Local Rules in the Wake of Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32.1

“Local Rules in the Wake of Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32.1”

DAVID R. CLEVELAND, Nova Southeastern University – Shepard Broad Law Center

Adoption of the Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32.1 has had a ripple effect throughout the federal courts of appeals, but it has not brought uniformity on the issue of unpublished opinions. The federal judiciary’s practice of issuing unpublished opinions traditionally ascribed three characteristics to such opinions: unpublished, non-citeable, and non-precedential. However, local rules of the Courts of Appeals are widely varied on these characteristics. The most fundamental jurisprudential question: “what is law?” has varying answers across a supposedly uniform federal system. From the types of cases eligible for unpublication to the limits of citation of unpublished opinions to the precedential status afforded such opinions, uncertainty and ambiguity abounds.

This article, Local Rules in the Wake of Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32.1, examines the federal judiciary’s desire for uniform rules on publication and citation (and its persistent avoidance of the precedent issue) regarding unpublished opinions. It then categorizes and analyzes the circuits’ local rules regarding publication, citation, and precedent in the wake of Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32.1. Finding significant discrepancies between circuit local rules in each of these three categories, the article argues for truly uniform publication, citation, and precedent rules – the most direct of which would be to end the experiment with unpublished opinions and recognize the full value of all circuit court opinions.

 

Source:  LSN Law & Courts Vol. 3 No. 59,  09/07/2009

Clear as Mud: How the Uncertain Precedential Status of Unpublished Opinions Muddles Qualified Immunity Determinations

“Clear as Mud: How the Uncertain Precedential Status of Unpublished Opinions Muddles Qualified Immunity Determinations”

DAVID R. CLEVELAND, Nova Southeastern University – Shepard Broad Law Center

Denying precedential status to unpublished opinions muddles the already unclear law surrounding qualified immunity. Government officials may claim qualified immunity as a defense to claims that they have violated a person’s civil rights. The test is whether they have violated “clearly established law.” The federal circuits differ on whether unpublished opinions may be used in determining clearly established law. This article, Clear as Mud: How the Uncertain Precedential Status of Unpublished Opinions Muddles Qualified Immunity Determinations, argues that unpublished opinions are ideal sources for determining what law is clearly established. The article reviews the purpose of both civil rights actions against government officials and the qualified immunity defense available to such officials. It also analyzes the characteristics of unpublished opinions and finds them, by definition, to be ideal sources to help determine the clearly established law. It then examines the circuit courts’ variation in the use of unpublished opinions in their qualified immunity analyses. Finally, it proposes a resolution to this problematic circuit split through jurisprudential or rulemaking means. Opinions that are issued as unpublished are by definition clearly established law; opinions that make new law or expand or contract existing law must be published under the federal circuit rules. Denying precedential status to unpublished opinions has relegated these opinions to a second class status, which is unjustified and unconstitutional, but also obfuscates their inherent suitability to demonstrate clearly established law.

 

Source:  LSN Law & Courts Vol. 3 No. 59,  09/07/2009

Writing the book on citing unpublished and non-precedential opinions

Today’s mail brought Volume 10, Issue # 1 (Spring 2009) of The Journal of Appellate Practice and Procedure.  This issue contains Professor David R. Cleveland’s book-length (116 pages) article “Overturning the Last Stone: The Final Step in Returning Precedential Status to All Opinions.”

The Foreword to the issue notes that “Professor Cleveland’s article about Rule 32.1 follows both Judge Arnold’s famous comment about unpublished opinions, which ran in our second issue, and the series of Anastasoff-related articles that appeared in our Volume 3, Issue 1.”

Professor’s Cleveland first posted this piece to the Legal Scholarship Network as a working paper, which can be found here, with this abstract:

In the mid-1970s, the federal judiciary fundamentally changed the nature of precedent in the United States federal courts. It did so quickly and quietly: first, by issuing decisions as unpublished and not citeable, and then, by denying these decisions precedential status. Every opinion issued in this fashion deprives the law of a valuable precedent and ignores common legal conceptions of how our law works. While the recently enacted Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32.1 restores the ability to cite to these decisions, it does nothing to address the more critical issue of whether these decisions can be denied precedential weight, and even if so, whether they ought to be denied such value. This Article advocates a return to full precedential status for all federal court decisions based on Constitutional and community-based principles. Publication limits and citation bans have fallen away in light of modern technology and jurisprudential concerns. The related practice of issuing non-precedential opinions should likewise be ended. The practice is outdated at best and constitutionally infirm at worst. Moreover, it flies in the face of American legal and lay concepts of how our justice system works. Quite simply, the federal courts ought to recognize that they are bound by what they have done in the past and that they must apply, distinguish, or overrule those precedents rather than simply ignoring them.

The article’s table of contents shows the wide range of coverage Professor Cleveland gives to his topic:

I. Background

II. Introduction

III. History of Publication and Precedent

   A. Ancient Publication and Precedent

   B. Early English Publication and Precedent

   C. Modern English Publication and Precedent

   D. Early American Publication and Precedent

IV. Modern American Publication and Precedent

   A. Comprehensive Publication and the Concern It Engenders

   B. The Birth of Limited Publication Plans

   C. Recent Technological Developments in Publication

   D. Citation and Precedent in the Federal Courts of Appeals Prior to Rule 32.1

   E. Rule 32.1

V. The Debate Over Precedential Status of Unpublished Decisions

   A. Criticisms of the Premises of Limited Publication, Citation and Precedent

   B. Premises Supporting the Prevention of Comprehensive Publication

   C. Premises Supporting a Bar on Citation to Unpublished Decisions

   D. Premises Supporting the Denial of Precedential Status to Unpublished Decisions

VI. Current Status of the Article III Debate

   A. Equal Protection

   B. Due Process

   C. Pragmatic Objections to Precedential and Proposed Solutions

VII. Conclusion

And here’s the conclusion:

     Whether by constitutional case decision or by the adoption of a new Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure, the practice of issuing non-precedential opinions should be ended.  Failure to recognize every decision as precedential represents and perpetuates a serious problem in our judicial system because the practice conflicts with both our constitutional and community values.

     Evidence suggests that unpublished opinions are already published.  They have long been researched despite the rules against their citation, and they are now fully citeable under Rule 32.1.  Unpublished decisions are already being published, researched, and cited because they are perceived to have precedential value within our legal system.  This value should be recognized rather than denied.

     The Supreme Court has aptly cautioned in another content that ‘[l]iberty finds no refuge in a jurisprudence of doubt.” [footnote omitted]  Yet  for over three decades, the federal courts’ policy of creating “non-precedential precedents” [footnote omitted] has increasingly fostered a jurisprudence of doubt.  After three decades of limiting the publication, citation, and precedential effect of their opinions, federal courts are still carefully avoiding the “morass of jurisprudence” [footnote omitted] involved in closely examining the precedential status of unpublished opinions.  However, the winds have changed.

     The limitation of publication now exists in name only.  The limitation of citation has been removed by Rule 32.1.  The limitation on full precedential status for all decisions of the federal courts of appeals, initially instituted to help realizer the gains believed to flow from the other two limitations, is the last remaining vestige of a flawed and failed experiment.  The practice of deciding ex ante which cases join the body of precedent and while do not should be abandoned.  Both the dictates of American constitutional law and the traditions of the American legal community require it.

 

A related article by Professor Cleveland, “Draining the Morass: Ending the Jurisprudentially Unsound Unpublication System,” was noted here.

Draining the Morass: Ending the Jurisprudentially Unsound Unpublication System

Draining the Morass: Ending the Jurisprudentially Unsound Unpublication System

Marquette Law Review, Vol. 92, 2009
NSU Shepard Broad Law Center Research Paper No. 08-012

DAVID R. CLEVELAND, Nova Southeastern University – Shepard Broad Law Center

 

Unpublished opinions have become a fact of life in the federal circuit courts. Over eighty percent of all opinions issued by the federal circuits in the last few years have been designated “unpublished.” The meaning of that designation has changed, however, since the birth of the limited publication plans. In the mid-1970s, the federal circuits adopted plans that sought to make some of their decisions unpublished, uncitable, and even non-precedent. That system has unraveled. Unpublished decisions are now routinely published in both commercial and public databases. Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32.1 now makes these decisions citeable. What remains is the most critical issue – whether denying these decisions’ precedential weight is Constitutional. This issue was never addressed directly when the circuits’ limited citation plans were put into place; it was viewed as a “morass of jurisprudence” that was better off avoided. Yet, several potential Constitutional infirmities with the practice of declaring some opinions non-precedential have been identified. This is ultimately an issue to be determined by the Supreme Court.

This article, Draining the Morass: Ending the Jurisprudentially Unsound Unpublication System, examines the Supreme Court jurisprudence on this issue. It examines what the Court has ruled, what petitioners have argued, and what individual Justices have stated in scholarly writings and separately written opinions. The Court has never accepted the circuits’ assertion that these cases lack precedential value, but neither have they granted certiorari and addressed the issue directly. The Constitutionality of denying unpublished decisions precedential value is ripe for Supreme Court review. Given the fundamental nature of the issue, litigants ought to vigorously seek certiorari and the Court should grant it.

 

Source:  LSN Law & Courts Vol. 2 No. 55,  09/29/2008