Munger, Tolles & Olson Named to NLJ’s Appellate Hot List

Recognized for its high-profile appellate wins, Munger, Tolles & Olson was named to The National Law Journal’s Appellate Hot List on Oct. 26, 2018. The firm’s appellate lawyers, who practice across all offices, scored victories in a number of closely watched cases spanning across industries, practices and jurisdictions. Significant recent results including representing:

  • American Express before the U.S. Supreme Court in prevailing in a lawsuit brought by 17 states and the U.S. Department of Justice alleging that the credit card company’s merchant contracts were anti-competitive. Our lawyers joined the case when AmEx lost at the trial court. After succeeding at the Second Circuit in overturning the ruling for the plaintiffs, our appellate team then convinced the High Court to affirm, 5-4, holding that “Amex’s anti-steering provisions do not unreasonably restrain trade.”
  • Bank of America in achieving a major victory in the Second Circuit defending claims brought by the National Credit Union Administration that the bank failed to fulfill its duty as trustee in dozens of residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) trusts. The appellate panel affirmed the district court’s determination that the plaintiffs lacked standing.
  • CompPartners, a workers’ compensation services provider, in winning a closely watched case before the California Supreme Court with major implications for the state’s workers’ compensation system. Fighting a claim that sought to give individuals the right to go outside of the workers’ compensation legal system to obtain tort relief, our lawyers succeeded in overturning a lower state appellate court ruling that a plaintiff could pursue tort claims. The state’s highest court concluded: “the workers’ compensation law provides the exclusive remedy for the employee’s injuries and thus preempts the employee’s tort claims.”
  • FX Networks and Pacific 2.1 Entertainment Group in winning an appeal that resulted in the dismissal of actress Olivia de Havilland’s lawsuit alleging breach of the right of publicity and false-light claims based on the FX docudrama “Feud: Bette and Joan.” The defendants turned to our lawyers for an appeal a trial court denied an anti-SLAPP motion, seeking to dismiss the case based on their First Amendment right to free speech. A three-judge panel in the California Court of Appeal held that “Feud’s” depiction of Ms. de Havilland was protected speech, reversing the trial court’s decision and awarding defendants’ their costs and attorneys’ fees.
  • Norton Simon Museum in prevailing in an ownership dispute of two works painted in the 16th century that had been winding its way through courts for more than a decade. Our lawyers succeeded in convincing the Ninth Circuit to affirm a summary judgment dismissing claims to recover two paintings that were subject to Nazi-coerced sales during World War II but which were also subject to bona fide restitution processes conducted by the post-war Dutch government. The 2016 trial court ruling came after a decade of litigation. The plaintiff received nothing on her claims for restitution of the works and nearly $450 million in damages.
  • Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) in winning an affirmation from the D.C. Circuit in a sensitive and closely watched case involving the First Amendment and religious freedom. The underlying case was brought against the transit agency by the Archdiocese of Washington challenging WMATA’s commercial advertising guidelines, which banned issue-oriented ads. The appellate panel rejected the Archdiocese’s arguments that WMATA’s rule violated the First Amendment and Religious Freedom Restoration Act and agreed with WMATA that it has the authority to prohibit religious and advocacy ads under the U.S. Supreme Court’s First Amendment forum doctrine.

On behalf of pro bono clients, our appellate lawyers also obtained several significant results including:

  • Achieving a victory in a merits case before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of James McWilliams, an Alabama death row inmate. Mr. McWilliams, who was convicted of capital murder in 1986, argued that he had been sentenced to death without the expert mental health assistance required by the Supreme Court’s 1985 decision in Ake v. Oklahoma. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Mr. McWilliams.
  • Successfully arguing before the High Court that criminal defendants in Colorado had their Constitutional due process rights violated by a state policy to not refund financial penalties paid by criminal defendants who had their convictions overturned and were then compelled to establish innocence in a separate civil proceeding in order to receive a refund.
  • Obtaining a complete appellate victory impacting all 16 million California renters when, for the first time in a published opinion, a panel held tenants have a right to trial by jury of the habitability defense to an eviction action.

The firm’s appellate practitioners maintain an active amicus practice as well, weighing in on some of the most significant cases to this day, including South Dakota v. Wayfair, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, Whole Woman’s Health v. Paxton and Nielsen v. Preap.

Discussing the firm’s approach to the practice, Munger, Tolles & Olson attorney and former Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. told the publication that: “We are committed to excellence in lawyering, adherence to the norms and obligations of the profession, and mutual respect as colleagues.”

More information about the firm’s appellate practice can be found here.