Pennsylvania Intermediate Appellate Court Abolishes Common-law Marriage

Following guidance in dicta from the state’s highest court, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court announced in PNC Bank Corp. v. Workers’ Comp. Appeal Bd., 831 A.2d 1269 (Sept. 17, 2003), that the concept of common-law marriage no longer would be recognized. That decision will only apply prospectively, and affects only matters heard in the Commonwealth Court, a special intermediate appellate court that hears cases brought against and by the Commonwealth. Three of the seven judges concurred solely in the judgment, two of whom joined in a scathing dissent accusing the majority of usurping the function of the legislature and acting without authority. Eleven other states continue to recognize common law marriage.


District Court May Not Dismiss With Prejudice If Applying Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

The Rooker-Feldman doctrine holds that a federal district court lacks jurisdiction over any case where the issues presented are inextricably intertwined with questions that a state court already has adjudicated, such that it might have to revisit the state court’s decisions. In Mills v. Harmon Law Offices, P.C., 344 F.3d 42 (1st Cir. Sept. 12, 2003), the district court found that Rooker-Feldman applied to a removed case, but also found pleading deficiencies and dismissed the case with prejudice. By dismissing under Rooker-Feldman, the court necessarily found that no federal jurisdiction existed, and therefore it was error to dismiss with prejudice — a form of dismissal on the merits that would have precluded refilling in state court — rather than to remand to state court under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).


Action to Compel Arbitration Satisfied Diversity Jurisdiction Amount

Sometimes it can be difficult to determine whether a plaintiff has presented a diversity case alleging an amount in controversy exceeding the federal minimum of $75,000. In an action to compel arbitration, for example, the relief sought from the district court is not a damage award. In Woodmen of the World Life Ins. Society v. Manganaro, 342 F.3d 1213 (10th Cir. Sept. 9, 2003), the Tenth Circuit adopted the technique of several other circuits that “look through to the possible award resulting from the desired arbitration.” Here, although the policyholders claimed that only $13,000 was at stake, they also demanded a mass mailing costing over $75,000 plus attorney’s fees and punitive damages that could not be considered unattainable “to a legal certainty.”


Offer of Judgment Did Not Include Attorney’s Fees Where Plaintiff Was Not Prevailing Party Under State Law

In Marek v. Chesny, 473 U.S. 1 (1985), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the amount of an offer of judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 68 implicitly included attorney’s fees where plaintiff’s claims were brought under a federal statute entitling a prevailing plaintiff to fees. When the plaintiff prevailed but the verdict did not exceed the offer, plaintiff received no fee award. In Champion Produce, Inc. v. Ruby Robinson Co., Inc., 342 F.3d 1016 (9th Cir. Sept. 8, 2003), an analogous situation under state law produced a similar result. The court held that Rule 68 “does not permit an award of post-offer attorneys’ fees when the underlying state statute authorizes an award of attorneys’ fees to a prevailing party as part of costs, but when the party seeking attorneys’ fees under the rule is not a prevailing party within the meaning of that statute.”


No Appeal of District Court’s Refusal to Allow Appeal of Bankruptcy Court Injunction

When a bankruptcy court enters certain interlocutory orders, the aggrieved party may seek an appeal from the district court under 28 U.S.C. § 158(a)(3), but the district court has discretion to decline such an appeal. Under Connecticut Nat’l Bank v. Germain, 503 U.S. 249 (1992), if the court accepts the appeal and enters a ruling, a further appeal may be taken to the circuit court of appeals under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. However, as the Second Circuit recently held in In re Kassover (Gibson v. Kassover), 343 F.3d 91 (2d Cir. Sept. 5, 2003), a denial of leave to appeal is not a decision on the merits and is not among the types of interlocutory decisions listed as appealable in § 1291.