Tuesday, July 07, 2020

On being the test cow as a district court judge

In U.S. v. Perry, the Fourth Circuit in an opinion by Judge Diaz for a panel including Judge Richardson and District Judge Johnston from West Virginia affirmed the sentence imposed by the district court, where the district court judge described himself as the "test cow" on the issue of whether a certain offense under North Carolina state law was a crime of violence.

When Judge Wilkinson argues for reversal by the Supreme Court

In U.S. v. Gary, Judge Wilkinson joined by Judges Niemeyer, Agee, Quattlebaum, and Rushing, wrote at considerable length explaining why the United States Supreme Court should reject the analysis of the panel decision in the case.

The decision for the panel was written by Judge Gregory, joined by Judges Thacker and Floyd, about the holding of the Supreme Court in Rehaif v. U.S.

The issue is the characterization of the error as "structural" such that it subjects prior convictions to collateral attack, which Judge Wilkinson described as a tremendous cost to the government.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

On tortious interference with parental rights in the context of custody litigation

With interest I listened to the arguments and read the opinion in Padula-Wilson v. Landry. In an opinion by Justice McCullough, the Court affirmed the dismissal of Ms. Wilson's claims of tortious interference with parental rights against the various professionals who got sucked into her custody litigation. She sued her children's guardian ad litem and the various therapists and counselors who gave opinions about her and her children for $16 million on various theories, but only the tortious interference claim and one of the defamation claims went to the Supreme Court.

In the Circuit Court, the judge sustained the Defendants' demurrers to the tortious interference claim, concluding that "extending the tort to cases like this one would open the door to every parent on the losing side of a custody or visitation case to sue the prevailing parent's witnesses, alleging that their testimony was false."

The Supreme Court affirmed, distinguishing its prior decision in Wyatt v. McDermott, which was a 4-3 decision, dealing with an adoption obtained through fraud. In Wyatt, the majority opinion concluded that "rejecting tortious interference with parental rights as a legitimate cause of action would leave a substantial gap in the legal protection afforded to the parent-child relationship."  The dissenting opinion by Justice McClanahan in Wyatt pointed out that there was rather a great deal of substantive and procedural protection afforded by Virginia law in the context of adoption cases.

In Padula-Wilson, Justice McCullough cited many of those same statutes in concluding that the universe of legal protections related to custody litigation precluded the application of the tortious interference cause of action in the context of custody and visitation determinations, in which as with adoptions the injuries are based on the effects of court orders.

The Supreme Court did not say so, but it seems to me that the Circuit Court was correct, as a matter of economics and risk management professionals like the Defendants in this case would be deterred from providing services in connection with high-conflict litigation if their participation was likely to result in multi-million dollar liability claims against them brought by the losing side.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

On being "made"

I listened with interest to the arguments in Vest v. Mountain Valley Pipeline.

The statute at issue is a mess: "C. Notice of intent to enter shall (i) be sent to the owner by certified mail, (ii) set forth the date of the intended entry, and (iii) be made not less than 15 days prior to the date of mailing of the notice of intent to enter."

Presumably, what was intended was a parallel to this: "B. A request for permission to inspect shall (i) be sent to the owner by certified mail, (ii) set forth the date such inspection is proposed to be made, and (iii) be made not less than 15 days prior to the date of the proposed inspection."

So, in C., the legislature wrote "mailing of the notice of intent to enter" when they almost certainly intended "date of the intended entry," just as they intended "date of the proposed inspection" in the preceding paragraph. 
 
But, why would "made" mean the same thing as "sent" in a sentence where both are used? 

Randomly, the Supreme Court of the United States has taken up the meaning of "shall be made," in a recent decision:

What remains is the phrase “shall be made.” “[S]hall be made” is a form of the verb “to make,” which means “to bring into existence,” “to produce,” “to render,” and “to cause to be or become.” Random House Dictionary of the English Language, at 866. Thus, “shall be made means “shall be produced,” etc.
Babb v. Wilkie, No. 18-882, 2020 WL 1668281, at *5 (U.S. Apr. 6, 2020).

Perhaps in this sense a written notice could be "made" by having been "brought into existence" or "produced" not less than 15 days before mailing, but that would be silly. In my experience that only happens when I put the mail in my car and forget that it is there and drive around with it for a while.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Today's administrative law case

I was listening today to the arguments before the Supreme Court of Virginia by way of the live stream.

One of the cases is about whether there is an implied cause of action to enforce a statute against a state agency that has refused to make a final decision, claiming lack of sufficient information from the aggrieved party.

I observe this statute in the Administrative Process Act:

§ 2.2-4029. Court judgments. Unless an error of law as defined in 2.2-4027 appears, the court shall dismiss the review action or affirm the agency regulation or decision. Otherwise, it may compel agency action unlawfully and arbitrarily withheld or unreasonably delayed except that the court shall not itself undertake to supply agency action committed by the basic law to the agency. Where a regulation or case decision is found by the court not to be in accordance with law under 2.2-4027, the court shall suspend or set it aside and remand the matter to the agency for further proceedings, if any, as the court may permit or direct in accordance with law.

The same language appears in the federal act, 5 U.S. Code § 706(1).

I don't know whether this language affects the issues in the case on appeal, but I know that the one time I brought such a claim under federal law, the agency mooted the case by making a prompt decision. 

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Life during wartime

As I posted on Facebook, my first experience with the courts acting under the initial version of the Supreme Court's emergency order, that has since been renewed, was somewhat confusing. One judge took the position that he lacks "jurisdiction" to have any hearings by telephone or make any rulings except in the enumerated categories of essential cases. Another judge had a telephone conference and made a bunch of rulings and entered a new final order in a different case. Both views on the power of the circuit courts cannot be right. If the second view is wrong, then I suspect that we will spend some years to come relitigating the consequences.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

When is other state law relevant

I was listening to the argument before the Supreme Court of Virginia in Everett v. Tawes, which seemed pretty high-powered to me, and part of the discussion was about the language in the Virginia Code that makes each installment of child support a judgment by operation of law, and part of the discussion was about the relevance of the law of other states on retroactive modification of support. Congress has required the states to make their child support laws include certain provisions as a condition of their participation in the federal welfare program. And so, the child support laws of the 50 states are quite similar with respect to those certain provisions, and the law of spousal support incorporates the same provisions, sometimes in some places. So, it might be that the law of many states includes a provision that each installment of support becomes a "judgment by operation of law, with the full force, effect, and attributes of a judgment ... including the ability to be enforced," to comply with 42 U.S.C. 666(a)(9). The state laws might be similar enough to provide some useful precedents, like the decisions involving the application of Uniform Laws in other states.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

On the investiture of Justice Chafin

I missed the ceremony but got to the after-party for the swearing-in of Justice Teresa Chafin of the Supreme Court of Virginia, in time to say hello to the new justice and her husband and her brother. I'm sure that Justice Chafin will do well on the Court.

The first time I appeared before Circuit Judge Chafin was in a Dickenson County case, where Judge Vanover had a conflict. She told a story about trying to get started one day in Tazewell only when she got on the bench there was a courtroom full of clients but no lawyers. She told the masses that when their lawyers appeared they would know where to find her and turned to leave. Two old-timers were sitting in the front room, and she heard one ask before she got out of the room, "What did she say?" The one with the better hearing replied, "She said she's pissed!"

On the W.D. Va. vacancy

The White House is considering the nomination of U.S. Attorney Tom Cullen for the judicial vacancy in the W.D. Va., bypassing the two candidates Circuit Judge Kilgore and Magistrate Judge Ballou proposed by Senators Kaine and Warner. The senators get to decide whether to go along with any nomination. In 1938 and again in 1976, Virginia's senators derailed nominations by presidents (of their own party) to the W.D. Va. The vacancy was created when Judge Conrad took senior status in 2017.

Locally, Judge Corker was nominated by President Trump and confirmed by the Senate for the seat on the E.D. Tenn. in Greeneville that became vacant in 2018.  Senators Warner and Kaine both voted against Judge Corker, who was confirmed by a vote of 55-39.

Both Cullen and Corker are Richmond natives who went to law school at William & Mary and clerked for federal judges in Virginia.

The Roanoke paper had this story.