[UPDATE: The Volokh Conspiracy, Concurring Opinions and TechDirt picked up on the case and this post as well. Volokh has substantial discussion in the comments, including links to law review articles on the issues of vacated and unpublished opinions, and a comment by the author of The Legal Intelligencer article, Shannon Duffy, noting that you can find the opinions themselves on the Eastern District of Pennsylvania’s own website. I have also edited a line (the one quoted by Co-Op) for clarity.]
The Legal Intelligencer reports:
Ordinarily, the decision to settle a case while an appeal is pending means giving up the opportunity to set a legal precedent as well as forgoing the chance to win a reversal of any unfavorable published decisions handed down by the lower court.
But a team of defense lawyers fighting to overturn a $24 million verdict have figured out a way to have their settlement cake and eat their jurisprudence, too.
The confidential settlement in Klein v. Amtrak — a case in which two trespassing teenagers climbed atop a parked train car and suffered serious burns when they got too close to a 12,000-volt catenary wire — included an unusual provision that called for the trial judge to vacate all of his published opinions and have them removed from Lexis and Westlaw.
And it worked.
A few months after holding an hourlong oral argument, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed in late July to remand the case to the trial judge, U.S. District Judge Lawrence F. Stengel, who, in turn, agreed to vacate eight of his published opinions and to "direct" Lexis and Westlaw to remove them from their databases.
Exactly how the lawyers went about persuading Stengel to take such an unusual step is impossible to say because all of the court papers are under seal and none of the lawyers will talk about it.
The verdict drew a lot of attention in the Philadelphia legal community, not least because of the size and the names of the defendants, most of whom often avoid premises liability on a variety of theories. It’s no surprise the defendants want to re-write history to prevent future plaintiffs from finding or referring to the case.
As a citizen, I am a strong believer in open government and governmental accountability, including for the judiciary. As a lawyer, I do not believe a court can ever truly "unpublish" a decision, and I believe that law is made every time a court decides any issue.
As such, I am linking to the free and publicly-available RECAP copies of the "vacated" opinions:
(a) the District Court’s March 31, 2008 Memorandum Order denying Defendants’ post-trial motions [reported at 2008 WL 879968 and 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25990] (District Court Docket No. 208).
(b) the District Court’s October 11, 2006 Memorandum Order denying Defendants’ in limine motion regarding evidence of prior electrical contacts [reported at 2006 WL 2927280 and 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 73940] (District Court Docket No. 130).
(c) the District Court’s October 12, 2006. Memorandum Order denying Defendants’ in limine motion regarding evidence of prior electrical contacts [reported at 2006 WL 3000955 and 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 75942] (District Court Docket No. 145).
(d) the District Court’s March 31, 2006 Memorandum Order denying Defendants’ summary judgment motion [reported at 2006. WL 859442 and 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15331] (District Court Docket No. 58).
(e) the District Court’s Memorandum Order, entered August 17, 2006, denying Amtrak’s motion to certify pursuant to 28 USC 1292(b) [reported at 2006 WL 2385516 and 2006 U.s. Dist. LEXIS 57613] (District Court Docket No. 72).
(f) the District Court’s October 2, 2006 Memorandum Order granting Plaintiffs’ motion for reconsideration of the District Court’s order of July 13,2006 with respect to Norfolk Southern’s liability as a non-possessor of land [reported at 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 80992; not reported in Westlaw] . (District Court Docket No. 111).
(g) the District Court’s October 2,2006 Order denying Defendants’ in limine motion regarding Amtrak’s internal memorandum dated November 17, 1983 and Amtrak’s June 20, 1984 letter [This Order is not reported in LexisNexis or Westlaw] (District Court Docket No. 119).
(h) the District Court’s October 10, 2006 Memorandum Order denying Defendants’ in limine motion regarding evidence of prior electrical contacts for the purpose of proving ·punitive damages [This Order is not reported in LexisNexis or Westlaw] (District Court Docket No. 129).
Law, once made, cannot be unmade.