Trial Practice and Procedure

JurisdictionUnited States,Federal
Publication year2020
CitationVol. 71 No. 4

Trial Practice and Procedure

John O'Shea Sullivan

Michelle L. McClafferty

Tala Amirfazli

Adelyn B. Boleman

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Trial Practice and Procedure

by John O'Shea Sullivan,* Michelle L. McClafferty,** Tala Amirfazli,*** and Adelyn B. Boleman****

I. Introduction

The 2018 - 2019 survey period yielded noteworthy decisions relating to federal trial practice and procedure in the Eleventh Circuit, several of which involved issues of first impression. This article analyzes recent developments in the Eleventh Circuit, including significant rulings in the areas of civil procedure, statutory interpretation, class actions, arbitration and subject matter jurisdiction.

II. Civil Procedure

A. Whether a District Court Has Jurisdiction to Hear A Rule 54(b) Motion to Enter Final Judgment on Claims That Were Resolved Prior to the Plaintiff Filing a Rule 41(a) Voluntary Dismissal of

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Remaining Claims.

In Perry v. Schumacher Group of Louisiana,1 the Eleventh Circuit addressed an issue of first impression of whether a district court has jurisdiction to hear a plaintiff's Rule 54(b) motion to enter final judgment on her previously-resolved claims when the parties purported to dismiss the remaining claim by filing a Rule 41(a) stipulation.2 Ultimately, the Eleventh Circuit concluded that because such a Rule 41(a) stipulation is invalid, a district court does have jurisdiction to consider a Rule 54(b) motion regarding previously-resolved claims.3

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, was against five defendants and alleged multiple claims arising out of alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981.4 Once the district court disposed of all but one of Plaintiff's claims,5 the parties entered into a "Joint Stipulation for Voluntary Dismissal Without Prejudice of Count III (42 U.S.C. § 1981) of Fourth Amended Complaint" (the "Stipulation") pursuant to Rule 41(a)(1)(A) with the intention of Plaintiff thereafter appealing the disposition of the Resolved Claims.6 Based on the Stipulation, the District Court entered judgment in favor of Defendants on the Resolved Claims with prejudice, stating that there was "nothing further remain[ing] to be done."7

Thereafter, Plaintiff appealed the dismissal of her Resolved Claims.8 However, the Eleventh Circuit ultimately dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction due to the fact that the District Court's order was "non-final" since it dismissed her § 1981 claim without prejudice.9 In light of

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the Eleventh Court's dismissal of her first appeal, Plaintiff moved the District Court to enter final judgment pursuant to Rule 54(b) as to the Resolved Claims and to dismiss her § 1981 claim with prejudice.10 However, the District Court denied Plaintiff's motions, stating that it lacked jurisdiction to grant the plaintiff's Rule 54(b) motion.11 Plaintiff appealed this decision.12

on appeal, the Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court, finding that the Stipulation did not divest the district court of its jurisdiction because the Stipulation, which attempted only to dismiss one claim as opposed to the entire action pursuant to Rule 41(a)(1)(A), was invalid.13 The Eleventh Circuit focused on the "plain text" of Rule 41(a)(1)(A) and explained that Rule 41(a)(1)(A) governs the dismissal of entire actions rather than a particular claim.14 The Court also noted that because the Federal Rules provide multiple ways for a plaintiff to dismiss a single claim without dismissing an entire action,15 the existence of these

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methods confirms that the purpose of Rule 41(a) is to dismiss entire actions rather than particular claims.16 Therefore, because the Stipulation was invalid, it did not divest the district court of its jurisdiction.17

B. Dismissal With Prejudice of Complaint on Shotgun Pleading Grounds.

In Vibe Micro, Inc. v. Shabanets,18 the Eleventh Circuit balanced various precedents relating to a district court's obligations prior to dismissing a complaint with prejudice pursuant to Rule 8 on shotgun pleading grounds, holding that "[w]hen a litigant files a shotgun pleading, is represented by counsel, and fails to request leave to amend, a district court must sua sponte give him one chance to replead before dismissing his case with prejudice on non-merits shotgun pleading grounds."19

The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.20 The plaintiff, represented by counsel, filed his six count, 49-page original complaint against the defendants21 and shortly thereafter amended the complaint as a matter of right and filed a six count, 56-page amended complaint.22 The district court concluded that the first amended complaint was "a mostly incoherent

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document containing duplicative, inconsistent, and wholly conclusory allegations," which were "oftentimes not connected to a particular Defendant or set of Defendants, making it impossible to understand who did what," the district court dismissed the first amended complaint without prejudice for violating Rule 8 after several defendants filed motions to dismiss.23 In its 15-page order, the district court enumerated the numerous deficiencies in the first amended complaint, providing a detailed roadmap for the plaintiff to cure such deficiencies should he wish to proceed with his case and sua sponte provided the plaintiff an opportunity to file a second amended complaint within ten days.24 After the plaintiff filed a 70-page25 second amended complaint with similar deficiencies, the district court dismissed the second amended complaint with prejudice under Rule 8.26 Although the plaintiff did not file any motions with the district court or requests for leave to amend, he appealed the order dismissing his second amended complaint.27

on appeal, the plaintiff argued that a district court is only permitted to dismiss a pleading with prejudice on Rule 8 shotgun pleading grounds when it finds evidence of bad faith.28 The Eleventh Circuit, balancing well-established precedent, held that when a plaintiff, represented by counsel, files a shotgun pleading and fails to request leave to amend, "a district court must sua sponte give him one chance to replead before dismissing his case with prejudice on non-merits shotgun pleadings grounds."29 The Eleventh Circuit also held that a district

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court must, as the district court did in this case, "explain how the offending pleading violates the shotgun pleading rules so that the party may properly avoid future shotgun pleadings."30 Because the district court sua sponte gave the plaintiff a chance to replead and provided him with a "veritable instruction manual" on how to cure the shotgun deficiencies, the district court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the second amended complaint with prejudice pursuant to Rule 8 when Plaintiff failed to fix the pleading problems.31

C. Whether an Appeal is Barred by Res Judicata Because of Another Court's Treatment of the Judgment as Having a Preclusive Effect.

In Stardust, 3007 LLC v. City of Brookhaven,32 the Eleventh Circuit addressed an issue of first impression whether the doctrine of res

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judicata barred an appeal from a district court judgment that another court had treated as having a preclusive effect.33 Ultimately, the court joined several sister circuits in its decision that res judicata does not bar direct review of a district court judgment, even when the judgment has been accorded preclusive effect by other courts.34

The plaintiff sued the City of Brookhaven (the "City") in the Superior Court of DeKalb County, Georgia ("Superior Court") to enjoin enforcement of the City's Sexually oriented Business Code (the "Code") on the basis that it violated provisions of both the United States and Georgia Constitutions (the "State Court Action").35 Several months after filing the State Court Action, the plaintiff sued the City in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.36 After the City counterclaimed, seeking injunctive relief that would require the plaintiff to cease operating a sexual device shop, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint.37 The district court granted the City's motion for summary judgment and the plaintiff appealed.38

While the appeal was pending, the Superior Court entered a permanent injunction against the plaintiff in the State Court Action.39 The Superior Court held that the plaintiff's federal constitutional claims were barred by the doctrine of res judicata based on the district court's prior order granting summary judgment to the City.40 As for the plaintiff's claims based on violations of the Georgia Constitution, the Superior Court issued alternative rulings.41 The Superior Court first held that because the Georgia and United States constitutional provisions at issue were identical and because the federal court found no violation of the United States Constitution, the Superior Court was bound to rule in favor of the City based on the principles of res judicata.

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The Superior Court alternatively held that the plaintiff's claims failed on the merits.42 The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed.43

on appeal in federal court, the Eleventh Circuit addressed the issue of first impression regarding whether an appeal is precluded on the basis that a superior court decided it was bound to give a district court judgment preclusive effect.44 The Court explained that because the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court's order without providing an opinion, there was a possibility that the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the order on the ground that it was bound by the district court's decision rather than based on the merits.45 For this reason, the Eleventh Circuit concluded that it was not bound by the Supreme Court's decision.46

The Eleventh Circuit explained, applying res judicata principles, "a judgment merely voidable because based upon...

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