A party in case before the Texas Supreme Court grew so frustrated by waiting for an opinion almost three years after oral argument that it sued the justices in federal court, alleging due process violations. Coincidentally (or not) the Supreme Court issued an opinion eight days later.
The court heard oral arguments in Southwestern Bell Tel. Co. v. Marketing on Hold, Inc. in March, 2007. The case was an interlocutory appeal of a class certification order entered in litigation challenging Southwestern Bell’s right to charge certain municipal fees. The issues on appeal centered on whether Marketing on Hold, a phone bill auditing firm that had an taken assignment of rights as part of its fee to its business customers had standing in the case and whether it constituted an "adequate" class representative.
The parties had heard nothing further from the case by February, 2010. Marketing on Hold took the unusual step of of suing the justices of the Texas Supreme Court in a federal district court in Austin. It argued that the lengthy delay in rendering a decision would cause documentary evidence to be lost and the memory of witnesses to fade, thereby violating its federal due process rights. The case sought only declaratory relief.
Only eight days after the suit was filed the Supreme Court issued its opinion in the case, No. 05-0748, February 19, 2010. The court held that the assignment of rights was valid and conferred standing on Marketing On Hold. Nevertheless, because Marketing On Hold had only a fractional interest in the claim by virtue of its assignment, it had an incentive to settle for less consideration and to minimize its own expenses. It was not, therefore, an adequate class representative. The certification order was reversed. The case divided the court, 5-3.
The frustration of litigants involved in seemingly interminable proceedings is understandable. The tactic of suing an appellate court to force an opinion is both extreme and likely to be ineffective. Not only is a federal district court extremely unlikely to intervene in the internal procedures of a state appellate court, the suit is apt to make a bad impression on the appellate court justices. As Marketing On Hold learned, "be careful what you wish for…"