the investigatory context requires that we broaden our analysis," the court wrote, to consider the scope of investigation regardless of whether any wrongdoing has yet been uncovered.

Exxon franchise in Durham, N.C.
(Ildar Sagdejev CC BY-SA 4.0)
"The Attorney General's investigation concerns climate change caused by manmade greenhouse gas emissions--a distinctly modern threat that grows more serious with time, and the effects of which are already being felt in Massachusetts."  More than 300 Exxon and Mobil franchises operate in Massachusetts.  Considering the corporation's close supervision of franchisees, the fuel stations "represent[] Exxon's 'purposeful and successful solicitation of business from residents of the Commonwealth.'"  The franchise agreements moreover require Exxon sign-off of advertising, so the court rejected Exxon's efforts to distance the corporation from consumer sales.

The Exxon investigation in Massachusetts unfolds against a backdrop of burgeoning legal attacks across the country.  The much-watched Juliana v. United States (Children's Trust) persists in the District of Oregon upon a favorable ruling in the Ninth Circuit in March (884 F.3d 830).  If state attorneys general make any headway under consumer protection law, I hope that any settlement serves more clearly to remedy climate change than the tobacco master settlement agreement has served to combat smoking-related health effects (see, e.g., Jones & Silvestri, 2010).

In re United States, 884 F.3d 830 (9th Cir. 2018)
884 F.3d 830

In re United States, 884 F.3d 830 (9th Cir. 2018)