Category Archives: Uncategorized

My new job

I’ve joined the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office as the supervisor of the federal litigation unit. This is the unit in the DAO’s law division which handles federal habeas corpus cases.

Stepping away from a Third Circuit-focused solo practice that I love is hard, but I’m tremendously excited to be joining Larry Krasner’s office. And, happily for me, in my new role I’ll get to continue practicing regularly in my favorite court.

(What does this mean for the blog? To be honest, I’m not sure yet. Stay tuned.)

Third Circuit adopts new procedures for sensitive documents

The Third Circuit yesterday entered a new standing order adopting procedures to protect highly sensitive documents. A link to the order is here. Going forward, such documents are filed differently (hard copy only or on a secure electronic device) and stored by the court differently (in a secure paper file or offline). The order states that this move is made “[i]n response to recent disclosures of wide-spread breaches of private sector and government computer systems.”

The order defines “highly sensitive documents” as those involving

(1) Title III applications; (2) initial applications for search warrants; (3) matters of national security; (4) foreign sovereign interests, or cybersecurity; (5) terrorism; (6) investigation of public officials; (7) intellectual property or trade secrets likely to be of interest to foreign powers; or (8) the reputational interests of the United States.

That’s a fairly narrow set, certainly not everything that previously would have been filed under seal on ECF. But if you’re litigating an appeal that involves such materials, be sure you’re up speed on the new procedure.

Temple Law announces exciting new Third Circuit clinic

Temple University’s Beasley School of Law announced this week the creation of a new clinic focusing on Third Circuit appeals. The clinic will focus on pro bono immigration appeals, but students may also work on prisoners’ rights and habeas cases, too.

The clinic will be taught by Temple Law professor Mary Levy and will partner with the Philadelphia-based Tucker Law Group.

From the announcement:

The clinic will be taught by Professor Mary Levy, who noted that while litigants in immigration and civil rights appeals have a much greater likelihood of success if they are represented by counsel, high quality, affordable representation is scarce. Levy expressed enthusiasm for the clinic as an “excellent opportunity to fill that gap by marshalling our exceptionally talented upper level students to provide pro bono representation while allowing them a ‘real world’ opportunity to utilize the advocacy skills they learned at Temple Law.”

This is splendid news, and I can’t wait to see the clinic students in action.

Third Circuit ECF will be down Friday evening and all weekend

The Third Circuit announced today that its electronic filing system ECF will be undergoing maintenance and unavailable from this Friday June 26 at 5 pm through Monday June 29 at 6 am.

This is particularly significant for anyone with a filing due on Friday. Normally you’d be able to electronically file it up to midnight, but now you’ll need to do it before 5.

Third Circuit issues updated notice of clerk’s office procedures during the pandemic

Yesterday the Third Circuit posted an amended notice about the clerk’s office’s procedures during the pandemic. A direct link to the notice is here.

Among other things, the notice:

  • provides an email address,, for filing things that can’t be filed on ECF because there’s no case number yet;
  • notes that “litigants who cannot file through the Court’s CM/ECF system”—I’d guess this refers primarily to pro se litigants—also may use the email to file;
  • and explains that the parties may file by mail or using a drop box that the court has installed on the first floor of the courthouse.



So, uh, about that op-ed

I’ve never been comfortable talking about my own pending cases here on the blog or in the media. Offhand I can’t remember a time I’ve ever mentioned a pending case of mine here (unless this counts), and even my post-decision comments have been by no means chatty. I’m a firm believer that briefs and oral arguments are where you persuade circuit judges, not “oh and another thing” blog posts or snappy soundbites in the paper. Scotus practitioners now regard “virtual briefing” as part of the gig, and maybe they see my squeamishness as naive or passé. But I’m not persuaded yet that virtual briefing has trickled down to circuit practice, nor that it should.

And so the situation I’ve put myself in now is an unfamiliar one: I wrote an op-ed that discusses a pending case of mine. For anyone who cares, I want to explain briefly how it came to pass.

Back in January, before I’d heard the word coronavirus, I was appointed by the Court to represent an indigent defendant named James Davis for his appeal from his criminal conviction. His appeal remains pending, currently on hold until the Supreme Court decides a potentially related case.

Last month I came to believe that Davis is at risk from covid-19 infection, so I filed a motion for his release pending appeal, which the government opposed and which a two-judge motions panel denied on March 20. The order denying the motion stated that Davis may renew the motion if he’s diagnosed with covid-19.

After denial of the motion, I came to believe that it was important that more lawyers try to get vulnerable clients out of prison, and also that more courts be granting such requests, without requiring a covid-19 diagnosis.

To that end, after the court ruled, I  wrote an op-ed using Davis’s case to illustrate what I thought lawyers and courts should do in light of the pandemic and submitted it to the Philadelphia Inquirer on March 22. (Getting no response from the Inquirer, :(, I tweeted along similar lines a few days later.)

Submitting an op-ed about a case of mine made me nervous, frankly. But because I saw it as an unusual and urgent situation, and because the court had ruled on the motion already, I went ahead and sent it off.

Flash forward a couple weeks. As various new facts came to light, I decided to file a renewed motion for Davis’s relief on April 1. The government has again opposed the motion and it now is pending for decision before the court. [UPDATE: it was denied.]

The day after I filed the renewed motion, April 2, the Inquirer contacted me to say it had (finally) decided to run my op-ed. After minor updating tweaks, my op-ed ran online starting Friday and will be in the print edition tomorrow.

The timing of the op-ed’s publication ain’t what I’d have chosen. I wish it ran earlier, and I wish it hadn’t run while my renewed motion in the case is pending. I weighed telling the paper not to run it, fearing it could reduce my client’s odds of being released now. But in the end I decided my fear was unfounded and my message was one I still hoped the public would hear.

If you’ve read this far, (a) sorry for the self-absorption, and (b) I’m not certain I’ve made the right choices as an advocate here and my purpose isn’t to persuade you that I have. This is all new to me. I think my point boils down simply to this: appearances notwithstanding, I didn’t decide to suddenly start working the refs.

For what it’s worth.

Third Circuit’s courthouse closed after two attorneys develop coronavirus symptoms [updated]

The James Byrne U.S. Courthouse, which houses the Third Circuit as well as the EDPA district court, was ordered closed today through March 29 by district court Chief Judge Juan Sánchez. The closure order is posted on the EDPA website, direct link here.

The order reads:

The Court having been informed that two attorneys who have appeared in court in the James A. Byrne U.S. Courthouse in the past two weeks are currently displaying symptoms consistent with COVID-19, and to protect the health and safety of the public, staff, and judicial officers from further exposure to or spread of the disease,

With the concurrence of the Facility Security Committee, including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the Circuit Executive’s Office, and the U.S. Marshal, and in consultation with GSA, it is ORDERED the James A. Byrne U.S. Courthouse in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania will be closed from noon on Wednesday, March 25, 2020, through Sunday, March 29, 2020. No one will be permitted to enter the building during this closure with the exception of GSA-authorized cleaning personnel. The Byrne Courthouse will reopen for official business on Monday, March 30, 2020.

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania remains open for official business. The Court’s Electronic Case Filing (ECF) system is not affected by the closure, and parties may continue to file electronically and email documents to the Clerk’s Office pursuant to the Standing Orders and other instructions on the Court’s website. The drop box in the lobby of the Byrne Courthouse will not be available until Monday, March 30, 2020.

The Court’s website is being updated regularly. Consult the Court’s website for further guidance:

The Third Circuit has posted the following important notice regarding procedures during the closure:

The Byrne Courthouse is CLOSED beginning Wednesday, March 25, 2020 until Monday, March 30, 2020

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Byrne Courthouse is CLOSED beginning Wednesday, March 25, 2020 until Monday, March 30, 2020. (See Attached EDPA Temporary Courthouse Closure Order Below.)

The Third Circuit Clerk’s Office is conducting remote operations during this time and will continue to process all electronic filings.

Counsel and pro se litigants who need to file a new original proceeding, such as a Petition for Review, a Petition for Writ of Mandamus or Prohibition, or a Motion for Leave to File a Second or Successive Habeas Petition may send the documents to the Clerk for filing via email addressed to

Litigants who cannot file through the Court’s CMECF system may also submit documents for filing by email addressed to  Please include the appeal number in the subject line of the email.

Any party who intends to file an emergency motion should call 267-299-4904 and leave a detailed message regarding the nature of the emergency and contact information.

The Third Circuit responds to coronavirus

The novel coronavirus pandemic has transformed life in the United States with dizzying ferocity, so inevitably we’re all feeling its impact here in the Third Circuit. With offices, businesses, and schools across the circuit shut down for weeks to come, many are focused now on hunkering down with family, not keeping abreast of federal appellate doings. But the Third Circuit remains open, oral arguments remain scheduled, and filing deadlines remain in place. This post aims to summarize matters.

Yesterday the Third Circuit posted a notice on its website regarding court operations during the pandemic. The court is “open for business and will fulfill its constitutional and statutory obligations and responsibilities.” A direct link to the notice is here.

Anyone with a pending or upcoming Third Circuit case should read the entire notice, but here are highlights to note:

  • oral arguments will proceed as scheduled, with each panel deciding the manner of argument. “Parties may file a motion requesting to appear by audio conference.” The court has a normal slate of arguments scheduled next week before Judges Jordan, Restrepo, and Fuentes/Greenberg.
  • Parties seeking emergency relief are to leave a message for the Clerk’s Office at 267-299-4904.
  • Normally parties requesting extensions by phone per LAR 31.4 (first extensions on briefs of 14 days or less) must do so at least 3 days before the due date, but until normal operations resume the 3-day limit is relaxed.
  • Filing of paper copies and briefs and appendices is deferred.
  • 3-day grace period on filing deadlines.

Note, however: ” The due date for a notice of appeal, petition for review or other document that
confers jurisdiction on the Court is not altered by this notice. The filing dates for
those papers remain as stated in the statute or rule that confers jurisdiction.”

So appeals are still moving forward. Most filing deadlines are loosened a little, your paper copies can wait, and if you have oral argument you can ask to do it by phone, but, bottom line, you’re still on the hook.

The Third Circuit’s procedures are broadly in line with other circuits’, helpfully linked and summarized on Lawfare here.

Beyond court procedures, I’ve heard lots of discussion about what will befall the circuit conference scheduled to begin May 13. The court has made no announcement yet, and the registration page remains live, so it’s reasonable to infer it hasn’t yet decided. My guess is that the odds of the conference going on as scheduled are more or less zero, and the choice will be between outright cancellation or postponing until fall. I don’t know the logistical challenges involved with postponing, and I’m a giant circuit-conference enthusiast, so I’m rooting for postponement.

I’ll end with one soapbox plea to my fellow lawyers. Many of us have our hands more than full trying to keep up with appeals while dealing with homebound-kid freakouts, non-homebound-older-parent freakouts, and all the other stresses of a pandemic-plus-economic-meltdown. So, yes, none of us will be at our best. But, no matter how frayed you get, do your level best to treat clerk’s office and court staff with the courtesy and patience they deserve. They’re keeping a federal circuit court humming under off-the-charts trying circumstances, and the last thing they need is any bonus headaches from us.

Third Circuit’s ECF will be down all weekend

The Third Circuit emailed out the following notice late last night:

The electronic filing system (CM/ECF) will be undergoing maintenance beginning Saturday, February 15, 2020 at 12:00 AM to Tuesday, February 18, 2020 at 7:00 AM. Public filers will be unable to file documents during this time.

This should impact few if any filing deadlines since Monday is a federal holiday, see FRAP 26, but it is a longer-than-usual downtime, so be aware of it if you plan to file anything in the next few days.

Third Circuit task force issues major report on eyewitness identifications

The Third Circuit Task Force on Eyewitness Identifications, formed in 2016 to study and address the problem of mistaken witness IDs leading to wrongful convictions, has issued its report. The full report is published in the Temple Law Review and is available online at this link. It’s a tremendously impressive effort and I expect it to have a real impact, here in the Third Circuit and nationally.

The task force was co-chaired by Judge McKee and EDPA Judge Mitchell Goldberg. Task force members included Chief Judge Smith, Judges Shwartz and Restrepo; district judges from across the circuit; and a broad range of academics, defenders, and prosecutors and law enforcement—20 in all.

The report draws on a deep body of scientific research on different factors leading to mistaken identifications and procedures to reduce them, and to reduce wrongful convictions resulting from them. It presents concrete recommendations regarding law enforcement best practices on matters such as how to interview eyewitness and elicit identifications.

Two committee members (a then-federal prosecutor and an FBI agent) disagreed with many of the committee’s conclusions and recommendations, and the report included their positions throughout and a separate statement. Two other members (Judge McKee and a law professor) proposed changes to the circuit’s jury instructions.

The report’s conclusion states:

The Third Circuit Task Force on Eyewitness Identification was the first such project undertaken by a federal court on the issue of eyewitness identification, but the national effort to deter the use of suggestive practices that result in wrongful convictions of innocent people has long preceded the Task Force’s work. A substantial body of scientific research has identified factors that contribute to wrongful convictions, and the corresponding best practices have robust, nationwide support. The Task Force is proud to contribute to this vital endeavor.

The task force report is engaging, thoughtful, and important, and I hope it gets the serious attention it deserves.

Third Circuit begins numbering its docket entries

The Third Circuit announced that, effective January 1, its new docket entries will be consecutively numbered.

Until now, entries on the docket were dated but not numbered, unlike docket entries in district courts. Adding numbers makes it a bit easier and more foolproof to cite, refer to, and store Third Circuit case documents.

(For pending cases, the old entries won’t be numbered retroactively, but new entries will be numbered as if they were.)

The notice posted on the court’s website stated, “We believe that the introduction of docket entry numbers will add clarity to the Court’s dockets and will benefit the public, litigants, and practitioners,” and I agree.


Two new opinions

The Third Circuit issued two precedential opinions today. One, a bankruptcy case, holds that it is not  violation of the bankruptcy automatic stay for a secured creditor notified of the bankruptcy to fail to return collateral repossessed before petition was filed. The other, a criminal case, holds that a qui tam relator lacks standing to intervene to assert restitution rights in a parallel criminal prosecution. I’m busy finishing a brief to file today, so I’ll update this post after I’ve had the chance to read the opinions more carefully, likely tomorrow.

Third Circuit sets up workplace conduct committee and hires a director

The Third Circuit today announced the formation of a Workplace Conduct Committee and the appointment of its first Director of Workplace Relations. A link to the announcement is here.

The committee “will examine existing Third Circuit policies and procedures for preventing and addressing workplace misconduct” and “will present recommendations to the Judicial Council on how to promptly and effectively process complaints of such misconduct. Chief Judge Smith will chair the committee and its other members include six judges plus Circuit Executive Margaret Wiegand. I suspect it is not an accident that five of the eight committee members, including Third Circuit Judge Shwartz, are women.

The circuit’s new Director of Workplace Relations is Julie Procopiow Todd, who currently is an administrative judge for the EEOC. The director ” will coordinate implementation of employment dispute resolution policies for all courts within the Third Circuit” and “create a circuitwide workplace conduct office that will not only develop proposed policies but also provide trainings aimed at fostering healthy working environments and the fair resolution of workplace issues.”

Said Chief Judge Smith in the announcement, “Ms. Todd’s background in EEOC matters is an invaluable asset, and one that will redound to the great benefit of the entire Third Circuit as we continue our efforts to provide a safe, hospitable, and efficient workplace for all.”

Blog housekeeping

I’m back from my two-week vacation in Namibia. Dear reader, if you want to see mind-blowing golden dunes, get close-up with dazzling African wildlife, and meet amazingly welcoming English-speaking people—and you don’t mind bumping along a lot of dusty gravel roads—Namibia is hard to beat. It was a once-in-lifetime adventure, but now I’m glad to back to CA3-land.

I’m truly grateful to David Goodwin, who graciously agreed to take over here at CA3blog while I was gone. I hope you’ve enjoyed his posts as much as I have, and I hope I can coax him into continuing to share his incisive and witty analysis here in the future. I’ve gone back and updated David’s posts to make clearer who deserves the credit.

The Value of Clerking, Part N+1: Learning What Doesn’t Happen [guest post]

This is a guest post by David Goodwin.

Clerkships are a valuable learning experience for new attorneys, and the “why” is often summed up like so: “You get to see how the sausage is made.” That’s absolutely true. Learning how judges make their decisions, or what kind of arguments tend to take wing—these are all helpful skills to have and will stay with you throughout your career.

But also important is learning what doesn’t happen, how courts don’t work, and how judges don’t act. Sausage-making isn’t always The Jungle.

Humans are hard-wired to see patterns, even where none exist. For litigators and parties, this often translates into a need to assign reasons to the litigation process. Why did the judge do X? Why was I asked that question? Or the absolute, undisputed classic: why is everything taking so long? The case—your case, the thing you’ve been laboring over, the star at the center of all constellations—is at the forefront.

Seeking answers is a perfectly normal response. But we also tend to want those answers to have some grounding in substance. The judge asked that question because she was troubled by an issue in the case. The scheduling order was delayed because the panel was divided on whether to grant extra time. My appeal is taking so long to get decided because the issues are deeply complex, or the judges are struggling with the right outcome, or the court is trying to reconcile dangling threads of precedent.

Sometimes these guesses would be correct. Often, though, they are wrong.

One of the valuable lessons instilled through clerkships is that, sometimes, things just happen. Judging is a job. Courts are workplaces like any other. There are thousands of motions and merits decisions flying around. Things take a long time all the time, for no reason at all other than work and triage and (on occasion) someone just absolutely forgetting.

I remember once idly Googling the parties in a case only to find a forum thread dedicated to piecing together the hints and clues on the docket. A judge dropped out between the motions stage and the merits stage; he must have had a conflict! (Actually, you just happened to get a merits panel that included two judges from the motions panel.) These random letters on the word-limit order signal what track the appeal is on! (Actually, those are the case manager’s initials.) The delay between the case being submitted and the decision coming out means something! (It could, but it could also just mean that . . . things are taking a while, or someone’s slow with getting the vote in, or the clerk assigned to the case is also working on a 78-page RMBS opinion and you’re assigned a low priority.)

Realizing that there isn’t always a “substance” reason for the things that courts do is an extremely valuable thing to know. But perhaps even more than the other experiences during a clerkship, it can be a hard thing to retain once you’re back in the real world. The random things that happen begin again to seem significant.

A client asked, a few days ago, why the court was sitting on her appeal.  I had predicted a decision would come out in about 3 to 4 months, but 6 months later and all was crickets and tumbleweeds. She wanted to know: Was it a good sign? A bad sign? We had raised a tricky issue of law at oral argument; maybe we were winning on that point?

I said I didn’t know. It could mean something, but it could also not mean anything. It’s summer. The authoring judge could be on vacation. The clerk assigned to the case could have other work.

I guess we’ll find out when the decision is handed down.

(My suspicion is that the intrigue-to-mundane-reason ratio is a bit higher at the Supreme Court, where each question is thought to be exquisitely targeted and calculated and revealing, and delays through the end of the term often do mean something. But as in most things, the Supreme Court is an outlier, and I wouldn’t be surprised if clerks in that particular marble palace shake their heads at some of the tea-leaf reading that goes on in the media.)

Introductions and a quick recap of Crystallex [guest post]

This is a guest post by David Goodwin.

Howdy! I’m David, and I’m a state appellate public defender in New York. As Matt mentioned last week, I will be taking care of this place while the master is away,* doffing my defender persona and donning my nerd-about-all-things-Third-Circuit guise. (Whether this particular donning and doffing is covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act is, of course, an open question.) I will try to keep up with the oncoming storm of POs, with posts generally appearing in the evening.

As I write, however, the Third Circuit has just released a 45-page opinion in Crystallex International v. Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the latest installment in a long-running international dispute that generated another PO back in January 2018. This new decision addresses a question explicitly left open by the prior opinion: whether Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A.  (“PDVSA”) is an “alter ego” of its parent country whose assets could be used to satisfy an arbitration award entered against Venezuela in favor of plaintiff Crystallex, under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and Fed. R. Civ. P. 69(a).

The short answer: on these facts, yes. “Indeed,” Judge Ambro writes, “if the relationship between Venezuela and PDVSA cannot satisfy the Supreme Court’s extensive-control requirement, we know nothing that can.”

I suspect Matt knew this one was coming. Well timed.

Expect a detailed summary later today, along with a roundup of the impressive who’s-who of attorneys who argued the appeal.

*: I originally wrote that I was “pitch hitting” on Matt’s behalf. Alas, I suffer from a rare disorder called athletometaphorophobia: the fear of screwing up casual sports allusions. By extension, Judge Ambro’s page-5 comment about the CITGO sign outside of Fenway Park is met with a smile and a nod, both intended to communicate that I am definitely an in-the-know American who understands sportsball and its enthusiasts.


I’ll be gone for a couple weeks, but CA3blog won’t be

My wife—Ms. CA3blog, if you will—was a Peace Corps volunteer in a remote village in Namibia, in southern Africa, years before we met. When we got married, the family she’d lived with sent a representative across the Atlantic to attend our wedding, and this year we’re finally returning the visit. For our family vacation this summer, Ms. CA3blog, our nine-year-old daughter, and I are headed back to the Namibian village where she lived. Ought to be a big adventure.

While away I’ll not be blogging, but panic not: David Goodwin, an eminently worthy replacement, has generously agreed to fill in while I’m gone.  David is a former Third Circuit staff attorney who went on to be a law clerk for D.N.J. Judge Hayden and CA3 Judge Fuentes, and he now works at Appellate Advocates, a non-profit defender office in New York. David is hands-down one of the sharpest Third Circuit followers I know, and I’m honored and grateful that he agreed to do it.

So, goodbye for a couple weeks, and I hope you enjoy David’s posts while I’m gone.


New order requires some (but not lawyers) to lock up their smartphones and laptops inside the courthouse

The Third Circuit today posted a new standing order on its website, link here. The order provides that, effective June 3, the marshals at all federal courthouses in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (including the Third Circuit’s Byrne courthouse) will implement a new procedure that places significant new limits on use of electronic devices including phones inside the courthouse buildings. The order is signed by EDPA Chief Judge Sanchez. Everyone not exempted from the policy has to keep their devices in locked pouches until they leave.

Lawyers are among those exempted from the new policy, as are jurors, court officers and staff, law enforcement, and media. But lawyers can violate the order merely by letting non-exempted folks like paralegals, investigators, or assistants use their electronic devices inside, which seems certain to lead to inadvertent violations.

The order say that the policy applies to laptops, but how it does so is unclear to me. Under the policy, “all cameras, cellular telephones, smart phones, and similarly sized personal electronic devices” have to be turned off and carried in locked pouches. Are laptops “similarly sized personal electronic devices”? Do they fit in the vouches? If not, what happens to them under the new procedure? We’ll see.

Worth a careful read.

Third Circuit hiring director of workplace relations

The Third Circuit has posted a job announcement for a new position in the circuit executive’s office for a director of workplace relations. A link to the announcement is here.

The position will “provide[] confidential and impartial assistance to judiciary employees and judges on workplace conduct matters” and “coordinate[] the implementation of employment dispute resolution policies for all courts within the Third Circuit.” Among its duties will be to

Serve as the primary expert on workplace conduct and related issues for the Third Circuit Judicial Council, Court of Appeals, District Courts, Probation and Pretrial Offices, Federal Public Defenders, and the Judicial Council Workplace Conduct Committee. Research, analyze alternatives, prepare appropriate recommendations, and identify courses of action as appropriate.

This new position was created in the wake of the Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Working Group’s recommendations for reform after sexual misconduct accusations against Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski received national coverage. The Third Circuit is one of several circuits creating such a position.

The workplace-relations-director position will remain open until filled, but applications received before May 27 will get priority.

Circuit Executive’s son killed in military helicopter crash

I’m sad beyond words to report that Circuit Executive Margaret Wiegand’s son passed away recently.

Marine Corps Major Matthew Wiegand was killed in a helicopter training accident on March 30 in Arizona. A news story describing the tragic accident is here; the cause remains under investigation. Major Wiegand, who was 34, held the highest qualifications in the AH-1Z Viper helicopter he was piloting. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has ordered Commonwealth flags to be flown at half-mast to honor him.

Funeral services will be this Wednesday, April 17, at 11 a.m. at Abington Presbyterian Church, 1082 Old York Rd., Abington, Pa. He will be buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetary in August.

Cards may be sent to Margaret Wiegand at the Court’s address. Contributions in Major Wiegand’s memory may be made to the Wingman Foundation, 10915 Via Brescia, Unit 909, San Diego, CA 92129.

Update: here is the obituary that ran in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer.

CA3blog turns 5

Five years ago this week, I posted my first CA3blog post. (It was a quote about writing.) That was 1,095 nerdy blog posts ago. The composition of the Third Circuit has changed quite a lot in those five years, adding five new judges and losing too many to retirement, inactive status, or death. The Chief Judgeship passed from Judge McKee to Chief Judge Smith.

In the beginning, the blog was spectacularly obscure, naturally, but over time it’s been fortunate enough to attract a readership far beyond what I dreamed when I began. I’m grateful for that.

My Third Circuit–focused law practice has grown over those five years, too (I suspect the blog has helped there), to the point where I’ve toyed with the idea of scaling my blogging way back. We’ll see. Without a doubt, one of the great joys of doing this blog has been the opportunity it’s given me to connect with terrific lawyers around the circuit, and it’s hard to imagine giving that up.

I’m proud of my work on the blog, my various clumsy missteps and appalling typos notwithstanding. I’m particularly proud that it’s given me a platform to speak up against what I’ve seen as unfair attacks on judges and judicial nominees, who often can’t speak up for themselves. I firmly believe that’s a responsibility for all lawyers, and, in these times, an urgent one. If sometimes that’s seen as sucking up to the black robes, so be it. And I like to think I’ve been a useful voice for promoting better appellate advocacy and increased awareness of the Third Circuit’s important work.

Okay, enough navel gazing. Five years, egads. Thanks for reading!

Paul Matey is confirmed to the Third Circuit

The Senate just confirmed Paul Matey’s nomination to the Third Circuit. The announced vote was 54 to 45. Congratulations, almost-Judge Matey. He receives his commission and officially becomes a judge when he takes his judicial oath, which normally occurs a few days after confirmation.

The 10 most-read CA3blog posts of 2018

Ladies and gentlemen, I present you: the 10 most-clicked-on CA3blog posts of 2018. My favorite was the argument-as-kabuki post (#6), and the most fun to do was the oral-argument compilation (#7).

1. Some thoughts on yesterday’s remarkable oral argument in the Philadelphia sanctuary-city appeal (November 8)

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.

2. Lawyer’s Third Circuit brief results in bar discipline (December 7)

3. Is Paul Matey’s Third Circuit nomination still on track? (August 18)

4. New opinion — an interesting debt-collection-suit win (February 12)

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

5. Judge Vanaskie will take senior status (November 27)

6. Oral argument as kabuki (May 25)

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.

7. A bunch of good Third Circuit oral arguments (May 23)

8. The latest Third Circuit case statistics seemed to reveal a stunning transformation, but actually the data is useless (March 15)

9. The Third Circuit honors its newest judge, Stephanos Bibas (April 20)

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.

10. New opinion — Third Circuit clarifies the new-evidence standard for proving actual innocence (July 23)


To my surprise, two posts from previous years would have finished in this year’s top 10:


And the single least read post of 2018? I believe it was the deservedly ignored Due to snowstorm, today’s Third Circuit deadlines extended to tomorrow.


Happy holidays to all! And thank you for reading my nerdy little blog this year.

Court announces procedures for government shutdown; most deadlines remain in place

The Third Circuit posted the following announcement today on its website:

US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit Open During Government Shutdown

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit is open during the Government Shutdown. Oral arguments will be heard as scheduled. All filing deadlines must be met. CM/ECF will remain operational. Attorneys representing federal government agencies in cases scheduled for oral argument must promptly contact the Clerk’s Office regarding any arrangements necessary during a lapse in funding, e.g. substitution of counsel, request to have case submitted on the briefs. Federal government agencies are expected to timely respond to emergency or expedited motions and cases. Deadlines for filings by federal government agencies in non-emergency cases will be suspended during the government shutdown. New deadlines will be established once the government shutdown has ended. To ensure an orderly resumption of work, government entities should expect that deadlines will be staggered. For example, filings due December 24, 2018 would be due seven days after the end of the shutdown; filings due December 26 would be due eight days after the end of the shutdown. The Court will be closed on December 25, 2018 and no deadlines have been set for that day. Attorneys appointed under the Criminal Justice Act should continue their representation and should continue to submit vouchers for payment. Payment of vouchers will be delayed.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

“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.

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.”


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.



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.

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.


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.

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.”

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?

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.



“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.

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.

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).


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.

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.

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 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.

“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.

Judges extend eyewitness-identification task force

The Third Circuit’s task force on eyewitness identifications will continue its work beyond its original deadline. The task force was due to terminate tomorrow under the terms of the original order creating it, but the task force co-chairs — Judge McKee and District Judge Mitchell Goldberg — had the authority to extend it. Per an order signed by Judge D. Brooks Smith and posted today on the Third Circuit website, the task force “shall continue to function until such date as it prepares and releases a Final Report and the co-chairs agree that the work of the Task Force is completed.”

Stephanos Bibas reportedly will be nominated for Third Circuit (updated)

The Washington Times reports that President Donald Trump today intends to nominate Stephanos Bibas for a Third Circuit judgeship. [My original post inaccurately stated that Trump reportedly nominated Bibas today.]

When Orin Kerr mentioned Bibas on Twitter as a potential Trump Third Circuit nominee, I thought, “not likely,” thereby demonstrating, once again, that I am no Trump mind reader.

More later.

UPDATE: early reaction from Orin Kerr on Volokh Conspiracy here and from Carrie Severino on National Review here. Severino gives Bibas’s age as “50 (approximate).” [UPDATE 3: actually Bibas is 47.]

UPDATE 2: The White House has confirmed that Trump today “announced his intent to nominate” Bibas.

New opinions — Third Circuit orders habeas relief due to ineffective assistance of counsel

Bey v. Superintendent — habeas corpus — reversal — McKee

The Third Circuit today ruled in a prisoner’s favor in a habeas corpus appeal, holding that the prisoner’s trial lawyer was ineffective for failing to object to a faulty jury instruction and that, while this claim was procedurally defaulted, the default was excused under Martinez v. Ryan because his state post-conviction counsel (known as PCRA counsel in Pennsylvania) was ineffective for not raising the issue.

Interestingly, the issue involved eyewitness identifications, the subject of the circuit task force Judge McKee co-chairs. The jury was instructed, without objection, that an eyewitness i.d. “may not be received with caution.”

Joining McKee were Restrepo and Hornak WDPA by designation. Arguing counsel were Michael Wiseman of Swarthmore PA (my former boss, and a force to be reckoned with in criminal and habeas cases) for the prisoner and John Goldsborough of the Philadelphia DA’s office for the commonwealth.


New Third Circuit Bar newsletter is out

The April 2017 issue of On Appeal, the newsletter of the Third Circuit Bar Association, is out and available at this link. Two of the highlights:

  • a fond tribute to Judge Leonard Garth by one of his former clerks, Rutgers Law School Dean Ronald Chen, and
  • a useful practice note on argument waiver and interlocutory appeals by former Fisher clerk Patrick Yingling of Reed Smith.

This is the first newsletter since Chip Becker of Kline & Specter began his term as 3CBA president, and this issue also includes a gracious President’s Note by him.

Cases today

The Court issued three published cases today, but I was presenting about the Third Circuit at a training today and I haven’t had a second to read them yet. Looks like three civil appeals, one of them arbitration and the other two employment discrimination. I’ll post summaries tomorrow.

The new Third Circuit Appellate Practice Manual is out, and you need it

The new edition of the Third Circuit Appellate Practice Manual has been released, and I just ordered my copy. If you haven’t already, you should order it too. Owning the APM is not optional if you practice in the Third Circuit and want folks to think you know what you’re doing.

Here is a link to the third edition’s table of contents. Two things stand out.

First, it covers it all, from whether to appeal to seeking certiorari. The previous edition is seven years old, and the new edition updates everything. It also adds two new chapters, on federal certification of state law questions and amicus briefs.

Second, the roster of authors is simply spectacular. Chief Judge Smith and Judges Scirica, Aldisert, Ambro, and Krause all have contributed. The co-editors are James Martin and Nancy Winkelman. Howard Bashman covers electronic filing. Bruce Merenstein covers who may appeal. Charles Becker and Patricia Dodszuweit handle motions practice. David Rudovsky tackles oral argument. Peter Goldberger covers criminal and habeas appeals. Deena Jo Schneider handles rehearing petitions. You get the idea.

The APM is published by PBI Press and costs $177 shipped, plus tax. It is 720 pages and comes with a searchable thumb drive. PBI will send you automatic updates unless you opt out.

I bought the 2010 second edition back when I started my practice. I keep it next to my desk and use it on every Third Circuit appeal I do, scribbling notes in the margins as I go. Using it over the years, I’ve been struck again and again how much effort all the authors put in to make each chapter indispensable. It’s like having a couple dozen of the best lawyers in the circuit whispering advice in your ear as you do your appeal, only less awkward.

Chief Judge Smith writes in the introduction, “every lawyer who picks up this volume ought to see each chapter as a ‘must read.’ I know I do….” Me too.


Circuit bar-status notices will be emailed out next week

The Third Circuit has posted this notice on its website:

Beginning on February 6, 2017, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals will initiate its 2017 campaign to update its attorney rolls pursuant to Rule 17.2 of the Rules of Attorney Disciplinary Enforcement. Counsel who have not entered an appearance or have not updated their contact information within the past 5 calendar years will receive a personalized email. The email will provide a direct link for counsel to confirm or update his or her contact information and to request that active status be maintained or to elect an alternative status.

Please do not delete the email as a failure to respond will result in counsel’s status being changed to inactive. See R.A.D.E. 17.2.

Counsel may access the Attorney Admissions Checker for his or her current status and the date that he or she last entered an appearance. Please refer to the Attorney Admissions page on the Court’s website for additional information and answers to frequently asked questions.

Liberal website: Hardiman is conservative

Dylan Matthews just posted this article on Vox, headlined, “Why some conservatives fear Donald Trump is about to betray them on the Supreme Court.”

The article rehashes (unfounded) conservative fears that Hardiman will prove to be a liberal like Justice Souter, with a few details new to me — Allahpundit? It also regurgitates the suddenly omnipresent Common Space analysis that purports to demonstrate — science! — that Hardiman will be a centrist, essentially because PA’s Senators at the time of his elevation were Republican Arlen Specter and the then-just-elected Democrat Bob Casey. Oy. But in the end Vox concludes that conservatives have little to worry about with Hardiman, which I’m sure will be a great relief to them.

New opinion — Third Circuit affirms denial of Rule 11 sanctions

Moeck v. Pleasant Valley School Dist. — civil / sanctions — affirmance — Shwartz

The Third Circuit today affirmed a district court order denying a party’s motion for Rule 11 sanctions. The district court denied the school district’s sanctions motion as meritless and said the factual disputes raised in the sanctions motion should be resolved by summary judgment instead. The district argued that the court failed to analyze the merits, but the Third Circuit explained that no explanation is required when a Rule 11 motion is denied.

In a footnote, the court noted that “Rule 11 motions should conserve rather than misuse judicial resources,” and it also quoted prior authority that the Rule 11 standard is stringent

because sanctions 1) are in derogation of the general American policy of encouraging resort to the courts for peaceful resolution of disputes, 2) tend to spawn satellite litigation counter-productive to efficient disposition of cases, and 3) increase tensions among the litigating bar and between [the] bench and [the] bar.”

I can’t help wondering if these observations were included in this published opinion by a panel that included the current and immediate-past Chief Judges to further a conversation within the court about its recent notable decisions involving attorney sanctions and criticism. The case was submitted just 3 days ago.

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

Is the Third Circuit cracking down on lawyers? A look at the recent flurry of sanctions and criticism

It’s been a rough couple months for lawyers in the Third Circuit.

In June, the court in Roberts v. Ferman upheld a district court’s dismissal of a suit based on counsel’s failure to follow the required procedures for recreating gaps in the record. The published opinion contained harsh language directed at the lawyer, for example suggesting that “counsel should take the time to read” the applicable rule.

In September, the court in Hoffman v. Nordic Naturals [disclosure: I represented the appellant on rehearing] granted a FRAP 38 motion against counsel for damages for a frivolous appeal. The panel denied a motion to vacate the frivolous-appeal order even after six law professors filed an amicus brief arguing that the court’s appeal ruling was incorrect, and the court ordered counsel to pay attorney’s fees of $23,000.

In November, the court in Papp v. Fore-Kast Sales held that an appellee forfeited an alternative grounds for affirmance by raising it in a footnote and incorporating by reference its district court arguments.

And just this week the court in Marino v. Usher upheld a $28,000 sanction against a lawyer for his contact with an unrepresented party, after a different panel in June upheld a three-month suspension of the lawyer’s license for the same conduct.

These four decisions all follow in the wake of the court’s widely discussed 2015 opinion in Lehman Brothers v. Gateway Funding. There the court held that a party forfeited a claim because its lawyer failed to include a relevant transcript in the appellate record, describing the omission as “at best show[ing] a remarkable lack of diligence and at worse indicat[ing] an intent to deceive this Court.”

So what’s all this mean? Are these just normal, isolated rulings, or is something broader going on? Is the Third Circuit taking a harder line? I don’t believe that the judges all sat down one day and agreed to start dropping the hammer on lawyers. But my sense is that the landscape is shifting, so that the court today is less reticent than it used to be about criticizing and punishing lawyers whose work it disapproves of.

As a practical matter, rulings like these will make some non-appellate lawyers think twice about handling Third Circuit appeals on their own. Several of the lawyers who’ve gotten in trouble with the court recently appear to have had minimal prior federal appellate experience. And a couple of them had gotten unwanted media attention in the past for coloring outside the lines, like this and this. Lawyers who aren’t familiar with both the rules and the norms of federal appellate practice can unwittingly make serious mistakes.

As these cases show, the price for those mistakes can be stiff indeed.



The Great Published Opinion Drought of Late 2016

No published Third Circuit opinions again today. It’s now been two weeks and two days since the last one. What are Third Circuit junkies like us to do??

To tide us all over, here’s the intro to an interesting non-published opinion issued today in Marino v. Usher:

Songwriter Daniel Marino appeals the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants in his copyright infringement suit.1 The district court found that, because Marino had jointly created the song Club Girl, later developed into the derivative work Bad Girl and used by popular musician Usher, Marino’s infringement claims must fail. Marino’s attorney, Francis Malofiy, also appeals the district court’s order imposing sanctions against him in the amount of $28,266.54 for contacting an unrepresented defendant in the copyright suit, in violation of Rule 4.3 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct. For the reasons that follow, we will affirm both orders.

Media round-up

Several Third Circuit cases have been in the news lately.

Challengers to the NFL concussion-litigation settlement upheld by the Third Circuit this past spring have asked the Supreme Court to grant certiorari. The case is distributed for the Supreme Court’s December 9 conference. discusses and links to the amicus filings here. Alison Frankel of Reuters has this interesting report headlined, “SCOTUS hasn’t looked at class action settlement in 17 years. Time to revisit?” Frankel reports that the challengers’ petition slams the Third Circuit ruling as “a blueprint for circumventing Amchem and Ortiz,” and their counsel of record, Supreme Court specialist Deepak Gupta, is quoted saying, “The 3rd Circuit has drifted away from Amchem.”

Another cert petition in the news is the challenge to the Third Circuit’s en banc ruling in the sports-betting case. John Brennan has this helpful summary on his Meadowlands Matters blog at Five states have taken NJ’s side as amicus.

In a case in which I was retained to seek rehearing after I criticized the panel opinion here, Jeannie O’Sullivan has this article on reporting that in Hoffman v. Nordic Naturals the court denied rehearing and denied the request to vacate the order granting sanctions against him.

Finally, there has been a fair bit of discussion of In re: Energy Future Holdings Corp, the bankruptcy reversal issued earlier this month.  Coverage and commentary by Wall Street Journal, JDSupraDavis Polk (criticizing), Jones Day (“highly-anticipated ruling”), Law360, and, among many others.




CA3blog named to 2016 ABA Blawg 100

Blawg 100








The ABA announced today that they picked CA3blog for this year’s Blawg 100. The ABA Journal article announcing the winners says the ABA has over 4,000 legal blogs in its directory, so being named to their latest list of 100 is pretty cool. (Mystifying, even.)

A few of the more distinguished honorees this year are Lyle Denniston Law News, Bryan Garner’s LawProseEmpirical Scotus, and Alison Frankel’s On the Case. Oh, and Golf Dispute Resolution, again.

“GM Battles Shippers on Price-Fixing in 3rd Circuit”

The title of this post is the headline of a story by Nick Rummell on covering a Third Circuit oral argument that took place in a special Newark seating this morning. According to the article, the appeal arises from a suit brought by automakers alleging price-fixing by international vehicle-transport shippers. The panel was Ambro, Shwartz, and Fuentes.


Attorney who lost Third Circuit fight for hard-line anti-immigrant law joins Trump transition team and is mentioned as top AG candidate

The Wilkes Barre Citizens’ Voice has a story today by Kent Jackson headlined, “Attorney with Hazleton ties joins Trump’s transition committee.” It begins:

An attorney who helped Hazleton write and defend its immigration act 10 years ago is now helping Donald Trump with his transition to the presidency.

Kris Kobach, the secretary of state in Kansas, joined the president-elect’s transition committee and has been mentioned as possible nominee for United States Attorney General or director of the Department Homeland Security in the Trump administration.

And it says this about the Third Circuit appeal in Lozano v. City of Hazleton:

The law would have penalized landlords for renting residences to immigrants who lacked legal status to live in the country. Employers also faced sanctions if they hired immigrants who weren’t authorized to work in the United States.

Kobach helped the city revise the law to provide due process to immigrants, landlords and employers and to meet other constitutional standards.

Immigrants living and working in Hazleton challenged the law with assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union and LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

After a trial in U.S. District Court in Scranton, Federal Judge James Munley ruled the law unconstitutional in 2007 and said the federal government, not cities, sets immigration law.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia upheld the ruling twice after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the judges to reconsider the case in view of its decision regarding an immigration law in Arizona.

More news coverage of Kobach as a possible AG is here, with a critical profile on here and a critical report on his work in the Third Circuit and elsewhere by Southern Poverty Law Center here.

UPDATE: here is a link to the audio of the hour-plus first oral argument in Lozano. Here is the second (post-Scotus remand), two-hour plus, argument — jump to the 9:30 mark, and it continues here. Kobach goes first both times.

Third Circuit simplifies appendix procedure

The Third Circuit yesterday issued this order eliminating the option of filing an appendix in hard-copy form only (emphasis added):

In order to assist attorneys in adapting to electronic filing, the Clerk’s Order of March 17, 2009 created an alternative option for filing the appendix. Option B permitted the filing of the appendix in paper form only, provided that additional citations to the district court record were used in the brief. It appearing that so few attorneys use Option B that it is no longer necessary, at the direction of the Court the Clerk’s Order of March 17, 2009 is hereby vacated. All attorneys and all pro se litigants who file electronically must file the full appendix in electronic form. Four paper copies of the appendix must be filed with the court. Service by alternate means must be made on all parties who are not CM/ECF Filing Users. L.A.R. 31.1(d) and L.A.R. Misc. 112.4(a). Indigent litigants are referred to L.A.R. 30.2 for motions to proceed on the original record. Attorneys should contact the CM/ECF help desk to resolve problems with electronic filing.

Howard Bashman has posted about the change on How Appealing, agreeing that Option B was rarely used and predicting few will miss it. I agree.

“False witness: US judge tackles mistaken identifications”

The title of this post is the headline of an Associated Press story Sunday by Maryclaire Dale. The subject of the article is the eyewitness-identification task force the Third Circuit established in September, and the wrongful capital conviction that led to it.

Judge McKee, who the article describes as having formed the task force, has this quote:

“Just because they (witnesses) are unequivocal, doesn’t mean they’re right,” said McKee, who just finished a term as chief judge of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. “The law has not kept up with the science.”

Third Circuit issues notice on new FRAP word limits

The Third Circuit today posted a notice to counsel on the court’s website addressing the new, shorter word limits for appellate briefs as well as other changes to the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure.

The notice explains that all briefs filed after December 1 must comply with the new limits, except that appellee and reply briefs (but not motions or other non-brief filings) can use the old limits if the appellant’s brief was filed before December 1. The notice also includes this notable passage (hyperlink added):

The Court has reviewed the standing order of January 9, 2012 which discourages motions to exceed the word limits. The Court has determined that insofar as the order provides for granting a motion for excess words in extraordinary circumstances such as complex multi-party cases or when “the subject matter clearly requires expansion of the word limits” the order is in harmony with the comment to Rule 32 and will remain in force.

The notice also highlights two other key FRAP changes:

  • “Rule 4(a)(4) … clarifies that a motion listed in the Rule that is made after the time allowed by the Civil Rules will not toll the time for appeal,” and
  • “Rule 26(c) … ‘is amended to remove service by electronic means under Rule 25(c)(1)(D) from the modes of service that allow 3 added days to act after being served.'”

The notice states: “The full report and text of the Amendments are posted on the Court’s website. Counsel should read and become familiar with the changes to the Rules.” Sound advice.

Circuit establishes task force on eyewitness identifications

The Third Circuit announced this afternoon that it has created the Third Circuit Task Force on Eyewitness Identifications. The order creating the task force was signed by Chief Judge McKee. The task force will:

make recommendations regarding jury instructions, use of expert
testimony, and other procedures and policies intended to promote reliable practices
for eyewitness identification and to effectively deter unnecessarily suggestive
identification procedures, which raise the risk of a wrongful conviction.

* * *

In order to discharge its responsibilities, the Task Force shall study the
available research pertaining to best practices for criminal investigations and
courtroom procedures, including without limitation: protocols for obtaining
identifications, expert testimony during trial, jury instructions, and any other area
pertaining to eyewitness identifications and testimony that can minimize the risk of
wrongful convictions.

The task force will issue a final report within 9 months, unless extended. The report will then be distributed to the district judges within the circuit.

The task force is comprised of 17 members: 4 CA3 judges (McKee, Smith, Shwartz, Restrepo), 6 district judges, a magistrate judge, a federal defender, a US Attorney, an FBI agent, a state AG, and two academics. McKee and EDPA Judge Goldberg are the co-chairs.

The announcement comes just weeks after the court’s en banc ruling in Dennis v. Secretary, in which the court affirmed habeas relief in a capital case and Chief Judge McKee wrote an extraordinary 54-page concurrence to “underscore the problems inherent in eyewitness testimony.”

UPDATE: the Court posted this press release, too.

I shook my little fist for naught

I’m sorry to report that the Third Circuit this week denied panel and en banc rehearing in Coulston v. Superintendent. Back in June I blogged about the unpublished panel opinion in a long post entitled, “A Friday-morning shaking of my little fist against perceived injustice.” (I actually got so wound up about it after my blog post that I did something I’ve never done before: I wrote poor Mr. Coulston and offered that he could tell the court I was willing to be appointed to do a rehearing petition for him, which he did, to no avail.)

Cert petition? Anyone?

Circuit hiring staff attorneys to start next year

The Third Circuit today posted a hiring announcement on its website to hire four or more term staff attorneys. The term is one or two years (“firm commitment”) starting fall of 2017. Application closing date is October 10.

The announcement describes the positions thus:

In the Third Circuit, approximately thirty 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.

Primary staff attorney duties include:
• Developing expertise in habeas corpus, immigration, civil rights and constitutional law,
appellate jurisdiction, and federal civil and criminal procedure;
• Gaining familiarity with state and territorial laws of the Third Circuit;
• Drafting memoranda, per curiam opinions, and orders for the judges;
• Responding to questions from judges concerning individual cases, as needed; and
• Managing assigned cases.

The former Third Circuit staff attorneys I’ve met (a) are freakishly smart, and (b) have super-duper valuable insight into the court’s workings. These openings certainly will draw top-notch applicants.

What this world needs is more circuit blogs

When I started this blog in 2014, there weren’t any blogs quite like it. There still aren’t. Someone should start another!

When I was scheming about launching a Third Circuit blog, I was inspired by Tom Goldstein‘s Scotusblog. (The name at the top of the page, CA3blog, is a deliberate nod to Scotusblog.) I was inspired by Scotusblog in a few distinct ways:

  • Scotusblog is mind-bendingly good. It helped challenge me to try to make something that super-smart readers (you!) actually wanted to read.
  • I believe Scotusblog (along with Goldstein’s own practice) helped usher in the current era of Supreme Court specialists, and I hoped my blog could help do the same at the circuit level. Federal appellate specialists can do better work, and, well, the prevailing level of practice in the circuit courts has plenty of room to improve.
  • Scotusblog didn’t seem to hurt Goldstein’s career trajectory any, and selfishly I figured a blog might do me some good, too. I was a more-or-less unknown young lawyer, starting a solo practice far from where I went to law school and farther still from the circuit where I’d clerked. Yet here I was, dreaming of building something that no one else was delusional enough to try, a circuit-specialist solo practice. I hoped the blog would inch my delusion closer to reality.

I know I’m not the only one who has goals like that. And while it’s not for me to say whether I’ve made an inch of headway towards any those lofty aims, a few concrete signs of progress already: a cite in a Third Circuit opinion, quotes in the New York Times and Washington Post, and steady readership growth.

So, here’s hoping this blog will help to inspire someone out there to start something similar in another circuit. (Or here! Plenty of room!)

New CA3blog feature: case tags

Regular readers have probably noticed that the past couple weeks some of my new-opinion posts have been less prompt than usual. I’ve been out of the office on vacation, and while my Third Circuit love continued unabated, there were fewer days where I was staring at the circuit’s opinion page at 12:31 p.m., hitting the refresh button over and over.

Anyway, one good thing to come out of the time away was I had a small idea for how to make the blog better: case tags. Case tags are a way to make it easier for readers (and for me) to find different categories of cases I’ve posted about. There are tags for different substantive-law areas: civil, criminal, agency, bankruptcy, habeas, immigration, prisoner rights, tax. There are tags for different case outcomes: reversals, dissents, concurrences etc. And tags for circuit splits, en bancs, major cases, Supreme Court and cert. Plus, for the heck of it, there are tags to keep track of my research posts and posts that got linked on How Appealing.

These new tags show up at the bottom of posts (but only when viewed on a computer browser, not a smartphone or tablet). To pull up other CA3blog posts with the same tag, just click on the tag itself. All the tags are listed in the bar on the right side of the screen, too, also hyperlinked to any tagged posts.

I went back and added tags for all posts since the start of the year. When I get a chance I’ll tag older posts too, but CA3blog now has over 500 posts so that won’t be a small project.

I always welcome input about the blog, so if you have any requests or ideas for how to make it better just post a comment or email me.


Nominations are open for the ABA’s annual list of the top 100 (?) legal blogs

I just got an email from the ABA about nominating legal blogs for their Blawg 100 list. Here’s how my thought process went:

  1. Gee, I hope my blog makes the list this year.
  2. Should I ask my readers to vote for my blog? That seems like more self-promotion than I’m comfortable with. (Blech. Ick — “Pubished,” eh?)
  3. Hey, wait, maybe if I mention the awards, but pretend that I’m doing so only to discuss other blogs, I’ll get nominations without looking like a huckster.

Clever, no? (And when my obscure and ranting blog is not chosen, I plan to react quite graciously, like this.)

The ABA publishes an annual list, the Blawg 100, that purports to identify the best* legal blogs.** Except a lot*** of the obvious choices (Scotusblog, How Appealing, etc.) are already on their Blawg 100 Hall of Fame. The ABA deems the Hall its highest blog honor, so the 40 Hall of Famers aren’t eligible for the annual 100 list.****

* A list of the worst would be more fun.

** I hate the cutesy word “blawg.” I’d sooner refer to myself as a nose-picker than as a blawger.

*** Why is Douglas Berman’s Sentencing Law & Policy blog not in the Hall of Fame, or even on the most recent 100 list? Because it doesn’t measure up to Golf Dispute Resolution?

**** This is just as well, since it saves me ranting on about the misogyny of HOFer Simple Justice.

Am I the only one who questions whether there are 140 award-worthy legal blogs? I bet not. (But the time I spend writing my blog cuts into the time I have to read others, so what do I know?) I’ve often mentioned several of my favorites here, especially How Appealing and New Jersey Appellate Law, and I enjoy Noah Feldman‘s column on Bloomberg.

Anyway, this year I’m nominating De Novo: A Virginia Appellate Law Blog. De Novo is authored by Jay O’Keeffe, an appellate and business lawyer in Roanoke. De Novo consistently pulls off a balance I’ve aspired to: it’s filled with useful information and interesting ideas, yet it’s relentlessly readable.

Most of my favorite De Novo posts cover appellate advocacy, like this one entitled Legal Writing Tip: Focus Before Detail, this detailed one on a disastrous Ninth Circuit oral argument, and this one on how to handle the Fourth Circuit’s sinister rule that counsel don’t find out who’s on their panel until the morning of oral argument. (Plus he’s a fellow Butterick fanboy!) The content is terrific, and it’s always presented with clarity, humility, and humor.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, which is not at all about nominating my blog for the Blawg 100.

Sheldon Adelson lost an appeal today in the Third Circuit [updated]

Casino magnate and major conservative political donor Sheldon Adelson lost a Third Circuit appeal today in an unpublished opinion. The opinion is here. Adelson (who, ironically, owns the Las Vegas Review-Journal) brought a defamation suit against a reporter for writing an article referring to him as “foul-mouthed.”  Huffington Post coverage of the suit here. The reporter’s defense, the opinion notes drily, is that the statement is “true in substance and fact.” The reporter sought discovery from a third-party of documents involving foul language by Adelson, the district court granted the discovery, and today the Third Circuit affirmed.

Gee whiz.

(Only the nerdiest among you will share my interest in noting that the opinion lists the attorneys in the caption, which is unusual for Third Circuit non-precedential opinions. UPDATE: a diligent reader reminded me that the court lists the attorneys in non-published opinions whenever oral argument was held.)

Third Circuit hiring a clerk’s office court attorney

The Third Circuit posted a new job announcement this morning for a permanent court attorney position in the clerk’s office. I re-post job announcements like this one here partly as a service to the court, but mostly I do it because they give insight into how the court does its work.

The position reports to the chief deputy clerk and “provides legal guidance and direction for the procedural management of the court’s caseload.” Here are court attorney’s duties:

• Drafts Clerk’s procedural orders which facilitate case management.
• Conducts the initial screening of cases.
• Conducts legal research.
• Provides legal memoranda to the court in emergency matters.

The link to apply online is here. The closing date is April 22, so tarry not, my fellow appellate-procedure devotees!

The Third Circuit library is hiring an archivist

The Third Circuit announced this morning that it is hiring an archivist to organize the court’s important collection of historical materials. According to the job announcement, the new archivist’s “primary responsibilities include processing archival collections and digitizing historical court photographs.” It will be a two-year, half-time position.

This is wonderful news. Ever since the Third Circuit Historical Society lapsed into inactivity, there’s been a real need for someone to preserve and organize the circuit’s trove to make it accessible to scholars and the public. This new position will address that need; hopefully this will help jump-start the historical society back to life, too.

Court explains how attorney active/inactive-status will work — important emails going out Friday [updated]

The Third Circuit yesterday posted this announcement on its website to give details on the procedure for the attorney-status framework that the court enacted as part of its revisions to the attorney-discipline rules last July. Under the new framework, any attorney who has not entered her appearance within the last five years (note that the five years runs from the date the attorney entered her appearance, not the date that the case was closed) will be moved to inactive status (and will be ineligible to practice in the Third Circuit until she successfully applies for reactivation) unless she affirmatively elects to remain on active status.

An email will go out on Friday from the court to those attorneys who are admitted to the Third Circuit bar who have not entered their appearance in the last five years. That email will contain a hyperlink that attorneys can use to elect their status.

Check the court’s announcement for all the details.

UPDATED: a careful reader points out that the clerk’s office phone number provided in the announcement is incorrect. The number should be (215) 597-2995.

The great published-opinion drought of 2015

The Third Circuit last issued a published opinion on November 25, two weeks ago today. The court has issued 34 non-published opinions since then. Two weeks is easily the longest the court has gone without publishing an opinion since I started this blog a year and a half ago.

Will today be the day the opinion drought finally ends?

Watch out, Buzzfeed! A little Friday blog navel-gazing.

Hey neat. My blog software tracks the number of visitors to CA3Blog, and last month was a new record:


It’s been fun watching the number of people reading my blog lately taking off. (And, yes, I’m still cackling about Judge Ambro quoting the blog in an opinion.)

For the stat-heads, I’ll explain that the growth in readers is more obvious when you realize that, before September, the blog’s 3 biggest months were all caused by specific posts getting picked up by How Appealing (Erwin last October, en banc analysis plus Restrepo in March, and publication stats in April). Bashman has way-way-way more readers than I do, so when he links to a post of mine, my visits spike. But the last two months have been different — no How Appealing links, just a steady daily readership that’s more than double what it used to be.

So, welcome to the blog and thanks, fellow CA3 junkies.

Free online legal research in the pipeline, and now

Erik Eckholm had this story in yesterday’s New York Times, headlined “Harvard Law Readies Trove of Decisions for Digital Age.” He wrote:

Now, in a digital-age sacrifice intended to serve grand intentions, the Harvard librarians are slicing off the spines of all but the rarest volumes and feeding some 40 million pages through a high-speed scanner. They are taking this once unthinkable step to create a complete, searchable database of American case law that will be offered free on the Internet, allowing instant retrieval of vital records that usually must be paid for.

Everything is expected to be available by 2017. Intriguing.

Reading this story got me thinking about the online legal research options available already. I have a decent LexisNexis subscription — it’s actually my practice’s single biggest annual cost. But I often use free options instead, mostly for uncompensated research like for this blog.

The main free-legal-research source I use is Google Scholar. If you’ve never used it, it’s worth a look. Overall, I find it good for finding specific cases but not much use for sophisticated legal research. When I created a big Excel spreadsheet of recent en banc cases while researching my en banc analysis post, it was quite handy to be able to include hyperlinks to the cases. The good: broad coverage of published and unpublished cases, easy to limit searches by date and court, and usually includes reporter pagination. The bad: the shephardizing functionality is weak, there’s no way to filter out non-precedential cases, and research is difficult beyond looking for specific words or phrases.

I also sometimes use Villanova Law’s official digital archive of Third Circuit opinions. The search engine is circa 2004 and all you get are the slip ops, but sometimes that’s all you need. (For published cases since I started this blog in April 2014, I just use the blog’s search box, top right, instead.)

I’m also aware of free-for-members options like Casemaker for Pa. Bar members and Fastcase for NJ Bar members, but I don’t use them myself.

Other views? Comments always welcome.

Third Circuit en banc procedure — the basics and beyond

There was lots of national news coverage of yesterday’s en banc rehearing grant in the New Jersey sports-betting case, and just about every story had an error or two. The Washington Post story originally said 10 to 12 judges would participate, then changed it to “at least 12,” and now it says “possibly 12 or more.” But it’s hard to blame reporters for being confused about en banc procedures — even experienced circuit practitioners can get stumped.

So, let’s first hit the basics:

What is en banc rehearing? Federal appeals courts almost always decide cases using three-judge panels. But in very rare instances, the court decides cases en banc. As I’ve noted, in recent years the Third Circuit has done so in roughly 1 out of every 1000 cases it decides. En banc means the entire court decides the case, but figuring out exactly what ‘the entire court’ means can get tricky. So …

Which judges participate in an en banc rehearing? (“Participate” means to vote on which side wins the case (affirm or reverse), not on whether to grant rehearing in the first place.) It’s math:

  • All of the active Third Circuit judges (right now there are 12; senior judges are not active judges)
  • Minus active judges who recuse (in NCAA 3 active judges are not participating)
  • Plus any senior Third Circuit judges who (a) sat on the original panel and (b) elected to participate in the en banc (in NCAA 2 senior judges are participating)

Senior Third Circuit judges who did not sit on the panel are not eligible to participate in the en banc, period. (Several other circuits allow this.) Visiting judges (judges who are not Third Circuit judges) are not eligible to participate in en banc rehearing, period, even if they did sit on the panel, IOP 9.5.3.

If rehearing en banc has been granted, how can you tell which judges are participating? How can you tell if active judges recused, or if senior judges on the panel opted in? The order granting rehearing en banc. It gives a list of judges, and that identifies the judges who are participating in the en banc rehearing of that case as of that date. (After this, subtractions would occur only if a judge leaves the court or belatedly recuses; additions would occur only if a judge joins the court before en banc oral argument).

Which judges get a vote on whether to grant en banc rehearing in the first place? It’s the same as who gets to participate except that no senior judges get to vote, even if they sat on the panel.


Okay, so much for the basics. Now, let’s look at some other potential sources of confusion. First, some issues about the vote on whether to grant rehearing:

What if there is a tie about whether to grant rehearing en banc? It takes a majority to grant rehearing, so a tie means rehearing en banc is denied. That in turn means a three-judge panel decides the appeal, so, if there already is a panel opinion, it remains in force.

Is en banc rehearing ever granted before there is a panel ruling? Yes. The court can grant rehearing en banc any time it wants, and it doesn’t have to wait for a party to ask. In cases where en banc rehearing is granted, it is not unusual in recent years for the Third Circuit to do so before the panel issues any opinion.

Which majority is required to grant rehearing en banc — all active judges, or only participating active judges? If judges recuse, does that reduce the number of votes needed to grant rehearing? Yes. 3d Cir. LAR 35.3 says, “For purposes of determining the majority number necessary to grant a petition for rehearing [see 28 USC 46(d)], all circuit judges currently in regular active service who are not disqualified will be counted.” (IOP 9.5.3 is to the same effect.) That means you only need a majority of non-disqualified judges. (But be aware that a very authoritative secondary source cites R. 35.3 to mean that the Third Circuit will not grant rehearing en banc unless a majority of active judges are not disqualified).

And here are some issues for cases where rehearing en banc has been granted:

If en banc rehearing is granted, what happens to the panel decision? It is vacated when rehearing is granted, so it’s like it never existed. En banc opinions often do not discuss prior panel opinions.

What if there is a tie by the en banc court about whether to affirm or reverse?  An en banc tie leaves the district court’s ruling in place. It does not reinstate the panel opinion. It’s like the appeal never happened.

If a judge takes senior status while the en banc case is pending, does s/he still get a vote? Yes. If a judge voted on whether to grant rehearing en banc, that judge gets to participate in the entire rehearing even if s/he goes senior.

If a new judge joins the court while en banc rehearing is pending, does the judge get a vote? If this situation is addressed by the rules, I can’t find it, which is odd. This is a timely question, since it is very likely that Judge Restrepo will join the Court before either Chavez or NCAA are submitted, and possible he’ll be confirmed before Dennis or Langbord are decided (they were argued yesterday). I’ll update this answer if I’m able to find out more. Any commenter insight?

UPDATE: At least since 2010, new CA3 judges always participate in en banc cases if they are commissioned before the en banc oral argument (like Shwartz in Rojas and Caraballo-Rodriguez), but never if they are commissioned after oral argument (like Krause in Katzin and Flores-Mejia, like Shwartz in Quinn and Morrow, and like Vanaskie and Greenaway in Rigas and Puleo). So it’s a good bet that Restrepo will participate in Chavez (set for argument in February) and NCAA.

If all this makes your head spin, just be glad we’re not wading back into the recent thorny questions about how to tell the difference between an en banc plurality vs. a majority and whether it matters.


A juvenile strip-search postscript

Yesterday, as I posted here, the Third Circuit sided with a juvenile detention center that was sued for its practice of strip searching children.

Today in the news is this disturbing story from Texas about a 14 year-old boy named Ahmed. Ahmed made a homemade clock and brought it to school, but found himself arrested when the principal suspected his clock was a bomb, “despite the fact that the ninth grader repeatedly told both teachers and the police that his project was not, in fact, a weapon.” In a photo of him in handcuffs, you can see him wearing a NASA t-shirt, bless his nerdy little heart. As he later described, “I was taken to a juvenile detention center, where they searched me, they took fingerprints and mug shots of me, and they searched me until my parents came and I got to leave the building.”

I have no idea whether that Texas detention center has the same strip-search policy as the Lancaster County center. But imagining that boy, and all the other boys and girls like him, being strip searched, bend-over-and-cough, makes me sad.

ECF problems for Windows 10 users, and solutions

Howard Bashman posted this at How Appealing last night:

Is the current method of federal appellate electronic filing becoming technologically obsolete? Whenever I try to discuss technology at the level required by this post, I quickly reveal my own ignorance. With that disclosure out of the way, let me sound a warning for those who may someday soon attempt their first federal appellate electronic filing after having upgraded to Windows 10.

The federal appellate CM/ECF electronic filing system requires a web browser with Java installed to operate. Microsoft’s new Windows 10 browser, known as Edge, does not support Java. And Google Chrome also recently stopped supporting Java. That does still leave the option of using the Firefox browser, which is what I used to e-file the Reply Brief that I filed today in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. But that was after more than a few anxious moments wondering why none of the previous ways that I had accomplished federal appellate e-filings in the past was working.

Before the Windows 10 upgrade, I had used Internet Explorer to accomplish my CM/ECF federal appellate filings, which was one of the rare times that I would use that web browser. Microsoft Edge purports to allow the user to open a web page in Internet Explorer, but that option did not allow me to launch the CM/ECF application earlier today on my desktop computer running Windows 10.

If readers have encountered these or other recent difficulties with federal appellate e-filing, or have discovered solutions that haven’t yet occurred to me, please feel free to send along your experiences via email and I will gladly share points of general interest with this blog’s readers.

I confirm that Howard’s solution — using the Firefox browser — still works for CA3 ECF filing. If you don’t have Firefox, you can download it free from this link. Problem solved.

Also, there is a simple work-around that lets you still use Java on Chrome, link here. I used that successfully last week to file a motion when I was away from the office and using a computer that did not have Firefox.

Happy filing!

Update: if you already have Firefox but installing Windows 10 changed your default browser to Edge, directions for changing it back are here.



Pope grants deadline extensions, sort of

The Pope’s upcoming visit to Philadelphia is bringing the city to a virtual halt, and the Third Circuit is not immune.

The Court has announced that, in light of the papal visit, various filing deadlines that had been set for Sept. 24-28 will be extended automatically. The details are in the court’s announcement.

Also, the Clerk’s office and the help desk will be closed from the 24th through the 28th.

H/T: I missed the announcement on the court website, but happily Bruce Greenberg and his New Jersey Appellate Law blog did not. Edit: also the Third Circuit Bar Association sent an email blast to members immediately after the court’s announcement.

New standing order for immigration cases

Today the Third Circuit issued a new standing order “to ensure that petitioners in immigration matters are not deported before the Court has an opportunity to act on a motion for stay of removal and to ensure that the Court has a sufficient record on which to decided such a motion.”

The standing order is here.

Under the new standing order, if a party files a facially valid stay of removal (meeting 4 criteria listed in the order), then the Clerk is directed to stay removal until a motions panel has considered the motion.

In June, Chief Judge McKee entered an order directing the government to find and return a mother and daughter who were about to be, or had just been, deported to Guatemala. According to this news account:

Cambria had asked the court to block Ana’s deportation while her latest appeal was pending. In its opposition to that request, the U.S. attorney’s office told the court that, as of June 9, immigration officials had no plans to remove Ana and her daughter. She was then removed 10 days later at 9:55 a.m. Friday morning.


New opinion — ERISA attorney-fees reversal

Templin v. Independence Blue Cross — ERISA — reversal — Nygaard

The Third Circuit today reversed a district court denial of attorney fees in an ERISA case, holding that the “catalyst theory” applies and that “some” success was enough to meet it. The court remanded to let the district court apply the right standard.

Joining Nygaard were Ambro and Fuentes. Arguing counsel were Anthony Pauduano for the appellents and Katherine Katchen of Akin Gump and Mark Oberstaedt of Archer & Greiner for the appellees.

FRAP committee proposes shorter briefs and tighter deadlines

I’m pretty sure most of my readers also read Howard Bashman’s How Appealing blog. But just in case anyone missed it, Bashman reports that the FRAP Advisory Committee (CA3 Judge Chagares is a member and Penn Law professor Catherine Struve is the reporter) yesterday approved a proposal to cut primary briefs from 14,000 to 13,000 words and to eliminate the FRAP 26(c) 3-day rule.

He notes that the committee

plans to consider in the very near future whether the 14-day period for filing a reply brief should be extended to 17 or 21 days. In addition, the FRAP Advisory Committee intends to send a letter to the chief judges of all the U.S. Courts of Appeals explaining that expanding the time for reply briefs will remain under consideration, and that courts should consider continuing to afford 17 days in which to file reply briefs in the interim.

And he explains:

Four more things must occur before this rule amendment goes into effect. The Standing Committee must approve the amendment. The Judicial Conference of the United States must approve the amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court must sign-off on the amendment. And the U.S. Congress must refrain from vetoing the amendment.

Happy birthday to blog, happy birthday to blog

One year ago today I started CA3blog. It’s been a fun and gratifying year. In its modest little way, the blog has begun to serve a useful role in as a source of circuit news and occasional amusement.

Selfishly, the best thing about the blog for me has been how it brings me in contact with other Third Circuit lawyers and appellate enthusiasts. I hope that continues.

I’m not sure what the future holds for CA3blog. Should I keep posting on every published case? Focus instead on in-depth posts, like my recent published-opinion-stats post? Try to cajole folks I admire into guest-posting? Post about my own CA3 cases? Hunt down recent clerks to get more insider perspective? Close up shop and go back to spending all my time on my real love, appellate lawyering?

My Magic 8-Ball is hazy. I’d be happy to hear what you think, in comments or offline.

Happy birthday, blog, and thanks for reading.

More on published opinions

Professor David Cleveland has posted this follow-up on the Appellate Advocacy Blog to my recent post about the Third Circuit’s low published-opinion numbers.

He writes:

Matthew suggests that judicial vacancy is the the likely reason for the Third Circuit’s recent spike in its unpublished opinion rate to 92.3%. That seems accurate, though the Third has been hovering in the high-80s for a while now. Judicial vacancy may have pushed them up to the low-90s where the high-volume circuits are.

The Third Circuit last year issued the fewest published opinions of any circuit, again

The new AOC statistics are out. They’re a trove for appeals-nerds like me, and I’ll probably have a couple posts about them. First up: a look at the stats for published and unpublished decisions.

The big news? In 2014, for the second year in a row, no circuit issued fewer published opinions than the Third Circuit.

CA3 issued 177 published, signed opinions last year. The next lowest was CA2, with 210. So CA3 isn’t just the lowest, it is the lowest by over 15%. By contrast, there were 3 circuits that published over 500 opinions (CA7, CA8, and CA9). (All the 2014 data I’m using here is from report table B-12, which in prior years was S-3.)

Except for CA3, all the circuits fall into one of two categories: the ones like CA9 with lots of cases and a high unpublished-decision rate, and the ones like DC with fewer cases and a lower unpublished-decisions rate. CA3 is an outlier because it doesn’t have lots of cases relative to other circuits but still has a high unpublished rate.

Here are some numbers.

92.3% of CA3 dispositions were unpublished last year, which is slightly lower than CA4 and CA11 and only a little higher than CA6 and CA9. But these other circuits with high rates of unpublished dispositions all decide more cases. So, for example, even with a higher unpublished-cases rate, CA4 still issued 217 published opinions, 40 more than CA3 did.

Meanwhile, CA3 terminated a total of 2493 cases last year. That was more than five other circuits: DC (634), CA1 (942), CA7 (1902), CA8 (2348), and CA10 (1457). But all of those circuits issued unpublished decisions at far lower rates than CA3’s 92.3%: DC (54.1%), CA1 (64%), CA7 (63.4%), CA8 (75.2%), and CA10 (79.1%). And the other circuits joining CA3 above 90% unpublished all have a lot more cases than CA3’s 2493: CA2 (3111), CA4 (3787), CA5 (5203), CA6 (3460), CA9 (7515), CA11 (3999).

Interesting, no? But what’s the explanation? Is the reason for CA3’s low number of published opinions the judicial emergency?

Maybe. Recall, Sloviter and Scirica both went senior in the summer of 2013; Krause filled Sloviter’s seat last summer, while Scirica’s seat remains open with Restrepo’s nomination stiiiiiill pending. Do the numbers show a sudden drop in published opinions fitting that timeframe? Here:

Year — Number of published signed opinions — percentage unpublished

2009 — 245 — 89.3

2010 — 246 — 89.8

2011 — 214 — 90.9

2012 — 234 — 87.3

2013 — 163 — 93.8

2014 — 177 — 92.3

So CA3 has had low publishing numbers for a while, but things did get more extreme in 2013. And that holds true when you compare CA3 to other circuits: from 2009 to 2012, there were 2 or 3 circuits each year with fewer published opinions. In 2013 and 2014: zero.

So you could make a good case that the Third Circuit’s judicial emergency helps explain its recent low publishing numbers.

Committee re-examining inactive-status proposal

The Circuit posted this terse announcement Monday: “In light of comments already received, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals Attorney Discipline Committee is reexam[in]ing proposed Rule 17.”

Proposed Rule 17 sought to create a new inactive status. It said attorneys who have not appeared in the past five years must file a form to remain active. I welcome the committee’s re-examination of that proposed rule. I don’t see any benefit to justify the added headache for lawyers and the court.

I wonder what this announcement means for the other proposed amendments to the attorney-discipline rules. It was issued the same day as the deadline for public comments.

My original post on the proposed amendments is here.

Renee Edelman is the Circuit’s new CJA case-budgeting attorney

Renee Hurtig Edelman is the Third Circuit’s new case-budgeting attorney.

Case-budgeting attorney is a new position at the Circuit. According to the hiring notice, the case-budget attorney will:

work with Third Circuit committees, district court judges, magistrate judges, and Criminal Justice Act (CJA) panel attorneys to develop budgets and review budgets of criminal mega-cases and death penalty cases. Specifically, in conjunction with counsel and the assigned judge, the Circuit Case Budgeting Attorney will assist in preparation of budgets that address attorney and paralegal time, experts, investigation, and other case costs.

I know Renee, we worked together at the Philly CHU. She’s smart as a whip and has a deep understanding of what it takes to litigate complex cases competently. She’ll be a tremendous asset to the Circuit.

(A valuable tip, fellow CJA lawyers: she is a big Duke basketball fan.)

Welcome to CJA-world, Renee.

Appellate-dork blogger reads new opinion, can’t stop grinning


Look, I admit I’m a law nerd. My Tenth Circuit co-clerks took sinister delight in imposing a no-talking-about-the-law-during-lunch rule on me. And I’m fairly sure I’m in the minority when I say how frustrating it is that my fellow habeas-conference attendees don’t want to hash out the interplay between 2254(d)(2) and (e)(1) during the breaks between sessions.

But, still. I can’t be the only one who finds the jousting between Ginsburg, Alito, and Kagan in Yates v. United States today hugely entertaining. Right?

[Update: right. Professor Berman over at Sentencing Law & Policy gushes “Amazing stuff.”]

A bit of backstory on a big 2014 habeas reversal

I went to law school at UNC Chapel Hill, so it pains me a bit to say anything good about Duke. But Duke Law’s appellate litigation clinic represented the winning side in one of last year’s most important habeas corpus cases, Branch v. Sweeney. For anyone who wants to learn more about the law-student team that won Branch, here are two law-school news stories I came across recently, here and here.

Go, Duke!

Circuit proposes changes to attorney-discipline rules


The Third Circuit does not appear to impose attorney discipline often. The court website lists two cases, neither within the past two years. (In a 2012 case, the lawyer had filed 30 CA3 appeals, and 20 of them faced procedural termination due to the lawyer’s failure to meet filing deadlines!)

Discipline may be rare, but it happens, so the court has proposed to amend its Rules of Attorney Disciplinary Enforcement. Bruce Greenberg has cogently summarized the changes at his New Jersey Appellate Law Blog.

The main changes would be:

  • creating an inactive status, which the court imposes either (a) by request, or (b) when the lawyer has not appeared in CA3 in 5 years and has not filed a form asking to remain active;
  • exposing lawyers to CA3 discipline if they have been disciplined by another court — under the current rules, only disbarment or suspension in another court triggers reciprocal discipline; and
  • clarifying that lawyers are not subject to CA3 discipline for administrative suspension in another court caused by, for example, failure to pay annual fees or meet CLE requirements.

Comments on the proposed rules can be filed by mail or email by March 9. Details here.

One thing I would change: the proposed rule has several 10-day deadlines. Back in 2009, FRAP wisely changed most of its 10-day deadlines to 14–the end result is usually the same, with less risk of miscalculation. For the same reason, and to harmonize with FRAP, the court should go to 14-day deadlines here.


My comment opposing the proposed FRAP word-limit cut

You’ve probably heard that the rules committee has proposed cutting the FRAP word-limit on briefs from 14,000 to 12,500. The proposal is here. Howard Bashman ably summarizes matters in this column in the Legal Intelligencer. Inspired by Bashman’s How Appealing blog posts, I submitted this comment today:

Brevity is a reflection of good advocacy, not its cause. Under the current limit, the courts are burdened with too many aimless, bloated 14,000-word briefs. Under the proposed limit, they will get aimless, bloated 12,500-word briefs instead. The problem is real, but the solution proposed will miss the mark. I favor the current word limit.

I’m winning the shortest-comment contest for now.

You can view all the comments here. (Mine hasn’t posted yet.) Don’t miss Judge Easterbrook’s and Judge Silberman’s. You can submit a comment of your own by February 17th here.

Famous, the wrong way [updated]

Lawyers all make mistakes, and most of us have made big ones. When it happens to you, will you fight for your client, or yourself?

Today, a vivid reminder from the Supreme Court that choosing wrong just might make you the wrong kinda famous.

The heart of it (record cites omitted, eviscerating alteration in original):

Horwitz and Butts, as they have subsequently acknowledged, failed to meet with Christeson until more than six weeks after his petition was due. There is no evidence that they communicated with their client at all during this time. They finally filed the petition on August 5, 2005—117 days too late. They have since claimed that their failure to meet with their client and timely file his habeas petition resulted from a simple miscalculation of the AEDPA limitations period (and in defending themselves, they may have disclosed privileged client communications). But a legal ethics expert, reviewing counsel’s handling of Christeson’s habeas petition, stated in a report submitted to the District Court: “[I]f this was not abandonment, I am not sure what would be.”

* * *

[I]n their response to the District Court’s order to address the substitution motion, Horwitz and Butts characterized the potential arguments in favor of equitable tolling as “ludicrous,” and asserted that they had “a legal basis and rationale for the [erroneous] calculation of the filing date.”

Thirteen times the Supreme Court’s opinion identifies Horwitz and Butts by name. The case is Christeson v. Roper.

UPDATE: my original post was remiss in failing also to mention the heroes of the tale, New York attorney Joseph Perkovich and Philadelphia attorney Jennifer Merrigan. The opinion makes plain enough their extraordinary work for Christeson (more backstory in this Linda Greenhouse column in the New York Times), even without mentioning that their work was entirely pro bono. Perkovich and Merrigan: the right kinda of famous.

More CA3 staff attorney hiring

Back in September, I noted, the court advertised for two staff attorney positions to start in September 2015. This week, the court advertised additional openings, for 2 or more attorneys to fill current vacancies. As with the prior listings, these are one-year terms:  “limited number of term extensions may be available.” Salary is listed at $74,884 for attorneys with a year of experience. Closing date is January 19.

The notice is here.

En banc error-correction

Regular readers know I’ve been critical of the Third Circuit for denying en banc rehearing of some recent panel decisions I thought wrong. The retroactivity ruling in Reyes was one: “Wrong, and okay with it,” I wrote. The appeal-waiver ruling in Erwin was another: “An ignominious ending to 2014,” said I.

So I read with interest this blog post by Professor Richard Re on Re’s Judicata, lucidly discussing whether correcting obvious panel errors is an appropriate use of en banc rehearing. My recent scolding of the court rested on my view that panel error correction (or at least big error correction) is a core en banc purpose. Re’s post shows why that ain’t necessarily so.

Here’s the nub:

The more interesting issue is whether Judge Thompson is correct that en banc is inappropriate when based on “disagree[ment] with the result reached by the original panel.” At first blush, Judge Thompson seems to be on solid ground. If mere disagreement were enough, that would indeed mean that “nearly every case would attract the full court’s attention.”

But what if a panel decision were obviously wrong–something, one hopes, that is fairly rare? That possibility isn’t ruled out by FRAP 35(a), which speaks only of what is ordinarily appropriate for en banc. Moreover, that approach would have pragmatic appeal. When a panel makes a tough call, the mere possibility or suspicion of error might not justify the costs of sorting through the merits via en banc review. Only major stakes or disuniformity could then provide the extra justification for en banc. But if a panel issued a decision that is wrong on its face, then why not just reverse it en banc? Writing the en banc opinion shouldn’t take too much effort, and the legal system would avoid the normal costs associated with bad precedent. So long as judges can reliably and quickly identify obvious errors, en banc review for obvious error would seem sensible.

If it makes sense to go en banc to correct obvious error, why doesn’t FRAP 35(a) say that? Perhaps because such a rule would introduce an unfortunate element of disrespect into the en banc process. It is unpleasant enough to write a panel decision that gets rejected en banc. It would be all the more unpleasant if a majority of your colleagues expressly do so because they think you really badly missed the boat. This kind of thing isn’t good for collegiality and might even deter courts from going en banc.

Although Re’s blog has been around since May, I only recently found it, thanks, invevitably, to How Appealing. Re is ludicrously accomplished–Harvard, Yale Law, Kavanaugh and Kennedy clerkships, DOJ Honors Program, a UCLA law professor who surely still gets carded when he orders a beer–and the quality of his posts is extraordinary. Here’s another gem for fellow CA3 nerds, discussing the recent en banc ruling in Katzin.


Court (and blog) holiday-schedule info

The Court will be closed on December 26, the day after Christmas, in addition to being closed on the December 25 federal holiday. Filings otherwise due on the 26th now are due on the 29th. Also, litigants filing emergency motions requiring action before the 31st are instructed to leave detailed messages notifying the clerk. Court notice with details here.

Meanwhile, I plan to take a break from blogging until January 5. Will I be able to stay away?

Happy holidays to all.

CA3 practitioner Berry guest-blogging this week at Volokh Conspiracy

Michael Berry, a media-law expert and partner at LSKS in Philadelphia, is guest-blogging on drone law this week at Volokh Conspiracy. First post here, intro post here. Berry is admitted in CA3 and was prevailing counsel in this CA3 published case.

Mike was my law review editor. To this day, I think of him every time I double-check whether I’ve italicized the period in id. Despite that, I’m happy to see him doing so well.

Staff attorney hiring

CA3 today announced it plans to hire at least two staff attorneys to start next year. The announcement sheds some light on the key role staff attorneys play at the court:

Staff attorneys serve the court at large and are essential in furthering the disposition of matters before the Court. In the Third Circuit, the office has approximately twenty attorneys, plus a dedicated support staff. Staff attorneys work in a highly collegial work environment with experienced supervisory attorneys, career attorneys, attorneys with prior judicial clerkship or law firm experience, and recent law school graduates. The office has been a launching point for a wide range of careers nationwide, and many former staff attorneys have become leaders in public interest, private sector, and academic settings.
Primary staff attorney duties include:
•  Developing expertise in habeas corpus, immigration, civil rights and constitutional law,
appellate jurisdiction, and federal civil and criminal procedure;
•  Gaining familiarity with state and territorial laws of the Third Circuit;
•  Drafting memoranda, per curiam opinions, and orders for the judges;
•  Responding to questions from judges concerning individual cases, as needed; and
•  Managing assigned cases.

I had thought staff-attorney positions were all career positions, but no:

[CA3] anticpates hiring two or more staff attorneys to serve one-year terms, from September 2015 through September 2016. A limited number of two year term positions and term extensions may be available.

So some staff-attorney spots are structured like clerkships. Advertised pay for entry-level attorneys is $61,857. Would that it were more.


Zephyr Teachout, former CA3 clerk and political rising star

Zephyr Teachout clerked for CA3 wonder-judge Edward Becker. I haven’t made a study of the Most Famous Former Third Circuit Clerks (yet), but I suspect at this moment in time she’s leading the pack. (Update: Or maybe not. In the comments, Peter Goldberger reminds me about “a guy named Sam Alito.”) She’s challenging Andrew Cuomo for the Democratic nomination for Governor of New York. It seemed like a silly idea at first — For Governor? Against Cuomo? Zephyr??? But she’s run an inspired campaign, Cuomo has not, and just this week the New York Times declined to endorse Cuomo. Jaw-dropping.

Zephyr is a friend of mine, and, inevitably, that’s CA3-related too. I interviewed with Becker during her clerkship, we had mutual friends, and we struck up a friendship. After her clerkship ended (my third year in law school) we started a legal non-profit together, along with my law school classmate David Neal, called the Fair Trial Initiative. Embarrassing photo here. After doing amazing work for FTI, she finally left for Vermont and the Howard Dean presidential campaign, and the rest is history. Suffice to say I’ve spent much of the past 3 months sporting a look of stupid incredulity, babbling to anyone who will listen “can you believe this …”

Full disclosure: I contributed some money to Zephyr’s campaign. This isn’t a political blog, and I’m not writing this to try to persuade anyone to support her. But it’s not every day that a CA3 clerk alum becomes a national political sensation, still less someone I know. So silence wouldn’t do.

I wonder what Judge Becker would have said if he were alive to see this. I’m pretty sure it would have been a good story well-told.

Appellate-rule amendments proposed

The Judicial Conference rules committee this week issued proposed changes to various federal rules, including the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. A link to the proposed amendments is here, with written comments here sought by February 17, 2015. Bruce Greenberg provides a lucid synopsis here of the changes at his New Jersey Appellate Blog. Howard Bashman also had an uncharacteristically lengthy post about the word-count change Wednesday at How Appealing.

The proposal many lawyers probably care about most is the change to Rule 32 that would cut the word limit for opening briefs about 10%, from 14,000 words to 12,500 words. Personally, I’m not too vexed about that one; I agree with Scalia and Garner that “[t]he power of brevity is not to be underestimated,” so I work hard to write concise briefs and I usually come in well under the limit.

On the other hand, I surely would miss the extra 3 days to file now granted to rules-hounds by Rule 26(c).

I may have more to say on the amendments after I’ve had more time to consider them.

Back to blogging

I was away on vacation last week. Because I’m that nerdy, I’d planned to keep updating the blog while I was gone. But, because I’m that absent-minded, I couldn’t post because I didn’t bring the password. Sorry for the radio silence. I will post on last week’s opinions and update the reversals compilation soon. But first, three new opinions today.

More CA3 defendants get sentences below-Guidelines than within-Guidelines

Less than 36% of criminal defendants sentenced in the Third Circuit are receiving sentences within the range set by the Sentencing Guidelines, according to the most recent data from the US Sentencing Commission. This is much lower than the within-Guideline sentencing rate nationally, which is 48.6%. Only CA2 and CA9 courts sentence within the Guidelines less often than CA3.

Defendants sentenced outside the Guideline range almost always are sentenced below the Guidelines range. Within CA3, less than 2% of defendants received an above-Guidelines sentence.

Digging deeper into the numbers, the biggest single reason CA3 defendants get below-Guidelines sentences is for substantially assisting the prosecution, accounting for 31.2% of all CA3 sentences. That’s the highest circuit rate in the country, by far. The national rate is only 12.8%. In fact, one CA3 district — E.D.Pa. — has the single highest rate of defendants credited for substantial assistance of any district in the country, 43.6%. And DNJ is third at 35.7%. (Why? Are prosecutors more generous about rewarding cooperation? Are they more draconian about punishing non-cooperation?)

On the other hand, very few defendants within CA3 — less than 1% — are benefiting from early disposition programs. That’s far below the national rate of 9.2%, a figure driven mostly by a 28.6% rate in CA9 (including 56.8% in SDCa!) and 17.3% rate in CA10. And EDNY, where CA3-conference-presenter Gleeson sits, has a 10.9% early-disposition-sentence-reduction rate. In the wake of this year’s CA3 circuit conference, I’m hoping use of early disposition in CA3 will rise dramatically.

These stats all come from the US Sentencing Commission’s 2nd quarter Preliminary Quarterly Data Report released earlier this week. H/T Douglas Berman at Sentencing Law and Policy.

New opinion — federal agency jurisdiction


“View of the Ewen Breaker of the Pa. Coal Co. The dust was so dense at times as to obscure the view. This dust penetrated the utmost recesses of the boy’s lungs. A kind of slave-driver sometimes stands over the boys, prodding or kicking them into obedience. S. Pittston, Pa.” [1911] (Wikimedia Commons public domain)

The Shamokin Filler Company repeatedly violated federal workplace-safety standards that limit breathable coal dust. So it sued, arguing that it should be regulated by OSHA’s less-stringent standards instead of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s more-stringent ones. In today’s lone published opinion, CA3 denied the company’s petition for review.

The case is Shamokin Filler Co. v. Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission. Opinion by Fuentes, joined by McKee and Chagares. Arguing counsel were Adele Abrams for the company and Sara Johnson for the government.

CA3 hears argument in gay-conversion-therapy-ban case


Hypnosis. Sascha Schneider, 1904 (Wikimedia Commons public domain)

A CA3 panel heard argument yesterday in an appeal challenging New Jersey’s ban on so-called gay-conversion therapy. The case is King v. Governor of NJ, the panel is Smith, Vanaskie, and Sloviter. Argument audio has not been posted yet (it will be here), but coverage of the argument is here.

H/T: Howard Bashman at How Appealing.

Court rejects effort to appeal same-sex marriage ruling

When PA Governor Corbett decided not to appeal a district-court ruling striking down the state’s same-sex-marriage ban, it looked like CA3 would be shut out of the historic legal fight over same-sex-marriage.

But not entirely–yesterday the court got to decide a minor related issue. When the Governor chose not to appeal, a county clerk responsible for issuing marriage licenses sought to intervene to appeal. The district court denied the motion, reasoning that the clerk was bound by his ruling and lacked standing to appeal it.

In a two-sentence order, CA3 summarily affirmed for essentially the reasons given by the district court. The order was signed by Shwartz, with Fuentes and Jordan also on the panel.

Brown v. Board it ain’t. But the clerk reportedly has vowed to seek Supreme Court review, so maybe CA3 will get its chance yet.

What the wanna-be clerks say

I’m a CA3 inside-baseball nerd, so I was excited when I came across a thread on a big law-student message board about CA3 clerkship applying, link here. Alas, so far it’s proven less of a crowd-source info-trove than one could hope. (I had high hopes, because this thread on Scotus clerkships is mighty interesting, H/T David Lat at Above the Law).

Anyway, happy Friday.

An unusual visitor

In April I observed here that visiting judges have been hearing far fewer CA3 cases than in years past. Bucking the trend, visiting judge Jane Restani sat with the court this week, visiting from an Article III court I’d never even heard of: the United States Court of International Trade. (Court page here, wikipedia here). Its mission:

to resolve disputes by:

Providing cost effective, courteous, and timely service to those affected by the judicial process;

Providing independent, consistent, fair, and impartial interpretation and application of the customs and international trade laws; and

Fostering improvements in customs and international trade law and practice and improvements in the administration of justice.

Judge Restani’s poor law clerks probably find themselves climbing a steep learning curve, since  customs courts doesn’t get much experience handling tricky and important capital habeas cases like the one the panel heard yesterday. (Although Judge Restani sounded admirably prepared at argument.)

Ambro and Barry were the other two judges on the panel.

“Several of the figures most central to the region’s mortgage fraud problem cooperated with prosecutors, and got non-prison sentences.”

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Duquesne’s law school recently teamed up to study mortgage-fraud prosecutions in WDPA. The upshot was two articles last weekend, here and here. Two related stories here and here.

Sentencing policy is getting long overdue attention (including at the recent CA3 judicial conference), and NACDL among others is tackling the trial penalty head-on, so this is a timely study.

Core findings:

• Leniency for cooperation was doled out liberally. At least 30 of the 100 defendants were the beneficiaries of prosecutorial motions to reward “substantial assistance” to the investigation. That cooperation rate is nearly double that seen in fraud cases nationwide, suggesting that prosecutors here rewarded more defendants than normal.

• Most of the mortgage criminals who assisted prosecutors got no prison time, and the average amount of incarceration for those 30 defendants was a little more than three months. By contrast, defendants who pleaded guilty but didn’t provide substantial assistance to prosecutors, got average sentences of three years in prison. Those few who went to trial faced an average of 6½ years behind bars.

• Several of the figures most central to the region’s mortgage fraud problem cooperated with prosecutors, and got non-prison sentences. For instance, Kenneth C. Cowden, formerly of McKees Rocks and now of Florida, performed unlicensed appraisals that exaggerated real estate values in the region to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. He cooperated and got nine months in a halfway house. Jay Berger of Fox Chapel, who recruited Cowden and lived lavishly from fraudulent mortgages, was sentenced in 2012 to 15 months in prison, but died this month at age 49 without serving time.

Hat tip: Douglas Berman’s Sentencing Law & Policy, which observes here, “I view this terrific bit of investigative journalism as further proof that those who are really concerned about suspect disparities in federal sentencing ought to be much more focused on the application of (hidden and unreviewable) prosecutorial sentencing discretion than about the exercise of (open and reviewable) judicial sentencing discretion.”

New opinions, including 2 without oral argument

Three published opinions today, which goes to show that someone’s been working even as the Judicial Conference wraps up today. Two of them were decided without oral argument, which is unusual.

First is US v. Smith, which, without argument, reversed a restitution order imposed at resentencing on the ground that restitution was outside the scope of the remand. A remand to consider specified sentencing issues does not authorize the sentencing court to revisit other sentencing issues, even if both parties urge the revisiting. The court also affirmed on several other issues. Any published opinions without oral argument are uncommon, and criminal-appeal reversals without argument are rare.

Opinion by Barry, joined by Sloviter and Hardiman. Arguing counsel for Smith was Peter Levin. Three other defendants also were on the appeal  (disclosure: one of the co-defendants was a co-defendant of one of my clients in an unrelated prosecution).

The second opinion today also is a criminal appeal, US v. Harris aka Pickle. Harris pled nolo contendere but sought an offense-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility. The court held that a nolo plea does not automatically bar the reduction, but affirmed denial of the reduction here.

Opinion by McKee, joined by Fisher and Sloviter. Arguing counsel were Joseph Yablonski for the defendant and Jane Dattilo for the government.

Third up is an immigration appeal, Capadan v. Attorney General. This opinion was released back in March as an unpublished opinion; today the court granted the AG’s motion to reissue as a precedential opinion. Unpublished opinions that break new ground do happen, and Capadan is a reminder that the court sometimes will publish if you ask. The court affirmed, holding that a PA conviction for indecent assault is an aggravated felony supporting removability.

Opinion by Rendell, joined by Smith and Hardiman. No oral argument, but counsel were Valerie Burch for Capadan and Christina Martin and Carmel Morgan for the AG.


Denial of en banc rehearing in consumer-class-certification appeal

CA3 denied rehearing en banc rehearing Friday in a high-profile case involving products-liability-suit class certification. Ambro, joined by McKee, Rendell, and Fuentes, dissented from the denial. Given CA3’s track record shaping class-action law, I doubt we’ve heard the last of this issue.

The panel opinion is Carrera v. Bayer Corp. The en banc denial and dissent are here. The panel opinion built on a prior CA3 case, Marcus v. BMW. Ambro wrote Marcus, so his dissent here carries special force: “Several amici — including this country’s most recognized expert on procedure, Arthur Miller — warn that Carrera threatens the viability of low-value consumer class action ‘that necessitated Rule 23 in the first instance.'” Ambro  also urges the Rules Committee to take a look.

A blog post about the denial and dissent by Bruce Greenberg of New Jersey Appellate Law blog here. He’s the one who uploaded the rehearing denial; he thinks the dissenters are right. Hat tip also to Howard Bashman’s How Appealing.

“I was ignorant of my own limitations”

Appellate advocacy is hard work. In some ways, the need for effort is obvious. Of course you have to put in the hours on each case learning the facts, researching the law, drafting and editing the briefs; of course you’re more likely to win if you outwork the other side.

But working hard on each case isn’t enough, not nearly. You also have to work hard on the skills of appellate advocacy, especially writing. Most of us don’t, and don’t even see the need. We’re like legal-writing professor Wayne Schiess:

When I was a full-time practicing lawyer, I thought I was a good writer. I believed I was above average within the profession. Now I see that I was quite mediocre, that I was poorly educated about the standards of high-level professional writing, and that I was ignorant of my own limitations.

Bryan Garner is right: “If you think you’re quite good . . . it’s probably a delusion.”

My own journey from self-satisfied to alarmed to improving has been helped along by books. The 3 most helpful to me:

Most such lists would include Strunk & White and Garner’s The Winning Brief. And any good CA3 enthusiast also would recommend Aldisert‘s glorious Winning on Appeal.

Appellate lawyers are professional writers.  Time we acted like it.

My Scotus scorecard missed the shadows


Photo by Hans / CC0 / Pixabay

Earlier this week I posted about how CA3 has fared lately in the Supreme Court. Nothing fancy, I just looked at CA3 cert-grants and reversal rates and how they compare to other circuits. As I said in my post, I just pulled these stats from Scotusblog, I even said it was “easy.”

Not so fast.

The sort of simple reversal-rate analysis I gave is misleading, argue John Summers and Michael Newman of Hangley Aronchick.* The Supreme Court resolves circuit splits; every time they do, they’re passing judgment on each circuit in the split, not just the one from which cert was granted. Summers & Newman call these ‘shadow decisions.’

To illustrate: imagine a circuit split with CA4 and CA5 on one side, CA9 on the other. Suppose Scotus grants cert from the CA5 case and affirms. Using simple analysis, only CA5 gets scored. Summers and Newman argue that CA4 and CA9 — the shadow-decision circuits — should, too. I agree.

Summers & Newman explained their method and findings on Scotusblog in 2012, here, and on Hangley’s Supreme Court Project page, here. And, of particular interest to me, they had a great short article in Legal Intelligencer in 2011 focusing on CA3, here. Applying their method to the 2005-10 terms, they found that CA3 had the lowest reversal rate of any circuit.

So now I’m eager to figure out how CA3 has done in shadow decisions since the 2010 term. And to find out more about the Hangley Scotus project. Stay tuned.

*  Howard Bashman used the same methodology back in 2006 (Report Card here) to score CA3 in the OT 2005 term. No idea who first had the idea. Summers & Newman are the ones spreading the gospel now.

A word on style & respect


This blog is a sort of nerdy serial love-note to the Third Circuit. The last thing I want is to imply disrespect for the Court, so I want to explain one of my style choices.

When I refer to judges here, I generally don’t give titles or first names. So, not “The Honorable Theodore A. McKee, Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit,” not even “Chief Judge McKee.” Just “McKee.” Here’s why:

  • I refer to judges a lot here. Dropping the titles cuts a lot of clutter.
  • The audience I’m writing for is sophisticated. When I blog, I have in my head readers who know whom I mean when I say Sloviter or Scalia or Posner, and who aren’t scandalized by an inside-baseball tone.
  • It ain’t a brief, it’s a blog.

For similar reasons, I use “the court,” not “the Court.” If my choices seem disrespectful, please know that’s not my intent. If it bugs you (especially if your first name is The Honorable), tell me. I don’t claim to have it all figured out yet.


Joining the CA3-blog party



Party shoes. Espressolia / Pixabay / CC0


There are several fine Third Circuit blogs that helped inspire me to join the merriment. Together, we’ll surely fan the flames of CA3-mania to levels heretofore unseen.

So check out, in no particular order:

And, while not limited to CA3, Howard Bashman‘s How Appealing also is essential reading for any CA3 junkie.

The CA3 blogger with the best back-story by far is Findlaw’s Gabriella Khorasanee. She writes, “Began my career as a lawyer [she was a Nigro clerk and a Dewey Ballantine associate] and then decided to pursue my dreams of being a fashion designer. Now come full circle and I’ve taken my experiences as an attorney and fashion blogger, and combined them to be a legal blogger.” Blogging from Sunnyvale, CA, she also does Findlaw’s blogs on CA1, CA2, CA7, CA8, CA10, and CAFed. Which sounds like a lot, but it doesn’t keep her from also editing Mama’s International Secret Society, “a ladies’ online lifestyle magazine covering fashion, accessories, beauty, art, music, events, travel and cuisine and all the things we love.” I don’t know about M.I.S.S., but her CA3 blog is good stuff.

I have no fashion advice to give, but I’m glad to join the CA3-blog party.