Over the past year or so, we have noted several examples where the Sixth Circuit has gone out of its way to provide pointers on best briefing practices. Yesterday, it offered a lesson in civility in Bennett v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. There is really no better way to capture the essence of the Sixth Circuit’s decision in this case than to quote the first few sentences: “There are good reasons not to call an opponent’s argument ‘ridiculous’, which is what State Farm calls Barbara Bennett’s principal argument here. The reasons include civility; the near certainty that overstatement will only push the reader away (especially when, as here, the hyperbole begins on page one of the brief); and that, even where the record supports an extreme modifier, the better practice is usually to lay out the facts and let the court reach its own conclusions.” And, in this case the argument that State Farm deemed ridiculous ultimately persuaded the Sixth Circuit to reverse.
In many contentious district court proceedings, parties may fling certain allegations at each other, or ad hominem attacks, and some district judges may ignore or even tolerate that. But appellate judges, far removed from the emotion and battles of the trial court proceedings, do not have the same tolerance for such language, as this opinion aptly demonstrates. Time and again, the Sixth Circuit is sending the message to litigants to follow its rules on briefing and to act like adults. Opinions like these are certainly worth a read and a reminder to exercise restraint in your appellate arguments.