Supreme Court Long Conference Results Are In!

Last Monday’s Supreme Court “long conference” did not disappoint.  The Supreme Court granted a total of 11 petitions.Supreme Court3  At least four of those cases are relevant to local government.

Housing discrimination.  For the third time the Court has accepted a case involving this issue of whether disparate-impact (as opposed to disparate treatment) claims can be brought under the Fair Housing Act (FHA).  It remains to be seen if Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project will settle like its predecessors, Mt. Holly v. Mt. Holly Citizens in Action and Magner v. Gallagher.  The 11 federal circuits that have decided this issue have all held that disparate-impact claims are actionable.  The Supreme Court is expected to rule to the contrary.  Local government have been sued for disparate impact under the FHA and have sued other entities.

Fourth Amendment search.  In its second Fourth Amendment case of the term, Rodriguez v. United States, the Court will decide whether a police officer violates the Fourth Amendment by extending (for just a few minutes) an already-completed traffic stop for a dog sniff.  The Eighth Circuit held the search in this case was reasonable.  The police officer waited seven or eight minutes after the traffic stop was completed before deploying his sniffer dog because he wanted backup given that there were two people in the stopped car.

Employment discriminationContinue reading


Make It Easy

An appellant has the opportunity to make it easy for the appellate panel to locate the relevant documents in the record.  GavelIf you have the responsibility to create part of the record, select a page numbering system that makes sense so no pages have the same number.  Create a meaningful index to the record.  For example, if a document has an odd or misleading title, provide that title and, in brackets] a few accurate, neutral, descriptive words.  Identify the declarant or witness if that information is not in the title.  Provide copies of the index in the brief and in each volume of the record, marking which documents are in which volume.

Cite to the record for every point.  Dominguez v. Financial Indemnity Co., 183 Cal.App.4th 388, 392 n.2 (2010) (“because FIC’s brief fails to provide a citation to the appellate record for these facts, we do not consider them”); AdvanceMe, Inc. v. Finley, 275 Ga. App. 415, 620 S.E.2d 655, 657 (2005) (“It is not the function of this court to cull the record on behalf of a party”).  It almost goes without saying that you should cite accurately to the page with the relevant material.  Scott v. Bank of America, 292 Ga. App. 34 , 663 SE 2d 386, 387 (2008) (“while the parties cite to the appellate record, many of the page numbers cited are incorrect”).  Cite to the record by page and line, if the lines are numbered, even if that specificity is not required.  Skinner v. State, 83 Nev. 380, 432 P.2d 675, 384 & n.4 (1967); Anderson v. Meyer Broadcasting Co., 630 N.W.2d 46, 50 (N.D. 2001).  Cite by page and paragraph or use terms like “start,” “middle,” and “end” if there are no line numbers. Continue reading


Baby Steps

One successful approach to the preparation of opening briefs is to assume the court knows nothing of the subject and is uncomfortable making a decision that no judge has made before.  Each step in the argument must then be accompanied by citation to relevant precedent reflecting the wisdom of the that step and, overall, of the decision you seek.  The key is to 8122523_ab151ea98b_zidentify the right starting place and the steps required to travel from the starting point to the desired end, avoiding the tendency to slide over or combine them.

Briefs using this model should provide all forms of authority needed to convince the judge to take the next step.  Possible evidentiary issues need to be resolved; substantive questions need to be answered or shown to be inapplicable.  As each step is explained and answered, the next step can be introduced and its issues and questions answered.  At the end, the table of contents alone can walk the reader through the points to the desired ruling.

Once the steps are identified, the writer may elect to address evidentiary issues as a group, at the beginning or end of the brief.  Alternatively, a writer may prefer to brief all issues presented by one step before turning to the next step.  No matter which technique is adopted, work on later steps will often turn up cases and points that can strengthen the earlier steps.  As work progresses, a single step may be perceived as comprising several steps, requiring additional reworking. Continue reading


Can You Hear Me Now? If Not, Read This

In T-Mobile South v. City of Roswell, the Supreme Court will decide whether a letter denying a cell tower construction application that doesn’t explain the reasons for the denial meets the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (TCA) “in writing” requirement. CellTower The State and Local Legal Center’s (SLLC) amicus brief, which IMLA joined, argues it does.

T-Mobile applied to construct a 108-foot cell tower in an area zoned single-family residential.  The City of Roswell’s ordinance only allowed “alternative tower structures” in such a zone that were compatible with “the natural setting and surrounding structures.”  T-Mobile proposed an “alternative tower structure” in the shape of a man-made tree that would be about 25-feet taller than the pine trees surrounding it.

After a hearing, where city councilmembers stated various reasons for why they were going to vote against the application, Roswell sent T-Mobile a brief letter saying the application was denied and that T-Mobile could obtain hearing minutes from the city clerk. Continue reading


People v. The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. et al

[Editor’s Note: My colleague, Gary Schons, contributed this post. We hope to have more posts from Gary in the future. –Matt Schettenhelm]

One thing common to all appellate lawyers— they love to appeal.Gavel But, as all appellate lawyers know, the right to appeal is fixed by statute. (Trede v. Superior Court (1943) 21 Cal.2d 630.) Thus, our ability to practice our craft is dependent on the leave granted by the legislature. In this case, the issue before a California appellate court was whether a specific provision of the anti-SLAPP statute granting the right to an immediate appeal of an order granting or denying a special motion is effectively nullified by a separate provision of the statute making it wholly inapplicable to enforcement actions brought by state, county or city prosecutors. As the appellate court noted in the preamble to its decision, this issue was “thoroughly briefed,” and perhaps ominously, oral argument was “vigorous indeed.” I’ll bet it was. Continue reading


Supreme Court Preview for Local Governments

Even though the Supreme Court’s next term won’t officially begin until October 6, the Court has already accepted about 40 of the 70 or so cases it will decide in the upcoming months.

For a more detailed summary of all the cases the Court has accepted so far affecting local government, read the State and Local Legal Center’s Supreme Court Preview for Local Governments.Supreme Court3

Here is a quick highlight of what is on the Court’s docket right now that will affect local government: Continue reading


Not Represented by the Same Counsel in This Court

Trial and appellate counsel may differ for a variety of reasons, not all of which reflect poorly on one or the other.Gavel  On occasion, however, trial counsel may have acted so unprofessionally or ignorantly as to be the target of strong remarks by the appellate court.  In this case, the appellate court should and often does inform readers of its decision that the same attorney did not appear in both courts. Continue reading


Take the High Road

Litigation offers attorneys many opportunities to choose how they will behave and what they will say. youre it The best course is to take the high road at every opportunity.  Rudeness, profanity, throwing things, hitting people, we all know how the ugliness starts and how far it can progress.  A small meanness may be reciprocated, then followed by an escalation and tit for tat.  Once it starts, unprofessional behavior may be very difficult to stop or to confine to one specific case.

All attorneys are held to a high standard by the law and the rules of professionalism and civility. Continue reading


Read the Rules

Judges are substantially governed by rules—local rules, rules of evidence, state or federal rules for trial courts or appellate courts.FedPrac  Rules do not normally determine the merits, although rules provide the structure or framework within which the merits can be considered fairly to both sides.  Not surprisingly, judges typically know the applicable rules quite well.  The judge may have drafted the local rule specifically to address an issue arising with some frequency in that judge’s courtroom.  Or the judge may have been reversed for failure to enforce the rule.

Judges expect attorneys to know the rules.  Attorneys who practice in multiple courts may need to learn and use many sets of rules.  Just do it.  The alternative is to be sorry.  Courts are not gentle with attorneys who fail to read and follow the rules, as reflected in the following, drawn from a wide variety of available examples.  In some instances, the court decision effectively sets up a malpractice action against the careless attorney. Continue reading


California Supreme Court: No Special Rules to Authenticate Red-Light-Camera Evidence; Evidence Is Not Hearsay

In a unanimous decision published yesterday,camera the California Supreme Court concluded that the evidence generated by an automated traffic enforcement system (ATES) was adequately authenticated by the testimony of a city officer, and that the ATES evidence did not constitute hearsay.

The defendant in People v. Goldsmith was cited for failing to stop at a red traffic light at an intersection located in the City of Inglewood. The evidence presented against her included several photographs and a 12-second video, all of which were generated by an ATES. Only one witness testified at the defendant’s trial, Continue reading


Seven Deadly Sins

In Seven Sins of Appellate Brief Writing and Other Transgressions, 34 U.C.L.A.L. Rev. 431 (1986), fountain penNinth Circuit Judge Harry Pregerson identified seven deadly sins of appellate briefing:

  • Long boring briefs
  • Incoherent, unfocused, disorganized briefs
  • String cites and other poor use of authority
  • Briefs with abusive language
  • Briefs that ignore the standard of review or attempt to relitigate the facts
  • Briefs that ignore jurisdiction
  • The last minute emergency motion—usually filed at 4:00 p.m. on a Friday before a holiday

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Address Cases That Hurt

Almost all legal positions that matter to one side in a dispute have contrary law supporting a different legal position.8122523_ab151ea98b_z  I’ve got some cases on my side and you’ve got some cases on your side.  One of the serious mistakes I can make is to focus so greatly on the good cases that I fail to distinguish and destroy your cases that hurt my position.  In Coghlan v. Starkey, 852 F.2d 806 (5th Cir. 1988), the court awarded sanctions for frivolous appeal for that mistake.  “Here, the appellate brief indicts counsel as having recognized that no authority supports the claim. Not only was there scant discussion of adverse decisions cited by the magistrate, but only two cases were even named in the brief. This is poor appellate practice and an abuse of the appellate process.” Id. at 816 (footnote omitted).

What are some ways to address the cases that hurt?  Continue reading


Appellate Advice from an Appellate Court

The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel of the Ninth Circuit has adopted some materials designed to assist attorneys and litigants involved in a bankruptcy appeal before the books Although many of the excellent materials address the peculiarities of bankruptcy appeals, Appendix I has advice for all attorneys in any court.

Do’s and Don’ts for an Effective Appeal


1. Know what relief you want (and why).

2. Know your audience. BAP judges generally possess a level of expertise in bankruptcy matters superior to that of most district court judges and their law clerks.

3. Understand the role of the appellate court. While its dominant role is to assess whether the trial court reached the correct result, Continue reading


Errors on Appeal — Too Many Issues

Decisions across the U.S. identify, as one example of “bad appellate advocacy,” presenting too many issues on appeal.judicial bench The Seventh Circuit applied those words to a brief that presented “12 issues for review—many with sub-parts, for a total of 21 principal contentions. Posing so many issues ensures that each is superficially argued.” Reed-Union Corp. v. Turtle Wax, Inc., 77 F.3d 909, 911 (7th Cir. 1996). The court in Carpinet v. Mitchell, 853 A.2d 366, 371 n.2 (Pa. Super. 2004), found much to criticize, finding itself “compelled to comment on the state of this appeal.” The court found itself Continue reading


Mootness on Appeal

Substantially the same principles apply to actions that become moot on appeal as apply before judgment.5554035521_f6b59ccafa_n E.g., Annot., What Circumstances Render Civil Case, or Issue Arising Therein, Moot So as to Preclude Supreme Court’s Consideration of Their Merits, 44 L.Ed.2d 745 (1975); Note, Mootness on Appeal in the Supreme Court, 83 Harv. L. Rev. 1672 (1970).

When an event occurs during an appeal, without the fault of the defendant, that renders it impossible for the court to grant effective relief to the plaintiff if the court should rule in favor of the plaintiff, the issue is moot and the appeal should normally be dismissed. Alvarez v. Smith, 558 U.S. 87, 89, 130 S.Ct. 576, 578, 175 L.Ed.2d 447, 451 (2009); United States v. Munsingwear, Inc., 340 U.S. 36, 39, 71 S.Ct. 104, 106, 95 L.Ed. 36, 41 (1950). Depending on circumstances, the trial court’s decree may be vacated before the dismissal.   On vacatur or dismissal of the appeal, see U.S. Bancorp Mortgage Co. v. Bonner Mall Partnership, 513 U.S. 18, 26, 115 S.Ct. 386, 392, 130 L.Ed.2d 233, 242 (1994); NASD Dispute Resolution, Inc. v. Judicial Council of State of California, 488 F.3d 1065, 1068-69 (9th Cir.2007).  An appellate court is less likely Continue reading


The Senate Goes “Nuclear” on Nominees for District and Appellate Courts

Yesterday, in a move with significant implications for appellate practice, the U.S. Senate modified its filibuster rules to allow a simple majority to approve individuals nominated to serve on district and appellate courts. This is likely to have a direct impact on President Obama’s recent nominees to the D.C. Circuit: Patricia Millett, Nina Pillard, and Robert Wilkins.

Ezra Klein provides 9 reasons why the change is a huge deal as a general matter. And Steve Klepper of the Maryland Appellate Blog suggests that the change may also have a significant impact on circuit judges thinking of retiring or assuming senior status. See his post here.



Appellate News and Notes

What Kind of Appellate Lawyer Was Justice Roberts? The American Lawyer has an excellent article with that title. Here’s Roberts’s approach to oral arguments:

And then there were the infamous index cards. As he contemplated a case, Roberts  would write down all the possible questions he thought justices might fire at  him—dozens, if not hundreds. He’d organize them into four or five topics: A, B,  C, D, and maybe E. Then, he would shuffle them and fashion answers that would  make a smooth transition from, say, C to E to A. “You can’t guarantee the first  question you’re going to get is going to be on your first point. It may be your  third point,” he told Garner. “And it’s very awkward for somebody to say after  they answer the third point, ‘And now I’d like to go back to the point I was  making’. . .You kind of lose a little bit of traction.” Having thought-out  transitions at the ready, Roberts said, “makes the argument look fluid no matter  what questions you get.”

How To Write for Your Reader, a Circuit Court Judge. Raymond P. Ward has an interesting post about how Fifth Circuit judges are increasingly reading briefs on iPads, using a program that automatically turns all citations into hyperlinks. Ward says this will lead him to put his citations in the text, instead of in footnotes.

The Federal Rules at 75. The University of Pennsylvania Law Review is hosting a symposium on the Federal Rules at 75. It will be held November 15th and 16th.


Appellate Practice Conference

For any local-government attorney interested in attending a worthwhile conference focused on appellate practice, I highly recommend the Appellate Judges Education Institute 2013 Summit to be held November 14-17 in San Diego. Here’s a summary of highlights of this year’s meeting:

Highlights will include conversations with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the United States Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. and the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye.  The programs put together by the Council are designed to meet the needs of lawyers of varying experience, including people who are highly experienced.  Those programs include a program on ethics by Douglas Richmond who is highly entertaining and focuses on specific appellate ethics problems.  The program on handling difficult oral arguments  is designed to move beyond the basics of oral argument and focus on tough problems which can occur during oral argument.  Our writing program will also be different because it will be dealing with how to be an effective editor and rewriter of briefs prepared by others.  We are also doing a program on standards of review which will not merely cover the importance of review, but how to deal with the standards  strategically. When they are either for or against you.  Finally, a practical program on business development will be on hiring outside appellate counsel with the speakers from well-known corporations who actually do hire appellate counsel.




Monday Morning Review: Local Governments in the Federal Courts of Appeals

Here’s how local governments fared in the federal courts of appeals during the past week.

Second Circuit

Ninth Circuit




Whether To Intervene or Seek To Be Amicus

NYcourtA nonparty may be vitally interested in the outcome of pending litigation or a pending appeal.  The interest may be so great and so direct as to require that the nonparty be made a party.  Such a nonparty is frequently but unfortunately spoken of as indispensable.[1]  When the interest is somewhat less, however, the nonparty may seek leave to intervene or to appear as an amicus or, alternatively, watch the litigation from the sidelines.[2]  What considerations bear on the choice of intervention and appearance as an amicus?

Most significantly, an intervenor is bound as a party, whereas an amicus curiae is not a party and is not bound by the judgment.[3]  That distinction is a strong encouragement for a nonparty to proceed as an amicus curiae and retain the ability to fight again in the future, especially if the nonparty’s ability to participate in and influence the trial, appeal, and outcome as an intervenor are not entirely clear. As a party, an intervenor will have the right to appeal, denied to an amicus, but may be held liable for attorney fees and costs.[4]  An intervenor will be bound by the judgment for purposes of res judicata and collateral estoppel, while an amicus will not.

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Monday Morning Review: Local Governments in the Federal Courts of Appeals

Here’s how local governments fared in the federal courts of appeals during the past week.

Eighth Circuit

Ninth Circuit



Eighth Circuit: Restricting Bible Distribution During Festival Likely Violates First Amendment

8th Circuit: Park did not adequately justify the need to limit literature distribution

8th Circuit: Park did not adequately justify the need to limit literature distribution

An evangelical Christian, Brian Johnson, sought to distribute Bibles at a gay-pride festival in a public park.

The park board would not allow it.

It had adopted a policy limiting literature distribution to confined areas, due to security concerns and the festival’s size.

Johnson claimed the policy violated the First Amendment, and sought an injunction barring its enforcement. In a 2-1 decision released Wednesday, Johnson v. Minneapolis Park and Recreation Bd., the Eighth Circuit ruled that Johnson would likely prevail on his claim.

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Don’t Underestimate the Table of Contents

Many brief writers mistakenly think of the table of contents as a nuisance that their secretaries must complete before briefs are finished. This fundamental error can profoundly affect the quality of their documents.

Once a significant part of a document has been prepared, and often when a discrete segment is completed, the author should pull the table of contents that then exists to study. That table may reveal a missing argument to be added, an editorial adjustment to be made in the ordering of existing arguments, a problem in the logical flow of the document, and other issues to be addressed. For a long document, this process may need to be repeated multiple times.

Pulling the table is not difficult.  The headings can be cut and pasted into a separate document.  The page numbering is of little importance and will change, so it’s only the wording that is needed.

When the document nears completion, the table of contents should be pulled again and closely examined.

  • Are the headings that form the table in parallel format, typically all affirmative sentences? The table is disjointed when some headings are sentences, others phrases or single words.  A rare exception may arise if all subheadings are a single word or short phrase.
  • Is there something missing? Even if the point is in the brief, some courts will deem an argument waived if it is not captured in a heading. Moreover, this review may be your chance to realize that an entire argument has accidentally been omitted.
  • Is there a logical flow from one part of the document to the next?  Do the headings carry the reader forward?
  • Does the table constitute a stand-alone short statement of all the arguments? A judge may read the briefs a week or more before oral arguments. If your table provides a stand-alone statement of your arguments, it can refresh the judge’s recollection easily on the day of arguments.

A compelling table of contents may be the best selling point possible for your arguments. Don’t pass up the chance to use it to make your arguments clearer and more accessible.



Appellate Savvy: Three Tips for the Circuit Court Practitioner

Appeals can be tricky. They are expensive to litigate and difficult to win. They also take time, particularly in the Ninth Circuit, which is the busiest Court of Appeals in the United States. But, appellate practice can be rewarding, particularly if you can avoid common pitfalls and understand your chances on appeal before you get started.

Here are three tips.

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