29 Pages Posted: 14 Jul 2014 Last revised: 3 May 2015
Date Written: April 1, 2014
The doctrine of realignment -- which permits a federal court to change a party's litigating position from plaintiff to defendant or vice versa -- has been virtually ignored in federal procedure scholarship. This stark neglect is genuinely astonishing because the federal circuit courts are split as to the appropriate standard. The source of the standard -- and the circuit courts' confusion -- is a 1941 U.S. Supreme Court decision, City of Indianapolis v. Chase National Bank. In that decision, rather than focusing on realignment's purpose, the Supreme Court focused unduly on the specific context in which the realignment issue arose. The result was a muddled articulation of the appropriate standard.
Realignment's purpose lies in assuring the necessary adversarial context mandated by Article III's references to "cases" and "controversies" -- but City of Indianapolis makes no mention of the case-or-controversy requirement in either the majority or dissenting opinions. Instead, the Court erroneously and confusingly defined its analysis within the specific diversity-jurisdiction context in which the realignment issue arose. This analytical error resulted in a perplexing and misguided standard and contributed to the common misperception that the doctrine of realignment is only applicable to diversity cases.
Had the City of Indianapolis Court properly analyzed the realignment doctrine according to its purpose, its analysis would have mirrored that in declaratory judgment cases. An identical concern underlies both the doctrine of realignment and declaratory judgment actions -- i.e., ensuring the existence of a case or controversy -- and therefore the same standard should apply in the realignment context: whether there is a substantial controversy between parties having adverse legal interests.
Keywords: federal courts, realignment, federal procedure, constitutional law, case or controversy
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