|Gerald Bard Tjoflat|
By the time a three-judge panel of the U.S. Eleventh Circuit -- led by 89-year-old Gerald Bard Tjoflat -- denied our appeal in "The House Case," my wife Carol and I had been cheated enough in court to be highly jaded about the whole process. The ruling came in December 2017, and we would have been shocked if any court ruled correctly, according to facts and law, in one of our cases. But the finding in Shuler, et al v. Garrison, et al was so off-the-charts crooked that even we were taken aback.
"How could federal judges -- three of them -- be so brazen about ruling contrary to black-letter law?" we said to ourselves. The answer to that question now is apparent. Tjoflat had a financial stake in the case, and he ruled in favor of his own pocketbook. That, of course, is wildly unlawful; a cornucopia of law holds that a federal judge is not to hear a case in which he or an immediate family member has a financial interest. Tjoflat, however, ignored that rule in "The House Case," and our research indicates he's been ignoring it for years, maybe decades. We are aware of at least one Alabama case from last year -- and it, like "The House Case," involved an alleged wrongful foreclosure -- where Tjoflat heard a case in which he had a financial stake. That case is styled Jackson v. Bank of America, NA, 898 F. 3d 1348 (11th Cir., 2018), which we wrote about back in May.
This is not a "no harm, no foul" situation, where Tjoflat (in at least a few cases) rules against the party where his financial interests lie. Rather, Tjoflat has an astonishing record of ruling in favor of the large financial institutions in which he has invested -- as we will spell out in upcoming posts.
How did "The House Case" intertwine with Tjoflat's financial incentives? Chase Mortgage, a division of JPMorgan Chase, held the mortgage on our home of almost 25 years in Birmingham and launched the wrongful foreclosure -- with assistance from a number of legal/political entities and individuals in Alabama. According to his financial disclosures, which are available online, Tjoflat holds stock (and perhaps other forms of securities) in JPMorgan Chase.
It's not like the governing law on "The House Case" appeal was complicated. I did not help matters by mistakenly indicating on our Notice of Appeal that we intended to appeal only a portion of the district court's ruling. But current statutory and case law is clear that such a mistake is not grounds for dismissing an appeal -- especially if the appellate brief makes clear, as ours did, the intent is to appeal the entire case. Here is how we described it in a previous post:
The Tjoflat panel based its denial of our appeal on a 1980s version of FRAP 3, holding in its 2017 ruling that a mistake in the declared scope of our Notice of Appeal meant the court had no jurisdiction to hear our full appeal:
“The notice of appeal must . . . designate the judgment, order, or part thereof being appealed.” F. R. App. P. 3(c); Osterneck v. E.T. Barwick Indus., Inc., 825 F.2d 1521, 1528 (11th Cir. 1987). “Where the appellant notices the appeal of a specified judgment only or a part thereof,” moreover, “this court has no jurisdiction to review other judgments or issues which are not expressly referred to and which are not impliedly intended for appeal.” C. A. May Marine Supply Co. v. Brunswick Corp., 649 F.2d 1049, 1056 (5th Cir. 1981). Otherwise, because the intent to appeal is not clear, prejudice would likely fall upon the adverse party. Id.
As shown in the green highlighted areas above, the panel relied on case law from 1987 and 1981, respectively, ignoring important changes made to FRAP 3 in 1993. We described those changes in our Motion for Panel Rehearing: (See here and here.)
A 1993 advisory committee amendment to FRAP 3, plus a string of case law, has changed the landscape for notice of appeal requirements and made the panel’s cited law obsolete.
A case styled Bogle v. Orange County, 162 F.3d 653 (11th Cir., 1998) holds: “The test for determining the sufficiency of a notice of appeal is "whether it is objectively clear that a party intended to appeal." Fed. R.App. P. 3(c) advisory committee's note (1993 amendment). Signs that the Shulers’ intended to appeal are all over the documents filed with this court and served on adverse parties.
Our intent to appeal the entire district-court dismissal is objectively clear in our appellate brief -- and the Tjoflat panel admits this. From our Motion for Panel Rehearing:
As the panel notes, the Shulers make it clear in their appellate brief – in two places – that they intended to appeal the dismissal, in its entirety. In their “Statement of Jurisdiction” on page 1, the Shulers’ state regarding the Eleventh Circuit: “. . . this court has jurisdiction to consider an appeal of the district court’s order dismissing the case. . . .
In the “Statement of the Issues” on page 2 of their appellate brief, the Shulers specifically raise three issues on appeal, including this: Did the district court unlawfully dismiss the Shulers’ case . . . ? It could not be more clear that the Shulers intended to appeal the dismissal, plus all orders leading up to that.
In short, Tjoflat and his crooked crew used outdated law, directly counter to their own precedent in Bogle, to cheat us. To make matters even more seamy, Tjoflat dismissed both "The House Case" and the Jackson case in ways that meant the cases would not even be considered on the merits. What does that tell us? It tells me that Tjoflat knew both Carol and I, and the jacksons, were cheated raw in the district courts, so he concocted ways to dismiss the appeals without calling attention to the butcher jobs we experienced at the trial level.
What about details of Tjoflat's financial holdings -- the ones that, by law, disqualified him from hearing our appeal? Stay tuned. That information will be revealed in upcoming posts.
(To be continued)