Friday, August 21, 2015

The US1 apocalypse starts Monday

Enjoy your last day today.

Okay, okay, you want some law.  There's been a lot of internet research and cites coming out of this District and the 11th Circuit recently.  Apparently, the 7th Circuit judges got into a tiff about it in Rowe v. Gibson (via Above The Law):

Jeffrey Allen Rowe, a prison inmate proceeding pro se, is suing various prison officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Rowe accuses the officials of deliberate indifference to his serious medical need, specifically, need for proper treatment of his reflux esophagitis aka gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Judge Posner’s majority opinion, joined by Judge Ilana Diamond Rovner, cites such internet authorities as the NIH, the Mayo Clinic, WebMD, and Wikipedia in the course of analyzing Rowe’s medical claims. Judge Hamilton’s opinion, concurring in part and dissenting in part, castigates the majority for its extra-record adventures. Let’s start with Judge Hamilton (emphasis added):
I must dissent, however, from the reversal of summary judgment on Rowe’s claim regarding the timing for administering his medicine between January and July 2011 and after August 2011. On that claim, the reversal is unprecedented, clearly based on “evidence” this appellate court has found by its own internet research. The majority has pieced together information found on several medical websites that seems to contradict the only expert evidence actually in the summary judgment record.
Gotta love Judge Hamilton’s use of scare quotes around “evidence.”
Judge Posner’s opinion defends the use of outside research because pro se prisoners like Rowe don’t have easy access to expensive expert witnesses to support their claims, arguing that “[i]t is heartless to make a fetish of adversary procedure if by doing so feeble evidence is credited because the opponent has no practical access to offsetting evidence.” (By the way, Judge Posner seems quite fond of the h-word these days; remember his calling Chief Justice Roberts’s gay-marriage dissent “heartless.”) Judge Hamilton’s opinion doesn’t buy it:
The majority writes that adherence to rules of evidence and precedent makes a “heartless … fetish of adversary procedure.” Yet the majority’s decision is an unprecedented departure from the proper role of an appellate court. It runs contrary to long-established law and raises a host of practical problems the majority fails to address.
After acknowledging the existence of a debate on the subject of factual research by judges, Judge Hamilton writes this (emphasis added):
Using independent factual research to find a genuine issue of material, adjudicative fact, and thus to decide an appeal, falls outside permissible boundaries. Appellate courts simply do not have a warrant to decide cases based on their own research on adjudicative facts. This case will become Exhibit A in the debate. It provides, despite the majority’s disclaimers, a nearly pristine example of an appellate court basing a decision on its own factual research.
Ouch. Translation: “Judge Posner, you are now the poster child for irresponsible judicial fact-finding.”
Later on in the opinion, Judge Hamilton refers snarkily to “[l]aw-office or judicial-chambers medicine,” arguing as follows about the web:
Law-office or judicial-chambers medicine is surely an even less reliable venture. The internet is an extraordinary resource, but it cannot turn judges into competent substitutes for experts or scholars such as historians, engineers, chemists, psychologists, or physicians. The majority’s instruction to the contrary will cause problems in our judicial system more serious than those it is trying to solve in this case.
In other words, to use a health-care metaphor, the medicine here is worse than the disease.


Anonymous said...

Query: What US1 apocalypse are you referring to?

David Oscar Markus said...

School starts!

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I guess one judge's reference material is another judge's judicial fact-finding.

non-lawyer said...

Is the search for justice, or legal nit-picking, in this pro se, section 1983 case? Someone should be doing fact-finding, nice job Judge Posner.

Anonymous said...

Posner rocks! Perhaps the best non-Supreme Court jurist. (And, let's be honest, he's better than at least some of the Justices.)