Justia U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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Pleasant Valley High School wrestling coach Getz allegedly assaulted team member C.M. and discriminated against C.M.’s sister, A.M. based on her gender. Plaintiffs alleged that during practice, C.M. was forced to wrestle a larger student, who threw him through the doors into the hallway and punched him. After Getz prodded C.M. to keep wrestling, an altercation ensued, in which Getz lifted C.M. up and “smash[ed] his head and back into the wall.” C.M., A.M., and their mother sued. The School Defendants asserted that discovery showed that Plaintiffs made numerous false statements in the complaint and amended complaint, and their claims lacked merit and that Plaintiffs’ Rule 56.1 statement contained false statements. The district court denied Defendants’ Rule 11 motions as “meritless,” noting that these Rule 11 motions tax judicial resources and emphasizing that the truth of the allegations in a case of this sort is revealed through discovery and addressed at summary judgment or trial, not via motions for sanctions. On interlocutory appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed. The district court appropriately exercised its wide discretion in concluding the motions lacked merit, and were counterproductive as they relied upon factual discrepancies that did not show the claims were patently frivolous. View "Moeck v. Pleasant Valley School District" on Justia Law

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In 2009, two groups of Pennsylvania hospital employees claimed they were not properly compensated for work performed during meal breaks. They sought to bring a collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 216(b). The actions were conditionally certified and “opt-in” notices were sent to potential plaintiffs. More than 3,000 individuals joined one collective action and more than 800 opted in to the other. The parties conducted collective action related discovery for nearly two years. Both judges subsequently decertified the collective actions, reasoning that the opt-in plaintiffs were not similarly situated to the named plaintiffs. Their job duties varied significantly; those duties were “highly relevant in terms of how, why and whether the employees were compensated properly for missed or interrupted meal breaks.” More than 300 different individuals supervised the plaintiffs and had individual authority to implement policies. The named plaintiffs successfully moved to voluntarily dismiss their claims with prejudice (FRCP 41(a)). The Third Circuit rejected an appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The same law firm then filed new claims against the same defendants, with new named plaintiffs, which were dismissed based on issue preclusion. The Third Circuit affirmed, noting that only plaintiffs who had accepted an offer of judgment had been dismissed with prejudice. When the other opt-in plaintiffs were dismissed without prejudice, they did not suffer an adverse judgment on the merits of any claim. View "Halle v. West Penn Allegheny Health System, Inc." on Justia Law

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Marshall was sentenced to death in Pennsylvania in 1984 and has been pursuing a federal habeas petition since 2003. Marshall initially filed his petition through the Federal Community Defender; years later, on Marshall’s motion, the district court appointed new attorneys to represent Marshall. Marshall soon became dissatisfied with them because they would not withdraw the habeas petition filed by the Community Defender and assert different claims. Marshall eventually filed pro se a document, requesting an order: removing his new counsel; striking the habeas petition and other documents filed by the Community Defender; allowing the filing of a new habeas petition “nunc pro tunc”; and remanding for a new hearing “nunc pro tunc” in state court. In 2015, the court dismissed Marshall’s last three requests without prejudice. Counsel sought a determination of Marshall’s mental competence. The court held three hearings before Marshall consented to a psychiatric evaluation, which concluded that Marshall is not competent to assist his counsel or to proceed pro se. Eight days after a fourth hearing, before the court had announced any decision, Marshall filed a pro se notice of appeal. The district court subsequently found Marshall mentally incompetent and denied his request for removal of counsel. Marshall’s 30-day deadline to appeal that ruling expired without any filings. The Seventh Circuit dismissed. Marshall’s premature notice of appeal did not ripen when the district court issued its decision. View "Marshall v. Commissioner, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Hargus and others rented F&I's 26-foot ship, One Love, to travel throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands. F&I had hired Coleman as a captain. At Cruz Bay, Coleman anchored close to the shore. Most of the passengers disembarked. Later, members of the group, standing on the beach approximately 25 feet away from the boat, threw beer cans at Hargus while he was standing on the One Love’s deck. Coleman threw an empty insulated plastic coffee cup that hit Hargus on the side of his head. Hargus did not lose consciousness, nor complain of any injury. One Love resumed its journey. Days later, Hargus, having experienced pain and vision impairments, was diagnosed with a concussion and a mild contusion. Hargus had previously suffered 10-12 head injuries. The doctor allowed Hargus to return to work that day without restrictions. Hargus did not seek further medical treatment until a year later, when he was examined for headaches, memory loss, mood swings, and neck pain. Hargus filed suit, claiming a maritime lien against the One Love, negligence, and negligent entrustment. The district court awarded $50,000, concluding that it had admiralty jurisdiction, that Coleman was negligent and that the One Love was liable in rem. The Third Circuit vacated, holding that the act giving rise to Hargus’ claim was insufficient to invoke maritime jurisdiction because it was not of the type that could potentially disrupt maritime commerce. The district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. View "Hargus v. Ferocious & Impetuous, LLC" on Justia Law

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As a result of criminal convictions Immigration and Customs Enforcement sought removal of lawful U.S. permanent residents. Pending removal proceedings, each was detained under 8 U.S.C. 1226(c), which provides that if ICE has “reason to believe” that an alien is “deportable” or “inadmissible” by virtue of having committed a specified crime, that alien “shall” be taken into custody when released from detention for that crime, "without regard to whether the alien is released on parole, supervised release, or probation, and without regard to whether the alien may be arrested or imprisoned again for the same offense.” In a purported class action, the district court dismissed in part, holding that section 1226(c) did not violate substantive due process with respect to aliens who assert a substantial challenge to their removability. The court later held that the form giving aliens notice of their right to seek a hearing does not provide constitutionally adequate notice, that the government was required to revise the form, and that procedures for that hearing violate due process by not placing the initial burden on the government. The court then denied a motion to certify the class, stating that certification was “unnecessary” because “all aliens who are subjected to mandatory detention would benefit from the injunctive relief and remedies.” Stating that the district court “put the cart before the horse a,” the Third Circuit vacated. Once petitioners were released from detention, their individual claims became moot so the court retained jurisdiction only to rule on the motion for class certification—not to decide the merits issues. View "Gayle v. Warden Monmouth Cnty. Corr. Inst." on Justia Law

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Hoffman, “a serial pro se class action litigant,” frequently sues under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, serving as both the sole class representative and sole class counsel. Hoffman has sued nearly 100 defendants in New Jersey state court in less than four years. Hoffman sued Nordic for its allegedly false and misleading advertisements for fish oil supplements. The suit was removed to federal court pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act. The district court dismissed the lawsuit for failure to state a claim. Hoffman filed a second suit, alleging the same facts and legal theories, but with a smaller class, to reduce the amount recoverable and defeat federal jurisdiction. Nordic again removed the suit. The district court declined to remand the case and dismissed, finding the action procedurally barred under New Jersey’s entire controversy doctrine and, in the alternative, that Hoffman’s claims under the Consumer Fraud Act failed for substantially the same reasons they failed in the earlier suit. The Third Circuit affirmed. The district court was permitted to “bypass” the jurisdictional inquiry in favor of a non-merits dismissal on claim preclusion grounds. View "Hoffman v. Nordic Naturals, Inc." on Justia Law

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Eaton manufactures truck transmissions for sale to Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), which offer “data books,” listing the options for truck parts. Customer choose among the options; the OEM sources the parts from the manufacturers and uses them to build custom trucks then sold to that customer. Eaton was a near-monopolist in supplying Class 8 truck transmissions. In 1989, ZF emerged as a competitor. Eaton allegedly sought to retain its market share by entering agreements with the OEMs, with increasingly large rebates on Eaton transmissions based on the percentage of transmissions a given OEM purchased from Eaton as opposed to ZF. ZF closed in 2003. In 2006, ZF successfully sued Eaton for antitrust violations. Separately, indirect purchasers who bought trucks from OEMs’ immediate customers brought a class action; that case was dismissed. In this case, Tauro attempt to represent direct purchasers in an antitrust suit was rejected because Tauro never directly purchased a Class 8 truck from the OEMs, but rather purchased trucks from R&R, a direct customer that expressly assigned Tauro its direct purchaser antitrust claims. The Third Circuit reversed. An antitrust claim assignment need not be supported by bargained-for consideration in order to confer direct purchaser standing on an indirect purchaser; it need only be express. That requirement was met. The presumption that a motion to intervene by a proposed class representative is timely if filed before the class opt-out date applies in this pre-certification context. View "Wallach v. Eaton Corp" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs represent a putative class of New Jersey real estate purchasers and refinancers who were overcharged $70 to $350 in fees. Plaintiffs allege that settlement agents (Defendants) intentionally charged Plaintiffs more than the county clerk charged for recording deeds and mortgages and kept the difference. The class claims total over $50 million, exclusive of treble damages and interest. Defendants sought dismissal and raised affirmative defenses, but did not seek to enforce arbitration clauses present in their contracts with Plaintiffs. The case was litigated for 30 months with the focus primarily on class certification. Both sides conducted broad discovery and contested substantive motions. Plaintiffs have served 130 non-party subpoenas and spent over $50,000 on experts. In 2011, the Supreme Court held that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) preempted state laws that had previously prohibited a party from compelling bipolar (individual) arbitration in certain situations even when it was specifically agreed to by contract. Defendants demanded enforcement of the arbitration agreements in light of this change in the law, then moved to compel bipolar arbitration. The Third Circuit affirmed in favor of Defendants. Futility can excuse the delayed invocation of the right to compel arbitration; any attempt to compel bipolar before the Supreme Court’s decision would have been futile. View "Chassen v. Fid. Nat'l Fin. Inc." on Justia Law

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Hartig filed a putative class action, alleging antitrust violations involving medicated eyedrops manufactured by the Defendants. Hartig claimed that the Defendants’ wrongful suppression of generic competition resulted in supracompetitive pricing of those eyedrops. Although not a direct purchaser of the medications, Hartig claimed it had standing to sue because of an assignment of rights from Amerisource, a direct purchaser. The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, finding that an anti-assignment clause in a distribution agreement between Allergan (the assignee of the named inventors) and Amerisource barred any assignment of antitrust claims from Amerisource to Hartig. The Third Circuit vacated; the district court erred in treating antitrust standing as an issue of subject-matter jurisdiction. The court distinguished between Article III standing and antitrust standing and stated that, when the correct procedures are followed, the court may consider the impact of the anti-assignment clause. View "Hartig Drug Co., Inc v. Senju Pharma. Co., Ltd" on Justia Law

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Nichols is a resident, property owner, and taxpayer in the City of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Rehoboth Beach held a special election, open to residents of more than six months, for approval of a $52.5 million bond issue to finance an ocean outfall project. The resolution passed. Nichols voted in the election. She then filed suit challenging the election and the resultant issuance of bonds. The district court, reasoning that Nichols was not contesting the expenditure of tax funds, but the legality of the Special Election; found that Nichols, having voted, lacked standing; and dismissed. The Third Circuit affirmed, stating that because Nichols failed to show an illegal use of municipal taxpayer funds, she cannot establish standing on municipal taxpayer grounds. The court rejected her claims of municipal taxpayer standing on the basis of two expenditures by Rehoboth Beach: the funds required to hold the special election and the funds used to purchase an advertisement in a local newspaper. View "Nichols v. City of Rehoboth Beach" on Justia Law