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has had a ripple effect throughout the federal courts of appeals, but it has not brought uniformity on the issue of unpublished opinions. The federal judiciary’s practice of issuing unpublished opinions traditionally ascribed three characteristics to such opinions: unpublished, non-citeable, and non-precedential.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 From the types of cases eligible for unpublication to the limits of citation of unpublished opinions to the precedential status afforded such opinions, uncertainty and ambiguity abounds.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desire for uniform rules on publication and citation (and its persistent avoidance of the precedent issue) regarding unpublished opinions.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truly uniform publication, citation, and precedent rules – the most direct of which would be to end the experiment with unpublished opinions and recognize the full value of all circuit court opinions.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Clear as Mud: How the Uncertain Precedential Status of Unpublished Opinions Muddles Qualified Immunity Determinations

“Clear as Mud: How the Uncertain Precedential Status of Unpublished Opinions Muddles Qualified Immunity Determinations”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Denying precedential status to unpublished opinions muddles the already unclear law surrounding qualified immunity.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 The federal circuits differ on whether unpublished opinions may be used in determining clearly established law.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

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

The Ethical Conundrums of Unpublished Opinions

Here’s a new, all-you-ever-wanted-to-know plus more article about unpublished/depublished/non precedential/etc. decisions:

“The Ethical Conundrums of Unpublished Opinions”

Shenoa L. Payne

44 Willamette Law Review 723-760 (2008 )

INTRODUCTION

I. BACKGROUND AND HISTORY OF UNPUBLISHED OPINIONS

   A. The Emergence of Unpublished Opinions

   B. The Original Justifications for No-Citation Rules

   C. The Electronic Availability of Unpublished Opinions

   D. The Debate over No-Citation Rules: The Loud Roar from the Eight Circuit

   E. The Treatment of Unpublished Opinions by State Courts and Federal Circuits

II. DEPUBLISHED OPINIONS: WHEN DECISIONS MOVE FROM PRECEDENT TO SECRET

   A. The Depublication Process in the California Courts

   B.  The Changing the Message Behind Depublicaton

   C.  The Criticisms of Depublication

   D.  The Counterarguments

   E.  The Alternatives to Depublication

   F.  The Responsibilities of Lawyers Regarding Depublication and Precedent

III. FEDERAL RULE OF APPELLATE PROCEDURE 32.1: A REAL CHANGE?

   A.  Background

      1. The Value of Unpublished Opinions

      2. The Necessity of Unpublished Opinions for Busy Courts

      3. The Increased Costs of Legal Representation

   B. The Text of Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32.1

   C. Is Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32.1 a Real Change?

IV. COURTS SHOULD BE REQUIRED TO GIVE UNPUBLISHED OPINIONS THE RESPECT THEY ARE OWED.

   A. Skidmore v. Swift & Co.

   B.  Considerations that Give an Unpublished Opinion “Power to Persude,” if not “Power to Control”

      1. Factually Indistinguishable Cases

      2. Issued by the Same or a Controlling Court

      3. Concerns a Unique Question of Law or Fact

      4. Possesses Other Factors that Give it Power to Persuade, if not Power to Control

   C. The Goal of Uniformity

   D. Guidance for Attorneys

   E. Judicial Accountability and Judicial Efficiency Concerns: A Good Balance

V. SOME PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS

   A. Why Do Attorneys Want to Use Unpublished Opinions?

   B. Can Attorneys Provide Competent Representation Under No-Citation Rules?

   C. Are Attorneys Able to Provide Diligent Representation in the Face of No-Citation Rules?

   D. Can an Attorney Argue Points Based on Unpublished Opinions Without Bringing a Frivolous Claim?

   E. Does an Attorney Ethically Have to Cite an Unpublished Opinion Contrary to His or Her Position in   Jurisdictions Where No-Citation Rules are Banned?

   F. Is Ignoring Unpublished Opinions in Criminal Cases a Violation of the Constitution?

CONCLUSION

With the availability of unpublished opinions, the original reasons for no-citation rules no longer justify their continued existence. In the face of a long and heated debate, FRAP 32.1 is a step  toward appropriately addressing the problems associated with unpublished opinions. Citation to unpublished opinions is extremely important. However, FRAP 32.1 is extremely limited and allows unpublished opinions only to reach the very bottom tier of precedent, which does not require courts to give unpublished opinions any particular weight.

Courts should employ a uniform rule requiring a Skidmore type deference that gives unpublished opinions respect when due based on four factors: (1) if the facts are indistinguishable; (2) if the unpublished opinion is issued in the same or a controlling court; (3) if the opinion addresses a unique question of law or fact not addressed in published opinions; and (4) all those other factors which give it power to persuade, if lacking power to control. Such a rule would bring uniformity to the treatment of unpublished opinions across federal circuits, give strong guidance to attorneys in assessing their cases, and balance the concerns of judicial efficiency and judicial accountability.

Attorneys face real ethical conundrums even though FRAP 32.1 has prohibited no-citation rules in federal circuits. Attorneys are still bound to (1) local federal rules for unpublished opinions issued prior to January 1, 2007 and (2) the rules of the state courts in which they practice. This means that attorneys must carefully consider their ethical duties of competence, diligence, candor toward the tribunal, the appearance of frivolous claims, and also consider whether they are violating their duties of effective assistance of counsel owed to criminal defendants. Until a uniform rule is in place, such as requiring a Skidmore type deference, attorneys will continue to face challenging ethical conundrums in relation to unpublished opinions.

A Modest Proposal for Regulating Unpublished, Non-Precedential Federal Appellate Opinions

“A Modest Proposal for Regulating Unpublished, Non-Precedential Federal Appellate Opinions While Courts and Litigants Adapt to Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32.1”

Journal of Appellate Practice and Process, Vol. 9, No. 1, p. 17, Spring 2007

SARAH E. RICKS, Rutgers School of Law – Camden

Federal appellate courts are overworked. To handle their overloaded dockets, appellate judges have adopted a wide variety of measures intended to promote efficiency, including deciding approximately eighty percent of appeals in nonprecedential opinions.

Courts and litigants currently are adapting to new Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32.1, which prohibits courts from restricting the citation of non-precedential opinions. Whether it is constitutional for federal appellate courts to issue non-precedential opinions is outside the scope of this essay. Putting the constitutional question aside, as a practical matter, at least for now non-precedential opinions should not be eliminated in favor of universal publication of opinions as precedent. That would be a dramatic break from several decades of federal appellate court practice. Moreover, universal publication as precedent would risk repetitive rulings and increased need for en banc overruling of inconsistent circuit precedent.

However, as an interim measure, and without ruling out future structural reforms, this essay proposes that federal appellate courts modify their internal operating procedures or local rules. Circuit courts should expressly confer persuasive value on non-precedential opinions, provide specific criteria to guide the publication decision, and permit anyone-not just parties-to move the court to reissue a non-precedential opinion as a precedential opinion. The proposed modifications would help to better ensure that non-precedential opinions are consistent with precedential opinions from the same circuit, that like cases are treated alike, that issues resolved at the appellate level need not be relitigated before district courts, and that nonprecedential opinions truly are limited to repetitive applications of settled law.

Source: LSN Litigation & Procedure Vol. 9 No. 52,  05/30/2008