Arbitrator’s Social Life Overturns Award

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In Dallas last week, a court overturned a $22 million (!) arbitration decision because the arbitrator had failed to disclose that he had socialized with one of the lawyers. 

As the Wall Street Journal law blog reported:

Arbitration awards, as most litigators know, are very difficult to overturn on appeal.

That’s why a Dallas appellate court’s decision this week to vacate a $22 million arbitration award is so notable.

The reason for the appellate court’s ruling: the arbitrator failed to disclose contacts he’d had with a lawyer in the case, including attending a Dallas Mavericks basketball game and sharing meals with the attorney.

Continue reading “Arbitrator’s Social Life Overturns Award”

Springtime for Daubert: Insights From the EDWBA Panel

Posted on Categories Civil Procedure, Eastern District of Wisconsin, Evidence, Federal Civil Litigation, Wisconsin Civil LitigationLeave a comment» on Springtime for Daubert: Insights From the EDWBA Panel

In late January the “tort reform” package imposed the staid Daubert rules on the Wisconsin Rules of Evidence. Now it’s spring, although the weather feels a lot like January, and we must get serious about what to do with this gift that the judiciary did not want. The new rules require that expert testimony be based on demonstrably reliable methods and principles. To be determined is whether Wisconsin will be a “strict” or a “lax” Daubert jurisdiction — whatever that is. It is worth noting that the first wave of Wisconsin Daubert cases, which will likely set the mold for what follows, are also those that least interested the tort reformers, namely, criminal cases and “chapter 980” sexually violent offender cases.

Right now, however, we are in a state of nature, legally speaking. Case law under the relevancy test, the current standard, is of little avail. And while the new rules are copied from the federal rules, state courts are not bound by federal precedent (yes, that includes Daubert itself!). Last week alone I spoke at two conferences, one a large, attentive gathering of state judges in Elkhart Lake and the other an even larger, equally engaged joint convocation of state prosecutors, public defenders, and private defense counsel here at Eckstein Hall. There is a clamor for answers and a discernable unease about what to do. Continue reading “Springtime for Daubert: Insights From the EDWBA Panel”

Debating Discovery

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As I noted last week, I recently had the privilege of participating in a panel on the need for further amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure related to E-discovery. A video of the event can be found here. (It actually took place at the National Press Club and not the Mayflower Hotel.) For those who like this kind of thing, there’s some interesting stuff.  My argument is that we essentially provide an e-discovery safe harbor for “neutrally” adopted and consistently applied systems for the retention and retrieval of electronic information. Marty Redish wants to reconsider 1938 and, in particular, to place the cost of discovery on the requesting party. I agree but Ron Allen does not. Don Elliott wants to do it only in certain types of cases but, more provocatively, thinks that Rule 4 is unconstitutional.

My remarks begin at 26:00 with a shout out to this blog.

Certiorari Granted in Material Witness Detention Case That Concerns the Iqbal Pleading Standard

Posted on Categories Civil Procedure, Constitutional Interpretation, Federal Law & Legal SystemLeave a comment» on Certiorari Granted in Material Witness Detention Case That Concerns the Iqbal Pleading Standard

Yesterday the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Ashcroft v. Al-Kidd, the petition in which the United States Department of Justice seeks to establish, on behalf of former Attorney General John Ashcroft,  that government officials have immunity from liability for claims that they used the material witness statute to detain a U.S. citizen, not, in reality, to ensure his availability as a witness in another case, but instead as a pretext for what was actually a preventative detention.

As the New York Times explains, the former detainee in question, Abdullah Al-Kidd, is a U.S. citizen born in Kansas as Lavoni A. Kidd; he was (I have read) a football star for the University of Idaho in the mid-90s.  In rejecting Ashcroft’s argument for immunity, the Ninth Circuit (in a split three-judge panel decision) first held that, at best, qualified immunity might apply, explaining its reasoning this way: Continue reading “Certiorari Granted in Material Witness Detention Case That Concerns the Iqbal Pleading Standard”

Can You Be Forced to Turn Over Your Social Network Passwords in a Civil Case?

Posted on Categories Civil Procedure, Computer Law, Privacy Rights7 Comments on Can You Be Forced to Turn Over Your Social Network Passwords in a Civil Case?

Let’s say you’re the plaintiff in a civil case against a neighbor, an employer, or a company you’ve done business with. One of the many pains of litigation is the discovery process–the process whereby each side collects information that it believes will help it win the case. Discovery can come in many forms, such as conducting depositions (sworn testimony from witnesses), requesting documents, or even requesting permission to visit a site and look around.

But let’s say that you have a Facebook account. The other side believes that some of your Facebook communications might be relevant to the case, so they specifically request access to your account. You refuse, and the issue goes to the court to sort out (if you’re in federal court, under Rule 37, for those of you playing at home). How should the court rule? Specifically, what should the court order you to do? Do you have to give the password for your account over to a party that, to put it mildly, you are probably not on the best of terms with?

Surprisingly, at least one court has said yes [Update: see comments below], and I believe similar requests are being made in courts all around the country. I believe this is a deeply disturbing development and is the result of either a failure to understand social networking technology, the rules of civil procedure, or both. Continue reading “Can You Be Forced to Turn Over Your Social Network Passwords in a Civil Case?”

Best of the Blogs

Posted on Categories Civil Procedure, Federalism, Labor & Employment Law, U.S. Supreme CourtLeave a comment» on Best of the Blogs

Is American law too complex?  PrawfsBlawg featured an interesting exchange on this question last week.  Eric Johnson initiated the exchange with this post, in which he observed:

There is a huge, obvious problem with the law. The bar studiously ignores it. Even the legal academy generally pretends it’s not there. It’s so large as to be beyond overwhelming.

The problem is this: Our system of justice is absurdly complex and time consuming.

. . .

There are three basic aspects to the mess: Endeavoring to understand the law is unduly complex and expensive, determining the facts is unduly complex and expensive, and teeing up the law and the facts for judges and juries is unduly complex and expensive.

In addition to a lively string of comments (including a couple by our own Rick Esenberg), Eric’s comments also prompted a thoughtful responsive post by Paul Horwitz.   Continue reading “Best of the Blogs”

Challenging Wisconsin’s Proposed Windows Legislation

Posted on Categories Civil Procedure, Marquette Law School, Uncategorized3 Comments on Challenging Wisconsin’s Proposed Windows Legislation

The deeply unsettling and appalling nature of the Catholic priest abuse scandal is difficult to express in hyperbole.  More and more cases continue to come out of the woodwork, and stories abound of allegations of cover-ups and throwing around hush money to abuse victims, all incited by those charged with the sanctified duty to guide, teach, and counsel the faithful.  Words alone cannot encapsulate the scarring that this scandal has wrought on its many victims.  Even a pastor at my parish told the congregation when the scandal first came to light that the news left him “ashamed to be a priest.”

In the wake of such grizzly conduct, however, is the need to address how to remedy the problem.  For some victims of abuse, the solution is a day in court: a chance to bring a civil action for a public determination of liability and an order of compensation for the wrong.

But under current Wisconsin law, the statute of limitations has already barred many of these abuse suits.  Section 893.587 of the Wisconsin Statutes provides that a victim of sexual abuse as a child may bring an action until that victim turns 35 years old; at that time, the cause of action evaporates.  The statute covers a cause of action for clergy abuse under Section 895.442(2)(a) of the Wisconsin Statutes. Continue reading “Challenging Wisconsin’s Proposed Windows Legislation”

To Iqbal or Not to Iqbal?

Posted on Categories Civil Procedure1 Comment on To Iqbal or Not to Iqbal?

to_blog_or_not_to_blogOne of the recent challenges for Civil Procedure profs has been to explain the Twombly/Iqbal event to students already struggling to understand what often seems to be an arcane and highly contrived subject.

I begin by lowering expectations, showing a slide of a local federal judge with a caption depicting his reaction to Twombly –  expressed on a panel discussing the case at a CLE seminar. “When I read this case,” he recalled, “I said ‘what the hell?'” I remember following the good judge’s remarks and saying that he had succinctly summarized Twombly and all that would follow would be mere elaboration. After Iqbal, I am afraid I still can’t do much better.

Except maybe I can. Continue reading “To Iqbal or Not to Iqbal?”

Supreme Court Takes Jurisdiction Over “Jurisdiction”

Posted on Categories Civil Procedure, Intellectual Property LawLeave a comment» on Supreme Court Takes Jurisdiction Over “Jurisdiction”

copyrightA bit overshadowed by all the hubbub over the oral argument in McDonald v. City of Chicago, the Supreme Court yesterday handed down an important copyright opinion in Reed Elsevier v. Muchnick. (But see Howard Wasserman, Marcia Coyle.) The court held that Section 411(a) of the Copyright Act, which requires registration of a copyright as a prerequisite to an infringement suit, is not “jurisdictional”—that is, failure to file a registration does not deprive a court of all power to hear a claim.

This might not initially sound significant; after all, a plaintiff who files an infringement claim on an unregistered copyright is still going to have the case dismissed, whether Section 411(a) is deemed a mere prerequisite to filing or jurisdictional. But the distinction matters in three types of cases: class actions where unnamed members of the class would include owners of unregistered works (the Muchnick situation); plaintiffs who seek an injunction against further infringement encompassing all of their works, registered and unregistered; and would-be defendants who file for a declaratory judgement against a copyright owner who hasn’t registered yet. All three of those seem like worthy candidates for a court’s consideration as a policy matter, but all three were impeded by a slew of lower court opinions holding that a failure to register deprived the court of all power to even hear such disputes. (Congratulations for the win are due to lawyers from my old firm: Chuck Sims, who argued the case before the Supreme Court, and Jon Baumgarten.)

A bit of background before I continue: Continue reading “Supreme Court Takes Jurisdiction Over “Jurisdiction””

A Broadening of Diversity Jurisdiction

Posted on Categories Civil Procedure, Eastern District of Wisconsin, Federal Civil Litigation, Legal Education, U.S. Supreme Court3 Comments on A Broadening of Diversity Jurisdiction

Students of civil procedure—which should mean just about everybody interested in using the formal processes of the law to vindicate rights—will be interested in a decision today by the United States Supreme Court. The opinion concerned the provision in the statutory grant of diversity jurisdiction that deems a corporation “to be a citizen of any State by which it has been incorporated and of the State where it has its principal place of business.” 28 U. S. C. §1332(c)(1) (emphasis added). There has been a longstanding imprecision—a lack of unanimity—within the lower federal courts as to whether a corporation’s “principal place of business” is its “nerve center,” “locus of operations,” “center of corporate activities,” “muscle center” (none of these latter four terms being statutory), or some otherwise determined place. In Hertz Corp. v. Friend, the Court resolved the matter. Continue reading “A Broadening of Diversity Jurisdiction”

Civil Procedure Fun for the Weekend

Posted on Categories Civil Procedure4 Comments on Civil Procedure Fun for the Weekend

I like to begin the first day of Civil Procedure with a review of a civil action and I like to start each class with a brief recap of the last one. This year – for my review of my review – I found a musical recap – apparently made by students at that law school just to the west of us. There are some substantive problems. For example, there is no consideration of subject matter jurisdiction (“he’s from Chicago/we have diversity”) and a direct or third party claim against the law school would not be an “interpleader” – but, hey, its Madison. What can we expect when the issue isn’t Foucaultian perspectives on the gender violence implicit in the Rule Against Perpetuities? (Just kidding!) The group also apparently did not regard the ability to carry a tune to be necessary to star in a music video, but that’s kind of charming. In any event, I thought it was cute. My students seem to enjoy it – at least a little. The question for all you: Can our Dean sing better than their Dean?