In addition to the U.S. Code and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts have shaped civil procedure. These decisions have defined the rights and obligations of litigants by interpreting statutes and rules. Courts also have applied constitutional protections in this context. Below is an outline of key cases in civil procedure with links to the full text of virtually every case, provided free by Justia.
Due process generally requires that a party receive notice and an opportunity to be heard before they may be deprived of life, liberty, or property. Courts have developed balancing tests to help determine whether procedures were constitutionally adequate in a certain case.
Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank & Trust Co. 一 A fundamental requirement of due process in any proceeding that is to be accorded finality is notice reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances, to apprise interested parties of the pendency of the action and afford them an opportunity to present their objections.
Jones v. Flowers 一 When mailed notice of a tax sale is returned unclaimed, a state must take additional reasonable steps to attempt to provide notice to the property owner before selling their property, if practicable.
Mathews v. Eldridge 一 Identifying the specific dictates of due process generally requires considering three factors: the private interest that will be affected by the official action; the risk of an erroneous deprivation of that interest through the procedures used, and the probable value of additional or substitute procedural safeguards; and the government’s interest, including the function involved and the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would entail.
Goldberg v. Kelly 一 A pre-termination evidentiary hearing is necessary to provide a recipient of welfare benefits with procedural due process. The interest of an eligible recipient in the uninterrupted receipt of public assistance, coupled with the state’s interest in not erroneously terminating their payments, clearly outweighs the state’s competing concern to prevent any increase in its fiscal and administrative burdens.
Fuentes v. Shevin 一 From the standpoint of due process, it is immaterial that a deprivation of property may be temporary and non-final.
Connecticut v. Doehr 一 Deciding what process must be afforded by a law enabling a private party to enlist the state’s aid in depriving another party of their property through a prejudgment attachment or a similar procedure involves three issues: consideration of the private interest that will be affected by the prejudgment measure; an examination of the risk of erroneous deprivation through the procedures under attack and the probable value of additional or alternative safeguards; and principal attention to the interest of the party seeking the prejudgment remedy, with due regard for any ancillary interest of the government in providing the procedure or forgoing the added burden of providing greater protections.
Personal jurisdiction is the power of a court to make a decision that affects the rights of a person or entity that has been sued. When a defendant is not a resident of a state, a court usually will consider whether the defendant had adequate contacts with the state to satisfy due process.
Pennoyer v. Neff 一 Proceedings to determine the personal rights and obligations of parties over whom the court has no jurisdiction do not constitute due process.
The Bremen v. Zapata Off-Shore Co. 一 A forum selection clause that was a vital part of a towing contract is binding unless the party challenging its enforcement can meet the heavy burden of showing that its enforcement would be unreasonable, unfair, or unjust.
Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc. v. Shute 一 A non-negotiated forum clause in a passage contract may be enforceable even though it is not the subject of bargaining, although it is subject to judicial scrutiny for fundamental fairness.
International Shoe Co. v. Washington 一 To subject a defendant to personal jurisdiction when they are not present in the territory of the forum, the defendant must have certain minimum contacts with the forum such that the maintenance of the lawsuit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.
Burnham v. Superior Court 一 Service of process confers state court jurisdiction over a physically present non-resident, regardless of whether they were only briefly in the state or whether the cause of action is related to their activities there.
Tickle v. Barton 一 Personal service of process is void when it was obtained by inveigling or enticing the person to be served into the territorial jurisdiction of the court by fraud or deceit.
Shaffer v. Heitner 一 When the property serving as the basis for state court jurisdiction is completely unrelated to the plaintiff’s cause of action, the presence of the property alone does not support jurisdiction without other ties among the defendant, the state, and the litigation.
Hess v. Pawloski 一 Due process does not prevent a state from declaring that the use of its highways by a non-resident motorist shall be deemed equivalent to an appointment by the motorist of the registrar as their attorney, upon whom process may be served in any action arising out of an accident in which the non-resident was involved.
Gray v. American Radiator & Standard Sanitary Corp. 一 Personal jurisdiction is satisfied either if the act or transaction from which the case arose occurred in the state, or if the defendant engaged in a sufficiently substantial course of activity in the state.
World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson 一 The foreseeability that is critical to due process analysis is that the defendant’s conduct and connection with the forum are such that they should reasonably anticipate being brought into court there.
Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz 一 A contract with an out-of-state party does not alone automatically establish sufficient minimum contacts in the other party’s home forum. Instead, the court must evaluate the prior negotiations, the contemplated future consequences, the terms of the contract, and the parties’ actual course of dealing to determine whether a defendant purposefully established minimum contacts within the forum.
Asahi Metal Industry Co. v. Superior Court 一 The substantial connection between a defendant and the forum state necessary for a finding of minimum contacts must derive from an action purposely directed toward the forum state. The mere placement of a product into the stream of commerce is not such an act, even if done with an awareness that the stream will sweep the product into the forum state, without additional conduct indicating an intent to serve the forum state market.
J. McIntyre Machinery, Ltd. v. Nicastro 一 Generally, the exercise of judicial power is not lawful unless the defendant purposefully avails itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum state, thus invoking the benefits and protections of its laws. A foreign manufacturer was not subject to jurisdiction when it did not target the state in any relevant sense.
BNSF Railroad Co. v. Tyrrell 一 A court may assert general jurisdiction over out-of-state corporations to hear any and all claims against them when their affiliations with the state are so continuous and systematic as to render them essentially at home in the forum state.
Zippo Manufacturing Co. v. Zippo Dot Com, Inc. 一 Personal jurisdiction is proper when a defendant clearly does business over the internet, while a passive website that does little more than make information available is not grounds for personal jurisdiction. For interactive websites where a user can exchange information with the host computer, the exercise of jurisdiction is determined by examining the level of interactivity and commercial nature of the exchange of information on the website.
Subject matter jurisdiction means that the court has the authority to review the type of case at issue. A federal court generally holds diversity jurisdiction if no plaintiff is a citizen of the same state as any defendant in the case, and the amount in controversy is over $75,000. Meanwhile, federal question jurisdiction exists if a case arises under federal law.
Capron v. Van Noorden 一 It is the duty of a court to see that it has jurisdiction. The consent of parties cannot provide it.
Strawbridge v. Curtiss 一 If there are two or more joint plaintiffs and two or more joint defendants, each of the plaintiffs must be capable of suing each of the defendants in federal courts for diversity jurisdiction.
Mas v. Perry 一 For diversity purposes, citizenship means domicile; mere residence in the state is not sufficient. Domicile may be changed by taking up residence in a different domicile with the intention to remain there.
Hertz Corp. v. Friend 一 For the purposes of federal diversity jurisdiction, a corporation's principal place of business refers to the place where its high level officers direct, control, and coordinate the corporation’s activities. (This is known as its nerve center.)
A.F.A. Tours, Inc. v. Whitchurch 一 The rule governing dismissal for lack of diversity jurisdiction based on an inadequate amount in controversy is that the sum claimed by the plaintiff controls if the claim is apparently made in good faith. It must appear to a legal certainty that the claim is really for less than the jurisdictional amount to justify dismissal.
T.B. Harms Co. v. Eliscu 一 Even when a claim is created by state law, a case may arise under a federal law if the complaint discloses a need for determining the meaning or application of such a law.
Grable & Sons Metal Products, Inc. v. Darue Engineering & Manufacturing 一 In determining jurisdiction over federal issues embedded in state law claims between non-diverse parties, the question is whether the state law claim necessarily raises a stated federal issue, actually disputed and substantial, which a federal forum may entertain without disturbing any congressionally approved balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities.
Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Thompson 一 A violation of a federal statute as an element of a state cause of action does not state a claim arising under federal law when Congress has determined that there should be no private federal cause of action for the violation.
Shoshone Mining Co. v. Rutter 一 The mere fact that a suit is an adverse suit authorized by the statutes of Congress is not sufficient by itself to vest jurisdiction in the federal courts.
United Mine Workers of America v. Gibbs 一 Pendent jurisdiction exists whenever there is a substantial federal claim, and the relationship between the federal claim and the asserted state claims permits the conclusion that the entire action before the court comprises one case. The state and federal claims must derive from a common nucleus of operative fact.
Aldinger v. Howard 一 A non-federal claim should not be the basis for joining a party over whom no independent federal jurisdiction exists, simply because that claim derives from the common nucleus of operative fact giving rise to the dispute between the parties to the federal claim.
Owen Equipment and Erection Co. v. Kroger 一 A finding that federal and non-federal claims arise from a common nucleus of operative fact does not suffice to establish that a federal court has the power to hear non-federal as well as federal claims. Although the constitutional power to adjudicate the non-federal claim may exist, it does not necessarily follow that statutory authorization has been granted. The context in which a non-federal claim is asserted is crucial.
Finley v. U.S. 一 A grant of jurisdiction over claims involving particular parties does not confer jurisdiction over additional claims by or against different parties.
Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Services, Inc. 一 A court with original jurisdiction over a single claim in the complaint has original jurisdiction over a civil action under Section 1367(a), even if that action comprises fewer claims than were included in the complaint.
Venue and Choice of Law
Rules regarding venue protect defendants from being forced to defend a case in an extremely inconvenient or arbitrary location. Sometimes a defendant will bring a forum non conveniens motion, which alleges that the case could have been brought in a more appropriate venue. Courts also may face complex questions regarding which jurisdiction’s law should apply.
Bates v. C&S Adjusters, Inc. 一 Receipt of a collection notice is a substantial part of the events giving rise to a claim under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. More generally, the statutory standard for venue focuses not on whether a defendant has made a deliberate contact but on the location where events occurred.
Hoffman v. Blaski 一 A federal district court in which a civil action has been properly brought is not empowered to transfer the action on the motion of the defendant to a district in which the plaintiff did not have a right to bring it.
Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins 一 A federal court exercising diversity jurisdiction must apply the state law as declared by the highest state court. There is no federal general common law.
Allstate Insurance Co. v. Hague 一 A state court could apply the law of its state when the state had a significant aggregation of contacts with the parties and the occurrence, creating state interests, such that the application of its law was neither arbitrary nor fundamentally unfair.
Van Dusen v. Barrack 一 When actions were properly brought in the transferor district court, and the defendants seek transfer under Section 1404(a), the change of venue should not be accompanied by a change in the governing state laws.
Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert 一 Important considerations in the application of the forum non conveniens doctrine from the standpoint of litigants are relative ease of access to sources of proof, availability of compulsory process for attendance of unwilling witnesses, cost of obtaining attendance of willing witnesses, the possibility of viewing the premises if appropriate, and other practical problems that make trial of a case easy, expeditious, and inexpensive. Considerations of public interest include the undesirability of piling up litigation in congested centers, the burden of jury duty on people of a community with no relation to the litigation, the local interest in having localized controversies decided at home, and the unnecessary injection of problems in conflict of laws.
Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno 一 Plaintiffs may not defeat a motion to dismiss on the ground of forum non conveniens merely by showing that the substantive law that would be applied in the alternative forum is less favorable to them than the law of the chosen forum.
A complaint is the document that a plaintiff files to start a lawsuit. A defendant then may file an answer to the complaint, which may include a counterclaim by the defendant against the plaintiff. Sometimes a defendant tries to get a complaint dismissed for failing to state a claim.
Dioguardi v. Durning 一 There is no pleading requirement of stating facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action, but only that there be a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.
Conley v. Gibson 一 A complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of their claim that would entitle them to relief.
Ashcroft v. Iqbal 一 The tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.
Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A. 一 An employment discrimination complaint need not contain specific facts establishing a prima facie case but instead must contain only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.
Pruitt v. Cheney 一 A complaint should not be dismissed merely because the plaintiff’s allegations do not support the legal theory on which they intend to proceed, since a court has a duty to examine the complaint to determine if the allegations provide for relief on any possible theory.
Garr v. U.S. Healthcare, Inc. 一 Rule 11 requires that an attorney signing a pleading must personally make a reasonable inquiry into the contents of the pleading and conclude that it is well grounded in fact and warranted in law.
Joinder and Class Actions
A class action is a lawsuit in which many similarly situated plaintiffs are seeking relief against the same defendant based on the same harm. One or more individuals serve as the representatives of the class, litigating the action on their behalf.
Lasa v. Alexander 一 A transaction may comprehend a series of many occurrences, depending not so much upon the immediateness of their connection as upon their logical relationship. The words “transaction or occurrence” are given a broad and liberal interpretation to avoid a multiplicity of suits.
Temple v. Synthes Corp., Ltd. 一 A tortfeasor with the usual joint and several liability is merely a permissive party to an action against another party with similar liability.
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes 一 A class has common questions of law or fact if their claims depend on a common contention of such a nature that it is capable of classwide resolution, which means that determination of its truth or falsity will resolve an issue that is central to the validity of each of the claims in one stroke.
Gonzales v. Cassidy 一 Deciding whether a class representative adequately represented the class so that the judgment in the class suit will bind absent members of the class requires determining whether the trial court in the first suit correctly determined initially that the representative would adequately represent the class, and whether it appears after the termination of the suit that the class representative adequately protected the interest of the class.
Phillips Petroleum Co. v. Shutts 一 Due process requires that class members receive notice, an opportunity to appear in person or by counsel, an opportunity to opt out, and adequate representation. It does not require that absent class members affirmatively opt in to the class.
Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Services, Inc. 一 When the other elements of jurisdiction are present, and at least one named plaintiff in the action satisfies the amount-in-controversy requirement for diversity jurisdiction, Section 1367 authorizes supplemental jurisdiction over claims of other plaintiffs in the same case or controversy, even if their claims are for less than the requisite amount.
Hansberry v. Lee 一 A judgment rendered in a class suit may be res judicata as to members of the class who are not formal parties to the suit. There is a failure of due process only in cases in which it cannot be said that the procedure adopted fairly ensures the protection of the interests of absent parties who are to be bound by it.
If an action survives any early motions to dismiss, the parties will proceed through the process of discovery. This involves exchanging information about documents and witness testimony that will be presented at trial.
Upjohn Co. v. U.S. 一 The attorney-client privilege exists to protect not only the giving of professional advice to those who can act on it, but also the giving of information to the lawyer to enable them to give sound and informed advice. However, the privilege only protects disclosure of communications, rather than disclosure of the underlying facts.
Hickman v. Taylor 一 Memoranda, statements, and mental impressions prepared or obtained from interviews with witnesses by counsel in preparing for litigation after a claim has arisen are not within the attorney-client privilege. However, a party who would invade the privacy of an attorney’s course of preparation must establish adequate reasons to justify production through a subpoena or court order.
Summary judgment can end a case before it proceeds to a full trial before a jury. A judge in a federal court may grant summary judgment if there is no genuine dispute about any material fact in the case, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co. 一 A party moving for summary judgment has the burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue as to any material fact. For these purposes, the material submitted by the moving party must be viewed in the light most favorable to the opposing party.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett 一 Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.
Scott v. Harris 一 When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for the purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. 一 The inquiry involved in a ruling on a motion for summary judgment or for a directed verdict necessarily implicates the substantive evidentiary standard of proof that would apply at the trial on the merits.
Matsushita Electrical Industrial Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp. 一 The absence of any plausible motive to engage in the conduct charged is highly relevant to whether a genuine issue for trial exists within the meaning of Rule 56(e). Lack of motive bears on the range of permissible conclusions that might be drawn from ambiguous evidence.
Lundeen v. Cordner 一 A party opposed to a summary judgment based on affidavits must assume some initiative in showing that a factual issue actually exists.
Cross v. U.S. 一 Summary judgment is particularly inappropriate when the inferences that the parties seek to have drawn deal with questions of motive, intent, and subjective feelings and reactions.
If a case reaches a trial, judges and counsel have some discretion over who may sit on a jury, but their discretion is subject to certain constitutional limits. In most cases, a trial court order must be “final” to be subject to appellate review. Appellate courts give deference to trial court decisions regarding facts but not to decisions regarding the law.
Chauffeurs Local 391 v. Terry 一 To determine whether a particular action will resolve legal (as opposed to equitable) rights, such that the plaintiff is entitled to a jury trial, courts must examine both the nature of the issues involved and, more importantly, the remedy sought.
Beacon Theatres, Inc. v. Westover 一 Only under the most imperative circumstances can the right to a jury trial of legal issues be lost through prior determination of equitable claims.
Flowers v. Flowers 一 Juror disqualification for bias or prejudice extends not only to the parties personally but also to the subject matter of the litigation.
J.E.B. v. Alabama ex rel. T.B. 一 The Equal Protection Clause prohibits discrimination in jury selection on the basis of gender, or on the assumption that an individual will be biased in a particular case solely because that person happens to be a woman or a man.
Lavender v. Kurn 一 When there is an evidentiary basis for the jury’s verdict, the jury is free to discard or disbelieve whatever facts are inconsistent with its conclusion. The appellate court’s function is exhausted when that evidentiary basis becomes apparent. It is immaterial that the court might draw a contrary inference or feel that another conclusion is more reasonable.
Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. v. Wetzel 一 An order constituting a grant of partial summary judgment limited to liability cannot be considered final when damages or other relief remain to be resolved.
Claim preclusion prevents a party from relitigating a cause of action after a court has issued a final judgment on the merits. Issue preclusion prevents a party from relitigating an issue that was essential to a final judgment.
Rush v. City of Maple Heights 一 When a person suffers both injuries and property damage as a result of the same wrongful act, only a single cause of action arises.
Bernhard v. Bank of America 一 In determining the validity of a plea of res judicata, a court must consider whether the issue decided in the prior adjudication was identical with the issue presented in the action in question, there was a final judgment on the merits, and the party against whom the plea is asserted was a party or in privity with a party to the prior adjudication.
Blonder Tongue v. University of Illinois Foundation 一 Res judicata and collateral estoppel are affirmative defenses that must be pleaded to give the opposing party notice of the plea of estoppel and a chance to argue why the imposition of estoppel would be inappropriate.
Parklane Hosiery Co., Inc. v. Shore 一 A trial judge should not allow the use of offensive collateral estoppel if a plaintiff could easily have joined in the earlier action, or if the application of offensive estoppel would be unfair to the defendant. Unfairness might be found when the defendant had less incentive to defend the previous case, there are inconsistent judgments, or different procedural opportunities in the second action could cause a different result.
Cooper v. Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond 一 A judgment in a class action determining that an employer did not engage in a general pattern or practice of racial discrimination against the certified class of employees does not preclude a class member from maintaining a subsequent civil action alleging an individual claim of racial discrimination against the employer.
Martin v. Wilks 一 A voluntary settlement in the form of a consent decree between one group of employees and their employer cannot possibly settle the conflicting claims of another group of employees who do not join in the agreement.
Taylor v. Sturgell 一 The rule against non-party preclusion is subject to six categories of exceptions: when a party agreed to be bound by the determination of issues in an action between others; when there was a pre-existing substantive legal relationship between the person to be bound and a party to the judgment; when the non-party was adequately represented by someone with the same interests who was a party to the earlier action; when the non-party assumed control over the litigation in which the judgment was rendered; when a party bound by a judgment tries to relitigate through a proxy; and when a special statutory scheme consistent with due process expressly forecloses successive litigation by non-litigants.
This outline has been compiled by the Justia team for solely educational purposes and should not be treated as an independent source of legal authority or a summary of the current state of the law. Students should use this outline as a supplement rather than a substitute for course-specific outlines.