Unanimous SCOTUS Decides Two Civil Procedure Cases

This morning the U.S. Supreme Court handed down two unanimous cases correcting appeals courts on issues of civil procedure. In Mississippi ex rel. Hood v. AU Optronics, it reversed a Fifth Circuit ruling that a consumer lawsuit by the state of Mississippi was enough like a class action that it should be heard in federal rather than state court under the procedures specified by the Class Action Fairness Act. In Daimler AG v. Bauman et al, it reversed a Ninth Circuit ruling that because worldwide auto giant Daimler has operations in California, it can properly be sued in that state over alleged misconduct in Argentina that has nothing in particular to do with its California operations. 

Neither result is even remotely surprising (and Cato did not file amicus briefs in either case). In the AU Optronics case, CAFA’s plain language supported the state of Mississippi’s position, and arguments that removal was more consistent with the law’s spirit added up to a plea for the business community (which identifies with the defendant side here) to get a better deal than it managed to get during the negotiations that led to the law’s passage. In the Daimler case, the Court again confirmed, as in the Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum case discussed at length by Kenneth Anderson in the latest Cato Supreme Court Review, that it is deeply out of sympathy with “universal jurisdiction” notions beloved in some parts of legal academia and the world of activist NGOs (non-governmental organizations), under which labeling something a “human rights” matter should open the way for suit to be brought over it in more or less any court anyplace.

The cases remind us that despite the various attacks on the Court as result-oriented and ideology-driven, much of its work consists simply of trying to keep the law on a logically coherent and predictable course. Anti-business activists couldn’t win a single vote for their supposed human rights claims in Daimler, just as their more radical claims had unanimously flopped in Kiobel.  By the same token the organized business community couldn’t win a single Justice in AU Optronics, though it put a real effort into defending its Fifth Circuit victory. It’s long past time for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to apologize for her demagogic portrayal of the Court as headed toward a condition as “wholly owned subsidiary of Big Business”.