AAJ Praises U.S. Supreme Court Decision Upholding Fundamental Right of Each Person to Seek Justice in the Courtroom

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AAJ Praises U.S. Supreme Court Decision Upholding Fundamental Right of Each Person to Seek Justice in the Courtroom 

For Immediate Release: June 12, 2008

Contact: Cecelia Prewett
202.965.3500, x369

Washington, DCIn Taylor v. Sturgell, No. 07-371, a unanimous Supreme Court sided with the American Association for Justice’s (AAJ) amicus argument upholding the fundamental right of each person to seek justice in court. The Center for Constitutional Litigation, PC authored the amicus brief found here: http://www.abanet.org/publiced/preview/briefs/pdfs/07-08/07-371_PetitionerAmCuAAJ.pdf

AAJ President Kathleen Flynn Peterson commented, "Throughout this association’s history our members have advocated in Courts, Congress and state legislatures to preserve the protections that every person is entitled to justice in the courtroom. Today, the Supreme Court acted to ensure that ‘virtual representation’ won’t be allowed and Americans will be able to exercise their right to a trial by jury."

Background:
Greg Herrick, a member of the Antique Airplane Association, made a FOIA request for certain records from the FAA. The agency denied the request because it believed that the requested documents contained trade secrets. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit held that the denial was proper, although it assumed without deciding whether the documents contained trade secrets because Herrick had failed, on appeal, to properly pursue this issue. Subsequently, Brent Taylor made a separate FOIA request for the same documents and brought suit in federal court to compel their disclosure. The district court held that Taylor could not bring his own suit, and the DC Circuit affirmed. Even though Taylor had no connection to Herrick's suit, and indeed had no notice of Herrick’s suit, the DC Circuit held that Taylor could not bring his own suit to compel disclosure because he had been “virtually represented” by Herrick. The court reasoned that Taylor’s suit could be precluded because he and Herrick had similar incentives in seeking the documents, and Herrick had adequately represented those interests in the prior suit. Because the DC Circuit’s view of virtual representation was in conflict with the views of other circuits, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve the conflict.

Concerned that the theory of "virtual representation" could be invoked in a wide variety of circumstances to preclude plaintiffs from litigating issues that had been decided against other plaintiffs in prior proceedings, the American Association for Justice submitted a brief authored by Center for Constitutional Litigation, PC attorneys John Vail and Andre M. Mura, contending that this would deprive plaintiffs of each person’s fundamental right to his or her day in court.

The Court agreed, in a unanimous opinion written by Justice Ginsberg. The Court broadly rejected the theory of virtual representation, holding that a plaintiff generally cannot be precluded from litigating an issue resolved in a separate proceeding in which that plaintiff was not a participant. The Court's decision reaffirms the fundamental right of each person to seek justice in court. The Court’s opinion is here: http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/07pdf/07-371.pdf

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