Friday, February 25, 2011

A small kerfuffle between Judge Vinson and the Eleventh Circuit

As you may have now seen, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (per Judge Black and Judge Wilson) issued this order to Judge Vinson, correcting an action Judge Vinson had taken last week. Specifically, shortly after Judge Vinson handed down his decision in Florida v. HHS declaring the ACA unconstitutional, a non-party (one Robert P. Smith, Jr.) filed a notice of appeal with the district court. On February 2, Judge Vinson issued this order, effectively dismissing the appeal on the ground that there was no legal basis on which a non-party like Smith could appeal the decision.

As the Eleventh Circuit explained in its order yesterday, a federal district court lacks the authority to dismiss an appeal. Rather, it is required to take the ministerial step of forwarding the notice of appeal to the circuit court, which then has the jurisdiction to dismiss it if it lacks any legal basis.

Some are already making a bit of a deal out of this. But we should keep a few things in mind: (1) it has to be extraordinarily unusual for a non-party to seek to appeal a district court's decision, so Judge Vinson's unfamiliarity with this rule is entirely understandable; (2) his substantive conclusion that a non-party has no right to appeal the decision is clearly correct; and (3) the Eleventh Circuit's order is not obviously some "warning shot across the bow," as it had little choice but to issue some sort of public, corrective order once Smith asked for one. It is not as if they could have just discreetly called Judge Vinson on the phone and handled it that way.