You might have seen this making the rounds last week: the Seventh Circuit just stone cold lost a case…FOR FIVE YEARS.
A once-closely followed dispute that got a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court, the conflict involves the ability of investors to sue mutual-fund firms over the fees they charge.
It was in 2010 when the U.S. Supreme Court asked a panel of judges on the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago to take another look at claims made by a group of investors against Harris Associates. The justices instructed the lower-court judges to apply a different standard for judging if fees are excessive.
After the parties filed position papers with the appeals court that year, the lawyers waited to hear back from the judges. And they waited and waited.
“After a couple of years, it seemed odd to us,” said James C. Bradley, the attorney representing the plaintiffs. “We didn’t know what was causing the delay.”
He said he would periodically check in with the clerk of the Seventh Circuit about the status. “I asked if it had fallen through the cracks and was told no, it hadn’t.”
How on earth does that even happen? I mean, sure, things might go on a walkabout for a day or a week, particularly if your clerk goes on vacation, but FIVE YEARS?? Also, you’d kind of hope that the fact that the Supremes were the ones that asked you to look into it would, you know, make you REMEMBER WHERE THE CASE WAS. And the whole part about telling the lawyer it hadn’t fallen through the cracks? THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED IT FELL THROUGH THE CRACKS.
Also, clearly things are different in the biggest of BigLaw, because the radio silence didn’t seem odd until “a couple of years” had passed? What?? What on earth do you tell your client? Do you keep billing them and just hope for the best? Do you just keep scheduling settlement talks so that they feel like things are moving along?
This thing languished in the Seventh so long that one of the original judges actually died while everyone else was waiting around. The remaining two – Easternbrook and Kanne – wrote an apology…of sorts.
“[P]apers were placed in the wrong stack and forgotten,” the opinion said. “The court’s internal system for tracking cases under advisement does not include remands from the Supreme Court, so the normal process of alerts and ticklers failed. We will see to it that this is fixed. That may be small comfort to these litigants and their lawyers, but at least some good will come from the delay.”
Yeah, I’m sure that getting it fixed going forward is a HUGE consolation to the parties left hanging for five years.
They should have let Posner write the apology. You know it would have been way better.
[Post image via Shutterstock]