Proskauer recently prevailed at the Second Circuit on behalf of our incarcerated pro bono client, James Thomas, in an appeal that determined that Mr. Thomas was not provided adequate notice before the district court entered summary judgment against him. Proceeding pro se, Mr. Thomas brought claims for civil rights violations under the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments against prison officials related to multiple searches. Defendants moved for summary judgment and provided Mr. Thomas with a short and plain statement providing an overview of summary judgment procedure. Under the district court’s local rules, however, represented parties moving for summary judgment against pro se litigants must also provide the full text of the applicable rules governing summary judgment procedure to ensure adequate understanding of the complicated nature and serious consequences of the motion. Despite this requirement, the district court excused defendants’ failure to provide documentation of the rules because, in its view, the plain statement they provided sufficiently advised Mr. Thomas of his obligation to submit evidence in opposition to summary judgment. The district court then entered summary judgment against Mr. Thomas, in part because he failed to adduce evidence specifically controverting defendants’ factual assertions, as the rules require.

The Second Circuit vacated the entry of summary judgment against Mr. Thomas and remanded the case for further proceedings. Emphasizing that “proper notice” requires both a plain statement of summary-judgment procedure and copies of the rules, the Court held that the district court erred in deeming the inadequate notice harmless. The Court explained that, even in cases where copies of the rules have been omitted from the required notice, the error is harmless only if the pro se litigant has demonstrated an independent, “clear understanding” of how summary judgment works. The Court found it undisputed that Mr. Thomas lacked such an understanding, given his failure to file any evidence in opposition. The case will now return to the district court, where Mr. Thomas will have a second chance at offering evidence sufficient to withstand summary judgment.

The Second Circuit decision can be found here.

The Proskauer team, which was led by associate Shiloh Rainwater, included partners Mark Harris and John Roberts, and associate Henrique Carneiro.

Print:
Email this postTweet this postLike this postShare this post on LinkedIn
Photo of Shiloh Rainwater Shiloh Rainwater

Shiloh Rainwater is an associate in the Litigation Department and a member of the Firm’s Appellate Practice Group, which was named to the National Law Journal’s 2020 Appellate Hot List.  He litigates appeals spanning a wide array of subject areas, including bankruptcy, constitutional…

Shiloh Rainwater is an associate in the Litigation Department and a member of the Firm’s Appellate Practice Group, which was named to the National Law Journal’s 2020 Appellate Hot List.  He litigates appeals spanning a wide array of subject areas, including bankruptcy, constitutional law, securities, employment, and contracts.  Shiloh has successfully represented clients in high-stakes appeals in state and federal appellate courts across the country, including the U.S. Supreme Court.  Among his notable representations, Shiloh has obtained victories at the First Circuit on behalf of the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico in numerous appeals stemming from Puerto Rico’s $135 billion bankruptcy—the largest in American history.

In addition, Shiloh litigates a range of commercial disputes at the trial level involving, among other things, products liability, real estate, contracts, securities regulation, shareholder actions, and restructurings.  His experience spans the entire litigation lifecycle, from commencing litigation through discovery, motion practice, and trial.  Most recently, Shiloh was a member of a trial team litigating a protracted contract dispute between former co-owners of nursing facilities in California.  Among other matters, Shiloh secured dismissal of claims for intentional interference with contract against a major French logistics company; obtained summary judgment on behalf of a debt fund seeking to enforce guarantees executed in connection with financing a condominium project in Brooklyn; and contributed to a favorable outcome in expedited arbitration proceedings concerning violations of a commercial non-compete.

Shiloh maintains a robust pro bono practice, representing clients in a variety of matters.  For several years, he has provided pro bono representation to a veteran seeking vocational rehabilitation & employment benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.  He has also represented a prisoner asserting claims against prison officials for violations of his Eighth Amendment rights.  And, he has represented a class of tenants in public housing seeking to compel New York to address persistent mold issues.

Before joining Proskauer, Shiloh served as a law clerk to the Honorable James O. Browning of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, one of the nation’s most prolific federal judges.  Shiloh also clerked for the Honorable Gregory A. Phillips of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.