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Disarming the Finality Trap

Bryan Lammon

The federal courts of appeals have created—and acknowledged that they’ve created—a finality trap for would-be appellants. Litigants risk falling into the trap when they voluntarily dismiss some of their claims without prejudice and then try to appeal the district court’s resolution of other claims. Most courts of appeals see this as an attempted end run around the general rule that appeals must wait until all claims are resolved. After all, the without-prejudice dismissal means that the voluntarily dismissed claims might resurface at some future point. Most courts of appeals accordingly hold that the voluntary, without-prejudice dismissal does not result in a final, appealable decision. The trap springs when those courts then don’t provide a straightforward means for fixing the finality problem. Litigants are then left in litigation limbo. Their case is over and unchangeable in the district court. But the case is not final—and never will become final—for purposes of appeal.

The finality trap is asinine. And there’s an easy fix: Give would-be appellants the choice of either disclaiming the right to refile the voluntarily dismissed claims or returning to the district court to continue the action. This choice obviates any refiling concerns and ensures that the right to appeal is not lost due to a small procedural misstep.

Recent struggles with the finality trap also hint at an alternative approach to finality. When determining whether a district court has issued a final, appealable decision, courts normally look to the substance of the district court’s decision. That is, they ask whether the district court has actually resolved all of the claims. An alternative approach might ask only whether the district court is finished with an action. At that point—regardless of what the district court has done—the district court has entered a final decision. This shift in focus from what a district court has done to whether the district court is done might bring some much-needed clarity and simplicity to this area of the law.

Beyond Bristol-Myers : Personal Jurisdiction Over Class Actions

Adam N. Steinman

The Supreme Court’s 2017 decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court threatens a sea change in the relationship between personal jurisdiction and aggregate litigation. The most crucial concern has been what the decision means for class actions. Must a court subject the claims of every unnamed class member to separate jurisdictional scrutiny? If so, it could be impossible for a plaintiff who sues in her home state to represent class members outside that state; instead, the Constitution
would permit multistate or nationwide class actions only in states where the defendant is subject to general jurisdiction. For claims against a foreign defendant, no such state may exist.

This issue potentially implicates a range of difficult and unsettled doctrinal, practical, conceptual, and theoretical questions—about both personal jurisdiction and class actions. This Article, however, proposes a clean solution that coheres with existing case law while retaining the vitality of class actions to provide meaningful remedies in cases where systemic wrongs have nationwide consequences. On this approach, specific jurisdiction would be proper in any case where (a) there is specific jurisdiction over the named plaintiff’s claim against the defendant; and (b) a class action led by that plaintiff would satisfy the certification requirements of Rule 23. This solution finds support not only in longstanding practice prior to Bristol-Myers, but in the more fundamental principles and policies underlying specific jurisdiction. The impact of these underlying values has been further bolstered by the Supreme Court’s most recent decision on personal jurisdiction—Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court. The upshot is that personal jurisdiction can exist over a class action even if the forum state would not have personal jurisdiction over a hypothetical separate action by an out-of-state individual who is an unnamed member of the class.

Moreover, this Article’s proposal makes it unnecessary for courts to confront thornier questions that would otherwise arise. Those questions include: the proper timing and procedural mechanism for objecting to personal jurisdiction with respect to the claims of unnamed class members; whether the jurisdictional constraints apply differently in federal courts and state courts; whether they apply differently to claims based on substantive federal law as opposed to state-law claims; the precise scope and justification for pendent personal jurisdiction; and the extent to which post-service events in federal court (such as class certification) are subject to the more expansive Fifth Amendment test for federal court personal jurisdiction. Under this Article’s solution, courts have a straightforward way to examine personal jurisdiction over class actions that does not hinge on or implicate these other issues.

Stipulating to Overturn Klaxon

Matthew J. Slovin

Contractual choice-of-law provisions allow parties to specify which jurisdiction’s legal principles should govern a future dispute. But even once a lawsuit has been filed, litigants have an opportunity to tell the court what law applies. For example, the parties might stipulate to the use of a state’s law. Or they might implicitly agree on the governing law simply by citing to cases from a particular jurisdiction in their respective briefs.

But what about the Supreme Court’s pronouncement in Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Electric Manufacturing Co. that federal courts exercising diversity jurisdiction must apply the choice-of-law rules of the state in which they sit? Might litigants skirt that important precedent by stipulating to the applicable law?

More often than not, federal courts analyze the validity of these agreements, which I refer to as intra-litigation choice-of-law agreements, without any consideration of forum state law. This Article argues that courts exercising diversity jurisdiction violate Klaxon when they rule on the validity of these agreements without due consideration of state law. There can be no “independent determinations by the federal courts” in conflicts of law. When federal courts fashion a rule that parties can or cannot displace forum state choice-of-law principles by agreement, they make such an independent determination. Whether intra-litigation choice-of-law agreements are valid is a question to be answered by state law. A contrary rule harms the interests of states, which must be free “to pursue local policies diverging from those of [their] neighbors.”

Nipping It in the Bud: Fixing the Principal-Agent Problem in Class Actions by Looking to Qui Tam Litigation

Nicholas Alejandro Bergara

The principal-agent problem in class actions, which occurs whenever the interests
of class counsel (the agent) conflict with those of the class (the principal), has
plagued the class action system for decades. When these conflicts of interest arise,
they often lead to plaintiff classes receiving lower monetary awards than they other-
wise deserve, above-market fees for attorneys, and underenforcement of claims
against wrongdoers. Throughout the years, both Congress and scholars alike have
tried to address this issue, but it persists. This Note invites Congress and scholars to
think differently about potential solutions to a problem that has been around for far
too long. It argues that looking to qui tam litigation, specifically, the False Claims
Act, provides a unique approach that could help significantly curtail the principal-
agent problem. By permitting the government to install itself as lead counsel in class
actions involving money damages—when it deems an action to be worthy—the
financial incentives between any given class and its respective class counsel are
realigned. While private attorneys seek the maximum amount of attorney’s fees,
even if it comes at the expense of the client, government lawyers do not have the
same motivation. Adding an amendment to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23
permitting qui tam litigation would allow the government to act as a gatekeeper for
class actions while leaving the option open for private attorneys to bring suit should
the government decide not to do so. By providing different channels of enforce-
ment, the amendment offers a promising opportunity to better deter private sector
misconduct, discourage frivolous suits, and improve the overall outcomes for plain-
tiff classes.

Getting “Arising out of” Right: Ford Motor Company and the Purpose of the “Arising out of” Prong in the Minimum Contacts Analysis

Jeremy Jacobson

In Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court, the Supreme Court
heard a challenge to specific personal jurisdiction brought under the “arising out of
or relating to” prong (also referred to as the “arising out of” prong) of the min-
imum contacts test for only the second time. In attempting to evade jurisdiction for
injuries caused by defective cars in Montana and Minnesota, Ford argued that
because the specific cars at issue were not originally sold in those fora, its pur-
poseful contacts with the state did not proximately cause the injury at issue, and
therefore the injuries did not “arise out of” those contacts. Ford’s argument is based
on a misreading of
Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court, the only case in
which the Court analyzed that prong of the minimum contacts test. This Note seeks
to explore the development and purposes underlying the “arising out of” prong,
concluding that its purpose is to ensure a sufficient connection between the forum
and the underlying claim such that the state has a legitimate regulatory interest and
that litigation in the forum is convenient. After describing the development and
purpose of the “arising out of” prong and contrasting it with the purpose under-
lying the “purposeful availment” prong, this Note addresses the ways in which chal-
lenges to jurisdiction are brought when it is unclear if the claim arises in a
particular forum. This Note then takes on the Ford case and discusses how the
Supreme Court’s decision fits into the framework describing what work the “arising
out of” prong is doing in the jurisdictional analysis.

The False Promise of MDL Bellwether Reform: How Mandatory Bellwether Trial Consent Would Further Mire Multidistrict Litigation

Jonathan Steinberg

Over one third of all pending cases in the federal court system are part of a Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) proceeding. Previous and ongoing MDLs include claims stemming from the opioid epidemic, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the National Football League concussion cases, and a myriad of pharmaceutical and medical products liability suits. Both the percentage and sheer number of cases utilizing this form of aggregate litigation have dramatically increased in recent years. Bellwether trials, designed to test the facts and legal theories underpinning many of the consolidated cases, are a key feature of MDLs in facilitating resolution. This Note examines the role of MDL bellwether trials and the potential impact of proposed reforms. Part I surveys the functions of bellwether trials as well as current judicial limitations imposed on the practice. Part II examines proposals that would further restrict the use of MDL bellwether trials: first, a bill from the 115th Congress and second, proposed amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. These proposals would require the consent of all parties for an MDL bellwether to ensue. Finally, Part III explores the potential effects of these proposed reforms as well as the discrepancies between their purported aims and the likely impact of their enactment. These proposals would exacerbate the MDL “black hole,” result in less informed settlements, and create more opacity in the MDL process. Principally, they are an attempt to wrest power over procedure to cement defendants’ structural advantage over the MDL.

MDL Revolution

Elizabeth Chamblee Burch, Abbe R. Gluck

Over the past 50 years, multidistrict litigation (MDL) has quietly revolutionized civil procedure. MDLs include the largest tort cases in U.S. history, but without the authority of the class-action rule, MDL judges—who formally have only pretrial jurisdiction over individual cases—have resorted to extraordinary procedural exceptionalism to settle cases on a national scale. Substantive state laws, personal jurisdiction, transparency, impartiality, reviewability, federalism, and adequate representation must all yield if doing so fulfills that one goal.

Somehow, until now, this has remained below the surface to everyone but MDL insiders. Thanks to the sprawling MDL over the opioid crisis—and unprecedented opposition to it—MDL is finally in public view. State attorneys general have resisted the opioid MDL’s intense nationalism, its relentless drive to global settlement, its wild procedural innovation, its blurring of differences across state law, and its dramatic assertions of jurisdictional authority. Opiates is the most extraordinary MDL yet, but most big MDLs share many of its features, and Opiates is already the roadmap for the next mega-cases. Moreover, even as resistance to Opiates has dispersed some of the MDL’s early power, that resistance itself has come in the form of unusual procedural mechanisms.

MDL is designed for individual cases—giving similar suits filed in different districts an efficient pretrial process before sending them home for trial. In reality, that is pure fiction. Few cases ever return. And the MDL’s mode of coordination—from its anti-federalism stance to its insistence that each proceeding is too unique to be confined by the Federal Rules—chafes at almost every aspect of procedure’s traditional rules and values. MDL is not-so-secretly changing the face of civil procedure.

This Article weaves together for the first time these exceptional features of MDL and their disruption of procedure’s core assumptions. Is MDL a revolution? Or simply a symptom of a larger set of modern procedural tensions manifesting in many forms? Either way, it begs the question: What do we expect of litigation on this scale?

We recognize that MDL fills important gaps by providing access to courts but argue for some return to regular order to safeguard due process, federalism, and sovereignty. We suggest specific shifts—from more pretrial motions to new paths for appellate review, attorney selection, and jurisdictional redundancy—where the normative balance seems particularly out of whack; shifts we believe are in line with the spirit of Federal Rule 1’s own inherent paradox—the ideal of “just, speedy and inexpensive procedure.”

We also offer the first comprehensive analysis of the historic suits over the opioid crisis. Opiates is the first MDL that pits localities against their own state attorneys general in a struggle for litigation control. Its judge has publicly stated that solving a national health crisis that Congress dumped in his lap is different from ordinary litigation. Opiates has even invented a new form of class action. It is hyper-dialectical, jurisdictionally competitive, outcome-oriented, repeat-player-rich, fiercely creative procedure.

Litigation as Parenting

Lisa V. Martin

Children have legal rights. Yet, children typically lack the legal capacity to represent their interests in courts. When federal courts are presented with children’s claims, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require courts to ensure that children’s legal interests are adequately protected. To do so, courts decide who can speak and make decisions for the child within the litigation. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17(c) maps out a loose process for addressing these concerns but fails to fully account for a critical factor in protecting child litigants: the decisionmaking rights of parents. 

Because parents have constitutionally protected authority to make important decisions for their children, litigation brought on a child’s behalf presents a collision of rights and obligations between parents, children, and “the state,” here, the federal courts. Court doctrine interpreting Rule 17(c) is tangled and inconsistent and fails to offer clear guidance regarding what preference, if any, parents should have to represent their children’s interests in litigation. This Article proposes for the first time that constitutional doctrine establishing parents’ protected decisionmaking authority should make parents the default representatives for their children in federal civil litigation. The Article presents an account of court practices and an analytical framework to guide courts’ application of Rule 17(c), which implements the general constitutional rule of parent priority while upholding the courts’ responsibility to protect children’s interests. 

Jurisdiction, Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies, and Constitutional Claims

Peter A. Devlin

The doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies says that a person challenging an agency decision must first pursue the agency’s available remedies before seeking judicial review. It was created by courts in order to promote an efficient justice system and autonomous administrative state. Congress has since written exhaustion requirements into many statutes to ensure and guide its application. Consequently, a court interpreting one of these statutory versions must first decide whether it is a jurisdictional rule or not. The fallout from this decision is the topic of this Note. By definition, jurisdictional rules are rigid: Courts may not create exceptions to them, parties may not waive or forfeit them, and they will loom over the proceedings from start to finish. Faced with a jurisdictional exhaustion requirement, courts have had to choose between diluting the concept of jurisdiction and allowing injustice. In this Note, I look for a way out of this tradeoff. I argue that statutory exhaustion requirements are neither jurisdictional nor non-jurisdictional rules, but rather mandatory rules with a particular set of effects on courts and parties. Courts, for example, may not apply equitable exceptions to statutory exhaustion requirements, but agencies may waive or forfeit them. I define this “mandatory” exhaustion by looking to case law, jurisdiction theory, constitutional structure, and the purposes of exhaustion. I also develop an exception for constitutional claims that arise outside of an agency’s proceedings. This exception helps avoid the threat to separation of powers that requiring exhaustion for such claims would create. As a result, if courts used mandatory exhaustion then they would be empowered to avoid injustice without creating a conceptual mess. Commentators have suggested that exhaustion requirements might be mandatory in nature, and the Second Circuit has treated them as such. But neither has provided much guidance on what that means. I try to fill in that gap by developing a descriptive and normative case for categorizing them as mandatory rules.

In Defense of Nationwide Injunctions

Amanda Frost

With increasing frequency, courts are issuing nationwide injunctions barring the executive from enforcing federal laws and policies against anyone, not just the plaintiffs in the case before them. Nationwide injunctions halted President Obama’s initiative granting deferred action to undocumented immigrants and his Department of Education’s interpretive guidance on the treatment of transgender students in public schools. More recently, district courts enjoined President Trump’s travel ban, as well as his administration’s policy of withholding federal funds from “sanctuary cities.” Legal scholars have criticized the practice, Congress is considering legislation to prohibit it, and commentators are calling for the Supreme Court to address it. A consensus is forming that courts should never issue nationwide injunctions, period. Indeed, some scholars contend that federal courts lack the constitutional authority to do so under any circumstances.

This Article provides the first sustained academic defense of nationwide injunctions. In some cases, nationwide injunctions are the only means to provide plaintiffs with complete relief, or to prevent harm to thousands of individuals who cannot quickly bring their own cases before the courts. And sometimes anything short of a nationwide injunction would be impossible to administer. When a district court is asked to pass on the validity of certain types of federal policies with nationwide effects—such as policies affecting the air or water, or the nation’s immigration system—it would be extremely difficult to enjoin application of the policy to some plaintiffs but not others. Furthermore, nothing in the Constitution’s text or structure bars federal courts from issuing a remedy that extends beyond the parties. To the contrary, such injunctions enable federal courts to play their essential role as a check on the political branches.

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