Southern District Tightens Rule on Related Cases
In an apparent effort to discourage judge-shopping and ensure the random and transparent selection of judges, the Southern District 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 the city's stop-and-frisk racial profiling case landed before Southern District Judge Shira Scheindlin (See Profile), 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 (See Profile).
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, 13-3088-cv, questioning her decision 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, 99 Civ. 1695.
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: