CATHOUSE: Relations between the two state appellate courts housed here have become increasingly catty in disputes over workload.
The Arkansas Supreme Court
stuck a knife in the Arkansas Court of Appeals
today in what looks like nothing so much as payback for Court of Appeals snark about an earlier decision dumping review of prisoner post-conviction appeals on the Court of Appeals.
Today, the Supreme Court ordered the Court of Appeals to give a full analysis of an appeal by Brookshire Grocery of an award of workers compensation to a security guard injured while trying to stop a shoplifter.
The Court of Appeals had issued only a "memorandum opinion." It said the Workers Compensation Commission had adequately explained its decision and, in keeping with long-standing policy in such cases, affirmed it without further analysis.
The Supreme Court was having none of that. In an unsigned per curiam
opinion, the Supreme Court said:
We decline to consider appellant’s petition without the issue first being analyzed by a court of law. The court of appeals’ opinion provides no meaningful analysis. We therefore vacate the court of appeals’ opinion and remand this case to the court of appeals to properly analyze this case.
When the court of appeals handed down its per curiam [aboutr memorandum opinions in 1985], the court of appeals was just six years old and consisted of only six judges. The court faced a large backlog of cases, and as a means of managing a crushing workload, it promulgated its memorandum-opinion policy.
Since that time, however, the legislature doubled the number of judges on the court of appeals. Moreover, while the court of appeals averaged 869 cases per year disposed of by written opinion during the years 2001-2009, in 2016 it handed down only 570 written opinions. Accordingly, the rationale for handing down memorandum opinions no longer exists. We therefore overrule [the 1985 opinion]. Henceforth, all briefed cases submitted to the court of appeals must be disposed of by full, written majority opinions.
The Court of Appeals memorandum opinion complied with Supreme Court rules, by the way. But in the opinion today, the Supreme Court also changed that rule to prohibit memorandum opinions.
Background: The Court of Appeals griped about the dumping
of post-conviction relief petitions by means of a footnote in an opinion and also noted that the Supreme Court had a staff of lawyers to handle the cases. That, in turn, prompted a news release from the Supreme Court remonstrating
the Court of Appeals. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Rita Gruber
also was called for a wood-shedding in an ambush meeting with the full Supreme Court.
Further background: The Supreme Court hates that it only makes about $5,000 a year more per justice than the Court of Appeals and has asked for an 11 percent pay raise (
despite already ranking 29th in the country) while recommending only 2 percent for the Court of Appeals.
Here's today's opinion.
PS: An anonymous legal researcher has sent me data that shows the Supreme Court justices
— Rhonda Wood, Courtney Goodson, Robin Wynne, Jo Hart and Karen Baker — who served on the Court of Appeals post-expansion had all written or sat on panels that issued memorandum opinions. Lots of them.