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Federal Bar Update: Supreme Court takes rare steps on procedural decisions

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FedBarMaley-sigWith its limited docket, the U.S. Supreme Court rarely decides procedural issues, focusing instead on weighty constitutional issues or resolving split interpretations of federal statutes. This term, however, the Supreme Court has addressed several procedural issues.

Class actions – In Standard Fire Ins. Co. v. Knowles, (March 19, 2013), plaintiff brought a class action in state court and stipulated not seeking more than $5 million. Defendant removed asserting diversity and that the amount in controversy met the $5 million threshold under the Class Action Fairness Act. The District Court remanded based on plaintiff’s stipulation as to damages.

The Supreme Court reversed, holding that plaintiffs bringing class actions cannot escape federal jurisdiction by promising to seek less than $5 million in damages. The court – in interpreting the Class Action Fairness Act – ruled that a plaintiff has no power to bind other class members.

In Amgen v. Connecticut Retirement Plans & Trust, (Feb. 27, 2013), the court ruled in a securities 10(b)(5) action that while plaintiff “certainly must prove materiality to prevail on the merits, we hold that such proof is not a prerequisite to class certification.” The court explained, “Rule 23(b)(3) requires a showing that questions common to the class predominate, not that those questions will be answered, on the merits, in favor of the class.”

By contrast, in Comcast Corp. v. Behrend, (March 27, 2013), the court ruled that class certification was improperly certified in the antitrust case. The lower court needed to decide whether the named plaintiffs’ proposed damages model could show damages on a class-wide basis. That this issue intertwined with the merits did not matter.

The court explained: “A party seeking to maintain a class action must be prepared to show that Rule 23(a)’s numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy-of-representation requirements have been met, and must satisfy through evidentiary proof at least one of Rule 23(b)’s provisions. Courts may have to ‘probe behind the pleadings before coming to rest on the certification question,’ and [a] certification is proper only if ‘the trial court is satisfied, after a rigorous analysis, that [Rule 23’s] prerequisites …have been satisfied.’”

Collective FLSA action – In Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk, (April 16, 2013), the underlying case was an FLSA suit on behalf of plaintiff and other “similarly situated” employees. Defendant made an offer of judgment to plaintiff for the full amount of plaintiff’s claim. No other claimants had opted in.

The Supreme Court held that the District Court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction when named plaintiff’s claim became moot by the full Rule 68 offer of judgment and no other claimant had opted in. The court noted that the plaintiff did not challenge mootness, and also noted differences between FLSA collective actions and class actions.

Increased filing fee Effective May 1, civil filing fees increased to $400 for filing a new civil action.

Updated benchbook for U.S. District judges – The 6th edition of this benchbook, published by the Federal Judicial Center, is publicly available as a pdf at: www.fjc.gov. Search in publications for “benchbook.”

Save the date – The annual Federal Civil Practice 3-hour CLE seminar will be Thursday, Dec. 19 from 1:30 – 4:45 p.m. in Indianapolis.

Run with other attorneysThe 5th annual Joseph Maley Foundation 5k Run, Walk, Roll is set for 9 a.m. July 13 at Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis. This event is well attended by area attorneys. To register or sponsor, see www.josephmaley.org.•

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John Maley – jmaley@btlaw.com – is a partner with Barnes & Thornburg LLP, practicing federal and state litigation, employment matters and appeals. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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  1. in a lawyer discipline case Judge Brown, now removed, was presiding over a hearing about a lawyer accused of the supposedly heinous ethical violation of saying the words "Illegal immigrant." (IN re Barker) http://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/order-discipline-2013-55S00-1008-DI-429.pdf .... I wonder if when we compare the egregious violations of due process by Judge Brown, to her chiding of another lawyer for politically incorrectness, if there are any conclusions to be drawn about what kind of person, what kind of judge, what kind of apparatchik, is busy implementing the agenda of political correctness and making off-limits legit advocacy about an adverse party in a suit whose illegal alien status is relevant? I am just asking the question, the reader can make own conclsuion. Oh wait-- did I use the wrong adjective-- let me rephrase that, um undocumented alien?

  2. of course the bigger questions of whether or not the people want to pay for ANY bussing is off limits, due to the Supreme Court protecting the people from DEMOCRACY. Several decades hence from desegregation and bussing plans and we STILL need to be taking all this taxpayer money to combat mostly-imagined "discrimination" in the most obviously failed social program of the postwar period.

  3. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  4. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

  5. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

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