On The Case

7th Circuit chief judge goes to war over … jurisdictional statements?

(Reuters) - Describing Judge Diane Wood of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals as a stickler for the rules of appellate procedure is like calling ice cream cold, based on the evidence of a pair of orders she filed Monday.

The judge struck response briefs filed by the Justice Department and by the Air Line Pilots Association because the briefs contained inadequate jurisdictional statements. How inadequate? Well, according to Judge Wood, 7th Circuit rules don’t require appellees and respondents to repeat the entire jurisdictional justification required in opening briefs from the parties that have initiated appeals – but the rules do demand confirmation in response briefs that the other side’s jurisdictional statement is both complete and correct.

DOJ and the pilot union, according to Judge Wood’s order, made the mistake of using just one adjective – but not both – to describe their adversaries’ jurisdictional statements. The Justice Department’s now-stricken brief said visa seeker Jorge Baez-Sanchez was correct in his explanation of the 7th Circuit’s jurisdiction – but DOJ didn’t mention whether Baez-Sanchez’s statement was also complete. The pilot union’s now-stricken response brief, on the other hand, said United pilot instructors challenging the distribution of retroactive pay had supplied a complete jurisdictional statement in their opening brief, but didn’t say the pilot instructors’ statement was also correct. (The judge gave DOJ and the pilot union a week to fix and resubmit their filings.)

Judge Wood really, really wants response briefs to acknowledge that the other side’s jurisdictional justifications are both complete and correct. “These terms are not synonyms,” she wrote in Monday’s orders. “A statement might be complete in the sense of covering all required topics, yet contain inaccuracies. Alternatively, everything furnished might be correct, but the statement might be missing something critical, such as the citizenship of a party, the particular statute at issue, or the dates on which the court’s jurisdiction depends.”

The Justice Department and the pilot union aren’t the only parties that haven’t been careful enough about describing why the 7th Circuit has jurisdiction, Judge Wood said. A “distressing number” of briefs fail to comply with the rules, Judge Wood wrote, before reciting the entirety of the 7th Circuit’s requirements. “I am issuing this opinion in the hope that attorneys practicing in the 7th Circuit, as well as our pro se litigants, will take heed and avoid these errors in the future,” she said. “There is no reason why, month after month, year after year, the court should encounter jurisdictional statements with such obvious flaws. This imposes needless costs on everyone involved.”

Did Judge Wood use a bazooka to address a problem that might have been solved with a water pistol? I asked the 7th Circuit clerk for an interview with Judge Wood about how widespread these jurisdictional statement failures are but didn’t hear back. I also reached out to the Justice Department and to pilot union lawyers from Cohen Weiss & Simon and Goldman Ismail Tomaselli Brennan & Baum but none responded.