Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Ahanchian v. Xenon Pictures (9th Cir. - Nov. 3, 2010)

The Ninth Circuit decides a case this morning that I bet most civil litigators will cite -- either in court or in correspondence -- at least once in their careers.  Even the most diligent litigators.  Or at least should cite.  Hence my reference to it herein.

It's an unusual case, and begins with Judge Wardlaw quoting a 1925 law review article to say:  "Procedure 'is a means to an end, not an end in itself—the "handmaid rather than the mistress" of justice.'"  Which uses language that's a bit outdated, but that nonetheless expresses a concept that continues to be true.  Moreover, for people interested in civil procedure such as myself, it's an intriguing introduction.

She then goes on to reverse the district court's refusal to grant a request for a one-week extension of time to file an opposition to a summary judgment motion.  You don't see that every day either.  Holding that because the non-moving party's attorney (1) had only eight days to file his opposition, three of which were over the Labor Day holiday; (2) had a pre-planned trip out of town over the holiday; and (3) was facing a somewhat large (though not unusually so) motion, the district court abused its discretion in rejecting the requested extension.

You can see how someone could easily find it useful to cite that case.  Situations like this come up all the time.

There's also additional useful stuff in the opinion as well.  For example, Judge Wardlaw appears to be pretty skeptical of the justice of the Central District's local rule, which often requires oppositions to be filed within seven days of the filing of the underlying motion, arguing that this "peculiar" rule creates an "exceptionally constrained deadline" for the filing of oppositions and departs from the more common 14-days-for-filing-an-opposition rule that exists in most of the other districts in the Ninth Circuit.  That's a pretty useful quote the next time you want an extension to oppose a motion in the Central District, eh?

Plus, see if you won't use this quote (from footnote seven) as well the next time you want an extension to go fishing with your friend -- or simply enjoy the holidays -- rather than filing an opposition:  "[Counsel's] lack of availability due to a previously planned trip is a reasonable basis for seeking an extension of time. . . . [A]ttorneys, like everyone else, have critical personal and familial obligations that are particularly acute during holidays. It is important to the health of the legal profession that attorneys strike a balance between these competing demands on their time."  I hear ya.  That's something I'm definitely going to keep in the back of my mind.  And use when it's appropriate.

Not just in filings, either.  I'm going to tell it to opposing counsel too when I initially request the extension.  In addition to at least some of this choice quote:  "We feel compelled to address defense counsel’s unrelenting opposition to Ahanchian’s counsel’s reasonable requests. Our adversarial system depends on the principle that all sides to a dispute must be given the opportunity to fully advocate their views of the issues presented in a case. . . . Here, defense counsel took knowing advantage of the constrained time to respond created by the local rules, the three-day federal holiday, and Ahanchian’s lead counsel’s prescheduled out-of-state obligation. Defense counsel steadfastly refused to stipulate to an extension of time, and when Ahanchian’s counsel sought relief from the court, defense counsel filed fierce oppositions, even accusing Ahanchian’s counsel of unethical conduct. Such uncompromising behavior is not only inconsistent with general principles of professional conduct, but also undermines the truth-seeking function of our adversarial system. . . . Our adversarial system relies on attorneys to treat each other with a high degree of civility and respect. [Citation]  Where, as here, there is no indication of bad faith, prejudice, or undue delay, attorneys should not oppose reasonable requests for extensions of time brought by their adversaries."

So for both the slacker and the non-slacker, there's some good stuff in this opinion that's at least worth keeping in the back of your mind as you go through the day-to-day grind.  If only because it may well be useful the next time your back's up against the wall.  Or simply if you want to have fun over Christmas rather than pound out that 25-page opposition.