U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Expansive ‘Virtual Representation’ Exception to Basic Principle That Everyone Deserves a Day in Court

June 12, 2008 

U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Expansive ‘Virtual Representation’ Exception to Basic Principle That Everyone Deserves a Day in Court

Statement of Adina Rosenbaum, Attorney, Public Citizen*

In a unanimous ruling in Taylor v. Sturgell, the U.S. Supreme Court today resoundingly affirmed the basic principle that everyone has the right to a day in court. The justices rightly rejected a broad “virtual representation” exception to that basic principle.

In the case, Brent Taylor, executive director of the Antique Aircraft Association, submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for records related to a rare vintage plane, the Fairchild F-45. When the FAA didn’t respond, Taylor sued. The FAA and Fairchild Corp., which claims to own all rights to the requested records, argued that Taylor’s case was barred because an acquaintance of Taylor had previously litigated a case seeking the F-45 records. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that Taylor had been “virtually represented” by the party to the previous lawsuit and therefore could not sue, even though he had no legal relationship with the person involved in the previous lawsuit and no notice of that suit.

In rejecting the lower court’s broad theory of virtual representation, the court upheld Americans’ right of access to the courts by ensuring that exceptions to the rule that judgments do not bind nonparties would remain narrow – in FOIA as well as other types of cases. Today, the Supreme Court did the right thing.

*Adina Rosenbaum argued Taylor v. Sturgell before the U.S. Supreme Court on April 16. Read the Court’s decision here. For more information about the case, visit the Public Citizen Litigation Group Web site and scroll down to Taylorv. Sturgel.

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