My Civil Procedure Syllabus: Hypothetical Problems Included
Like so many other law profs, I’m amidst drafting my syllabus for the fall. (It’s an amazing thing to be done with a draft of Hate 3.0: A Civil Rights Agenda to Combat Discriminatory Online Harassment (forthcoming HUP) and a substantive edit of “The Right to Quantitative Privacy” with my amazing colleague David Gray–now I can turn to my students!) For my civil procedure students, my syllabus is full of tips/questions/hypos, so that they don’t have to turn to commercial outlines (or so I hope). I just wrote a new hypo for subject matter jurisdiction, thanks to terrific guest blogger and civ pro scholar Howard Wasserman whose essay “A Jurisdictional Perspective on New York Times v. Sullivan” served as an inspiration.
Here is the newly drafted hypo for all of my civ pro teacher colleagues. Suggestions for improving it, so welcome!
In-class hypo (or for study group)
The year is 1965. In Southern towns and cities, civil rights protestors are being beaten and intimidated by local police and private citizens. Montgomery, Alabama is no exception. To draw the public’s attention to the mistreatment of civil rights protestors, advocates put an advertisement in the New York Times highlighting the abuse in Montgomery, Alabama and in other Southern cities. Civil rights activists and four Alabama activists signed the ad, which appears here.
A Montgomery, Alabama police official sued the ad’s publisher The New York Times and the four Alabama residents for defamation, alleging that the ad falsely suggested that he was responsible for the physical attacks on civil rights protestors. The Alabama plaintiff brought the case in state court, where with his luck it was assigned to a judge known to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The New York Times would like to remove the case to federal court, fearing that the state court judge would be hostile to the Northern newspaper agitating for civil rights. An important fact to consider too is that a year before the plaintiff filed the case, the Supreme Court found that in defamation claims involving public officials and alleged falsehoods about their public duties, the First Amendment requires that the plaintiff proves the defendant published the falsehoods with “actual malice,” that is, knowing they were false or reckless to their truth or falsity.
Let’s discuss whether the New York Times can remove the case to the federal court and whether it should be permitted to do so given the rationale underlying subject matter jurisdiction. What is the rationale behind diversity jurisdiction? How does it fit here? Would the constitution permit removal and what about Section 1332? What are other roadblocks to removal under diversity jurisdiction? What about federal question jurisdiction analysis? There is much to think about with the well-pleaded complaint rule and the Grable analysis.
 As a factual matter, I am riffing from the famous New York Times v. Sullivan case and borrowing the substantive findings about the First Amendment from the case; I take the idea for this hypo from Professor Howard Wasserman, “A Jurisdictional Perspective on New York Times v. Sullivan,” volume 107, Northwestern Law Review, page 901 (2013).