Monday, September 02, 2013

Benitez v. Williams (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 30, 2013)

It's Labor Day.  Which means no opinions.

But that doesn't mean we can't labor.  Or be required to labor.  Or critique the labor of others.

Because no one comes out looking good in this one.

Which one looks worse:

(1)  Plaintiff's counsel.  Who filed a federal copyright claim -- over which the federal courts indisputably have exclusive jurisdiction -- in California state court?  Clearly someone who didn't even take a "survey" IP class.

(2)  The trial court.  Judge Fahey.  Who told the plaintiff that he needed to "remove" the lawsuit to federal court , under penalty of dismissal.  Despite the fact that even first-year law students know that only defendants can remove.  (At the hearing, plaintiff's counsel asked whether only defendants were able to remove cases to federal court, to which Judge Fahey responded:  "I don't think that's necessarily the case."  Wrong.  It totally is.)

I'm going to have to say Judge Fahey.  Who should have known better.  Particularly after plaintiff's counsel filed papers letting him know that only defendants could remove.  That didn't deter Judge Fahey.  Who then dismissed the entire action -- including the state law claims -- on the ground that plaintiff had failed to remove the lawsuit to federal court as ordered.

It's certainly not the Court of Appeal.  Which totally understands this stuff.  Yes, you need to file federal copyright claims in federal court.  No, if you're the plaintiff, you can't remove them there.  Yes, it might be nice to have the supplemental state claims filed alongside the federal claims in federal court.  But that's not a requirement (and may not even happen anyway, depending on whether the federal court elects to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over them).  You can file your state claims in state court if you want, as long as the federal claims get filed where they belong.  Or dismissed.

The one thing I can slightly fault the Court of Appeal on -- and it's a gentle critique, because it gets this case exactly right on the merits -- is how long it took to get this case adjudicated.  The appeal took over a year to work its way through the system.  It's a totally easy one.  It could have been summarily adjudicated.  Instead the Court of Appeal gave respondents repeated extensions to file an utterly meritless brief and then took over two months after the oral argument was finished to file a seven-page double-spaced opinion that says stuff that couldn't be more true (and was presumably already written in draft form before the argument).

Not the most impressive labor by anyone in this history of the universe.  (Though, I'm sure, far from the worst as well.)