We have written frequently in the Lawletter about the revolution in federal pleading practice occasioned by the Supreme Court’s decisions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). Under the new standard, a claim is sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (or a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c)) only when, accepting as true the facts alleged in the complaint but not any legal conclusions, the claim has “facial plausibility,” that is, it allows the court “to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570 (the plaintiff must allege enough by way of factual content to “nudge” her claim “across the line from conceivable to plausible”). This standard requires the plaintiff to include more facts in her complaint than were necessary before the dawn of the Twombly/Iqbal era.Read More
Bankruptcy Code § 521(1) places an affirmative duty upon a debtor to disclose all assets to the bankruptcy court. A known cause of action that has accrued is an asset that must be scheduled under Bankruptcy Code § 521(1). See Eubanks v. CBSK Fin. Group, Inc., 385 F.3d 894, 897 (6th Cir. 2004); Cusano v. Klein, 264 F.3d 936, 945 (9th Cir. 2001). An unliquidated cause of action need not actually be filed prior to the commencement of the bankruptcy in order to qualify as an asset that must be scheduled. See Barletta v. Tedeschi, 121 B.R. 669, 671-72 (N.D.N.Y. 1990). However, debtors frequently neglect to list unliquidated causes of action as assets, whether because they have filed a bankruptcy without the assistance of a competent bankruptcy attorney or because, through simple oversight or lack of understanding, they failed to inform their bankruptcy counsel of their existing claims.Read More
Laches is "'a defense developed by courts of equity' to protect defendants against 'unreasonable, prejudicial delay in commencing suit.'" SCA Hygiene Prods. Aktiebolag v. First Quality Baby Prods., LLC, 137 S. Ct. 954, 960 (2017) (quoting Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 1962, 1967, 1973 (2014)). It is a familiar statement of the law that laches generally does not apply when the statute of limitations applicable to a legal claim has not run. But many state courts continue to indicate that, in some circumstances, "laches may bar a legal claim even if the statutory period of limitations has not yet expired." Tenneco Inc. v. Amerisure Mut. Ins. Co., 281 Mich. App. 429, 456-57, 761 N.W.2d 846, 863-64 (2008); see also Veysey v. Nelson, 2017 UT App 77, ¶ 7, 397 P.3d 846, 848 ("[B]ecause laches may apply in situations where the statute of limitations has not yet run, the existence of a statute of limitations does not … automatically preclude application of the laches doctrine."), cert. denied, 400 P.3d 1046 (Utah 2017); Bldg. & Constr. Trades Council of N. Nev. v. State ex rel. Pub. Works Bd., 108 Nev. 605, 611, 836 P.2d 633, 637 (1992) ("Especially strong circumstances must exist . . . to sustain a defense of laches when the statute of limitations has not run."). However, that no longer appears to be the case in federal court, at least with respect to a federal claim as to which Congress has expressly supplied a statute of limitations.
In Petrella, the U.S. Supreme Court held that laches cannot defeat a damages claim brought within the three-year period prescribed by the Copyright Act's statute of limitations. 134 S. Ct. at 1972-75 (applying 17 U.S.C. § 507(b) (requiring a copyright holder claiming infringement to file suit "within three years after the claim accrued")); see also SCA Hygiene, 137 S. Ct. at 961 ("We saw in this language a congressional judgment that a claim filed within three years of accrual cannot be dismissed on timeliness grounds."). In so holding, the Court spoke in very broad terms: "[I]n the face of a statute of limitations enacted by Congress, laches cannot be invoked to bar legal relief." Petrella, 134 S. Ct. at 1974. Petrella's holding rested on both separation-of-powers principles and the traditional role of laches in equity. SinceRead More
Since the United States Supreme Court's decision in Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), federal courts have allowed individuals to seek damages for unconstitutional conduct by individual federal officers. A Bivens action, as they are known, recognizes an implied cause of action directly under authority of the U.S. Constitution, where there is an absence of any statute specifically conferring the cause of action.
Recently, in Ziglar v. Abbasi, 137 S. Ct. 1843 (2017), the Supreme Court recognized Bivens actions but held that it will now take a more "cautious" approach to each Bivens case presented to the Court to determine if the action falls under the previous Bivens claims and will not accept a Bivens action that is brought in a new context. The Court's stated purpose in taking this new cautious approach is to avoid intruding on the role of Congress to enact statutes for claims outside of the current Bivens context. To determine whether a Bivens action falls outside of the current Bivens context and is thus "novel" and not actionable, the Court rejected the Second Circuit Court of Appeals' previous two-part test and instead stated that the proper test for determining whether a case presents a new Bivens context is "[i]f the case is different in a meaningful way from previous Bivens cases decided by this Court." Id. at 1859.Read More
Collateral estoppel, also known as "issue preclusion," prohibits relitigation of factual or legal issues that have been "actually and necessarily decided" in earlier litigation. See, e.g., Banga v. First USA, 29 F. Supp. 3d 1270, 1280-81 (N.D. Cal. 2014) (citing San Remo Hotel L.P. v. San Francisco City & County, 364 F.3d 1088, 1094 (9th Cir. 2004)). Unlike the related doctrine of res judicata (or "claim preclusion"), which operates as a complete bar to relitigation of an entire claim, under collateral estoppel, the (new and different) claim may proceed, but "the prior judgment conclusively resolves an issue actually litigated and determined in the first action." DKN Holdings LLC v. Faerber, 61 Cal. 4th 813, 824, 352 P.3d 378, 386-87 (2015), reh'g denied (Aug. 12, 2015). Claim preclusion bars litigation of all issues that were or could have been litigated in the original action under the original claim, while issue preclusion resolves only those issues that were actually litigated. Banga, 29 F. Supp. 3d at 1280-81.
There are multiple prerequisite elements for the application of the doctrine of issue preclusion, including a prior proceeding that resulted in a final judgment on the merits and identity or privity of parties between the two proceedings. However, this article will focus on the third element, "identity of issues" in cases where the "issue" is the satisfaction of a statutory requirement and where the claims in the first and second proceedings arise under different statutes.Read More
Rule 4(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure establishes three mechanisms for serving an individual in a foreign country. First, service may be had "by any internationally agreed means of service that is reasonably calculated to give notice, such as those authorized by the Hague Convention." Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(f)(1). The Hague Convention is the standard method for serving an individual in a foreign country, but it does not preempt all other methods of service on individuals in another signatory nation. See 4B Charles A. Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 1134 (4th ed. & Westlaw updated through Apr. 2017). Rather, all three methods of service under Rule 4(f) are "on equal footing," and a plaintiff need not attempt service by any one method before resorting to another. Rio Props., Inc. v. Rio Int'l Interlink, 284 F.3d 1007, 1015-16 (9th Cir. 2002). Second, if there is no internationally agreed means, or if an international agreement allows but does not specify other means, then service may be had "by a method that is reasonably calculated to give notice," including service "as prescribed by the foreign country's law for service in that country in an action in its courts of general jurisdiction," or by delivering a copy of the summons and complaint to the individual personally, unless that method is prohibited by the foreign country's law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(f)(2)(A), (C). Third, an individual may be served in a foreign country "by other means not prohibited by international agreement, as the court orders." Id. R. 4(f)(3).Read More
Whether there exists a limitation on refiling an action after more than one involuntary dismissal without prejudice, particularly in the mortgage foreclosure context, has been a source of some confusion. Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.420, addressing involuntary dismissals, provides that
[u]nless the court in its order for dismissal otherwise specifies, a dismissal under this subdivision and any dismissal not provided for in this rule, other than a dismissal for lack of jurisdiction or for improper venue or for lack of an indispensable party, operates as an adjudication on the merits.
Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.420(b). To ensure that an involuntary dismissal does not operate as an adjudication on the merits, Rule 1.420(b) requires that the order of dismissal expressly state that the dismissal is without prejudice. See id. R. 1.420 cmt. ("Dismissals except a voluntary one constitute an adjudication on the merits unless the court provides otherwise." (emphasis added)) So it is the odd occasion indeed where a trial court involuntarily dismisses without prejudice a second or third time after a motion or sua sponte under Rule 1.420(b). The question may then arise whether a plaintiff can continue to take "bites at the apple" after a dismissal or whether the number of bites is limited.Read More
The Lawletter Vol 42 No 4
Most attorneys encounter situations in which a client does not pay the legal fees due and owing. There may, or may not, be a dispute over services rendered. Every state bar association has some form of fee dispute resolution program, yet some clients do not participate, leaving the attorney few options. At some point it becomes evident that the attorney-client relationship has terminated and the relationship with the prior client becomes adversarial in nature. The question thus arises: If the attorney pursues an action against the client to recover the fee, and obtains a judgement against a former client, may the attorney disclose confidential information obtained during the course of the representation while seeking to execute on that judgment?Read More
Rule 34 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a party to request the responding party, within the scope of Rule 26(b), to produce for inspection designated documents and electronically stored information. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 34(a)(1). The request for production must, among other things, "describe with reasonable particularity each item or category of items to be inspected." Id. R. 34(b)(1)(A).
The responding party generally must respond within 30 days after being served with the request for production. Id. R. 34(b)(2)(A). Effective December 1, 2015, Rule 34(b)(2)(B) was amended to require that for each item or category of items requested, "the response must either state that inspection and related activities will be permitted as requested or state with specificity the grounds for objecting to the request, including the reasons." Id. R. 34(b)(2)(B) (emphasis added). The amendment to Rule 34(b)(2)(B) clarifies that general or boilerplate objections, such as that a request is harassing, are improper and result in a waiver of the unsupported objections. See, e.g., Leibovitz v. City of New York, No. 15-CV-546 (LGS) (HBP), 2017 WL 462515, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 3, 2017) (collecting cases); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 34 advisory comm. note to 2015 amend. ("This provision . . . eliminat[es] any doubt that less specific objections might be suitable under Rule 34.").Read More
"Without proper service of process, consent, waiver, or forfeiture, a court may not exercise personal jurisdiction over a named defendant." 36 C.J.S. Federal Courts § 31 (Westlaw database updated Sept. 2016). "Personal jurisdiction usually is obtained over a defendant by service of process." Id. Thus, untimely or ineffective service of process can stop a case dead in its tracks. The means of serving process is typically set forth by statute or court rule, the terms of which are often strictly construed. Below are two cautionary tales to illustrate the point.
In New York, service of process is governed by Rule 2013 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules ("C.P.L.R."). Typically, service can be accomplished "by mailing the paper to . . . the address designated by that attorney for that purpose or, if none is designated, at the attorney's last known address." The statute further notes that "service by mail shall be complete upon mailing." C.P.L.R. 2013(b)(2) (service upon attorneys); accord C.P.L.R. 2013(c) (incorporating C.P.L.R. 2013(b)(2) for service upon a party).Read More