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    Civil Procedure

    Dismissal of Frivolous Prisoner and In Forma Pauperis Actions in Federal Court

    Posted by Paul A. Ferrer on August 2, 2019 at 11:01 AM

    Paul Ferrer—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                Federal courts may be inundated with frivolous pleadings filed by prisoners or other claimants proceeding in forma pauperis. But the courts have powerful statutory weapons for dealing with such pleadings and dismissing them at the earliest stage of a proceeding, if warranted. In fact, federal courts are specifically required to screen prisoner actions and dismiss them if they fail to pass muster. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

                Section 1915A affirmatively requires the district court to review, before docketing if feasible or as soon as practicable after docketing, every civil complaint in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. Id. § 1915A(a). After reviewing the complaint, the court must either identify any cognizable claims or dismiss all or part of the complaint if it is “frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” Id. § 1915A(b)(1). Another federal statute similarly requires a district court to dismiss any proceeding brought in forma pauperis if the court determines, “at any time,” that the action is “frivolous or malicious” or “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted.” Id. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), (ii).

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    Topics: Paul A. Ferrer, frivolous claims, civil procedure, federal court, in pauperis actions

    Seeking Appellate Relief Under Mandatory Standard of Review Theory

    Posted by Charlene J. Hicks on March 26, 2019 at 9:32 AM

    Charlene Hicks—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                One potentially overused legal principle that is often recited in appellate cases is that a party waives any issues or legal theories that he or she fails to assert at the trial court level. In other words, a party generally cannot raise a new issue for the first time on appeal. Any attempt to do so will likely be rejected by the appellate court.

                Even so, an appellate attorney would do well to keep in mind that this oft-repeated principle does not apply to certain situations, including questions pertaining to the standard of review employed by the lower court. The proper standard of review that is applicable to a particular legal issue is a nonwaivable matter. See Winfield v. Dorethy, 871 F.3d 555, 560 (7th Cir. 2017), cert. denied, 138 S. Ct. 2003 (2018); Gardner v. Galetka, 568 F.3d 862, 879 (10th Cir. 2009). Accordingly, an appellant does not forfeit a claim that the lower court failed to employ the proper standard of review “by failing to argue it” to the lower court. Sierra Club v. U.S. Dep't of Interior, 899 F.3d 260, 286 (4th Cir. 2018); see also United States v. Freeman, 640 F.3d 180, 186 (6th Cir. 2011). Similarly, the parties to a case cannot agree on or assign an incorrect legal standard of review to an issue. Sierra Club, 899 F.3d at 286.

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    Topics: civil procedure, standard used by lower court, appellate relief, standard of review

    Facebook's Alleged Intrusion on Users' Privacy Confers Standing to Maintain Class Action

    Posted by Paul A. Ferrer on January 24, 2019 at 10:58 AM

    Paul Ferrer—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

             In a putative class action against Facebook, a federal district court in California has determined that "[i]ntrusion on privacy alone can be a concrete injury" for purposes of establishing standing to bring suit in federal court. Patel v. Facebook Inc., 290 F. Supp. 3d 948, 954 (N.D. Cal. 2018). In reaching that conclusion, the court applied the concreteness analysis laid out by Justice Alito in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S. Ct. 1540 (2016).

             The judicial power of the United States resides in the federal courts and extends only to "Cases" and "Controversies." U.S. Const. art. III, § 2. Standing to sue is a doctrine "rooted in the traditional understanding of a case or controversy," and limits the category of litigants who can maintain an action in federal court. Spokeo, 136 S. Ct. at 1547. To have standing, a plaintiff must plead and prove three elements: (1) an injury in fact that is (2) fairly traceable to the defendant's conduct and (3) likely to be redressed by a judicial decision in the plaintiff's favor. Id. The first and foremost of these three elements is injury in fact, which requires the plaintiff to show that he or she suffered an invasion of a "concrete" and "particularized" legal interest. Id. at 1548.

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    Topics: Paul A. Ferrer, Facebook, invasion of privacy, putative class action, concrete injury

    Submission of Materials Outside the Pleadings in Response to a Rule 12(b)(6) or Rule 12(c) Motion

    Posted by Paul A. Ferrer on October 16, 2018 at 11:27 AM

    Paul Ferrer—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

              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.

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    Topics: reasonable particularity, facial plausibility, evidentiary support documents, federal pleading practice

    BANKRUPTCY: Effect of Prior Bankruptcies on Civil Litigation

    Posted by Lee P. Dunham on October 8, 2018 at 11:08 AM

    Lee Dunham, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                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.

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    Topics: bankruptcy, unliquidated causes of action, listed as an asset, abandonment

    Laches in Cases Where Suit Is Commenced Within Limitations Period

    Posted by Paul A. Ferrer on February 16, 2018 at 7:10 AM

         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. Since

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    Topics: civil procedure, laches defense, limitations period

    Civil Rights Litigation: The Supreme Court Further Restricts Bivens Actions

    Posted by Anne B. Hemenway on December 18, 2017 at 11:06 AM

    Anne Hemenway, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                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.

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    Topics: civil rights, Bivens actions, actions outside Bivens test

    Issue Preclusion Between Claims Arising Under Two Different Statutes

    Posted by Lee P. Dunham on September 22, 2017 at 12:15 PM

    Lee Dunham, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                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.

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    Topics: collateral estoppel, issue preclusion, claims under different statutes

    International Service of Process via Twitter

    Posted by Paul A. Ferrer on September 22, 2017 at 11:49 AM

    Paul Ferrer, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                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).

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    Topics: service of process, due process, international, use of Twitter, limitations

    CIVIL PROCEDURE: Effect of Dismissal Without Prejudice in Mortgage Foreclosure Suits

    Posted by Andrea Stokes on June 12, 2017 at 10:23 AM

    Andrea Stokes, Senior Attorney, Florida Legal Research Group

              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 prejudiceSee 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. 

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    Topics: mortgage foreclosure, limitations period expired, involuntary dismissal of suit, limitation on refiling an action

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