Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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Seneca, an oil and natural gas exploration and production company, sought to convert a natural gas well in Highland Township into a Class II underground injection control well in which to store waste from fracking. Highland Township, in Elk County, Pennsylvania, enacted an ordinance that, among other things, prohibited “disposal injection wells” from existing within Highland. In Seneca’s lawsuit, challenging the ordinance, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund sought to intervene on the side of the Township to represent the interests of underlying environmental groups (appellants). The district court denied its motion to intervene, holding that the Township adequately represented underlying interests in defending the ordinance. While a motion for reconsideration was pending, the Township repealed the ordinance and entered into a settlement with Seneca that culminated in a consent decree adopted by the district court. The Third Circuit affirmed, finding that original motion to intervene was moot because there is no longer an ordinance to defend. The Consent Decree does not bind any of the appellants nor does it deprive them of any rights after the ordinance has been repealed. Because the appellants are nonparties, they cannot appeal the Consent Decree. View "Seneca Resources Corp v. Township of Highland" on Justia Law

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In 2014, father had partial custody of S.H.; S.H. accused mother of abuse and fled from her home to father. Father sought a temporary order of full custody. A Pennsylvania judge granted mother emergency custody. S.H. was referred to Centre County’s Children and Youth Services (CYS) because of the abuse allegations. CYS concluded that the allegation did not meet the definition of child abuse but continued its investigation, giving S.H. the option of moving into a group home or remaining with his mother. S.H. did not want to stay with her. Mother arranged for S.H. to stay in Youth Haven and objected to any contact with father, claiming that she had sole custody. CYS and Youth Haven allowed contact. After a visit, father complained about Youth Haven, which told CYS that S.H. could not stay due to problems with father. CYS informed father that he could no longer contact S.H. at Youth Haven. Hamilton filed a federal suit, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that conspiracy to deprive him of his constitutional rights by “placing S.H. in a shelter tantamount to confinement” and “arbitrarily and capriciously terminating all paternal visits and contact.” While that case progressed, S.H. left Youth Haven. A new Pennsylvania judge vacated the prior emergency custody order, granted father physical custody of S.H., and prohibited contact between S.H. and mother. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal, finding that the case was mooted when father obtained custody. View "Hamilton v. Bromley" on Justia Law

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Defendants created a publicly searchable “Inmate Lookup Tool” into which they uploaded information about thousands of people who had been held or incarcerated at the Bucks County Correctional Facility since 1938. Taha filed suit, alleging that the County and Correctional Facility had publicly disseminated information on the internet in violation of the Pennsylvania Criminal History Record Information Act, 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. 9102, about his expunged 1998 arrest and incarceration. The district court granted Taha partial summary judgment on liability before certifying a punitive damages class of individuals about whom incarceration information had been disseminated online. The court then found that the only remaining question of fact was whether defendants had acted willfully in disseminating the information. After the court certified the class, the defendants filed an interlocutory appeal. The Third Circuit affirmed the class certification order, rejecting an argument that the district court erred in granting Taha partial summary judgment on liability before ruling on class certification. The court upheld conclusions that punitive damages can be imposed in a case in which the plaintiff does not recover compensatory damages, that punitive damages can be imposed on government agencies, and that the predominance requirement under FRCP 23(b)(3) was met so that a class could be certified. View "Taha v. County of Bucks" on Justia Law

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Genova manufactures vinyl pipes and rain gutters. It operated a plant in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Former employees of that plant filed a putative class action, seeking medical monitoring for their alleged exposure to toxic substances. Genova ceased operations at its Hazleton facility in 2012, more than two years before the suit was filed. Plaintiffs claimed to have discovered previously unavailable Material Safety and Data Sheets (MSDSs), revealing that, while working for Genova, they were exposed to carcinogens and other toxic chemicals linked to various diseases or conditions and that Genova violated the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Hazard Communication Standard, 29 C.F.R. 1910.1200, by failing to inform them about the chemicals to which they were exposed and by failing to provide the requisite protective equipment. No members of the putative class have suffered an injury or illness linked to the substances used at Genova’s plant. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit as barred by the two-year limitations period. Reasonable minds would not differ in finding that the plaintiffs did not exercise the reasonable diligence required for the discovery rule to toll the statute of limitations. Information concerning the dangers of the chemicals to which they were exposed was widely available for decades before they filed their complaint. View "Blanyar v. Genova Products Inc" on Justia Law

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The fathers of minor children in New Jersey challenged the state law governing child custody proceedings between New Jersey parents. In a suit against state court judges, under 42 U.S.C. 1983, they argued that the “best interests of the child” standard that New Jersey courts use to determine custody in a dispute between two fit parents is unconstitutional. The fathers alleged that their parental rights were restricted, or that they were permanently or temporarily separated from their children, by order of the New Jersey family courts without adequate notice, the right to counsel, or a plenary hearing, i.e. without an opportunity to present evidence or cross-examine and that although mothers and fathers are, in theory, treated equally in custody disputes under New Jersey law, in practice courts favor mothers. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal of the suit, after holding that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine did not bar the suit, which was not challenging the state court judgments, but the underlying policy that governed those judgments. The court concluded that the judicial defendants were not proper defendants, having acted in an adjudicatory capacity and not in an enforcement capacity. View "Allen v. DeBello" on Justia Law

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The Virgin Islands Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) sent the Hassens a final notice of intent to levy their property to satisfy an outstanding tax debt of $5,778.32 for the 2004 tax year and subsequently issued a levy against the Hassens’ bank account. In June and December 2013, the Hassens submitted letters requesting an installment agreement. The December letter reflects that the Hassens and the BIR engaged in discussions and that the BIR directed the Hassens to submit IRS Form 9465 to request an installment agreement. The Hassens failed to do so. Thereafter, the BIR issued four additional levies against the Hassens’ accounts. Rather than file an administrative claim as required by 26 U.S.C. 7433(d), the Hassens filed suit under section 7433(a), alleging that the additional levies violated 26 U.S.C. 6331(k)(2), which prohibits the issuance of any levy while a proposed installment agreement is pending. The district court determined that exhaustion of administrative remedies was not a jurisdictional prerequisite, but was a condition to obtain relief, and dismissed their complaint. The Third Circuit affirmed. To bring a claim under section 7433(a), a taxpayer must exhaust the administrative remedies under section 7433(d). While such exhaustion is not a jurisdictional requirement, it is mandatory. View "Hassen v. Government of the Virgin Islands" on Justia Law

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Norman and Elkin were the only shareholders of USM, a company that acquired and sold rights to radio frequencies. Norman held a minority interest and sought legal relief after he discovered that Elkin had transferred to another company the ownership of several frequencies purchased by USM, that Elkin had treated capital contributions as loans, and that Elkin had paid himself from USM funds without giving Norman any return on his minority investment. Despite two juries agreeing with Norman, verdicts in his favor were overturned. Most of his claims were held to be time-barred after the district court rejected his argument that a state court case he had brought to inspect USM’s books and records under the Delaware Code tolled the statute of limitations. Other claims were eliminated for insufficient evidence. The Third Circuit vacated in part. The district court erred in concluding that tolling of the statute of limitations is categorically inappropriate when a plaintiff has inquiry notice before initiating a books and records action in the Delaware courts and erred in vacating the jury’s award of nominal damages for one of Norman’s breach of contract claims. Norman’s fraud claim was not supported by sufficient proof of damages. View "Norman v. Elkin" on Justia Law

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Raymond and Sandra have lived in their Ambler, Pennsylvania home since 1993. They took on a mortgage from AmeriChoice. They fell behind on their payments. In 2012, AmeriChoice filed a foreclosure action; AmeriChoice obtained a default judgment. AmeriChoice scheduled a sheriff’s sale. The day before that sale, Raymond, acting alone, filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition, triggering the automatic stay and preventing the sale. The case was dismissed six months later after Raymond failed to make payments. AmeriChoice rescheduled the sale. On the rescheduled date, Raymond filed a second Chapter 13 petition. The Bankruptcy Court granted relief from the stay. On the second rescheduled date, Sandra filed her Chapter 13 petition. Days later the court dismissed Sandra’s petition for failure to obtain prepetition credit counseling. In Raymond’s second case, AmeriChoice moved (11 U.S.C. 1307(c)) to either convert Raymond’s case to Chapter 7 or dismiss, arguing bad faith use of bankruptcy. Raymond unsuccessfully moved to postpone a hearing and the day before the hearing sought dismissal under section 1307(b). Raymond did not appear at the hearing. The court dismissed Raymond’s case, stating that he was “not permitted to file another bankruptcy case without express permission.” Sandra was subsequently enjoined from filing bankruptcy for 180 days. The Third Circuit vacated. While a bankruptcy court may issue a filing injunction while approving a section 1307(b) voluntary dismissal, the injunction against Raymond, beyond what had been requested, was not supported by reasoning. View "In re: Ross" on Justia Law

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Gillette, an inmate at Golden Grove Correctional Facility on St. Croix, filed suit alleging various constitutional and statutory claims relating to his medical care and failure to protect. Gillette moved the district court to convene a three-judge court under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 18 U.S.C. 3626. The court denied Gillette’s motion, finding that he had not satisfied the prerequisites for convening a three-judge court: the party seeking a prisoner release order must show that “a court has previously entered an order for less intrusive relief that has failed to remedy the deprivation of the Federal right sought to be remedied through the prisoner release order” and that “the defendant has had a reasonable amount of time to comply. Before the court could adjudicate the merits of Gillette’s claims, he filed an appeal. The Third Circuit dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The order denying Gillette’s motion for a three-judge court is neither a final order nor subject to any exception to the final judgment rule, View "Gillette v. Prosper" on Justia Law

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A Harrisburg, Pennsylvania ordinance prohibits persons to “knowingly congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate in a zone extending 20 feet from any portion of an entrance to, exit from, or driveway of a health care facility.” Individuals purporting to provide “sidewalk counseling” to those entering abortion clinics claimed that the ordinance violated their First Amendment rights to speak, exercise their religion, and assemble, and their due process and equal protection rights. The court determined that the ordinance was content-neutral because it did not define or regulate speech by subject-matter or purpose, so that intermediate scrutiny applied, and reasoned that it must accept as true (on a motion to dismiss) claims that the city did not consider less restrictive alternatives. The claims proceeded to discovery. In denying preliminary injunctive relief, the court ruled that plaintiffs did not demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits. The Third Circuit vacated. In deciding whether to issue a preliminary injunction, plaintiffs normally bear the burden of demonstrating likelihood of prevailing on the merits. In First Amendment cases where the government bears the burden of proof on the ultimate question of a statute’s constitutionality, plaintiffs must be deemed likely to prevail for purposes of considering a preliminary injunction unless the government has shown that plaintiffs’ proposed less restrictive alternatives are less effective than the statute. View "Reilly v. City of Harrisburg" on Justia Law