Author Archives: Matthew Stiegler

Two new opinions

NLRB v. Imagefirst Uniform — labor — partial reversal — Cowen

The Third Circuit today partially granted the National Labor Relations Board’s application for enforcement of its decision holding that an employer violated the NLRA. The employer broke the law when it tried to block union representatives from handing out literature on the public sidewalk outside its building, but not when it called the police.

Joining Cowen were Krause and Fuentes. Arguing counsel were Kellie Isbell for the NLRB and Christopher Murphy of Morgan Lewis for the employer.


US v. McCants — criminal — affirmance — Hardiman

The Third Circuit today rejected a criminal defendant’s challenge to legality of a search that resulted from an anonymous 911 call, as well as his challenges to his sentencing as a career offender based on prior NJ convictions for second-degree robbery as crimes of violence.

Joining Hardiman were Krause and Bibas. Arguing counsel were Leticia Olivera of the NJ FPD for the defendant and Mark Coyne of the NJ USAO for the government.

Today’s en banc vote: one more thing

A quick note that I only thought of after my original post: Judge Vanaskie is listed as participating in the vote on whether to grant rehearing en banc, although he took senior status effective November 30. I would have thought that whether a judge participated in a vote on whether to grant en banc rehearing was determined by his status on the date of the decision (today), not on the date the rehearing petition was filed (presumably before November 30). It seems I would have been mistaken.

The relevant procedure, IOP 9.5.3, doesn’t clearly answer this point, saying, “Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ‘ 46(c), only active judges of this court may votefor rehearing en banc. Therefore, rehearing en banc shall be ordered only upon the affirmative votes of a majority of the judges of this court in regular active service who are not disqualified.”

(An obscure point perhaps, but it wouldn’t be all that far-fetched to imagine Judge Vanaskie being the decisive seventh vote in favor of rehearing here.)

Third Circuit grants en banc rehearing on PLRA three-strikes issue

The Third Circuit today granted rehearing en banc in Brown v. Sage. In Brown, a panel majority (Judge Fuentes, joined by Chief Judge Smith) had ruled that a prisoner had not accrued three strikes under the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act, while Judge Chagares had dissented vigorously and urged the court to hear the case en banc. My summary of the panel opinion is here, the now-vacated panel opinion is here.

New opinion — a Pa. conviction for endangering the welfare of a child is not a deportable child-abuse crime

Liao v. AG — immigration — reversal — Shwartz

A Chinese citizen who had been a legal permanent US resident for a decade was convicted in Pennsylvania of endangering the welfare of a child after a physical altercation with his girlfriend. Yesterday, the Third Circuit held that his conviction was not a “crime of child abuse” under the Immigration and Naturalization Act because the elements of the criminal statute allowed conviction on a lesser showing  than the INA. The court accordingly vacated the man’s removal order and remanded.

Joining Shwartz were Roth and Fisher. Arguing counsel were former Ambro clerk Joshua Bolian of Robbins Russell for the immigrant and Jonathan Robbins for the government. The opinion noted that Bolian appeared pro bono, noted that his service is in highest tradition of the profession, and thanked him for his representation.

John Gibbons, former Third Circuit Chief Judge, 1924-2018

Former Third Circuit Judge John J. Gibbons died yesterday at age 94. Judge Gibbons was a Third Circuit judge for 20 years and Chief Judge for three, serving from 1970 until his retirement in 1990.

The Gibbons law firm posted this announcement and remembrance, which begins:

It is with great sadness that Gibbons P.C. announces the passing of John J. Gibbons, the firm’s Standard-Bearer, on December 9, 2018.

Judge Gibbons, the former Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, committed his six-decade career to protecting the rule of law in the United States. His commitment dates back to the 1960s – when, as the President of the New Jersey State Bar Association, he enlisted attorneys to help those unable to afford legal representation during the Newark Riots – and continued into the new century, culminating in his argument in front of the United States Supreme Court in support of civil liberties and government transparency in the war on terrorism.

Here are three links of particular interest:

  • video of an interview of Gibbons by his friend and former colleague, Judge Leonard Garth.
  • audio of Rasul v. Bush, the landmark Supreme Court case he argued in 2004 challenging the detention of 660 men at Guantanamo Bay without judicial review. His argument began, “What is at stake in this case is the authority of the Federal courts to uphold the rule of law.”
  • a wonderful 2008 public television profile of Gibbons.

The Gibbons Firm will celebrate his career with a memorial ceremony in January. Judge Gibbons was a fine judge, an accomplished lawyer, and a beloved person, and he will be missed.

New opinion

Castellanos Monzon v. De La Roca — international — affirmance — McKee

The Third Circuit today affirmed a district court’s denial of a father’s petition under an international agreement (the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction Remedies) for the return of his child from the mother after they divorced and she moved with the child from Guatemala to the U.S.

Joining McKee were Ambro and Restrepo. Arguing counsel were John Boehler, formerly of Rutgers Law Associates and now of Beattie Padovano, for the father and Kennedy clerk Mark Taticchi of Drinker Biddle for the mother.

UPDATE: this story by Charles Toutant for New Jersey Law Journal provides helpful context on the procedural history.

Judges Restrepo and Bibas offer advice on appellate practice [guest post]

Note: this guest post was written by Karl Myers, a leading Pennsylvania appellate lawyer at Stradley Ronon. You can follow Karl on Twitter (as I do) at @KarlSMyers.

On November 28th, I attended a CLE program in Norristown at the Montgomery Bar Association, entitled “Tips on Third Circuit Practice From Two Circuit Judges.”  The panelists were Third Circuit Judges Felipe Restrepo and Stephanos Bibas.  It was an interesting discussion that covered the expected recommendations about briefing and argument, but also featured some interesting tidbits that likely will be of use to Third Circuit practitioners.

For example, Judge Bibas emphasized the need to carefully use authority in briefs.  He noted that he has seen a number of submissions that treat non-binding authorities (like district court and magistrate judge decisions) as if they are binding on the Third Circuit.  Citing those opinions necessitates a discussion about the facts and rationales employed.  That way the court has a good handle on why those cases have been cited and why they should be followed.  Along the same lines, Judge Bibas noted that he finds it particularly effective when advocates pull the briefing filed in the cases cited and use the context of that advocacy to demonstrate how the cases cited should be understood.

In terms of the Judges’ review process, Judge Restrepo starts by reading the appellant’s summary of argument, then reads the district court opinion, and then returns to the appellant’s brief.  He picked up this technique from Judge Cheryl Krause, as she quickly learned that reading the district court opinion first does not make much sense because some issues addressed in the district court opinion may not be appealed, and thus the district court’s discussion of those issues need not be considered.   Both Judges Restrepo and Bibas use a combination of paper and iPads for review of briefs and opinions.  Judge Bibas noted that he usually starts with reading hard copies but will use an iPad for a third or fourth review of the briefs or while traveling.

Judge Bibas shared some insights about the timing of oral argument and the associated need to timely file reply briefs.  He explained that cases are typically assigned to argument panels about 8 weeks before argument.  That assignment happens once the appellee’s (red) brief is filed – not when the reply is filed.  The panel members then will discuss candidates for argument typically 4 weeks or so before the argument week.  So it behooves an appellant to file its reply in a timely manner and not ask for more than one extension, as otherwise there is a good chance the panel will make a decision about argument without having considered the reply.  Both Judges Bibas and Restrepo noted that reply briefs are relatively rare, as they see them in fewer than half of all cases – a statistic I found surprising.  They both would like to see more replies, as they are often left wondering what the appellant’s response is to some of the appellee’s points in cases where they do not receive a reply.

With regard to argument itself, Judge Restrepo noted that even though a specific amount of time is set for each case, there is wide variance in how rigorously the time is enforced by each presiding judge.  So once a case is set for argument and the panel identified, he recommends watching the court’s argument videos or listening to the audio streams from another panel with the same presiding judge to get a feel for how the argument will be managed.

In my view, both Judges Restrepo and Bibas were interesting and engaging speakers and seemed to relish the opportunity to educate and engage with the bar so practitioners could have a better understanding of the court’s work and, as a result, more effectively represent their clients.

Lawyer’s Third Circuit brief results in bar discipline

The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is scheduled to issue a public reprimand next month of an attorney who filed a Third Circuit brief containing comments the panel described as “unprofessional.”

According to a news report today, a Wilkes-Barre lawyer will appear on January 7 for the Board’s public reprimand. The lawyer reportedly acknowledged that his statements were inappropriate and consented to the reprimand.

The Third Circuit’s 2017 non-precedential opinion , authored by Chief Judge Smith, catalogs the offending statements in a footnote:

See Appellant’s Br. at 13 (“The District Court . . . smugly contradicted itself”); 14 (“If, as the District Court so proudly recited”); 15 (“a genuine issue of fact was clearly and intentionally overlooked by the District Court” and the District Court’s analysis is “quite frankly, outright false”); 16 (“evidences the District Court’s clear lack of understanding of Pennsylvania Tax Sale Law,” “seemingly in an effort to bolster a legal position that really does not exist, the District Court misstated the status of the law,” and the “Court chose to omit that crucial language to avoid giving Swinka their opportunity in court”); 17 (“two (2) distinct problems with the District Court’s unsubstantiated position”); 19 (“the District Court grossly erred in its ruling”); 19 n.1 (“the District Court has acted far outside its bounds”), 20 (“The District Court . . . was once again, wrong.”); 21 (“This issue presents the Third Circuit with one of the more shocking decisions and questionable reasoning by the District Court. The District Court astonishingly claims”); 22 (“[i]t is not only disingenuous for the District Court” and “the District Court misstates, and clearly misunderstands”); 23 (asserting the Court “padded its opinion with irrelevant citations to cases”); 24 (“The District Court has gone to great lengths to deprive Swinka of its rights”); 25 (“most egregiously, the District Court seeks to deprive Swinka of its rights” and “clearly feels that Swinka’s rights are secondary to everyone else merely because of the values involved”) .

The panel’s view of these statements was scalding:

Swinka appeals the dismissal of all of its claims, except the breach of contract action. In doing so, Swinka’s brief repeatedly casts aspersions on the District Court’s analytical ability. The aspersions lack substance and utterly fail to advance Swinka’s legal arguments. As such, these unprofessional comments reflect poorly on Swinka’s counsel.[ When counsel wastes ink attacking the ability of able District Courts instead of advancing his or her client’s legal arguments, we smell more than a hint of desperation and confusion about how an appeal works. It is an unbecoming way to brief an appeal.

I can’t tell who actually referred the matter to the Disciplinary Board, but the opinion included a pointed note that counsel is a member of the PA bar bound by ethics rule 8.2(a) (“A lawyer shall not make a statement that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge.”).

So, lawyers: don’t do that.

[UPDATE: I included the lawyer’s name in my original post, but I’ve removed it (not at anyone’s request) because I decided it wasn’t necessary to include.]

New opinion — divided Third Circuit rejects initial challenge to NJ large-capacity-gun-magazine ban

Ass’n of NJ Rifle & Pistol Clubs v. AG — constitutional — affirmance — Shwartz

A divided Third Circuit panel today ruled against challengers to New Jersey’s law limiting gun magazines to 10 bullets, affirming the district court’s denial of a preliminary injunction.

Given the issue, the panel’s split, the high level of amicus involvement, and the current Supreme Court, petitions for en banc rehearing and/or certiorari seem highly likely.

Joining Shwartz was Greenaway; dissenting was Bibas. Arguing counsel were David Thompson of Cooper & Kirk for the challengers and Jeremy Feigenbaum for the state.

Court will observe day of mourning Wednesday, but most filing deadlines remain in place

The Third Circuit has posted this announcement on its website:

Wednesday, December 5, 2018 – National Day of Mourning

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit will observe the National Day of Mourning on Wednesday, December 5, 2018. Limited Clerk’s Office staff will be available to address emergencies and accept filings. Filing deadlines that fall on Wednesday, December 5, 2018 will be automatically extended for Federal Government agencies. Non-federal government parties may continue to file through the Court’s CM/ECF system.

I believe no arguments had been scheduled. Note that deadlines are extended only “for Federal Government agencies.”

The next Third Circuit nominee must be a woman

Back in 2016, I posted this chart showing how the Third Circuit stacks up against the other circuits on gender diversity:

Since that day, three new judges have been nominated to the Third Circuit, all three by President Trump, two confirmed and one pending. All three: men.

Last week, Judge Thomas Vanaskie took senior status, creating a fourth opening for President Trump to fill, less than halfway through his term. (President Obama added five during his two terms, one of them Vanaskie.) Among other things, this means that the number of active Third Circuit judges named Thomas is no longer greater than the number of them who are women, which is progress of a sort.

Once Paul Matey is confirmed, the Third Circuit’s active judges will be 11 men and 2 women.  A court that just a decade ago featured a robust, ideologically diverse contingent of women active judges—Sloviter, Roth, Rendell, Barry—will be more gender-skewed than a Black Sabbath show.

Some conservatives still dismiss any attention to the diversity of federal judicial nominations as a “quota mentality.” I disagree. I believe the executive branch does real and lasting damage to the judicial branch when it creates wild demographic distortions like the gender imbalance now afflicting the Third Circuit.

No excuses: the person nominated to fill Judge Vanaskie’s seat has to be a woman.

But, let’s face it, if the only voices who speak up about this now—before a nominee is named—are nerdy, liberal-leaning circuit bloggers, the odds aren’t great. So I hope in the days ahead that people the administration will listen to speak up, publicly or privately. Those of us who care about the Third Circuit and the federal judiciary as a whole have a duty to protect it. Now, I submit, is one of those moments.

The Third Circuit’s next nominee should be a woman. The Trump administration needs to hear that now.

Two new opinions

(The Third Circuit issued two published opinions yesterday. I had a Third Circuit brief due that I filed at 10:22 pm, so blogging had to wait.)

US v. Hester — criminal — partial reversal — Restrepo

The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of a motion to suppress evidence seized during a traffic stop, but reversed the application of a sentencing enhancement for evidence tampering.

On the suppression issue, the court held that the traffic stop was a seizure and that the defendant submitted to authority despite his eventual failed attempt to flee, but that the stop was supported by reasonable suspicion.

On the sentencing issue, it held that application of the enhancement was erroneous for two reasons: (1) factually, the defendant’s actions didn’t amount to tampering (“we cannot agree that ex post expressions of regret about not having committed a potentially criminal act amounts to an attempt to commit that same criminal act” is a cool line), and (2) legally, the enhancement didn’t apply because it required possession of a gun “in connection with” another offense and no connection was present here. The court rejected the government’s argument that remand was pointless because the judge had already departed downward due to uncertainty about the enhancement’s application.

Joining Restrepo were Smith and McKee. Arguing counsel were John Romano for the government and Leticia Olivera of the NJ federal defenders for the defendant.


In re: Revel — bankruptcy — affirmance — Ambro

The Third Circuit affirmed a ruling leaving in place a tenant’s favorable lease terms after the landlord declared bankruptcy and was purchased free and clear. Best line: “The Lease is long and neither simple nor direct. Indeed, it is an almost impenetrable web of formulas, defined terms, and cross-references–a ‘bloated morass,’ in the words of the Bankruptcy Court.”

Joining Ambro were Chagares and Greenaway. Arguing counsel were Stuart Moskovitz for the new landlord and Jeffrey Cooper of Rabinowitz Lubetkin for the tenant.


New opinion

In re: IMMC Corp. — bankruptcy — affirmance — Rendell

The Third Circuit today held that, because a bankruptcy court lacked the power to adjudicate an adversary proceeding, it properly denied a trustee’s motion to transfer the adversary proceeding to a district court. The court sidestepped the statutory question of whether a provision authorizing “courts” to transfer proceedings included bankruptcy courts, but noted in a footnote that Judge Roth would have answered that question in the negative.

Joining Rendell were Shwartz and Roth. Arguing counsel were Mara Beth Sommers of Florida for the trustee and Clair Wischusen of Fox Rothschild for the appellees. I do believe this is the first time since I started this blog that a Third Circuit panel composed of three women precedentially decided a case argued by two women. Pretty cool.

Two new opinions, including a partial reversal of the Bridgegate convictions

US v. Baroni — criminal — partial reversal — Scirica

The introduction admirably summarizes things:

Defendants William E. Baroni, Jr. and Bridget Anne Kelly engaged in a scheme to impose crippling gridlock on the Borough of Fort Lee, New Jersey, after Fort Lee’s mayor refused to endorse the 2013 reelection bid of then-Governor Chris Christie. To this end, under the guise of conducting a “traffic study,” Baroni and Kelly, among others, conspired to limit Fort Lee motorists’ access to the George Washington Bridge—the world’s busiest bridge—over four days in early September 2013: the first week of Fort Lee’s school year. This scheme caused vehicles to back up into the Borough, creating intense traffic jams. Extensive media coverage ensued, and the scandal became known as “Bridgegate.”

In 2015, a grand jury indicted Baroni and Kelly for their role in the scheme. Each Defendant was charged with seven counts: conspiracy to obtain by fraud, knowingly convert, or intentionally misapply property of an organization receiving federal benefits, 18 U.S.C. § 371, and the substantive offense, id. § 666(a)(1)(A); conspiracy to commit wire fraud, id. § 1349, and two counts of the substantive offense, id. § 1343; and conspiracy against civil rights, id. § 241, and the substantive offense, id. § 242. A jury convicted Defendants on all counts. They appeal only their judgments of conviction.

For reasons that follow, we will affirm Defendants’ judgments of convictions on the wire fraud and Section 666 counts but will reverse and vacate their civil rights convictions.

Criminal liability on the civil rights convictions turned on whether their actions were subject to qualified immunity. The court today held that they were protected by qualified immunity, even though their actions had been clearly illegal in the Third Circuit for almost three decades, because there was not a robust consensus on the point among the rest of the circuits. It wrote, “The Supreme Court has suggested that a single binding case from the defendant’s jurisdiction is insufficient to give notice that certain conduct could lead to criminal punishment. See Carroll
v. Carman, 135 S. Ct. 348, 350 (2014).” But Carroll assumed for the sake of argument that a single prior decision could constitute clearly established law, and instead held that the case relied on there did not answer the question. So today’s holding appears, at least at first blush, to expand significantly the scope of qualified immunity.

Joining Scirica were Ambro and Siler CA6 by designation. Arguing counsel were Michael Levy of Sidley Austin for one defendant, Jacob Roth of Jones Day for the other, and Bruce Keller for the government.


Weitzner v. Sanofi Pasteur — civil — affirmance — Smith

The Third Circuit upheld a grant of summary judgment in favor the defense in a suit under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, holding that the plaintiffs’ untimely claims were not subject to class-action tolling under American Pipe.

Joining Smith were McKee and Restrepo. Arguing counsel were Todd Bank of NY for the appellants and Carl Greco of Scranton for the appellees.

Judge Vanaskie will take senior status

Third Circuit Judge Thomas Vanaskie will take senior status on November 30, creating a new opening on the court for President Trump to fill. Judge Vanaskie became eligible to go senior earlier this month.

Judge Vanaskie’s seat will be the fourth seat on the court potentially filled by President Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate, and the third of the four previously occupied by a judge nominated by a Democratic president.

Huge development.

New opinion–NJ child-porn possession is not an aggravated felony

Salmoran v. AG — immigration — partial reversal — Greenaway

Today the Third Circuit held that a New Jersey conviction for possessing child pornography is  crime of child abuse but not an aggravated felony, meaning it supports removal but does not bar an application for cancellation of removal.

Joining Greenaway were Restrepo and Bibas. Arguing counsel were Matthew Archambeault of Philadelphia for the petitioner and Lindsay Dunn for the government.

New opinion — a district court got it wrong, but not wrong enough to grant mandamus

In re: McGraw-Hill Global Educ. Holdings — civil / contract / procedure — denial of mandamus — Smith

The introduction of today’s opinion:

These consolidated mandamus petitions require us to decide whether two professional photographers bringing separate copyright infringement actions are bound by a forum selection clause in contracts they did not sign. We conclude that the photographers are not bound because they are not intended beneficiaries of the agreements, nor are they closely related parties. Our conclusion means that one District Court got it right, and the other got it wrong. But mandamus is an extraordinary remedy. Because the erring District Court’s mistakes were not clear or indisputable, we decline to issue the writ.

Joining Smith was Hardiman; Roth dissented in part, arguing that the court should have corrected the erroneous ruling and that it should lower its mandamus standard in consolidated-petition cases. Arguing counsel were Beth Weisser of Fox Rothschild for the alleged infringers and Maurice Harmon of Harmon & Seidman for the photographers.

An intro to Twitter for lawyers on the fence about trying it

I started using Twitter the day the CA3blog site crashed.

In September of last year, I wrote something provocative here about a book by Judge Posner (“batshit crazy”)  that got a bazillion hits from readers on Twitter, enough hits to bring down the blog’s website. Until that day I’d been a proud Twitter hold-out, but crashing my humble blog got my attention.

Fourteen months, 2,466 tweets, and 1,093 followers later, I’ve learned a thing or two about Twitter. And though I’m very far from a Twitter guru, I thought it might be useful to share what I’ve learned for others—especially appellate lawyers like me—who don’t use Twitter and wonder if they should.

Twitter can be useful, and it can also be god-awful.

The useful:

  • it’s good for breaking news;
  • it’s hard to be beat for legal news that isn’t sexy enough for media coverage (like judicial-nominations developments and analysis, for example);
  • there’s a vibrant, welcoming online community of appellate lawyers who post there;
  • it’s a decent way to expand your professional network, especially if you’re lousy at cocktail-party banter; and
  • it’s a way to participate in the conversation on things you care about.

For myself, I’ve had some wonderful experiences on Twitter, interactions that I’d never have had any other way. Geeking out with a top conservative academic about circuit nominees, for example, or trading ideas about how to get better at oral argument. And through Twitter I’ve become friends with a slew of smart, decent women and men I’d never have run into otherwise. At its best, Twitter is glorious.

The god-awful:

  • it’s an addictive-by-design time-suck;
  • chances are it won’t get you one single case;
  • it brings out the worst in many of us; and
  • it makes it wonderfully easy for you to say something spectacularly stupid for the whole world to see.

Twitter is how I imagine cocaine: exhilarating at times, and an effective dopamine jolt, but in the long run, the more you try to get from it, the more it sucks from you.

So, can you enjoy useful Twitter while avoiding the god-awful? Maybe. Many do. But, honestly, I bet many regular Twitter users would say “probably not.”

Appellate types, Twitter will try to claw you in. You’re a professional arguer for god’s sake, so when someone you’ve heard of takes a jab at you, you’re going to want to swing back and show your stuff. And chances are you’re goal-oriented and competitive, so before you know it you’re eying your follower count and spending Saturday evenings trying to craft 280 characters of devastating wit. Ugh.

So, on that jolly note, here are a few thoughts on how to get started with Twitter, should you decide you want to.

Setting up your account. Use your real name unless you plan to just lurk or blow off steam. Anonymous accounts tend to get ignored. Compose your profile-page blurb with some care—other viewers will see it anytime they hover their mouse arrow over anything you post, so it’s the main thing many users will know about you.

Deciding who to follow. This part may seem daunting at first, but it’s actually the easiest part. Search for people you respect. You’ll find lots of lawyers, scads of law professors, and more or less every journalist and politician.

To get you started, nationally prominent appellate lawyers active on Twitter include George Conway, Walter Dellinger, John Elwood, Deepak Gupta, Neal Katyal, Kannon Shanmugam, and Laurence Tribe. A few others who’ve earned broad followings include Jonathan Adler, Howard Bashman, Adam Feldman, Susan Hennessey, Carissa Hessick, Orin Kerr, Leah Litman, Sean Marotta, Raffi Melkonian, Jaime Santos, and Ken White (@Popehat).

But, most of all: me.

Getting followers. Step one, follow the people you want to follow you, and many will follow you back. Find users like you, look at their followers (click on their name, and then on their profile page click on “followers” near the top), and go nuts. Step two, interact with some appellate-oriented folks who tweet a lot and have a lot of followers. Respond to their tweets, say something nice, disagree intelligently, whatever. Step three—and this is the one that actually matters—be helpful and interesting. If you add value, people will find you.

Avoiding professional self-immolation. Twitter is public, dummy. After you’ve drafted a tweet but before you hit the tweet button, ask yourself, “Would I be cool with this being quoted in the Washington Post?” And, “Could this be the basis for a bar complaint?” Try not to post when you’re angry, or enjoying a delicious double IPA. Don’t aim to humiliate anyone, especially if they’re less powerful than you. Err on the side of concealing your inner dumbass.

Bottom line, do I think you should start using Twitter? No, I don’t. It’s absolutely not necessary for your career, and it could well hurt more than it helps. You almost certainly stare at your phone too much as it is, for heaven’s sake.

But if you’re inclined to try it anyway, by all means join the fun.

Two new opinions, one puzzling

Workman v. Superintendent — habeas corpus — reversal — Fuentes

Well, something seems not quite right here, but here goes. Back in September, the Court issued a panel opinion, link here, which I summarized as follows:

The Third Circuit today ruled in favor of a habeas corpus petitioner, holding that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing almost entirely to mount a defense and that post-conviction counsel’s ineffectiveness excused default of that issue under Martinez v. Ryan. Notably, the court held that the petitioner did not need to prove prejudice from his counsel’s error because, under United States v. Cronic, prejudice was presumed due to counsel’s near-total failure to contest the prosecution’s case.

[Disclosure: I provided minor consulting assistance to counsel for the petitioner.]

Joining Fuentes were Ambro and Restrepo. Arguing counsel were Marshall Dayan of the WDPA defender for the petitioner and Catherine Kiefer of the Philadelphia DA’s office for the Commonwealth.

Then last month the panel granted the Commonwealth’s petition for panel rehearing, vacated its original opinion, and promised a new one. The Commonwealth’s rehearing petition had argued that applying Cronic here was error but (remarkably) that the court could more soundly reach the same result by finding that counsel was ineffective under the usual deficient-performance-and-prejudice Strickland test.

But then today, the panel reissued the opinion with, as best I can tell, no substantive changes.  The new opinion corrects a few missing line-spaces between paragraphs (while leaving a typo in a heading, “Asssistance,”) but still applies Cronic.

I’m not sure how to interpret this, to be honest, but stay tuned.

[UPDATE: my original post linked to the old opinion instead of the new one, sorry to add to the confusion.]


Alpizar-Fallas v. Favero–civil — reversal — Rendell

The Third Circuit today reversed a district court’s dismissal of a deception claim brought under New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act.

Joining Rendell were Jordan and Vanaskie. Arguing counsel were Charles Gormally of Brach Eichler for the appellant and Kymberly Kochis of NY for the appellee.


ABA rates Matey “Qualified”

The American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary released its rating for Third Circuit nominee Paul Matey today, finally, rating him “Qualified.” The committee’s vote was not unanimous, with a minority of the committee rated him “Not Qualified.”

I suspect today’s announcement, coupled with yesterday’s Senate hearing, assures that, barring some new left-field development, Matey will be confirmed to the Third Circuit’s last open seat.

The Third Circuit posts a bunch of new argument videos, including the sanctuary-cities case

The Third Circuit has posted video of thirteen new oral arguments, available on its website at this link. There are a number of high-interest cases in the new batch, in particular the argument between Neal Katyal and the government in the Philadelphia sanctuary-cities appeal that I gushed over here, City of Philadelphia v. Attorney General, video here.

Two new opinions, including an impressive one by Judge Bibas

Jacobs v. Federal Housing Finance Agency — civil — affirmance — Bibas

Since joining the Third Circuit about a year ago, Judge Stephanos Bibas has authored a number of opinions. But, in my view at least, today’s opinion in Jacobs marks the beginning in earnest of what I expect to be his momentous career on the bench. It’s a true powerhouse opinion, dispatching a complicated appeal with an elegant clarity that I expect to become Bibas’s hallmark. And the fact that he did it on behalf of a panel that also includes Judges Hardiman and Krause–three superb judges, all under 54 and all in the conversation for elevation to the Supreme Court, on the same court and sitting together–underscores why the Third Circuit is going to be an influential, fascinating court for many years to come.

But enough CA3 sis-boom-bah. Today’s appeal arose from a challenge to one aspect of the federal government’s response to the 2008 financial catastrophe. Fannie and Freddie Mac, the government agencies created to back home mortgages, were headed towards collapse, so the Congress passed a bill to keep them afloat in exchange for conservatorship by the Treasury Department and payment of their dividends to the Treasury instead of their private shareholders. The shareholders sued, asserting that the government lacked the power to enact the statute and violated the statute. The court rejected both arguments and concluded that, if the challengers’ relief were granted, the entire deal would unravel.

Joining Bibas were Hardiman and Krause. Arguing counsel were Michael Pittenger of Potter Anderson for the challengers, Howard Cayne of Arnold & Porter for one of the agencies, and Gerard Sinzdak of DOJ for the Treasury Department.


City of Cambridge Retirement Sys. v. Altisource Asset Mgmt. — civil / securities / class action — affirmance — Fisher

The Third Circuit affirmed a district court’s ruling that the plaintiffs in a securities fraud class action failed to meet the requirements of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act.

Joining Fisher were Krause and Roth. Arguing counsel were Kevin Green of San Diego for the appellant and Walter Carlson of Sidley Austin for the appellees.

Matey gets his Senate hearing, finally [updated]

This morning the Senate Judiciary Committee held its hearing on the Third Circuit nomination of Paul Matey, some seven months after his nomination. A link to video of the hearing is here.

Oddly, the ABA still has not released its rating for Matey.

I haven’t had a chance to watch the hearing video yet and will update this post once I do. Looks like Senator Booker expressed unhappiness over the White House’s lack of consultation on the nomination.

UPDATE: here is a sampling of media coverage of Matey’s hearing:

  • “Chris Christie attorney general preview? Senate grills court nominee about NJ scandals,” link
  • CNN: “Former Christie lawyer grilled on Bridgegate ties in Judiciary nomination hearing,” link
  • Courthouse News: “Third Circuit Nominee Feds Off Questions About Christie Antics,” link
  • Law360, “No Bridgegate Role, 3rd Circ. Pick Says Of Work For Christie,” link

New opinion

US v. McClure-Potts — criminal — affirmance — Greenaway

The Third Circuit today affirmed a criminal conviction for Social Security fraud, rejecting the defendant’s arguments that (1) she should have received a Sentencing Guidelines reduction for frauds committed “other than for profit” despite having received government benefits, (2) certain factual findings by the judge at sentencing were clearly erroneous, and (3) the court erred in calculating the loss amount used to set her Guidelines range.

Joining Greenaway were Ambro and Chagares. Arguing counsel were Fritz Ulrich of the MDPA federal defenders for the defendant and Stephen Cerutti of the MDPA US Attorney’s office for the government.

Some thoughts on yesterday’s remarkable oral argument in the Philadelphia sanctuary-city appeal

Yesterday afternoon the Third Circuit held oral argument in City of Philadelphia v. Attorney General United States, a blockbuster appeal about whether the Trump administration can withhold law-enforcement grant money from Philadelphia to compel the city to assist with deporting immigrants. Thanks to a nick-of-time extension, I was able to attend the argument in person.

Here’s the just-posted link to the argument audio. (Here’s hoping the court chooses to post the video, too. [UPDATE: they did! It’s here.])

The panel was Judges Ambro, Scirica, and Rendell. Arguing for the government was Katherine Allen, a civil appellate attorney at the Department of Justice, and appearing for the city was Neal Katyal, a partner at Hogan Lovells and former Acting Solicitor General. Given all that, I expected an extraordinary oral argument, and extraordinary it was.

The argument was preceded by a comment by Judge Ambro that would seem baffling in some courts, but not here. Sounding a bit sheepish, he explained that the panel would actually be sticking at least roughly to the 30-minutes-a-side time limit. (Two of the judges had an event to attend afterwards.)  “Normally this panel’s M.O.,” he explained, “is to go on forever.”

Katyal is one of the most accomplished Supreme Court advocates alive, and I hadn’t seen one of his arguments before, so I was eager to watch him in action. I left with my jaw on the floor. To wit:

  • I’ve written before about the right tone for appellate argument, and how hard it is to achieve. In my view, Katyal’s tone was pitch-perfect throughout. One little example: he acknowledged up front that a particular point was the hardest part of his argument and then proceeded to defend it. (This is 53:52 through 56:30 in the audio file.) Sounds easy, but in the heat of the moment few lawyers strike that balance well.
  • A circuit panel argument may be small potatoes for a lawyer who’s argued three dozen Supreme Court cases, but you’d never have known it. He was emphatically not coasting on reputation and talent. At one point he referred to a point Judge Rendell had made during an oral argument the day before, and afterward he tweeted that he’d sat in on several Third Circuit arguments this week. That’s a concrete expression of commitment to the case and respect for the court. If a guy who was on TV a couple days before his argument isn’t too busy to prepare that thoroughly, what’s our excuse?
  • Katyal plainly went in with the goal of emphasizing that his positions had been adopted by the prior courts to have considered them. Lesser advocates would try to accomplish that goal with one sledgehammer swing, something like “the government’s frankly outrageous position has been completely and utterly rejected by every single court to consider it!” Katyal took a different approach. Instead of bombast, he used timing and elegant repetition, referring to the other courts’ rulings in his opening, his closing, and at his crescendo points throughout. David Frederick‘s superb book Supreme Court and Appellate Advocacy calls this “The Mantra,” and Katyal’s argument was an elegant model of how to do it effectively.

I could go on, but perhaps I sound like enough of a swooning teenager already. I haven’t talked about Allen’s argument here, but it was very high quality as well. If you’re an appellate lawyer looking to get better at oral argument, be sure to give this one a careful listen.

Judge Ambro closed the argument by observing how well both advocates had argued and what a privilege it was to have them, and I agree entirely.

New opinion — Third Circuit rejects preemption application in high-profile plane-crash suit

Sikkelee v. Precision Airmotive — civil — reversal — Shwartz

After the pilot of a small airplane died in a plane crash, his widow sued the manufacturer of the plane’s engine, asserting state-law strict liability and negligence claims. The district court ruled that the claims were barred under conflict preemption and, alternatively, that the defendants were entitled to summary judgment under state law. Today, a divided Third Circuit panel reversed on both grounds in an opinion that helpfully summarizes the baroque law of preemption. Broadly speaking, the engine manufacturer argued that the suit should be barred because the design of its engine was dictated by the FAA, and the panel majority rejected that argument based on its view that the manufacturer in fact was able to modify the design.

Notably, the court observed in a footnote that the district court had repeatedly referred to a settlement that was irrelevant to any of the legal issues, and the court expressed its “hope [that] the District Court’s analysis and tone were not influenced by it.”

Judge Roth dissented on the preemption holding, arguing that the majority “takes a piecemeal approach to the Supreme Court’s impossibility preemption precedents” and “misframes the applicable regulatory regime.”

Joining Shwartz was Rendell, with Roth dissenting in part. (Thus making this the sadly rare Third Circuit panel comprised entirely of women.) The eminent arguing counsel were Tejinder Singh of Goldstein & Russell for the widow and Kannon Shanmugam of Williams & Connolly for the manufacturer. Audio of the argument is here.


Matey’s questionnaire posted

The questionnaire prepared by Third Circuit nominee Paul Matey has been posted on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s website. A link to the questionnaire is here.

Unsurprisingly, Matey’s questionnaire indicates that his selection process began with a call from then-Governor Chris Christie informing Matey that he would recommend him to the White House for a judgeship.

I posted last week that Matey’s SJC hearing reportedly will be held November 14. He has not received his ABA rating yet and, to my knowledge, neither New Jersey senator has announced whether he will return his blue slip for Matey’s nomination.

Matey was nominated by President Trump in April to fill the opening created when Judge Fuentes took senior status in July 2016.

Matey’s Senate Judiciary hearing reportedly coming soon

The Senate Judiciary Committee intends to hold a hearing on November 14 for Third Circuit nominee Paul Matey, according to Ed Whelan on National Review (link). According to the report, the committee aims to report his nomination to the Senate floor in early December. The hearing is not listed on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s online hearing calendar.

Judge Porter receives his commission

Judge David Porter, confirmed by the Senate on October 11, took his judicial oath and received his commission on October 15. He is now officially a Third Circuit judge. He has the rare privilege of serving alongside the judge he clerked for, Chief Judge Smith.

Judge Porter becomes the Court’s 13th active judge, filling the opening created when Judge Fisher took senior status in February 2017. One open seat remains on the court, the one created when Judge Fuentes took senior status in July 2016 for which Paul Matey was nominated the same day Judge Porter was.

Judge Porter’s confirmation vote (50 to 45) was the closest in the Third Circuit’s recent history, and the closest ever I suspect.

Judge Porter is 52, making him the third-youngest member of the court after Judges Bibas and Krause. He’s only one year younger than Judge Hardiman, who has been on the court for over a decade.

My congratulations again to Judge Porter, and I look forward to seeing him in action one day soon.

David Porter is confirmed to the Third Circuit [updated]

David Porter’s Third Circuit nomination was just confirmed by the Senate. The announced vote was 50 to 45.

Congratulations, about-to-be-Judge Porter!

Update: the vote was announced shortly before it occurred. Apparently Porter’s nomination was included in a package that Senate Democrats unanimously allowed to go forward as part of a deal to allow Senators to go home and campaign. I’m quite surprised that Democrats agreed to include Porter’s nomination in the deal, given strong opposition to his nomination by Senator Casey and liberal groups. Either way, Porter’s wait is over and he’ll be a Third Circuit judge once he takes the oath.

Hardiman clerk set to make Supreme Court law-clerk history

A decade ago, Isaac Lidsky went from clerking for Third Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro to becoming the Supreme Court’s first-ever blind law clerk, clerking for Justices O’Connor and Ginsburg.

Next year, Laura Wolk, who is clerking for Third Circuit Judge Thomas Hardiman, will reportedly become the Supreme Court’s first-ever blind female law clerk, hired to clerk for Justice Thomas.

Here is an inspiring recent profile of Wolk from the Notre Dame law school website. (She also was interviewed in 2016 by the Catholic website Crux, here.) In the profile, she discusses clerking for Judge Hardiman (as well as DC Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown):

“I have had the great fortune to clerk for two judges who are not only brilliant jurists, but also people of paramount integrity,” she said. “My professional skills and the development of my own legal philosophy have benefited immensely from working with Judge Brown and Judge Hardiman, and I am sure that I will put what I have learned in this regard into practice every day.”

The profile also notes that she took up running with Judge Hardiman (as his clerks are famously wont to do) and plans to run a half-marathon with the Judge and her co-clerks this spring.

Mighty impressive.

Hat tip: I learned about Wolk from David Lat’s article on Scotus-clerk hiring yesterday on Above the Law, link here. Lat’s article also notes that Zachary Savage, who clerked for Judge Scirica, is clerking this term for Justice Kagan.

Third Circuit grants en banc rehearing in juvenile-sentencing case [updated]

The Third Circuit yesterday granted rehearing en banc in a criminal case, United States v. Corey Grant, 16-3820, and set oral argument for February 20. The order is here. This is the court’s second en banc grant this week, joining the TSA-liability case Pellegrino, noted here.

Here is my write-up of the now-vacated Grant panel decision, which held that a de facto life sentence of 65 years was unconstitutional under Miller v. Alabama. The opinion stated that it joined three circuits against one on the de facto-life issue. The panel was unanimous on that point, while Judge Cowen dissented on the panel’s denial of relief on an additional sentencing-package ground. Greenaway was the author joined by Cowen and Padova EDPA.

Today’s order doesn’t specify whether the grant was spurred by the Miller issue or the sentencing-package issue, and I haven’t gone hunting on Pacer to see what the parties filed, but my guess is it’s about the Miller issue.

Update: a helpful reader pointed out what I should have noticed myself: the order states that it’s granting the government’s rehearing petition. This shows what I’d originally only suspected, that the en banc issue is the Miller issue.

Third Circuit grants rehearing en banc in TSA screener liability case

The Third Circuit this morning granted rehearing en banc in Pellegrino v. TSA, setting argument for February 20. A link to the order is here.

My summary of the now-vacated panel decision, in which the panel majority held that the government is immune from suit for the intentional torts of TSA airport security screeners, is here. The panel split was Judges Krause and Scirica in the majority with Judge Ambro dissenting.

Judge Barry named in New York Times story alleging Trump family tax fraud [updated]

The New York Times today posted a detailed investigative article asserting that President Donald Trump engaged in questionable tax schemes in the 1990s, “Including outright fraud.” The story, by David Barstow, Susanne Craig, and Russ Buettner, is here.

Third Circuit Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, a senior judge on inactive status, is named in the article. According to the story, she along with her two brothers filed a tax return on their father’s estate that “vividly illustrates the effectiveness of the tax strategies devised by the Trumps in the early 1990s,” “[r]ecycl[ed] … legally dubious techniques,” “dodged tens of millions of dollars in estate taxes,” “aggressively discounted … appraisals,” “appear[ed] to have hidden key facts from the I.R.S.,” “drastically understat[ed] the value of apartment complexes and shopping centers,” and “made no mention of” two significant assets.

In the story, Judge Barry denied comment and President Trump’s lawyer “defended the tax returns filed by the Trumps.”

This is a stunning development. More to come on this story, I’m sure. As readers know, I’ve long held Judge Barry in high regard. The allegations are quite serious, but I don’t know what to make of this yet and I believe she’s earned our circumspection until we know more.

A blog update

Since I started this blog back in 2014, one of the things I’ve done is post summaries of all published Third Circuit opinions as they’re issued, normally the same day. But over the past several days I haven’t been doing that. To be honest, like many of you I got swept up in the drama surrounding the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. And, more broadly, I’ve always debated with myself whether the time I spend writing all those case summaries is worth it to my readers and to me, and those debates have gotten louder as my law practice continues to grow. So, as I write this, I’m still undecided about whether this is just a brief hiccup or a change of course.

In the meantime, those wishing to monitor the court’s new opinions should check the court’s website directly, here, and those wishing to monitor my opinions is invited to follow me on Twitter at @CA3blog.

Third Circuit establishes a new award named after Joe Biden to honor service to justice and the courts

The Third Circuit announced today that it has created a new award, the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. Award for Exemplary Service to the Third Circuit, and Biden himself will be the first recipient. Chief Judge D. Brooks Smith will present the award at a judges’ meeting on October 18 in Wilmington, Delaware.

The new award “recognizes outstanding service in promoting the cause of justice and the work of the courts within the Third Judicial Circuit.” Future recipients will be announced at the circuit conference.

Chief Judge Smith gave this statement:

I am extremely pleased that Vice President Biden has agreed to accept the inaugural award which will bear his name. As a veteran U.S. Senator and as a former Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Vice President Biden has for decades been a friend, supporter, and defender of an independent federal judiciary. Over those years, his commitment to the courts and judges within the Third Circuit has been unflinching. This is a small way for the Third Circuit family to say ‘thank you.’

(Do I think it’s irrelevant that Biden was a leading Senate opponent of Chief Judge Smith’s own nomination? No, I do not.)



Third Circuit cancels upcoming en banc arguments

On Friday, the Third Circuit entered orders in the two cases that had been scheduled en banc oral argument on October 10, which I previously discussed here, announcing that the arguments would not happen on that date and that the court would decide at some later date whether to hold arguments in these cases on the next en banc date, February 20, 2019. The orders did not provide the reason(s) for this unusual change of course.

Two new opinions, including a sledgehammer affirmance of attorney fee denial, sanction, and disciplinary referral

Young v. Smith — civil / attorney fees and sanctions — affirmance — McKee

Hard though it is to believe, not every lawyer reads or heeds my advice not to act as counsel for an appeal in which their own conduct is at issue.* It happened again in this case, and it ended spectacularly badly for the lawyer, Cynthia Pollick: flat denial of her request for over $700,000 in attorney’s fees, plus a $25,000 sanction, plus a disciplinary-board referral.

Among the lawyer’s many expensive mistakes, per the opinion:

  • seeking $733,002.23 in fees after a $25,000 settlement;
  • submitting a bill that was 44 single-spaced pages of teeny tiny type;
  • conducting herself at the fee hearing in a manner that the district judge said “transported [him] to a universe devoid of legal principles and fundamental notions of relevance,” “strange and obstreperous conduct” that “fl[ou]ted any semblance of propriety and decorum”; and
  • arguing she was free to ignore two prior admonitions for her billing practices because those rulings had been affirmed in decisions that were non-precedential.

The court held that 42 USC § 1988(b) permits courts to deny outrageously excessive and conscience-shocking fee requests in their entirety, and held that this standard was met by counsel’s “grossly excessive and absurd, but also fraudulent” request.

The opinion closed by emphasizing the uniqueness of the case and that blanket fee denials should be “exceedingly rare.”

Joining McKee were Shwartz and Cowen. The case was decided without oral argument.

* To be clear, I’m not suggesting that new counsel is any sort of cure-all. It didn’t seem to help earlier this year in Clemens, for example. But new counsel are virtually always going to be in a stronger position to defend district-court counsel’s actions.


Russell v. Superior Court Marshal — civil rights — partial affirmance — Krause

Today’s opinion begins powerfully: ” In this tragic case, after Appellee Jamila Russell enlisted the help of the Virgin Islands Superior Court and its Court Marshals with her truant teenage son, L.T., Deputy Marshal Chris Richardson allegedly shot him at his home, unarmed and mostly undressed, rendering him a quadriplegic.” The Third Circuit held that quasi-judicial immunity does not extend to a suit challenging the manner in which a judicial officer executes a court order. The court also affirmed denial of qualified immunity but ordered dismissal of a gross-negligence claim based on sovereign immunity.

A practice note: the opinion notes disapprovingly that the appellants “take it upon themselves to offer additional clarity by pointing to extra detail found not in the complaint but rather in the Marshals’ own affidavits and an internal incident report,” detail the did not consider in this interlocutory appeal from denial of dismissal.

Joining Krause were Roth and Fisher. Arguing counsel were Gordon Rhea of South Carolina for the mother and her son and Paul Gimenez from the Office of General Counsel for the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands for the defendants.


Three new opinions

The Third Circuit issued three published opinions yesterday.

US. v. Rivera-Cruz — criminal — affirmance — Hardiman

The introduction ably explains:

Reynaldo Rivera-Cruz appeals an order of the United
States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania
denying his motion for a sentence reduction. The relevant
statute (18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2)) authorizes sentence
reductions for defendants initially “sentenced to a term of
imprisonment based on” a United States Sentencing
Guidelines (USSG) range that was later lowered by the
United States Sentencing Commission. In Koons v. United
States, 138 S. Ct. 1783 (2018), the Supreme Court held that
such relief is unavailable to a defendant whose Guidelines
range is “scrapped” in favor of a statutory mandatory
minimum sentence. Id. at 1787–88. We now hold that the
same is true where, as here, a statutory maximum displaces
the defendant’s Guidelines range.

In Koons, a statute set the available sentence completely outside the Guidelines range, by requiring a minimum that was above the top of the range. Here, the statute also took the available sentence completely out of the Guidelines range, but by setting a maximum that was below the bottom of the range. The court reasoned that the “distinction is immaterial” here.

Joining Hardiman were Krause and Bibas. The case was decided without oral argument.


Schultz v. Midland Credit Mgmt. — civil / FDCPA — reversal — Vanaskie

A debt collector sent out form collection letters stating that forgiveness of debt may be reported to the IRS. But some of the recipients of that letter owed less than $600, and the IRS doesn’t require reporting of debt discharges under $600. One such recipient filed a putative class action suit against the debt collector under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The district court dismissed, but the Third Circuit reversed, cautioning that the convenience of using form letters does not excuse compliance with the FDCPA.

Joining Vanaskie were Hardiman and Shwartz. Arguing counsel were Andrew Milz of Flitter Milz for the recipients and David Schultz of Chicago for the debt collector.


Judge v. Shikellamy School Dist. — civil — affirmance — Hardiman

A school principal was arrested on charges of drunk driving and resigned as principal but later sued alleging constructive discharge. Concluding that her resignation was voluntary, the Third Circuit affirmed dismissal of her suit. The opinion explained that the court had not explained how to analyze constructive-discharge claims, and the court adopted the Eleventh Circuit’s five-point framework.

Joining Hardiman were Krause and Bibas. The case was decided without oral argument.

Two new opinions

US v. Thomas — criminal — partial affirmance — Greenaway

A media company intervened in a criminal case involving aid to a foreign terrorist group, seeking to unseal records from the case including a guilty-plea document and materials involving surveillance discovery. The district court denied the request on national security grounds. Today, the Third Circuit affirmed as to the plea document, recognizing a presumptive First Amendment right to access but holding that the presumption was overcome here, and remanded for the district court to reconsider redaction of the rest.

Joining Greenaway were Restrepo and Bibas. The case was decided without oral argument.


Reese v. Warden — criminal — Fuentes — affirmance

The Third Circuit today held that a federal prisoner may not challenge his pretrial detention through a habeas petition under 28 USC § 2241. The ruling was a bit unusual in that the court noted that the issue was novel in the circuit, decided it with a signed precedential opinion, and agreed with two sister-circuit cases from the 80’s, one of them per curiam — but it denied the pro se inmate’s request for counsel, summarily affirmed without full briefing, and ruled that no substantial question was presented.

Joining Fuentes were Chagares and Greenaway. The case was decided without argument.

Two new opinions

In re: Hertz Global Holdings — civil / securities — affirmance — Jordan

The Third Circuit today affirmed a district court’s ruling that plaintiffs had failed to plead a “strong inference of scienter” for their claim under the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act. The opinion lays out in devastating detail the allegations that Hertz overstated its profits, but ultimately concludes that likeliest inference from this evidence is that the Hertz-executive defendants were “just bad leaders,” not that they engaged in systemic fraud.

Joining Jordan were Ambro and Hardiman. Arguing counsel were Douglas Wilens of Florida for the plaintiffs, Adam Unikowsky of Jenner & Block for Hertz, and Gregory Markel of New York for one of the executives.


Walker v. Senior Deputy Coffey — civil rights — partial affirmance — Roth

The Third Circuit today held that a prosecutor and an agent were entitled to qualified immunity for using a facially invalid subpoena to get a woman’s work emails, because the woman didn’t have a clearly established right to privacy for the content of her work emails, at least where the employer had authority over the emails and consented to turn them over in response to the invalid subpoena. The opinion notes the Court’s “dismay[]” at the prosecutor’s and agent’s action here: their subpoena left the date, time, place of production, and party blank. (Assistant General Counsel at Penn State Katherine Allen, identified in the opinion, complied with it anyway.)

My two cents: I have no view on whether applying qualified immunity here is a correct application of controlling law, but I believe the outcome here illustrates the awfulness of qualified immunity. Law enforcement officials get to serve cartoon subpoenas with impunity if the law isn’t also clear enough yet that what they get with the cartoon subpoenas was constitutionally protected? If it’s clear they used wrongful means to get something, that would be all qualified immunity requires in my world.

The court remanded to allow the plaintiff to amend her Stored Communications Act claim.

Joining Roth were Jordan and Stearns D. Mass by designation. Arguing counsel were Geoffrey Johnson of Jenkintown for the woman and John Knorr III for the state.

Court withdraws “prematurely filed” opinion

Earlier today, the Third Circuit posted a precedential opinion in Palardy v. Township of Millburn, 17-2597. Now it’s gone from the court website. On the case docket, there is a clerk’s order entered today that reads, “The Court’s opinion and judgment dated September 19, 2018, having been prematurely filed is hereby VACATED., filed.” My thanks to a helpful reader for pointing it out to me.

New opinion — Third Circuit revives union member’s 1st Amendment free-association claim [update: never mind]

[Update:  The court removed the opinion from its website. On the docket a clerk’s order was entered, stating, “The Court’s opinion and judgment dated September 19, 2018, having been prematurely filed is hereby VACATED., filed.” Thanks to a helpful reader for alerting me.]


Palardy v. Township of Millburn — civil — partial reversal — Siler CA6 by designation

The Third Circuit today reversed a district court’s grant summary judgment against a police officer who alleged that he was not made police chief due to his union membership. The court joined a circuit minority on the question of whether recent Supreme Court cases limiting speech protections for public employees to matters of public concern also apply to association claims, holding that they do not. Union membership, the court held, is First-Amendment-protected conduct.

Joining Siler were Ambro and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Dennis Durkin of Roseland, NJ, for the former police officer and Littie Rau of Ruderman Horn for the township.

New opinion — Third Circuit upholds denial of disabled student’s IDEA suit

K.D. v. Downingtown Area School Dist. — disability — affirmance — Bibas

The Third Circuit today sided with a school district in appeal over whether the district court complied with the Individuals with Disabilities Act and two other statutes. The plaintiff, supported by a bevy of disability-rights amici, argued that the district (which also garnered substantial amicus support) had failed to develop adequate individual education plans for for an elementary-school student with ADHD, dyslexia, and other disabilities struggling to keep up in school.

Joining Bibas were Greenaway and Restrepo. Arguing counsel were Catherine Reisman of Reisman Carolla for the student and Karl Romberger, Jr. of Sweet Stevens for the district.

New opinion, or rather newly precedential

US v. Glass — criminal — affirmance — Vanaskie

The Third Circuit this afternoon granted the government’s motion to publish an opinion in a case it previously had decided by non-precedential opinion. Such motions seem to rarely filed except by the government in criminal cases, which I see as unfortunate and a disservice to the court.

Anyhow, the case involved a defendant’s challenge to being sentenced as a Sentencing Guidelines career offender. The court rejected his argument that Pennsylvania’s PWID statute criminalized offers and thus didn’t qualify as predicate controlled substance offenses.

Joining with Vanaskie were Krause and Restrepo. The case was decided without oral argument.

En banc Third Circuit will wade into the crime-of-violence quagmire in two oral arguments next month

The Third Circuit granted rehearing en banc in two related criminal cases that will be argued on October 10. The cases are US v. Santiago, 16-4194, and US v. Harris, 17-1861.

The appellant in Santiago summarized the issue thus:

Whether a defendant’s prior New Jersey conviction for assaulting a law enforcement officer is a “crime of violence” under the elements clause of the Sentencing Guidelines

And one appellant in Harris:

Does Appellant’s ACCA-enhanced sentence violate his right to due process of law because it relies on prior convictions for Pennsylvania robbery and aggravated assault that are not categorically violent felonies under the Armed Career Criminal Act?

So if Johnson, Descamps, Mathis, and the categorical approach are your cup of tea, you won’t want to miss en banc argument day next month.

Judge Restrepo was “slightly hesitant” when the White House asked if he would consider a Third Circuit judgeship

A winning profile of Third Circuit Judge L. Felipe Restrepo appears today on Al Día, by John McGuire. A link is here, and the entire profile is well worth your time.

One highlight is Judge Restrepo describing his reaction to being nominated for a Third Circuit seat:

Restrepo went on to become a U.S. magistrate judge, and then President Obama nominated him to be a district court judge, an experience that he referred to as “very flattering and very humbling.” When the White House called him again to ask if he would consider a circuit court appointment, the judge admits he was slightly hesitant at first.

“It’s nothing I ever pursued because I really didn’t fancy myself an appellate lawyer,” Restrepo recalled. “But I have a world of respect for President Obama, and when they call and ask you to do something like this, it’s tough to say no.”


Third Circuit affirms bankruptcy court’s belated switch that cost one side $275M

In re: Energy Future Holdings — bankruptcy — affirmance — Greenaway

A bankruptcy court order granted reconsideration about a year after approving a merger, and under the new ruling the would-be merging corporation no longer was entitled to a $275 million termination fee. The would-be merger appealed, of course, arguing that the reconsideration motion was untimely and wrong on the merits. Today, a divided Third Circuit panel affirmed.

Joining Greenaway was Fuentes; Rendell dissented, arguing that reconsideration was granted without a clear error to correct and that the bankruptcy court’s analysis of the merits was flawed. Arguing counsel were Howard Seife of Norton Rose for the would-be merger, and Douglas Hallward-Driemeir of Ropes & Gray and Michael McKane of Kirkland & Ellis for the various appellees.

Three new opinions

Rinaldi v. US — prisoner rights — partial reversal — Krause

In a significant prisoner case, a divided Third Circuit panel today ruled in favor of a prisoner whose suit alleged that USP Lewisburg administators retaliated against him for filing inmate grievances by moving him into a cell with another prisoner known for assaulting his cellmates. The prisoner did not to administratively exhaust that claim with prison officials before filing suit—understandably!—but the government chose to argue that it should be dismissed for failure to exhaust and the district court agreed. Today the Third Circuit (per unanimous panel) disagreed, announcing the standard for when a prisoner’s failure to exhaust is excused by administrator’s intimidation and remanding for the district court to apply this standard.

The panel split over a second exhaustion issue. As to another of the prisoner’s claims, he failed to follow the prison’s grievance procedures, but the prison considered the merits of this claim anyway. The panel majority held that, with the PLRA as with habeas, a claim is exhausted even if it was not properly presented if it was considered anyway and denied at the highest level of review. On this point, Judge Scirica dissented.

Finally, the unanimous panel affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the prisoner’s claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act, holding that the FTCA’s discretionary-function exception to liability included prisoners’ challenges to BOP housing and cellmate assignments.

Joining Krause was Fuentes and Scirica in part, with Scirica dissenting in part. Arguing counsel were Tarah Ackerman of Allegheny Technologies (formerly of Jones Day) for the inmate, appointed by the court pro bono, and Timothy Judge of the US Attorney’s office in Scranton for the government.


Jutrowski v. Township of Riverdale — civil rights — partial affirmance — Krause

Several state troopers and local police officers participated in arresting a man for drunk driving. During the arrest, one of the officers kicked the man in the face while he was on the ground, hard enough to break the man’s nose and eye socket. But the officers had the man’s face  pinned to the pavement when the bone-breaking kick was delivered, so the man didn’t see who did it. The officers — Riverdale police officers Travis Roemmele and Christopher Biro, NJ state troopers Jeffrey Heimbach and James Franchino–all denied that they were the one who kicked the man, and–critically–they all denied having seen who did. (Officer Biro’s dashcam video “allegedly did not record.”) The man sued for excessive force, and, today, the Third Circuit rejected his excessive force claim:

We are now called upon to outline the contours of this “personal involvement” requirement in § 1983 cases and to consider its application when a plaintiff who indisputably suffered a constitutional injury at the hands of one officer comes up against to the proverbial “blue wall of silence.” Despite the unfortunate situation created for plaintiffs like Jutrowski who are unable to identify their attackers through no fault of their own, we hold that a plaintiff alleging that one or more officers engaged in unconstitutional conduct must establish the “personal involvement” of each named defendant to survive summary judgment and take that defendant to trial.

Unfortunate situation indeed. Because the man couldn’t identify after discovery which of the officers present delivered the kick, the Third Circuit affirmed dismissal of his excessive force claim against them all. On the bright side:

Nonetheless, where a plaintiff adduces sufficient evidence of an after-the-fact conspiracy to cover up misconduct, even of an unidentified officer, he may be able to state a claim under § 1983 for the violation of a different constitutional right: the due process right of access to the courts. Such is the case here.

Joining Krause were Jordan and Greenberg. Arguing counsel were Robert Degroot of Newark for the kicked man, Anthony Seijas of Cleary Giacobbe for the Riverdale defendants, and Matthew Lynch of the NJ AG’s office for the state-trooper defendants.


Clemens v. New York Central Mutual Fire Insurance — civil — affirmance — Greenaway

The introduction, minus cites:

After a jury awarded him $100,000 in punitive damages under the Pennsylvania Bad Faith Statute, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8371, Appellant Bernie Clemens submitted a petition for over $900,000 in attorney’s fees from Appellee New York Central Mutual Fire Insurance Company (“NYCM”). The District Court denied this petition in its entirety, reasoning that it was not adequately supported and that the requested amount was grossly excessive given the nature of the case. Finding no abuse of discretion, we will affirm and, in doing so, take the opportunity to formally endorse a view already adopted by several other circuits—that is, where a fee-shifting statute provides a court discretion to award attorney’s fees, such discretion includes the ability to deny a fee request altogether when, under the circumstances, the amount requested is “outrageously excessive.”

The opinion hammered counsel’s failure to maintain contemporaneous time records for most of the litigation (the court expressed astonishment that counsel sought recovery of over $25,000 for 64.5 hours spent reconstructing their time records), submission of time entries like “Other” and “Communicate,” and submission of 562 hours of otherwise unexplained time for trial preparation for the one-week trial.

Joining Greenaway were Restrepo and Bibas. The case was decided without oral argument.

Three new opinions [updated]

Update: on October 30 the panel granted the Commonwealth’s petition for panel rehearing and vacated the original opinion, with a new opinion and judgment to come.

Workman v. Superintendent — habeas corpus — reversal — Fuentes

The Third Circuit today ruled in favor of a habeas corpus petitioner, holding that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing almost entirely to mount a defense and that post-conviction counsel’s ineffectiveness excused default of that issue under Martinez v. Ryan. Notably, the court held that the petitioner did not need to prove prejudice from his counsel’s error because, under United States v. Cronic, prejudice was presumed due to counsel’s near-total failure to contest the prosecution’s case.

[Disclosure: I provided minor consulting assistance to counsel for the petitioner.]

Joining Fuentes were Ambro and Restrepo. Arguing counsel were Marshall Dayan of the WDPA defender for the petitioner and Catherine Kiefer of the Philadelphia DA’s office for the Commonwealth.


US v. Renteria — criminal — affirmance — Fuentes

The Third Circuit today split with the Second Circuit in holding that venue for a conspiracy conviction does not require proof that it was reasonably foreseeable that conduct in furtherance of the conspiracy would occur in the venue district, affirming a defendant’s conviction and sentence.

[Disclosure: I assisted counsel for the defendant by being a judge for her oral argument moot.]

Joining Fuentes were Greenaway and Rendell. Arguing counsel were Susan Lin of Kairys Rudovsky for the defendant and Bernadette McKeon of the EDPA U.S. Attorney’s office for the government.



Trinity Industries v. Greenlease Holding Co. — civil — partial reversal — Jordan

One company built railcars at a particular site for over 75 years, then another company bought the site and built railcars there for another 14 years. A state investigation of the site revealed illegal waste dumping on the site, resulting in a criminal prosecution and almost $9 million in clean-up costs. The two companies disputed how the clean-up costs should be allocated between them under CERCLA and an analogous state law. The district court allocated 62% of the clean-up cost to the first company; today, the Third Circuit vacated and remanded, holding that the district court’s allocation methodology was speculative because it materially deviated from the second company’s expert’s allocation methodology.

Joining Jordan were Chagares and Hardiman. Arguing counsel were Steven Baicker-McKee of Babst Calland for the first company and Paul Steinman of Eckert Seamans for the second.

Two new opinions, including a significant FCRA consumer win

Long v. SEPTA — civil — partial reversal — Fisher

Philadelphia’s public-transit authority, SEPTA, violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act by failing to send job applicants who had prior criminal convictions copies of the background checks that it  relied on when it rejected their applications. The district court rejected the applicants’ FCRA claims on the ground that they had alleged only a bare procedural violation without any concrete injury such as an error in their background check.

Today, the Third Circuit reversed in part because “the FCRA does not condition the right to receive a consumer report on whether having the report would allow an individual to stave off an adverse employment action. Rather, the statute applies to all consumers.” As to standing, the court reiterated its recent caselaw “‘decidedly in favor of allowing individuals to sue to remedy violations of their statutory rights, even without additional injury.”

Joining Fisher were Chagares and Restrepo. Arguing counsel were Deepak Gupta of Gupta Wessler for the applicants and Elizabeth Malloy of Cozen O’Connor for SEPTA.


Lupu v. Loan City LLC — civil — partial reversal — Ambro

The Third Circuit today held that, under Pennsylvania law, a title insurer’s duty to defend an insured is assessed claim-by-claim by comparing the insurance contract to the complaint, rejecting application of the “in for one, in for all” rule.

Joining Ambro were McKee and Restrepo. Arguing counsel were Michael Coughlin of Kaplin Stewart for title insurer and Brett Messinger of Duane Morris for the insured.

Two new opinions, including a rare PLRA win with a rare dissent urging en banc rehearing

Brown v. Sage — prisoner rights — reversal — Fuentes

Today, a divided Third Circuit panel ruled in favor of a prisoner who argued that he should have been allowed to file suits in forma pauperis because he had not accrued three prior frivolous filings under the Prison Litigation Reform Act’s three-strikes view. Applying circuit precedent, the majority held that one of the prisoner’s asserted strikes did not qualify because the court had denied the IFP motion and dismissed the complaint as frivolous simultaneously. It also held that strikes that accrue after the filing of the complaint do not count under the three-strikes rule.

In a vigorous dissent, Judge Chagares argued that the majority ignored controlling statutory law and created a circuit split, and he urged the court to grant en banc rehearing:

My learned colleagues have applied the law of this Court, but that jurisprudence was superseded by statute over twenty years ago. Nevertheless, the majority has extended it,
thereby creating a circuit split, mandating adherence to an inflexible rule that many courts in this circuit have abandoned, and increasing litigation (and confusion) over what constitutes
a “strike” for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). I write separately because I believe that the Court should take this case en banc to align our jurisprudence with the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321-66 (1996) (the “PLRA”) and with the decisions of our sister Courts of Appeals. Adherence to our outdated and rigid twostep procedure — the prism through which courts in this circuit must now divine whether prior dismissals that occurred both in and out of this circuit constitute strikes — should be discarded in favor of the flexible and discretionary approach required by the PLRA.

Joining Fuentes was Smith; Chagares concurred in part and dissented in part. Arguing counsel for the prisoner was Judah Bellin, a recent Penn Law grad who handled the case through the school’s federal appellate externship program, pro bono, and for the government was Michael Butler.


US v. Gonzalez — criminal — affirmance — Chagares

After a man killed his son’s ex-wife, and then himself, in the lobby of a Delaware courthouse, prosecutors charged the son and his sister with stalking resulting in death and related counts. Both were convicted and sentenced to life in prison. (Their mother also was convicted, but she died while the appeal was pending.) They appealed their convictions and sentences on 13 different grounds, but today the Third Circuit affirmed. The opinion observed that the case was complicated and raised numerous issues of first impression, and effusively praised District Judge McHugh’s handling of the case.

Joining Chagares were Scirica and Rendell. Arguing counsel were Tieffa Harper of the Delaware federal defender for the son, Jeremy Ibrahim Sr. for the sister, and Jamie McCall for the government.

Two especially interesting new opinions

In re: Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder Prods. — civil — affirmance — Smith

Today a divided Third Circuit panel ruled against a woman who brought a consumer class-action suit against a baby-powder maker. The plaintiff alleged that perineal use of the baby powder can lead to increased risk of ovarian cancer. Her legal theory was that she suffered an economic injury by purchasing a product that was unsafe, even if it was only unsafe to other consumers. The majority held that her allegations were legally insufficient: “buyer’s remorse, without more, is not a cognizable injury under Article III.”

Judge Fuentes dissented, acknowledging that the majority’s conclusion makes perfect sense in the abstract but arguing that it failed to recognize that a product’s overall safety often is a key to consumers’ decisions about whether to buy it. Many of us would be less likely to buy a product marketed as safe that gives lots of other people cancer, and companies presumably know that. So denying economic recovery here allows companies to profit from hiding the danger, by preventing recovery by the consumers who spent their money on a product they would never have bought had they known.

Joining Smith was Chagares, with Fuentes dissenting. Both opinions are outstanding. Arguing counsel were Timothy Blood of California for the consumer and Matthew Powers of O’Melveny & Myers for the baby-powder maker.


Tima v. AG — immigration — affirmance — Bibas

A Cameroonian man in the U.S. on an expiring student visa entered into a sham marriage with a U.S. citizen almost three decades ago. He was discovered and pled guilty to making a false statement about being married, but the government didn’t try to deport him at the time. So he moved on with his life, married a citizen over 20 years ago, and had three children, all U.S. citizens. In 2003, the government in its infinite wisdom started trying to deport him for marriage fraud and a crime involving moral turpitude, namely the marriage-fraud false-statement conviction. The man applied for a fraud waiver under 8 USC § 1227(a)(1)(H).

Today, the Third Circuit denied the man’s petition for review, holding that the fraud waiver did not apply to removal based on the moral-turpitude conviction. By its terms, the fraud waiver applies to “grounds of admissibility directly resulting from such fraud.” The gist seems to be that, while the conviction here seems to be “directly resulting,” it wasn’t a ground “of admissibility” because the crime occurred after his admission. Even though the court admitted that its interpretation rendered part of the statute surplussage, and admitted that the man’s argument on this point was “cogent,” it still found the statute’s meaning clear enough that the rule of lenity did not apply, based on evidence including the “technical meaning” of the word “paragraph” as opposed to sections, subsections, subparagraphs, clauses, and subclauses, in light of authorities like the House Legislative Counsel’s Manual of Drafting Style.

My respectful view: if I first found myself relying on some legislative counsel style guide to support my statutory interpretation, and next I were forced to admit that applying the rule against surplussage would defeat my interpretation, then, even though three other circuits have interpreted the statute the same way, I believe the rule of lenity would start sounding plausible. Plausible enough, at least, that explaining why it rejected it, to uphold the quarter-century-late deportation of a father of three, warranted more than the single sentence of reasoning the opinion gave it here.

Joining Bibas were Jordan and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Matthew Archambeault of Corpuz & Archambeault for the man and Karen Melnik for the government.

Judge Krause and Judge Vanaskie offer their views about the Third Circuit’s oral-argument rate

Two Third Circuit judges spoke yesterday at a CLE event on effective appellate advocacy, and they had some mighty interesting things to say about how the court is responding to criticism that it isn’t granting oral argument often enough.

Yesterday’s CLE was a tremendous event, sponsored by the Third Circuit Bar Association. (But I’m biased, since I’m on the 3CBA board and was one of the program’s organizers.) Judges Vanaskie and Krause presented on one panel, with David Fine moderating. The other panel was three dynamite appellate lawyers —Nilam Sanghvi, Craig Shagin, and Sara Solow, moderated by Tom Schmidt. I learned a lot, and all the attendees I spoke to afterwards were glad they came. Organizational boosterism aside, if you practice much in the Third Circuit, you really should make every effort to attend programs like this.

Okay, so here’s what the two judges had to say about oral argument rates. (If you’re new here, I have scads of prior posts about the issue, notably here and here.) This is a hot topic in these parts, so I’ll give a blow-by-blow account in as much detail as my notes and memory permit. [I’m no journalist, so if you were there and remember any of this differently, by all means please contact me!]

To put it in some context, this came up about halfway through the judges’ panel, I believe they discussed this topic at greater length than any other, and the judges seemed clearly to have come prepared to address it. The issue came up when Fine observed that the circuit’s rate had fallen from past years and asked the judges whether they saw the decline in arguments as positive or negative.

Judge Krause tackled it first, and she began, “We listen.” She said the judges have been hearing those in the bar (“Mr. Stiegler and others,” she said, and I blushed) who’ve raised the issue. She acknowledged at length the benefits of holding more arguments: to the parties, to the bar for professional development, to the public at large to see their judiciary in action. And, not least, to the nation itself, so that constituents, the bar, and the public understand the importance of separation of powers, balance of powers, and “an independent judiciary,” emphasis hers. So, she said, there are lots of reasons to have more arguments, and she emphasized that the judges of the court now discuss this issue regularly.

And, she explained, the number of Third Circuit oral arguments has in fact gone up. I was especially interested to hear this, as regular readers will know, because the AOC’s most recent public stats about this are sadly useless. She said that in 2016 the Third Circuit held 201 oral arguments, while in 2018 it held 255, an increase of almost 30%. (I haven’t independently confirmed that data, but I’m certain if she said it then it’s correct.) Other circuits’ recent argument numbers did not increase, she noted, which suggests that the increase was the product of the judges’ deliberate choice.

Finally, Judge Krause said that she expected the number of Third Circuit arguments to continue to increase. She said that judges are joining the court with recent experience in the bar who share that perspective, by which I believe she meant the bar’s perspective about the value of argument and the need for more of them.

Judge Vanaskie largely echoed Judge Krause’s comments. He agreed that “certainly” the judges have had discussions about the frequency of oral argument. He explained that deciding how many arguments to hold was a balancing act. When preparing for each argument, he said, the judges take an extremely deep dive into the case. It takes a lot work to be that well prepared, and doing it for every case the court decides isn’t feasible.

As it stands now, he said, every lawyer knows that when the court grants argument it is extremely important, that the panel is troubled by the case and not of one mind. And he believes holding argument in every case would be a mistake, because it would dilute its importance and add to the expense of an appeal for all clients.

Judge Vanaskie reiterated that the issue is under active consideration in the court. He said that at every judges’ meeting now there is some discussion about it. He said the judges are open to listening.

Finally, Judge Krause contrasted the Third Circuit’s practice to the Second Circuit’s, where argument is held in most cases but the lawyers sometimes get only five minutes. She asked whether (and I’m paraphrasing from memory here) arguments that short really help enough to justify their cost and said she did not believe so.

Fascinating and remarkable, and not, I suspect, the last word in this conversation.

Five new opinions

Five precedential opinions today! I was in Harrisburg today for a Third Circuit Bar advocacy CLE event with Judges Vanaskie and Krause, which was super but perhaps not perfectly timed for Five Opinion Day.


Preston v. Superintendent Graterford SCI — habeas corpus — affirmance — Rendell

Damien Preston was tried for third-degree murder, convicted, and sentenced to 20 to 40 years in prison. The Third Circuit today held that, at his trial, his constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him was violated when the prosecution introduced a witness’s prior statements to help convict Preston and the witness refused to answer any substantive questions on cross-examination. But, because this is a habeas corpus case, he lost anyway for opaque reasons.

Preston’s trial lawyer missed the Confrontation Clause issue, a blunder the opinion describes as “clearly substandard.” Then his direct appeal lawyer and his post-conviction lawyer did, too. Preston was able to overcome post-conviction counsel’s mistake based on Martinez v. Ryan. Significantly for habeas nerds, the court held that Martinez requires only trial counsel’s deficient performance, not prejudice, and that Martinez‘s substantiality requirement is the same as COA reasonable debatability. And he even proved that his trial counsel’s performance was deficient. But Preston lost in the end because the court held that he failed to show a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s error, the outcome would have changed.

So, in the end, important good news for future defendants and habeas petitioners, but bad news for Mr. Preston.

Joining Rendell were Greenaway and Fuentes. Arguing counsel were Tom Gaeta of the EDPA federal defender (and former CA3 staff attorney) for the petitioner and Max Kaufman of the Philadelphia DA’s office for the Commonwealth.


Lee v. Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church — civil — affirmance — Shwartz

When a church fired its pastor, the pastor sued for breach of contract. The district court granted summary judgment on the ground that deciding the claim would violate the Establishment Clause by entangling the court in religious doctrine, and today the Third Circuit affirmed.

Joining Shwartz were Roth and Rendell, a rare Third Circuit panel where all three judges are women. By contrast, all five lawyers listed in the caption for the parties appear to be men. Arguing counsel were Gregg Zeff of Zeff Law Firm for the pastor and Daniel Blomberg of Becket Fund for the church.


In re: Tribune Media — bankruptcy — affirmance — Ambro

The Third Circuit today affirmed a district court’s ruling rejecting employment discrimination claims brought by a former television station employee. The opinion’s conclusion aptly summarizes:

Younge challenges the Bankruptcy Court’s statutory and constitutional authority to decide his employment discrimination claims and asks if he can recover for an incident of racial harassment by Schultz, a co-worker at WPHL. We lack any basis to question the Court’s authority at this stage, as Younge never objected to it during bankruptcy proceedings
and instead knowingly and voluntarily submitted to the Court’s jurisdiction.

When we turn to the merits, we also see no reason to disturb the District Court’s decision affirming that of the Bankruptcy Court.  Although Schultz exhibited racial animosity toward Younge, we cannot impute liability to WPHL for a hostile work environment claim because we have no evidence that it had knowledge of Schultz’s racial bias at the time of the incident. Similarly, we cannot say that Younge was wrongfully terminated because WPHL provided a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for his discharge. More importantly, its rationale was not pretextual because Younge and Schultz were both fired for engaging in the same conduct. Younge gives us no examples of similarly situated individuals who were disciplined more leniently for the same type of conduct. Without this type of evidence, we cannot rule in his
favor. Thus we affirm.

Joining Ambro were Scirica and Siler CA6 by designation. Arguing counsel were Timothy Creech of Philadelphia for the plaintiff and Robert Hochman of Sidley Austin for the station.


Vorchheimer v. Philadelphian Owners Assoc. — civil / disability — affirmance — Bibas

The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal of a suit brought under the Fair Housing Act by a woman with a disability alleging that her apartment building owners failed to accommodate her disability by rejecting her request to leave a walker in the lobby but offering alternative accommodations: ” Necessity is a demanding legal standard. For a housing accommodation to be “necessary” under the Act, it must be required for that person to achieve equal housing opportunity, taking into account the alternatives on offer.”

Joining Bibas were Hardiman and Roth. Arguing counsel were Stuart Lurie of Rosenthal Lurie for the woman and Christopher Curci of Freeman Mathis for the building owners.


Twp. of Bordentown v. FERC — civil / environmental — partial reversal — Chagares

Two New Jersey townships and an environmental group brought “a bevy of challenges” to  the approval of an interstate natural gas pipeline by FERC and New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection. The Third Circuit rejected their challenges to FERC’s approval, but remanded to the NJDEP because it misinterpreted federal law in denying the challengers’ request for a hearing. Not often do you see a 69-page opinion, complete with table of contents, in a case decided without oral argument.

Joining Chagares were Greenberg and Fuentes.

Three new civil-appeal opinions

US ex rel. Silver v. Omnicare — civil / qui tam — reversal — Chagares

The False Claims Act, which allows whistleblowers to sue for frauds against the government, has a provision that prevents FCA actions that rely substantially on allegations already known to the public. An FCA relator alleged a kickback scheme — that a pharmacy gave below-cost rates to one category of nursing home customers in exchange for favorable treatment of the pharmacy from the homes as to another category of customers. The district court granted summary judgment based on the public-disclosure bar, relying in part on public evidence that the unlawful practice occurred in the industry generally. Today, the Third Circuit reversed, holding that the suit was not barred by the public-disclosure bar because publicly-known facts did not point to specific fraudulent transactions by this specific pharmacy.

Joining Chagares were Vanaskie and Fuentes. Arguing counsel were Shauna Itri of Berger & Montague for the whistleblower and Michael Manthei of Holland & Knight for the pharmacy.


Delaware Riverkeeper Network v. Secretary, PA DEP — civil / environmental — affirmance — Hardiman

The Third Circuit today rejected an environmental group’s Clean Water Act challenge to a Pennsylvania natural-gas pipeline project. The court also distinguished a First Circuit ruling in holding that the state agency’s water-quality certification was final and appealable even though the administrative appeal of the certification is still pending.

Joining Hardiman were Jordan and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Aaron Stemplewicz of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Mark Freed of Curtin & Heefer for the environmentalists, Joseph Cigan III for the state, and John Stoviak of Saul Ewing for the pipeline builder.


Taksir v. Vanguard Group — civil / securities — affirmance — Chagares

An investor sued Vanguard, alleging that Vanguard advertised stock-trade commissions for certain customers of $2, but then actually charged $7. The district court rejected Vanguard’s argument that the class-action suit was barred by the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act, and, in an interlocutory appeal, today the Third Circuit affirmed.

Joining Chagares were Smith and Fuentes. Arguing counsel were Stuart Steinberg of Dechert for Vanguard and Christopher Nelson of the Weiser Law Firm for the investor.

New opinion — remarkably lopsided en banc Third Circuit sides with rental-assistance tenants [updated]

Hayes v. Harvey (en banc) — housing — reversal — Greenaway

[Update 2: a couple hours after the original opinion posted, the clerk issued an order that read, “At the direction of the Court, an amended opinion shall be filed to reflect that Judge Hardiman joined in the dissent filed by Judge Fisher.” I’ve updated the post accordingly; the original opinion is here.]

Holy cannoli. Today the en banc Third Circuit ruled 12 to 1 11 to 2 in favor of the tenant in a significant housing appeal, a dramatic switch from the panel’s 2-to-1 ruling against the tenant. The core legal issue was whether a federal statute that says Section 8 enhanced voucher tenants “may elect to remain” in their homes gives them the right to remain in their homes.

[Disclosure: I provided modest pro bono consulting to counsel for the appellants during the en banc litigation.]

The en banc author was Judge Greenaway, who had dissented with gusto from the panel ruling. Judge Hardiman flipped, joining the en banc majority after siding with the landlord at the panel stage. Judge Fisher, the panel author, was the lone dissenter. Judges Fisher and Hardiman, the original panel majority, were the only dissenters. Few observers would have predicted such a lopsided outcome here.

My post on the panel ruling is here. (It began, “In a significant public-housing opinion that I think has a realistic shot at en banc rehearing,” and you betcha I’m bragging.)

Appellate lawyers should note the valuable role that amici curiae played in the en banc litigation here. Hayes had one supporting amicus brief from advocacy groups at the panel stage, but at both the rehearing stage and the en banc merits stage the amicus support Hayes garnered was impressive, from legal aid offices to the City of Philadelphia and its housing authority. (Vooys, the en banc decided two weeks ago, also had major amicus participation.) En banc petitions and briefs are an under-utilized opportunity for amicus participation, and Hayes shows why that’s starting to change.

Arguing counsel were Rachel Garland of Community Legal Services for the tenant, Susanna Randazzo of Kolber & Randazzo for the landlord, and Gerard Sinzdak for HUD as amicus.

[I’ve updated the post to clarify that it involves recipients of Section 8 rental-assistance vouchers, not public-housing residents.]

New opinion — police officer’s questioning unreasonably extended traffic stop [updated]

US v. Clark — criminal — affirmance — Ambro

A police officer stopped a vehicle for traffic violations, questioned the driver, questioned the passenger, pat-down searched the passenger, and, 23 minutes after the stop began, discovered a gun and a marijuana joint on the passenger. Today, the Third Circuit affirmed the suppression of the fruits of the pat-down search, holding that the officer impermissibly extended the traffic stop beyond its mission by questioning the driver about his criminal history and the passenger about other criminal activity after the driver’s authority to drive the vehicle had been confirmed.

Joining Ambro were Jordan and Vanaskie. Arguing counsel were AUSA Norman Gross for the government and Lisa Van Hoeck of the federal defender for the defendant.


UPDATE: A second notable Fourth Amendment development today: in the afternoon, the court posted an order granting panel rehearing in US v. Goldstein, and directing the parties to file supplemental briefs addressing cell-site date and the Supreme Court’s subsequent ruling in Carpenter v. United States. Goldstein’s appeal had been decided last year, my post here; he and two co-defendants were convicted for conspiring to kidnap Orthodox Jewish husbands to aid their wives in obtaining divorces.

New opinion — Third Circuit reverses arbitration order

Cup v. Ampco Pittsburgh Corp. — civil — reversal — Hardiman

In a dispute between a union and an employer over retiree benefits, the district court granted the union’s request for arbitration, but today the Third Circuit reversed on the ground that the collective bargaining agreement did not cover retirees. The court also held that a district court order compelling arbitiration, dismissing the substantive claims without prejudice, and administratively closing the case is an appealable final order.

Joining Hardiman were Smith and Restrepo. Arguing counsel were Nathan Kilbert of the United Steelworkers for the union and Jeremy Blumenfeld of Morgan Lewis for the employer.

Four new opinions

The Third Circuit issued four precedential opinions yesterday, but I’m posting about them today because I was in a meeting all afternoon for a new CA3 appeal I’m doing.

Geness v. Cox — civil rights and disability — partial reversal — Krause

An intellectually disabled man with mental illness was charged for a crime that may not have occurred, found incompetent to stand trial, and then held without a trial for nearly a decade. Then, when the man finally got a hearing, the prosecutor voluntarily dismissed the charges due to—get this—”substantive evidentiary issues in this matter that likely could and would impair the Commonwealth’s ability to meet its burden of proof, even if the defendant were competent.”

So the man filed a lawsuit against the arresting officer, Jason Cox, who is now the  the town’s police chief, alleging violations of his civil rights and his rights under the Americans with Disability Act. In a searing opinion, the Third Circuit affirmed dismissal of the man’s civil-rights claims (“Absurd as it may seem that Geness was detained for nine years for a crime that may not have occurred and now cannot pursue relief under § 1983, multipoint failures in the criminal justice system have brought us to this juncture.”) but reinstated his due process and ADA claims to let him amend.

Joining Krause were Smith and Greenaway. Arguing counsel were Joel Sansone of Massimo Terzigni for the plaintiff and former CA3 staff attorney Carol VanderWoude of Marshall Dennehey for the officer.


Lifewatch Services v. Highmark — antitrust — reversal — Ambro

One of life’s great law-nerd pleasures is reading an Ambro opinion deciding a consequential business case. Want a quick master-class on how crisp topic sentences can turn daunting and dry into lucid and engaging? Read this opinion.

The introduction:

The seller of a medical device, believing it was shut out of the market for it, brought suit on federal antitrust grounds against associated health insurance companies. The claim was that they shielded themselves from patient demand for the seller’s device by agreeing to deny coverage as “not medically necessary” or “investigational,” even while the medical community, other insurers, and independent arbiters viewed it as befitting the standard of care. The District Court dismissed the claim. For the reasons that follow, we reverse its judgment and remand the case for further consideration.

Joining Ambro were Restrepo and Fuentes. Arguing counsel were Gary Elden of Shook Hardy for the device maker and Daniel Laytin of Kirkland & Ellis for the insurers.


Tanksley v. Daniels — civil / copyright — affirmance — Fisher

A Philadelphia man “wrote, produced, directed, filmed, starred in, and copyrighted” a television pilot about an African American hip hop mogul, and he pitched it to a top television producer. Several years later, that same producer launched Empire, the Fox television series about an African American hip hop mogul. The Philadelphia man sued, alleging copyright infringement and other claims. The Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal based on a comparison of the two shows’ characters, settings, and storylines.

Joining Fisher were Chagares and Vanaskie. Arguing counsel were Mary Bogan and Predrag Filipovic of IFight4Justice for the Philadelphia man and Richard Stone of Jenner Block and Mathieu Shapiro of Obermayer for the defendants.


Conard v. Pa. State Police — civil rights — partial reversal — Greenberg

The Third Circuit reversed the dismissal a fired police dispatcher’s First Amendment retaliation claim. The opinion “clarif[ied] the applicable First Amendment legal standard in two respects”:

First, we conclude that the framework for First Amendment claims brought by government employees against their employers does not apply to Conard’s retaliation claim, because the speech which Conard alleges triggered the retaliation against her—filing administrative complaints and a lawsuit against her former employer— occurred after she had left her State Police employment….

Second, in the context of this action, Conard was not required to plead that defendants engaged in retaliatory conduct “of a particularly virulent character,” a standard applicable to retaliation claims where the retaliatory conduct involves speech by a public employee defendant.

Joining Greenberg were Chagares and Fuentes. Arguing counsel were former Hardiman clerk Eric Hamilton of Williams & Connolly for the fired dispatcher and Howard Hopkirk of the Pa. Attorney General’s office for the defendants. The opinion closed by thanking Conard’s appellate counsel “for having represented her in a fine way on a pro bono basis.”

The terrific Third Circuit staff attorney office is hiring now

The Third Circuit is hiring several two-year-term staff attorneys. A link to the position announcement is here.

The Third Circuit’s staff attorney office is elite, and everyone I know who’s been there had a positive experience. Plus you come out with circuit insider expertise that the rest of us swoon for.

From the announcement:

In the Third Circuit, approximately twenty-five attorneys work with a dedicated administrative staff in a highly collegial environment. Term staff attorneys are a vital complement to our established group of supervisory attorneys and career attorneys. Term staff attorneys are hired at various levels of legal experience, and recent law school graduates work alongside and engage with attorneys with prior judicial clerkship or other professional experience. Our office has been a launching point for a wide range of careers nationwide, and many of our former staff attorneys have become leaders in public interest, private sector, and academic settings.

The deadline to apply is October 8.

A new habeas opinion

Mitchell v. Superintendent — habeas — affirmance — Greenberg

Two defendants were jointly tried for murder. One of the defendants, Eley, won habeas relief in the Third Circuit in 2013 on a claim arising from the admission of certain evidence at the trial. Eley’s co-defendant Mitchell raised the same legal issue in exactly the same posture, but his case moved more slowly then Eley’s, and the district court denied Mitchell relief, based on a Supreme Court case decided years before the Third Circuit decided Eley.

Today, the Third Circuit affirmed. The court’s view appeared to be that, while Eley had gotten a windfall because his panel had missed controlling law fatal to his claim, Eley’s win didn’t help poor Mitchell. Eley was freed five years ago, but Mitchell is serving life.

Joining Greenberg were Chagares and Fuentes. The case was decided without oral argument.

Four new opinions: a big removal ruling plus three reversals [updated]

Encompass Insurance v. Stone Mansion Restaurant — civil — partial affirmance — Chagares

The federal removal statute provides that, in a diversity case, a case may not be removed if “any of the parties in interest properly … served” is a citizen of the forum state. Here, a forum-state defendant successfully got its case out of state court by initially agreeing to accept service (instead of formal service) but then delaying that service until after it had removed. The plaintiff screamed bloody murder (“nonsensical,” “inconceivable”), but the Third Circuit affirmed the denial of remand on textual grounds. The court acknowledged that its holding may demonstrate “a need for a change in the law,” and it recognized that it could lead to future defendants gaming the removal statute by monitoring dockets and removing between filing and service (a pernicious practice termed “snap removal”) but said that it was up to Congress to fix it.

This opinion strikes me as a big deal and a viable candidate for en banc or certiorari review.

Joining Chagares were Jordan and Fuentes. Arguing counsel were Joshua Guthridge of Robb Leonard for the appellant and Miles Kirshner of Margolis Edelstein for the appellee.

UPDATE: I’ve updated the post to correct an error of mine that appeals whiz Katherine Romano kindly pointed out to me. My original post mistakenly described the defendant as non-diverse rather than a forum defendant.


Kane v. Barger — civil rights — reversal — Fuentes

When a police officer interviewed a sexual-assault victim, alone, he allegedly pulled down her shorts and her shirt in order to view her injuries, questioned her “relentless[ly]” about whether her vagina was injured, used his personal cellphone to take pictures of her breasts and buttocks, and lied about photographing her, and admitted he lied because he didn’t want his girlfriend to be jealous. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the officer on qualified immunity grounds, but today the Third Circuit reversed, emphatically holding that the officer’s actions violated the woman’s right to bodily integrity and that that right was clearly established.

Joining Fuentes were Chagares and Greenberg. The case was decided without oral argument.


Levins v. Healthcare Revenue Recovery Gp — civil / FDCPA — partial reversal — Jordan

A provision of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires a debt collector from using any name other than its “true name.” Today, the Third Circuit held that the plaintiffs stated a valid true-name violation where the company left debt-collection messages identifying itself using a name that was neither its full business name, the name under which it usually transacted business, or a commonly used acronym. The court rejected the plaintiffs’ related arguments under FDCPA’s caller-identity and deceptive-means provisions.

Joining Jordan were Ambro and Vanaskie. Arguing counsel were Philip Stern of Stern Thomasson for the plaintiffs and Christian Scheuerman of Marks O’Neill for the debt collector.


US v. Mayo — criminal — reversal — Jordan

The Third Circuit today vacated a criminal defendant’s sentence, holding that a conviction under Pennsylvania’s aggravated-assault statute, 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2702(a)(1), does not qualify as a violent felony under the residual clause of ACCA, the Armed Career Criminal Act.

Joining Jordan were Chagares and Fuentes. Arguing counsel were Fritz Ulrich of the MDPA defender for the defendant and Carlo Marchioli of the MDPA US Attorney’s office for the government.


Three new opinions, including the Virgin Islands en banc

Vooys v. Bentley (en banc) — jurisdiction — dismissal — McKee

In an almost-unanimous en banc ruling today, the Third Circuit held that Congress statutorily terminated its jurisdiction over any certiorari petition from a final decision of the Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands if the petition was filed on or after the statute’s effective date, overruling its prior ruling in Bason. The lone dissenter, interestingly, was Judge Bibas, the court’s newest member.

Arguing counsel were Rhea Lawrence of Lee Rohn & Associates for the respondents, UVA law students Laura Cooley and Tanner Russo for the petitioners, and Dwyer Arce of Nebraska for the VI bar association as amicus.

Update: the court issued an amended opinion on 8/22 to delete an orphan footnote, so I’ve updated the opinion link.

Update 2: Turns out I was right when, the day the court granted en banc rehearing, I wrote:

While nothing is certain, the posture of this order (sua sponte and prior to panel ruling) strongly suggests that overruling of Bason is likely. En banc grants in similar postures resulted in overrulings in Joyce, Rojas, Al-Sharif, and Quinn in recent years.


US v. Hird — criminal — partial affirmance — Nygaard

In a six-defendant consolidated criminal appeal arising out of the prosecution of Philadelphia traffic-court judges and others for ticket-fixing, the Third Circuit affirmed on almost all grounds, reversing only as to one defendant’s sentence with the government’s concurrence. It’s a heavily fact-intensive opinion, rejecting challenges to the sufficiency of the indictment’s fraud allegations and the sufficiency of perjury evidence, among others.

Joining Nygaard were Greenaway and Fisher. Arguing counsel were Lisa Mathewson, Peter Goldberger, Michael Engle of Stradley Ronon, and Mark Cedrone of Cedrone & Mancano for the defendants and Robert Zauzmer for the government.


Murray v. City of Philadelphia — civil — dismissal — Chagares

The Third Circuit today dismissed a pro se appeal brought by a mother seeking to litigate on behalf of her son’s estate, holding that a non-attorney who is not a beneficiary of an estate may not litigate pro se on behalf of the estate.

Joining Chagares were Smith and Fuentes. The case was decided without oral argument, but the opinion thanked former Fisher clerk Ellen Mossman (now Ellen Ratigan) and Will Sachse of Dechert and recent Penn Law grad Chase McReynolds for providing “high-quality assistance” as amicus curiae counsel.

Is Paul Matey’s Third Circuit nomination still on track?

Four months ago, Paul Matey was nominated for the Third Circuit’s open seat formerly held by Judge Fuentes. I can’t tell whether he’s still on the path to confirmation, but there are signs that he may not be.

First, Matey still hasn’t had his Senate Judiciary Committee hearing yet, and I haven’t seen anything indicating he’s getting one soon. Meanwhile, tomorrow’s SJC hearing will include an Eighth Circuit nominee nominated two months after Matey. And SJC already has held hearings on three four other circuit nominees submitted after Matey.

Second, he still hasn’t received a rating from the ABA. Here again, four circuit nominees and a slew of district nominees announced after him have gotten their ratings.

Third, Matey just switched jobs. He left his position as in-house counsel at a hospital to join the New Jersey law firm Lowenstein Sandler‘s white-collar group. Eric Strauss reports on

“Whether serving as a federal prosecutor, aiding Gov. Christie or leading the legal team at University Hospital, I’ve always known Lowenstein Sandler’s unmatched reputation for excellence,” Matey said in a statement. “Working alongside so many of my former colleagues, and a valued friend and exceptional attorney like Chris, made joining the firm an easy choice.”

Matey was nominated for a federal judgeship by President Donald Trump earlier this year, but the confirmation process has not yet begun.

“We are very fortunate to have Paul as our partner,” Porrino added in an emailed statement to ROI-NJ, “and look forward supporting him during his judicial confirmation process.”

Honestly, I’m not sure what to make of all this. I think it’s possible none of this means anything and Matey still will be confirmed without incident.

But I’m starting to wonder.

Update: there’s a bit more information in this August 20 story by Meghan Tribe for NJ Law Journal, noting that Matey was targeted for recruitment to the firm by a fellow alum of Governor Christie’s legal team.

Two new opinions, including Judge Bibas’s first precedential opinion

In re: Arctic Glacier Int’l — bankruptcy — affirmance — Bibas

The Third Circuit today issued the first precedential opinion authored by its newest member, Judge Stephanos Bibas. The issue in the appeal was whether a party that bought shares in a bankrupt company after the bankruptcy reorganization was bound by terms of the reorganization plan applicable to shareholders. In an opinion that’s devoid of flash and a model of clarity, the court held that it was.

Joining Bibas were Smith and Hardiman. Arguing counsel were David Gordon of New York for the appellants and Mark Rasmussen of Jones Day for the appellees.


Newark Cab Assoc. v. City of Newark — civil — affirmance — Chagares

The Third Circuit today denied an appeal brought by Newark taxicab and limo operators seeking to revive their challenge to a deal between the city and ride-sharing giant Uber. The deal freed Uber from regulations that apply to taxi drivers, such as the need to buy a taxi medallion, get a commercial license, and charge rates set by the city. The court acknowledged that the city’s deal with Uber put the plaintiffs in “an undoubtedly difficult position,” but it upheld the district court’s dismissal of their constitutional and state-law claims.

Joining Chagares were Jordan and Hardiman. Arguing counsel were Richard Wedinger of Barry, McTiernan, & Wedinger for the cab operators and James Lewis of Pennington Law Group for the city.

Chief Judge Smith discusses Third Circuit’s low oral-argument rate

On Friday, Law360 posted an important story by Jeannie O’Sullivan on the rarity of oral argument in the Third Circuit, link here. (If you’re not a Law360 subscriber you can access it through Twitter here.) I’ve looked at that topic here a few times, here in particular.

The article features an interview with Third Circuit Chief Judge D. Brooks Smith in which he says he’d like to see the circuit’s oral-argument-grant rate “a little higher”:

The trend certainly appears to be a negative, Judge Smith said, although he acknowledged that the court must consider the cost-effectiveness of oral argument. Pro se cases, which make up more than half of the court’s docket, usually aren’t well-suited for oral argument, he said. The ones more likely to get the oral argument green light are those that could be overturned, tackle an issue of first impression or involve a situation of public interest, versus just private parties.

“The helpfulness of argument is always of importance to those of us who are judges. You want to make sure the expense really is going to pay some kind of dividend to the process,” Judge Smith told Law360.

“That said, would I like to see the percentage a little higher? Yes. But I don’t think it would rise any considerable degree if we, in fact, undertook some diligent effort to up our numbers,” he said.

He said he thinks his Third Circuit peers agree that no case truly warranting oral argument is denied it.

Chief Judge Smith also addressed the oral-argument-rate issue last year in a story in the Legal Intelligencer, quoted here.

O’Sullivan also quotes Reed Smith partner James Martin, former president of the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers, discussing AALS’s landmark 2015 report on federal appellate oral argument rates, link here. (It’s a tremendous report. If you haven’t read it yet, you should.) Martin describes the reaction the AALS oral argument report has received from judges:

The overall response among the circuits has been “all over the map,” Martin said, with some judges indicating it’s something they want to address and others being “not all that troubled.” Judge Smith, who is among the jurists that have joined the academy’s discussion about the report, is a “very conscientious” jurist who takes the appellate bar’s concerns seriously, Martin said.

I’m also quoted in the story, describing circuit practitioners’ concern about the low argument rate while acknowledging the bar’s own responsibility to improve the usefulness of arguments to the judges. As much as I’d like to see the court holding more arguments, Chief Judge Smith is absolutely right: judges aren’t going to grant more arguments unless they believe those arguments will help them decide cases better. And, even now, there are too many lousy arguments that waste the judges’ time because the lawyer didn’t understand how to prepare and present a federal appellate argument. So if lawyers want the court to hold more arguments, one part of the answer is that we need to make our arguments better.

Anyhow, it’s an excellent story on a hot Third Circuit topic.

New opinion — Third Circuit reverses denial of qualified immunity in car-chase-shooting appeal

Bland v. City of Newark — civil rights — reversal — Hardiman

The Third Circuit today held that police officers were entitled to qualified immunity from suit after shooting an unarmed man 16 to 18 times at the end of a dangerous high-speed car chase when they thought he was armed and unwilling to surrender.

Joining Hardiman were Smith and Bibas. Arguing counsel were Peter Ventrice of Brause Brause & Ventrice and Lucas Phillips Jr. of East Orange NJ for the plaintiffs and Michael Walters of the state AG’s office and Gary Lipshutz of the Newark Law Dept. for the defendants.

Two new opinions

Berardelli v. Allied Services Inst. of Rehab. Medicine — civil / disability — reversal — Krause

The Third Circuit today held that the Rehabilitation Act, like the Americans with Disabilities Act, generally requires covered actors to accommodate the service animals used by persons with disabilities. The case arose after a school refused to allow a girl with epilepsy to attend school with her service dog trained to detect seizures.

Joining Krause were Ambro and Rendell. Arguing counsel were Arleigh Helfer III of Schnader for the girl and James Conaboy of James Conaboy for the school.


In re: W.R. Grace — bankruptcy — partial reversal — Ambro

Today’s opinion opens, “Mass-tort liability of entities with asbestos operations typically results in their filing for bankruptcy protection,”  and few would disagree. Two decades ago the Supreme Court described the scale of asbestos litigation as elephantine, and it continues on today, with the Third Circuit still playing a central role.

Asbestos bankruptcy reorganizations often include an injunction that channels asbestos liability claims to a trust — not just claims against the debtor itself, but also claims against other entities such as the debtor’s insurers. The question in today’s opinion was whether the legal claims of a group of plaintiffs against an asbestos company’s insurers were subject to the chaneling injunction. The court agreed with the bankruptcy court that the claims fell within the terms of the injunction, but it remanded to reconsider whether chaneling their claims was allowed by the bankruptcy code.

Joining Ambro were McKee and Restrepo. Arguing counsel were Daniel Cohn of Boston for the appellants and Michael Giannotto of Goodwin Procter for the appellees.

Federal appellate advocacy CLE set for September 5 in Harrisburg, featuring two Third Circuit judges

Next month, the Third Circuit Bar Association will put on a free CLE on federal appellate advocacy in Harrisburg, PA. The featured presenters will be Third Circuit Judge Thomas Vanaskie and Judge Cheryl Ann Krause. The program also will include a panel of expert appellate practitioners. It’s a terrific opportunity to hone your skills and to meet practitioners and judges. And it’s free, with lunch provided.

The details:
Effective Third Circuit Advocacy
Federal courthouse, 228 Walnut St, Harrisburg PA
Wednesday, September 5, 2018
10:30 to 12:30, followed by lunch
2.0 hours of PA CLE credit

(I’m on the 3CBA board and am one of the event organizers, along with David Fine and Nilam Sanghvi.)

This is the second in a series of appellate advocacy CLEs that 3CBA is putting on around the circuit. The first one, in Delaware and featuring Judges Jordan and Roth, was a big hit. (My “Oral argument as kabuki” post discussed a useful oral-argument lesson I learned there.)

The program and lunch are free, but registration by August 31 is required. To register, email me at with your name and address. And if you’re not a current 3CBA member, now’s a great time to join or renew, link here.

Don’t miss it.

New opinion — petitioner wins ACCA residual-clause appeal

US v. Peppers — criminal sentencing / § 2255 — reversal — Jordan

The Third Circuit today vacated a district court’s denial of relief in a successor post-conviction challenge to a criminal defendant’s sentencing under the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act. The opinion’s introduction ably summarizes:

Ronnie Peppers was sentenced in 2003 to fifteen years of imprisonment for being a felon in possession of a firearm. That was the mandatory minimum under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“the ACCA” or “the Act”), and the District Court imposed it because of Peppers’s previous convictions. Peppers now challenges that sentence as unconstitutional in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), which invalidated a clause of the ACCA – the “residual clause” – as unconstitutionally vague. He argued in District Court in a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 that he was impermissibly sentenced under that invalid clause. But that § 2255 motion was not his first, and § 2255 itself, through subsection (h), places limits on any effort to file a second or successive collateral attack on a criminal judgment. The District Court denied Peppers’s second § 2255 motion after determining that his prior convictions remained predicate offenses for ACCA purposes because they are covered by portions of the Act that survived Johnson. Because we disagree with the District Court’s conclusions, we will vacate its decision and remand the case for further proceedings.

Five holdings lead to our remand. First, the jurisdictional gatekeeping inquiry for second or successive § 2255 motions based on Johnson requires only that a defendant prove he might have been sentenced under the now-unconstitutional residual clause of the ACCA, not that he was in fact sentenced under that clause. Second, a guilty plea pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C) does not preclude a defendant from collaterally attacking his sentence in a § 2255 motion, if his sentence would be unlawful once he proved that the ACCA no longer applies to him in light of Johnson. Third, a defendant seeking a sentence correction in a second or successive § 2255 motion based on Johnson, and who has used Johnson to satisfy the gatekeeping requirements of § 2255(h), may rely on postsentencing cases (i.e., the current state of the law) to support his Johnson claim. Fourth, Peppers’s robbery convictions, both under Pennsylvania’s robbery statute, are not categorically violent felonies under the ACCA, and, consequently, it was error to treat them as such. Fifth and finally, Peppers failed to meet his burden of proving his Johnson claim with respect to his Pennsylvania burglary conviction. We will therefore vacate the District Court’s order and remand for an analysis of whether the error that affected Peppers’s sentence, i.e., the error of treating the robbery convictions as predicate offenses under the ACCA, was harmless in light of his other prior convictions.

Joining Jordan were Chagares and Fuentes. Arguing counsel were MDPA AFD Fritz Ulrich for the petitioner and MDPA AUSA Carlo Marchioli for the government.

New opinion — Third Circuit vacates some of former congressman’s convictions

US v. Fattah — criminal — partial reversal — Smith

In a 142-page opinion, the Third Circuit today affirmed some, vacated some, and reinstated some of the criminal convictions of former Philadelphia Congressman Chaka Fattah Sr. and three co-defendants. The facts and procedural history of the opinion alone spanned over 40 pages, longer than most published opinions.

Joining Smith were Greenaway and Krause. Arguing counsel were Jonathan Ian Kravis for the government, Bruce Merenstein of Schnader for Fattah, and Ann Flannery of Philadelphia, Barry Gross of Drinker Biddle, and Glen Nager of Jones Day for the three co-defendants.

Four new opinions [updated]

The Third Circuit issued four precedential opinions today, all unanimous affirmances — three civil, one criminal:

Tepper v. Amos Financial — civil / FDCPA — affirmance — Ambro

The Third Circuit held today that debt collectors who purchase consumers’ debts from creditors (instead of being hired by the creditors to collect the debts) are subject to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Said the court, “Those entities whose principal business is to collect the defaulted debts they purchase seek to avoid the Act’s reach. We believe such an entity is what it is—a debt collector.”

Joining Ambro were Jordan and Vanaskie. Arguing counsel were Erik Helbing for the consumers and John Jacko III of Fellheimer & Eichen for the debt collector.

St. Pierre v. Retrieval Masters Creditors — civil / FDCPA — affirmance — Krause

In an issue of first circuit impression, the Third Circuit held that collecting unpaid highway-tolls bills falls outside the scope of the FDCPA, distinguishing prior circuit caselaw that collecting unpaid water and sewer bills falls within its scope. The opinion announced a three-part test for deciding what constitutes a “debt” subject to the FDCPA.

Joining Krause were Greenaway and Jones MDPA by designation. Arguing counsel were Michael Quirk of Berezofsky Law Group for the consumer and Joel Bertocchi of Chicago for the debt collector.


Reading Health Systems v. Bear Stearns — civil / arbitration — affirmance — Roth

Here is the first paragraph of today’s opinion:

In this case, we address an emerging trend in the brokerage industry. Ordinarily, broker-dealers, as members of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), are required by FINRA Rule 12200 to arbitrate all claims brought against them by a customer. Seeking to avoid this obligation to arbitrate, broker-dealers have begun inserting forum selection clauses in their customer agreements, without mentioning the customer’s right to arbitrate. This practice, which has been condoned by several of our sister circuits, deprives investors of the benefits associated with using FINRA’s arbitral forum to resolve brokerage-related disputes.

“[C]ondoned by several of our sister circuits,” perhaps, but not condoned by the Third. Affirming the district court’s order compelling J.P. Morgan to submit to FINRA arbitration, the court expressly split with the Second and Ninth Circuits while siding with the Fourth Circuit.

Joining Roth were Shwartz and Pappert EDPA even though the appeal arose from the EDPA. Arguing counsel were Jonathan Youngwood of Simpson Thacher for the appellant and Mark Strauss of New York for the appellee.


US v. Johnson — criminal — affirmance — Fisher

The Third Circuit rejected a series of challenges to a criminal defendant’s conviction and sentence arising from a series of bank robberies. Proceeding after a Supreme Court GVR, the court held that the district court’s failure to instruct the jury on an element of the crime was Alleyne error but that reversal was not warranted under plain error review. The court also held that a prior federal bank-robbery conviction under 18 USC § 2113(d) was a crime of violence under the § 924(c) federal gun-enhancement statute.

Interestingly, the court firmly rejected the government’s argument that the defendant forfeited some of his claims by failing to raise them prior to the Supreme Court’s remand.

Joining Fisher were Jordan and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Ron Krauss for the defendant and Bob Zauzmer for the government.

New opinion — Third Circuit rejects Johnson challenge to Guidelines career-offender designation

US v. Green — criminal — affirmance — Chagares

By statute, 28 USC § 2255, federal prisoners are allowed to file a petition challenging their conviction within one year of a Supreme Court decision recognizing a retroactively applicable “newly recognized” right. In 2015, the Supreme Court held in US v. Johnson that the so-called residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act was unconstitutionally vague, and it later held that this rule applied retroactively. The wording of the residual clause of the ACCA statute is similar to the wording of the residual clause of the career-offender provision of the Sentencing Guidelines. So the prisoner in this case filed a petition within a year of Johnson asserting that he was erroneously classified under the Guidelines as a career offender.

Splitting with the Seventh Circuit, the Third Circuit today held that the prisoner’s claim did not involve a right that was “newly recognized” under § 2255 because the court interpreted a subsequent Supreme Court ruling, Beckles v. US, to foreclose application of Johnson to Guidelines residual-clause career-offender challenges. The court also distinguished its ruling last year in In re: Hoffner. (And, on a typography note, the paragraph formatting in the opinion is inconsistent.)

Joining Chagares were Greenberg and Fuentes. Arguing counsel were Fritz Ulrich for the prisoner and John Pelletieri for the government.

[Disclosure: I’ve provided some consulting assistance to counsel for the prisoner.]

Two new opinions

US v. Williams — criminal — affirmance — Roth

Things rarely seen: a panel opinion in which all three judges filed separate concurring opinions. It happened today in case where the Third Circuit rejected a defendant’s challenges to the denial of his suppression motion based on withdrawal of consent and his classification as a career offender.

Judge Hardiman concurred in part and concurred in the judgment to argue that the modified categorical approach need not be applied in cases involving RICO predicate offenses. Judge Roth concurred (“I agree with the reasoning and the conclusions of the majority opinion, which I in fact wrote”) to argue that, while the modified categorical approach may be required in RICO-predicate cases, it shouldn’t be. And Judge Fisher concurred, arguing that the defendant validly withdrew consent to the search but that it was supported by probable cause.

Arguing counsel were Kimberly Brunson for the federal defender and Donovan Cocas for the government.


Wang v. AG — immigration — reversal — Nygaard

The Third Circuit today held that a Chinese citizen’s conviction for violating the Commodities Exchange Act did not qualify as a deportable aggravated felony.

Joining Nygaard were Chagares and Jordan. Arguing counsel were Thomas Moseley of Newark for the petitioner and Keith McManus for the government.

New opinion — Third Circuit decides jurisdiction for appeals from nationality determinations transferred out-of-circuit

Ricketts v. AG — immigration — dismissal — Jordan

On Monday, the Third Circuit held that, when a deportation proceeding is transferred out-of-circuit to determine whether the person the government is trying to deport actually is a U.S. citizen, an appeal from that determination must go to the circuit court where the case was transferred to, not the circuit court where the case originated. The Third Circuit acknowledged that this holding may conflict with a prior Ninth Circuit ruling.

Joining Jordan were Greenaway and Fisher. The appeal was decided without oral argument.

New opinions — a dramatic new chapter in the Doe transgender-bathrooms appeal, and a big class-action ruling

Doe v. Boyertown Area School Dist. (amended) —  civil — affirmance — McKee

Today the Third Circuit issued a revised, narrower panel opinion in Doe, the big transgender-bathrooms appeal in which the panel announced its ruling from the bench after oral argument. My post on the court’s original opinion is here.

Also today, the court issued an order denying without prejudice the appellants’ request for rehearing en banc, stating that they may re-file in light of the revised panel opinion.

And, most dramatically, Judge Jordan issued an opinion dissenting from the en banc denial, joined by Judges Chagares, Hardiman, and Bibas. The order and dissent are not posted on the court’s website, unfortunately, but they are on Pacer and also have been posted by one of the parties at this link.

Judge Jordan’s dissent explains that his purpose is not to take issue with the outcome of the panel opinion, conceding that the record can support the denial of the preliminary injunction. But he disagrees, strenuously, with the revised panel opinion’s discussion of whether requiring transgender students to use bathrooms according to their sex at birth would violate Title IX. He argues that this discussion is unnecessary, debatable, and dicta, concluding, “it is … axiomatic that we should confine ourselves to resolving the specific matters before us, not some bigger issue we might like to address.”

Remarkable. And still not the last word, I suspect.


Mielo v. Steak ‘n Shake — civil / class action — reversal — Smith

Here is the introduction from today’s opinion reversing class certification:

In this class action lawsuit, two disability rights advocates have sued Steak ’n Shake under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Alleging they have
personally experienced difficulty ambulating in their wheelchairs through two sloped parking facilities, these Plaintiffs seek to sue on behalf of all physically disabled individuals who may have experienced similar difficulties at Steak ’n Shake restaurants throughout the country. The District Court certified Plaintiffs’ proposed class, and Steak ’n Shake now appeals that certification decision. We are tasked with answering two questions: First, whether Plaintiffs have standing under Article III of the United States Constitution, and second, whether they have satisfied the requirements set out in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a).

As to the first question, we conclude that Plaintiffs have standing to bring their claims in federal court. Although a mere procedural violation of the ADA does not qualify as an injury in fact under Article III, Plaintiffs allege to have personally experienced concrete injuries as a result of ADA violations on at least two occasions. Further, Plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that these injuries were caused by unlawful corporate policies that can be redressed with injunctive relief. We withhold judgment as to whether those corporate policies are indeed unlawful, as our standing inquiry extends only so far as to permit us to ensure that Plaintiffs have sufficiently pled as much.

As to the second question before us, we conclude that Plaintiffs have failed to satisfy Rule 23(a). The extraordinarily broad class certified by the District Court
runs afoul of at least two of Rule 23(a)’s requirements [numerosity and redressability]. In light of this conclusion, the District Court’s judgment will be reversed, and this matter will be remanded to the District Court to reconsider if a class should be certified.

Joining Smith are Hardiman and Restrepo. Arguing counsel were David Raizman of Ogletree Deakins for the appellants and Edwin Kilpela Jr. of Carlson Lynch for the appellee.

Three new opinions

US v. Green IV — criminal — affirmance — Fisher

The Third Circuit today rejected a criminal defendant’s challenge to a vehicle stop. The officer made the stop for speeding after pacing the vehicle from between a mile and two-tenths of a mile away. After the driver refused to consent to a vehicle search, the officer made the driver wait for 15 minutes for a dog to arrive to sniff the vehicle for drugs. The court rejected challenges to both the initial stop and the prolongation.

The court’s analysis of reasonable suspicion turns on statements by the driver that it deems fishy but which strike me as quite unremarkable. For example, the opinion thought a key fact was that, when asked by the officer how he was doing, the driver responded, “I can’t complain,” instead of immediately explaining to the officer that his daughter recently had broken her leg. On the other hand, the opinion’s prolongation section is an admirably lucid discussion of an area of the law that is anything but.

Joining Fisher were Greenaway and Nygaard. Arguing counsel were Kimberly Brunson of the WDPA FPD for the defendant and Michael Ivory for the government.


Adorers of the Blood of Christ v. FERC — civil / agency — affirmance — Greenaway

By statute, the D.C. Circuit has exclusive jurisdiction over certain decisions by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. After FERC approved a natural-gas pipeline through land owned by a religious organization, the religious organization sued to block the project under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The district court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, and today the Third Circuit affirmed, holding that RFRA does not function as an exception to the exclusive-jurisdiction grant.

Joining Greenaway were Smith and Krause. Arguing counsel were J. Dwight Yoder of Gibbel Kraybill for the religious group, Susanna Chu for FERC, and Elizabeth Witmer of Saul Ewing for the gas company.


PA DHS v. USA — civil — affirmance — Greenberg

The Third Circuit today rejected a state agency’s challenge to a district court ruling in favor of the federal government in a dispute over reimbursement of fees for Medicare and Medicaid provider training.

Joining Greenberg were Jordan and Krause. Arguing counsel were W. Scott Foster for the agency and Suzanne Yurk for the government.

New opinion — Third Circuit rules for the government in FTCA filing-deadline appeal

Sconiers v. USA — civil — affirmance — Greenaway

The Third Circuit today affirmed the dismissal of a suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act because the claimant failed to file suit within six months of the agency’s written denial, rejecting the claimant’s argument that the FTCA’s timeliness requirement was satisfied once she filed her claim with the agency within two years.

Joining Greenaway were Restrepo and Bibas. The case was decided without oral argument.

New opinion — Third Circuit clarifies the new-evidence standard for proving actual innocence

Reeves v. Coleman — habeas corpus — reversal — Shwartz

[Disclosure: I represented the petitioner-appellant in this appeal, along with my superb pro bono co-counsel David Fine.]

Under habeas corpus law, petitioners who present new evidence of their actual innocence can have federal review of their procedurally barred or untimely constitutional claims if their innocence showing is strong enough. But what evidence qualifies as “new” evidence of innocence? Is innocence evidence “new” any time it was not presented at trial? What if it was available at trial, but counsel failed to discover or present it due to ineffective assistance of counsel?

Today the Third Circuit held that innocence evidence is new if it is the very evidence upon which the petitioner relies to demonstrate his counsel’s ineffective assistance, and that Reeves’s evidence meets that test, vacating the district court’s denial of relief based on the availability of the evidence at trial. The new-evidence standard announced today is more permissive than the various standards most district courts in the circuit have been applying, and today’s ruling is helpful for innocent prisoners fighting to get federal review of their claims.

Judge McKee concurred separately “to emphasize the weight of the evidence that supports Reeves’s claim of actual innocence,” noting that his showing is so substantial that a group of former federal judges and prosecutors filed an amicus brief on his behalf.

Joining Shwartz were McKee and Cowen, with McKee also concurring. Arguing counsel were yours truly for the petitioner and Ryan Lysaght of the Dauphin County D.A.’s office for the Commonwealth. Audio of the argument is here.


Update: the Court issued an amended opinion on July 23 that made minor, non-substantive edits to the footnotes in the concurrence. The link in the heading now goes to the amended opinion, the original opinion is here.


New opinion — Third Circuit sides with city in challenge to its gas-bill lien system

Augustin v. City of Phila. — municipal — reversal — Hardiman

The Third Circuit today held that a district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of a group of landlords who challenged on due process grounds Philadelphia’s system for imposing and enforcing liens to collect debts for commercial and residential gas service.

Joining Hardiman were Smith and Brann MDPA by designation. Arguing counsel were Craig Gottlieb of the city law department for the city and the formidable Irv Ackelsberg of Langer Grogan for the landlords.

New opinion — on the “hellish judicial duty” of deciding attorney-fees melees

US ex rel. Palmer v. C&D Technologies — qui tam / attorney fees — affirmance, mostly — Greenberg

The Third Circuit today decided a fascinating train-wreck of an appeal, an attorney-fees dispute in which the court said “both parties adopted unproductive tactics and strayed from professional etiquette, conduct that ultimately caused the District Court to proclaim that ‘[i]t is a hellish judicial duty to review and resolve disputed attorneys’ fee petitions, particularly in cases, like this one, where the adversaries fan the flames at virtually every opportunity.'”

How could you not read that opinion?

Today’s opinion is punchy and clear, as Greenberg opinions usually are. The court almost entirely upheld the district court’s ruling, which awarded the qui tam relator’s counsel almost $1.8 million in fees, rejecting relator’s counsels’ arguments that the award should have been higher. (It appears to me that counsel argued their own appeal, which as I recently opined in discussing another case is usually a mistake.)

Joining Greenberg were Jordan and Krause. The case was decided without oral argument.

New opinion — a major reversal in a capital habeas appeal

Abdul-Salaam v. Secretary — capital habeas — partial reversal — Chagares

The Third Circuit today held that a capital petitioner was entitled to habeas corpus relief due to ineffective assistance of this penalty-phase trial counsel in failing to investigate and present mitigation. It’s a significant capital habeas opinion because it involves a depressingly common scenario in capital cases, where counsel presents a sliver of the available mitigation evidence while failing to uncover the rest of what was available. Today’s opinion firmly rejected the arguments that counsel’s skepticism about whether he’d present certain evidence justified his failure to investigate it and that counsel’s presentation of morsels of evidence rendered all the evidence he missed cumulative.

Although the opinion didn’t emphasize the point, this case is another example of a district court denying a certificate of appealability on a claim that the Third Circuit thereafter granted relief on. In other words, the Third Circuit found that the claim was meritorious after the district court decided it was so weak that no reasonable jurist could even debate its merit! What a blunder.

Joining Chagares were Greenaway and Shwartz. The case was decided without oral argument.

New opinion — divided panel rules that TSA screeners are immune from suit

Pellegrino v. TSA — civil — affirmance — Krause

Deciding an issue of first impression, the Third Circuit today held that the federal government is immune from suit for intentional torts committed by TSA airport security screeners.

The Federal Tort Claims Act confers sovereign immunity to the government for intentional torts by federal employees, subject to an exception for “investigative or law enforcement officers.” The core issue in today’s appeal was whether TSA screeners fall within the exception. The panel majority held that they do not, interpreting the exception to apply only to officers with criminal law enforcement powers.

Judge Ambro dissented in an opinion that ran 58 pages. Here is the heart of it, from his conclusion (cites omitted):

The[ two judges in the majority] look to other statutes for clarification, consult various canons of construction, and also examine legislative history. Ultimately they conclude § 2680(h) covers only criminal law enforcement officers. In doing so, they depart from other Circuits’ interpretation of the proviso. They also disregard Supreme Court precedent that tells us how to interpret § 2680(h)’s language. Their decision insulates TSOs from all intentional tort claims, leaving plaintiffs without a civil remedy. Absent congressional action, they cannot recover if a TSO assaults them, unlawfully detains them, or unlawfully lodges a criminal complaint against them. All of this is because my colleagues look through a lens that legislates “criminal” into a provision it nowhere appears.

This is not what Congress intended, as it enacted § 2680(h) to serve as a broad remedy against tortious conduct. It also ignores Congress’s definition of “investigative or law enforcement officer,” which we must apply “even if it varies from that term’s ordinary meaning.”

In view of these principles, I disagree with my colleagues’ reasoning. Instead of relying on non-textual sources, we must apply § 2680(h)’s plain language; other statutes, the canons, and legislative history (i.e., authorities outside of the proviso) cannot defeat its words. Because the text tells the tale, I part with today’s holding.

In a footnote, the majority responds to Judge Ambro’s assertion that the statute’s text is unambiguous with, “Would it were so.”

Both opinions are exceptionally good, and it’s inspiring to see such high-caliber work devoted to an appeal that easily could have been (and originally was on track to be, it appears) disposed of as a routine pro se appeal without argument or counsel on both sides.

Joining Krause was Scirica, with Ambro dissenting. Arguing counsel were Mark Sherer for the government and former Smith clerk Paul Thompson of McDermott Will as court-appointed amicus curiae on behalf of the pro se trial plaintiffs. The court thanked Thompson for accepting the case pro bono and for the quality of his briefing and argument.

“Thomas Hardiman is back at work”

Impossibly, Judge Hardiman was the subject of feverish speculation right up until President Trump’s announcement of someone else as his nominee for the Supreme Court, again. Last year, it was Justice Gorsuch; this week it was D.C. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh. While I’m glad Judge Hardiman is being treated as such a strong candidate, I sure don’t envy him these public ordeals.*

Today, Geoff Mulvihill of the Associated Press has this excellent story, headlined, “Twice a Supreme Court runner-up, Thomas Hardiman is back at work.” It includes quotes from Chief Judge Smith and Judge McKee, as well as from friends who have spoken to Judge Hardiman. Here are some highlights:

Former Sen. Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican, said Tuesday that Judge Hardiman was taking the letdown “very well.”

“He said to me, ‘When you grow up on the other side of the tracks, you’re used to taking a few bumps,‘” Mr. Santorum said.


Mr. Santorum, who has known Judge Hardiman for decades, said the two-time finalist was wondering if there was a reason he keeps missing out. Mr. Santorum blamed an “inside-the-Beltway mentality” that “you’ve got to pick someone from Yale” — as Mr. Trump did.

Mr. Santorum said he was more disappointed than Judge Hardiman, saying he “really thought Trump was going to do something different.”


[Ken] Gormley said Judge Hardiman texted him that he knows Judge Kavanaugh and that “he’s a great person and a great judge, and he thinks he’ll make a great justice. He was happy for him.”


Judge Smith said that in recent weeks, Judge Hardiman had been making sure his judicial duties were up to date, lest he leave his colleagues in the lurch if he left the appeals court abruptly.

“I certainly don’t expect that Judge Hardiman will change in any way,” Judge Smith said. “He’s a solid guy.”


“At least he made it to the playoffs,” said Theodore McKee, another 3rd Circuit judge.

Well worth reading in full.


* I had a tiny ordeal of my own on Monday. The New York Times editorial page contacted me on Monday morning to ask if I’d write an op-ed about Judge Hardiman to run that night if he was the choice. Flattering!

I, a fool, figured it wouldn’t be too hard—I’m pretty up-to-speed on the Judge’s record, and I write stuff the same day for this blog all the time, right? Wrong. It was agony. I was still frantically revising at 8:59 p.m. when word of the choice finally leaked out.

I’m a bit embarrassed when I think how hard that day was for me, yet how much harder it must have been for Judge Hardiman and his many supporters.

Two new opinions [updated]

Holland v. Rosen — civil — affirmance — Ambro

Until last year, New Jersey relied on monetary bail to ensure defendants’ appearance at their trials. The opinion in this case explains how this system produced perverse results: “In practice, the State’s reliance on monetary bail resulted in the release of defendants who could afford to pay for their release, even if they posed a substantial risk of flight or danger to others, and the pretrial detention of poorer defendants who presented minimal risk and were accused of less serious crimes.” So New Jersey replaced its cash-bail-based system with one that relied mainly on non-monetary measures ranging from monthly phone check-ins to electronic monitoring and home confinement, and the state’s pre-trial jail population dropped by over 20%.

That sounds like good news for everyone … except for those wealthier criminal defendants who before would have been able to just write a check but now faced restrictions on their pre-trial liberty. One of them challenged the new regime, represented by Kirkland & Ellis with Paul Clement handling the oral argument personally, seeking an injunction to prevent the state from imposing any restrictions on him without first offering him monetary bail, but today the Third Circuit rejected his challenge and affirmed. The Third Circuit identified the key legal issue as whether there is a federal constitutional right to monetary bail as an alternative to non-monetary conditions of pretrial release, and, “Our answer is no.”

Joining Ambro were Fuentes and Restrepo. Arguing counsel were Paul Clement of Kirkland & Ellis for the challengers, Stuart Feinblatt of the NJ AG’s office for the state, and Alexander Shalom of ACLU of NJ for amici supporting the state.

UPDATE: how on earth did the opinion omit the critical fact that the defendant (arrested for his role in a bar fight) was a Cowboys fan? S.P. Sullivan has the story at


Walsh v. Defenders Inc. — civil / class action — affirmance — Greenberg

The Third Circuit affirmed a district court’s order remanding a class action to state court under the local controversy exception to jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act. CAFA allows class-action defendants to remove larger class actions to federal court, and the local-controversy exception allows class plaintiffs to get some cases back to state court. The outcome here turns on the specific facts of what the opinion describes as a “confusing case.”

Joining Greenberg were Chagares and Bibas. The case was decided without oral argument.

“Thomas Hardiman could be in for quite a birthday gift” has a story today, link here, headlined “This Massachusetts native is reportedly among the finalists to be Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick.” The title of this post is the sub-head of the story.

The article notes that it was reported today that Judge Hardiman is one of four potential nominees for the current Supreme Court vacancy for whom the White House has prepared a “rollout package,” suggesting he’s one of the four finalists.

The story concludes:

It’s still unclear where exactly Hardiman ranks among that final four. NPR reported Thursday night that he is “still in the mix” but “seen as fourth.” Either way, it does certainly seem like the Waltham native could be in for a nerve-wracking birthday.

An aside: Do I read No. I have an automatic Google search set up so that I get an alert whenever the phrase “Third Circuit” appears. That’s how I find almost all of the items that I re-post. Sometimes I worry that people think I spend all my time surfing the web instead of practicing law. (I don’t.)

Two new opinions

Bakran v. Secretary Dept. Homeland Security — civil / immigration — affirmance, basically — Shwartz

The Third Circuit today rejected a citizen’s challenges to a statute that prevents persons convicted of certain sex offenses from sponsoring a family member to enter the country. The opinion’s introduction summarizes ably:

Ahmed Bakran appeals from the District Court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of the Secretary of the United States Department of Homeland Security, the Director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (the “USCIS”), and the Attorney General (“Defendants”) on Bakran’s statutory and constitutional challenges to the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, Pub. L. No. 109-248, § 402(a), 120 Stat. 587, 622-23 (2006) (the “AWA”), and related agency memoranda.

The AWA restricts the ability of a United States citizen convicted of a sex offense to sponsor an immediate relative’s immigration application. Bakran claims that certain protocols used to enforce the AWA violate the Administrative Procedures Act, 5 U.S.C. § 701 et seq. (the “APA”). The protocols he challenges, however, simply guide the Secretary’s determination, and as we explain herein, we lack jurisdiction to review them.

Bakran also asserts that the AWA violates his right to marriage and is impermissibly retroactive. The AWA does not infringe his marriage right but rather deprives him of an immigration benefit to which he has no constitutional right. Moreover, because the Act is aimed at providing prospective protection, it is not  impermissibly retroactive. Therefore, we will vacate the District Court’s order granting summary judgment to Defendants on Bakran’s APA claims, and remand with directions to dismiss the APA claims for lack of jurisdiction, and affirm the District Court’s order denying relief on his constitutional and retroactivity challenges to the AWA.

Joining Shwartz were Greenaway and Simandle DNJ by designation. Arguing counsel were Nicklaus Misiti of New York for the appellant and Sara Wilson for the government.

Clientron Corp. v. Devon IT — civil — reversal — Greenaway

In an odd and interesting case today, the Third Circuit vacated a district court’s order that pierced the corporate veil as a sanction for egregious discovery abuse, but the court left the door open to a significant sanction being reimposed on remand.

Joining Greenaway were Krause and Jones MDPA by designation. Arguing counsel were John van Loben Sels of California for the appellant and Gary Samms of Obermayer Rebmann for the appellees.

Three new opinions, including a major immigration appeal

S.E.R.L. v. AG — immigration — affirmance — Jordan

This appeal posed a fascinating tension: immigrant advocates urged the court not to apply Chevron deference. Broadly, conservatives today tend to oppose immigration and Chevron deference, while liberals tend to favor both. When the “liberal” side advances the “conservative” position, as here, the familiar ideological guideposts are harder to read.

The legal issue in today’s case was whether a Honduran woman and her children qualified for withholding of removal under the Immigration and Nationality Act as members of a “particular social group.” Their group, they argued, consisted generally of family members of domestic-abuse victims. The Board of Immigration Appeals had interpreted “particular social group” narrowly, in way fatal to the family’s claim here, and the family argued that its strict test wasn’t entitled to Chevron deference.  Today, the Third Circuit rejected their position, holding that the BIA’s interpretation is entitled to Chevron deference and denying the petition for review.

Joining avowed Chevron foe Jordan were Krause and Greenberg. Arguing counsel were Russell Falconer of Texas for the family and Sheri Glaser for the government. A footnote in the opinion thanked several groups for filing amicus briefs “which have assisted our consideration of the legal issues before us and also shine a light on an issue of international concern.”

Minarsky v. Susquehanna Co. — civil / employment discrimination — reversal — Rendell

A county secretary alleged that she was subjected to years of sexual harassment by a superior, the since-fired head of the county’s veterans-affairs department, and she sued various defendants including the county based on a theory vicarious liability. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the county, but today the Third Circuit reversed, holding that whether the county had satisfied the Faragher-Elllerth affirmative defense to vicarious liabililty for workplace harassment should be decided by a jury.

Joining Rendell were Greenaway and Fuentes. Arguing counsel were David Koller of Koller Law for the secretary, Dana Zlotucha of Kreder Brooks Hailstone for the county, and Gerald Hanchulak for the superior.

Wayne Land & Mineral Gp. v. Delaware River Basin Comm’n — environmental — reversal — Jordan

The Third Circuit today reversed a district court’s dismissal of a suit brought by a company trying to keep the Delaware River Basin Commission from regulating its fracking work. The relevant law allows the commission to regulate a “project,” and the Third Circuit held that that term in ambiguous and remanded for fact-finding on the drafters’ intent.

Judge Scirica wrote a brief separate opinion. The signature line states simply that the opinion is “concurring,” and it ends with the statement that “I concur,” but the body of the opinion states that he agrees with part of the court’s opinion but has a concern that “precludes him from joining in full.” Specifically, he joined with the court’s ambiguity analysis but disagreed with the opinion’s inclusion of an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of other issues that the district court will decide on remand.

(Readers may recall that is the case in which a lawyer fainted during the original oral argument.)

Joining Jordan were Hardiman and Scirica at least in part, and Scirica concurred. Arguing counsel were David Overstreet of Overstreet & Nestor for the appellant, Kenneth Warren of Warren Environmental Counsel for the commission, and Jordan Yeager of Curtin & Heefner for an intervenor group.

Judge Bibas shares a tribute to Justice Kennedy

Third Circuit Judge Stephanos Bibas has written a tribute to soon-to-retire Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom Judge Bibas clerked for in the October 1997 term. It is posted on Scotusblog, a link is here. It’s a charming essay, describing how Bibas’s teeth chattered at his clerkship interview until the Justice calmed him down with conversation and warmth.

Here is how it closes:

This past year, I ran the judicial nomination-and-confirmation gauntlet. From beginning to end, Justice Kennedy took the time to offer his unflagging personal support and encouragement. And at my investiture earlier this spring, he impressed upon us how each generation must pledge anew its fidelity to the rule of law and do its part to carry out this sacred trust.

When the public looks at justices of the Supreme Court, it sees only august black robes and solemn faces. But those of us who know Justice Kennedy know that he embodies dignity and respect for all, in his care for others no less than in his decisions. I will strive to live up to his example.

Sweet vindication for the Third Circuit

A helpful reader kindly pointed out to me an interesting little Third Circuit victory hidden in last week’s Supreme Court ruling in Pereira v. Sessions that Chevron deference does not apply to an immigration-statute provision involving cancellation of removal.

Back in 2016, the Third Circuit faced the same question in Orozco-Velasquez. The petitioner argued that he was entitled to cancellation of removal, and that the BIA’s ruling compelling the opposite result was not entitled to Chevron deference. At least six circuits had held that the BIA’s ruling was entitled to Chevron deference, and none had held that it wasn’t.

But the Third Circuit split with them all.

Orozco-Velasquez held that the BIA’s ruling didn’t get Chevron deference, explicitly disagreeing with the other circuits, and ruled for the petitioner. The opinion was authored by Judge Roth and joined by Judges McKee and Ambro.

In last week’s Supreme Court ruling, the Third Circuit was vindicated. Justice Kennedy’s concurrence explains (emphasis mine):

The first Courts of Appeals to encounter the question concluded or assumed that the notice necessary to trigger the stop-time rule found in 8 U. S. C. §1229b(d)(1) was not “perfected” until the immigrant received all the information listed in §1229(a)(1). Guamanrrigra v. Holder, 670 F. 3d 404, 410 (CA2 2012) (per curiam); see also Dababneh v. Gonzales, 471 F. 3d 806, 809 (CA7 2006); Garcia-Ramirez v. Gonzales, 423 F. 3d 935, 937, n. 3 (CA9 2005) (per curiam).

That emerging consensus abruptly dissolved not long after the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) reached a contrary interpretation of §1229b(d)(1) in Matter of Camarillo, 25 I. & N. Dec. 644 (2011). After that administrative ruling, in addition to the decision under review here, at least six Courts of Appeals, citing Chevron, concluded that §1229b(d)(1) was ambiguous and then held that the BIA’s interpretation was reasonable. See Moscoso-Castellanos v. Lynch, 803 F. 3d 1079, 1083 (CA9 2015); O’Garro v. United States Atty. Gen., 605 Fed. Appx. 951, 953 (CA11 2015) (per curiam); Guaman-Yuqui v. Lynch, 786 F. 3d 235, 239–240 (CA2 2015) (per curiam); Gonzalez-Garcia v. Holder, 770 F. 3d 431, 434–435 (CA6 2014); Yi Di Wang v. Holder, 759 F. 3d 670, 674–675 (CA7 2014); Urbina v. Holder, 745 F. 3d 736, 740 (CA4 2014). But see Orozco-Velasquez v. Attorney General United States, 817 F. 3d 78, 81–82 (CA3 2016). The Court correctly concludes today that those holdings were wrong because the BIA’s interpretation finds little support in the statute’s text.

Don’t mess with the Third Circuit.

Another cert grant with Third Circuit implications

The Supreme Court today granted certiorari to hear an Eleventh Circuit case to decide whether to overrule the “separate sovereigns” exception to the double jeopardy clause. The case is Gamble v. United States, 17-646. The Court did not act on a cert petition from a Third Circuit case raising the same issue that it had re-listed 10 times (Scotus docket here), but it seems clear that any eventual ruling in Gamble will have an impact here, too.

Thanks to MDPA assistant federal defender Fritz Ulrich for pointing out the Third Circuit dimension to me.

Cert granted in Fosamax case

The Supreme Court today granted certiorari in Merck Sharp & Dohme v. Albrecht, the Third Circuit case decided as In re: Fosamax. The question presented, per Scotusblog:

Whether a state-law failure-to-warn claim is pre-empted when the Food and Drug Administration rejected the drug manufacturer’s proposal to warn about the risk after being provided with the relevant scientific data, or whether such a case must go to a jury for conjecture as to why the FDA rejected the proposed warning.

The cert grant was not unexpected after, at the Court’s invitation, the Solicitor General filed an amicus curiae brief urging the Court to grant review. Justice Alito is recused from the case.

My earlier coverage of the appeal is here and here.

Porter’s committee vote delayed again [updated]

David Porter will have to wait at least another week for a Senate Judiciary Committee vote on his nomination to the Third Circuit.

Porter originally was scheduled for a committee vote on June 21, but the vote was held over for a week. At the time, Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley said it was held over at Democrats request. But Senator Jeff Flake has announced that he is blocking the Eleventh Circuit nomination of Britt Cagle Grant over tariff policy, and Roll Call reported that Porter’s nomination would “likely” be stalled by Flake as well.

Today, Porter and Grant both were on the agenda for Judiciary Committee votes on their nomination, but Senator Grassley announced:

We will not be able to vote on two nominees to the appellate court even though they are ready for votes. So Britt Grant Eleventh Circuit and David Porter Third Circuit will be held over another week.

No further explanation.


UPDATE2: Good coverage on the Flake blockade of Porter and Grant by The Hill on June 30 here.

Meanwhile, the other pending Third Circuit nominee, Paul Matey, still has not been set for a Judiciary Committee hearing and has not received his ABA rating yet. It looks to me like he will be the next circuit judge the ABA rates. Four judges nominated after him already have received their ABA ratings to accommodate the committee’s hearing schedule.


Judge Hardiman is back in the spotlight after Justice Kennedy retires

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement yesterday morning, and already several sources have reported that Third Circuit Judge Thomas Hardiman is one of the leading candidates to be nominated by President Trump to replace him.

Judge Hardiman is one of 25 judges on Trump’s announced list of potential Supreme Court nominees, and Trump stated yesterday that the nominee for Kennedy’s seat will come from that list.

Numerous sources already have named Hardiman as a frontrunner. For example:

  • Alex Swoyer of the Washington Times reported that Fox News has identified five frontrunners, and one of them is Judge Hardiman. The others: Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, Amul Thapar, and Raymond Kethledge.
  • Meanwhile, a different Fox News report, this one by Alex Pappas, named Hardiman as one of six “early frontrunners,” along with the other four mentioned above plus Joan Larsen.
  • In Bloomberg Law, Patrick Gregory informally polled Supreme Court watchers and reported that Hardiman was one of four names (along with Kavanaugh, Thapar, and Don Willett) who came up repeatedly. Kenneth Jost noted that Justices Breyer and Kagan both were runners-up for earlier openings before being nominated themselves.
  • And, finally, CNN reporters Ariane de Vogue, Eli Watkins, and Amanda Morris had this report spotlighting six contenders and included Hardiman, who they said “has a personal story that appeals to the President.” The other five they named were Kavanaugh, Barrett, Kethledge, Thapar, and Mike Lee.

Wes Venteicher had this interesting story yesterday for the Pittsburgh Tribute-Review, headlined “Could Supreme Court retirement open door for Fox Chapel’s Hardiman?” The story quoted Judge Fisher:

Trump reportedly summoned Hardiman, 52, and Colorado’s Neil Gorsuch to Washington before announcing his nomination. He ultimately chose Gorsuch to fill a vacancy created by the death of former Justice Antonin Scalia.

“It had to be an honor. I would expect he’ll be there again,” fellow Third Circuit Judge D. Michael Fisher said Wednesday.

Fisher, who said he is close friends with Hardiman, said the two have never had any discussions on social issues.

“I think he’s conservative in the way he approaches cases and looks at what our job is in interpreting statutes and trying to ascertain what Congress means, and how you evaluate a statute, (and) how you evaluate what’s spoken by administrative agencies,” Fisher said.

“I certainly think that he’d be an excellent person to be selected this time, and I don’t know of any reason why he wouldn’t be seriously considered,” he said.

And for Business Insider, Allan Smith had this in-depth report, quoting Carter Phillips and former Judge Robert Cindrich.

We shall see!

New opinion — TCPA provides no relief from text-message avalanche [updated]

Dominguez v. Yahoo — civil / consumer — affirmance — Roth

Some poor guy named Dominguez bought a cell phone that was assigned a phone number that used to be someone else’s, and that someone else had subscribed to get a text message every time she received an email. All Dominguez’s efforts to stop these messages were for naught, so he got 27,800 text messages from Yahoo—about 50 texts a day, every day, for 17 months.

Improbably, Dominguez did not kill anyone, and instead he sued Yahoo under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which makes it unlawful to use an autodialer to send non-emergency text messages. Today, the Third Circuit affirmed a ruling against poor Dominguez, holding that he failed to show that Yahoo’s text-notification service was an autodialer because it wasn’t calling numbers randomly or sequentially. No doubt he will find great solace in the court’s acknowledgement that “[t]here can be little doubt that Dominguez suffered great annoyance as a result of the unwanted text messages.”

Joining Roth were Shwartz and Pappert EDPA by designation. The case was decided without oral argument.

Update: a blog post by TCPA defense lawyer Eric Troutman exults:

Today’s ruling … is a huge– and undoubtedly satisfying– victory for Yahoo!, but it also represent [sic] a massive shift in case law in favor of a limited reading of ATDS [automatic telephone dialing system], just when courts seemed to be content to continue reading the ATDS definition broadly. What an amazing development.

A memorable footnote

In the course of denying a petitioner’s mandamus petition today in an unpublished opinion, the Third Circuit panel included this understated footnote:

As Petitioner has pointed out, his “comment” that “if the US Attorney intends to strip [him] of his first and thirteenth amendment rights … [t]he US Attorney can rest assured that will happen only after [he] runs out of his second amendment rights,” may well “earn [him] additional visits from … federal law enforcement officials.” Petition, at 5.

Porter nomination update: postponed committee vote and responses to post-hearing questions [updated]

The Senate Judiciary Committee had been scheduled to vote today on the Third Circuit nomination of David Porter, along with several other judicial nominees, but at the hearing Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley announced that at the Democrats’ request the votes had been postponed one week.

Also today I obtained a copy of Porter’s written responses to post-hearing questions from committee members. A link to those responses, which run 38 pages, is here: Porter Responses to QFRs. The questions came from Senators Feinstein, Durbin, Whitehouse, Coons, Hirono, and Booker, all Democrats. At a quick glance, most of the questions appear to focus on Porter’s judicial philosophy, his past writings, and the extent of his involvement with a group that opposed Justice Sotomayor’s nomination and listed him as a co-founder (as discussed here).


UPDATE — my take:

New opinion: Third Circuit affirms “extraordinary” award of attorneys’ fees after voluntary dismissal

Carroll v. E One — civil — affirmance — Smith

Say you’re a lawyer who represented a litigant in district court, and you lost, and your client has decided to appeal, and a central issue in the appeal involves whether you did something wrong: should you handle the appeal yourself? Not in my view. No matter how sure you may be that you did not screw up, if the appeal will focus substantially on whether you screwed up, you’re the wrong one for the job.

In the last couple years there have been a few Third Circuit appeals where lawyers have not done as I suggest above, and it hasn’t gone well. Here’s a memorable one, an appeal from summary judgment against the client and over $28,000 in sanctions against the lawyer; the panel called the lawyer out by name throughout the opinion and flat affirmed.

Today, it happened again, and again it went badly for the side whose lawyer stayed on. The Third Circuit affirmed a district court’s award of over $127,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs after a voluntary dismissal with prejudice under Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(2). The court recognized that attorneys’ fees and costs normally are not available after a voluntary dismissal with prejudice, but held that they may be awarded in extraordinary circumstances that were present here:

Exceptional circumstances include a litigant’s failure to perform a meaningful pre-suit investigation, as well as a repeated practice of bringing meritless claims and then dismissing them with prejudice after both the opposing party and the judicial system have incurred substantial costs. Because such exceptional circumstances are present in this case, the District Court’s award will be affirmed.

The opinion’s harshest language was directed at the fact that one client said that he learned that he was a plaintiff in the suit only after the firm emailed him, seemingly after the suit was filed: “Such an uninformed rush to the courthouse skirts the norms of proper legal practice in pursuit of the fruits of aggregation. It should not be condoned.”

What gives me pause me about today’s ruling is that, while the basis for the award was counsel‘s actions–including actions apparently taken without the clients’ knowledge, and actions in other cases on behalf of other clients–the ones on the hook for the six-figure award here, I’d think, are the clients.

Joining Smith were Hardiman and Roth. Arguing counsel were Joseph Cappelli of Bern & Partners (formerly Bern Cappelli) for the appellants and Jan Miller of St. Louis for the appellee.

Judge Vanaskie named to college conference sports hall of fame

Third Circuit Judge Thomas Vanaskie was named last month to the Middle Atlantic Conference Hall of Fame. Judge Vanaskie was a star defensive back for the Lycoming Warriors football team before graduating in 1975.

You should read the entire news story on Lycoming’s website, link here, it’s wonderfully informative, but here is Judge Vanaskie’s quote:

“It’s a tremendous honor from the league I played for so long ago,” Vanaskie said. “To be inducted into the MAC Hall of Fame, that means the world to me. I was fortunate enough to play for Frank Girardi. He was the defensive backs coach when I came there as a freshman and as luck would have it, I was moved to defensive back. I was supposed to be a linebacker but I was undersized for that. He started me in my third game as a freshman. He got me started and I had great coaches and great teammates throughout. I also had great professors. Lycoming College did such a great job to prepare me and it’s such an underrated school. I just had great experiences there.”

And his football coach said, “It’s been a long time since I coached him but I’ll tell you what, he’s one of the ones I remember,” and:

“When he was a player for me, he had such great passion, not only for playing football but in his academics,” Girardi said. “He always had a great passion in whatever he did and obviously he’s so successful now as a judge.”

In 2013, Judge Vanaskie was named to the CoSIDA Academic All-America Hall of Fame, reportedly one of only 10 inductees from a Division III school during the past 40 years.

Congratulations Judge Vanaskie!

New opinion — Third Circuit issues opinion in transgender-bathroom case

Doe v. Boyertown Area SD — civil — affirmance — McKee

Last month, a Third Circuit panel dramatically announced just minutes after the oral argument that it would affirm the district court’s ruling in favor a school district policy that allowed transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity. My post on the oral ruling is here, and a link to post-argument commentary prediction an en ban petition and criticizing the panel as “Activist Judges” is here.

This afternoon, the Third Circuit issued its opinion, stating, “Although we amplify the District Court’s reasoning because of the interest in this issue, we affirm substantially for the reasons set forth in the District Court’s opinion.”

Joining McKee were Shwartz and Nygaard. Arguing counsel were Randall Wenger of the Independence Law Center for the appellants, Michael Levin of the Levin Law Group for the school district, and Ria Tabacco Mar of the ACLU for an intervenor.

New opinion — a big Third Circuit immigration ruling

Osorio-Martinez v. AG — immigration — reversal — Krause

In 2016, the Third Circuit issued a blockbuster immigration ruling in Castro v. US DHS, holding that federal courts lack jurisdiction to hear a challenges to removal brought by a group of women and children caught, on US soil, shortly after entering the US, and that this statutory denial of jurisdiction did not violate the Suspension Clause. It was a crushing loss for immigrant advocates and one of the Third Circuit’s most controversial recent opinions.

Today, just two years later, a different Third Circuit panel heard a second appeal brought by four of the children and their mothers who were among those denied a forum in Castro. The opinion’s introduction explains:

Now, two years after their initial detention, Petitioners raise what, at first glance, appear to be the same claims. But upon inspection they differ in a critical respect: The children now have been accorded Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status—a protective classification designed by Congress to safeguard abused, abandoned, or neglected alien children who are able to meet its rigorous eligibility requirements.

That one difference, the court held today, is dispositive:

[W]e are now confronted with a matter of first impression among the Courts of Appeals: Does the jurisdiction-stripping provision of the INA operate as an unconstitutional suspension of the writ of habeas corpus as applied to SIJ designees seeking judicial review of orders of expedited removal? We conclude that it does.

The court observed that the ” Government’s decision to continue seeking removal is particularly noteworthy because, as far as we are aware, until very recently DHS has never attempted to remove SIJ-classified children back to their countries of origin, much less on an expedited basis.”

How broadly available is SIJ status? Is today’s ruling just a narrow exception, or does it promise to swallow the Castro rule? I didn’t notice any discussion of these questions in today’s opinion, and I’m hoping that immigration experts will shed light here in the days ahead.

Joining Krause were Ambro and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Jessica Rickabaugh of the Tucker Law Group for the appellants and Joseph Darrow of the DOJ for the government. Other notable counsel on the briefs include Nancy Winkelman (formerly of Schnader, now at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office) for amicus appellant and pending Sixth Circuit nominee Assistant Attorney General Chad Readler for the government.

New opinion

US v. Ramos — criminal — reversal (for government) — Roth

The Third Circuit today vacated a criminal sentence on the government’s appeal, holding that Pennsylvania’s crime of second-degree assault with a deadly weapon, 18 Pa. CS § 2702(a)(4), is categorically a crime of violence and that the defendant therefore qualified as a career offender under the advisory Sentencing Guidelines (even though he did not under the ACCA).

Joining Roth were Smith and Hardiman. Arguing counsel were Robert Zauzmer for the government and Arianna Freeman for the defendant.

New opinion — Third Circuit finds that misconduct by prosecution doesn’t warrant reversal but that erroneous imposition of a sentencing enhancement does

US v. Welshans — criminal — partial reversal — Restrepo

The Third Circuit today affirmed a defendant’s child-pornography conviction but reversed his sentence.

As to the conviction, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that it violated due process to allow in evidence and argument that the computer files included “deeply abhorrent” videos and images involving very young children. Although the court agreed that the prosecution committed misconduct that was plain, and agreed that the evidence should have been excluded under Rule 403, it denied relief given the prosecution’s overwhelming evidence.

As to the sentence, the panel majority held that the sentencing court erred in applying the Sentencing Guidelines enhancement for obstruction of justice because his acts (moving computer files into the recycling bin when he was told police were on their way) were contemporaneous to his arrest and did not materially hinder the investigation. The majority also held that the government waived the material-hinderance point by first raising it at oral argument.

Joining Restrepo were Ambro in full and Fuentes as to the conviction; Fuentes dissented on the sentencing reversal. Arguing counsel were Renee Pietropaolo for the defendant and Laura Schleich Irwin for the government.

New opinion — Third Circuit rejects EMTALA whistleblower appeal

Gillespie v. Regionalcare Hospital Partners — civil — affirmance — McKee

A pregnant women arrived at Pennsylvania’s Southwest Regional Medical Center complaining of pain and vaginal bleeding. After examining her, ER personnel discharged the woman and told her to go to a different hospital. The nurse at Southwest Regional in charge of evaluating patient care and addressing medical errors believed that discharging the woman violated a federal law against hospital-patient dumping known as EMTALA. Right after she told her supervisor that Southwest Regional had to report the EMTALA violation, she was fired. She sued, alleging that her firing violated EMTALA’s whistleblower protection, and the district court granted summary judgment to the hospital.

Today, the Third Circuit affirmed the ruling against the fired nurse. To be covered by EMTALA’s whistleblower provision, the nurse had to have “reported a violation.” Here, the court explained, the nurse didn’t “report” anything because she alleged her superiors already knew about and to the EMTALA violation but refused to report it anyway. So, no “report.” (I have no EMTALA expertise, but I would have guessed that the medical center’s failure to report was itself an EMTALA violation, separate from the original patient-dumping violation, and one that the nurse did report, but the opinion does not mention this theory so I’m not sure.) Anyhow, a tough case.

Joining McKee were Smith and Restrepo. Arguing counsel were Noah Geary for the nurse and Marla Presley of Jackson Lewis for the medical center.

Senator Hatch asserts that the blocking of Haywood’s nomination was not “a blue-slip issue”

At the outset of this morning’s hearing on the Third Circuit nomination of David Porter, Senator Orrin Hatch said the following, starting at 23:15 in the video:

Now, we may also hear about another nomination to the Third Circuit, and how there are purportedly differences in how the blue slip was treated then. But the issue there was the Leahy-Thurmond rule under which the Senate generally stops confirming judicial nominees around the mid-summer in a presidential election year. Chairman Grassley gave our colleagues from Minnesota almost seven months to return blue slips from Judge Stras. President Obama nominate Rebecca Hayward [sic] on March 15, 2016.  Giving the senators from Pennsylvania the same amount of time as the senators from Minnesota would have meant a hearing would not have been held until the late summer at the earliest. So the characterization of this as a blue-slip issue, as Chairman Grassley has explained before, is inaccurate.

And here is my respectful response: liar, liar, pants on fire.

David Porter’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing was this morning [updated]

Third Circuit nominee David Porter appeared this morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee. I did not attend the hearing in person but I watched it live-streamed online. Chief Judge Smith (who Porter clerked for on the district court) attended.

I posted my reactions to Porter’s testimony as it happened on Twitter, and a link to the thread is here. As I summarized there, “my immediate reaction is that Porter acquitted himself superbly well and did everything he needed to do to assure his confirmation.”

The only surprise came when Porter explained that, although he had been listed as a leader of a state coalition formed to oppose Justice Sotomayor’s nomination, in fact his only involvement had been a 10- or 15-second phone call from a person calling from the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, during which he agreed to participate in a second call but ended up having no further involvement. He acknowledged that his name was listed as a leader of the group but said that was done without his authorization and he didn’t find out about it until 2014. JCN has now scrubbed its website of the materials in question. That’s all rather mind-blowing, but I don’t expect it to end up being a barrier to Porter’s confirmation.

Buzzfeed reporter Zoe Tillman was at the hearing, and her informative live-tweet thread is here.

I’ll update this post as news coverage of the hearing appears.

UPDATE: In the Legal Intelligencer, Ellis Kim has this story, headlined, “Third Circuit Nominee Downplays Political Past in Hearing.”

UPDATE2: A story by Tracie Mauriello from the June 12 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, headlined, “Even founders appear unaware of group at center of judicial nomination controversy,” featuring quotes from others listed as founders of the PA anti-Sotomayor group.

New opinion — sexual abuse by guards can constitute cruel and unusual punishment

Ricks v. Shover — prisoner civil rights — reversal — Rendell

The Third Circuit today issued an important new prisoner-rights ruling, holding that a single act of sexual abuse without force or injury can violate the Eighth Amendment:

Whether sexual abuse can constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment is a matter of first impression in our Court. We write today to state in plainest terms that it does. Our society requires prisoners to give up their liberty, but that surrender does not encompass the basic right to be free from severe unwanted sexual contact.

The court reversed the district court’s dismissal of the prisoner’s Eighth Amendment sexual-abuse claim against a guard who allegedly rubbed his erect penis against the prisoner during a pat-down search. It stated, ” Absent more specific allegations as to the severity of Keil’s conduct or the surrounding context, including the need for the search, we cannot conclude that he plausibly violated Ricks’ right to be free from “cruel and unusual punishments,” but remanded to allow the prisoner to amend his complaint. The court also reversed the dismissal of an excessive-force claim against a supervisor who allegedly slammed the prisoner into a wall when he protested.

Joining Rendell were Chagares and Scirica. Arguing counsel were former Smith clerk and Boies Schiller associate James Kraehenbuehl for the prisoner and Claudia Tesoro of the PA Attorney General’s office for the guards. The court noted that Kraehenbuehl represented the prisoner pro bono and thanked him for “the high caliber of representation” he provided.

ABA rates David Porter “Qualified” [updated]

This morning the American Bar Association rated Third Circuit nominee David Porter as “qualified.” The rating committee’s vote was unanimous. Link here.

The ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary rates judicial nominees as well qualified, qualified, or not qualified. Stephanos Bibas was rated well-qualified, as have been most of President Trump’s circuit nominees. (And as was Rebecca Haywood.) Other circuit nominees rated qualified were John Bush for the Sixth Circuit, Ryan Bounds for the Ninth Circuit, and Britt Grant for the Eleventh Circuit; Steven Grasz for the Eighth Circuit was rated not qualified with one abstention.

Porter’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing is tomorrow morning.

Also today, Tracie Mauriello has an excellent article on Porter’s nomination in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, link here. It begins, “David Porter will almost certainly join the bench of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but the …  Trump judicial nominee first will have to run a gantlet of angry Democrats who believe he never should have gotten this far in the confirmation process.”

UPDATE: the last time a Third Circuit nominee was confirmed with an ABA rating of Qualified or below was Judge Fuentes in 1999. While unconfirmed G.W. Bush nominee Shalom Stone was rated Qualified, all of G.W. Bush’s and Obama’s confirmed Third Circuit nominees were at least majority Well Qualified.

But outside the Third Circuit there have been plenty of Qualified circuit judges confirmed in recent administrations, notably Jane Kelly for the Eighth Circuit, William Pryor for the Eleventh Circuit, and Janice Rogers Brown for the D.C. Circuit.

UPDATE 2: Andy Simpson, a fine Virgin Islands appeals lawyer and President-elect of the Third Circuit Bar Association, offers this thoughtful response to my post:

I suggest that you are putting too much emphasis on ABA ratings.

Current SCOTUS CJ John Roberts was given a Q for his nomination to the DC Circuit
Current SCOTUS J Sonia Sotomayor was given a majority Q, minority WQ for her nomination to the SDNY
Judge McKee was given a majority Q, minority NQ for his nomination to the Third Circuit

Three circuit stalwarts, Richard A. Posner, Frank H. Easterbrook and J. Harvie Wilkinson III were in the same boat as Judge McKee: All received majority Q, minority NQ ratings for their circuit nominations.

I basically agree with Andy. I meant the WQ-vs-Q stuff above mainly for nerdy curiosity, not to suggest it’s a big deal. As I posted on Twitter, “Bottom line, I think the Qualified rating is good-enough news for supporters of Porter’s nomination and another reason to believe he is on the path to being confirmed.”

Porter nomination update: hearing Wednesday, Senate questionnaire available, and liberal groups come out strongly opposing

Three significant developments on the Third Circuit nomination of David Porter:

  • First, I am reliably told his Senate Judiciary hearing will be this Wednesday. I haven’t seen that announced yet and will update this post when I confirm it. [UPDATE: the Committee has confirmed that Wednesday’s hearing will include Porter and five district-court nominees.]
  • Second, Porter’s questionnaire is now available at this link.
  • Third, the liberal Alliance for Justice has released this report announcing their strong opposition to his nomination, which is expected. (I learned about it from How Appealing.)

Porter still has not received a rating from the ABA. They still have four nominees to rate from the previous wave (link here), so it’s possible the rating will not be released in time for the Judiciary hearing.

UPDATE 2: People for the American Way also came out against Porter’s nomination today in a letter (link here) sent to the Judiciary Committee, stating, “Nominated over the objections of a home state senator and with a disturbing ideological record, Porter should not have a hearing, let alone be confirmed.”

UPDATE 3: two more national groups, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (link here) and the National Council of Jewish Women, also submitted letters opposing the nomination today.

UPDATE 4: the state group Why Courts Matter-PA has set up a website opposing Porter’s nomination called The David Porter Files, link here, and the leaders of several state groups including the AFL-CIO and Planned Parenthood have issued statements in opposition.

New opinion — Third Circuit rejects government’s belated challenge to suppression

US v. Kalb — criminal — affirmance (for defendant) — Scirica

By statute, the government is allowed to file an interlocutory appeal from an order suppressing evidence; “The appeal in all such cases shall be taken within 30 days after the decision, judgment or order has been rendered and shall be diligently prosecuted.” 18 USC § 3731. In this case, the district court ordered suppression and, more than 30 days later, the government filed a motion to reconsider, which the defendant argued was untimely but the district court denied on the merits. Today, the Third Circuit held that § 3731’s deadline is jurisdictional, and that a motion for reconsideration filed after the deadline does not support jurisdiction to review the suppression order; the court also affirmed the denial of the consideration motion because it relied on arguments the government could have made earlier. Thus, today’s opinion is a rare bird, an affirmance in a criminal appeal that comes out in favor of the defense.

Joining Scirica were Jordan and Hardiman. Arguing counsel were Robert Zauzmer of the EDPA US Attorney’s office for the government and Brett Sweitzer of the EDPA federal defender’s office for the defendant, both stellar. The argument audio is here.

New opinions — three affirmances

Bonilla v. Sessions — immigration — affirmance — Shwartz

The Third Circuit denied a El Salvadoran citizen’s petition for review of removal, rejecting the man’s argument that his right to due process was denied when reasonable-fear-screening proceedings before the immigration judge went forward without his counsel. Although the hearing notice said that counsel should appear with the client at the hearing, the lawyer (unidentified in the opinion except to clarify that appellate counsel was different) “assumed it would be held telephonically.” The court did not decide whether parties have a right to counsel at a reasonable-fear hearing, denying relief instead because the man had notice of his right to counsel and failed to show prejudice.

Although today’s opinion does not say so, Pacer shows that the panel issued a non-precedential opinion in the case on March 15. Two months later, after the mandate had issued, the government filed a motion to publish, which the panel granted. Motions to publish are an under-utilized tool, in my view. [UPDATE: after my original post the order granting the motion to publish was posted on the court’s website.]

Joining Shwartz were Jordan and Krause. The case was decided without argument.


US v. Foster — criminal — affirmance — Jordan

The Third Circuit today affirmed two criminal convictions, rejecting five different challenges to their convictions and sentences: a Fourth Amendment issue, a 404(b) admissibility claim, a sufficiency-of-the-evidence challenge to evidence of constructive possession of a firearm, and two firearm-use sentencing-enhancement claims.

Joining Jordan were Shwartz and Krause. Arguing counsel were Renee Pietropaolo of the WDPA federal defender for one defendant, Eleni Kousoulis of the DE federal defender for the other, and Elizabeth Van Pelt of the DE US Attorney’s office for the government.


US v. Shaw — criminal — affirmance — Restrepo

Finally, the Third Circuit upheld a former prison guard’s convictions for sexually assaulting an inmate and obstruction of justice. The court rejected challenges to the sexual-assault instructions (splitting with the Tenth Circuit), the sexual-assault sufficiency, two evidentiary challenges, and a speedy-trial claim.

Joining Restrepo were Smith and McKee. Arguing counsel were Robert Pickett of Pickett and Craig for the defendant and Desiree Grace of the NJ US Attorney’s office for the government.

Column: activist judges decided transgender-bathroom appeal, en banc rehearing request likely

Tony Perkins, the president of the conservative Family Research Council who gained attention earlier this year for saying that President Trump gets “a mulligan” for his alleged affair with Stormy Daniels, wrote a column published today at Patriot Post, the headline of which described the three-judge Third Circuit panel who decided the recent transgender-bathroom appeal as “Activist Judges.”

Describing co-counsel for the plaintiffs as “our friends,” and quoting one of them in his column, Perkins writes, “odds are the group will appeal to the full Third Circuit court.”

In another media interview published yesterday in the Mercury News, the same lawyer said, “The Supreme Court has already spoken,” and, “[t]his decision is out of step with longstanding legal protection for privacy.” That story similarly reports that the advocacy groups who brought the suit are considering an appeal.

In his column, Perkins writes that cases like this one show “why President Trump’s judicial confirmations matter”:

Back in November of last year, the Senate sent reinforcements to the Third Circuit in the form of Judge Stephanos Bibas, the first White House pick to fill a vacancy on that bench. Two more are waiting in the wings — Paul Matey and David Porter, both strict constructionists who are waiting for their turn on the fast track of Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) committee. Once they make it through the process (which, given the lightning-quick pace of this Senate’s confirmations, could be any day) maybe they can help inject some common sense into Alexis’s case.


Oral argument as kabuki

In January, Third Circuit Judge Kent Jordan presented on the topic of oral argument at a Third Circuit Bar Association CLE in Delaware, and one thing in particular that he said has been rolling around in my mind ever since. It’s commonplace to advise lawyers that oral argument isn’t an interrupted speech but rather a respectful conversation, and that’s good enough advice as far as it goes. But Judge Jordan emphasized that oral argument is something unique, a highly stylized form of communication like kabuki theater.


Kabuki is a Japanese dance-drama style that’s over four centuries old. If you’re not familiar with it, here’s a description and here’s a video. I see from internet searching that kabuki is sometimes used as a metaphor for political posturing where the outcome is pre-ordained, but I don’t think that’s what Judge Jordan meant. Instead, he used kabuki as an example of a performance art with conventions that are arcane and rigidly observed and that require years of disciplined training for performers to master.

So understood, I think his kabuki metaphor for oral argument is illuminating in many ways. Let me suggest two, one concrete and one more abstract.

First—and this is one of the points Judge Jordan was making—when a judge begins to speak, you stop. Even mid-syllable. Even mid-important, carefully prepared, ever-so-devastating-syllable. For many lawyers, that is not normal conversation. We talk over each other all the time: to finish out a thought, to jump in when the other person seems to be winding up, to signal enthusiasm. Hitting pause the instant a judge starts, and not talking again until the judge is done, doesn’t come naturally at all to many of us. It’s kabuki not conversation, and it takes commitment and discipline.

I’ll add that this is especially true for men, and most especially for men arguing before judges who are women. One landmark study showed that, in conversations between men and women, men cut in 46 out of 48 times. Another study found that men are three times as likely to interrupt women as they are to interrupt other men. Sadly, these gender dynamics play out at oral argument, too. For example, while I was preparing for my last argument I listened to one Third Circuit argument that was so smart and elegant, spectacular in every way but one: he kept talking over the female judge on the panel. I don’t think that necessarily means that lawyer was a misogynist jerk, but it does show he needed to work on an argument skill.

My second oral-argument-is-like-kabuki example is my own idea, so don’t blame this one on Judge Jordan. The right tone for appellate oral argument is a challenge to define. Be crisp and prepared but not wooden. Be reasonable but not wishy-washy. Be persuasive but not too emphatic. Four parts advocate, one part law professor, add just a dash of actor. It’s hard enough to define the right tone—summoning forth that tone under the knee-melting stress of argument is much harder, and maintaining it under fire is hardest of all.

Most oral advocates, in my view, err on the side of over-certainty. We argue as if the law is all obvious, the facts on each point overwhelming. The problem isn’t just that adjectives and adverbs don’t persuade, or that appellate judges bristle at bombast. The deeper problem is that judges don’t want to hear how easy and obvious your case is. If they thought it was that simple, they probably wouldn’t have granted you argument.

Our natural impulse is to assure the judges how overwhelming our side is, but most judges don’t want pat answers to hard questions. They want lawyers who know the facts and the law cold who are willing to help them grapple with the hardest parts of the case. You ain’t much help with the grappling if all you can do is deny that any hard parts exist.

I confess, when I get a tough question at argument, my natural impulse is to respond with something like, “No, your honor, because the Supreme Court clearly has held ___.” But instead of over-selling, it’s often more effective to acknowledge the gray areas while still remaining firmly an advocate. More like this: “Well, that’s probably one of the crux issues in this case. I think the clearest sign that ___ is ___.”

Again, it goes back to Judge Jordan’s kabuki point. Hitting the right tone for persuasive oral argument is like suppressing your impulse to talk over a judge. It’s not familiar or natural, and it’s not as easy as “respectful conversation.” Before you can begin to master it, first you have to decide to work at mastering it.

Written judgment issued in transgender-bathroom appeal

The Third Circuit panel today issued a judgment in Doe v. Boyertown Area School Dist., No. 17-3113. A link is here. As I posted here earlier, the panel heard oral argument this morning and ruled from the bench shortly after.

The judgment states that a formal opinion will be issued later but the judgment will issue now. It states that the court affirms the district court’s denial of a preliminary injunction for substantially the reasons given in the district court’s “exceptionally well reasoned” opinion.

I’m eager to hear the audio of the oral argument, which the court has not yet posted.

Apart from being an important case, the procedural mechanics of the panel’s action here are notable. The judgment was posted on the precedential opinions page of the court’s website, but I don’t think this is a precedential opinion — it is not labeled as precedential nor titled as an opinion of the court — and, given the rapid timeframe, I’d guess it was not circulated to the entire court before entry as draft precedential opinions normally are, and as the formal opinion it mentions likely will be. That’s why I’ve referred to the earlier oral ruling and this written judgment as an action by the panel, like a non-precedential opinion, rather than a decision by the Third Circuit. But I’m not certain I’ve got that right, and I suspect it will not matter in the end.

Court affirms in transgender-bathroom appeal … a half hour after oral argument [updated with judgment andaudio]

A panel of the Third Circuit heard oral argument today, held a brief recess, and then reconvened and announced that it would affirm the ruling below. Quite extraordinary.

The case involved access by transgender school students to the bathroom of their choice — that is, whether a school district could allow transgender students to use the bathroom corresponding with their gender, not their sex at birth. The suit was brought by school parents who claimed that the policy violated other students’ bodily privacy rights. The district court ruled in favor of the school district. Today’s argument was before Judges McKee, Shwartz, and Nygaard.

I wasn’t aware of a specific case where a Third Circuit panel had ruled from the bench after argument, but on Twitter Katie Romano pointed to a 2008 immigration appeal where it had happened. [UPDATE: Andy Simpson also pointed me to a 2001 Virgin Islands appeal where Chief Judge Becker read an opinion from the bench after argument, In re: Application for Change or Reassignment of Judge Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 144, 455 (3d Cir. May 30, 2001).] Still, extremely rare.

Early coverage by Jeremy Roebuck for the Philadelphia Inquirer here and by Bobby Allyn for WHYY here. UPDATE: and Mark Joseph Stern has a report for Slate here.

From Roebuck’s story:

Circuit Judge Theodore McKee said he and his colleagues – Judges Patty Shwartz and Richard Lowell Nygaard – recognized how important the case was to students at Boyertown Area Senior High School and wanted to resolve the issue before the students at the heart of the case, many of them seniors, graduated later this month.

Reading an order from the bench, McKee said that the judges agreed with the lower court that found the privacy of four students who sued the district in the Berks County borough last year had not been violated by administrators’ decision to allow transgender students into the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice.

“We agree that the plaintiffs have not demonstrated a likelihood of success,” McKee said, reading from the bench, “and that they have not demonstrated that they will be irreparably harmed.”

UPDATE #2: The written judgment, issued the same day as the argument, is here.

UPDATE #3: The audio of the oral argument is here, and the ruling audio is here.

Third Circuit amends internal procedures involving initial en banc review [updated]

The Third Circuit today issued an updated version of its internal operating procedures, link here, along with an announcement describing the update, link here.

The gist of it is that the court has amended the IOPs to clarify the standard the court applies when deciding whether to grant initial en banc hearing — that is, en banc review before any panel decision. New IOP 9.2 states (using language previously in 9.4.2 and 9.5.4) that initial en banc hearing is extraordinary and occurs only when a majority “determines that the case is controlled by a prior decision of the court which should be reconsidered and the case is of such immediate importance that exigent circumstances require initial consideration by the full court.” The announcement states that the purpose of the amendment is “to provide a consistent procedure.”

UPDATE: I’d guess this change was spurred by the initial en banc hearing in Vooys.

A bunch of good Third Circuit oral arguments [updated]

If you want to get better at oral argument, how do you do it? I recently had a big Third Circuit argument (link to the audio here, if you’re curious), so I’ve been puzzling over that question a lot. You can work harder to prepare for each individual argument, you can read books about oral advocacy, and you can practice not saying, “I try not to read that many cases, your Honor. . . . That’s why I wore a suit today,” like this fellow did. All helpful.

But one of the best ways to improve at oral argument is to listen critically to good arguments. It’s easy to find good Supreme Court arguments, but finding circuit arguments takes a bit more work. The Third Circuit posts audio of all of its arguments online (low-quality audio, alas), and video of a handful, but you have to know which cases to look for.

For this post, I’ve pulled together links to some Third Circuit oral arguments by some excellent oral advocates. (Plus one Supreme Court argument because I couldn’t bear to leave Judge Bibas out.) To be clear, this isn’t a list of the best Third Circuit arguments or advocates — for each one linked here, there are many others I could have included. But if you’re looking for model arguments from our circuit, I believe this list will get you off to a good start.


Future Third Circuit judges and Third Circuit nominees

Cheryl Krause — Mitchell Partners v. Irex Corp.argumentopinion

Stephanos Bibas — Tapia v. US* — argumenttranscriptopinion

Rebecca Haywood (vs. Lisa Freeland) — US v. Thompsonargumentopinion

* Supreme Court argument.


Former Third Circuit judges

John Gibbons — Gov’t of V.I. v. Lansdaleargumentopinion

Timothy Lewis (vs. Robert Zauzmer)– US v. Kempargument [starts at 32:20] — opinion


Former solicitors general

Paul Clement, Ted Olson — NCAA v. Governor (en banc) — argumentopinion

Neal Katyal — City of Philadelphia v. Attorney Generalvideoaudio [starts at 26:15]

Seth Waxman (vs. James Martin) — Avaya v. Telecom Labsargumentopinion


Third Circuit Bar Association presidents

Chip Becker — L.R. vs. School Distargument [starts at 16:10] — opinion

Lisa Freeland — In re: Hoffnerargumentopinion

Peter Goldberger — US v. Hirdvideo [starts at 9:50, 37:50, and 43:00] — audio

James Martin — Grider v. Keystone Healthargumentopinion

Nancy Winkelman — Huertero v. USargumentopinion


Other Third Circuit advocates

Howard Bashman  — A.S. v. Smithkline Beechamargumentopinion

Ellen Brotman — US v. Richardsonargumentopinion

Ilana Eisenstein — US v. Cooperargument [starts at 13:13] — opinion

Jonathan Feinberg — US v. Bennettargumentopinion

David Fine vs. Robert Zauzmer — US v. RosarioargumentArianna Freeman — Brown v. Superintendentargumentopinion

Lisa Mathewson — US v. HIrdvideo [starts at 19:15] — audio

Bruce Merenstein — US v. Fattahvideo [starts at 19:00] — audio

Katherine Romano — Katz & Assocs. v. Concepts in Healthargument

Andrew Simpson — Sala v. Hawkargumentopinion


Other advocates from outside the circuit

John Elwood — USA v. EME Homer argument [starts at 28:25] — opinion

Roy Englert — In re: Tribune Mediaargumentopinion

David Frederick — In re: Zoloftargumentopinion

Deepak Gupta — Evankavitch v. Green Treeargumentopinion

Alan Gura — Binderup v. AGargument [starts at 12:50] — opinion**

Orin Kerr — US v. Auernheimerargumentopinion

Christopher Landau — In re: Jevic Holdingargument [starts at 14:20] — opinion

Patricia Millett — In re Nortel Networksargument [starts at 28:10]– opinion

Andrew Pincus — DE Coalition v. Strineargumentopinion

Carter Phillips — Gonzalez v. Owens Corningargument [starts at 20:10] — opinion

Tejinder Singh vs. Kannon Shanmugam  — Sikkelee v. Precision Airmotiveargumentopinion

** The links are for the panel argument and the en banc opinion. Here is the en banc argument.

Cert denied in eye-drops case

The Supreme Court this morning denied certiorari in Alcon Laboratories v. Cottrell, a Third Circuit case I’ve mentioned here:

  • Third Circuit opinion summary — link
  • blog post about the rehearing petition —  link

[Update: I’ve edited this post to remove a mistaken link to a post about a different case.]

Following up on the Third Circuit’s adoption of the new law-clerk-hiring plan

On Thursday, the Third Circuit announced that it is adopting for at least one year the new hiring plan for law clerks, as I posted here. Here are some more details:

  • The new hiring plan makes two main improvements: (1) hiring would start after law students’ second year, not their first, and (2) it bars exploding offers.
  • The new plan was first announced in February by Chief Judges Katzmann of the Second Circuit, Wood of the Seventh Circuit, Thomas of the Ninth Circuit, and Garland of the D.C. Circuit. It was issued after over 100 law school deans sent the judiciary a letter last year urging reform of clerk-hiring practices.
  • So by adopting the plan, the Third Circuit joins its neighbors to the north (Second) and south (D.C.).
  • I learned that the Third Circuit adopted the plan after receiving a second letter from the deans of law schools within the Third Circuit urging them to do so.
  • The court’s announcement was issued the day after its en banc sitting, which suggests the judges met to discuss and vote on it in person.
  • Law professor Aaron Nielson pointed out to me on Twitter that the Third Circuit’s announcement refers to “[p]articipating judges,” which could mean that one or more Third Circuit judges are not participating. He noted that the Ninth Circuit’s announcement used the same phrase while stating that the “great majority” of its judges will follow the new plan. My initial reaction was that I read the Third Circuit’s announcement to mean that all the court’s judges are following the plan for a year, but on reflection I believe Professor Nielson may be right, and if I learn more I will update this post.
  • Also last week, as reported by Marcia Coyle in the National Law Journal, Justice Ginsberg spoke in favor of the law plan, and Justice Kagan said she will take into account judges’ and schools’ compliance with the plan in her own clerk hiring.

Third Circuit adopts the new law-clerk hiring plan

Big clerkship news: the Third Circuit today posted an announcement that it will adhere to the new law clerk hiring plan. The announcement states:

Starting with students who entered law school in 2017, the application and hiring process will not begin until after a law student’s second year.

For students who entered law school in 2017 (graduating class of 2020): Judges will not seek or accept formal or informal clerkship applications, seek or accept formal or informal recommendations, conduct formal or informal interviews, or make formal or informal offers before June 17, 2019.

For students who enter law school in 2018 (graduating class of 2021): Judges will not seek or accept formal or informal clerkship applications, seek or accept formal or informal recommendations, conduct formal or informal interviews, or make formal or informal offers before June 15, 2020.

A judge who makes a clerkship offer will keep it open for at least 48 hours, during which time the applicant will be free to interview with other judges.

This is a one-year pilot plan. Participating judges will reconsider their participation after one year.



Audio of yesterday’s en banc argument, plus four new argument videos

The en banc Third Circuit heard oral argument yesterday morning in Hayes v. Harvey, a significant public-housing-law appeal. My prior posts on Hayes are here and here. Audio of the argument is up already on the court’s website here.

I also just noticed that the Court has posted on its website video of four April arguments. Judges Chagares, Vanaskie, and Fisher heard all four. Two are federal criminal appeals and the redoubtable Bob Zauzmer argued them both for the government (arguing two cases the same day would be my demise). And my fellow Third Circuit Bar Association board member Lisa Rodriguez of Schnader argued Ortiz.

New opinions — one consumer wins a credit-card appeal, another one loses an insurance appeal

These two opinions were issued yesterday, May 16, but I had a big oral argument in the afternoon and was too beat to summarize them.

Krieger v. Bank of America — civil / consumer — reversal — Krause

The Third Circuit ruled in favor of a consumer plaintiff in a credit-card dispute with Bank of America. The opinion’s introduction neatly summarizes matters:

The same day Appellant William Krieger fell victim to a credit card scam and discovered a fraudulent $657 charge on his bill, he protested to his card issuer, Bank of America (BANA), and was told both that the charge would be removed and that, pending “additional information,” BANA considered the matter resolved. And indeed, Krieger’s next bill reflected a $657 credit. But over a month later Krieger opened his mail to some particularly unwelcome additional information: BANA was rebilling him for the charge. He disputed it again, this time in writing, but after BANA replied that nothing would be done, he paid his monthly statement and then filed this action, alleging BANA violated two consumer protection laws: the Fair Credit Billing Act, which requires a creditor to take certain steps to correct billing errors, and the unauthorized-use provision of the Truth in Lending Act, which limits a credit cardholder’s liability for the unauthorized use of a credit card to $50. The District Court granted BANA’s motion to dismiss the operative complaint after determining Krieger had failed to state a claim as to either count. Because we conclude the District Court’s decision was contrary to the text, regulatory framework, and policies of both statutes, we will reverse.

Joining Krause were Ambro and Conti WDPA by designation. The district judge was MDPA Judge Brann. Arguing counsel were Brett Freeman of the Sabatini Law Firm for the consumer and Michael Falk of Reed Smith for the bank.

American Orthopedic & Sports Med. v. Independent Blue Cross Blue Shield — ERISA — affirmance — Krause

The Third Circuit rejected an insured’s argument that ERISA bars insurance companies from enforcing anti-assignment clauses (clauses in health insurance plans that prevent the insured from assigning their claim to a third party including the healthcare provider). The court disagreed with two other circuits that viewed the issue as controlled by statutory language, but in the end agreed with all circuits to reach the issue that the clauses were enforceable. The court left open the possibility that a would-be assignee could instead proceed in a power-of-attorney capacity, but held that here that argument was waived.

Joining Krause were Ambro and Rendell. Arguing counsel were Samuel Saltman of Callagy Law for the appellant, and Susan Danielski of Dugan Brinkmann and Michael Holzapfel of Becker for the insurers. 

New opinion — en banc Third Circuit rejects FDCPA discovery rule

Rotkiske v. Klemm — civil / consumer — affirmance — Hardiman

In a rare unanimous en banc opinion, the Third Circuit today split with two other circuits and held that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act’s statute of limitations begins to run when the violation occurs, not when it is discovered. The opinion is crisp and clear: “In our view, the Act says what it means and means what it says.”

The opinion was unanimous with the entire active court plus Judge Fisher. Arguing counsel were Matthew Weisberg of Weisberg Law and Adina Rosenbaum of Public Citizen for the appellant and Carl Zapffe of Kentucky for the appellees. Video of the argument is here.

New opinion — Third Circuit rejects limit on attorney-fee recovery in IDEA suit

Rena C. v. Colonial School Dist. — civil / disability — reversal — Fisher

(I’m posting this later than usual because I had a moot today for my upcoming Third Circuit argument.)

The Third Circuit today ruled in favor of a plaintiff who prevailed in a suit under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in a dispute over attorney’s fees. The opinion’s introduction explains the context:

Under the IDEA, when parents and school districts dispute a child’s educational placement, a parent may file an administrative due process complaint that can lead to an administrative hearing. At least ten days before the dispute reaches a hearing, the school district can extend a settlement offer to the parent, referred to herein as a “ten-day offer.” If the matter proceeds to a hearing and the parent is the prevailing party, this ten-day offer becomes significant. A parent who is the prevailing party may be awarded reasonable attorney’s fees under the IDEA, but the ten-day offer allows a school district to limit its exposure to such fees by limiting a parent’s eligibility for attorney’s fees to only those fees accrued before the time of the ten-day offer. If a parent rejects the ten-day offer, the parent may only receive attorney’s fees for work done after the time of the offer if (1) the hearing leads to more favorable relief than the offer included, or (2) the parent was substantially justified in rejecting the offer.

Joining Fisher were Nygaard and Greenaway; Greenaway also concurred to express his hope that IDEA litigants will negotiate in good faith instead of simply rejecting “terse or inexact offers.” Arguing counsel were David Berney for the trial plaintiff and Karl Romberger of Sweet Stevens for the school district.

Supreme Court grants certiorari to review Third Circuit maritime asbestos-liability ruling

The Supreme Court today granted certiorari in Air & Liquid Systems v. Devries, No. 17-1104. This case comes from the Third Circuit, where it was captioned In re: Asbestos Prods. Liability Litig (No. VI). The Third Circuit opinion is here, my summary is here. The gist is whether maritime law recognizes a “bare metal” defense against liability from asbestos injuries for a manufacturer who delivered a product before its asbestos was added.

New opinion — Third Circuit affirms dismissal of in rem maritime suit

Liberty Woods Int’l v. The Motor Vessel Ocean Quartz — maritime — affirmance — Roth

The Third Circuit today upheld the dismissal of a shipping customer’s suit against a cargo ship, in rem, for damage to its cargo. The introduction explains:

Liability for the damage is governed by the carrier’s bill of lading, which contains a forum selection clause requiring suit to be brought in South Korea. LWI instead sought to bring an in rem suit against the Vessel in the District of New Jersey, arguing that the foreign forum selection clause violates the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act (COGSA) because South Korea does not allow in rem suits.

The court affirmed on the ground that the forum-selection clause doesn’t violate COGSA because in rem suits are not substantive rights under COGSA.

Joining Roth were McKee and Ambro; Ambro also concurred separately to note that in rem suits provide a way to impose liability and that COGSA requires that shippers have a means to collect damages against the value of the ship. Arguing counsel were Craig English of New York for the customer and Richard Whelan of Palmer Biezup for the ship.


New opinion — Third Circuit allows religious employer to intervene in contraception-coverage suit

Commonwealth of Pa. v. President United States — civil — reversal — Hardiman

The Third Circuit today reversed a district court’s order denying intervention by a religious employer into a suit brought by Pennsylvania against the Trump administration challenging its executive orders exempting both religious non-profits and for-profit employers morally opposed to contraception from relevant parts of the Affordable Care Act.

Reversing under abuse-of-discretion standard, the Third Circuit held that the employer, a Pittsburgh retirement home operated by a Catholic non-profit corporation, had a sufficient interest in the case and that, although they sought the same relief as the President of the United States, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Treasury Department, and the Labor Department, their interests were not adequately protected by the existing parties.

In the key passage, the court reasoned:

First, the Little Sisters’ situation is similar to Trbovich, where a statute obligated the Secretary of Labor to uphold the “related[] but not identical” interests in enforcing the rights of union members against their union as well as the “public interest” in assuring free and democratic
union elections. 404 U.S. at 538–39. Zubik likewise tasked the government with serving two related interests that are not identical: accommodating the free exercise rights of religious
objectors while protecting the broader public interest in access to contraceptive methods and services. And like Benjamin, the Zubik compromise must balance the rights of “two groups with quite divergent desires and interests.” 701 F.3d at 958. Finally, as in Kleissler, the government must defend “numerous complex and conflicting interests.” 157 F.3d at 973. The religious exemption IFR applies not only to religious nonprofit corporations like the Little Sisters, but also to closely held and publicly traded for-profit corporations. And the moral exemption IFR protects parties for reasons unrelated to religion. The religious and moral interests of these entities are numerous and varied. Accordingly, there is no guarantee that the government will sufficiently attend to the Little Sisters’ specific interests as it attempts to uphold both IFRs in their entirety. See Kleissler, 157 F.3d at 967 (concluding that the proposed intervenors had carried their burden by showing “a reasonable doubt whether the government agency would adequately represent [their] concerns”).

Since the government’s interest will always be broader than a would-be-intervenor’s, this reasoning seems in tension with the circuit’s precedent presuming that the government is an adequate representative and that a district court’s denial of intervention is reviewed for abuse of discretion only. A petition for rehearing en banc seems inevitable.

Joining Hardiman were Bibas (in what I believe is his first vote in a precedential appeal) and Roth. Arguing counsel were Michael Fischer for Pennsylvania and Lori Windham of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty for the employer.

New opinion — Third Circuit rejects legislative-immunity defense [updated]

US v. James — criminal — affirmance — Smith

The Third Circuit today upheld a district court’s ruling a Virgin Islands legislator may be tried for fraud and embezzlement, rejecting the defendant’s argument that his alleged conduct (skimming and phony billing in connection with a legislative project, basically) was protected by legislative immunity.

Joining Smith were McKee and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Vijay Shanker of the DOJ Appellate Section for the government and Brandan Hurson of the USVI FD for the defendant.

[Note: my original post incorrectly stated that the court upheld the defendant’s convictions, but this was an interlocutory appeal and he has not been tried yet. My thanks to Howard Bashman for pointing out the error to me.]

The Third Circuit honors its newest judge, Stephanos Bibas

There isn’t much glory in writing a circuit blog, but now and again it leads to wonderful things, and so it was yesterday when I had the privilege attending the investiture of the Third Circuit’s newest judge, Stephanos Bibas. It was an inspiring and joyous ceremony.

Present for the event in the Ceremonial Courtroom were Justices Kennedy and Alito, most of the Third Circuit’s judges, Sixth Circuit Judge Kethledge (who clerked with Bibas for Kennedy), Eighth Circuit Judge Stras, DC Circuit Judge Katsas, and many other legal luminaries, as well as Judge Bibas’s family and “dozens” of his fellow parishioners.

Chief Judge Smith presided with grace and aplomb. Judge Krause spoke warmly of having known Bibas since his days as a (“quite clean shaven”) Kennedy clerk. White House counsel Don McGahn read the Presidential Commission, and he said Bibas gave one of the most impressive interviews he’d seen. Bibas’s frequent collaborator and longtime friend Dean Richard Bierschbach, described him as “a wonderful paradox,” combining ferocious intellect and intensity with warmth and humility.

Judge Bibas spoke too, beginning with a passionate affirmation of his religious faith and offering heartfelt thanks to his colleagues past and present. He also recounted how he had attended Judge Krause’s investiture and remembered sitting there thinking to himself (roughly), “well, it’s never going to happen to me, but I’m glad it happened for Cheryl.”

Of course it did happen for Judge Bibas, and yesterday the Third Circuit community celebrated it.


Note: I’ve embedded Twitter posts that include photos of the ceremony by UNC law professor Carissa Hessick.

New opinion — Third Circuit sets out new rule for traditional trusts’ jurisdictional citizenship

GBForefront v. Forefront Mgmt — civil — reversal — Jordan

What a stellar opinion introduction:

This case requires us to consider whether, in assessing
diversity-of-citizenship jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a),
the citizenship of a traditional trust is determined differently
than that of a business trust. In light of the Supreme Court’s
decision in Americold Realty Trust v. Conagra Foods, Inc., 136
S. Ct. 1012 (2016), we conclude that the citizenship of a
traditional trust is based only on the citizenship of its trustee.
In so holding, we acknowledge that Americold Realty
abrogates part of our opinion in Emerald Investors Trust v.
Gaunt Parsippany Partners, 492 F.3d 192 (3d Cir. 2007),
which stated that it was unnecessary to distinguish between
types of trusts when determining diversity jurisdiction. Id. at
198 n.10, 205.

Based on the distinction we recognize today between
traditional trusts and business trusts, we will vacate the District
Court order dismissing this case for lack of jurisdiction.
Because the record on appeal is insufficient for us to proceed
further, we will remand the case with instructions to determine
whether the trusts at issue are of the traditional or business
variety and whether there is diversity jurisdiction. We also
instruct the District Court to give leave to further amend the
complaint within a reasonable time to cure defective
jurisdictional allegations.

Nothing left for me to say.

Joining Jordan were Roth and Mariani MDPA by designation. Arguing counsel were Christopher Nucifora of Kaufman Dolowich for the appellant and Gary Fellner of New York for the appellees.

Rounding up early coverage of the Porter and Matey nominations for Third Circuit

It’s been a week since the Trump administration announced its intent to nominate David Porter and Paul Matey to the two current open seats on the Third Circuit. (Both nominations have since happened). There has been substantial media coverage and online commentary of both nominations, especially the more controversial Porter nomination, and in this post I’ve collected the more significant coverage and commentary I’ve seen.

(On Twitter, I’ve been retweeting news and commentary about the nominations and will continue to do so, more frequently than I’ll post here. If you’re on Twitter, I invite you to follow me there: @CA3blog)

Probably the most significant news to date is that PA’s Democratic Senator Bob Casey reportedly has told the White House he will not return his blue slip for Porter. I first saw that tweeted here by Inquirer reporter Jonathan Tamari and here by Zoe Tillman.


News coverage




The Judge Edward R. Becker Way

Independence Hall in Philadelphia is one of America’s great historic buildings, where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution both were adopted. This you probably already knew.

But fewer people know that the block of Chestnut Street upon which Independence Hall sits is named Judge Edward R. Becker Way. Judge Becker, of course, was one of the Third Circuit’s great judges, sitting from 1981 through his death in 2006.

Indeed, I’m mortified to admit that, until last Friday, I didn’t know that that block was named for Becker. I was fortuante enough to have lunch on Friday with Roy Englert, a superb appellate lawyer practicing in Washington D.C. with Robbins Russell who has appeared often in the Third Circuit. Right after our lunch, Roy emailed me this photo he’d taken during his walk back to his car:

Photo by Roy Englert.

It made my day.

It also got me to wondering why. Sure he deserves it, but even Third Circuit nerds like us can admit that being a great judge isn’t always the road to … having a road named for you.

Here’s how it happened. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the National Park Service closed the block of Chestnut Street in front of Independence Hall for security reasons. Becker thought this was a bad idea, and he led a successful 19-month campaign to re-open the block. As Becker friend and EDPa Judge Michael Baylson described it years later, “He was outraged that this national landmark was being held hostage to a vague fear of terrorists, and thought that the safety of Independence Hall could be ensured without closing this important street. He had not forgotten aggressive advocacy. Ed’s efforts succeeded.”

After Judge Becker’s death in 2006, the city renamed the block in his honor. In the words of the city’s mayor:

“Gov. [Ed] Rendell and I agreed, it is fitting and appropriate that the city honor Judge Becker **** “His leadership on this issue involving our liberty and freedom epitomized his public service to Philadelphia for 40 years. He will be missed but his impact on the city will never be forgotten.”

So next time you walk past Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell near the Third Circuit courthouse, take a moment to admire the street signs, too, and to remember Edward Becker, one of the Third Circuit’s judicial giants.

Judge Chagares announced as winner of the NJ federal-bar-association award

Third Circuit Judge Michael Chagares will be the 2018 winner of the William J. Brennan, Jr., Award, presented by the  Association of the Federal Bar of New Jersey. The announcement came at the association’s annual judicial conference last month, as reported here by Jonathan Erway in the New Jersey Law Journal.

The Brennan award is given annually to “an outstanding jurist, attorney, or other individual whose contributions to the law deserve special recognition.” Past winners include Judges Cowen, Barry, Greenberg, and Greenaway.

Judge Chagares will receive the award at a ceremony and reception on June 14.

Congratulations to Judge Chagares for this well-deserved honor.

David Porter and Paul Matey will be nominated for Third Circuit

President Donald Trump announced this morning that he intends to nominate David Porter and Paul Matey to fill the two open judgeships on the Third Circuit. Porter would fill Judge Fisher’s seat, Matey would fill Judge Fuentes’s.

Neither nomination is a surprise, as both had been mentioned in news reports months ago as under consideration (Porter here, Matey here.) But nominating two men for a court whose current active judges are 10 men and 2 women will surely draw fire. And Porter’s nomination at least is certain to be controversial in its own right, given that PA Senator Bob Casey reportedly has already indicated his opposition.

Hang on to your hats.

New opinions — a de facto life sentence for a juvenile offender violates the Eight Amendment, and sexting between consenting teenagers is enough to support deportation

United States v. Grant — criminal / sentencing — reversal in part — Greenaway

In 2012, the Supreme Court held in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory sentences of life without parole for juvenile offenders violate the Eighth Amendment, Today, in a major juvenile-sentencing decision, the Third Circuit extended Miller to hold that a 65-year sentence for homicide crimes committed at age 16 was unconstitutional. From the introduction:

This case presents several difficult challenges for this Court. It calls upon us to decide a novel issue of constitutional law: whether the Eighth Amendment prohibits a term-of-years sentence for the duration of a juvenile homicide offender’s life expectancy (i.e., “de facto LWOP”) when the defendant’s “crimes reflect transient immaturity [and not] . . . irreparable corruption.” Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718, 734 (2016). Next, if we find that it does, then we must decide what framework will properly effectuate the Supreme Court’s determination that the Eighth Amendment affords nonincorrigible juvenile offenders a right to a meaningful opportunity for release. Furthermore, we must take great pains throughout our discussion to account for the substantive distinction that the Supreme Court has made between incorrigible and non-incorrigible juvenile offenders in order to ensure that the latter is not subjected to “a punishment that the law cannot impose upon [them].” Id. (quoting Schriro v. Summerlin, 542 U.S. 348, 352 (2004)).

Our decision today therefore represents an incremental step in the constitutional discourse over the unique protections that the Eighth Amendment affords to juvenile homicide offenders.

The court held, ” A term-of-years sentence without parole that meets or exceeds the life expectancy of a juvenile offender who is still capable of reform,” which the court held includes all non-homicide offenders, “is inherently disproportionate and therefore violates the Eighth Amendment under both Miller and Graham.” The court joined the Seventh, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits, and split with the Eighth, on the applicablity of Miller and Graham to de facto life sentences.

Joining Greenaway were Cowen in part and Padova EDPA by designation. Judge Cowen dissented in part, joining the Eighth Amendment holding in full but disagreeing with the majority’s denial of sentencing relief as to additional counts based on the sentencing-package doctrine.

Arguing counsel were Lawrence Lustberg of Gibbons for the appellant and Bruce Keller for the government.


Moreno v. AG — immigration — affirmance — Vanaskie

Today, the Third Circuit held that a Pennsylvania conviction for possessing child pornography, 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6312(d), is a crime involving moral turpitude supporting removal. The petitioner was a 49-year-old man who lived legally in the U.S. since age 12, pled guilty to a single count, and was sentenced to probation.

Applying the categorical approach (the opinion in a footnote echoed concerns raised about the categorical approach in other recent Third Circuit opinions), the court held that the least culpable conduct under the statute — consensual ‘sexting’ between an 18 year-old and a 17 year-old — is morally turpitudinous. But the opinion seemed to base that conclusion on little more than the fact that such conduct is criminal, which strikes me as questionable. Lots of conduct is subject to prosecution without being “inherently base, vile, or depraved.” Does anyone really believe that sexting between two consenting teenagers is depraved?

Joining Vanaskie were Shwartz and Fuentes. Arguing counsel were Wayne Sachs of Philadelphia for the petitioner and Jaclyn Shea for the government.



Attorneys can now apply for Third Circuit bar admission online

The Third Circuit announced on its website today that attorneys seeking admission to the court’s bar may now apply electronically using their PACER accounts. The announcement explained that, while “the Court will continue to accept paper applications for now, attorneys are encouraged to apply through PACER’s easy online application.”

Details and forms here.

New opinion — Third Circuit rules against Citgo in Delaware River oil-spill appeal

In re: Petition of Frescati Shipping — civil / admiralty — reversal in part — Smith

An oil tanker struck an abandoned anchor resting on the bottom of the Delaware River and spilled over a quarter-million gallons of crude oil, a spill that cost $143 million to clean up. Predictably, years of complicated litigation (including a 41-day trial and a 31-day post-remand hearing)  ensued over who must pay the clean-up bill: the shipper, the oil company (Citgo, represented here by Carter Phillips), or the government.

Today, the Third Circuit issued a 61-page opinion that, broadly speaking, came out in favor of the shipper and the government and against Citgo. The opinion decided numerous issues, notably that Citgo was not equitably entitled to a 50% reduction of its clean-up cost to the government and that Citgo waived a defense by first raising it 10 years into the case. The opinion is a gem, engaging and clear.

Joining Smith were Hardiman and Brann MDPA by designation. Arguing counsel were Timothy Bergère and John Levy of Montgomery McCracken for the shipper, Anne Murphy of the DOJ appellate section for the government, and Carter Phillips of Sidley Austin for the oil company.

Supreme Court reverses Third Circuit appealability ruling

Today the Supreme Court reversed the Third Circuit’s non-precedential 2016 ruling in Hall v. Hall. The vote was 9-0, and the opinion was written by Chief Justice Roberts. The Supreme Court opinion is here, the Third Circuit opinion is here, and the Scotusblog case page with the briefs and more is here. The Court held that, ” when one of several consolidated cases is finally decided, a disappointed litigant is free to seek review of that decision in the court of appeals.”

The case is of interest to this blog not merely because it arose from the Third Circuit, but also because the winning side was represented by Andrew Simpson, who is the President-elect of the Third Circuit Bar Association. Andy is a terrific lawyer in St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. (Regular readers of this blog also will remember he shared his first-hand account of the hurricane devastation last fall.) My hearty congratulations to Andy on a magnificent win.


New opinion: Uber wins Third Circuit antitrust appeal

Phila. Taxi Assoc. v. Uber Technologies – antitrust – affirmance – Rendell

The Third Circuit today emphatically upheld the dismissal of an antitrust suit brought by Philadelphia taxi operators against Uber. It was a sweeping victory for Uber: the taxi operators lost on all three elements of proving anti-competitive conduct, and for good measure they lost on antitrust standing, too. Uber may have harmed its competitors,  the court concluded, but it did not harm competition.

Joining Rendell were Ambro and Krause. Arguing counsel were John Innelli of Philadelphia for the taxi operators and Steven Reed of Morgan Lewis for Uber.

New opinions — habeas and tax appeals, both featuring waiver [updated]

Bennett v. Superintendent — habeas corpus — reversal — Restrepo

The Third Circuit today ruled in favor of a habeas corpus petitioner, holding that erroneous jury instructions deprived him of due process. [Disclosure: I provided consulting assistance on the appeal to petitioner’s counsel.]

The court concluded that the faulty instructions could lead the Pennsylvania jury to believe that a defendant who had no specific intent to kill could still be found guilty of murder based on an accomplice’s intent. The language from the instructions is quoted at p.34 of today’s opinion. The court’s review was de novo because the Pennsylvania courts failed to address the claim during state post-conviction proceedings. The court also held that the Commonwealth waived the harmless-error defense by failing to assert it unequivocally in this appeal.

Joining Restrepo were Ambro and Nygaard. Arguing for the petitioner were Drexel law Appellate Litigation Clinic students Ke Gang and Mischa Wheat, supervised by Richard Frankel. The court thanked the clinic  its “skillful pro bono advocacy.” Arguing for the Commonwealth was former Vanaskie clerk Christopher Lynett of the Philadelphia DA’s Office.


Spireas v. Commissioner IRS — tax — affirmance — Hardiman

In a high-stakes tax appeal, the Third Circuit today held that the taxpayer waived his argument on appeal by failing to assert it before the tax court. The taxpayer is a pharmaceutical scientist who earned $40 million in royalties in just two years, and the dispute was over whether this income was capital gains taxed at 15% or regular income taxed at 35%. The court did not discuss the merits of the waived claim.

Joining Hardiman was Shwartz. Judge Roth dissented, arguing that the taxpayer had not waived its argument. Arguing counsel were Brian Killian of Morgan Lewis for the taxpayer and Clint Carpenter of the DOJ Tax Division for the government.

UPDATE: on June 1, 2018, the panel issued an amended opinion along with an admirably clear order noting what had changed (two footnotes discussing waiver). The link above now goes to the new opinion; the old opinion is here.


Due to snowstorm, today’s Third Circuit deadlines extended to tomorrow

The Third Circuit closed today at noon due to snow, posting the following announcement on its website:


UPDATE: Due to weather conditions, the Clerk’s Office for the Third Circuit will CLOSE on Wednesday, March 21, 2018 at noon. ORAL ARGUMENTS WILL BE HELD AS SCHEDULED ON THURSDAY, MARCH 22, 2018. Deadlines for March 21, 2018 will be automatically extended to the next business day when the Court is open. If you have an emergency please call the attorney on duty at 267-299-4904. Please leave a detailed message outlining the nature of the emergency. Also provide the name of a contact person and phone number so that the duty attorney may make contact. Non-emergent matters will be addressed when the office returns fully staffed.

Two new opinions

The Third Circuit issued two published opinions yesterday.

Haberle v. Troxell — civil rights / disability — partial affirmance — Jordan

A severely depressed man with a gun was in an apartment threatening to kill himself. Fearing for the man’s life, his longtime partner called the Nazareth, PA, police to help. But instead of waiting for trained crisis negotiators to arrive, a local police officer called his fellow officers “a bunch of fucking pussies” and decided to go in himself because “[t]his is how we do things in Nazareth.” When the officer knocked on the door and identified himself as a police officer, the man inside killed himself.

The man’s estate sued the officer and the borough, alleging various constitutional violations and violation of the Americans with Disability Act. The Third Circuit yesterday upheld the dismissal of the constitutional claims, holding that the officer’s conduct does not shock the conscience, but remanded to allow the plaintiff to amend her ADA claim, holding that the ADA applies to police officers making an arrest.

Joining Jordan were Greenaway and Rendell; Greenaway concurred separately to argue that ADA relief should be available under a different provision in the statute as well. Arguing counsel were Joseph Walsh of Lauer & Fulmer for the estate and John Morgenstern of Deasey Mahoney for the defendants.


Lewin v. AG — immigration — affirmance — Jordan

The Third Circuit held that a conviction under New Jersey’s receiving-stolen-property statute is an aggravated felony supporting removal. The court rejected the petitioner’s argument that the statute failed to require proof of mens rea beyond a reasonable doubt where it required that the petitioner believe that the property is probably stolen.

Joining Jordan were Roth and Mariani MDPA by designation. The case was decided without oral argument.

“A minuscule but committed group of attorneys have toiled away blogging on specific federal courts …”

Friday on Law360, Dan Packel had this feature [subscription required], headlined, “Atty Bloggers Find Niche Tracking Federal Appeals Courts.” I think it’s a wonderful article, perhaps because one of the “minuscule … group of bloggers” featured is me.

Other featured toilers-away are Professor Aaron Nielson of D.C. Circuit Review — Reviewed, Benton Martin of Sixth Circuit Blog, David Coale of 600Camp, and two young lawyers aiming to start a D.C. Circuit blog soon. (And I encourage others to join the fun.)

My blog has been cited a number of times in the media before (notably here), but this is the first time anyone has written about it. My second-grade daughter is pretty amped about it, so I am too.

New opinion — defendant defeats class-action commonality by promising not to raise a class-wide defense

Gonzalez v. Owens Corning — civil / class action — affirmance — Hardiman

The Third Circuit today affirmed a district court’s order denying class certification in a high-stakes consumer-class-action appeal. The underlying suit alleged that Owens Corning sold roof shingles with warranties of 25 years or more when, in reality, their expected useful life was considerably shorter.

The court affirmed because the proposed class ” cannot satisfy Rule 23(a)’s commonality requirement because the only common question it poses can be answered only by way of an advisory opinion, which is forbidden by Article III.” There was a key legal issue that was common to the class–whether a particular defense applied to their claims–but Owens Corning promised not to raise the defense, so the Court ruled that deciding the issue would amount to an advisory opinion.

The court also rejected the plaintiffs argument that the shingles were a defective product where not all of them had the defect causing premature failure.

Joining Hardiman were Chagares and Jordan. Arguing counsel were Professor Robert Klonoff of Oregon for the plaintiffs and Carter Phillips of Sidley Austin for Owens Corning.

Two new opinions: one PLRA, one TCPA

Paladino v. Newsome — prisoner civil rights — reversal in part — Fuentes

The Third Circuit today ruled in favor of a prisoner alleging he was the victim of excessive force, holding that the district court erred in granting summary judgment for failure to exhaust the claim because there was a genuine issue of material fact on exhaustion. The district court ruled without notice to the parties, and the Third Circuit held that ” some type of notice and an opportunity to respond are needed before a district court elects to decide factual disputes regarding exhaustion.”

Joining Fuentes were Chagares and Vanaskie. Arguing counsel were Schnader Harrison associate Rachel Horton for the prisoner and Christopher Josephson for the state defendants.


City Select Auto Sales v. David Randall Assocs. — consumer — affirmance — Hardiman

A roofing company hired another company to send out tens of thousands of unsolicited advertisements by fax. One recipient sued the roofing company and its co-owner under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. He obtained a judgment against the roofing company for over $22 million, which sounds about right to me. The suit against the co-owner personally went to trial, the plaintiff lost, and he appealed. Today, the Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the jury instructions and a response to a jury question.

Joining Hardiman were Vanaskie and Shwartz; Shwartz also concurred separately to disagree with dicta in the main opinion questioning whether a corporate officer can be personally liable under the TCPA. Arguing counsel were Daniel Cohen of Chicago for the trial plaintiff and Emmett Fitzpatrick III of Flamm Walton for the reviled fax-ad senders.

Third Circuit upholds refusal to re-open case to challenge million-dollar award after lawyer misses a deadline

The Third Circuit issued a non-precedential opinion yesterday that will scare the living bejeezus out of lawyers.

Here’s what happened, as described in the opinion (emphasis mine):

Quebec filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition against John Doe, which the Bankruptcy Court dismissed. Doe then filed a motion asking the Bankruptcy Court to declare Quebec’s petition to be in bad faith and for damages. Quebec failed to appear at the hearing on the motion allegedly due to the then-hospitalization of Quebec’s representative, and on March 24, 2015, the Bankruptcy Court granted the motion and awarded approximately $1 million in punitive damages. Quebec then retained its current counsel. Twenty-one days after the appeal deadline passed, Quebec sought an extension of time for filing the appeal, asserting that it did not receive a copy of the Bankruptcy Court’s March 24, 2015 order. The Bankruptcy Court denied the extension request. Quebec appealed that ruling to the District Court, and that same day, it received notice that it needed to file a designation of portions of the Bankruptcy Court record for the appeal by September 8, 2015. Quebec failed to do so, and the District Court dismissed the appeal on September 30, 2015 without an opinion. Quebec asserts that it failed to timely file the designation due to its counsel’s erroneous calendaring of the deadline as October 22, 2015.

The opinion doesn’t name Quebec’s current counsel, the lawyer who assertedly missed the district-court deadline, although he is identifiable on Pacer.

Quebec sought post-judgment relief from the dismissal, which the district court (after proceedings not relevant here) denied on the ground that the party had not shown excusable neglect. Still represented by the same lawyer, Quebec appealed.

The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of relief from the million-dollar judgment, stating:

“The District Court aptly found that counsel’s oversight could have been prevented through effective office procedures and reasonable diligence on the part of counsel in checking the bankruptcy docket.”


Moreover, the District Court correctly observed that it was “difficult to excuse” counsel’s incorrect recording of the September 8 deadline as October 22, “nearly two months after he filed the notice of appeal (and received the email notification)” and far beyond the fourteen-day deadline, in light of “the appellate practice [Quebec’s counsel] professes to maintain.”

Ouch! And:

Although Quebec’s present counsel was retained after the Bankruptcy Court issued its decision on Quebec’s bad faith filing of the bankruptcy petition, reasonably diligent counsel entering at that late stage of the litigation would have reviewed the record, observed the history of dilatoriness and prior finding of bad faith, and ensured that future filings complied with all applicable rules and orders.

For the poor lawyer involved, this is no doubt horrifying.

For the rest of us, this case offers at least three points to consider:

  • Obviously, it is another ice-in-the-veins reminder that rules and deadlines matter, and sometimes they matter a lot.
  • Both the district court and the Third Circuit held the lawyer’s professed practice as an appellate lawyer against him in analyzing whether his error was excusable. (The lawyer’s firm’s website states, “WE ARE THE APPEALS FIRM IN PENNSYLVANIA,” for example.) Judges may use language like that against lawyers if something goes wrong.
  • Was it a blunder for this lawyer to handle an appeal in which his own actions below were at issue, rather than withdrawing for another lawyer to do the appeal? The same has been true of at least three other recent Third Circuit cases that turned out real badly for the lawyers involved. Lawyers who find themselves in this situation must think hard about whether new counsel for the appeal is in their clients’ best interests–and their own.

I’ve updated yesterday’s post about Third Circuit case statistics: data I originally thought was significant turns out to be meaningless

Yesterday I blogged here about AOC stats appearing to show a jaw-dropping jump in 2017 in the number of Third Circuit cases (a) decided after oral arg, (b) by published opinion, and (c) reversing. The post was by-and-large accurate, but the AOC data it was based on was wildly misleading.

The apparent cause of the problem is that the AOC reports the number of cases decided after oral argument, by published opinion, and reversing — NOT the number of oral arguments, published opinions, and reversals.

That becomes a problem when, after one oral argument, a court issues one published opinion reversing over 500 cases. Which is what happened in March 2017 in In re: Fosamax. (My thanks to Twitter user @VillanovaRhodes for spotting Fosamax as the source of the problem.)

In my view, the AOC’s data-reporting methodology is flawed. Counting one oral argument, one opinion, and one reversal 500 times renders otherwise-valuable data useless and–at least for dummies like me–misleading.

In any event, I sincerely apologize to readers for failing to interpret the statistics correctly in my original post.

En banc Third Circuit rejects sentencing enhancement for mechanic

The en banc Third Circuit today decided a criminal-sentencing issue, and a three-judge panel decided the remaining sentencing issues in the case.

A quick recap of the procedural history may help. In June of last year, a Third Circuit panel reversed in part in a criminal sentencing appeal; Judge Greenaway dissented in part, arguing that the court should have reversed on an additional ground. The court then granted rehearing en banc with argument limited to the issue on which Judge Greenaway had dissented. A link to the oral argument is here, and I briefly discussed one side’s argument here.

Today, the court issued two opinions: an en banc opinion by Judge Greenaway and a panel opinion on the other issues by Judge Shwartz.

US v. Douglas (en banc opinion) — criminal sentencing — reversal — Greenaway

The en banc Third Circuit today held that an airline mechanic with access to restricted airport areas did not hold a position involving professional or managerial discretion under the § 3B1.3 of the US Sentencing Guidelines. The court refined the approach it took to analyzing when to apply that enhancement.

There were 7 judges in the majority, 4 dissenting. (The case was argued in October, so Judge Bibas did not participate.) Joining Greenaway were Smith, McKee, Ambro, Jordan, Krause, and Restrepo. The four dissenters split into two opinions: one by Shwartz joined by Chagares and Vanaskie, the other by Hardiman alone.

Arguing counsel were Arnold Bernard of Pittsburgh for the defendant and MIchael Ivory for the government.

US v. Douglas (panel opinion) — criminal sentencing — reversal in part — Shwartz

The panel issued an opinion that, according to a footnote, “essentially restates the original Panel opinion except for the issue addressed by the Court en banc.” My summary of the prior opinion is here.


[UPDATED] The latest Third Circuit case statistics seemed to reveal a stunning transformation, but actually the data is useless

UPDATE: The data described in this post, while presumably accurate, is spectacularly misleading. The apparent cause of the problem is that the AOC reports the number of cases decided after oral argument, by published opinion, and reversing — not the number of oral arguments, published opinions, and reversals. That becomes a problem when, after one oral argument, a court issues one published opinion reversing over 500 cases. That’s what happened in March 2017 in In re: Fosamax. My original post illustrates how, in this unusual situation, the AOC’s data-reporting methodology renders important data worse than useless.


Astonishing changes in the Third Circuit’s handling of cases occurred in 2017.

Two years ago, I wrote what I consider one of most significant posts I’ve done on this blog. The gist was clear from the title: “Guess which circuit holds the few oral arguments. (Hint: it’s the same one that issues the fewest published opinions.” I described how the Third Circuit’s rate of oral-argument, publication, and reversal all had plummeted between 2009 and 2014.

I didn’t post an update here last year, but the basic picture remained the same, with the Third Circuit still holding fewer arguments and publishing fewer opinions than any other circuit, even ones that decided far fewer cases.

Two days ago, the federal courts released last year’s court statistics.* I looked at them today, and my jaw is on the floor.

Compared to the prior year, the percentage of cases in which the Third Circuit held oral argument more than tripled.

The percentage of cases in which the Third Circuit published its opinion more than quadrupled.

The percentage of case in which the Third Circuit reversed more than quintupled.

Just look at these graphs:

The court held 208 oral arguments in 2016; it held 814 in 2017.


The court published 154 of its opinions in 2016–in 2017, it published 741.


Have I conveyed my astonishment?

If you’re wondering if this reflects a national trend, at least at first glance I’d say no. Nationally, the argument rate and the publication rate ticked up just a couple percentage points last year, while the reversal rate was up just over 1%. I’d guess CA3 alone accounts for a good chunk of those small increases.

Here are some more numbers that jumped out at me:

  • The total number of appeals commenced in the Third Circuit in 2017 was down 18.7% from the year before. Nationally, appeals commenced were down 16.3%.
  • Criminal cases became a much bigger part of the Third Circuit’s caseload last year: 24.9% of all terminated cases, vs. 13.6% the year before. Nationally, it was about 20% both years.
  • The circuit’s reversal rate in criminal cases didn’t change much– 4.7% in 2017 vs. 4.2% the year before.
  • Get this: the circuit’s reversal rate in private civil appeals went from 11% in 2016 to 56.7% in 2017!

There you have it. If you’re wondering how to explain all this, well, so am I.

UPDATE: I have serious doubts about the accuracy of these statistics. The one that’s easiest to check is the number of published opinions. As best I can tell from online searches, the court published about 182 decisions between 9/30/16 and 9/30/17 — a very far cry from the 741 reported, and much closer to the 154 it published the year before. And, come to think of it, I summarize every published opinion as it’s written, and I’m pretty sure I would have noticed if the court had gone from 3 or 4 published opinions a week to 14 or 15.

So, all of these numbers should be viewed with considerable skepticism until confirmed.


* In this post, “last year” and “2017” is shorthand for the 12-month period ending September 30, 2017. “2016” is shorthand for the 12 month’s ending the same day in 2016.

[The oral-argument data cited in this post are from AOC table B-10. The reversal data come from B-5, and opinion-publishing data come from B-12.]

Dear Third Circuit, I love you but your audio is atrocious

The Third Circuit, like almost every other federal circuit, posts on its website audio recordings of oral arguments. I’ve been listening to a bunch of them lately. Some of the arguments are terrific, some less so, but every Third Circuit argument recording has one thing in common: the sound quality stinks.

Click on this link and listen to the most recent Third Circuit argument recording. I defy you to tell me what Judge McKee says at the beginning. I challenge you to listen for even five minutes. That constant drone. The echoes. Those mysterious phasers-set-to-stun vibration noises. The gusts of breath. That brain-rattling assault of shuffling paper.

If I had never seen the inside of the Maris courtroom, and someone asked me to describe it based on an argument recording, I would guess that it is a long, basement hallway made of cinder blocks. And I’d guess everyone was talking into a bullhorn, chewing gummy worms, and hiding under a warm sleeping bag.

And it doesn’t have to be this way.

Just compare that Third Circuit audio with any one of these Eleventh Circuit arguments. Seriously. Go on, give it a try. The difference is not subtle. One sounds like it was recorded in 2018–the other,1918.

Here’s a recent argument recording from the Fourth Circuit. From the Seventh Circuit. From the Tenth Circuit. Not bad, right? Could be us.

Sure, maybe this is just a wacky blogger rant. Maybe a circuit court has bigger fish to fry than replacing microphones. This I concede.

But listener fatigue is real. As I recently described on Twitter, I make an effort to listen to great Third Circuit arguments to sharpen my own skills, but over time that’s exactly what it is: an effort. I started to wonder if I was losing my nerdy appreciation for oral advocacy, until it dawned on me that the recordings themselves make listening a chore.

When lawyers get better at oral argument, everyone benefits. One of the easiest and most effective ways to improve is to listen critically to other lawyers’ arguments. More lawyers in the Third Circuit would do that, I am convinced, if the court’s audio were not so execrable.

Sounds like a good idea to me.

Update: here‘s an especially atrocious argument recording.

Judge Bibas’s first oral-argument sitting

Brand-new Third Circuit Judge Stephanos Bibas will sit on a panel hearing oral arguments on March 23. The other two judges on the panel are Judges Hardiman and Roth.

I haven’t gone back to double-check, but I believe this is Judge Bibas’s first panel oral-argument sitting. (He sat on the two en banc arguments last month.)

The case-information page for the morning’s arguments is still sparse (it will be updated as counsel provide info), but there will be three cases argued. One is a housing appeal, and another is tantalizingly captioned “Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. President United States et al.”

New opinion — Third Circuit affirms criminal sentence

US v. Huynh  — criminal — affirmance — Hardiman

I’m slow posting today’s case because I had a Third Circuit oral argument today, pinch-hitting for a wonderful lawyer who realized he would be out of town the day of argument.

The Third Circuit today held that the government did not breach its plea agreement with a criminal defendant and the district court did not err in imposing sentencing-guidelines enhancements for being an organizer/leader and for relocating to avoid detection.

Joining Hardiman were Vanaskie and Shwartz. The case was decided without oral argument.

Supreme Court agrees to review Third Circuit takings case

The Supreme Court today granted certiorari to review a Third Circuit takings case, Knick v. Township of Scott. The Third Circuit opinion is here, and my summary of it said this (emphasis added):

A Pennsylvania township enacted an ordinance that authorizes officials to enter any property “for the purpose of determining the existence of and location of any cemetery” and compels private cemeteries to open themselves to the public during daylight hours.

The Third Circuit described the ordinance as “extraordinary and constitutionally suspect,” noting “it is difficult to imagine a broader authorization to conduct searches of privately owned property” and urging the township to abandon it. But the court affirmed dismissal of a suit challenging the ordinance, holding that the plaintiff lacked standing to raise a facial Fourth Amendment challenge because her rights were not violated and that her Fifth Amendment takings claim is not ripe because she had not first sought compensation under the state’s inverse-condemnation procedure.

The question upon which cert was granted today, from Scotusblog, is: “Whether the Supreme Court should reconsider the portion of Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank that requires property owners to exhaust state court remedies to ripen federal takings claims.”

Judge Restrepo nominated today to US Sentencing Commission

Third Circuit Judge L. Felipe Restrepo was nominated today by President Trump to serve as a commissioner on the United States Sentencing Commission. The announcement is here, I first learned about from this post by Doug Berman on Sentencing Law and Policy. In my view, Judge Restrepo is a magnificent choice.

Three other USSC nominations were also announced: Eleventh Circuit Judge William Pryor to be the chair, and EDVA Judge Henry Hudson and Professor William Otis to be commissioners. Otis’s nomination, in particular, has already drawn sharp criticism from liberal commentators on Slate (“just the man to keep those prisons at maximum capacity”) and Splinter (“the last person you’d ever want to help oversee the criminal justice system”).

Good luck Judge Restrepo!

New opinion — Third Circuit decides a complicated medical-device-preemption appeal

Shuker v. Smith & Nephew — civil — reversal in part — Krause

By federal statute, the makers of certain medical devices who comply with stricter federal safety requirements get preemption from any state safety requirements. But some medical devices are made up of multiple components–if some components comply with the stricter federal standards, while others don’t, is a suit challenging the design of the entire device pre-empted?

Today, the Third Circuit described that question as an issue of first impression in the circuit courts. It answered it by holding that pre-emption is assessed component-by-component, not device-by-device, which in turn means that if the alleged defect in the device does not involve a freestanding defect in the non-preempted component — if it challenges only a defect in the preempted component, or (I think) the interaction between preempted and non-preempted components –then the claim is preempted.

Joining Krause were Jordan and Greenaway. Arguing counsel were Robert Astrachan of Zajac & Arias for the plaintiffs below and Sara Gourley of Sidley Austin and Joseph Lang of Florida for the device makers.


New opinion — Third Circuit upholds removal based on unlawful-contact-with-a-minor conviction

Mondragon-Gonzalez v. AG — immigration — affirmance — Vanaskie

The Third Circuit today granted the government’s motion to publish a previously non-precedential opinion denying an immigration petition for review. The court upheld the BIA’s ruling that the petitioner’s Pennsylvania conviction for unlawful contact with a minor qualified as a “crime of child abuse” supporting removal, deferring to the BIA’s statutory interpretation and by doing so arguably splitting with the Tenth Circuit.

Joining Vanaskie were Shwartz and Fuentes. The case was decided without oral argument.

New opinion: Third Circuit rejects effort to compel arbitration by non-existent forum

MacDonald v. Cashcall — civil / arbitration — affirmance — Shwartz

The introduction of today’s Third Circuit opinion rejecting lenders’ effort to compel arbitration of a borrower’s challenge to a 116% interest loan:

John MacDonald, on behalf of himself and a putative
class, sued CashCall, Inc., WS Funding, LLC, Delbert Services
Corp., and J. Paul Reddam (collectively “Defendants”) over a
loan agreement that he contends is usurious and
unconscionable. The agreement includes (1) a provision
requiring that all disputes be resolved through arbitration
conducted by a representative of the Cheyenne River Sioux
Tribe (“CRST”) and (2) a clause that delegates questions about
the arbitration provision’s enforceability to the arbitrator.
Defendants moved to compel arbitration, which the District
Court denied. Because the parties’ agreement directs
arbitration to an illusory forum, and the forum selection clause
is not severable, the entire agreement to arbitrate, including the
delegation clause, is unenforceable, and we will therefore

Joining Shwartz were Hardiman and Vanaskie. (The opinion included a footnote that Judge Vanaskie would have affirmed on additional grounds.) Arguing counsel were Joseph Barloon of Skadden Arps for the lenders and Matthew Wessler of Gupta Wessler (a former Nygaard clerk) for the borrower.


New opinion — Third Circuit finds computer search violated Fourth Amendment but affirms on good-faith grounds

U.S. v. Werdene — criminal — affirmance — Greenaway

The Third Circuit today held that the government violated the Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and the Federal Magistrates Act, and thus the Fourth Amendment, when it used “a form of government-created malware” (!) to search thousands of computers nationwide using a single warrant issued in Virginia. But the court affirmed, holding that the violation was shielded by the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule.

Judge Nygaard concurred to discuss an important procedural point: whether an appellate court may affirm on a ground that the appellee conceded below. He writes, ” This is an interesting question and one that in my nearly three decades on this court I have not encountered.” He ends: ” I point out my thoughts on this matter nonetheless solely to remind practitioners of that old adage, ‘you cannot have it both ways.’ In my opinion, conceding a fact or a legal point in the District Court prevents us from affirming on that basis.”

Joining Greenaway were Nygaard and Fisher. Arguing counsel were Brett Sweitzer of the EDPA federal defender for the defendant and Michelle Morgan for the government.


Wednesday’s en banc arguments

The en banc Third Circuit is hearing two arguments on Wednesday morning. They’re both scheduled for 9 a.m. so I’m not sure which one will be first. Here’s a bit on each one.

I’ve posted about Vooys v. Bentley, the big Virgin Islands jurisdiction case, here. The basic issue is whether the Third Circuit still has certiorari jurisdiction over older Virgin Islands territorial-court cases. I noted in my prior post that the posture of the case suggests the court will reverse its prior panel ruling allowing such jurisdiction, and that suggestion got a little stronger last week when the court directed the parties to limit their argument to the jurisdictional issue, not the merits. The argument on behalf of the petitioners will be presented by two University of Virginia law students, as described here. UPDATE: and here’s a post about Dwyer Arce, the Nebraska associate who’s arguing Wednesday on behalf of the VI Bar Association.

The other case is Rotkiske v. Klemm, a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act appeal. The legal issue is whether the discovery rule tolls the FDCPA’s one-year statute of limitations. The case was orally argued before a panel (Fisher, Hardiman, Greenaway) early in 2017, and then 8 months later the court, sua sponte, granted rehearing en banc. That sounds a lot like a court considering overruling a prior panel opinion, but I haven’t dug into the details enough to know the whole story.

The court also has three panel arguments set for the afternoon. Two of them are habeas appeals, and the third is a challenge to New Jersey’s house-arrest statute being argued by Paul Clement.

Should be an interesting day of arguments. I’m hoping to be there to observe, but I have a Third Circuit reply brief due that day, so we’ll see.


New opinion — Third Circuit vacates insider-trading sentence

US v. Metro — criminal — reversal — Jordan

The Third Circuit today vacated a criminal sentence for insider trading due to insufficient factual findings in support of the district court’s decision to attribute others’ insider-trading gains to the defendant for sentencing purposes. The gist: ” When the scope of a defendant’s involvement in a conspiracy is contested, a district court cannot rely solely on a defendant’s guilty plea to the conspiracy charge, without additional fact-finding, to support attributing co-conspirators’ gains to a defendant.”

Joining Jordan were Hardiman and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Lawrence Lustberg of Gibbons for the defendant and Glenn Moramarco for the government.

New opinion — an interesting debt-collection-suit win

Tatis v. Allied Interestate — consumer / FDCPA — reversal — Hardiman

The Third Circuit today held that sending a settlement letter for a time-barred debt can be actionable under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act even if the letter does not threaten legal action.

It’s a fascinating case for a few reasons:

  • the counsel match-up was David vs. Goliath–a junior consumer lawyer against a past president of the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers–and the junior lawyer won;
  • the panel was composed of the Third Circuit’s three most conservative active judges, but it ruled in favor of the consumer; and
  • the opinion was authored by Judge Hardiman, reportedly a Supreme court short-lister, and it pointedly disagreed with a dissenting opinion by another Supreme Court short-lister, Sixth Circuit Judge Kethledge.

Joining Hardiman were Chagares and Jordan. Arguing counsel were Ari Marcus of Yitzchak & Zelman for the consumer and James Martin of Reed Smith for the debt collector.

New opinion — appellate counsel’s ineffectiveness can’t excuse default

Greene v. Superintendent — habeas — affirmance — Vanaskie

The Third Circuit today held that a recent Supreme Court opinion foreclosed a habeas corpus petitioner’s argument that Martinez v. Ryan should be expanded to allow review of defaulted or untimely claims based on ineffective assistance of direct appeal (vs. trial) counsel.

Joining Vanaskie were Rendell and Fisher. Arguing counsel were Michael Wiseman for the petitioner and Catherine Kiefer for the state.

There’s a Super Bowl parade on Thursday, but Third Circuit oral arguments will go on

I’m told that the Third Circuit reached out to counsel about the possibility of rescheduling this Thursday’s oral arguments due to the just-scheduled parade celebrating the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl victory, but in the end the court decided to proceed with Thursday’s arguments as scheduled.

So, if you find yourself wondering whether that woman at the parade climbing the light pole is Judge Rendell, the answer is almost certainly “no.”


Two new opinions, both authored by district judges

In re: Processed Egg Prods. Antitrust Litig. — antitrust — reversal — Stark D. Del. by designation

The Third Circuit today reversed a district court’s grant of summary judgement in favor of the defendant in an antitrust price-fixing case. The court rejected the district court’s conclusion that the end purchasers of the product (eggs) lacked standing to challenge to supplier’s alleged supply collusion.

The allegations could make a cynic of you:

Egg producers participating in the certification program were required to increase their hens’ cage sizes and refrain from replacing hens that died with another laying hen (a practice known as “backfilling”). It is alleged that the animal welfare rationale offered for these practices is merely a pretext for the true goal of reducing egg supply to drive up egg prices.

The court defined the issue as one of first impression in the circuit:

whether a direct purchaser of a product that includes a pricefixed input has antitrust standing to pursue a claim against the party that sold the product to the purchaser, where the seller is a participant in the price-fixing conspiracy, but where the product also includes some amount of price-fixed input supplied by a third-party non-conspirator.

Joining Stark were Smith and Fuentes. Arguing counsel were Michael Brody of Jenner & Block for the purchasers and Carrie Mahan of Weil Gotshal for the suppliers.


Garza v. Citigroup — civil — affirmance — Conti WDPA

The lucid introduction:

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(d), a district court may order a plaintiff who voluntarily dismisses an action and files a second action against the same defendant based upon a claim asserted in the first action to pay the “costs” incurred by the defendant in the first action. The issue presented (one of first impression in this Court) is whether a district court may award attorneys’ fees as “costs” under Rule 41(d). We conclude that attorneys’ fees may only be awarded as “costs” under Rule 41(d) when the substantive statute under which the lawsuit was filed defines costs to include attorneys’ fees. Because no such statute is involved here, and no other basis upon which attorneys’ fees may be awarded was properly raised with the United States District Court for the District of Delaware, we will affirm the decision of the District Court denying the request for attorneys’ fees.

In so ruling, the court joined a middle-ground position taken by the Fourth and Seventh Circuits, splitting with the Eighth Circuit on one side and the Sixth Circuit on the other.

The court also held that the appellant had waived an argument by failing to raise it below and first raising it in its reply brief. (Notable, given that the appellant was represented by a large firm.)

Joining Conti were Ambro and Krause. Arguing counsel were Bruce Birenboim of Paul Weiss for the appellant and Susan Burke of Maryland for the appellee.

New opinion — insurer’s rejection of proof of loss triggered statute of limitations

Migliaro v. Fidelity National — civil / insurance — affirmance — Rendell

Introductions this clear make my job easy:

The issue in this case is whether the rejection of a policyholder’s proof of loss constituted a “written denial of all or part of the claim,” thereby triggering the one-year statute of limitations that is set forth in every Standard Flood Insurance Policy (“SFIP”). After receiving a payment from Fidelity National Indemnity Insurance Company, based on an adjuster’s assessment of the damage to his property caused by Hurricane Sandy, Anthony Migliaro submitted a sworn proof of loss seeking additional compensation. Fidelity sent Migliaro a letter rejecting his proof of loss, and he filed suit. The District Court found that the letter rejecting Migliaro’s proof of loss was a “written denial of all or part of the claim.” Since Migliaro filed his complaint almost two years after he received the letter, the District Court dismissed the suit as time-barred. We affirm the District Court’s order. Although the rejection of a proof of loss is not per se a denial of the claim in whole or in part, it does constitute a denial of the claim if, as here, the policyholder treats it as such by filing suit against the carrier.

Joining Rendell were Ambro and Krause. Arguing counsel were Steven Feinstein of Zenstein Ballard for the insured and Francis Manning of Stradley Ronon for the insurer.

New opinion — employee fired for objecting to West Chester University’s alleged budgeting shenanigans has no First Amendment claim

Bradley v. West Chester Univ. — civil — affirmance — Brann MDPA by designation

West Chester University’s budgeting director allegedly was asked to change her report to make it show a deficit instead of a surplus so as not to put the university’s state appropriation at risk. She told an administrative committee that making that change would be unethical and possibly illegal. Two years later, she allegedly had another, similar disagreement. Soon after she was told she was not a cultural fit and her contract would not be renewed.  She sued her supervisor, the university, and the 14-university state higher-education system, alleging First Amendment retaliation and other claims. The district court ruled that her claims against the supervisor were barred by qualified immunity and her claims against the university were barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity.

Today, the Third Circuit affirmed. Without reaching qualified immunity, it held that the budget director’s speech was not constitutionally protected in the first place because it was made pursuant to her official duties. This seems like a reasonable application of controlling law, but still it is startling that an employee who ran right to the media would be on far safer ground than one who raised the same concern internally. The court also held that West Chester University and the university system were arms of the state entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity.

Joining Brann were Smith and Hardiman. Arguing counsel were Daniel Kearney of Adams Kearney for the budget director and John Knorr III of the state AG’s office for the university and the university system.

Third Circuit: “If the shutdown is prolonged, the federal courts face serious disruptions.”

The Third Circuit posted an announcement today on its website about the government shutdown. It begins:

Operations for the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit will not be affected, at least initially, by the government shutdown. The Court is open. Oral arguments will be heard as scheduled. All filing deadlines must be met.

Not “[a]ll” deadlines, actually: deadlines for federal government executive agencies in non-emergency civil cases are suspended. Most other deadlines (including all criminal-case deadlines) remain in force.

The announcement also says CJA counsel should continue submitting payment vouchers: “Payment of vouchers will continue, subject to continued available funding. Payment of vouchers may be delayed.”

It ends with the observation quoted in the title of this post, stating that it becomes necessary for the court to curtail services it will post an announcement on its website.



Two new opinions — false claims and immigration

US ex rel. Greenfield v. Medco Health Solutions — civil / false claims — affirmance — Ambro

The Third Circuit today affirmed a district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the alleged false claimant in a qui tam case. The case arose when, first, a health-care provider made donations to charities then, second, two of those charities alleged recommended the provider to patients. The panel rejected the provider’s argument that the relator had to prove that the charities’ recommendation actually caused members to use the provider, but also rejected the relator’s argument that it was enough just to show that the recommendations were made and the provider submitted claims around the same time. The panel held that the relator lost because he failed point to any specific patient who was referred by the charities and for whom the provider later sought government reimbursement.

Joining Ambro were Krause and Conti WDPA by designation. Arguing counsel were Regina Poserina of Begelman Orlow for the relator, Craig Singer of Williams & Connolly for the provider, and Katherine Allen for the government as amicus. (Making this the rare Third Circuit case where a majority of the panel and a majority of the arguing counsel were women.)


Williams v. AG — immigration — affirmance — Smith

The Third Circuit today held that a conviction under Georgia’s forgery statute, which covers using a false name when signing a document, is an aggravated felony supporting removal. The petitioner was a lawful permanent resident who immigrated to the US when he was 13 months old; his parents, grandparents, siblings, and children all are US citizens. The court split with the Ninth Circuit.

Joining Smith were Hardiman and Brann MDPA by designation. Arguing counsel were Christopher Mauro of Dechert for the petitioner and Christina Greer for the government.

A third of recent Third Circuit oral arguments were by women. Hurray?

Three recent studies have looked at whether women are getting their share of oral arguments in appellate courts:

  • On his Empirical SCOTUS blog, Adam Feldman examined Supreme Court arguments between 2012 and 2016 and found that less than 18% of the advocates were women–even though women’s win rates were higher.
  • Lawyer Raffi Melkonian studied Fifth Circuit oral arguments from 2016 and found that 17% were by women.
  • And on his New York Appeals blog, Rob Rosborough looked at 2016 arguments in the NY Court of Appeals and found that 37% were by women.

These studies inspired me to figure out how the Third Circuit measured up. The answer: out of 100 recent Third Circuit oral advocates, 34 were women.

Breaking down the numbers, here’s what I found:

  • In criminal or habeas cases, women were 44% (7 of 16) of the advocates.
  • In civil cases,* women were 32% (27 of 84).
  • There were 4 cases were both advocates were women, versus 18 where both were men. In the other 26, there was at least one of each. One of those 4 cases in which both arguing counsel were women was Hayes v. Harvey, the public-housing appeal in which the court recently granted rehearing en banc.

* Civil includes everything that’s not criminal or habeas. (And, while not the focus of this post, the fact that only 8 out of 48 arguments were crim/habeas cases is startling.)

My quick-and-dirty methodology: working backwards from the end of 2017, I  went through the appeals with published decisions after oral argument until I had 100 advocates. That ended up being published opinions issued between August 29 and December 31; it was 48 cases instead of 50 because in 4 of the cases 3 lawyers argued. Whenever I had any doubt about a lawyer’s gender, I checked online. Note that my numbers exclude oral arguments that resulted in unpublished opinions, which shows I’m lazy but I doubt affects the numbers.

I confess that I was surprised by these results. I suspected our gender imbalance among oral advocates would be just as bad as the Fifth Circuit’s and the Supreme Court’s. Not so. Yay Third Circuit.

Still, a third of our circuit’s oral arguments by women is nothing to crow about.

How to improve? Melkonian encouraged senior lawyers who assign cases, and clients who pick who argues, to give more women a shot. I agree, but I believe the rest of us have a role to play, too.

Bar groups decide who presents on CLE panels; judges decide who to appoint to committees; lawyers decide who to invite to judge their moots; reporters decide who to quote; nerdy bloggers decide whose work to recognize. Those decisions, and dozens like them, all affect career trajectories.

Something’s wrong when it seems like a triumph that men are getting only two-thirds of the oral arguments. It’s going to take a conscious, sustained effort by all of us for women appellate lawyers to get their due.

New opinion — bank robbery by intimidation is a crime of violence

United States v. Wilson — criminal sentencing — affirmance — Jordan

“If it were somehow in doubt before, we take the opportunity now to hold that bank robbery by intimidation is categorically a ‘crime of violence’ under the United States Sentencing Guidelines.” This, the opening sentence of today’s opinion, might be the most Judge-Jordan-ish opening sentence I’ve ever read, and I mean that as praise.

The opinion also held that the federal bank-robbery statute requires knowing conduct and that applying a sentencing enhancement was not plain error because it did not the affect the  sentence.

Joining Jordan were Hardiman and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Christy Martin of the EDPA federal defender for the defendant and Robert Zauzmer for the government.

Third Circuit schedules en banc arguments for February & May

The old news: just before the end of the year, the Third Circuit granted en banc rehearing in two cases, Hayes v. Harvey, an important public-housing appeal, and Vooys v. Bentley, a big deal for Virgin Islands litigants.

The new news: the court has now scheduled the Vooys oral argument for February 21 and the Hayes argument for May 16. In Vooys, the court also ordered supplemental briefing and granted amicus curiae the Virgin Islands Bar Association’s motion for leave to participate in the oral argument.

NextGen CM/ECF arrives at the Third Circuit, and I like it

Yesterday the Third Circuit went live with NextGen CM/ECF, the updated interface for online filing. As luck would have it, I had a brief and appendix due yesterday, so I got to take it for a spin on day one. I confess I was anxious about that, but I’m pleased to report that it worked flawlessly and was dramatically easier to use than the old interface.

I haven’t dug into the subject, but a couple advantages jumped out:

  • I was able to file my 57 MB, 174 page appendix volume without having to break it into smaller files
  • I was able to file my sealed appendix volume electronically
  • I was able to use my usual browser, Firefox, instead of Explorer
  • no more maddening hunting through menus trying to find the right document category, now you just type in the category and it comes up.

Goodbye, interface circa 2001!

I also was pleasantly surprised that the last step for setting up a NextGen account was painless. Everyone should have gotten an email that gave these steps:

1.  Make sure that you are logged out of PACER completely and close your browser.
2.  Open your browser and go to PACER’s Court List, then select Third Circuit – NextGen.
3.  Click the CM/ECF Document Filing System link.  At the login screen, log in with your upgraded PACER account credentials.
4.  Click Link my filer account to my PACER account.
5.  Enter your existing Third Circuit CM/ECF login and password to link your accounts.
6.  Review and confirm linking the accounts.

Hurrah to the Court for bringing NextGen to our circuit, I expect it will make life a little easier for all of us.

New opinion — divided panel upholds Eleventh Amendment dismissal

Karns v. Shanahan — civil — affirmance — Chagares

The Third Circuit today affirmed a district court ruling dismissing on Eleventh Amendment grounds a civil rights suit against NJ Transit. Although in a 1989 en banc ruling, Fitchik, the court held that NJ Transit is not an arm of the state entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity, the court today observed that its analysis of such issues had since “fundamental[ly] shift[ed]” and its prior ruling was no longer binding.

Judge Roth dissented, beginning:

Were we writing on a blank slate, it would be within the prerogative of the Majority to decide this case as it does. But the slate is not blank. The precise question that we examine here, whether NJ Transit is an “arm of the state” entitled to Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity,” we have already fully considered and resolved en banc in Fitchik v. N.J. Transit Rail Operations, Inc.1 Little has changed since we decided this question. Thus, stare decisis, principles of estoppel, and our own Internal Operating Procedures all require that we decline the invitation to overrule Fitchik. For this reason, I respectfully dissent from Part III of the majority opinion.

Joining Chagares was Restrepo. Arguing counsel were John Bloor of Drinker Biddle for the appellants and Jennifer McGruther of the NJ AG’s office for the appellees.

New opinion — Rooker-Feldman doesn’t bar bankruptcy trustee’s fraudulent transfer claims

In re: Philadelphia Entertainment & Development Partners — bankruptcy / civil — reversal — Greenberg

For all of you who’ve been dying for a Third Circuit Rooker-Feldman opinion–you know who you are–today’s your day. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine, today’s opinion explains, “deprives federal district and bankruptcy courts of jurisdiction over suits that are essentially appeals from state-court judgments.” (Cleaned up). Today’s opinion is about how Rooker-Feldman applies when a bankruptcy trustee alleges that a state-court ruling amounted to a voidable fraudulent transfer. The district court had ruled Rooker-Feldman barred review of the fraudulent-transfer claims, but today the Third Circuit reversed because review of the claims did not require review of the state-court judgment. The court rejected as unpersuasive a Seventh Circuit opinion relied on by the bankruptcy court.

By the way, the court posted this opinion on its website in the morning, instead of posting it around 12:34 p.m. as it always has. Fluke? Mistake? New practice? I’m curious.

Joining Greenberg were Chagares and Restrepo. The case was (surprisingly) decided without oral argument.

The appellate advocacy training in DE featuring two Third Circuit judges is next week, and now its free

This Wednesday, January 10, Third Circuit Judges Kent Jordan and Jane Roth will be among the presenters at a CLE program on effective Third Circuit advocacy.

And, to ring in 2018, the organizers are waiving the registration fee.

The program will be held at the federal courthouse in Wilmington, Delaware, on the third floor in the jury selection room. You will need a government-issued ID to enter the courthouse. The program will be from 3 to 5 pm with refreshments after. DE and PA CLE credit approval is pending. More details are in this earlier post. To register, email me at

Please share this post, and I hope to see you on Wednesday.

The Third Circuit is closed today, and today’s deadlines are pushed back to Monday

The Third Circuit posted the following order today on its website:

Due to inclement weather, the Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has directed that the Court will be closed on Friday, January 5, 2018. Documents may be filed using the Court’s CM/ECF system or in the lock box in the lobby of the courthouse. Electronic and paper documents that are due on Friday, January 5, 2018, will be considered timely if filed/received on Monday, January 8, 2018.

For emergency cases or motions, please call 267-299-4903 and leave a detailed message regarding the nature of the emergency. The message must succinctly describe the facts and legal issues and the reason why immediate action is necessary, and must provide return contact information so that the attorney on duty will be able to return the phone call.

I had an opening brief due today, so this is big news indeed.


Two new opinions

Please excuse my cursory summaries today, I’m in the home stretch working on a big Third Circuit brief.

DiFiore v. CSL Behring — civil — affirmance — Fisher

The Third Circuit today affirmed a district court’s grant of summary judgement today in False Claims Act whistleblower case, holding that ” an employee’s protected activity must be the ‘but-for’ cause of adverse actions to support a claim of retaliation under the FCA.”

Joining Fisher were Vanaskie and Rendell. Arguing counsel were James Bell IV of Bell & Bell for the appellant and David Fryman of Ballard Spahr for the appellee.


Crystallex Int’l v. Petroleos de Venezuela — bankruptcy — reversal — Rendell

A divided Third Circuit panel today applied Delaware law to hold that a transfer by a non-debtor cannot be a fraudulent transfer under the Delaware Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act.

Joining Rendell was Vanaskie; Fuentes dissented with a useful diagram. Arguing counsel were Nathan Eimer of Illiniois for the appellant and Robert Weigel of Gibson Dunn for the appellee.

New opinion — Third Circuit reverses summary judgment in FDCPA suit

Panico v. Portfolio Recovery Assocs. — civil — reversal — Restrepo

Applying Delaware statute-of-limitations law, the Third Circuit today reversed a grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants in a putative class-action suit under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The main dispute on appeal involved whether the defendant sought to collect on debts after the statute of limitations on those debts had already run.

Joining Restrepo were Vanaskie and Krause. Arguing counsel were Philip Stern of Stern Thomasson for the plaintiff and David Anthony of Troutman Sanders for the debt collector.

Another en banc grant today — this one is a big Virgin Islands case

I posted earlier today about the Third Circuit’s order granting rehearing en banc in Hayes v. Harvey. A thoughtful reader has alerted me that the court granted en banc rehearing today in a second case, too.

The case is Vooys v. Bentley, No. 16-3912. The order granting rehearing was issued sua sponte, and it indicates that a majority “determined that the case is controlled by a prior decision of the court which should be reconsidered.”

The “prior decision” appears to be United Industrial ex rel. Bason v. Gov’t Virgin Islands, a 2014 published opinion I discussed and linked to here. Bason held that, although Congress stripped the Third Circuit of its certiorari jurisdiction over Virgin Islands cases in 2012, the court retained cert jurisdiction over cases that were filed in VI courts before 2012.

Both the respondents and an amicus argued that Bason was wrongly decided and conflicted with prior Supreme Court caselaw. (The amicus, the VI Bar Ass’n, argued that Bason misapplied Sinochem to decide an issue without first confirming subject-matter jurisdiction, broadly the same argument I unsuccessfully made last year for rehearing in Hoffman v. Nordic Naturals.)

While nothing is certain, the posture of this order (sua sponte and prior to panel ruling) strongly suggests that overruling of Bason is likely. En banc grants in similar postures resulted in overrulings in Joyce, Rojas, Al-Sharif, and Quinn in recent years.

Third Circuit grants en banc rehearing in Hayes housing appeal

Today the Third Circuit granted en banc rehearing in Hayes v. Harvey, an important public-housing appeal. [Update: the order granting is now on the circuit website.] A divided panel had ruled in October that public housing residents had no right to remain in their homes despite statutory language that they “may elect to remain.” Judge Fisher authored the panel-majority opinion and was joined by Judge Hardiman; Judge Greenaway dissented. [Full disclosure: I provided some minor rehearing-stage consulting assistance to counsel for the appellants.]

My summary of the (now-vacated) panel opinion is here. I’m feeling clever because I began my post by saying I thought there was a realistic shot at en banc rehearing.

A couple nerdy points:

  • I’m unsure whether the court will schedule en banc argument for February or May. It may depend on whether the court believes supplemental briefing is needed. In Lewis, the court granted en banc rehearing on 11/25 and heard argument on 2/19, but this would be a month tighter, so we’ll see.
  • The order granting rehearing lists 13 judges (all 12 active judges including Judge Bibas, plus Fisher because he was on the panel), suggesting no recusals. No dissents were noted.
  • The rehearing petition was supported by two strong amicus briefs, including one for the city of Philadelphia. I’ve long believed that rehearing petitions are an under-utilized opportunity for effective participation by amici.

Judge Barry owns a mansion next to Mar-a-Lago, and it’s reportedly listed for sale for more than double what she paid for it 13 years ago

In Third Circuit-related real estate news, Claudine Zap reported today on that inactive Third Circuit Judge Maryanne Trump Barry has listed her beachfront mansion in Palm Beach, Florida, for sale for $23.9 million.

The article reports that she purchased it for $11.5 million in 2004, and that it is “just steps away” from her presidential brother’s Mar-a-Lago country club.

“If she gets anywhere near her asking price,” says the article, “the profit will be, well, huge.”

New opinion — Eleventh Amendment bars GSK’s challenge to state’s Flonase suit

In re: Flonase Antitrust Litig. — civil — affirmance — Greenaway

The Third Circuit today upheld a district court’s rejection of a pharmaceutical company’s effort to enforce a settlement and enjoin Louisiana from suing it in state court. The state argued that GSK’s effort violated the Eleventh Amendment.

The opinion answered two main questions:

First, does a motion for approval of a class action settlement qualify as a suit against a state for Eleventh Amendment purposes if the requested settlement agreement enjoins a state from suing in a state court? Second, if the Eleventh Amendment does cover this motion for settlement approval, may GSK avoid the Eleventh Amendment’s prohibition by showing that Louisiana waived its sovereign immunity? We find that the Eleventh Amendment covers this motion and that GSK may not avoid its bar.

Greenaway was joined by Chagares and Vanaskie. Arguing counsel were Lisa Blatt of Arnold & Porter for GSK (with supporting amici from several high-powered pro-business usual suspects) and John Alden Meade of Louisiana for the state.

Trump’s latest nominees include two former Third Circuit clerks

The White House yesterday announced a new batch of nominees for federal judgeships and US Attorney slots. There was only one circuit nominee, and it was for the Tenth Circuit, not for either of the two current openings on the Third Circuit.

There were, however, five nominees for district court seats within the Third Circuit, and one of them is a former Third Circuit clerk: Colm Connolly, nominated for D.Del., who clerked for Judge Stapleton. The other four nominees for district judgeships within the Third Circuit:

It’s tremendous to see that three of these five nominees are women. Two of the nominees — Baxter and Horan — were previously nominated by President Obama; both were reported out of the Judiciary Committee on voice votes but never got full-Senate votes.

Also in this batch nominees was William McSwain for US Attorney for E.D. Pa. McSwain is a former clerk for Judge Rendell.

Senators Toomey and Casey issued statements applauding the Pa. nominations, as reported by here. Says the article:

Since Senator Toomey joined the Senate in 2011, Senators Toomey and Casey have worked together, in a bipartisan fashion, to fill vacancies on the federal bench in Pennsylvania. Together, they have vetted, recommended, and confirmed 14 Federal District Court Judges and two Circuit Court Judges for Pennsylvania. Only two states – California and New York – have had more judges confirmed to their federal benches during this time.

It’s official: Stephanos Bibas is a Third Circuit judge

Judge Stephanos Bibas has begun his service on the Third Circuit. He is now listed as a judge on the circuit’s website, here.

Judge Bibas was confirmed by the Senate back on November 2, and according to his official court-website biography he received his commission on November 20, but he did not formally join the court and begin his duties until he took the oath. I believe that happened today, but I have not found official confirmation of that.

Judge Bibas becomes the court’s 12th active judge, with two judgeships open.

Welcome to the Third Circuit, Judge Bibas!

The strange case of the disappearing oral argument videos

An eagle-eyed reader pointed out to me today that there are only 10 oral argument videos posted today on the Third Circuit’s webpage. (Including some interesting ones, like Finkelman v. NFL, which I discussed here., and US v. Hird, which features a who’s who of top circuit criminal-appeals lawyers.)

The odd thing about that is that a number of argument videos that previously were posted by the court are no longer there. For example, back in May I posted here about three videos the court had posted, but only one of them is still there.

If anyone knows the solution to this mystery, get in touch. I’ll update this post if I learn more.


New opinion — second time is the charm for ticket buyer suing the NFL

Finkelman v. NFL — civil — reversal — Fuentes

The introduction of today’s opinion:

Plaintiff Josh Finkelman had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to buy tickets to Super Bowl XLVIII held in his home state of New Jersey in February 2014. However, the National Football League (“NFL”) withheld almost all of these tickets—99%—from the general public for league insiders, offering the remaining 1% to lucky winners of a lottery that all could enter. To get his tickets, Finkelman turned to the secondary market, purchasing two tickets with a face value of $800 each for $2000 each. One month before the Super Bowl, he filed suit, alleging that the NFL’s ticket distribution violated New Jersey law. Specifically, Finkelman claims that the NFL’s withholding of more than 5% of the available tickets for the Super Bowl violated the New Jersey Ticket Law. He has now had two opportunities before our Court to show that he has Article III standing to pursue this claim. In our first decision on this subject, we found that he did not. He has since added claims about how the NFL’s secondary ticket market functioned and how the NFL’s actions raised ticket prices on the secondary market. The District Court found that these additional allegations remained insufficient to allege Finkelman’s standing. We disagree. Based on the plausible economic facts pleaded in Finkelman’s amended complaint, we conclude that Finkelman has standing and we therefore have subject matter jurisdiction over this case. We defer action on the merits of this appeal pending decision by the Supreme Court of New Jersey on the pending petition for certification of questions of state law.

My post on the prior appeal is here.

Joining Fuentes were Smith and Stark D.Del. by designation. Arguing counsel were Bruce Nagel of Nagel Rice for the ticketbuyer and Jonathan Pressment of Haynes & Boone for the league.

Third Circuit moving to NextGen ECF next month

The Third Circuit emailed out the following announcement this week (emphasis mine):

Effective January 16, 2018, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals will implement the Next Generation (NextGen) of Case Management Electronic Case Filing (CM/ECF) system.  Three major benefits of the new software are: 1) removal of the Java-plugin, 2) a single user name and password for PACER and electronic filing in all NextGen courts, and 3) an enhanced user interface.

ACTION REQUIRED:  All CM/ECF users who wish to e-file on or after January 16, 2018 must complete a prerequisite which is to upgrade your individual PACER accounts.  Click the link to view a short video on how to upgrade your account or read the same instructions in this PDF .

An additional requirement cannot be done until we are live on NextGen CM/ECF, which will be January 16, 2018.  More information will follow closer to that date.

Click the link below to view a short video regarding NextGen CM/ECF.

I honestly don’t know much about NextGen ECF yet, but I assume this is welcome news.

New opinion — firing employee for refusing to be vaccinated wasn’t religious discrimination

Fallon v. Mercy Catholic Med. Ctr. — civil — affirmance — Roth

An employee of a Catholic hospital refused to get a flu shot on grounds that he claimed were religious. When the hospital fired him, he sued, alleging religious discrimination. The district court dismissed his suit, and today the Third Circuit affirmed. The opinion includes a fascinating discussion of how “belief in God or diving beings was not necessary” for a belief to be considered religious: “nontheistic beliefs could also be religious within the meaning of the statute as long as they occupy in the life of that individual a place parallel to that filled by God in traditionally religious persons.” (Cleaned up). The opinion rejected the employee’s argument that his anti-vaccination views were religious.

Joining Roth were Smith and Jordan. Arguing counsel were Alan Schorr of Cherry Hill NJ for the employee and former Greenberg clerk Andrea Kirshenbaum of Post & Schell for the hospital.

Two new opinions

US v. Graves — criminal — affirmance — Roth

The Third Circuit today affirmed a criminal conviction and sentence, rejecting the defendant’s arguments that his motion to suppress should have been granted and that he should not have been sentenced as a career offender. The court deepened a circuit split over a subsidiary legal question, the level of force required to sustain a generic federal robbery conviction. It also held that the most important factor in determining the elements of a generic offense was the approach of the majority of states, not the Model Penal Code.

Joining Roth were Hardiman and Fisher. Arguing counsel were Ronald Krauss of the MDPA federal defenders for the defendant and Stephen Cerutti II for the government.


Constitution Party of Pa. v. Cortes — elections  — reversal — Roth

Last year, the Third Circuit affirmed a ruling striking down certain laws that made it difficult for third parties to get on the ballot. On remand, the district court set new signature-gathering standards for third-party candidates, but it made no factual findings and gave no explanation for the standards it chose. Today, the Third Circuit held that this lack of fact finding requires reversal.

Joining Roth were Smith and Jordan. Arguing counsel were Oliver Hall of the Center for Competitive Democracy for the parties and Claudia Tesoro of the Pa. A.G.’s office for the appellee.

New opinion — an IDEA administrative-exhaustion appeal

Wellman v. Butler Area School Dist. — civil / disability — reversal — Shwartz

The Third Circuit today held that a plaintiff’s suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and section 1983 was subject to the administrative-exhaustion requirement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Since the plaintiff earlier had released all claims that could have been brought at an administrative hearing, the Third Circuit held that this suit must be dismissed with prejudice, vacating the district court’s dismissal-without-prejudice order.

Joining Shwartz were Smith and Jordan. Arguing counsel were Edward Olds of Olds Russ for the student and Thomas Breth of Dillon McCandless for the district.

Third Circuit Judges Jordan and Roth will present at appellate-advocacy CLE in Delaware on January 10

No one is born knowing how to tell compelling stories in their statements of the case. No one’s first oral argument is an elegant symphony of understated persuasion. Even the best Third Circuit advocates, lawyers like Peter Goldberger and Nancy Winkelman and Donna Doblick, work very hard to continue learning and improving. Appellate advocacy isn’t a talent, it’s a skill.

Here’s a chance to improve your appellate skills. Next month, there will be a two-hour CLE program in Delaware, entitled Effective Third Circuit Advocacy. The presenters:

  • The Honorable Kent A. Jordan, Circuit Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
  • The Honorable Jane R. Roth, Circuit Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
  • The Honorable Christopher J. Burke, Magistrate Judge, District of Delaware
  • Tieffa Harper, Assistant Federal Public Defender, District of Delaware
  • Ilana Eisenstein, DLA Piper partner and former Assistant to the Solicitor General

The program will take place on Wednesday, January 10 from 3 to 5 p.m. with refreshments afterwards. It will be held at the Federal Courthouse in Wilmington at 844 N. King Street.

The event is co-sponsored by the Third Circuit Bar Association (3CBA) and the Delaware Chapter of the Federal Bar Association. The fee to attend is $20 for current members of either sponsor or $40 for non-members.  (You can join or renew at the event, or online here or here.)

To register in advance, email me at (I’m a 3CBA board member and one of the event’s organizers, along with Nilam Sanghvi and Kelly Farnan.) In your email, include your name, business address, and state(s) of admission.

(If you’re interested but unable to attend this one, panic not! 3CBA plans to put on a series of these programs in 2018 and beyond, featuring different Third Circuit judges, in locations around the circuit.)

This should be a terrific event. I’m going, and I hope you can, too.

The Kozinski sexual-misconduct allegations and the Third Circuit

On Friday Matt Zapotosky of the Washington Post reported that six former clerks and staffers have accused Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski of sexual misconduct. One of the accusers, former Kozinski clerk Heidi Bond, has posted a fuller account here, and it’s devastating.

Kozinski responded to the accusations both in the original Washington Post story and in this follow-up in the Los Angeles Times by Maura Dolan. Kozinski’s public response to date has been disturbing. First:

After Bond left the legal profession, [Kozinski] said, she sent him an email asking if he wanted an audio version of one of her novels. Kozinski described it as a romance novel with one chapter containing “very torrid sex.”


“I have been a judge for 35 years and during that time have had over 500 employees in my chambers. . . . [I]t is regrettable that a handful have been offended by something I may have said or done.”


“If this is all they are able to dredge up after 35 years, I am not too worried.”

This looks to me like a calculated strategy of attacking the accusers, and I hope judges condemn it.

Anyhow, this is a Third Circuit blog, and obviously Kozinski is not a Third Circuit judge, but this story has a surprising number of Third Circuit connections.

First, Third Circuit Judge Krause clerked for Judge Kozinski in 1993-94. Per How Appealing, she is one of four circuit judges who clerked for him. [UPDATE: to be clear, Judge Krause has not made any public comment regarding the accusations against Judge Kozinski.]

Second, it was the Third Circuit Judicial Council that adjudicated the misconduct allegation against Kozinski in 2009 for storing pornographic images on a publicly available website. (A link to the opinion is here.) The matter was transferred by Chief Justice Roberts to the Third Circuit–Professor Arthur Hellman believed that was done because of Roberts’s absolute confidence in then-Chief Judge Scirica. The investigation committee included Judges Scirica, Rendell, and Stapleton. The Council that ruled included Judges Scirica, Sloviter, McKee, Rendell, Barry, and Ambro. (I tweeted some thoughts about that proceeding here and here.)

Third, Judge Scirica also was involved in the current matter, as Heidi Bond recounts:

On the advice of two friends, I spoke to several people in the federal judiciary—first, Jeffrey Minear, Counselor to Chief Justice Roberts, then, at his referral, to Judge Scirica of the Third Circuit, in his capacity as the chair of the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability.

I wanted to know if I could tell some of those details to my husband, a therapist, or some close friends.

I want to be clear that Judge Scirica was warm, understanding, and kind. He also insisted that I not tell him any facts of the situation. I believe the reason he gave was that since the question was whether judicial confidentiality applied, there was no way to give specifics without potentially breaching confidentiality.

Initially, he told me that if what had happened was a matter of personal misconduct on the part of the judge, that I was not bound by the code of chambers confidentiality, and that whatever I needed to do for my own closure and healing was fine, so long as it wasn’t about a judicial matter.

That’s where I paused. “What,” I said, “if it’s not about a matter that my judge decided, but if there’s a nexus of facts that are relevant to another judicial matter? What if there’s a nexus of facts between what I want to talk about and the matter that arose from US v. Isaacs?”

Here I must digress. The porn the judge showed me was stored on his personal server, a computer in his house that he left entirely unsecured. A year after I left, a disgruntled litigant discovered the existence of this server, and, in light of the images on it, Kozinski asked that an official ethics investigation be made into his conduct.

A pause. “I know something about that matter,” Judge Scirica finally said. I knew he did. He’d written the opinion that ultimately exonerated Kozinski in that investigation. I had done my best to pay as little attention to the matter as possible.

“What then?” I asked.

It took him a while to think this through. Because of that investigation, the only way that he could tell me if the matter was covered by judicial confidentiality was if I told him the facts of the matter, but there was a possibility that the matter was covered by confidentiality, in which case I could not tell him.

I wrote down his next sentence, and so this is a direct quotation: “I cannot think of any person, persons, or institution that can give you an answer on this,” he said.

It’s an important story and I suspect it’s just getting started.

Want to be a Third Circuit bar association board member?

There are two openings on the Board of Governors for the Bar Association of the Third Federal Circuit. If you’re interested in joining the board, express your interest now.

I’m a 3CBA board member, and I enthusiastically encourage anyone passionate about Third Circuit practice to consider it. It’s a privilege and a real pleasure getting to work with the remarkable folks on the 3CBA board. 3CBA does lots of good work — putting out a circuit practice guide and a newsletter, putting on circuit-conference programming, organizing CLEs with Third Circuit judges and appellate experts, and more — and you can help us do it better.

While anyone is encouraged to express interest now, we anticipate filling the two current openings with one candidate each from Delaware and New Jersey.

To express your interest, send an email to 3CBA’s president, Chip Becker, at Chip.Becker at

And if you’ve read this far and you’re not a 3CBA member yet, well, egads. The link to join is here. And do it fast, dues are going up in 2018 but are still just $40 until then.

New opinion — Third Circuit reverses qualified-immunity error despite appellant’s forfeiture

Barna v. Board of School Directors — civil rights — partial reversal — Chagares

After a man was “threatening and disruptive” at several school board meetings, the school board banned him from attending any of its future meetings. The man sued the board and various individuals, alleging the denial of his First Amendment rights. The district court, adopting a magistrate judge’s recommendation, granted summary judgment to all defendants based on qualified immunity. Today, the Third Circuit reversed in part, upholding summary judgment for the individuals but reversing and remanding as to the school board, which under a 1980 Supreme Court ruling does not enjoy qualified immunity. The court did not decide whether the ban was in fact unconstitutional.

There was an interesting procedural wrinkle here: the appellant apparently inadvertently failed to argue that school boards are not entitled to qualified immunity. The Third Circuit held that the the issue was forfeited, not waived, and that “truly exceptional circumstances” existed to excuse the forfeiture given the district court’s clear legal error and the absence of surprise.

Joining Chagares were Greenaway and Restrepo. Arguing counsel were Jonathan Phillips of Orwigsburg, PA for the appellant and Thomas Specht of Marshall Dennehey for the school board. Also listed as counsel for the appellant was Gary Marchalk, who died tragically earlier this year.


Lawfare takes a closer look at Third Circuit’s Uddin ruling

Here’s an interesting post on the Lawfare blog by law student Jesse Lempel, titled, “Tier III Terrorist Designations: The Trump Administration and Courts Move in Opposite Directions.” The gist is that the Trump administration is making it easier for low-level officials to deny visas and deportation relief to people based on their membership in home-country political groups, while courts pushed in the opposite direction.

The main court ruling discussed is the Third Circuit’s September ruling in Uddin. Lempel also discusses a 2006 concurrence by Judge Barry that he describes as “extraordinary” and, with obvious irony, “[t]he most trenchant judicial protest of the wide reach of the INA’s ‘terrorist activity’ exclusion.”

Supreme Court solicits SG’s views on Fosamax case

The Supreme Court yesterday invited the Solicitor General to file a brief in Merck Sharp & Dohme v. Albrecht, No. 17-290. Merck’s petition for certiorari is pending. Justice Alito is recused.

When it was in the Third Circuit, this case was captioned In re: Fosamax. The Third Circuit opinion is here, my post on the opinion is here. Regular readers will recognize this as the case at the center of my ‘Blogging partner rampages …’ post.

New opinions — an en banc maritime appeal and a messy escheat appeal

Joyce v. Maersk Line — maritime — affirmance — Jordan

The en banc Third Circuit today unanimously overruled a circuit-outlier 1990 maritime case and held that “a union contract freely entered by a seafarer — a contract that includes rates of maintenance, cure, and unearned wages — will not be reviewed piecemeal by courts unless there is evidence of unfairness in the collective bargaining process.”

The court granted en banc rehearing sua sponte, after panel briefing but before panel oral argument. Shortly before the scheduled oral argument, the panel appointed Tulane Law professor Martin Davies as amicus curiae to discuss the case it later overruled. Today’s opinion thanked Davies for his “insightful” brief.

As noted the opinion was unanimous. Arguing counsel were Dennis O’Bryan of Michigan for the seaman and John Walsh of New York for the employer.


Marathon Petroleum v. Secretary of Finance — civil — partial affirmance — Jordan

This case arises from unspent money on gas-station gift cards; Delaware wanted to audit the gas-station companies to seize the unspent money as abandoned property. The gas-station companies sued, asserting that the state escheat law is preempted by federal common law. Today, the Third Circuit held that (1) private parties had standing to assert preemption by federal escheatment law, but (2) the companies’ claim was mostly unripe although dismissal should have been without prejudice. The court rejected on the merits the part of the claim that was ripe.

Joining Jordan were Chagares and Krause. Arguing counsel were Diane Green-Kelly of Reed Smith for the gas-station companies and Steven Rosenthal of Loeb & Loeb for the state.

Everyone knows panel assignments are random, and everyone is wrong

Duke law professor Marin Levy has posted a new Cornell Law Review article on SSRN entitled “Panel Assignment in the Federal Courts of Appeals.” I first saw it on How Appealing, where Howard Bashman describes it as interesting and important, and I heartily agree. Levy has written many valuable law review articles (a phrase I sometimes think of as oxymoronic) on how federal courts function, and this is another gem.

While I encourage you to read the article in full, I’ve collected here for busy Third Circuit junkies all the CA3-specific parts. Note these are based on interviews with 3 judges and a senior member of the clerk’s office in 2012 and 2013, so as Levy notes they may not reflect current practices. Note also that she used male pronouns for everyone to preserve anonymity.

Here are the Third Circuit references:

  • “There, information was collected from judges about dates that should be blocked out—for a conference or vacation—and that information was inputted into a computer program that ultimately created a calendar to be approved by the chief judge.”
  • “A senior member of the clerk’s office in another circuit said that information was collected regarding when senior judges wanted to sit, and then that information was factored into the creation of panels.”
  • “A judge of another circuit said that in his court, no two judges were permitted to sit together more than twice in the same sitting period so that all the judges got to know one another.”
  • “In another circuit I was informed that this practice had been in use in the past, depending upon the chief judge. Specifically, I was told that some chief judges would accommodate a judge who said he would not sit with another judge, whereas other chief judges would not.”
  • ” From time to time, some circuits hold special sessions of court—either at a district court in a city outside of the designated locations for oral argument or at a law school within the circuit. Of the five circuits surveyed here, all but the D.C. Circuit reported having held special sittings in the recent past. . . . a senior member of a clerk’s office in one circuit stated that judges were not picked specially for these panels . . . .”
  • “One Third Circuit judge referred to the computer program that the court employed to help set panels but noted that he did not know precisely how the program worked.”

Am I a bad person because now the only thing I want to know is what judges refused to sit together?

Two new opinions, including a big qualified-immunity reversal

Kedra v. Schroeter — civil rights — reversal — Krause

A Pennsylvania state trooper died during a routine firearms training when the instructor allegedly failed to check whether a gun was empty before pointing it at the trooper’s chest and pulling the trigger. The slain trooper’s wife sued the instructor under 42 USC § 1983, alleging a due process state-created-danger claim. The district court ruled that the instructor was entitled to qualified immunity because he did not know that the gun was loaded. Today, the Third Circuit reversed, holding that the obviousness of a risk is relevant to prove that the state actor was aware of that risk and that here the wife sufficiently alleged the instructor’s awareness.

Judge Fisher concurred, although in my view it would have been more accurate to say he concurred in part and concurred in the judgment. He argued, among other points, that the majority’s reliance on the obviousness of the risk and the officer’s training was mistaken. He wrote:

I am concerned by the impact that the breadth of the majority’s decision could have on the law of qualified immunity. I am equally troubled by the recent trajectory of this Court’s jurisprudence.

Fisher closed by noting, “Perhaps the full Court will revisit the qualified immunity framework to reexamine whether it is consistent with the history of the Due Process Clause.” (Judge Fisher assumed senior status on February 1, and senior judges do not vote on whether to grant en banc rehearing.)

Joining Krause was Melloy CA8 by designation; Fisher concurred. Arguing counsel were Michael Quirk of Williams Cuker for the wife and Claudia Tesoro of the state AG’s office for the instructor.


US v. Ferguson — criminal — affirmance — Hardiman

The Third Circuit held that the district court did not commit plain error when it mentioned a defendant’s bare arrests at sentencing, distinguishing Mateo-Medina.

Joining Hardiman were Jordan and Scirica. The case was decided without oral argument.

Holiday gifts ideas for the appeals nerd

It’s Cyber Monday, but you’ve been too busy writing briefs and checking #AppellateTwitter to make a holiday wish list. Are you doomed?  Probably. Get that big, grateful smile ready for when you unwrap your third law dictionary and that handsome gavel from Aunt Peg.

Here’s some help. Twelve gift ideas for appeals nerd. I’m a Third Circuit fanboy, so naturally my list is CA3-centric.

For your library

  • Draft No. 4, by John McPhee. The brand-new guide to nonfiction writing by the acclaimed New Yorker writer. If Santa doesn’t bring this for me, heads will roll.
  • Scalia Speaks, edited by Christopher Scalia & Ed Whelan. I’m no fan of Scalia the Justice, but even I realize how much there is to learn from Scalia the Writer. Holiday jiggery pokery!
  • Rebooting Justice, by Benjamin Barton & Stephanos Bibas. The latest book co-authored by the Third Circuit’s newest judge, described by the New York Times as “enlightening and well-written.”
  • Winning on Appeal (3d ed.), by Tessa Dysart & Leslie Southwick. The new edition of the classic guide to appellate advocacy originally authored by Third Circuit Judge Aldisert. A highlight is a chapter on how 12 appellate lawyers prepare for oral argument, starting with Howard Bashman and ending with Seth Waxman.

For your office

  • A professional font. Is there is an appellate-nerdier gift in the whole world than a new font? There is not. I recommend Matthew Butterick’s Equity. Other options here.
  • A nice mouse. You spend half your day scrolling through web pages and PDFs, get a mouse that scrolls like a dream.
  • Membership in the Third Circuit Bar Association. Yes you must, and $40 is criminally under-priced.

For your life

  • I’m biased! but I think my sister Tanya Stiegler makes some pretty amazing jewelry. Strangers stop my wife to compliment her Tendril earrings.

And one more

  • A donation to the Pennsylvania Innocence Project. Support the work of terrific lawyers working for a terrific cause.



New opinion — Third Circuit grants resentencing in Guidelines-interpretation appeal

US v. Ley — criminal sentencing — reversal — Fisher

The Third Circuit today ruled in a criminal defendant’s favor in his appeal challenging the district court’s interpretation of a sentencing-guidelines provision. The introduction of the opinion succinctly explains the issue:

This case concerns the criminal history provisions of the Sentencing Guidelines. A defendant’s criminal history is calculated by assigning points for prior sentences. The Guidelines instruct that prior sentences “always are counted separately if the sentences were imposed for offenses that were separated by an intervening arrest.” United States Sentencing Commission, Guidelines Manual § 4A1.2(a)(2) (USSG). The question presented here is whether a traffic stop, followed by the issuance of a summons, constitutes an intervening arrest in the context of the criminal history Guidelines.

The court held that issuance of a summons does not count as an “arrest” for this purpose, joining three other circuits and splitting with the Seventh. The court also rejected the government’s argument that defendant waived the issue by failing to object to a supplemental PSR addendum.

Joining Fisher were Hardiman and Roth. Arguing counsel were Samantha Stern of the WDPA federal defenders for the defendant and Laura Irwin for the government.


Two lessons from the amended opinion in Mathias

Yesterday the court issued an amended opinion in Mathias v. Superintendent and an order explaining what changed. The changes themselves, which the court described as “minor,” are of interest mainly to habeas nerds like me (the court removed language that applied double deference to habeas review of IAC prejudice). But two practice points are worth noting.

First, the court explained in footnote 4 of the amended opinion that the language it was removing from its original opinion involved a disputed legal point “not specifically briefed by the parties in this case.” This happens, and alert counsel can use this case when it does.

Second, the court explained that the changes were made to address points raised by Mathias in his rehearing petition. Counsel for Mathias, Maria Pulzetti of the Federal Community Defender in Philadelphia (and a former colleague of mine), is a first-rate appellate lawyer, and it made a difference here. Many lawyers arguing for rehearing would just assert that the panel got it wrong, cite the relevant Supreme Court case, and call it a day. Many more would look no further once they found prior Third Circuit rulings that arguably conflicted. But Pulzetti evidently kept digging, because she figured out that the circuits were split on this issue. The court referred to this circuit split and cited the case Mathias cited in the amended opinion. Although rehearing was denied, Pulzetti’s diligence improved the opinion and benefited the Court.

Republicans just eliminated blue slips for circuit nominees, and the Third Circuit is where that matters most

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley announced last week that he’ll no longer honor blue slips for circuit nominees. This is a very big deal, especially here in the Third Circuit.

By withholding a blue slip, an individual senator from a judicial nominee’s home state was able to block the nomination. (Per longstanding practice, circuit seats are designated to specific states; more populous states get more seats.) That’s how PA’s Republican Senator Pat Toomey blocked Obama’s nomination of Rebecca Haywood for the Third Circuit seat that Trump just filled with Stephanos Bibas. It’s also how Toomey held up the nomination of Judge Restrepo for over a year.

But blue slips gave senators not just the power to delay or block, but also to influence. Indeed, that’s where their real power was. Only a relative few circuit nominations ended up being blocked outright, but many more were filled with compromise centrists instead of party-base dream picks.

I believe the GOP’s strategy behind eliminating blue slips for circuit nominees isn’t that they’re afraid senators were going to block a few nominees like Stras or Bounds or Duncan. It’s that they don’t want to have to compromise with Democrats and moderate Republicans about any of them. They want every Trump circuit judge to be a conservative home run: young, ideologically committed, and, in Carrie Severino’s words, “well-known in the conservative legal movement.”

As Breitbart explained, “Grassley’s decision clears the path for the president to rack up an impressive number of successful judicial appointments,” and “All of President Trump’s judicial nominees should now make it through” the Judiciary Committee. They don’t care about preserving norms, they care about maximizing advantage. Eliminating blue slips frees them to try.

Let’s look at some numbers to get a clearer sense of the impact.

Today there are 18 circuit court vacancies. Eighteen circuit seats is a lot, more than Obama filled in the final three years of his presidency. Most of those seats — 11 of 18 — are openings that, until last week, Democrats were able to use their blue-slip power to block, slow down, or influence.* No more. When push comes to shove, I expect Democrats to have just as much say in who gets picked for the two pending Second Circuit vacancies from New York, for example, as they had for the two Fifth Circuit openings from Texas: zero.

Dear reader, that’s a big deal.

And it’s a bigger deal in the Third Circuit than anywhere else. Here are the 18 current vacancies (seven of which already have a nominee), listed by circuit:

  • CA2 — 2
  • CA3 — 2
  • CA5 — 4
  • CA7 — 3
  • CA8 — 2
  • CA9 — 4
  • DC  — 1

Now here’s the same list, but this time I’ve added in parentheses how many of those vacancies Democrats had blue-slip power over before last week:

  • CA2 — 2 (2)
  • CA3 — 2 (2)
  • CA5 — 4 (0)
  • CA7 — 3 (3)
  • CA8 — 2 (1)
  • CA9 — 4 (3)
  • DC  — 1 (0)

Finally, for each of those circuits, here is the court’s current ideological make-up by the (imperfect!) shorthand measure of how many judges were appointed by presidents of each party:

  • CA2 — 7 D, 4 R    (+3 D)
  • CA3 — 7 D, 5 R    (+2 D)
  • CA5 — 5 D, 8 R    (+3 R)
  • CA7 — 2 D, 6 R    (+4 R)
  • CA8 — 1 D, 8 R    (+7 R)
  • CA9 — 18 D, 7 R  (+ 11 D)
  • DC  — 7 D, 3 R     (+4 D)

Compare those last two lists, and you see that the Third Circuit is where eliminating blue slips matters most:

  • The Third Circuit is the only circuit in the country where there already are enough vacancies for Trump to change the court’s overall balance of power; and
  • Both of the Third Circuit’s vacancies — one PA, one NJ — were seats that, until last week, Democrats had blue-slip power over.

When PA’s Democratic Senator Bob Casey returned his blue slip for Bibas, he reportedly warned that he would block conservative activist David Porter if Trump nominated him. With blue slips gone, will Porter’s nomination happen now?

For the New Jersey opening, the Trump administration was reportedly negotiating with the state’s two Democratic senators, Cory Booker and Mistrial Bob Menendez, to nominate Chris Christie ally Paul Matey. Will Matey’s nomination happen now? Or was he a compromise, one the GOP no longer cares to make?

Exchanging Judges Rendell, Fuentes, and Fisher for Bibas plus two committed conservatives is intended to have an impact, and I have no doubt that it would.

Eliminating blue slips will matter in the Second Circuit too, but not quite as much yet. It will also matter in the Seventh and Ninth Circuits, but not nearly enough to change the overall balance of either court.

These are chaotic times, so it’s hard to be sure how all this will play out. Grassley could change his mind again. The Trump presidency could implode. Republicans could lose the Senate before they manage to fill these seats. Senate Democrats could exercise leverage over judicial nominations in other ways. Trump could stop doing Leonard Leo’s bidding. Moderate Republican senators could stop doing Trump’s bidding. Republicans could moot the whole shebang by enacting Federalist Society co-founder Steven Calibresi‘s poisonous new court-packing scheme. Or, nuclear holocaust. No one knows.

But this much is clear: last week, the first phase of Trump’s transformation of the circuit courts ended. It went better than conservatives could have dared to hope, but this was only the first 11 months. Conservatives hope it’s just the beginning.


* I calculated myself all the blue-slip and appointing-president stats in this post. The circuit vacancies are here, the judges’ chambers are on the circuit websites or Wikipedia, the judge’s appointing presidents are here or on Wikipedia, and the party of each state’s senators is here. (Fellow nerds: Yes, I realize it’s theoretically possible for a judge to have her/his chambers in a state different from that seat’s home state, yet still be within the circuit so that the switch is not obvious. I know that’s not the case for several of the 20 seats discussed here, and I’ve assumed it’s not for the rest, either.)

A Third Circuit panel *really* didn’t like the district court opinion it was reviewing

A Third Circuit panel yesterday issued a non-precedential opinion in Betz v. Satteson, and, although they affirmed, they expressed their displeasure with the opinion below with gusto.

Right out of the gate, in the opinion’s second sentence, the panel said it was “troubled by the inappropriately caustic and derogatory tone of the District Court’s opinion.” Then a footnote added:

The District Court here issued a 125-page opinion peppered with gratuitous and disparaging remarks about Appellants and their child. Those entrusted with the solemn duties of judicial office are expected to handle proceedings in a manner that reflects the appearance as well as the reality of even-handed justice and respect for the litigants as well as for the law.

And the panel wasn’t done yet. Later on, the opinion said that images in the record “cannot be fairly characterized as the District Court described them” and hammered “the District Court’s incorrect and intemperate characterization of the video.”

Holy smokes.

The district court opinion is not like any district court opinion I’ve seen before. It speculates that the 13 year-old plaintiff’s injuries were “perhaps a timely form of divine retribution.” Its conclusion says that the case had wasted the court’s time (this on page 124 of its opinion), and advised the child to apologize and accept the consequences of his actions, “which advice he apparently has not received from his parents.”

(On a more mundane note, the district opinion also identifies the authors of most of the Third Circuit opinions it cites, which is a big no-no for briefs and something I’ve never seen in a district court opinion.)

The Third Circuit opinion was authored by Judge Krause and joined by Judges Ambro and Rendell. The district court judge was Judge Matthew Brann of the Middle District of Pennsylvania, who recently sat with the Third Circuit by designation and just authored a non-precedential opinion.

Quite remarkable.

New opinion — Third Circuit issues a major qui tam opinion recognizing government-knowledge and materiality defenses

US ex rel Spay v. CVS Caremark — qui tam — affirmance — McKee

The Third Circuit today affirmed on alternative grounds the dismissal of a suit under the False Claims Act. The district court had dismissed based on the government-knowledge defense; the Third Circuit recognized the defense but held it didn’t apply here. The court affirmed anyway, recognizing a materiality requirement for pre-2009 FCA suits and holding that it was not met here.

Senator Charles Grassley filed an amicus brief supporting the appellant and “arguing against the continued viability of the government knowledge inference.”

Joining McKee were Smith and Restrepo. Arguing counsel were Marc Raspanti of Pietragallow Gordon for the appellant and Enu Mainigi of Williams & Connolly for the appellees.

Video: “Penn Law Celebrates Stephanos Bibas’ Confirmation to the Third Circuit”

Penn Law yesterday posted this video on Youtube of an event at the law school honoring Stephanos Bibas. It’s only five and a half minutes long and if you’re a Third Circuit enthusiast you should definitely check it out.

Of interest:

  • Dean Ruger says Bibas will be a judge “starting soon” (see my post yesterday);
  • Both the Dean and Bibas confirm that Bibas plans to continue teaching courses while he is as a judge; and
  • If you don’t watch the whole video (you should!), skip to 3:00 for Bibas’s interesting thoughts on growing into being a judge and using the law as a tool for societal reconciliation


Judge Hardiman will be the keynote speaker at a Notre Dame symposium on administrative lawmaking

Third Circuit Judge Thomas Hardiman will be the keynote speaker tomorrow at a symposium hosted by the Notre Dame Law Review on “Administrative Lawmaking in the 21st Century.” The symposium website is here, and a preview by Jeffrey Pojanowski on the Notice & Comment blog is here.

Professor Pojanowski writes:

The keynote speaker will be Judge Thomas M. Hardiman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Diligent readers of this blog may remember my quick look at his deference jurisprudence in the lead-up to the last SCOTUS nomination. As my blog post noted, Judge Hardiman has not weighed in at great length on administrative law issues, so seeing what he has to say in this forum will be fascinating, especially with one of Judge Hardiman’s Third Circuit colleagues recently flying the Thomas/Gorsuch flag of Chevron and Auer skepticism.

(The second link is to this blog.)


Fascinating indeed!


A Bibas update, which is mostly a non-update

Although Stephanos Bibas was confirmed by the Senate a week ago, as best I can tell he still hasn’t taken the oath and received his commission. That is, he’s not a judge yet.

I don’t know the reason for the delay, but I don’t think it means anything. I do believe it’s getting to be longer than is typical, though. Allison Eid was confirmed for a Tenth Circuit judgeship the same day as Bibas, and she got her commission the next day. And the last new Third Circuit judge, Judge Restrepo, received his commission two days after his confirmation.

Anyway, anxious Bibas fans can occupy themselves in the meantime by reading over his Judiciary Committee questionnaire, which now is available at this link. Looking back over it today I was reminded how jaw-droppingly prolific he has been. His list of publications and presentations runs over 40 single-spaced pages! It’s astounding.

For Third Circuit nerds, his questionnaire contains a few nuggets:

  • Bibas was admitted to practice in the Third Circuit only this year. By contrast, he’s been admitted to practice for for 5 years or more in 5 other circuits.
  • he signed a letter in support of Judge Krause’s nomination (among numerous others)
  • the first time his name surfaced publicly as a possible Trump nominee for the Third Circuit (Orin Kerr’s tweet in response to my post), April 17, was a month and a half after Bibas was first contacted by the Trump administration and a month after his interviews with the White House and DOJ and with Senator Toomey.

Once I hear the big news, rest assured I’ll post it here.

A look at the “insightful and compelling case” for en banc rehearing in the Cottrell eye-drops case

Stephen McConnell, a partner at Reed Smith in Philadelphia, has this thoughtful post, titled “A Second Look at Eye-Drop Litigation,” on the Drug & Device Law blog. The post is a close look at the petition for en banc rehearing recently filed in Cottrell v. Alcon Labs.

Here’s the heart of it:

The main points in favor of revisiting the Third Circuit’s decision are that it is contrary to Finkelman v. National Football League, 810 F.3d 187 (3d Cir. 2016), it “radically expands Article III standing,” and that it directly conflicts with Eike v. Allergan, Inc., 850 F.3d 315 (7th Cir. 2017).  Moreover, the plaintiff’s inherently speculative theory of injury in fact was rejected by federal courts in Massachusetts and Missouri.  (When a court comes out with a more pro-plaintiffy position than courts in Massachusetts and Missouri, that’s really saying something.)  That theory was also rejected by the district court in Cottrell.  And then the Third Circuit reversed that rejection.

An interesting post about a big case.

Regular readers may recall that a couple weeks ago I posted here (“Blogging partner rampages … “) criticizing blog posts by the same lawyer. In his post today, McConnell has this to say about it:

First, we have been so unkind about the Third Circuit’s error in the Fosamax case that we managed to attract the attention of the excellent CA3 blog.   In that blog, the author wondered whether our dissection of Fosamax was perhaps a bit more violent than necessary.  The author also wondered whether we were coming close to accusing the court of bad faith.  Yes to the former, but definitely No to the latter.  As we told the CA3 blog, we took issue with what we saw as bad reasoning, but never-ever thought there was any bad faith.  (The CA3 blog was generous enough to print our disclaimer.  Thanks for that.)  By and large, we are mighty proud of our home circuit.  We know several of the judges, and every one of them is honorable, hard-working, and much smarter than we are.  Sometimes we are not going to agree with the court’s decisions.  Luckily for us we work in a profession and live in a country where debate and criticism are allowed.

Gracefully said.

A lawyer fainted during his Third Circuit oral argument yesterday

Jeannie O’Sullivan, with additional reporting by Dan Packel, had this story yesterday at Law360, headlined, “3rd Circ. Fracking Case Put Off After River Basin Atty Faints.” The article says the poor lawyer fainted “in the middle of his argument.” He regained consciousness quickly and was attended to by medics. After a brief recess, presiding Judge Jordan announced that the argument was postponed to a later date.

No, the court didn’t post audio of the argument on its website. Yes, I feel a bit guilty for looking.

New opinion — Plaintiffs should have been allowed to amend complaint despite delay caused by attorney’s error

This opinion was issued yesterday. I normally post cases the same day, but I had a big deadline in my Texas capital habeas case.


Mullin v. Administrator — civil rights — partial reversal — Fuentes

The compelling introduction to yesterday’s opinion:

A little over two years into the civil-rights suit brought by Joan Mullin (“Mullin”) over the tragic prison suicide of her son, Robert Mullin (“Robert”), Mullin’s attorney received a discovery document with the potential to reshape the case. A previously undisclosed investigative report about the night Robert died contained statements by fellow New Jersey inmates about a prison guard who allegedly refused Robert’s requests for psychiatric assistance—and urged Robert to kill himself instead. But while Mullin’s attorney received this report mid-case, it was not reviewed in a timely fashion. Instead, due to a clerical error, the disc containing the relevant disclosures was misfiled, and not fully accessed until about ten months later. By that time, Mullin’s operative complaint—premised on a less direct knew-or-should-have-known theory of Robert’s vulnerability to suicide—had already been dismissed in large part. The District Court denied Mullin’s request for leave to amend her complaint, due in part to the delay caused by counsel’s error and, after additional motion practice, granted summary judgment in favor of the one remaining defendant, bringing the litigation to a close.

Mullin’s appeal encompasses both the dismissal of her operative complaint and the order denying further leave to amend. The latter is the focus of this opinion. For the reasons set forth below, we conclude that the decision denying leave to amend amounted to an impermissible exercise of discretion. Some of the factors relied upon to deny leave are not supported by the record or are at odds with our case law. And while we do not intend to minimize counsel’s mistake, it does not, standing alone, support denying leave to amend. Accordingly, we will vacate the order denying leave to amend and will remand for further proceedings.

I think most lawyers who’ve handled complex cases would (nervously) agree with the opinion’s later observation that the lawyers’ error  was “the kind that could affect any law firm no matter how well run.”

It’s an interesting case, an engaging opinion, and a significant ruling on amending civil complaints (and habeas petitions) under Rule 15.

Joining Fuentes were Chagares and Vanaskie. Arguing counsel were Shelley Stangler for the appellant and Gregory Bueno of the NJ AG’s office for the appellees.

Bibas nomination advances to full Senate [updated]

Today the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Third Circuit nomination of Stephanos Bibas. The committee split along party lines, voting 11 to 9 in favor. Coverage of the committee vote by Tim Ryan for Courthouse News Service is here.

The only Judiciary Committee member from a Third Circuit state is Chris Coons, Democrat from Delaware. Coons is also, to my knowledge, the only former Third Circuit clerk in the Senate, having clerked for Judge Jane Roth.

Just before the vote, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin reportedly spoke against Bibas’s nomination, noting Bibas’s since-renounced support for corporal punishment as an alternative to incarceration. Durbin stated, “this man is outside of the mainstream of American legal thinking,” and “Who would step forward on the Republican side and call for what this professor has called for? Who would stand up and say this man and that kind of thinking belong in a lifetime appointment on a circuit court, the Third Circuit Court?”

Most of Trump’s other circuit nominees have been confirmed by the Senate within about two weeks of their committee vote.

UPDATE: The Washington Times reports that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to confirm Bibas and 3 other circuit nominees next week.

New opinion — Third Circuit affirms bankruptcy dismissal on statutory-mootness grounds (updated!)

In re: Pursuit Capital Mgmt. — bankruptcy — affirmance — Jordan

The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a challenge to a bankruptcy trustee’s sales of assets, holding that the appeal was statutorily moot under 11 USC § 363(m) because the challengers failed to seek a stay of the assets’ sale.

Snoots will be aghast that the opinion contains, “we conclude that the sale was affected in good faith,” although Garner’s Modern American Usage concedes that misusing affect for effect “is an old error that looks as if it will be increasingly difficult to stamp out.”

UPDATE: Snoots will be delighted that Judge Jordan issued this order the next day:

IT IS NOW ORDERED that the above captioned opinion be amended as follows:
Page 29, Section C, the first line, “affected” shall be changed to “effected”.

Joining Jordan were Krause and Stearns D.Mass by designation. Arguing counsel were Craig Martin of DLA Piper for the appellants and Wendy Reilly of Debevoise & Plimpton for the appellee.

3 Third Circuit judges will speak at Judges and Journalists program in Pittsburgh

The Third Circuit is holding its second Judges and Journalists program on October 31 in Pittsburgh. Judge D. Michael Fisher is the moderator, Chief Judge D. Brooks Smith will speak, and Judge Thomas Hardiman is moderating one of the panels. I recommend attending if you can.

Here’s what it’s about:

This conference will explore the challenges and opportunities for improving relationships and lines of communication between judges and journalists. In this dialogue, prominent judges, journalists, and attorneys will discuss how changes in the media landscape, new technologies, ethical constraints, and recent developments in media law affect journalistic reporting on courts and cases.

Besides the three Third Circuit judges, other presenters will include five district judges, a slew of media bigshots, the executive director of the Administrative Office of the US Courts, and some guy named Howard Bashman. The complete program is here.

I got to take part in the first Judges and Journalists program last year in Philadelphia, and it was fantastic. My post about last year’s event is here.

The event is Tuesday, October 31, from 11 to 4 at Pitt’s University Club. Registration is free, or pay $75 to also get 2.5 hours of PA CLE credit.

To attend, RSVP here.

Get to the point: a case study

The en banc Third Circuit heard oral argument yesterday in two cases. The audio of the arguments is already up on the court’s website, here and here.

Listening to the argument in the first case — Douglas, a criminal-sentencing appeal — reminded me how important it is to ditch all the wind-up and get to the point.

Here is how the appellant’s argument began:

Thank you, your honor. [Pause] May it please this honorable Court. Attorney Ivory. My name is Arnold Bernard, and I represent the appellant in this matter, Kenneth Douglas. I’ve asked this panel if I would be permitted to retain five minutes for rebuttal in this matter ….


Thank you. It’s truly a humbling experience to be here before an en banc convention of this honorable Court. On behalf of myself and my client I’d like to thank this Court for granting additional review in this very important matter.

This decision will impact Mr. Douglas, but not only Mr. Douglas, it will likely impact similarly situated defendants across the nation. So with that I’m going to proceed to the arguments that I’ve prepared.

I’m going to dispense with explaining the standard of review that we are going to employ in this matter. I don’t believe that that’s at issue with regards to reviewing the sentencing decision.

However I would like to articulate the issue, and I believe it’s a very narrow and finite issue that this Court must decide. And that issue is specifically whether the appellant, Kenneth Douglas, held a position of trust when he was employed by United Airlines as an airline mechanic who possessed a security clearance and was convicted of smuggling cocaine through that airport that he worked at.

Now when we review the position of trust enhancement, we utilize a two-step process, determining whether or not the appellate held a position of trust and, if so, then whether the appellant abused that position of trust. That first step is reviewed de novo. And that’s what this Court is … I would point that this Court is looking at here.

That is not, not, not the way to start an oral argument.

He’s almost two minutes in, and he still hasn’t argued anything. For starters, the second, third, and fourth paragraphs should have been axed.

(By the way, he’s not getting interrupted because the Third Circuit gives en banc advocates 5 minutes without questions at the start.)

Jumping forward a ways, here is the first sentence counsel utters that contains an actual argument:

Those two examples, I would submit that the distinction between those examples and the singular example that it provides for when it should apply are that the individuals in those examples have mere physical access or the mere physical means to commit the crime by virtue of their access to areas from which the general public is prohibited.

That may not be perfect, but it’s an argument, finally. Counsel finishes that sentence more than three and a half minutes after his time began.

[I want to be clear that I’m not suggesting this guy is a bad lawyer or even that overall he gave a bad argument. Once he hit his stride, he made telling points, and, in fact, I suspect he may win this appeal. (So there, blog guy.) I don’t even mean to suggest that the start of his argument is unusually bad. To the contrary, I think lots of lawyers make the same mistake, especially lawyers who, like him, don’t focus their practice on appeals. It’s just more obvious here because the judges aren’t jumping in to get him on track.]

Okay, so how do the best appellate advocates start their arguments? Well, in the 2016 sports-betting en banc argument (audio), here’s how Paul Clement started:

Good morning your honors, and may it please the Court. Paul Clement for the plaintiffs. New Jersey’s sports-wagering law is flatly inconsistent with PASPA.

If “getting to the point” were an Olympic sport, there’s your gold medalist. From the moment the presiding judge said “Mr. Clement?” to the end of his first sentence of substantive argument: less than 10 seconds.

We can all learn by observing argument done right — we should learn from the mistakes, too.

New opinion — choice-of-law clause governs interpretation of forum-selection clause

Collins v. Mary Kay — civil / employment — affirmance — Restrepo

Law nerds, rejoice! ” This case … poses a layered choice-of-law question: what law governs the interpretation of a forum selection clause in a written agreement when that agreement also contains a choice-of-law clause?” The district court thought the answer was federal common law, and the plaintiffs thought the answer was the state law where they filed the suit, here, New Jersey. Neither was right.

The Third Circuit’s final answer to that question here was that Texas state law applied and that, applying Texas law, the suit belonged in Texas. This resulted in the court affirming dismissal on forum non conveniens grounds.

The reasoning that led to that final answer? Well, it’s damn complicated, or anyway its complicated enough to defy all my efforts at pithy summary here. So I’ll just throw up my hands and say: if you’ve got this issue (a) my condolences, and (b) read the fine opinion.

Joining Restrepo were Chagares and Roth. Arguing counsel were Ravi Sattiraju of the Sattiraju Law Firm for the appellant and Christine Amalfe of Gibbons for the appellee.

UPDATE: Bruce Greenberg has come to the rescue with a characteristically lucid summary in this post on his New Jersey Appellate Law blog.


New opinions — three new opinions, including a housing blockbuster and a big consumer class-action win, both with dissents

Hayes v. Harvey — housing — affirmance — Fisher

In a significant public-housing opinion that I think has a realistic shot at en banc rehearing, a split Third Circuit panel today held that public housing residents have no right to remain in their homes despite statutory language that they “may elect to remain.”

Judge Greenaway’s dissent is blistering. It begins:

The Hayes family has lived at 538B Pine Street for 35 years, and a federal statute provides that they “may elect to remain” in their home. 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(t)(B). They elected to remain in their home. They were model tenants, according to their landlord. And yet, they now will find themselves evicted. The majority has struck their Congressionally provided right from the statute, leaving nothing in its place.

According to the majority, a family “may elect to remain” in their home, but their landlord need not heed that election: he can still evict them without cause. It concludes that tenants’ rights are empty words unless a statute is also expressly phrased in terms of a property owner’s obligation. This renders tenants’ statutory entitlement to choose to remain the most evanescent of rights: good only until the moment it is required. This is not what Congress intended and it is not what Congress enacted.

Indeed, the majority’s interpretation is at odds not only with the statutory text, but with the interpretations of the other two branches of government as well. HUD—the expert agency tasked with administering this statute—has found a right to remain. Every court to interpret this statute, until this litigation, has found a right to remain. There is complete consensus on what this statute means: landlords may not evict enhanced voucher-holders without cause. The majority all but ignores these cases and administrative interpretations, even as it instead battles the strawman of perpetual tenancies that can never be ended—an interpretation that no one advances: not the Hayes family, not HUD, and not other courts. As a result, this Court is left standing alone. I must dissent.

Joining Fisher was Hardiman; Greenaway dissented. Arguing counsel were Rachel Garland of Community Legal Services for the tenants and Susanna Randazzo of Kolber & Randazzo for the landlords.


Cottrell v. Alcon Labs — class action — reversal — Restrepo

A divided Third Circuit panel today revived a consumer class-action suit alleging that prescription eyedrop sellers knowingly designed their dispensers in a way that forced consumers to waste it. Basically, if the drops out of the dropper are too big, the excess just runs down your cheek, and here the drops were allegedly two to three times too big. The district court dismissed on injury-in-fact standing grounds, but today’s panel majority reversed, separately analyzing each component of the injury-in-fact standard. The court split with the Seventh Circuit, so this case clearly isn’t over.

Joining Restrepo was Chagares; Roth dissented, arguing that the majority erodes standing by allowing the plaintiffs to proceed with a speculative injury. Arguing counsel were Leah Nicholls of Public Justice for the consumers and Robyn Bladow of Kirkland and Ellis for the sellers.


In re: Bressman — bankruptcy — affirmance — Roth

The Third Circuit today upheld a district court ruling vacating a prior default judgment due to counsel’s fraud on the court. The court once again came down hard on the lawyer (Max Folkenflik of New York), naming him in the opening sentence of the opinion and throughout.

Joining Roth were Ambro and Jordan. Arguing counsel were Folkenflik for the appellants and Michael Sirota of Cole Shotz for the appellee.




En banc argument day!

Today is the Third Circuit’s fall en banc oral argument sitting. The arguments start momentarily.

Two cases up:

  • US v. Douglas, (panel opinion here) a criminal-sentencing appeal on a interpreting the Sentencing Guidelines “position of trust,” enhancement, and
  • Joyce v. Maersk Line, a labor-law case on whether unearned wages can be modified by a collective bargaining agreement.

UPDATE: audio of the Douglas argument is here, Joyce is here.

New opinion — Third Circuit rules for former governor in malicious-prosecution appeal

Zimmerman v. Corbett — civil — reversal — McKee

A staffer for a PA state legislator was prosecuted for obstructing an investigation into whether Democratic staffers were doing campaign work on state time. After the charges against him were dismissed, he brought a malicious prosecution suit against various defendants, including Tom Corbett (the Republican state AG at the time of the prosecution, and later the governor). The district court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss, but today the Third Circuit reversed, holding that there was probable cause to prosecute.

Joining McKee were Cowen and Fuentes. Arguing counsel were Joshua Autry of Lavery Faherty for the appellants and Devon Jacob of Mechanicsburg for the appellee.

New opinion — FLSA requires employers to pay workers during short breaks

Secretary, U.S. Dept. of Labor v. American Future Systems — labor — affirmance — McKee

The Third Circuit today held that the Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to compensate employees for all rest breaks of 20 minutes or less, even if the employer calls the breaks flexible time and allows employees to do as they please. The court also affirmed the district court’s liquidated-damages award based on the employer’s bad faith.

Joining McKee were Rendell and Fuentes. Arguing counsel were former Adams clerk Alfred Putnam Jr. of Drinker Biddle for the employer and Rachel Goldberg for the government.

Civil practice pointer: don’t do this

The Third Circuit issued an unusual non-precedential opinion today. The court affirmed a district court order that dismissed a suit brought by two police officers for failing to comply with Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure by failing to cite the parts of the record establishing factual disputes.

Said the opinion:

We recognize that our Order affirming this dismissal based solely on Plaintiff’s attorney’s failure to comply with a rudimentary procedural rule extinguishes any meritorious claims Plaintiffs may have had. Plaintiffs’ loss therefore results solely from their attorney’s ineffective representation rather than any defect that may (or may not) have existed in Plaintiffs’ claims.

Nevertheless, our review is limited to the propriety of the District Court’s order dismissing the complaint and granting judgment to Defendants as a matter of law. Since we conclude that the dismissal was appropriate, Plaintiffs’ only possible recovery must come from their attorney’s malpractice insurer, not from any of the Defendants. In order to ensure that Plaintiffs are aware of this potential recourse, we will instruct Plaintiffs’ attorney to share this opinion with his clients and to ask them to send a letter to the Clerk of this Court confirming that they have read this opinion, and that they fully understand their potential recourse.

Probably not the appellate outcome that counsel was hoping for. (His oral argument didn’t go so hot, either. I think the court did the right thing in giving counsel the chance to explain himself, though.)

This is just the latest example of the Third Circuit coming down hard on attorney errors; I discussed other recent instances here.

New opinion — Third Circuit affirms forum non conveniens dismissal

Trotter v. 7R Holdings — maritime — affirmance — Greenaway

The Third Circuit today affirmed a district court’s dismissal of a maritime suit on forum non conveniens grounds. The court sua sponte considered and rejected the argument that a statutory venue provision impacted the forum analysis, “because they are antecedent legal issues that we must resolve before deciding the case as a whole.”

Joining Greenaway were Shwartz and Fuentes. Arguing counsel were Thomas Friedberg of San Diego and Michael Dono of Miami.

New opinion — IDEA plaintiffs who got a hearing can get attorneys’ fees

H.E. v. Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School — disability — reversal — Krause

Parents of children with disabilities filed an administrative complaint against a charter school for allegedly failing to meet its obligations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The administrative hearing officer dismissed their complaint, so the parents sued in federal court, asking the court to vacate the hearing officer’s dismissal and remand for a hearing. The district court did as the plaintiffs asked, but it refused to award them attorneys’ fees as the prevailing party. Today, the Third Circuit reversed, holding that the fee denial was an appealable final order and that the plaintiffs’ purely procedural victory sufficed to entitle them attorneys’ fees under the IDEA.

Joining Krause were Ambro and Scirica. The case was decided without oral argument.

Blogging partner rampages against Third Circuit ruling [updated]

In an extraordinary series of blog posts, apparently intended to persuade the Supreme Court to grant certiorari, a prominent local large-firm partner has described the recent Third Circuit Fosamax decision as “folly,” “pure hogwash,” “very unsound and unwise,” “clearly wrong and clearly pernicious,” “the mess made by the Third Circuit,” “truly bizarre,” “such an obvious, pernicious error,” “ridiculously unjust,” an “abomination,” “especially crazy,” and “even crazier” than another federal-court ruling  that was “based on crazy reasoning.”

The partner also said the ruling “turns on dithering,” “reaches a high-water mark” among “rotten preemption decisions,” and “wrecked the law on preemption.” And, while I’m not certain, I think he even implies that the Third Circuit acted in bad faith: he said the opinion “twisted” precedent and “apparently works doctrinal wonders,” and “the Third Circuit had done its best … to make it impossible to get summary judgment on preemption.”

[UPDATE: The post’s author has sent me a gracious note in which he emphasizes that, while he criticized the Third Circuit’s reasoning, he never meant to accuse the court of bad faith.]


The author of the posts is acclaimed Reed Smith partner and Penn Law lecturer Stephen J. McConnell, and these posts, which appeared on the Drug and Device Law blog (“The definitive source for intelligent commentary on the law that matters for drug and device cases”), are here, here, and here.

[UPDATE: Not only was the Fosamax panel (Fuentes, Chagares, and Restrepo) unanimous, but the court denied the petition for rehearing en banc without recorded dissent.]

Now, I certainly believe that lawyers have a right to speak out against decisions they think are wrong. And, I confess, I’ve criticized a ruling now and again myself.

But, good golly. Is that parade of invective wise? Effective? Appropriate?

Not in my view.

GOP reportedly will stop honoring blue slips [updated: on second thought, no they won’t]

Several sources (Rick Hasen’s Election Law blog post was the first one I saw) this morning report that Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has decided to end blue slips, the practice of allowing home-state Senators to block judicial nominations.

I believe ending blue slips is sound. I believe ending them now, as a tactic for President Trump to fill seats without Democratic input that Republicans blocked President Obama from filling, is deeply unsound.

Be that as it may, it seems likely that nominations for the Third Circuit’s other two openings are on the way.

UPDATE: Vetting Room tweeted: “Take this w/ a grain of salt, noting the source. The majority leader doesn’t control blue slips.”

Zoe Tillman tweets:

McConnell’s office said comments in today’s @FredBarnes story were about McConnell’s “well-known public position” on blue slips”

“McConnell spox via email: We have not made any announcements about a Conference or committee position.”

And when asked about McConnell’s comments, a Grassley spox reiterated that it is up to the Judiciary Committee chair to decide what to do

This is all to say: It does not appear settled, one way or the other, about what will happen as Dems withhold blue slips on Trump nominees

And Vetting Room has this valuable post, titled, “The End of Blue Slips? Two Reasons to Be Skeptical.”
Politico story: “McConnell ratchets up judicial wars–again.”
And, completing the walk-back, Jennifer Bendery reports on Huffington Post, “Mitch McConnell is Keeping the Senate Rule that Lets Dems Block Trump’s Judges.”

“You Be the Judge,” featuring Judge Rendell

On Tuesday, October 17, Third Circuit Judge Marjorie Rendell will be the featured presenter at an event in the Philadelphia area entitled “You Be the Judge.” Here is the event description from its Facebook page:

YOU BE THE JUDGE – Take a free crash course on how our federal judiciary works, and how vital it is to our way of life.

• Hear from special guest, the Honorable Marjorie O. Rendell, Senior Judge on the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals as she shares her inside views.
• Play the part of a federal judge on a panel, and discuss and
decide on an important case.
• Discover ways to ensure that lifetime appointments to the
federal bench will be fair, independent, and diverse.

When: Tuesday, October 17, 2017, 6:45 pm to 9:00 pm
Where: Beth Sholom Congregation (the landmark synagogue on 611, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright)
8231 Old York Road, Elkins Park, PA 19027 ⎯ Fischman Auditorium

Light refreshments will be served.

The event is sponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women and co-sponsored by a slew of state and local groups.

Register through the event page or here.

New opinion — Third Circuit reverses movie theater’s ADA win [updated]

McGann v. Cinemark USA — disability — reversal — Restrepo

A blind and deaf man asked a movie theater to provide him with a tactile interpreter so that he could experience a movie there. If you think that sounds silly or contrived, here’s some context:

McGann has experienced movies in theaters for many
years. He enjoys attending movies in person for a number of
reasons; among others, it affords him the opportunity to
participate in discussions about the movies with his friends and
family. Before his wife passed away in 2001, she would
provide him with tactile interpretation during movies in the
theater. Since then, McGann has attended movies at a local
Carmike Cinema. Carmike provided him with tactile
interpretation services for movie presentations at his request.

In November 2014, McGann became interested in
experiencing the movie Gone Girl (Twentieth Century Fox
Film Corp. 2014), after hearing about it from his family and
reading about it online using Braille. After he contacted his
customary Carmike Cinema to inquire about attending a
presentation of the movie, he learned it was no longer playing
there. So he sought another theater in which to experience it.

When the theater refused to provide him with a tactile interpreter, he sued it under the Americans with Disabilities Act. After a bench trial, the district court ruled in the theater’s favor based on its view that movie-theater tactile interpreters were not covered by the ADA. Today, the Third Circuit reversed. Significantly, the court did not reach the theater’s defense that having to provide tactile interpreters would cause it an undue burden, instead remanding that issue for the district court to consider first.

Time to fire up the “Federal judges are activists! Plaintiffs are snowflakes!” internet hate machine? I hope not.

UPDATE: Right on cue, National Review posts, “A Contender for the Silliest Decision of the Year Award.” The author, who says he views the ADA as unconstitutional, laments that “activist judges will keep pushing it further and further.”

Joining Restrepo were Smith and McKee. Arguing counsel were Carol Horowitz of the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania for the patron, M. Brett Burns of Hunton & Williams for the theater, and Bonnie Robin-Vargeer for the DOJ as amicus.

Dear Senators: the Third Circuit’s shortage of women judges is a crisis

Dear Senators Booker, Casey, Menendez, and Toomey:

Once Stephanos Bibas is confirmed, the Third Circuit will have 12 active judges: 10 men and 2 women. That gender imbalance is appalling.

Two Third Circuit openings remain — one for Pennsylvania, one for New Jersey. We do need those seats filled, because the court has a crushing case load and we need the court back up to full strength.

We need both of those seats filled by women.

Senators, this is an air-raid-siren crisis. The shortage of women judges on the Third Circuit weakens the court and undercuts its legitimacy. It undermines public confidence in the federal judiciary at a moment in history when that confidence is needed urgently. It weakens our legal system and our democracy.

Nationwide, more than a third of active circuit judges are women. That’s double — double! — the Third Circuit’s proportion. If other circuits can do it, we can too.

We have done it in the past. The Third Circuit has a proud history of service by women on the bench. As recently as 2006, the court had four active judges who were women. But all four have since taken senior status, and from 2000 to 2012 10 Third Circuit seats in a row were filled by men.

Senators, you didn’t cause this problem, but it is a problem you can fix.

Nine of the 22 sitting federal district judges for the District of New Jersey are women. Thirteen of Pennsylvania’s sitting district court judges are women. Our law school faculties and practicing bars are brimming with qualified women who would bring credit to the court.

And this shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Four of President Trump’s 12 pending circuit nominees are women, right in line with the national rate. In the two most conservative circuits in the nation, the Fifth and Eleventh, 40% of the active judges — 10 of 25 — are women. Republicans are just as capable as Democrats of finding outstanding women to fill circuit judgeships.

Confirming women for both of the Third Circuit’s current openings would raise the proportion of women on our court to 4 out of 14, or about 29%. That’d still be below the national average, and way below where we should be. But it would be a meaningful step in the right direction.

The Third Circuit’s gender imbalance is a crisis. Senators, the time to fix it is now.

Respectfully yours,

Matthew Stiegler

“Federal Courthouses in Carribbean Remain Shuttered” [updated]

Kristen Rasmussen has this report, the headline of which is the title of this post, in today’s National Law Journal.

She reports:

Initial damage assessments have begun on the three buildings—located on St. Thomas, St. Croix and in the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan—but the information is not yet validated, according to a spokeswoman for the federal General Services Administration.

“The buildings will be reopened when service is restored and it is safe to do so,” the agency said in an email. “At this time, we cannot predict when we will be able to reopen them.”

Meanwhile, on Monday, the Chief Judge of the District of the Virgin Islands entered this order concerning post-hurricane operations. The order continued all civil and criminal matters and deadlines indefinitely.

And the US Supreme Court also has issued a blanket extension in Virgin Island cases.

UPDATE: the D. V.I. just announced that its St. Thomas division will re-open on Tuesday, October 10. Its St. Croix division remains closed indefinitely.

Quick thoughts on Bibas’s Senate hearing [updated]

Stephanos Bibas’s committee hearing just wrapped up. My overall view is that he acquitted himself well and solidified his prospects for confirmation.

[Update: here’s a link to video of the hearing which I found on How Appealing.]

The Democrats on the committee pressed him mainly on two points: his unsuccessful prosecution as a junior AUSA of a $7 theft case, and his advocacy in an unpublished article for corporal punishment including electric shocks as an alternative to prison.

On the $7 case, I thought he hit it out of the park, concluding, “I made a mistake, I apologized, I learned from it, and I tried to improve the justice system going forward.”

On the electric shocks, Bibas was less deft. His initial response sounded like a flat denial that he’d ever advocated that, pointing to a 2012 book of his. [Referring to his responses starting at 54:27 through 55:15] But then Senator Durbin — not Bibas — raised Bibas’s 2009 unpublished article (which I have never seen) where he’d urged as the default punishment for “the broad middle spectrum” of crimes be “non-disfiguring corporal punishment such as electric shock.” [Starting at 1:00:51] Bibas responded that he now categorically rejects corporal punishment and disavowed his 2009 paper as “a crazy idea.” And, “I realized after discussing it, yes it’s crazy.” While I’m surprised that such a magnificent advocate would leave himself open to Durbin’s haymaker like that, in the end I think Bibas said what he needed to say.

That bobble aside, I thought Bibas’s overall performance was strong and I expect that his confirmation is now just a matter of time.


Other miscellaneous observations from the Bibas hearing:

  • He wore a necktie, not the bow tie he often wears.
  • In introducing his family at the hearing (including some very winning remarks about his kids), he noted that one of his relatives has the same name he does, and that the relative’s writings have been mistaken for his. I hope I didn’t get them confused in my posts here.
  • At one point as Bibas was gesturing he briefly held a black yarn item in his hand. Maybe I’m showing my ignorance here, but I wondered what it was.
  • Senator Cruz mentioned that he had known Bibas for 25 years ago or more because they both competed at college debate events. He joked that back then neither of them would have been thought of as “the cool kids.”
  • In the course of explaining his concern about over-incarceration and its impact on poor and minority communities, Bibas said, “a person is not reducible to his worst act.”
  • Senator Klobuchar asked him if he supports cameras in the courtroom. His response was that he’d be the new guy so he wanted to listen first. He said he thought the Third Circuit was one of the first, if not the first [no] to record and transmit video, but only if all the lawyers [no] and all the judges consent. He noted that “only a few” videos had been released — sounds like Bibas is a Bashman reader too — and said he’d like to know why so few, and whether there had been any blowback from the videos released so far.
  • Bibas noted that the Third Circuit has a reputation for collegiality and for relatively few dissents and concurrences. He said he thought this was healthy, and said he hoped to do his part to maintain that atmosphere of consensus.


News coverage of the hearing by Michael Macagnone for Law360 (paywalled) is here.

And Howard Bashman linked to this post on How Appealing, included a link to video of the hearing, and wrote:

I listened to the testimony of Third Circuit nominee Stephanos Bibas at this morning’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing (you can view the archived video via this link), and I found him to come across as extraordinarily intelligent, enthusiastic, and thoughtful. He was even considerate enough to speak quickly when answering so that Senators could ask more questions (something that other nominees seem to deliberately avoid).

I for one am really looking forward to seeing him in action at the Third Circuit, occupying the seat that once belonged to the Third Circuit judge for whom I clerked immediately after law school.


New opinion — Third Circuit allows asbestos liability in “bare-metal” maritime suits

In re: Asbestos Prods. Liability Litig. — maritime — partial reversal — Vanaskie

The Third Circuit today held that, under maritime law, a manufacturer of a “bare-metal” product (one sold prior to installation of an asbestos part) may be held liable for asbestos-related injuries under the familiar tort reasonable-foreseeability test.

The court also held that the appellant waived a different theory of liability by raising it in their opening brief only in a footnote asserting that they did not waive it.

Joining Vanaskie were Shwartz and Restrepo. Arguing counsel were Richard Myers of Paul Reich for the appellants and Emily Kennedy of Jones Day for the appellees.

Even more on Bibas

Yesterday I posted some thoughts on Third Circuit nominee Stephanos Bibas as his Senate hearing approaches, the latest of many posts on him here. [UPDATE: the hearing has happened, and I posted my initial thoughts on it here.] If there was a theme to my four comments, I suppose it was ‘liberals, don’t panic.’

Today, one more (last?) overarching thought before the hearing: while we know a staggering amount about Bibas’s views on criminal-justice issues, we know surprisingly little about his views beyond his professional focus.

What we do know about his views on other issues is intriguing, ambiguous, and very far from definitive:

  • He has described himself as a conservative;
  • He grew up in New York City. His father was a Greek immigrant who owned restaurants. Bibas and his wife Juliana have four children. He is a devout Christian who is active in the Orthodox Church. He was “raised Orthodox, but didn’t get serious about it until he was in his late 20s.” His wife has a masters in European History, wrote a novel, and is a prolific (and amazing) blogger.
  • His only political contributions have been to Republicans — Bob Dole in 1996, Mitt Romney in 2012, and Pat Toomey;
  • His closest professional associates appear moderate-to-liberal, especially on gun control
  • His Supreme Court clinic cases have trended liberal;
  • His respectful 2016 remembrance of Justice Scalia for the Heritage Foundation emphasized Scalia’s liberal rulings and noted, “I have given him two cheers, not three, criticizing his formalism as sometimes too rigid and impractical and his originalism as stretching beyond its textual and historical foundations.”
  • A junior professor who worked closely with him wrote a letter in support of his nomination which noted that, no one had been more empathic to her as a gay woman than Bibas and every career conversation they had began and ended with her wife and daughter;
  • The former dean of students at Penn Law wrote in support, “as gay men, my husband and I have always found Stephanos to be warmly supportive of our relationship and marriage. On several occasions Stephanos and I have spoken about evolving LGBT history and issues. These are issues with which he has shown no personal or academic discomfort.”
  • His nomination has been publicly supported by many committed liberals, including David Rudovsky, Barry Scheck, and Akhil Amar;
  • He was chosen through a process reportedly driven by two conservative groups, Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation; and
  • Many committed conservatives have spoken rapturously of his nomination, including Carrie Severino (“fantastic,” “another major victory“), Jonathan Adler (“incredibly strong,”), and Robert George (” a terrific choice“), and a reportedly Koch Brothers-funded group ran ads supporting his nomination.

Such are the tea leaves I’ve found — make of them what you will.


New opinion — Third Circuit upholds rejection of price-fixing suit

Valspar Corp. v. DuPont — antitrust — affirmance — Hardiman

A split Third Circuit panel today affirmed a grant of summary judgment in an antitrust price-fixing case. The majority opinion’s introduction:

This appeal involves an alleged conspiracy to fix prices in the titanium dioxide industry in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act. Appellant Valspar, a purchaser of titanium dioxide, claimed Appellee DuPont conspired with other titanium dioxide suppliers to fix prices. Valspar argued that the price-fixing agreement was made manifest primarily by thirtyone parallel price increase announcements issued by the suppliers. DuPont countered that the parallel pricing was not the product of an agreement, but rather the natural consequence of the marketplace. Specifically, DuPont posited that because the market for titanium dioxide is an oligopoly, the price movement was caused by “conscious parallelism”—an economic theory that explains oligopolists will naturally follow a competitor’s price increase in the hopes that each firm’s profits will increase. The District Court agreed with DuPont and granted its motion for summary judgment. We will affirm.

The dissenting judge, interestingly, was a district judge sitting by designation. And he dissented with vigor! He accuses the majority of adopting a “new approach that appears to shut the door on a district court’s ability to accept reasonable inferences in any case involving oligopolists” and that “misses by a mile an essential truth of actual courtroom litigation: that circumstantial evidence is competent, valid, and vital evidence in almost every conspiracy trial, civil or criminal.” Thirty-two pages long.

Joining Hardiman was Krause; dissenting was Stengel EDPA by designation. Arguing counsel were James Lockhart of Minnesota for the appellants, Shari Lahlou of Crowell & Moring for the appellee.

Some thoughts about Bibas as his Senate hearing approaches

The Senate Judiciary Committee holds its hearing on the Third Circuit nomination of Stephanos Bibas on Wednesday. Two significant reports on Bibas have come out in recent days, one by Alliance for Justice and the other by Harsh Voruganti’s Vetting Room blog.

I have four quick thoughts:

First, any Senator who wants to understand Bibas’s judicial philosophy should read his 2013 article Justice Kennedy’s Sixth Amendment Pragmatism. It concludes:

Journalists and academics sometimes mischaracterize Justice Kennedy as
unprincipled because they fail to discern his consistent underlying approach. At
root, Justice Kennedy is not an ideologue, eager to drive a pure theory over a
cliff. He is a seasoned, practical lawyer, one who respects the wisdom of the
bench, bar, and legislatures, not to mention precedent and settled practices. In
interpreting the Sixth Amendment, Justice Kennedy takes care to conserve the
wisdom immanent in the legal craft while reforming its excesses and outliers.
That humble approach is a welcome counterpoint to other Justices’ abstract Sixth
Amendment formalism. His approach lends stability to the law, counterbalancing
others’ zealous theoretical purity with practicality and common sense.

When Bibas slams Scalia’s rigid originalism and praises Kennedy’s humble pragmatism, it seems to me he is sending a clear signal about what sort of judge he will be himself. If I were a Senator, this article is something I’d be eager to explore with him.

Second, I disagree with AFJ’s scathing take on Bibas’s 2015 National Review article on mass incarceration. Where AFJ sees troubling language, I see a refreshing determination to talk about a traditionally liberal issue in ways that will resonate powerfully with a conservative audience.

Third, while I agree with Voruganti’s analysis overall, I think his comparison of Bibas to Richard Posner may obscure more than it illuminates. Yes, both are brilliant, prolific, and independent pragmatists. But Posner is wildly controversial in specific ways that have nothing to do with Bibas. I believe Kennedy is a more apt comparison.

Fourth, it’s telling that none of the people Bibas works with most closely at his Penn Law Supreme Court clinic are firebrand conservatives. One of this clinic assistants clerked for Brennan and Skelly Wright and argued the gun-control side of the Second Amendment landmark McDonald. The other was a Powell clerk who is a leading gun-control advocate. And the outside lawyer he often works with on clinic cases was a Kennedy clerk who is on the board of a lawyers’ civil rights group. This all reinforces my belief that Bibas will work effectively with his Third Circuit colleagues regardless of ideology.

I’m eager to learn more on Wednesday.

Vetting Room blog posts its analysis of Bibas — “Bibas’ most apparent characteristic is his willingness to challenge traditional thought on criminal law and jurisprudence”

Harsh Voruganti, author of the blog Vetting Room, today posted his detailed analysis of Third Circuit nominee Stephanos Bibas. The link is here.

The entire post is essential reading, but this is from the conclusion:

Some may describe Bibas as a solid conservative. His writings demonstrate a deep interest with the moral element of crime and punishment, focusing on a belief that the criminal justice system can and should identify and punish “morally wrong” actors. Furthermore, his aggressive (and politically unwise) prosecution of a popular cashier over $7 in cash makes it easy to caricature Bibas as a modern-day Javert.

At the same time, Bibas’ criticisms of the current criminal justice system are based not only on its failure towards victims, but also towards defendants. His writings show a strong concern with ensuring that defendants receive adequate representation, and that constitutional protections are not limited to the small fraction of defendants who go to trial, but extend to the vast majority who plead their cases. As such, others can argue that Bibas holds more moderate-liberal views.

This combination makes Bibas’ ideology hard to pin down. Rather, Bibas’ most apparent characteristic is his willingness to challenge traditional thought on criminal law and jurisprudence. From demanding the greater involvement of remorse in the sentencing process, to the advocacy of offering prosecutors financial incentives to perform well, Bibas is definitely an outside-the-box thinker.

Probably Voruganti’s most significant conclusion is that Bibas is not an originalist. Voruganti concludes that Bibas is a legal pragmatist, concerned with the practical effect of decisions.

He also writes, “If there is a jurist that Bibas looks likely to model, it is recently-retired Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner.”  Voruganti also tweeted, “Stellar credentials, a long academic paper trail, and unorthodox legal views. Is Bibas another Posner in the making?” UPDATE: I see his point but think it’s likely to be misinterpreted (and for that reason I’ve changed the title of this post).

That aside, Voruganti’s conclusions about Bibas converge with mine. I just went back to look at notes I took when I researched Bibas’s record back in June, and here are the conclusions I wrote down: “Long paper trail. Provocative. Impossible to pigeonhole ideologically. Not an originalist?”

Anyway, fascinating stuff. I cannot wait to see what Bibas will have to say about originalism at his hearing Wednesday.


“Columbia nuns vow to appeal after their religious-freedom lawsuit to stop gas pipeline is dismissed”

The title of this post is the headline of this story by Ad Crable today at Lancaster Online. The story, which says the nuns have “attracted worldwide media attention,” begins:

A federal judge in Reading has dismissed a freedom-of-religion lawsuit brought by a Roman Catholic order of nuns near Columbia to try to stop a gas pipeline.

The judge said the court lacked jurisdiction.

The Adorers of the Blood of Christ immediately announced they would appeal the case to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

The Adorers had brought the lawsuit against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company in a last-ditch effort to stop the Atlantic Sunrise gas pipeline from running through farmland they own in West Hempfield Township.

They sued under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The nuns maintained that their deeply held belief is that the Earth is God’s creation and that land is a “gift of beauty and sustenance” that should not be used in an “excessive and harmful way.”

Sounds like a Hail Mary appeal to me.

“With blue slip, Bob Casey gives green light to Trump judicial nominee”

Jonathan Tamari has this story — its headline is the title of this post — on today about the Third Circuit nomination of Stephanos Bibas. (The story it seems not to be in the Philadelphia Inquirer’s paper edition.)

Tamari predicts that Bibas’s confirmation now is “likely,” and he has this upbeat quote:

“What this shows is when the White House and Republicans cooperate with Democrats, things can happen,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who tracks judicial nominations.

But all is not peace and love just yet:

Casey still plans to wield the blue-slip power. He has told the White House that he will withhold his signature on the slip to effectively block David Porter if the conservative lawyer is nominated for a judicial post, according to a person familiar with Casey’s actions. Porter was under consideration in 2014, but his candidacy was scuttled after an outcry from liberal groups.

In other Bibas nomination news yesterday, law professor Eugene Volokh posted his support at Volokh Conspiracy:

Going back a few months, Orin Kerr beat me to endorsing University of Pennsylvania Law School professor Stephanos Bibas, who was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, and he can speak especially well about Bibas, who works in one of Kerr’s fields (criminal procedure). But I, too, know Bibas well and think very highly of him and his work; he’s one of the top criminal procedure scholars in the country.


New opinion — Third Circuit holds that bankruptcy trustees enjoy qualified immunity

In re J & S Properties — bankruptcy — affirmance — Hardiman

After a bankruptcy trustee seized a rental property owned by the debtor, the tenant sued to regain possession of the property. The district court held that the trustee had qualified immunity from the suit, and today the Third Circuit affirmed:

The question presented is whether qualified immunity applies to discretionary actions taken by a trustee to preserve the bankruptcy estate’s assets, and whether that immunity protects Trustee Swope’s conduct in this case. We will affirm because Swope exercised reasonable care under the circumstances and did not violate clearly established law.

A sharp reader points out to me that the opinion says it reviews factual findings for clear error. In Semcrude — also a bankruptcy case involving an appeal from a grant of summary judgment — the court applied plenary review and cited a prior case rejecting any application of the clear-error standard to a bankruptcy court’s summary-judgment ruling. Other circuits recently have done the same. On a first read, I’m not sure the opinion actually applied clear-error review to any factual finding, but still this strikes me as a point likely to sow confusion that the court may want to clarify.

Joining Hardiman was Roth; Fisher concurred in the judgment, arguing that the qualified immunity defense was not preserved because it was not raised in bankruptcy court but that affirmance is still warranted based on quasi-judicial immunity. Arguing counsel were Mary Sheats of Frank Gale for the appellant and Andrew Sperl of Duane Morris for the appellee.

Court pushes back Virgin Islands deadlines [updated with new guidance on notices of appeal and SCVI status]

The Third Circuit has extended deadlines for Virgin Island cases again in light of the recent hurricane devastation. The court’s announcement:

Updated Notice Regarding Deadlines in Virgin Islands Cases

Deadlines for non-emergency filings in Virgin Islands cases are further extended to Friday, October 20, 2017. Counsel in emergency or expedited cases should contact the Clerk’s Office as soon as possible regarding scheduling.
UPDATE: new announcement on September 29:
Deadlines for non-emergency filings in Virgin Islands cases are further extended to Friday, October 20, 2017. Counsel in emergency or expedited cases should contact the Clerk’s Office as soon as possible regarding scheduling. Notices of appeal must be filed in the district court. A district court may enter an order or make an announcement regarding the inaccessibility of a district clerk’s office that would impact the computation of time for filing notices of appeal. Fed. R. App. P. 26(a)(3). Motions for extension of time to file a notice of appeal must be made in the district court. Fed. R. App. P. 4.
UPDATE2: also on September 29 the Virgin Island courts (i.e. the equivalent of state courts) issued this announcement regarding deadline extensions and court operations.

Supreme Court agrees to review Third Circuit appealability case

This morning the Supreme Court also granted certiorari to review a Third Circuit case, Hall v. Hall. Scotusblog describes the issue as “Whether the clarity Gelboim v. Bank of America gave to multidistrict cases should be extended to single district consolidated cases, so that the entry of a final judgment in only one case triggers the appeal-clock for that case.” The Scotusblog case page with links to the cert papers is here, the Supreme Court docket is here.

The Third Circuit opinion is here. It was authored by Judge Jordan and joined by Judges Chagares and Hardiman. The opinion was non-precedential and the question upon which the Supreme Court just granted certiorari was dispensed with in a two-sentence footnote.

Counsel for the successful petitioner is Andrew Simpson of St. Croix, USVI. Simpson is the president-elect of the Third Circuit Bar Association, and just this week he was featured on this blog describing the hurricane devastation there. So I imagine persuading the Supreme Court to hear his case is singularly well-timed good news.

Congratulations Andy!

(Thanks to David Fine for flagging this for me.)

Supreme Court agrees to hear a Bibas case

This morning the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Encino Motorcars v. Navarro, an employee-overtime-pay case. Counsel of record for the petitioners is Paul Clement.

Counsel of record for the respondents? Stephanos Bibas.

The order list with the cert grant is here, the Encino Motorcars case page on the Supreme Court website is here, Scotusblog’s case page is here with the BIO here.

(Thanks to Howard Bashman for pointing this out.)

Liberal group criticizes Bibas but does not come out against his nomination

The liberal-leaning Alliance for Justice today released a report detailing its concerns about Third Circuit nominee Stephanos Bibas.

The report does not take the position that Bibas should not be confirmed. That strikes me as a significant departure from AFJ’s other similar reports — David Stras, Allison Eid, Amy Coney Barrett — all opposing those nominations. Instead, AFJ’s Bibas report just identifies “troubling” statements and urges Senators to scrutinize him carefully.

The report twice cites posts from this blog.

Here’s my two cents. I’m still eager to see the Vetting Room‘s take on Bibas. He’s a nominee with a massive paper trail, and only time will tell whether anyone comes up with anything fatal. But, on a first read, I see nothing in AFJ’s report that strikes me as likely to threaten his confirmation, and I see AFJ’s decision not to come out against the nomination as telling. So I see this report as reason to be more confident Bibas will be confirmed, not less.

Professor Douglas Berman posted about the report on his widely read Sentencing Law and Policy blog, here. Berman wrote:

For a host or reasons, I am disinclined to engage with the particulars of the AFJ report. But I am inclined to predict that Prof Bibas, based on his past criminal justice work and writings, will be much more inclined to respect criminal defendants’ rights than many other past and future judicial nominees.

Update: criminal law professor Carissa Hessick criticizes the AFJ report in this Twitter thread.



New opinion — Third Circuit makes it easier for some innocent prisoners to get back into court

Satterfield v. District Attorney — habeas corpus — reversal — Vanaskie

The Third Circuit issued an important habeas corpus opinion today that makes it a bit less difficult for prisoners who assert their innocence to get back in court and have their claims heard on the merits.

In 2013, the Supreme Court held that, when habeas petitioners make a strong enough showing of actual innocence, courts will reach the merits of their petitions that otherwise would be dismissed because they were filed too late. The question in today’s case was, what about petitioners who lost before 2013? If they lost on statute-of-limitations grounds then, and they have enough evidence of their innocence, do they get to reopen their case? Or, in habeas-speak, can McQuiggan support a Rule 60(b) motion?

Today, the court ruled in favor of the petitioner, holding that the district court erred when it ruled that 60(b) wasn’t available for petitioners invoking McQuiggan to get relief from a prior ruling that their petition was time-barred. The opinion emphasized that ” The principles underlying the Supreme Court’s decision in McQuiggin are fundamental to our system of government” and important to the 60(b) analysis. Conversely, the opinion observed that finality and comity ” must yield to the fundamental right not to be wrongfully convicted” and thus get ” less weight … when a petitioner asserts a threshold claim of actual innocence.”

Joining Vanaskie were Ambro and Restrepo. Arguing counsel were Aren Adjoian of the EDPA federal defender for the petitioner and Simran Dhillon of the Philadelphia DA for the Commonwealth.

Local Third Circuit lawyer shares a first-hand account of Virgin Islands hurricane damage (updated)

The Third Circuit covers not just Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, but also the U.S. Virgin Islands. There are two federal district courthouses in the Virgin Islands, on St. Thomas and St. Croix, and every year the Third Circuit has sittings there. So when the Virgin Islands are hammered by two category 5 hurricanes in two weeks, it’s a Third Circuit story, too.

Both D. V.I. federal courthouses are closed “until further notice,” according to the federal courts’ website. National Law Journal reported after Irma and before Maria that the St. Thomas courthouse was damaged by water. This vivid September 20 local report describes the post-Maria devastation on St. Croix and notes, “A solar energy field at the District court of the Virgin Islands in Golden Rock was laid to waste.”

UPDATE: on September 28, the D. V.I. clerk’s office announced that the court remains closed in both divisions until further notice but that court personal are available by phone.

A post-hurricane image of the federal courthouse in St. Croix (on right with red roof) and the courthouse’s solar-panel field (left). Screenshot from NOAA website, original image here.

This New York Times story reports that St. Thomas “took a beating” from Irma and St. Croix “was pummeled” by Maria, and the USVI governor is quoted to say, “It’s going to be a long road to recovery. We have to prepare ourselves mentally, manage our expectations realistically and we will get through it.”

Andrew Simpson, center, in happier times at the 2017 Third Circuit conference. Also pictured are Howard Bashman, left, and me, right.

The president-elect of the Third Circuit Bar Association is Andrew Simpson, who lives and practices on St. Croix. Today he emailed me this first-hand account (lightly edited, emphasis added) of the situation on the ground:

I’m not so sure that the court came through Maria fine [he’s responding to an earlier report that the federal courts there came through both hurricanes fine]

I’m fine, as are all of my staff members and their families.  Amazingly, I have high speed internet and my phone service at my office. I had minor water damage (wet carpets).  I still don’t have power here, but can run off my generator (which will not power the A/C and it is 87 degrees in here right now.

The solar farm that provided power to the District Court building on St. Croix was destroyed. It’s been described as a mangled mess. We have not had a single ECF message from the court since before Maria passed (so I doubt that it came through “fine”).  [A few minutes later he emailed again to say he’d just received his first post-Maria ECF notice.] The Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands also has not put out an electronic message since Sept. 18.

Since I have high speed internet access, I’ve set up a free wifi hotspot for the public here. I know that Magistrate Judge Cannon’s permanent law clerk is planning on using it today, so, again, I doubt that the court is fine. Members of the bar on St. Croix that I know are OK (mostly because they have come to use my free wifi hotspot in the last couple of days)

  • Myself and my associates, Emily Shoup and Howard Phillips
  • Pam Colon
  • Doug Capdeville
  • Rick Hunter
  • Mike Sanford and his associates
  • Carl Beckstedt and his associate Mike Rogers

Most law offices that I have seen in Christiansted appear to be relatively OK. I’ve seen a broken window or two on some of the offices, but no major structural damage. Power in Christiansted is rapidly being restored. All offices that were served by an underground feeder should have power in the next day or so. The lineman working on my street says that I should have power next week (I am not served by an underground feeder, unfortunately).

We are under a curfew that allows us out of our homes from noon to four pm only. That is expected to last at least through the end of this week before it is expanded slightly.

Note that the Third Circuit home page indicates that deadlines for us have been extended until September 29 only. That definitely needs to be extended as we can’t get into our offices to work for any length of time (we need to use the curfew as “hunters and gatherers” to secure food, gas, etc. in those precious four hours) and even if we can get to our offices, most still do not have power, phone or internet. And, many of us are focused on damage at our homes during the hours when we are confined there (again, I have been fortunate and suffered only minor damage but have already logged a good 30-40 hours clearing away brush from my house).

I will update this post as I learn more.

New opinions, including a hot-button voting case with some harsh words for the appellant

American Civil Rights Union v. Philadelphia City Commissioners — civil / voting — affirmance — McKee

Back in May I posted here about a Third Circuit oral argument that got off to a bad start when the lawyer raised his voice in an unsuccessful attempt to talk over one of the judges. (You’d expect a former law school dean and Scotus clerk to know better.)

Interrupting a judge, it turns out, was not the path to victory. Today, the Third Circuit affirmed a district court’s rejection of a conservative group’s challenge to Philadelphia’s alleged failure to remove persons convicted of a felony from its voter rolls.

And it turns out interrupting a judge was the least of counsel’s advocacy missteps. The opinion tartly observed that one of the appellant’s arguments “not only mangles the statute beyond recognition, it also misrepresents the non-precedential case it relies on.” Later: “This is exactly the kind of statutory contortion that led the District Court to … threaten[] to impose sanctions for blatant misrepresentation of the statute.” Pow.

Joining McKee were Vanaskie and Rendell. Arguing counsel were John Eastman of the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence for the appellant and Kelly Diffily for the city.


Alimbaev v. AG — immigration — reversal — Krause

Here’s a fascinating introduction:

This disconcerting case, before our Court for the second time, has a lengthy procedural history marked by conflict between the Board of Immigrations Appeals (BIA) and the Immigration Judge (IJ) and fueled by troubling allegations that Petitioner, an Uzbek national, relished watching violent terroristic videos, while apparently harboring anti-American sympathies. The issue on appeal, however, is whether the BIA correctly applied the clear error standard of review, as required, when reviewing the IJ’s factfinding in this case—an inquiry that highlights the role of faithful adherence to applicable standards of review in preserving the rule of law, safeguarding the impartiality of our adjudicatory processes, and ensuring that fairness and objectivity are not usurped by emotion, regardless of the nature of the allegations. Because we conclude that the BIA misapplied the clear error standard when reversing the IJ’s finding that Petitioner’s testimony was credible, we will grant the petition for review of the BIA’s removal order, vacate the denial of Petitioner’s applications for adjustment of status, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT), and remand once more to the BIA.

The opinion features a significant discussion of clear-error review by the Board of Immigration Appeals and how it applies to immigration judges’ credibility findings. The opinion emphasized the Third Circuit’s obligation to “carefully” scrutinize the BIA’s application of clear-error review in accepting or rejecting IJ factfinding.

Joining Krause were Jordan and Stearns D.Mass by designation. Arguing counsel were Lawrence Rudnick of Rudnick Immigration Group for the petitioner and Daniel Smulow for the government.


Christopher Columbus LLC v. Bocchino — admiralty — reversal — Stengel EDPA

Precedential opinions by judges sitting by designation in the Third Circuit are pretty unusual. It’s also fairly uncommon for district judges to sit by designation over CA3 appeals from their own district — reviewing a colleague’s work, that is. But both occurred here.

Also unusual? An appeal that “arise[s] out of a drunken brawl which erupted among passengers who were enjoying a cruise.” The issue on appeal was whether the dispute fell under maritime jurisdiction, and the court held that it did and vacated the district court’s dismissal.

Joining Stengel EDPA by designation were Hardiman and Krause. Arguing counsel were Daniel Wooster of Palmer Biezup for the appellant and Stanley Gruber of Freedman & Lorry for the appellee.

Bibas featured in provocative new article on plea bargaining

Third Circuit nominee Stephanos Bibas figures prominently in a harsh new look at plea bargaining in this month’s issue of The Atlantic. The article is “Innocence is Irrelevant,” by Emily Yoffe, link here.

Bibas is quoted describing the criminal-justice system as a “capacious, onerous machinery that sweeps everyone in.” And this:

No amount of tinkering, however, will matter much unless Americans stop trying to use the criminal-justice system as a tool for managing social ills. “Why are these cases being pumped into the system in the first place?,” Bibas said to me.

Am I the only one who can’t wait for his Senate Judiciary hearing?

Casey reportedly submits blue slip for Bibas nomination [updated]

Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Jonathan Tamari posted the following on Twitter yesterday afternoon:

Judicial news: has returned blue slip on 3d District nominee Stephanos Bibas, clearing way for hearings. 1 of few Ds to do so

He meant Third Circuit. He added:

BUT, Casey has also told Trump admin he’d use blue slip to block atty David Porter if he’s nominated.

The overview of the Third Circuit nominations picture that I posted last month is here.

UPDATE: Orin Kerr just posted the news on Volokh Conspiracy, here.

UPDATE2: The first tweet is wrong about Casey being one of “few” Democratic senators to return a blue slip on a Trump circuit nominee. I’m informed by Glenn Sugameli of Judging the Environment and Lena Zwarensteyn of American Constitution Society that Casey is the 7th to do so, against only 3 who’ve withheld blue slips.



Two notable unpublished opinions

I don’t normally blog about the Third Circuit’s non-precedential opinions, but the court issued two noteworthy ones today.

First, in Smith v. Lindemann the court enforced an arbitration clause in a lawyer’s representation agreement to compel arbitration of a legal malpractice suit. Even if state law barred lawyers from including arbitration clauses in their retainer agreements, such a law would be preempted by federal law. Ugh.

Second, in Pirela v. Commonwealth a divided panel affirmed in a pre-AEDPA habeas corpus case involving jury waiver and ineffective assistance of counsel. Judge Restrepo dissented (I’m not certain, but I think this might be his first panel dissent since joining the court), arguing that the court should have instead remanded for an evidentiary hearing on the waiver claim.

UPDATE — Writes Peter Goldberger:

Judge Restrepo’s separate opinion “concurring in the judgment” concerning cell site location information, in US v Stimler, 864 F.3d 253, is functionally a dissent. Conc in jmt because of binding circuit precedent; issue is pending on the merits before the Supreme Court, so the separate opinion also functions as a SCOTUS amicus brief.

New opinion — student-athletes showing concussion signs have a right to be protected

Mann v. Palmerton Area School Dist. — civil rights — affirmance — Vanaskie

Sheldon Mann, a 17-year-old student who played high school football, suffered a hard hit during a team practice. One of his teammates said it was one of the bigger hits he’d ever seen, another said Sheldon seemed dizzy and was stumbling around the field. But the coach at the time (he’s still the coach) “claim[ed] he did not see the hit,” asked Sheldon if he was all right and then told him to continue practicing. Not long after, Sheldon sustained a second big hit. This time he was removed, but it was too late: he suffered a traumatic brain injury.

Sheldon’s parents sued, alleging that the coach violated Sheldon’s constitutional right to bodily integrity by telling him to stay in after the first hit and that the school district failed to train the coach and protect the player. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, and today the Third Circuit affirmed.

The Third Circuit held that a student-athlete at a state school who is showing signs of a concussion has a constitutional right to be protected from further violent hits. This is a major ruling that I expect to have national significance. But the court went to hold that this right was not clearly established at the time of Sheldon’s injury in 2011. The court also denied the Monell failure-to-train claim because there was no evidence of a pattern of recurring head injuries in that school’s football program, nor that the coaching staff acted deliberately.

Joining Vanaskie were McKee and Rendell. Arguing counsel were Howard Bashman for the parents and Thomas Specht of Marshall Dennehey for the coach and the district.

UPDATE: coverage by Matt Miller on Pennlive here.


New opinion — Third Circuit narrows overtime-pay protection

Souryavong v. Lackawanna County — civil — affirmance — Vanaskie

The introduction:

This employee-overtime appeal raises questions as to the nature of the evidence that is sufficient to create a jury question on the purported “willfulness” of an employer’s nonpayment of overtime. The question matters because a finding of willfulness expands the limitations period for claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), in effect permitting a plaintiff to receive a larger award. Here only the willfulness question was contested—Appellee Lackawanna County conceded the basic overtime violations—and at trial Appellants Michael Souryavong and Nelson Rolon presented some evidence on the question but not enough to avoid a directed verdict in the County’s favor. We find no error in the District Court’s decision because the evidence presented did not suggest the County was subjectively aware of the FLSA problem at the time of the violations, at least with respect to Souryavong and Rolon. Additionally, Souryavong and Rolon challenge the District Court’s calculation of attorney’s fees, but we find that decision appropriate as well. We will affirm.

On the willfulness issue, the opinion also affirmed for two alternative reasons. First, it said that “an FLSA violation [a willful one, I believe the opinion means] must have a degree of egregiousness” lacking in this case. Second, it said that a “willful violation” requires evidence that the employer knew it was violating the FLSA specifically — awareness of “wage and hour issues” caused by its widespread non-payment of overtime for work over 40 hours and acknowledgement that the employees could file a grievance for back overtime wasn’t enough.

Both alternative rationales, but especially the second, strike me as significant new retreats from the statute’s language.

Joining Vanaskie were Ambro and Restrepo. Arguing counsel were Cynthia Pollick of the Employment Law Firm for the employees and Harry Coleman for the county.

Now hiring: Clerk of Court

The Third Circuit is hiring a new Clerk of Court. The job announcement is here. Marcia Waldron has been the Third Circuit Clerk for longer than I’ve been a lawyer.

The announcement gives a helpful picture of what the court clerk does:

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which serves more than 22 million people in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, seeks a dedicated and experienced administrator to be the Clerk of Court. The Clerk of Court supports the judges of the Court of Appeals by overseeing and leading the Court’s extensive administrative and operational functions. The Clerk also assists in resolving complex and sensitive issues having a significant impact on the day-to-day functioning of the Court. The Clerk reports directly to the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals and communicates regularly with Circuit Judges and Clerk’s office staff; other court executive units; the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts; the Federal Judicial Center; bar associations; and the media. Travel and public speaking are part of the work of the Clerk.


The Clerk of the Court of Appeals is a statutory position, appointment to which is by the Court. The responsibilities of the position, under the supervision of the Court, include but are not limited to the following:

  • Conduct of the business of the Court, including case management, manual and electronic records maintenance, statistical reporting, special studies, and opinion publication and circulation.

  • Management of a 43-person Clerk’s Office staff, including hiring, supervision,training, and promotion of employees.

  • Establishment and continuing maintenance of relationships with the district courts of the Circuit and with the practicing bar and governmental agencies having business before the Court.

  • Working with members of the bar and the public to improve the delivery of Court services.

  • As delegated by the Court, under local rules, disposition of motions filed in cases before the Court.

  • Interpretation of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure and the Rules of the Court and explanation of same to counsel, as well as implementation thereof.

  • As requested, consultation with and recommendation to the Court on all matters affecting the orderly and expeditious directing of the Court’s business including, but not limited to, consultation regarding federal statutes and regulations and Administrative Office directives, policies and procedures.

  • Participation in the process of planning the annual Court budget and forecasting personnel needs.

Pittsburgh newspaper urges Third Circuit to rehear McMunn radiation case

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has this staff editorial urging the Third Circuit to hear its ruling last month in McMunn v. Babcock & Wilcox Power. It says:

We hope the Third Circuit Court of Appeals will reconsider its decision to dismiss claims that a former nuclear plant in Apollo contributed to cancers among residents there. Of particular concern is that the ruling, as it stands, would virtually eliminate any chance for similar future claims against any other such plant because the victims of cancer didn’t “prove” their illnesses could be traced to emissions from the plant. “Proof” should be a matter for a trial and a jury, not a pre-trial review.

On Sunday the same paper ran this compelling story on the case by Mary Ann Thomas, headlined, “Apollo area residents involved in failed NUMEC nuke suit hope federal judges reconsider.” The story quotes Duquesne law professor Steven Baicker-McKee rightly observing that rehearing petitions are “always a heavy lift.”

I believe the odds of rehearing being granted here are quite remote (even more than usual), but the editorial and story do underscore Judge McKee’s concurring observation “stress[ing] that the law in this area is simply inadequate.”

Posner’s new book is bananas, but you might want it anyway

No doubt you’ve heard that legendary Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner abruptly retired earlier this month. Likely you’ve also heard that he just released a sensational new book recounting the conflict over his court’s handling of pro se appeals that he says led to his retirement. Posner is famously irreverent, and I suspect many look forward to watching the fists fly.

I got a copy of Posner’s book over the weekend, and I’ve read most of it and skimmed the rest. It’s called Reforming the Federal Judiciary, and subtitled My Former Court Needs to Overhaul Its Staff Attorney Program and Begin Televising Its Oral Arguments. He self-published it through Amazon, you can buy it here for the low-low price of $11.99.

Let’s start with the positive:

  • There’s a kernel of bracing Posnerian brilliance here. Blazing a spotlight on the separate-but-equal appellate review that pro litigants receive is vitally important. Hardly anyone understands how pro se appeals are handled by the federal courts — that is, how differently than appeals by litigants wealthy enough to hire lawyers. And hardly anyone cares. Posner is on to something big here.
  • There’s a decent amount of raw information here about what staff attorneys’ offices do in different circuits. For the Third Circuit, there’s 20 pages of survey answers by current staff attorneys detailing who they are and what they do. There’s some useful information there for appellate practitioners. There also is detailed information on the Fifth and Seventh Circuit SAOs, and a spreadsheet with data on most of the others.
  • Third Circuit fans will note with satisfaction that our staff attorneys’ office is held up by Posner as one of the offices that’s doing it right, or at least better.

So much for the happy part. Posner has made a terrible mistake in publishing this book. It is batshit crazy.

At its heart, this book is a baffling, disjointed blow-by-blow of Posner’s many recent battles with Seventh Circuit Chief Judge Diane Wood, the quite-unintentional hero of the tale.

The primary battle arose from Posner’s demand that he be allowed to re-write all his circuit’s staff attorneys’ memos and draft opinions before they went to his fellow judges. This is a ludicrous idea. Posner thought it “uncontroversial” and he was “surprised” when it was met with first silence, then uniform rejection. When Wood told him so, Posner “angrily” threatened to reveal staff counsel work product he deemed not good enough. When he was told that doing so would violate the judicial code of conduct, he resigned, and now he has self-published everything — memos and drafts by staff counsel peppered with his acid edits, emails between the judges, the whole trainwreck.

And why did Posner anoint himself as filter between the staff attorneys and his colleagues? Largely, he says, because “uniquely among this court’s judges, [he had] a deeply felt commitment to the welfare of the pro se litigants.” But, by his own account, he only “became interested in the staff attorney program in the late winter/early spring of this year (2017).” And in his preceding three and a half decades on the court, “I’m pretty sure I’d never even discussed it with another judge.” Deeply? Uniquely?

It gets worse. Posner chooses to reveal the initial panel vote in a still-not-yet-decided appeal that he identifies by name. The other two panel members plan to affirm, he tells us. (Posner disagrees, so we get two paragraphs summarizing and quoting from the dissent he would have filed.) What compelling reason led him to include this stunning disclosure in a book ostensibly about pro se’s and televising arguments, when this case has nothing to do with either? Because “I’ve decided to note two recent clashes with colleagues.” This is not Posner-being-Posner, this is madness.

The other “clash” he chooses to recount is when he emailed all the judges on the court to tell them he thought it odd that some judges referred to Wood as “Chief Diane.” He admits this one “doesn’t reflect credit on me” and, “In retrospect, I cannot understand what moved me to email the judges ….” Me neither.

While bad judgment is the real issue and there are dozens more examples available, there also are embarrassing errors. An appendix with another judge’s writing tips (?) repeats itself at length. The index lists Third Circuit Chief Judge D. Brooks Smith, but actually the judge referred to all but once is EDVa Chief District Judge Rebecca Smith. One passage starts out as narrative text but ends up as a quoted email. It all reinforces the sense that this book was a lonely endeavor.

Posner’s enemies will be chortling, but, for his many admirers, it’s just sad.



UPDATE: here is a powerful response to Posner’s book, written by a former Seventh Circuit staff attorney (and current DOJ antitrust lawyer) and posted on October 5 on Volokh Conspiracy.

New opinion — Third Circuit upholds rejection of radiation victim’s suit

Estate of Ware v. Hospital of the Univ. of Penn. — civil — affirmance — Ambro

Judge Ambro is a national treasure, and here is the conclusion to his opinion today:

The facts of Boyer’s action are tragic: her husband, a 47-year-old researcher whose life’s work was studying the effects of radiation on biological organisms, died from a rare form of brain cancer. But as often happens in the law, this case provides us little opportunity to contemplate Ware’s suffering from his illness or his family’s suffering from his loss. Instead, our review is confined to bloodless questions of statutory interpretation and appropriate management of litigation. On these issues we find no fault with the District Court’s holdings. The Price-Anderson Act governed Boyer’s negligence claims, and the Court did not abuse its discretion in denying her request to withdraw those claims and to remand her others. We thus affirm its judgment.

Joining Ambro were Restrepo and Cowen. Arguing counsel were Aaron Freiwald of Layser & Freiwald (nice website!) for the plaintiff and Donald Jose of Jose & Associates and Theresa Sachs of Marshall Dennehey for the university.

A new ERISA opinion

Dowling v. Pension Plan for Salaried Employees of Union Pacific — ERISA — affirmance — Vanaskie

“Retirement plans,” today’s opinion begins, “can be complex documents … with numerous peculiarities,” and who would disagree? The litigation arising from disputes over those plans can be complex and peculiar too. Today, a divided Third Circuit panel affirmed a district court ruling in favor of the employer, emphasizing the deference courts owe to plan administrators.

Joining Vanaskie was Hardiman; Ambro cogently dissented, describing the majority’s reasoning as “imaginative,” “innovative,” and “dubious.” Arguing counsel were Kelly Watkins of Norris McLaughlin for the employee and David Fryman of Ballard Spahr for the employer.

A federal judge is suing Judge Scirica

Third Circuit Judge Anthony Scirica is a defendant in a mind-blowing federal lawsuit recently filed by an Ohio federal judge.

After federal district judge John R. Adams (N.D. Ohio) issued a show-cause contempt order against a magistrate judge who hadn’t met his deadline (!), four of his fellow judges filed a judicial misconduct complaint against him, and the Sixth Circuit Judicial Council reprimanded him and ordered him to undergo a mental health examination.

Represented by a conservative activist group, Adams then petitioned for review by the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability of the Judicial Conference of the United States, which is chaired by Scirica. The Committee upheld the reprimand and the examination order. (Thorough local news coverage, here and here, describes Adams’ history of confrontations and quoting Adams himself.)

[I first learned about his through a post today on Howard Bashman’s How Appealing.]

The never-boring Judge Richard Kopf blogged that Adams had been “a jerk” and “should be ashamed of himself,” although Kopf was of two minds on whether the examination order was justified.

Now, Scirica has been sued in his capacity as Committee chair by Adams (along with the Committee, the Sixth Circuit council, and the council’s chair) in the District of D.C., alleging a slew of constitutional violations including “constructive impeachment.” The complaint is here.

Adams has no business on the federal bench. I just feel bad for Judge Scirica that’s he’s been dragged into this demeaning spectacle.


New opinion — criminal sentences can’t include job restrictions that last longer than supervised-release maximum

US v. Poulson — criminal — partial reversal — Rendell

The Third Circuit today reversed under plain error a criminal sentence that barred the defendant from working in real estate for longer than he was subject to supervised release:

he District Court was *** only authorized to impose a maximum term of three years’ supervised release on Poulson. Because the District Court imposed, as a term of supervised release, an occupational restriction lasting five years, this part of Poulson’s sentence amounted to plain error.

The court rejected the defendant’s challenge to the sentencing court’s Guidelines finding on the number of the defendant’s fraud victims who suffered a substantial financial hardship.

Joining Rendell were McKee and Vanaskie. The case was decided without oral argument.

Advice for appellate lawyers doing their first Third Circuit case

If you’re an experienced appeals practitioner with little or no Third Circuit experience, and now you’ve got a Third Circuit appeal, this post is for you. You’ll likely find that Third Circuit practice holds no huge surprises, but every court has its own rules, practices, and norms.

If you’ve done your share of appeals but you’re new to the Third Circuit, here are nine things you should know:

  1. Don’t count on getting oral argument. The Third Circuit holds the fewest oral arguments of any federal circuit in the country — 20% fewer in 2016 than the next lowest circuit. The Second Circuit holds argument in almost a third of its cases, the DC Circuit in almost half, but the Third Circuit grants argument less than 10% of the time. Unless your case is extraordinary, you’d be foolish to bank on the court granting oral argument, so if you’ve got something to say, say it in your brief(s).
  2. You’ll find out who’s on your panel after the briefs are submitted and roughly two weeks before oral argument or submission on the briefs. The three panel judges are identified in the letter from the clerk you receive on ECF, captioned either “Submit Notice” or “Argue Notification,” notifying you whether the panel granted argument (a decision made by the judges not staff counsel and made after briefing).
  3. Don’t be confused by the letter you get from the clerk (also after the briefs are in, but before the letter in #2, this one ECF-captioned “Calendared_Merits”) asking if you’re available for argument on a particular date. This letter is sent out by the clerk automatically, meaning it does not imply that the court will grant oral argument in your case.
  4. The Third Circuit is an emphatically centrist court. Different folks would draw these lines in different places, but it wouldn’t be crazy to classify the active Third Circuit judges as 1 liberal, 2 conservatives, and 8 moderates. (Here’s one perspective.) So if your case is ideologically charged, know that the deciding vote on your panel will quite likely be a centrist.
  5. Steer well clear of attacks on the court below or the other side. This is true in most any appellate court, but especially so here. The Third Circuit’s patience for sniping and insinuations of bad faith is low. Your devastating verbal jabs are way more dangerous to you than your intended target.
  6. Follow all the rules. The court has come down hard recently on lawyers who didn’t, including lawyers with little Third Circuit experience. Howard Bashman has warned that these cases “may indicate that the Third Circuit’s previous forgiving approach toward errors affecting form but not substance has come to an end.” (Links to the federal appellate rules and the local rules are on Third Circuit’s website and also on the sidebar of this blog.)
  7. The court has standing orders discouraging requests for extensions of time or brief-length, and they mean it.
  8. If you do get oral argument, be aware of two ways the Third Circuit differs from other circuits. First, the court can be loosey-goosey with argument time limits. Don’t be shocked if the panel keeps peppering you with questions long after your red light went on. Second, the court now posts video of a few arguments on its website, which you may find helpful for getting a feel for what to expect beforehand, or impressing your mother afterwards.
  9. For more comprehensive coverage of circuit practice, there’s a Third Circuit practice manual that was just updated this year. There’s also a shorter (and free) online practice guide put out by the circuit bar association. Both are outstanding. And of course the circuit clerk’s office is indispensable.

Last thought: consider consulting with a lawyer who practices in the Third Circuit regularly. One place to start is the circuit bar association’s board. I’m on it, and I consult a lot with lawyers doing Third Circuit appeals, but others do too. Whether you need to figure out procedure, understand the court’s dynamics, or moot your argument, sometimes there’s no substitute for local expertise.



Here’s how to pronounce judges’ last names that sometimes get mangled:

  • Chagares — shuh GARR iss (rhymes with ‘the Harris,’ not ‘the Norris’)
  • Vanaskie — vuh NASS key
  • Scirica — suh RICK uh
  • Cowen — first syllable rhymes with ‘now,’ not ‘go’
  • Nygaard — NYE gard (first syllable rhymes with ‘hi’)





Why is the Philadelphia media ignoring the Bibas nomination?

Back in June, President Donald Trump nominated Stephanos Bibas to the Third Circuit.

But today, 86 days later, the Philadelphia Inquirer still hasn’t said a thing about it. Nor has the Daily News. Nor has Nor has What gives?

When President Barack Obama nominated Pittsburgh-area federal prosecutor Rebecca Haywood to the Third Circuit, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review ran a detailed profile the same day, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also ran a story the same day. The Inquirer had a story of its own, here.

When Obama nominated Judge Restrepo, the Inquirer had extensive coverage, starting with a substantial story posted the day of the nomination.

Is Trump’s first Third Circuit nomination — a hometown professor who’s taken some provocative public positions on big issues — not newsworthy?


New Harrisburg courthouse tops federal judiciary’s building priorities

The Judicial Conference today announced its 2017 courthouse-construction priorities, and a new MDPA courthouse in Harrisburg PA sits at the top of the list. The announcement is here, the list is here, an overview of the Harrisburg project is here, and the inadequacies of the current courthouse are described here.

According to the list, the Harrisburg new courthouse project is in the “concept design” stage, with the site partially acquired and over $50 million (about a quarter of the total budget) already spent. A 2016 local news story reports that the courthouse will be 243,000 sq. ft., and quotes a Congress member saying, “This has been a long time coming.”

The Third Circuit currently has one judge based in the Middle District of Pennsylvania — Judge Thomas Vanaskie, whose chambers are in the Scranton courthouse — but none in Harrisburg.

New opinion — Third Circuit rejects broad reading of employee’s waiver

Zuber v. Boscov’s — civil / contract — reversal — Greenaway

The Third Circuit today held that, under Pennsylvania contract law, an employee’s waiver of workers’ compensation claims did not also waive his claims under the Family Medical Leave Act and state law, reversing a district court ruling to the contrary.

Joining Greenaway were Shwartz and Greenberg. Arguing counsel were Manili Arora of Swartz Swidler for the employee, Alexander Ross Jr. of Rakoski & Ross for the employer, and Lawrence Chaban of the PA Association for Justice as amicus.

Judge Scirica to receive American Inns of Court national award

Third Circuit Judge Anthony Scirica will receive the 2017 American Inns of Court Lewis F. Powell Award for Professionalism and Ethics, the Third Circuit announced today. He’ll receive the award at an event at the Supreme Court hosted by Justice Kagan on October 21.

Established in 1990, the award goes to “a lawyer or judge who has rendered exemplary service in the areas of legal excellence, professionalism, and ethics.” While EDPA Judge Louis Pollak won the award in 2009, Judge Scirica is the first Third Circuit judge to receive it.

Earlier this year, Judge Scirica received the American Inns of Court Professionalism Award for the Third Circuit.

New opinion — another reversal of a habeas grant

Wilkerson v. Superintendent — habeas — reversal — Krause

Just last week I wrote,

Third Circuit reversals in habeas corpus cases are mighty rare. It happened yesterday, but it was a reversal of a district court order that had granted relief. Discouraging times for habeas petitioners.

Today it happened again. The Third Circuit reversed a district court order granting habeas relief on a double-jeopardy claim. The court also affirmed denial of an Apprendi claim, holding that the claim was time-barred. The opinion did hold that the double-jeopardy claim was exhausted even the petitioner raised only the analogous state-law claim in state court.

Joining Krause were Hardiman and Stengel EDPA by designation (an unusual situation where a district judge reviews the decision of a district colleague). Arguing counsel were Maria Pulzetti of the federal defender for the petitioner and Max Kaufman of the Philadelphia DA’s office for the state.

New opinion — Third Circuit authorizes successor habeas petition raising ACCA challenge

In re: Hoffner, Jr. — habeas — Restrepo

The Third Circuit today authorized a prisoner to file a successor petition under 28 USC § 2255 (the equivalent of habeas corpus for federal prisoners) raising a claim that the Armed Career Criminal Act is unconstitutionally vague (i.e. a Johnson claim). The court emphasized that it takes a flexible, case-by-case approach to deciding when successor petitions are authorized, rejecting the more rigid approach taken by the Eighth Circuit.

I’ll go way out on a limb and predict that the government seeks rehearing.

Joining Restrepo were McKee and Ambro. Arguing counsel were Lisa Freeland for the petitioner and Robert Zauzmer for the government.

4 new opinions, including two immigration reversals

Uddin v. AG — immigration — reversal — Rendell

The Third Circuit today granted an immigration petition to review, holding that the BIA erred when it found a Bangladesh citizen ineligible for withholding of removal. The BIA had deemed him ineligible because he was a member of a major political party, some of whose members had committed terrorist acts.

The Third Circuit held that membership in a party whose members had committed terrorism wasn’t enough — the BIA had to find that the terrorist acts were authorized by party leaders. Analogizing to American politics, the court observed, “If a single member of the Democratic or Republican Party committed a terrorist act, we would not impute terrorist status to the entire group, absent some showing that party leadership authorized the act.”

The court joined the reasoning of a 2008 Seventh Circuit opinion authored by just-retired Judge Posner. Not surprisingly, today’s opinion quotes Posner at length and identifies him by name.

Joining Rendell were Greenaway and Shwartz; Greenaway also concurred separately. Arguing counsel were Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran of NY for the petitioner and Daniel Smulow for the government.

UPDATE: The Court issued an amended opinion on September 25. The opinion link has been updated; the change is identified in this order.


Mateo v. AG — immigration — reversal — Vanaskie

The Third Circuit held that a non-citizen’s Pennsylvania conviction for robbery of a motor vehicle did not support his removal. The removal order was premised on the vehicle-robbery conviction being a crime of violence, but the Third Circuit held that the crime-of-violence standard was unconstitutionally vague. The court joined three other circuits on this point, splitting with the Fifth Circuit. The court further held that the vagueness standard is no lower in immigration cases than it is in criminal cases.

Joining Vanaskie were McKee and Jordan. Arguing counsel were Tracey Hubbard of Scranton for the petitioner and Matthew Connelly for the government.


US v. Hodge — criminal — reversal in part — Chagares

After a Virgin Islands man used a gun to rob an armored vehicle, the government charged him with a separate Virgin Islands gun count for each of three crimes he committed during the offense. Today, the Third Circuit vacated two of those non-federal convictions on double jeopardy grounds (but it rejected the analogous argument as to two federal gun counts). The court granted relief even though the defendant received a single sentence for all three counts, similar to the federal practice of imposing concurrent sentences. The court rejected the defendant’s many other challenges.

Joining Chagares were Jordan and Hardiman. Arguing counsel were Richard Della Fera of Florida for the defendant and David White for the government.


Moody v. Atlantic City Bd. of Education — employment discrimination — reversal — Shwartz

An employee sued her employer, alleging that a fellow employee had sexually harassed her and the employer retaliated against her when she complained.

On the harassment claim, the employer’s liability turned on whether the alleged harasser was her supervisor even though he didn’t hire and couldn’t fire her. The plaintiff was a substitute janitor who worked at different sites; the alleged harasser had the power to decide if she got work at one of those sites, and in a recent several-month period 70% of her work had been at that site. The district court granted summary judgment to the employer based its conclusion that the alleged harasser was not her supervisor.

Today, a divided Third Circuit panel reversed, holding that the plaintiff’s allegations were sufficient to survive summary judgment on whether the alleged harasser was her supevisor. Judge Rendell dissented on this point, arguing that in light of a recent Supreme Court case the majority was “simply incorrect.”

On the retaliation claim, the panel was unanimous that reversal was required, holding that her allegation that her hours were reduced right after she complained was sufficient.

Joining Shwartz was Greenaway; Rendell dissented in part. Arguing counsel were Samuel Dion of Dion & Goldberger for the plaintiff and Rachel Conte of Riley and Rile for the employer.

With Hurricane Irma bearing down, Third Circuit extends filing deadlines

With a Category 5 hurricane pointed right at the Virgin Islands, the Third Circuit announced today:

Due to weather conditions in the Virgin Islands, any non-emergency filing (e.g. briefs, case opening documents,) in a Virgin Islands case that is due during the period September 5 through September 12 will be due on September 13. Further extensions will be granted depending on conditions.

Be safe, Virgin Islands colleagues.

New opinion — Third Circuit rejects company’s effort to force arbitration of rewards-card dispute

White v. Sunoco — civil / arbitration — affirmance — Chagares

Sunoco, like many corporations, offers incentives to consumers who sign up for a rewards-program credit card. Sunoco doesn’t issue the credit card; a bank (here, Citibank) issues the card. Citibank sets terms and conditions, including that, in a dispute between the cardholder and the bank, the bank can force binding arbitration.

Here, a cardholder alleged that rewards-program benefits were fraudulent, and he sued Sunoco, not Citibank. Sunoco moved to compel arbitration based on the terms set by Citibank. The district court denied arbitration.

Today, in what strikes me as a major consumer-arbitration-law ruling, a divided Third Circuit panel affirmed, applying state law to conclude that Sunoco could not force arbitration under the credit-card terms issued by Citibank. The court rejected Sunoco’s arguments based on equitable estoppel and based on the arbitration clause’s inclusion of claims “made … against anyone connected with us.”

Joining Chagares was Restrepo. Roth dissented in an opinion that uses the phrase “basic contract law” twice and the adverb “clearly” five times. Arguing counsel were Seamus Duffy of Drinker Biddle for Sunoco and David Stanoch of Golomb & Honik for the consumer.

Advice for new circuit clerks

Now is the time of year when new federal appellate clerkships start, which got me thinking back to my own clerkship for a wonderful Tenth Circuit judge. (The other judge I interviewed with was Chief Judge Becker here in the Third Circuit. So close!) My clerkship was one of the best years of my life, and I’ve heard many other former clerks, before and since, say the same thing.

If you’re just starting a Third Circuit clerkship, you’ve probably heard lots of folks like me wax enthusiastic about clerking. You’re excited, and you should be. Walking into the courthouse that first day is a singular feeling.

But when I started my clerkship I had a pretty hazy idea of what clerkships actually were like. All the misty-eyed encouragement is nice, but it doesn’t give you the whole picture. Understanding a few realities going in can help you get the most out of your clerkship.

So here are six things you should know:

1. The applause is over. Law school is a firehose of feedback. Class rank, exams, jobs, law review, and on and on — as a law student you were measured against your peers constantly and minutely. You came out on the winning end often enough to land a circuit clerkship, and those triumphant moments were intoxicating.

But, when it comes to feedback, clerking is nothing like law school. You’re working just as hard, but suddenly there’s no medal ceremony at the end of every race. No one’s handing out prizes for the best opinion drafts. No one’s telling you whether your bench memo was an A+ or a B-, or why. Judges don’t care whether you rank 8th or 58th on their list of all-time best clerks, which doesn’t exist.

In law school, you knew how you were doing down to the hundredth of a gradepoint. In your clerkship, you may wonder for weeks or months, without the barest hint. The competitive fire, the moments of triumph and affirmation that got you through law school — they won’t get you through your clerkship.

2. Judges are busy. When I was a law student daydreaming about clerking, I pictured myself in the judge’s office, earnestly hashing out big legal questions with my co-clerks and the judge. Afterwards, in my daydream, the judge would mosey over to my office, lean back in a chair with his feet up on my desk, and we’d bat around reflections on the big opinion we just issued.

That ain’t how it went.

Every day, on average, my judge read 1,000 pages of briefs and decided two cases. He estimated that he wrote the equivalent of two law review articles a week. So there wasn’t a whole lot of time left to sit around and bullshit with me.

3. Extroverts beware. One of my co-clerks was a true people-person, warm and social. For folks like her, a circuit clerkship can be a lonely bore. Coming from law school, appellate clerking can feel like a year of monkish solitude. You spend most days shackled to your computer, researching and cite-checking and drafting. You get a bit of human contact with your nerdy co-clerks, but a lot less contact with other chambers, and, unlike district clerkships, no contact at all with the lawyers.

That’s fine and dandy if you’re like me — another of my co-clerks dubbed me a Lover of the Law, and I do believe his tone was mocking. But if you’re an extrovert, know that you’re probably not going to get all the social sustenance you need at work, so try to get it somewhere.

4. Accuracy before artistry. Law school rewards flash: it’s less important to be correct than to seem brilliant. Most exam questions don’t even have a ‘right’ answer. They’re a backdrop against which you dance and preen, outdoing your classmates with your elegant insights. No one cares too much whether you concluded in the end that Daisy’s negligence proximately caused Peter’s injury or not.

But, as a clerk, your focus can’t be your stardom. If it is, you can stretch too far to find and reach issues that seem important, even when (especially when) the parties haven’t briefed them adequately. You can spend too much time crafting grand Gorsuchian passages and too little time slogging through the record.

If your focus is on standing out, you’re prone to make more mistakes. Maybe that trade-off was worth it when you were a law student, but not when you’re a law clerk.

5. Be your best self. A circuit clerkship is a nifty thing to have on your CV, but for many the credential ends up mattering less than the relationships they built during the clerkship. Of course you want to charm and impress your judge, but don’t lose sight of your co-clerks and the clerks in other chambers. In the decades ahead they’re going to be doing amazing things — their friendship will enrich your life and maybe help your career. Do your best not to be an ass.

6. Let the judge be the judge. One day down the road, after the initial panic recedes, you just won’t believe how much power you’ve got as a clerk. You untangled how the case should come out, you persuaded your judge, and now it’s going into F.3d. It’s heady stuff.

That’s all fine. You really do get to have an impact, and that’s part of the fun. But keep it in perspective. You’re not the one who made it past the Judiciary Committee, and you’re not the one whose name goes on the opinions. And thank god for that. Because, for all your jaw-dropping Bluebook mastery, you’re still a knucklehead with a career’s worth of lessons yet to learn. Your job isn’t to decide cases: your job is to help your judge decide. Remember that, and you’ll do okay.


For most, the cliche turns out to be true: clerking for a federal appellate judge is an amazing opportunity. But chances are it will be a different version of amazing than the one you envisioned beforehand. The sooner you accept that, the easier it will be to appreciate everything your clerkship does offer.


As I was working on this post, I also solicited input on the topic from others. Here are those thoughts, verbatim with light editing for consistency:

  • Some lawyers just aren’t very good. While it is true that you will marvel, on occasion, at the quality of lawyers’ briefs, you also find yourself marveling that someone had the gall to submit (insert piece of trash here) to the marble palace in which you now reside. The mean average of briefs hovers around “adequate”; which, if you think about it, is probably ideal if it gets the job done. But there’s some terrible lawyering out there, more terrible still when your independent research–and get used to doing independent research–suggests that the party could have won IF ONLY…. Such is life in an adversarial system.

  • Despite the above: most clerks come into a clerkship without extensive background in actual practice. You may not know why a lawyer did something you deem puzzling, but there may be a good reason. A lawyer’s mistake, or failure to notice a case, may seem inexcusable, but you also don’t know this attorney’s caseload. People make mistakes, and it is not the job of the clerk to punch downwards.

  • Some appellate judges are “lovers of the law,” others emphasize practicality, and most are somewhere in the middle. Don’t interpret your boss’s lack of enthusiasm for the intricacies of the FLSA as a suggestion that your work is not important or appreciated. Getting things right matters.

  • Sometimes an opinion will have passed across countless desks, have undergone scrutiny by multiple pairs of eyes … and it will still have a serious substantive mistake. The law is complex; no one can be a master of all domains. Learn when to speak up, and how.

  • With occasional exceptions, federal appellate judges do not decide cases on their lonesome. In each case, whether your judge is writing or not, you will have two other judges (and their clerks) to contend with. Some Circuits are known for their collegiality, and others for their frost. But unlike in District Court, your boss will not be her own fiefdom, and that will, for better or worse, affect how your chambers decides and writes cases — both for the present and also the future, because federal appellate judges are the ultimate repeat players.

  • You will make mistakes. You will receive pushback. Try to act constructively about the former — is there anything you can do? anything you can fix? — and graciously about the latter. Perhaps the other judge, or co-clerk, isn’t beyond stupid. Perhaps they have a point that you should consider.

  • Don’t be an asshole or asshole-adjacent. Your co-clerks will be with you the entire term — perhaps shorter, perhaps longer, but in any event long enough. Office politics are magnified in a cloistered environment, and fast. Consider it a learning experience. Instead of picking a fight over Alex’s inability to ever clean the sink, breathe deep, focus, and think of whether it’s worth three weeks of avoiding eye contact and awkward lunches with the boss. Of course it isn’t.

Hey former circuit clerks: what did we miss? What do you wish someone had told you when you started? Email me, and I’ll post any good responses (anonymously, if you prefer) in a follow-up.


UPDATE: Orin Kerr responded on Twitter yesterday with his own take on advice for new clerks. Highlights: “Work hard to get along with the judge’s secretary,” and “Most briefs stink.”

The Third Circuit in the news … in the weddings section

In today’s New York Times:

Gregory Michael Schweizer and Jordan Andrew Rice were married Sept. 2 in Chicago. Judge Cheryl Ann Krause of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia, officiated at the Bridgeport Art Center.

Mr. Schweizer (left), 28, and Mr. Rice, 29, met at Stanford in 2012, from which they both received law degrees.

Mr. Schweizer is a lawyer at the litigation firm Eimer Stahl in Chicago. He graduated summa cum laude from Washington University in St. Louis. He previously served as a law clerk to Judge Krause.

Congratulations Greg and Jordan!

A non-precedential grant of capital habeas relief based on Brady violation

A Third Circuit panel today affirmed a grant of habeas corpus relief in Bridges v. Secretary, No. 13-9000 and 13-9001. Bridges was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death for a 1996 killing in Reading, PA. The opinion is non-precedential.

Relief was based on the prosecution’s suppression of exculpatory police reports impeaching a key prosecution witness. The state had argued that the suppressed reports weren’t material because they were inadmissible and didn’t prove what the petitioner argued. The panel also ruled that the Brady claim was not adjudicated on the merits when the state court mistakenly stated that the claim had previously been denied.

The opinion author was Shwartz, joined by McKee and Fuentes. The petitioner was represented by the MDPA FPD.

New opinion — Third Circuit remands for labor arbitration

Employer Trustees of Western PA Teamsters v. Union Trustees of Western PA Teamsters — labor — reversal — Vanaskie

When labor negotiations deadlocked over employee benefits, one side sought appointment of an arbitrator to break the stalemate. The district court denied the request, but today the Third Circuit reversed, holding that the disputes fell within the parties’ agreement to arbitrate.

Joining Vanaskie were Ambro and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Robert Prorok of Cohen & Grigsby for  the appellants and  Joseph Pass of Jubelirer Pass for the appellees.

4 more new opinions

This post covers the precedential opinions issued yesterday, August 30.

Borrell v. Bloomsburg Univ. — civil rights — reversal — Hardiman

A nurse-anesthetist student was dismissed from her program for refusing to take a drug test required by the private hospital where she was doing a clinical program. The person who decided to dismiss her from the university program was the director of the program, a joint employee of the hospital and the university. The student sued under 1983, and the district court granted her summary judgment, concluding that the hospital and the program director were state actors. After a damages trial, the jury awarded her $415,000 in damages and $1.1 million in punitives which the judge reduced to $250,000 and $750,000.

The Third Circuit reversed, holding that the hospital and the program director weren’t state actors with respect to the decision to dismiss her from the program. The court also held that a university professor who had a role in the dismissal was entitled to qualified immunity.

Joining Hardiman were Fisher in full and Roth in part; Roth concurred in the judgment in part. Arguing counsel were Barry Dyller of the Dyller Law Firm for the student, Jaime Tuite of Buchanan Ingersoll for the hospital and program director, and John Knorr III of the state AG’s office for the professor.


US v. Penn — criminal — affirmance — Smith

The Third Circuit held that a district court did not abuse its discretion when, after opening statements, it removed and replaced a juror with a scheduled surgery.

Joining Smith were Fuentes and Starks D.Del. by designation. The case was decided without oral argument.


Williams v. Pa. Human Relation’s Comm. — employment discrimination — affirmance — Fuentes

The introduction, minus citations:

Cheryl Williams, an African-American woman,
claims that she was subjected to constant harassment at the
Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (the
“Commission”) by her supervisors, Joseph Retort and Adam
Stalczynski. As a result of this treatment, she alleges she faced a hostile work environment and was ultimately constructively
discharged from her position as a Human Relations
Representative. She then filed this action against the
Commission under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
(“Title VII”), seeking damages for the loss of her job and the
harm sustained to her physical and emotional health. She also
included claims against her former supervisors, Retort and
Stalczynski, claiming that they violated her federal rights under
Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”)
and they are therefore liable for damages under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. On defendants’ motion, the District Court granted
summary judgment in favor of all defendants.

In this case, we address for the first time whether
violations of Title VII and the ADA may be brought through
§ 1983. In light of the comprehensive administrative scheme
established by Title VII and the ADA, we conclude that these
claims, standing alone, may not be asserted under § 1983. And
because we also agree with the District Court that Plaintiff
Cheryl Williams presents no triable issues of fact on her
Title VII claims against the Commission, we will affirm.

Joining Fuentes were Smith and Nygaard. The case was decided without oral argument.


Delaware Riverkeeper Network v. Secretary, Dept. of Environmental Protection — environmental — affirmance — Smith

The Third Circuit rejected another effort by an environmental group to stop an interstate gas pipeline. This time the court also held that the state agency’s decision was final.

Joining Smith were Nygaard and Fuentes. Arguing counsel were Aaron Stemplewicz for the Riverkeepers, Joseph Cigan III for the state, and John Stoviak of Saul Ewing for the intervenor pipeline company

Five new opinions from the end-of-summer opinion surge

This post covers the precedential opinions issued August 29.

Parker v.Montgomery Co.  Corr. Facility — prisoner civil rights — denial — Smith

I detest the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act. This opinion magnifies the shabby unfairness of the PLRA, so I detest its result and I hope (with no optimism) that the Supreme Court or Congress fixes it.

While I believe all that, I also believe this: this opinion is superb, a near-perfect model of clarity and restraint. It is a crisp counter-punch to the cynics and the “politicians in robes” federal-judge-bashers. I deplore its holding as a policy matter, but, given controlling law, its ruling is probably correct and without a doubt reasonable.

Under the PLRA’s three-strikes rule, an indigent prisoner who has filed three actions or appeals that were deemed “frivolous, malicious, or fail[] to state a claim upon which relief may be granted” no longer qualifies to proceed in forma pauperis. That means that, unlike all other poor litigants, they must pre-pay the full filing fees. The current fee for one Third Circuit appeal is $505, or over 2600 hours of income for a PA inmate earning 19 cents an hour.

The issue in this case is whether an inmate may appeal IFP from a district court imposing a third strike. The court held that, given the language of the statute and a unanimous 2015 Supreme Court case interpreting it, he may not appeal IFP from his third strike, disagreeing with the Solicitor General and splitting with the Ninth Circuit.

Joining Smith were Fuentes and Stark D. Del. by designation. Arguing counsel were Ryan Becker of Fox Rothschild for the prisoner and Philip Newcomer for the county. The panel extended its gratitude to Becker and his co-counsel Peter Buckley for “donating their time and talent in accepting this pro bono appointment.”


Davenport v. Borough of Homestead — civil rights — partial reversal — Fisher

Late one night, a driver ran a red light and then did not pull over for police. Police followed him, as he drove into Pittsburgh, never exceeding 45 miles per hour and jeopardizing no one. The police sergeant called off the low-speed pursuit, but instead several off-duty police officers deployed a spike strip in an area filled with pedestrians. After the red-light-runner swerved out of his lane to avoid the spike strip, several officers opened fire. A pedestrian was struck in the back and the driver’s mother, a passenger in the car, was shot in the head. The mother sued the officers for using excessive force, the officers asserted qualified immunity, and the district court denied the officer’s motion.

The Third Circuit reversed, holding that no reasonable juror could find for the mother because of the heavy pedestrian presence and the driver’s swerving and, alternatively, because the unconstitutionality of the officer’s actions wasn’t clearly established. Ugh.

Joining Fisher were Hardiman and Roth. Arguing counsel were Shane Haselbarth of Marshall Dennehey for the officers and J. Kerrington Lewis Sr. of Lewis Lewis for the mother.


NLRB v. New Vista Nursing & Rehab. — labor — reversal — Smith

The Third Circuit rejected an employer’s challenges to the NLRB’s power to act based on various grounds including recess appointments of its board members. On the merits, the court vacated the NLRB’s order for applying the wrong test to decide whether the nurse employees were supervisors and thus unable to unionize.

Joining Smith was Fisher in full and Greenaway in part; Greenaway dissented on the merits issue. The case was decided without oral argument despite impressive counsel and an amicus.


Norfolk Southern Railway v. Pittsburgh & W. Va. R.R. — contract — affirmance — Vanaskie

The Third Circuit affirmed a district court’s grant of summary judgment in a dispute over interpretation of a railroad lease.

Joining Vanaskie were Ambro and Scirica. The case was decided without oral argument.


Bamaca-Cifuentes v. AG — immigration — affirmance — McKee

The Third Circuit rejected an immigration petition for review, holding that 8 CFR 1003.2(c)’s timebar applies to motions to reopen removal under the Convention Against Torture.

Joining McKee were Cowen and Fuentes. The case was decided without oral argument.

New opinions — wiping out a habeas grant and allowing discovery on the fairness of stash-house stings [updated]

The Third Circuit issued two precedential opinions yesterday, both reflecting the court’s fundamental centrism.


Mathias v. Superintendent — habeas corpus — reversal — Krause

Third Circuit reversals in habeas corpus cases are mighty rare. It happened yesterday, but it was a reversal of a district court order that had granted relief. Discouraging times for habeas petitioners.

The Third Circuit held that the district court erred in granting relief based on counsel’s failure to object to a faulty jury instruction involving accomplice liability. The court held that the state court’s ruling that the petitioner did not suffer prejudice was not an unreasonable application of clearly established law because two pertinent Supreme Court rulings were in tension. The court also rejected a related due process claim.

The court also held that the time-limit for cross-appealing is not jurisdictional and is waiveable under a standard set out in the opinion. It further held (as local rule 22.1(d) already provided) that petitioners need a certificate of appealability to cross-appeal, splitting with the Seventh Circuit.

Joining Krause were Fisher and Melloy CA8 by designation. Arguing counsel were Maria Pulzetti of the EDPA federal defender for the petitioner and Jennifer Andress of the Philadelphia DA’s office for the state.

UPDATE: On November 20, the court issued an amended opinion. The link at the top of this post now goes to the new opinion. The old opinion is here, and the court’s order helpfully identifying the changes is here. The heart of the change is new footnote 4.


US v. Washington — criminal — partial affirmance — Fuentes

This appeal arose out of a stash house reverse sting. A what? The majority opinion explains:

Developed by the ATF in the 1980s to combat a rise in professional robbery crews targeting stash houses, reverse sting operations have grown increasingly controversial over the years, even as they have grown safer and more refined. For one, they empower law enforcement to craft offenses out of whole cloth, often corresponding to statutory offense thresholds. Here, the entirely fictitious 10 kilograms of cocaine triggered a very real 20-year mandatory minimum for Washington [the defendant], contributing to a total sentence of 264 months in prison—far more than even the ringleader of the conspiracy received. For another, and as Washington claimed on multiple occasions before the District Court—and now again on appeal—people of color are allegedly swept up in the stings in disproportionate numbers.

The panel majority rejected the defendant’s argument that applying the mandatory-minimum sentence violated due process. Judge McKee dissented on this point, arguing that applying the minimums based on fictional drug amounts conjured by law enformcement was unfair, irrational, and not intended by Congress.

The panel unanimously remanded to allow the defendant to pursue discovery in support of a selective-enforcement claim, joining the Seventh Circuit to apply a lower standard than that applicable to selective prosecution claims.

Joining Fuentes was Cowen; McKee dissented in part. Arguing counsel were Mark Greenberg for the defendant and Eric Henson for the government.

4 new opinions

I’m out of the office for the next few days, so my posts will be later and briefer than usual.

McMunn v. Babcock & Wilcox Power — civil — affirmance — Smith

The Third Circuit today upheld summary judgment in favor of the defense in a major civil suit that alleged that radiation emissions caused the plaintiffs’ cancers.

Smith was joined by Restrepo. McKee concurred (apparently without joining Smith’s opinion, and also joined by Restrepo, which seems likely to cause future confusion to the extent the two opinions disagree). Arguing counsel were Louis Bograd of Motley Rice for the plaintiffs and John Phillips of Paul Hastings and Nancy Milburn of Arnold & Porter for the defendants.


Mendoza-Ordonez v. AG — immigration — reversal — Nygaard

The Third Circuit granted a Honduras citizen’s petition for review, holding that the man was entitled to withholding of removal based on evidence that he faced violence for his political views and reports indicating that his home country was unable to protect him.

Joining Nygaard were Ambro and Restrepo. Arguing counsel were Joseph Brophy of Brophy & Lenahan for the petitioner and Sabatino Leo for the government.


Williams v. Globus Medical — civil — affirmance — Scirica

The Third Circuit upheld dismissal of a shareholder suit against a company for belatedly disclosing a business decision that caused a sales decline.

Joining Scirica were Chagares and Fisher. Arguing counsel were Jacob Goldberg of the Rosen Law Firm for the shareholders and Barry Kaplan of WA for the company.


Delaware Riverkeeper Network v. US Army Corp of Engineers — environmental — affirmance — Smith

The Third Circuit denied a petition to review an agency ruling approving a gas pipeline.

Joining Smith were Nygaard and Fuentes. Arguing counsel were Aaron Stemplewicz for the Riverkeepers, Varu Chilakamurri for the government, and John Stoviak of Saul Ewing for the intervenor pipeline company.

Three new opinions, including an interesting actual-innocence case

Bruce v. Warden — habeas corpus — affirmance — Fisher

The Third Circuit today upheld a federal prisoner’s ability to challenge his conviction under 28 USC 2241 instead of 28 USC 2255, but on the merits held that the prisoner failed to prove his actual innocence, and thus affirmed.

On the 2241 issue, the court noted “an entrenched split among the courts of appeals regarding the extent to which a change in statutory interpretation permits a federal prisoner to resort to § 2241 for an additional round of collateral review.” (Emphasis added). The opinion notes that 10 circuits (including the Third) allow it, while the Tenth and Eleventh don’t. In a parenthetical, the opinion provocatively notes that Judge Gorsuch was the author of the 10th Circuit opinion, and it ends by noting that split causes difficulties that “will remain, at least until Congress or the Supreme Court speaks on the matter.” All that sounds a weensy bit like a nudge to grant certiorari and perhaps reverse the Third Circuit rule, but the opinion goes on to emphatically reaffirm the rightness of the circuit’s approach, and perhaps that tension explains why it took 10 months after oral argument to issue the opinion.

On the actual innocence issue, the court began by noting that this was the first time it had considered the merits of an actual innocence claim under 2241. It left open the question of what standard applies to such claims by rejecting Bruce’s claim under the more lenient standard, the Schlup/House/McQuiggan gateway standard. Applying that standard to the facts, the court rejected Bruce’s claim.

Joining Fisher were Vanaskie and Krause. Arguing counsel were Rajeev Muttreja of Jones Day for Bruce and Kevin Ritz for the government.


Vanderklok v. US — civil rights — reversal in part — Jordan

This appeal arose from an airport-security-screening dispute. A would-be traveler alleged that a TSA screener violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights by falsely accusing him of making bomb threats after the traveler threatened to file a complaint against the screener. The Third Circuit today held that no Bivens action for First Amendment retaliation exists against airport security screeners who retaliate against travelers for exercising their free-speech rights. As to the Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution claim, the court held that no interlocutory appeal was available because the defendant sought summary judgment on the merits rather than on qualified immunity.

Joining Jordan were Smith and Roth. Arguing counsel were John Connell of Archer for the TSA screener, Thomas Malone of the Malone Firm for the traveler, and Daniel Aguilar for the government as amicus.


M.R. v. Ridley School Dist. — civil — reversal — Krause

The introduction:

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a parent of a child with a disability can bring administrative and judicial proceedings to challenge a school district’s alleged violations of the Act, and, if the parent emerges as “a prevailing party,” the parent is then eligible for an award of attorneys’ fees. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B). This case presents the question whether a fee award is available to parents who, after unsuccessfully challenging a school district’s proposed educational placement for their child, later obtain a court order requiring the school district to reimburse them for the costs of the child’s “stay put” placement—the “then-current educational placement” in which the Act permitted the child to remain while administrative and judicial proceedings were pending. Id. § 1415(j). We answer this question in the affirmative and conclude, consistent with the Act’s text and with the opinions of this Court and the other Courts of Appeals, that a court-ordered award of retrospective and compensatory relief, even if awarded under the Act’s “stay put” provision, 20 U.S.C. § 1415(j), confers “prevailing party” status. We therefore will reverse the District Court’s denial of attorneys’ fees and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Joining Krause were Vanaskie and Restrepo. Arguing counsel were Alan Yatvin of Popper & Yatvin for the appellants and John Francis Reilly of Media for the district.

New opinions — significant new antitrust, declaratory-judgment opinions

In re: Lipitor Antitrust Litig. — antitrust — reversal — Smith

In a sprawling opinion whose 17-page caption is longer than many published opinions, the Third Circuit today reversed a district court’s dismissal of antitrust suits against companies holding the patents on popular drugs for treating cholesterol and depression. The court rejected the district court’s rulings that the plaintiffs’ allegations were not plausible.

Joining Smith were Ambro and Fisher. The nine (!) arguing counsel were:


Kelly v. Maxum Specialty Ins. Gp. — civil — reversal — Chagares

After a plaintiff sued a defendant, the plaintiff filed a federal suit seeking a declaratory judgment on the defendant’s insurer’s coverage. The Third Circuit said this situation is “familiar” and that district courts in this circuit are divided on the “important” question of whether to let the federal suits proceed. Today, the court reversed a district court’s dismissal, holding that a federal declaratory-judgment coverage suit was not substantially similar to the underlying civil suit and that its remand was an abuse of discretion.

Joining Chagares were Hardiman and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Sina Bahadoran of Florida for the insurer, John Reed Evans of Donnelly & Associates (formerly of Selective Law Group) for an insurance broker, and Gregory Kowalski of Pansini & Mezrow for the plaintiff.


New opinion — Third Circuit upholds rejection of Wellbutrin antitrust claims

In re: Wellbutrin XL Antitrust Litig. — civil — affirmance — Jordan

Today, the Third Circuit upheld a district court’s grant of summary judgment against plaintiffs who alleged that a pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline violated antitrust law in two ways:

First, the Appellants claim that GSK delayed the launch of generic versions of Wellbutrin XL by supporting baseless patent infringement suits and a baseless FDA Citizen Petition aimed at generic drug companies. Second, they claim that GSK delayed the launch of those generic drugs by entering into an unlawful reverse payment settlement agreement with its potential competitors.

In a lengthy and record-intensive opinion, the court held for GSK on both points.

Joining Jordan were Vanaskie and Nygaard. Arguing counsel were former Third Circuit clerk Peter St. Phillip Jr. of New York for one group of appellants; David Sorensen of Berger & Mongague and Thomas Sobol of Massachusetts for another group of appellants; and Leslie John and Stephen Kastenberg of Ballard Spahr for GSK.

New opinion — Third Circuit rejects strip club’s effort to force arbitration

Moon v. Breathless — civil / employment / arbitration — reversal — Greenaway

The Third Circuit today reversed a district court’s ruling granting summary judgment in favor of arbitration. The case arose when a woman who performed at the Breathless Men’s Club sued the club under the Fair Labor Standards Act and two state laws alleging employee wage-and-hour violations. The club argued, and the district court agreed, that her suit was barred by an arbitration clause in its contract with the woman, which by its terms applied to disputes “under this Agreement.” Applying New Jersey law, the Third Circuit held that courts should decide the arbitrability issue and that the clause did not cover this suit mainly because it arose under statutes, not under the contract.

Joining Greenaway were Fisher and Hardiman. Arguing counsel were Jeremy Abay of Sacks Weston for the woman and Marc Gross, formerly of Greenbaum Rowe but now at Fox Rothschild, for the club.

New opinion — ascertainability, again [updated]

City Select Auto Sales v. BMW Bank — class action — reversal — Scirica

If you were to make a list of the most significant things the Third Circuit has done in recent years — or the most controversial — you’d probably include its creation of the “ascertainability” requirement for class certification. The ascertainability requirement obligates plaintiffs seek to proceed with certain class actions to show that the class is objectively defined and that there’s a “reliable and administratively feasible” way to figure out who’s in the class. Since creating the requirement in 2012, the court has issued several major opinions refining it, while Judge Rendell has called for abandoning it.

Today the Third Circuit revisited the ascertainability issue again, vacating a district court’s ruling that relied on it to deny class certification. The court explained:

In this case, we will vacate and remand for two reasons. First, our ascertainability precedents do not categorically preclude affidavits from potential class members, in combination with the Creditsmarts database, from satisfying the ascertainability standard. Second, because the Creditsmarts database was not produced during discovery, plaintiff was denied the opportunity to demonstrate whether a reliable, administratively feasible method of ascertaining the class exists based, in whole or in part, on that database.

Joining Scirica were Krause and Fuentes. Fuentes also concurred to join Rendell’s earlier call to reject the ascertainability requirement, noting that three circuits have rejected it and arguing that it creates an unnecessary burden for low-value consumer class actions.

Arguing counsel were Philip Bock of Chicago for the putative-class plaintiff, Julia Strickland of Los Angeles for 2 defendants, and William Hayes III of Denver for a third defendant.

UPDATE: Alison Frankel of Reuters has this outstanding analysis of today’s case and what it means for the larger battle over ascertainability.

Three new opinions

US v. Martin — criminal sentencing — affirmance — Hardiman

Can both of these things be true at once?

  • A criminal sentence is “based on a sentencing range that has been subsequently lowered by the Sentencing Commission,” but
  • the Guidelines chance does NOT have “the effect of lowering the defendant’s applicable guideline range.

That is, can a sentence be “based on” a guidelines range without that range being the “applicable” guidelines range?

Today the Third Circuit answered that question ‘yes,’ and on that basis it held that the defendant was not entitled to retroactive application of a Guidelines amendment. The defendant’s guilty plea and the sentence he received were based on the drug quantity involved (impacted by the Guidelines amendment), but the sentencing court had found that his advisory guidelines range should be based on his career offender status (not impacted by the Guidelines amendment).

Joining Hardiman were Roth and Fisher. The case was decided without oral argument.


McNelis v. PP&L — employment — affirmance — Hardiman

The Third Circuit ruled that employment-related regulations promulgated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission trumped the Americans with Disability Act.

Joining Hardiman, again, were Roth and Fisher, and again the case was decided without argument.


In re: Howmedica Osteonics — civil / mandamus — reversal — Krause

Successful mandamus petitions are rare. Successful mandamus petitions turning on previously not-very-settled questions of law are rarer still. But the Third Circuit granted such a petition today.

The district court ruling at issue involved forum-selection agreements. The Supreme Court has said such agreements usually must be enforced, but the question in this case was what to do when some of the defendants had signed non-compete clauses with forum-selection clauses, but some hadn’t. The district court decided not to enforce the forum-selection clauses against any of the defendants. Today, the Third Circuit held that this was a clear error, and ruled that the claims against the forum-selection-clause defendants will proceed in one forum while the claims against the no-clause defendants will proceed in another.

Joining Krause were Scirica and Fuentes. Arguing counsel for the mandamus petitioners was Robert Carty Jr. of Texas. Arguing for various defendants were Jed Marcus of Bressler Amery, Anthony Haller of Blank Rome, and Jeffery Brown of California.


Bashman: “Assessing Current and Future Trump Nominees to the Third Circuit”

Howard Bashman has a fine new appellate law column today in the Legal Intelligencer analyzing Third Circuit nominations. The whole column is worth reading, but two points in particular jumped out to me:

Ironically, when it comes to criminal justice issues, Bibas could at least in some respects end up being to the left of President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill this vacancy, Rebecca Ross Haywood, chief of appeals for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Pittsburgh. Haywood’s nomination was among those the Republican-controlled Senate deemed to have occurred too close to the 2016 presidential election to deserve full consideration or an up-or-down vote.

Bibas’ recent work litigating high-profile criminal matters has been on the defendants’ side, while Hay[w]ood’s has been on the side of the prosecution. The result could be that Bibas, in common with Scalia, may end up voting in favor of what is perceived as the liberal or libertarian result in criminal cases more often than one might expect solely based on which party nominated him.


Unlike many other federal appellate courts, which over the years have been known for their often very liberal or very conservative judicial rulings, the Third Circuit has stuck to the middle, generally favoring centrist decisions.

Casey is up for re-election in 2018—little over one year away—but assuming that the Democratic party can hold on to that seat, I would expect little change overall to the Third Circuit’s centrist disposition in the years ahead, even as many other federal appellate courts in that same period may see far more drastic changes in their composition and outlook.

“Federal Appellate Court Judge seeks a recent law school graduate as a full-time temporary law clerk …. for three weeks starting August 28”

The Third Circuit website today posted an interesting vacancy announcement. A Philadelphia-based Third Circuit judge is hiring a law clerk for three weeks, starting the end of this month, with the chance to apply for a permanent spot.

Says the announcement:

The incumbent conducts legal research, prepares legal memoranda, helps prepare the judge for oral argument, coordinates and helps train interns, and assists in the drafting of orders and opinions in both civil and criminal cases. In addition, the incumbent handles the filing of orders and opinions, interfaces with the public, other court units, and other chambers as needed, coordinates the judge’s scheduling and travel, and oversees the day-to-day operations of chambers. This position is located in the judge’s chambers and reports directly to the judge.

Sounds like an amazing three weeks. Does my 16 years since graduating law school qualify me as “recent”?

Judicial Conference releases proposed appellate rules changes

The Judicial Conference today announced proposed amendments to the federal rules. Among the proposed changes are a handful of small-bore changes to the appellate rules, namely:

  • new disclosure-statement requirements for the government in some criminal appeals and for debtors in some bankruptcy appeals, and
  • an end to the requirement for mailing paper copies of notices of appeal by district clerks and tax-case appellants.

A memo explaining the changes, authored by appellate rules advisory committee chair Judge Chagares, is here.

Written comments on the proposed changes are due by Feb. 15, 2018, and can be filed here. Or if you’re really fired up you can testify at a public rules committee hearing.

New opinion — Third Circuit invalidates joint-and-several forfeiture order

US v. Gjeli — criminal — partial reversal — Jordan

The Third Circuit today vacated criminal forfeiture orders that imposed joint and several forfeiture liability on two co-defendants. Today’s ruling was based on the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year in Honeycutt v. United States, which the opinion said effectively overturned prior circuit precedent. While Honeycutt interpreted only one federal forfeiture statute, the court held that its reasoning applies equally to two others. The court affirmed on two other sentencing grounds.

Joining Jordan were Krause and Stearns D.Mass by designation. The case was decided without oral argument.

Bibas isn’t 50, but he did get the ABA’s top rating and broad support from his colleagues [updated]

Three [now four!] updates on Third Circuit nominee Stephanos Bibas:

First, the American Bar Association judicial ratings committee has rated Bibas well qualified. Of Trump’s nine circuit nominees rated so far, Bibas is the fifth to get the ABA’s highest rating.

Second, Bibas is not his 50’s. When Bibas’s nomination was first announced, conservative activist Carrie Severino gave his age in a National Review profile as “50 (approximate).” But in reality Bibas is 47 years old, according to Penn Law’s own June 7 announcement. (I haven’t seen his birthdate reported, so it’s possible he’s since turned 48.)

Third, Severino’s profile now links to letters of endorsement sent to the Senate Judiciary committee signed by a slew of fellow academics, including this one whose signers include numerous prominent liberals and this one from a former clerk for Judges Sloviter and Restrepo.

UPDATE: also today Politico reported that Bibas met with Republican PA Senator Pat Toomey but not Democratic Senator Bob Casey before his nomination.

Trump’s Third Circuit nominations: where things stand today

I’ve posted a lot over the past couple months about various Third Circuit nomination developments. With this post I want to pull it all together so you can more easily see the big picture.

The Third Circuit has 3 openings to fill out of its 14 total active-judge seats. Of the court’s current 11 active judges, 7 were nominated by Democratic presidents, 4 by Republicans. The 3 open seats formerly were held by Judges Rendell, Fuentes, and Fisher before each took senior status:

  • The Rendell seat opened over 18 months before the end of President Obama’s term. Obama nominated Rebecca Haywood for the seat but PA Senator Pat Toomey blocked her by withholding his blue slip.
  • The Fuentes seat opened over 6 months before the end of President Obama’s term, without an Obama nomination.
  • The Fisher seat opened at the start of President Trump’s term.

The Rendell and Fisher seats are for Pennsylvania, the Fuentes seat is for New Jersey. Under long-standing practice, that means the nominees will come from those states and that each state’s two US senators each have the power to block nominations for their state by withholding their blue slip (although some conservatives are pushing to end blue slips for circuit nominees). Pennsylvania has one Democratic senator, Bob Casey; both of New Jersey’s senators are Democrats (Cory Booker and Bob Menendez).

For reasons I’ve laid out here, my view is that the Rendell and Fuentes seats should be filled by moderates in their 50’s, while the Fisher seat should be filled by any qualified nominee Trump chooses, and that at least 2 of the 3 should be women.

Here’s where the nominations process stands with each open seat:

  • For the Rendell seat (PA), Trump nominated Penn Law professor Stephanos Bibas. His nomination is pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee and appears to be proceeding normally so far, contrary to some erroneous reports last month that Casey was blocking it. Bibas is 47 (not approximately 50 as has been reported). He received a unanimous well-qualified rating from the ABA.
  • For the Fuentes seat (NJ), Trump has not made a nomination yet, but reportedly Chris Christie protege Paul Matey is the likely choice and is being vetted now. Matey is 46.
  • For the Fisher seat (PA), Trump also has not made a nomination yet. Back in May, Federalist Society stalwart David Porter was reportedly close to being nominated, but the same report said that Casey would block a Porter nomination, and there’s been nothing public since.

So most of the real action is yet to come, but that’s where we stand today.

Matey resurfaces as potential Third Circuit nominee

Back in May, David Lat reported on Above the Law that Paul Matey was a leading contender for the open New Jersey seat on the Third Circuit.

This afternoon, Andrew Seidman and Jonathan Tamari report on that Matey remains a strong candidate for the nomination:

Also in play is a spot on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia. Another Christie ally, Paul Matey, is being vetted for that judgeship, the sources said. The negotiations go as far as to include U.S. Marshall positions.

 The sources described the maneuvering to the Inquirer and Daily News on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the private talks.

One of the sources said he was interviewed by the FBI with regard to Carpenito and Matey, a former federal prosecutor who was Christie’s deputy chief counsel in the governor’s office, as part of the bureau’s routine vetting process.

The final details of a potential deal are still pending, but are aimed, in part, at breaking a logjam set up by competing Republican power brokers and New Jersey’s two Democratic senators, who, under Senate tradition, can block nominees in their home state.

The article confirms that Matey is 46 and reports that he could not be reached for comment.

Bibas has a new book out

All’s been quiet on the Stephanos Bibas nomination front since the silly blue-slip flap a month ago.

But Jonathan Adler wasn’t joking when he observed that Bibas is quite prolific, so, naturally, Bibas has a new book out. It’s entitled Rebooting Justice: More Technology, Fewer Lawyers, and the Future of Law, co-authored with fellow law professor Benjamin Barton (who strikes me as a liberal-leaning guy from his CV, for those hunting for more tea-leaves about Bibas’s ability to function effectively on a court with diverse perspectives).

The book’s publisher’s page says this:

America is a nation founded on justice and the rule of law. But our laws are too complex, and legal advice too expensive, for poor and even middle-class Americans to get help and vindicate their rights. Criminal defendants facing jail time may receive an appointed lawyer who is juggling hundreds of cases and immediately urges them to plead guilty. Civil litigants are even worse off; usually, they get no help at all navigating the maze of technical procedures and rules. The same is true of those seeking legal advice, like planning a will or negotiating an employment contract.

Rebooting Justice presents a novel response to longstanding problems. The answer is to use technology and procedural innovation to simplify and change the process itself. In the civil and criminal courts where ordinary Americans appear the most, we should streamline complex procedures and assume that parties will not have a lawyer, rather than the other way around. We need a cheaper, simpler, faster justice system to control costs. We cannot untie the Gordian knot by adding more strands of rope; we need to cut it, to simplify it.

A review by Jonathan Knee in the New York Times Dealbook page is here. And one of Barton’s law-school colleagues, Glenn Harlan Reynolds, has an essay in USA Today here.

New opinion — Third Circuit partially revives challenge to corporate escheat

Plains All American Pipeline v. Cook — civil — partial reversal — Fisher

After Delaware initiated proceedings to review whether a company’s property was subject to seizure under the state’s escheat law, the company filed suit, alleging various constitutional violations. The district court dismissed the suit, mainly on ripeness grounds because the suit was filed before Delaware assessed liability or sought to make its review findings enforceable. Today, the Third Circuit reversed in part, holding that the company’s as-applied procedural due process claim was ripe, but otherwise affirming. The court declined to affirm the dismissal of the due process claim on alternative grounds, citing circuit precedent that absent exceptional circumstances the court will decline to consider an issue not passed on below and finding no exceptional circumstances.

Joining Fisher were Chagares and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Jeremy Marwell of Vinson and Elkins for the company, Steven Rosenthal of Washington DC for one group of appellees, and Ryan McManus of Boston for another appellee.