Analyzing the Southern District of New York's Amended 'Related Cases' Rule: The Process for Challenging Nonrandom Case Assignment Remains Inadequate
23 Pages Posted: 2 Feb 2014 Last revised: 23 Jan 2015
Date Written: January 31, 2014
On October 31, 2013, the Second Circuit relied on a little-known Division of Business Rule to remove a well-respected and long-serving jurist from two high-profile stop-and-frisk cases. This highly unusual and unexpected move has stirred up an uproar of public support for the judge. But the Southern District of New York’s Division of Business Rule 13, the catalyst for a series of unprecedented procedural twists and turns, has been left unexamined. This essay refocuses the discussion on the overlooked rule at issue in Judge Scheindlin’s removal. First, it explains the consequences of Rule 13’s Division of Business label. Unlike local rules of civil procedure, Rule 13 is not subject to review by the Second Circuit, nor is it open to public comment. Creation and enforcement of a district court’s division of business rules are delegated to the court itself; unsurprisingly, decisions made pursuant to such rules are largely unreviewable. Next, this essay explains that precisely because it was a division of business rule, Rule 13 permitted case assignment decisions that might have raised red flags had they occurred pursuant to a local rule of civil procedure. This essay further argues that Rule 13 was only nominally a rule about relatedness. Instead, it functioned as a mechanism through which judges could pull certain cases onto their docket based on the cases’ subject matter. Rule 13 is the reason so many high-profile stop-and-frisk cases were sent to Judge Scheindlin, as opposed to being divvied up at random amongst all S.D.N.Y. judges. The essay also tracks how the stop-and-frisk cases were assigned, their odd procedural history on appeal, and recent hints of settlement.
On December 18, 2013, the S.D.N.Y adopted amendments to Division of Business Rule 13, seemingly in reaction to the circumstances that caused Judge Scheindlin’s removal. This essay ends with an analysis of the amendments, concluding that they do not do enough to explain why a judge decides to deem a case related to an earlier-filed matter. The amendments also do not create meaningful motion practice through which parties can challenge a relatedness decision. Rather, the district’s case assignment procedures remain shrouded in secrecy, and, most disturbingly, are still easy to manipulate. If a judge wants to overcome random case assignment and engage in subject matter-specific case shopping, the S.D.N.Y.’s Division of Business rules will not stop it.
Keywords: section 1983, Fourth Amendment, related cases, SDNY, Scheindlin, local rules, civil procedure
JEL Classification: K4, K30, K14, J71
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation