Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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Rubi, a U.S. citizen, is the Director of 7R Holdings LLC, which has its principal place of business in Puerto Rico. Holdings holds 7R Charters, which owned M/Y Olga, a yacht registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). Calot captains Olga. Using email and the telephone, Calot, while in Puerto Rico, hired Trotter, while in Florida, to work as a chef on Olga. Trotter boarded Olga in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Days later, Olga traveled to Scrub Island, BVI, and let down its anchor. Trotter allegedly sustained an injury while descending stairs to the dock, was treated for her alleged injuries at a BVI hospital, and returned to Florida. Trotter sued Rubi, Holdings, and Olga in the District Court of the Virgin Islands under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. 30104, and general maritime laws. The court dismissed, citing forum non conveniens. The Third Circuit affirmed, applying the general presumption that the possibility of a change in substantive law should ordinarily not be given substantial weight in the forum non-conveniens inquiry, because the remedy provided by the alternative forum is not clearly inadequate and because the Jones Act does not contain a special venue provision. The court did not abuse its discretion in exercising its forum non-conveniens power after reasonably balancing the relevant private and public interest factors. View "Trotter v. 7R Holdings LLC" on Justia Law

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Despite repeatedly asserting his innocence, Satterfield was convicted of first-degree murder in 1985 and sentenced to life in prison. After years of direct and collateral litigation, the district court, acting on his habeas petition, found that his ineffective assistance of counsel claim meritorious. The Third Circuit reversed, finding his petition barred by Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act’s (AEDPA’s) one-year statute of limitations, 28 U.S.C. 2244(d)(1). Years later, the Supreme Court decided, in McQuiggin v. Perkin, that a petitioner who can make a credible showing of actual innocence can overcome that limitations period. Satterfield sought relief from the judgment denying his habeas petition, characterizing McQuiggin’s change in law as an extraordinary circumstance to justify relief under FRCP 60(b)(6). The district court denied Satterfield’s motion. The Third Circuit vacated, holding that changes in decisional law may, under certain circumstances, justify Rule 60(b)(6) relief. “A district court addressing a Rule 60(b)(6) motion premised on a change in decisional law must examine the full panoply of equitable circumstances in the particular case.” In this case, the court did not articulate the requisite equitable analysis. If Satterfield can make the required credible showing of actual innocence, an equitable analysis would weigh heavily in favor of deeming McQuiggin’s change in law, as applied to Satterfield’s case, an exceptional circumstance justifying Rule 60(b)(6) relief. View "Satterfield v. District Attorney Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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Christopher Columbus owns and operates the passenger vessel “Ben Franklin Yacht,” which provides cruise services on the Delaware River from Philadelphia. Bocchino was a patron on a Ben Franklin cruise on May 3, 2013, when, in a “drunken brawl,” he was apparently “assaulted on the vessel and/or in the parking lot near the dock” by “unknown patrons of the cruise and/or agents, servant[s], workmen and/or employees’” of Christopher Columbus. Bocchino filed a state court suit, alleging negligence. Christopher Columbus then filed its Complaint for Exoneration From or Limitation of Liability in federal court. The district determined that the test for maritime jurisdiction had not been met and dismissed the limitation action for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Third Circuit vacated. The federal courts have the power to hear “all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction,” U.S. Const. art. III, sect. 2, cl. 1; 28 U.S.C. 1333(1). The location aspect of the jurisdictional test is satisfied because the alleged tort occurred on the Delaware River and carrying passengers for hire on a vessel on navigable waters is substantially related to traditional maritime activity. Such an incident has the potential to disrupt maritime commerce. View "Christopher Columbus LLC v. Bocchino" on Justia Law

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Kelly was in a collision a drunk driver, who had been drinking at Princeton Tavern. Princeton's dram shop liability policy was issued by State National. Kelly sued Princeton in state court, obtained a default judgment, and settled for $5 million. When that lawsuit was filed, Princeton requested that its broker, Carman, notify State of its obligation to defend and indemnify. Carman did not do so. Lacking notice, State refused to cover Princeton’s liability. Princeton assigned its rights to sue Carman; Kelly sued Carman in state court for negligence and breach of contract and filed a separate state-court action, seeking a declaratory judgment that Carmen's insurer, Maxum, was obligated to defend and indemnify. Maxum removed the Declaratory Action to federal district court, asserting diversity jurisdiction. Kelly and Carman are Pennsylvania citizens. Maxum (a Georgia company) argued that the two are together interested in securing Maxum’s coverage so that diversity of citizenship would exist once Carman was realigned to join Kelly as a plaintiff. The district court remanded to state court, reasoning that the state tort action constituted a parallel proceeding. The Third Circuit reversed. Contemporaneous state and federal proceedings are parallel under the Declaratory Judgment Action when they are substantially similar; the proceedings here were not. The nonexistence of a parallel state proceeding weighed significantly in favor of the district court entertaining the Declaratory Action but did not require it. Considerations of practicality and wise judicial administration counseled against abstention. View "Kelly v. Maxum Specialty Insurance Group" on Justia Law

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Former Howmedica Sales Representatives, all California natives, signed employment agreements with confidentiality, non-compete, and forum-selection clauses, designating New Jersey (or Michigan) as the forum for any litigation arising out of the agreements. After clashes with Howmedica, the Sales Representatives resigned and became independent contractors representing Howmedica’s competitor, DePuy. Some of Howmedica’s customers, previously assigned to the Sales Representatives, followed them. Howmedica suspected that the Sales Representatives and DePuy conspired to convert those customers before the Sales Representatives’ resignations. Howmedica filed suit in New Jersey, joining DePuy’s regional distributor, Golden State as a “necessary party.” The defendants successfully moved to transfer the case to California under 28 U.S.C. 1404(a), which, for “the convenience of parties and witnesses” and “in the interest of justice,” allows transfer to a district where the case “might have been brought.” The Third Circuit directed the district court to transfer claims against only the two corporate defendants who did not agree to any forum-selection clause. Where contracting parties have specified the forum in which they will litigate disputes arising from their contract, federal courts must honor the forum-selection clause “[i]n all but the most unusual cases.” In this case, all defendants sought transfer to one district; some, but not all, defendants are parties to forum-selection clauses. View "In re: Howmedica Osteonics Corp" on Justia Law

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The district court denied a motion to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP) filed by Millhouse, a Lewisburg prisoner. The court identified five strikes under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 28 U.S.C. 1915(g), and found that Millhouse failed to establish that he was under imminent danger of serious physical injury. The statute limits IFP status: In no event shall a prisoner bring a civil action or appeal a judgment in a civil action or proceeding under this section if the prisoner has, on 3 or more prior occasions, while incarcerated or detained in any facility, brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed on the grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, unless the prisoner is under imminent danger. The Third Circuit vacated. For purposes of this appeal, Millhouse has only one strike. The court must look to the date the notice of appeal is filed, not the date on which the court rules, in assessing whether a particular dismissal counts as a strike and a dismissal without prejudice for failure to state a claim does not rise to the level of a strike. View "Millhouse v. Heath" on Justia Law

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Long Branch Police Lieutenant Johnson filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging racial discrimination, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e, by subjecting him “to different and harsher disciplinary measures than similarly situated white colleagues who committed the same or similar . . . infractions.” The EEOC served Long Branch with a notice to charge and requested “all disciplinary records” for Johnson and six Caucasian comparator officers. Long Branch responded that it would not produce the materials unless the EEOC executed a confidentiality agreement. The EEOC refused to execute the agreement and served a subpoena on Long Branch. The city responded with a “Notice of Motion to Quash Subpoena,” captioned for the Superior Court of New Jersey. A person or entity intending not to comply with an EEOC subpoena must submit a petition to modify or revoke the subpoena to the EEOC’s Director or General Counsel within five days after service, 29 C.F.R. 1601.16(b)(1). Long Branch never did so. The EEOC sought enforcement of its subpoena in federal court. The Third Circuit vacated an order enforcing the subpoena in part without reaching claims concerning exhaustion of administrative remedies and disclosure to the charging party of other employees’ records. The court noted a significant procedural defect pertaining to the treatment of the motion to enforce under the Federal Magistrates Act. View "Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. City of Long Branch" on Justia Law

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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