The opinion of the court was delivered by: HARRIS
This case now is before this Court on remand from the Court of Appeals. It has acquired importance beyond its own merits, in that it presents a significant difference between the beliefs of a panel of the appellate court and this Court as to one aspect of how a civil case properly proceeds through the Article III court system. The undersigned respectfully believes that a panel of the Court of Appeals has acted in a manner that is contrary to the federal rules, and feels that the issue presented by that action should be discussed for the benefit of civil litigants and the future functioning of both courts.
The Background of the Case1
On April 17, 1991, the undersigned decided this case. In what was then, and still is, firmly believed to be fully authorized by Rule 52(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, an Order was released that stated:
This matter is before the Court on defendant's motion for summary judgment. Upon consideration of the motion, plaintiff's opposition thereto, and the entire record herein, the Court concludes that plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that there is a genuine issue of fact for trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a). Accordingly, it hereby is
ORDERED, that defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted, and the case is dismissed. [Fairhead v. Deleuw, Cather & Co., No. 89-970 (D.D.C. filed Apr. 17, 1991).]
Plaintiff appealed that ruling. In briefing the case, while acknowledging the existence of Rule 52(a), plaintiff did, as part of his argument, complain that this Court had not written an opinion. On April 2, 1992, nearly a year after this Court had decided the case, the Court of Appeals remanded it. That court's Order stated in part:
Absent a statement of reasons from the district court explaining its summary judgment ruling, this court is unable to resolve this appeal. It is
FURTHER ORDERED, that the district court, within thirty days of the date of this order, enter findings of fact and conclusions of Jaw with regard to its April 17, 1991 order granting defendant's motion for summary judgment. [Fairhead v. Deleuw, Cather & Co., No. 91-7079 (D.C. Cir. filed Apr. 2, 1992).]
That Order was puzzling to the undersigned in several respects. First, if the undersigned, with the assistance of a law clerk, was "able" to decide the case, it is unclear why three experienced appellate judges, with their extensive law clerk and Staff Counsel's Office support resources, were "unable" to decide it, having not only the complete record which had been before this Court but also the addition of three appellate briefs. Second, Rule 52(a) specifically provides, without exception, that "findings of fact and conclusions of law are unnecessary on decisions of [summary judgment] motions. . . ." Fed. R. Civ. P. 52(a). Third, given the undersigned's overwhelming caseload and the passage of time, one result of which was that the law clerk who originally had analyzed the entire case had long since completed her clerkship (requiring a new law clerk to repeat the same work), it was extraordinary that three Article III judges would order another Article III judge to produce "findings of fact and conclusions of law" within 30 days.
The undersigned would have liked to convey these concerns informally, judge to judge. However, the undersigned believes that this court should not communicate with the Court of Appeals on a pending appeal without making such communication known to the parties. Accordingly, when the undersigned wrote a letter dated May 5, 1992, to the members of the panel of the Court of Appeals, it was deemed necessary to serve the parties and make that letter a matter of record.
It is ORDERED, on the court's own motion, that its order issued April 2, 1992, be vacated. It is
FURTHER ORDERED, on the court's own motion, that the record in this case be remanded to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for a statement of reasons explaining its summary judgment ruling. The district court shall return the record to this court, with a statement of its reasons, as expeditiously as its docket permits. [Fairhead v. Deleuw, Cather & Co., No. 91-7079 (D.C. Cir. filed May 8, 1992).]
Plaintiff's able counsel, whose extensive practice before the District Court surely has made him aware of the demands upon the time of its judges, then obviously realized that the remand was likely to result in extensive further delay. On May 12, 1992, he filed with the Court of Appeals a Motion for Oral Argument. It stated in pertinent part:
Moreover, permitting the parties to present oral argument of this appeal will assist this Court in clarifying the reasons for the District Court's summary judgment Order of April 17, 1991 and it will make it unnecessary for the District Court to take time from its busy docket to again analyze the multiple facts presented by this case in order to comply with this Court's Order of May 5, 1992.
In addition, while appellant recognizes that he argued in his brief that the District Court should be required to explain the reasons for granting summary judgment in this case, appellant believes that his interests will best be served in this appeal and the dictates of justice will be equally met if this Court permits the parties to present oral argument at the earliest available opportunity in order that this Court can determine if written Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law from the District Court are indeed necessary for the disposition of this appeal.
Put simply, counsel thus asked the panel to decide the case on the existing record, which clearly is contemplated by the relevant language of Rule 52(a). The Court of Appeals was unpersuaded, and seemingly adhered to its position that it was "unable" to decide the appeal without forcing this Court to write an opinion. On June 15, 1992, the Court of Appeals issued an Order which stated in part:
Upon consideration of the motion for oral argument, it is
ORDERED that the motion be denied without prejudice. This court will not proceed with consideration of this appeal until the district court completes the proceedings on remand. [Fairhead v. Deleuw, Cather & Co., No. 91-7079 (D.C. Cir. filed June 15, 1992).]
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
All "inferior Courts" created under Article III of the Constitution are ones of limited jurisdiction; essentially their powers are those which are conferred upon them by Congress. All Article III courts are bound by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Those rules have the effect of law, and it is respectfully submitted that United States Circuit Judges are as obliged to follow them as United States District Judges are entitled to rely upon them.
There is nothing mysterious about what trial judges are, and are not, required to do with respect to findings and conclusions in civil cases. For example, Rule 65(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides in pertinent part:
(d) Form and Scope of Injunction or Restraining Order. Every order granting an injunction and every restraining order shall set forth the reasons for its issuance; shall be specific in terms; shall describe in reasonable detail, and not by reference to the complaint or other document, the act or acts sought to be restrained, . . . . [Fed. R. Civ. P. 65(d).]
Nor is there anything obscure as to the reasons for the rule. First, the standard of renew on appeal of summary judgment decisions is de novo. Second, it is axiomatic that a trial judge may be "right" for the "wrong" reason. See, e.g., Helvering v. Gowran, 302 U.S. 238, 58 S. Ct. 154, 158, 82 L. Ed. 224 (1937). Thus, although trial judges seriously consider such motions, the quality or content of their analysis of the issues is immaterial to appellate review of the ultimate decision reached.