Friday, July 29, 2011

No Motion, No Good Cause, No Jurisdiction (Even if you do Rely on the Order Extending time to file)

Cabral v. State (ICA July 28, 2011)
Background. The Cabrals and other plaintiffs sued Joni Scott and the State of Hawai'i. The lawsuit stems from a fatal car accident on Highway 11 on the Big Island. The plaintiffs settled with Scott, but proceeded to a bench trial against the State. The circuit court entered judgment in favor of the State and dismissed all remaining claims on April 20, 2007. Ten days later, the plaintiffs filed a motion for reconsideration. The circuit court denied the motion on June 7, 2007.
On July 6, 2007, the parties submitted a one-page stipulation for a two-week extension to file a notice of appeal. The circuit court approved and ordered the extension. The stipulation did not assert any of the grounds for the extension and the circuit court approved the stipulation without making any findings. On July 18, 2007, the plaintiffs presented an ex-parte motion to extend time for filing a notice of appeal on the grounds that the parties were in settlement negotiations and a motion to withdraw was scheduled to be heard on September 5. On July 23--the last day of the two-week extension--the plaintiffs filed their notice of appeal. On September 7, 2007, the circuit court signed and filed the order granting the ex-parte motion and extended the time to file to August 8, 2007. The ICA directed the parties to briefs regarding appellate jurisdiction.
Appellate Jurisdiction 101: Timely Filing a Notice of Appeal. "It is axiomatic that [courts of appeal] are under an obligation to ensure that [they have] jurisdiction to hear and determine each case and to dismiss an appeal on [their] own where [they] conclude [they] lack jurisdiction." Brooks v. Dana Nance & Co., 113 Hawai'i 406, 412, 153 P.3d 1091, 1097 (2007). An untimely notice of appeal requires a dismissal for lack of jurisdiction "that can neither be waived by the parties nor disregarded by the court in the exercise of juridical discretion." Wong v. Wong, 79 Hawai'i 26, 29, 897 P.2d 953, 956 (1995).
"An appeal shall be taken in the manner and within the time provided by the rules of the court." HRS § 641-1(c). In civil cases, a notice of appeal must be filed within thirty days after entry of an appealable final judgment. Hawai'i Rules of Appellate Procedure (HRAP) Rule 4(a)(1). However, the trial court or agency can extend the time for filing a notice of appeal "upon a showing of good cause[.]" HRAP Rule 4(a)(4)(A). A party may file an ex-parte motion for extension and no "extension shall exceed 30 days[.]" Id. These rules are inflexible because "no court or judge or justice is authorized to change the jurisdictional requirements" in HRAP Rule 4. HRAP Rule 26(b).
The Tricky Thirty-day Clock . . . Here, the ICA first identified the final appealable order. When a case involves multiple claims, the judgment is not considered a "final judgment" unless the judgment, "on its face, show[s] finality as to all claims against all parties." Jenkins v. Cades Schutte Fleming & Wright, 76 Hawai'i 115, 119-20, 869 P.2d 1334, 1338-39 (1994). In this case, the judgment in favor of the State and dismissing all remaining claims was entered on April 20, 2007. That, according to the ICA, was the final judgment and the parties had thirty days to file their notice of appeal.
But because the plaintiffs filed a motion for reconsideration, the thirty-day clock is tolled until that motion was decided or the passing of 90 days, whichever came first. See HRAP Rule 4(a)(3). The circuit court denied the motion for reconsideration on June 7, 2007, which extended the time for filing a notice of appeal to July 7, 2007. So far, so good.
The Trouble with Stipulating. The issue in this case centers around HRAP Rule 4(a)(4)(A):
The court or agency appealed from, upon a showing of good cause, may extend the time for filing a notice of appeal upon motion filed within the time prescribed . . . of this rule.
According to the ICA, the lower court cannot extend the time to file a notice of appeal unless (1) a motion was filed and (2) upon a showing of good cause. This case had neither. The stipulation was "an unauthorized procedural device." The ICA also held that there was no showing of "good cause," that is, "a cause that is beyond the movant's control." Hall v. Hall, 96 Hawai'i 105, 110 n. 3, 26 P.3d 594, 599 n. 3 (App. 2001).
And Needed more time to Settle is not "Good Cause." Even if the stipulation did state that an extension was needed to facilitate settlement negotiations, that would not amount to "good cause." In Hall, the ICA held that "more time to seek settlement before incurring the cost of filing an appeal is not 'good cause' for extending the time to file a notice of appeal; and . . . rarely will there be a situation where a motion based on that desire and presented within the first 30 days will be validly granted[.]" Id. at 110, n. 3, 26 P.3d at 599, n. 3.
Extensions for Time AFTER the 30 days has run. Having held that there was no initial motion and no good cause shown, the thirty-day clock expired thereby making the ex parte motion for another extension a request for more time after the expiration of the proscribed time. An appellant can seek an extension of time for filing a notice of appeal after the time has run out so long as the court or agency finds "excusable neglect." HRAP Rule 4(a)(4)(B). Furthermore, a motion for extension of time after the 30-day clock requires notice of the motion to all parties involved. Id.
Delay was not an "Excusable Neglect." Excusable neglect arises when the "cause of the delay is some mistake or inadvertence within the control of the movant." Enos v. Pac. Transfer & Warehouse, Inc., 80 Hawai'i 345, 352, 910 P.2d 116, 123 (1996). After surveying the few Hawai'i cases that addressed "excusable neglect," the ICA concluded that excusable neglect often dealt with the misconstruction or misapplication of the law. Id.; Hall, 96 Hawai'i at 112, 26 P.3d at 601. Unlike Enos and Hall, the plaintiffs in this case based its motion on settlement efforts and a pending motion to withdraw. This, according to the ICA, was not excusable neglect. It was more of a request "that the deadline be postponed while other events in the case are attended to."
Chief Judge Nakamura's Dissent. Chief Judge Nakamura agreed with the majority that the circuit court erred in approving the stipulation and extending the time to file a notice of appeal for two weeks. However, because the stipulation was submitted within the original 30-day clock and because the plaintiffs later relied upon the erroneous order, the rules should not be strictly enforced.
Chief Judge Nakamura would have applied an exception to the rules based on equity. He turned to cases from the Supreme Court of the United States that contemplate the "unique circumstances exception" to the time limitations for filing a notice of appeal. In those cases, the appellant sought an extension from the trial court, which was granted, and then filed the notice of appeal in reliance on the lower court's extension. Harris Truck Lines, Inc. v. Cherry Meat Packers, Inc., 371 U.S. 215 (1962); Thompson v. Immigration and Naturalization Service, 375 U.S. 384 (1964). Those cases were recently overruled by the SCOTUS in Bowles v. Russell, 551 U.S. 205, 214 (2007), on the grounds that they created equitable exceptions to jurisdictional requirements.
Nonetheless, Chief Judge Nakamura noted that there were four dissenters in Bowles. Chief Judge Nakamura wrote that it seemed reasonable for the plaintiffs to rely on the trial court's order issued before the expiration of the original thirty-day clock. If the trial court denied the stipulation, the plaintiffs still could have timely filed their notice of appeal. "We require and expect parties to comply with court orders. We should permit them to rely on court orders in determining whether the time for filing a notice of appeal has expired."
Equity v. Law. Here, the tensions between the law and equity still play out. The majority followed strictly the letter of the rules. So strictly, in fact, that it frowned upon the use of a stipulation rather than a motion. Chief Judge Nakamura's dissent does not appear to dispute the legal analysis of the majority. In fact he agreed that the circuit court erred in extending the time to file based on the one-page stipulation. The dissent arises over the application of an equitable remedy. It was obvious to the Chief Judge that the plaintiffs relied on the erroneous order.
This case raises an even broader question: who is ultimately responsible? The majority seems to place the onus on the plaintiffs who have not following the rules and submitting a stipulation. The Chief Judge, however, took a position that would not penalize a party that relied on a trial court's order--no matter how erroneous. The issue has divided the ICA. If this goes up to the HSC, it is sure to split that court too.

Monday, July 4, 2011

TRO Procedures Withstand Rational Basis (and Strict Scrutiny)


Hamilton v. Lethem (ICA June 30, 2011)

Background. Lily Hamilton filed a temporary restraining order (TRO) against Christy Lethem on behalf of their daughter, Amber. The TRO alleged three incidents in which Lethem physically assaulted Amber, threatened to physically assault her, and embarrassed her so badly that she suffered emotional distress. The TRO was granted and an evidentiary hearing was set.

At the hearing, Amber testified about the three incidents. First, she testified that Lethem hit her because she lied to him. She said that he tried to hit her face, but she blocked him with her hand. In the second incident, Amber said that she started arguing with Lethem when he hit her. Amber went to her room and Lethem said, "Don’t make me do that again . . . . Don't make me hit you again." As to the third incident, Amber testified that Lethem went to her school, pulled her out of class, and blamed her for financial problems. He also said that he was going to pull her out of school and that her younger sister was better than her "in this way."

Lethem testified at the hearing. He admitted that he had had a strained relationship with Hamilton and that they often argued because Amber was misbehaving. He spoke about the three incidents. He said that he never hit his daughter in the face, but did admit to hitting her shoulder in order to discipline her. As to the second incident, Lethem said that he was arguing with Amber and she tried to stand up and walk away from him. That was when he reached over and had her sit back down. He denied threatening to hit her. As to the third incident, Lethem denied blaming financial problems on his daughter.

The family court determined that no further action should be taken and allowed the 90-day TRO to run its course without issuing an injunction. The family court also concluded that the parental discipline defense in HRS § 703-309 did not apply. Lethem appealed the decision, and the ICA dismissed the case as moot. The HSC, however, introduced the collateral consequences exception to the mootness doctrine and ordered the ICA to resolve the case on the merits of Lethem's appeal. Hamilton v. Lethem, 119 Hawai'i 1, 193 P.3d 839 (2008).

The Constitutional Right to Raise Children. "No State shall . . . deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law[.]" U.S. Const. Amend. XIV, Sec. 1. Similarly, "[n]o person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law[.]" Haw. Const. Art. I, Sec. 5. Lethem argued that the TRO infringed on his constitutional right to discipline his daughter. "In determining whether a statute conflicts with the Due Process Class, we have applied two tests. If a fundamental right is implicated, the statute is subject to strict scrutiny. If, however, a fundamental right is not implicated, the statute is subject to the rational basis test." State v. Mallan, 86 Hawai'i 440, 451, 950 P.2d 178, 189 (1998). The first issue confronted by the ICA was whether the TRO statutory scheme infringes on a "fundamental right."

The State and federal constitutions recognize a right to conceive and raise children. In re Doe, 99 Hawai'i 522, 532, 57 P.3d 447, 457 (2002); Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 651 (1972); Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 166 (1944). However, this right is not unlimited; parents are protected by the constitutions when they inflict excessive discipline. State v. Crouser, 81 Hawai'i 15, 5, 911 P.2d 725, 735 (1996); Prince, 321 U.S. at 167.

TROs do not Infringe Upon the Right to Raise Children. The ICA held that HRS Chapter 586 does not infringe upon the fundamental right to raise children. The statute protects "[p]hysical harm, bodily injury, assault" and "emotional distress." HRS § 586-1. According to the ICA, parents do not have the first to employ force "the legislature has deemed to be excessive and harmful to the child's welfare[.]" Crouser, 81 Hawai'i at 15, 911 P.2d at 735. Thus, the rational basis test applied.

"Under rational basis review, a statute must rationally further a legitimate state interest. A state interest is legitimate if it involves the public health, safety, or welfare." State v. Mallan, 86 Hawai'i at 451-52, 950 P.2d at 189-90. Here, the ICA held that the governmental interest in a family court TRO is to protect minors from physical and psychological harm. The TRO is reasonably related to furthering that interest. Accordingly, it does not violate Lethem's constitutional rights.

Strict Scrutiny too? The ICA noted obiter dictum that "Chapter 586 would withstand strict scrutiny as well." Under the strict scrutiny test, the statute is presumed "unconstitutional unless the state shows compelling state interests which justify such classifications, and that the laws are narrowly drawn to avoid unnecessary abridgements of constitutional rights." SCI Management Corp. v. Sims, 101 Hawai'i 438, 460, 71 P.3d 389, 411 (2003). According to the ICA, HRS chapter 586 "advances a compelling state interest in preventing harm to children." The State has strong interest in preventing child abuse. Crouser, 81 Hawai'i at 14, 911 P.2d at 734; Prince, 321 U.S. at 166. The ICA also noted that "HRS Chapter 586 is narrowly drawn to avoid unduly burdening the exercise of parental rights." The ICA explained that TROs prevent "domestic abuse," which is defined as acts or threats of "[p]hysical harm, bodily injury, assault" or a course of conduct that causes "extreme emotional distress." HRS § 586-1. There are also procedural safeguards that protect a parent's rights.

Parental Discipline Defense does not Apply to TROs. The ICA held that the family court did not err in refusing to apply the parental discipline defense. The parental discipline defense is limited to the Hawai'i Penal Code. HRS § 703-309. It does not expressly apply to TRO proceedings. The ICA noted that the definition of "domestic abuse" under HRS § 586-1 encompasses conduct that is broader than criminal domestic abuse defined by HRS § 709-906. Thus, the legislature intended the conduct giving rise to a TRO is broader than conduct giving rise to criminal liability.

TRO Procedure not in Violation of Procedural Due Process. The Due Process Clause requires "notice and an opportunity to be heard at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner before governmental deprivation of a significant liberty interest" can take place. Guardianship of Carlsmith, 113 Hawai'i 236, 239, 151 P.3d 717, 720 (2007). When a deprivation takes place prior to the notice and hearing, the courts must consider three important factors: (1) the private interest at stake; (2) the government's interest and the interest of the party seeking the remedy; and (3) the probable value of additional or substitute procedural safeguards. Mathrews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 329, 335 (1976); Connecticut v. Doehr, 501 U.S. 1, 11 (1991).

The ICA examined the interest at stake: a parent's right to the custody, care, and rearing of his or her children. The ICA acknowledged that the TRO deprived Lethem of his right to care for his child. As for the second factor--the petitioner's interest and the government's "ancillary interests"--the ICA noted that victims of domestic violence have an interest in obtaining immediate relief from the abuse. The government also has an interest in protecting family and household members from harm. The State has a responsibility to protect children. For the third factor--the risk of erroneous deprivation, and the fairness and reliability of pre-deprivation procedures, the ICA ruled against Lethem. The ex parte TRO process requires petitioners to allege past acts domestic abuse. HRS § 586-3(c). It requires a sworn statement and a finding of probable cause that past acts have occurred and further abuse is imminent before a TRO may issue. HRS § 586-4(c). Moreover, there must be an immediate hearing on the TRO, at which the petitioner has the burden of proof. HRS § 586-5(b). The ICA held that these safeguards are adequate for Due Process purposes.

Passes on Claim that TRO is Gender-Biased. Lethem also argued that the TRO process is gender-biased in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. He argued that the ex parte process is "discriminatory against men" that leads to "gender profiling." The ICA held that Lethem waived this claim because he failed to raise a cogent argument. HRAP Rule 28(b)(7). The ICA again stated, in dicta, that there is little evidence of an equal protection violation.

The TRO statutes are gender neutral. Thus, in order to establish an equal-protection violation, there must be "evidence of a pattern of discriminatory enforcement against [men] so overwhelmingly that intent to discriminate can be inferred. Such a pattern of invidious discrimination, demonstrating an unequal application of the law extreme enough to show intentional discrimination is necessary because . . . disparate impact of legislation alone is not enough to make out an equal protection violation." State v. Tookes, 67 Haw. 608, 614, 699 P.2d 983, 987 (1985). Lethem did not present this kind of evidence.

An Interesting Point . . . According to the ICA, Lethem needed to establish a pattern of discrimination giving rise to inferred discriminatory intent. So maybe there is an equal protection claim out there after all.

No Abuse of Discretion in Granting the TRO. The ICA also held that the family court did not abuse its discretion in granting the TRO against Lethem. There was sufficient evidence in the petition and at the hearing supporting the family court's findings.

What's the Issue? It appears that the question was whether there was sufficient evidence presented to the family court in order to support a finding of probable cause and issuance of an ex parte TRO. This is not unlike challenges to a district court's finding of probable cause to issue a search warrant. In those cases, "all data necessary to show probable cause for the issuance of a search warrant must be contained within the four corners of a written affidavit given under oath." State v. Detroy, 102 Hawai'i 13, 18, 72 P.3d 485, 490 (2003). Here, the ICA relied on not only the petition, but the testimony at the hearing. It also reviewed the findings issued after the hearing for an abuse of discretion.

This is troubling. If the question was whether the family court had enough evidence to issue the ex parte TRO based on the petition, then the standard of review should be de novo, and the ICA should look no further than the four corners of the TRO petition. The hearing, the evidence presented at that hearing, and the family court's findings of fact would have no bearing on the question.

Public Employees have to go to the Hawai'i Labor Relations Board Before Attacking Their Union in Circuit Court

Lee v. United Public Workers (ICA June 29, 2011)

Background. Amy Lee was an adult corrections officer for the Department of Public Safety and a member of the United Public Workers union. While working, she hurt her back and shoulder. The injuries left her unable to perform the usual and customary duties of an ACO. She returned to light duties and opted to participate in a State-run program in which she would be terminated if she could not find an alternative job. She was unable to find a suitable job and was terminated by the State. The UPW, at Lee's request, filed a grievance with the director of the Department of Public Safety. The collective bargaining agreement (CBA) provided that only the union could pursue the grievance once it was denied by the director of the department. The Department of Public Safety denied the grievance and the UPW notified Lee that it would not pursue the matter any further.

Lee filed a complaint in the circuit court against her union and employer. She alleged a "hybrid action" against UPW for breaching its duties of fair representation, good faith and fair dealing. Her claims against the State were based on its breach of the CBA. The defendants failed to answer the complaint and were defaulted. Lee sought a default judgment. She stipulated with the State to set aside the default judgment. UPW, however, filed a motion to set aside the default. The circuit court granted the motion on the condition that it pay half of the costs and fees incurred by Lee to get the default judgment: $6.14 in costs and $740.00 in fees. The circuit court reasoned that the other half was against the State. Both defendants filed motions to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that the Hawai'i Labor Relations Board had exclusive original jurisdiction. The motions were granted. Lee appealed.

The "Hybrid" Cause of Action. Employees must "exhaust any grievance procedures provided under a collective bargaining agreement before bringing a court action pursuant to the agreement." Poe v. Hawai'i Labor Relations Board, 105 Hawai'i 97, 101, 94 P.3d 652, 656 (2004). But "when the union wrongfully refuses to pursue an individual grievance, the employee is not left without recourse." Id. at 102, 94 P.3d at 657. The employee can bring a hybrid action "consist[ing] of two separate claims: (1) a claim against the employer alleging a breach of the collective bargaining agreement and (2) a claim against the union for breach of a duty of fair representation." Id. The union breaches its duty of fair representation "only when [the] union's conduct toward a member of the collective bargaining unit is arbitrary, discriminatory, or in bad faith." Vaca v. Sipes, 386 U.S. 171, 190 (1967). This was the kind of action Lee brought against the State and UPW. The issue was not the legitimacy of the claim, but whether Lee should have brought it before the Hawai'i Labor Relations Board instead of the circuit court.

HRS § 89-14 Confers Exclusive Original Jurisdiction over Public-Sector Prohibited Practices. HRS chapter 89 regulates public-sector unions and employees. HRS § CITE. It also defines and identifies prohibited practices by public-sector employees, employers, and unions. HRS § 89-13. "Any controversy concerning prohibited practices may be submitted to the [Hawai'i Labor Relations Board] . . .; provided that the board shall have exclusive original jurisdiction over such a controversy[.]" HRS § 89-14. The board's decision may be appealed to the circuit court and ultimately the courts of appeal. Id.; Hawai'i Government Employees Ass'n v. Lingle, 124 Hawai'i 197, 203, 206-07, 239 P.3d 1, 7 (2010). The ICA noted that the statute conferring exclusive jurisdiction to the board was a legislative reaction to Winslow v. State, 2 Haw. App. 50, 56-57, 625 P.2d 1046, 1051-52 (1981), in which the ICA held that there was concurrent jurisdiction with the circuit court. The Legislature changed the language of the statute in order to confine jurisdiction to the board. That, according to the ICA, was made abundantly clear in the legislative history and in HGEA v. Lingle. Decisions by the board can be appealed to the circuit court for judicial review. HRS § 89-14; HRS § 91-14(a).

. . . And this is a Public-Sector Prohibited Practice. "Prohibited practices" include Lee's claims. The ICA pointed to two: the employer's willful violation of the CBA. HRS § 89-13(a)(8) and the union's refusal or failure to comply with HRS chapter 89. HRS § 89-13(b)(4).

In support of this holding, the ICA turned to Lepere v. UPW, 77 Hawai'i 471, 887 P.2d 1029 (1995). In that case, Lepere, like Lee, filed a complaint against his union in the circuit court. The ICA, in an unpublished memorandum opinion, affirmed the circuit court's dismissal based on a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The HSC noted in passing that the "ICA properly concluded that the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction[.]" Id. at 472, 887 P.2d at 1030.

Reliance on an Unpublished Disposition in Violation of HRAP Rule 35? The ICA expressly rejected Lee's argument that it could not rely on its own unpublished memorandum opinion pursuant to HRAP Rule 35, which only allows appellate courts to cite unpublished dispositions issued after July 1, 2008. The ICA explained that it did not rely on the unpublished Lepere "as precedent or persuasive value." Instead, the reliance was "to clarify what the supreme court meant in its published decision when it affirmed the ICA's jurisdictional holding."

Clarification v. Persuasion. Unpublished decisions "filed before July 1, 2008 shall not be cited in any other action or proceeding[.]" HRAP Rule 35(c)(1). Here, the ICA acknowledged that it did indeed "cite" to the unpublished memorandum opinion. However, it expressly stated that it did so only to clarify the HSC's published approval of its ruling. This raises two interesting questions about HRAP Rule 35. First, what does it mean to "cite"? Does the prohibition against "citing" a case permit clarifications like this one? Or does it simply ban all references for any purpose? The language of HRAP Rule 35 suggests the latter. Dispositions filed after July 1, 2008 may be "cited for persuasive value[.]" HRAP Rule 35(c)(2). Does this mean that those published before July 1, 2008 cannot be "cited" at all--even if it's just to clarify something?

Second, are the appellate courts themselves bound by HRAP 35(c)(1) at all? Clearly, appellate litigators are bound by it and cannot "cite" it. But that does not necessarily mean that the courts cannot point to its earlier unpublished opinions on its own.

Other Issues. The ICA rejected Lee's other contentions relating to her constitutional right to access courts, equal protection and due process claims. Finally, the ICA held that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in cutting Lee's award for attorney's fees and costs in half. See Kamaka v. Goodsill Anderson Quinn & Stifel, 117 Hawai'i 92, 105, 176 P.3d 91, 104 (2008) (award of attorneys' fees reviewed for abuse of discretion.).