Southern District of NY Tightens 'Related Case' Rule
John Caher writes for the New York Law Journal.
In an apparent effort to discourage judge-shopping and ensure the random and transparent selection of judges, the Southern District of New York has adopted a new rule on the assignment of jurists to "related" cases.
Under the new rule, which was promulgated after concerns were raised over the way in which New York City's stop-and-frisk racial profiling case landed before Southern District Judge Shira Scheindlin, a judge's decision to accept a new case as "related" to one on his or her docket will be reviewable by a three-judge assignment committee, including Chief Judge Loretta Preska.
The rule was adopted after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in October removed Scheindlin from Floyd v. City of New York, questioning her decision to take the case through the related case doctrine and criticizing her for speaking to the press about the controversial stop-and-frisk litigation.
Court rules allow judges to by-pass the random selection process and preside over a case related to one they are already handling when there is substantial overlap between the matters.
In Floyd, the Second Circuit said, Scheindlin encouraged the plaintiffs to file the complaint and then improperly took the case, finding that it was related to another, Daniels v. City of New York.
Daniels, also a stop-and-frisk case, settled in 2003, but the parties remained at odds over whether the New York City Police Department was abiding by the agreement. In December 2007, attorneys for Daniels appeared before Scheindlin, arguing that the city was not keeping up its end of the bargain, and asking the court to extend a sunset provision.
Records show that Scheindlin declined to extend the provision, but said: "[I]f you've got proof of inappropriate racial profiling in a good constitutional case, why don't you bring a lawsuit? … For $65 you can bring that lawsuit…I would accept it as a related case."
The city did not at the time object to Scheindlin's invocation of the related case rule, but the Second Circuit said Scheindlin was wrong to take Floyd as a related case, even though it could hinge in part on whether the city had violated her order in Daniels.
On Dec. 18, the Board of Judges of the Southern District, comprised all senior and active judges in the district, approved amendments to Rule 13 to "strike a balance" between "avoiding unnecessary duplication of effort…through the assignment of related matters to a single judge" and the need to enrich "the development of the law by having a plurality of judges examine in the first instance common questions of law."
To that end, under the amended Rule 13:
• Civil cases will not automatically be deemed related simply because they involve the same parties or common issues.
• When a case is filed, the individual filing the matter must disclose any contention that it is related to another matter, and detail the reasons for relatedness.
• The trial judge will, in the first instance, determine whether to accept a case that is designated as related, but will have to notify a three-judge assignment committee. If the committee disagrees with the judge's decision to accept the related case, the matter will be randomly reassigned.
"This rule authorizes the transfer of later-filed cases to the judge to whom an earlier-filed related case is assigned while recognizing the difficulty of formulating a definitive and entirely objective definition of 'relatedness,'" the Board of Judges said. "This rule is designed to be sufficiently specific to enable litigants to present, and judges to determine, issues of relatedness in a consistent matter."
A standing assignment committee will review decisions by judges to accept "related" cases, according to spokeswoman Stephanie Cirkovich, who declined to identify the members of the committee.