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American Litigation

Presentation to Legal English
by

Radim Mlčák

on 12 May 2011

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Transcript of American Litigation

American Litigation by Kristina Kubačková and Radim Mlčák American court system State court system

Federal court system Every state has own civil procedure code or rules except Delaware, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Washington. Federal rules of civil procedure govern procedure in district courts
c. 86 rules
established in 1938
last revision in 2010 Action is commenced by a filling and complaint with the court (Rule 3) Litigation State system of civil procedure Federal system of civil procedure Action (formal content) Jury Judgement Class action (Rule 23) court and parties name
be directed to the defendant
name and address plaintiff's attorney or plaintiff
enlightenment about default judgement
be signed by clerk
bear the court's seal particular actions can be impractical
there are questions of law or fact common for the class
claims or defenses of representatives parties must be typical of the claims or defenses of the class
representative parties must adequately protect the interests of the class right to trial by jury (7th Amendment US constitution) -> party can demand jury right to select jury examining jury
peremptory challenges
excusing a juror at least 6 jurors, no more than 12 verdict must be unanimous (parties can stipulate otherwise ) Handout Rule 55 (a)
ENTERING A DEFAULT. When a party against whom a judg- ment for affirmative relief is sought has failed to plead or other- wise defend, and that failure is shown by affidavit or otherwise, the clerk must enter the party’s default. Rule 55 (a)
ENTERING A _______. When a party against whom a _______ for affirmative relief is sought has failed to _____ or otherwise _____, and that failure is shown by affidavit or otherwise, the clerk must enter the party’s ______. Rule 48
A ____ must initially have at least 6 and no more than 12 members, and each ____ must participate in the ____ unless excused under Rule 47(c). Unless the parties ______ otherwise, the verdict must be _________ and be returned by a jury of at least 6 members. Rule 48
A jury must initially have at least 6 and no more than 12 mem- bers, and each juror must participate in the verdict unless excused under Rule 47(c). Unless the parties stipulate otherwise, the ver- dict must be unanimous and be returned by a jury of at least 6 members. Civil law case SNYDER v. PHELPS (2006)
Parties PLAINTIFF DEFENDANTS
Albert Snyder
Fred W. Phelps, Sr.
Westboro Baptist Church, Inc.
Later were addedShirleyL. Phelps-Roper
and Rebekah A. Phelps-Davis
Background of the case On the 3rd March 2006, 20-years old Marine Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder was killed in Iraq in the line of duty.
His father Albert Snyder and his family planned a traditional funeral, which held on 10th March 2006, at St. John´s Catholic Church, in Westminster, Maryland. Rev. Fred Phelps, his daughters Phelps-Roper and Phelps-Davis, and four of his grandchildren arrived in Westminster to picket Matthew Snyder’s funeral in order to publicize their message of God’s hatred of America for its tolerance of homosexuality.
They stay about 1000 feet from the church, carrying signs with messages such as „God hates fags“, „America is doomed“ and „thank God for dead soldiers“ and they shouted similar words too. The Westboro Baptist Church (founded in 1955 by Fred Phelps) bases its work around the belief that God hates homosexuality and that he punishes America for tolerating it, particularly in the United States military.
Members picket military funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan to spread the message, that the soldiers are dying because the America is tolerant of homosexuality.

Several weeks after the funeral, the members of this church published an „epic“ on their website entitled „The Burden of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder“, containing some false and outrageous statements.
Snyder alleges that the defendant church and its members wrongfully intruded upon his son’s funeral and defamed him on the defendant’s webpage  physical and emotional damage.
Therefore… Snyder filed a suit in the District Court of Maryland raising these five tort claims:
I. Defamation
II. Intrusion upon seclusion
III. Publicity given to private life
IV. Intentional infliction of emotional distress
V. Civil conspiracy Move for summary judgement The Defendants moved for summary judgement on all of these claims, contending that their words are „clearly rhetorical, hypothetical, religious and laced with opinion“ -> they are not actionable.
The district court awarded summary judgement on the defamation claim (the Defendants’ speech was „religious opinion“ and „would not realistically tend to expose Snyder to public hatred or scorn.“)
Publicity given to private life claim was also dismissed (the Defendants had not made public any private information, instead those from a newspaper obituary).
Snyder´s testimony He described the severity of his emotional injury - he is often tearful, angry, unable to separate thoughts of his son from the Defendants’ actions.

He also testified as to the permanency of the emotional injury.

He called his treating physician and psychologist as expert witnesses to testify concerning the injuries the Defendants had caused him – worsening of his diabetes, depression.


First Amendment protection? „Congress shall make no law … prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]; or abridging the freedom of speech.“

Even unpopular, hateful speech may be protected. BUT „When speech gives rise to civil tort liability, the level of First Amendment protection varies depending on the nature and subject matter of the speech.“
Matters of private and public concern.

„…the First Amendment interest in protecting particular types of speech must be balanced against a state’s interest in protecting its residents from wrongful injury.“
The jury should have balanced the Defendants’ expression of religious belief with the citizen’s right to privacy, right to be free from intentional, reckless, or extreme and outrageous conduct causing severe emotional distress.


The verdict On the 31st October 2007, the jury ruled in favour of A. Snyder and awarded him:
$2.9 million in compensatory damages and
$8 million in punitive damages

The Defendants moved for a remittitur, because they found the verdict grossly excessive.

The district court upheld the compensatory damages award but remitted the punitive damages award to $2.1 million  reduced the verdict to $5 million in total. a) A judge’s order reducing a judgement awarded by a jury when it exceeds the amount asked for by the plaintiff.

b) A court order ruling that no factual issues remain to be tried therefore a cause of action or all causes of action in a complaint can be decided upon certain facts without trial.

c) Publicity given to private facts, which would be highly offensive to a reasonable person and is not of legitimate concern to the public.

d) The act of making untrue statements about another which damages his/her reputation.

e) An agreement between two or more parties to deprive a third party of legal rights or deceive a third party to obtain an illegal objective.

f) Intentional invasion of the private space, solitude, or seclusion of a person, or the private affairs or concerns of a person.

g) Intentional conduct that results in extreme emotional distress. 1.Summary judgement


2. Civil conspiracy



3. Defamation


4.Intentional infliction of
emotional distress

5. Intrusion upon seclusion


6. Remittitur


7.Publicity given to private life b) A court order ruling that no factual issues remain to be tried therefore a cause of action or all causes of action in a complaint can be decided upon certain facts without trial.

e) An agreement between two or more parties to deprive a third party of legal rights or deceive a third party to obtain an illegal objective.

d) The act of making untrue statements about another which damages his/her reputation.


g) Intentional conduct that results in extreme emotional distress.

f) Intentional invasion of the private space, solitude, or seclusion of a person, or the private affairs or concerns of a person.

a) A judge’s order reducing a judgement awarded by a jury when it exceeds the amount asked for by the plaintiff.

c) Publicity given to private facts, which would be highly offensive to a reasonable person and is not of legitimate concern to the public. 1.Summary judgement


2. Civil conspiracy



3. Defamation


4.Intentional infliction of
emotional distress

5. Intrusion upon seclusion


6. Remittitur


7.Publicity given to private life 1-b | 2-e | 3-d | 4-g | 5-f | 6-a | 7-c Discovery Document requests (Rule 26) Interrogatories (Rule 33) Requests for admissions (Rule 36) Depositions (Rule 30-32) formal set of written questions
limited to 25 questions per side
must by answered by another party
30 days to answer formal set of written requests for admision
the answer is admited or denied
or reasons why party cannot answer truthfully admit or deny
30 days to answer out-of-court testimony
limited to 10 deposition per side
ahead of court reporter Default judgement
when defendant failed to respond to complaint
Summary judgement
without trial, when there's no dispute about questions of fact
Declaratory judgement
establishes rights, duties or obligations of party without providing for or ordering enforcement
Full transcript