Category Archives: Supreme Court

SCOTUS Opinion: Court Stays District Court’s Order Affecting Wisconsin’s Election

Despite the ongoing danger of COVID-19, Wisconsin decided to go forward with its election on April 7. Since voters would be discouraged from arriving en masse at the polls, it was expected that absentee voting would surge. Various political groups filed suit to ease the burden of absentee voting. Although Wisconsin law required absentee votes to be received by 8... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Age Discrimination Need Not Be The But-For Cause To Be Actionable

In Babb v. Wilkie, a clinical pharmacist at a Veterans Affairs medical center alleged that he suffered various adverse personnel actions due to age discrimination. Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, personnel actions affecting individuals 40 and over must be made “free from any discrimination based on age.” The VA offered legitimate reasons for its actions and... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Court Permits Routine Stops Of Vehicles Whose Owners Have Revoked Licenses

While on routine patrol, a Kansas deputy ran the plate of a vehicle and discovered that its owner, Charles Glover, Jr., had a revoked driver’s license. On that basis alone, the deputy pulled over the vehicle, assuming, correctly, that Glover was driving it. Glover was charged with driving as a habitual violator and Glover appealed, arguing that the deputy lacked... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: “Safe-Berth” Clause In Maritime Contract Creates A Warranty of Safety

In Citgo Asphalt Refining Company v. Frescati Shipping Company, a punctured hull in a tanker caused a huge oil spill, which the owner of the tanker and the United States then paid millions to clean up. Those parties then sued the groups who chartered the tanker to recover those costs under a clause in the maritime contract that required the... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: No Pre-emption for States to Use Federal Immigration Information to Enforce State Identity Theft Law

Under federal law, employers must verify, through an I-9 form, that they have “verified” that each new employee “is not an unauthorized alien.” In Kansas v. Garcia, three persons who were living in the United States illegally used the same false Social Security number on their I-9 forms, as well as their tax withholding forms, and were prosecuted under... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Court Strictly Interprets “Actual Knowledge” For ERISA Limitations Period

Under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, a person with “actual knowledge” of an alleged fiduciary breach by the administrator of a pension plan must file suit within three years of gaining such knowledge—otherwise, a six-year limitations period applies. In Intel Corp. Investment Policy Committee v. Sulyma, Intel argued that its former employee filed such a claim... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Criminal Defendant Preserves Appellate Claim by Arguing for Lesser Sentence

Under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 51(b), a criminal defendant wishing to “preserve a claim of error” for appeal must inform the trial judge “of the action the party wishes the court to take, or the party’s objection to the court’s action and the grounds for that objection.” In Holguin-Hernandez v. United States, when prosecutors sought a sentence of... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Court Rejects Comparison of State Offenses to Generic Offenses for Armed Career Criminal Act Enhancement

The Armed Career Criminal Act mandates a 15-year sentence for defendants that have prior convictions for a “serious drug offense” that “involve[es] manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to manufacture or distribute, a controlled substance.” Eddie Lee Shular had six prior Florida convictions for selling and possessing cocaine with intent to sell. The federal trial court deemed those to be... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Court Permits Appellate Review of Added Mitigating Factor in Death Penalty Case

After James McKinney was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, the trial court sentenced him to death upon the finding that he had two aggravating circumstances for each such murder. Twenty years later, a narrowly divided en banc Ninth Circuit reversed upon habeas review, holding that the state courts had not properly considered McKinney's post-traumatic stress disorder as a... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Court Strikes Down The “Bob Richards Rule”

The IRS allows affiliated corporations to file a group tax return. When the IRS issues a tax return to the group as a whole, federal law does not describe how to allocate the funds. The Ninth Circuit created a rule for that when it decided In re Bob Richards Chrysler-Plymouth Corp., 473 F.2d 262 (1973). The "Bob Richards Rule" mandated... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Court Declines To Extend Bivens To Allow Suit Against Border Agent For Shooting

U.S. Border Patrol agent Jesus Mesa, Jr. shot 15 year-old Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca while Mesa was on U.S. land, and Hernandez had run back across onto Mexican soil. Hernandez's family sued Mesa under Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), which permits damages claims against federal agents even though no federal statute authorized the claim... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Court Enforces Removal Jurisdiction In Vacating Orders Against The Catholic Church

The case of Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Yuan, Puerto Rico v. Feliciano concerned complaints filed by employees of Catholic schools in Puerto Rico alleging wrongful termination of their pension plan. Initially, the Puerto Rico trial court determined that the Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church in Puerto Rico was the proper entity that owed obligations to the plan, and... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: ERISA Case Remanded To Consider Alternative Arguments

Retirement Plans Committee of IBM v. Jander concerned a claim by Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) plan beneficiaries that the fiduciaries in control breached their duty of prudence on the basis of insider information. The standard for stating such a claim had been previously set forth by the Court in Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer,... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Denial Of Request For Relief From Automatic Bankruptcy Stay Is A Final, Appealable Order

After Ritzen Group, Inc. sued Jackson Masonry, LLC over a contract, Jackson filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which immediately halted Ritzen’s litigation. Ritzen moved the bankruptcy court for relief from the automatic stay, which was denied. Ritzen then filed a proof of claim, which was eventually disallowed. Ritzen then opted to file a notice of appeal of the bankruptcy court’s... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Court Enforces The “American Rule” Of Costs Against The Patent And Trademark Office

The Patent Act provides that when an applicant for a patent brings suit against the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) when the Office rejects the applicant’s patent, the applicant must pay “[a]ll the expenses of the proceedings.” In Peter v. Nantkwest, Inc., a patent applicant sued the PTO under the Act when the PTO denied its application for a... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Court Rejects Discovery Rule For Fair Debt Collection Practices Act Claims

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires that claims be brought “within one year from the date on which the violation occurs.” In Rotkiske v. Klemm, a debt collector filed suit against Kevin Rotkiske, served him where he no longer lived, and obtained a default judgment against him in 2009. Rotkiske learned of the judgment in 2014, and sued... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Court Remands Alaska Political Contribution Limits Case For Closer Review

The first opinion handed down by the Court in its 2019 Term concerned Alaska’s law limiting contributions to candidates or election-oriented groups to $500 per year. The Ninth Circuit upheld the law, but the Court, in a per curiam decision in Thompson v. Hebdon, reversed and remanded. The Court noted that the Ninth Circuit chose not to apply the... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Police May Take Blood Test Of Unconscious Driver Without Warrant Under Exigent Circumstances Doctrine

After Gerald Mitchell was arrested for driving while intoxicated, his breath test came out three times over the legal limit. He then became unconscious. Wisconsin law presumed that an unconscious person consents to a blood test, so the police took him to a hospital where a blood test revealed his BAC well over the legal limit. During his prosecution, Mitchell... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Court Decides That Federal Courts Cannot Address Partisan Gerrymandering Claims

The case of Rucho v. Common Cause combined two different gerrymandering claims: one from North Carolina where the claim was that the redistricting plan hurt Democrats, one from Maryland which claimed that the plan hurt Republicans. In both cases, the district courts ruled that the plans violated the Constitution. The Court, in a 5-4 opinion by Chief Justice Roberts,... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Court Blocks The Citizenship Question From The 2020 Census Questionnaire For Now

The Constitution requires a census to be taken every 10 years, and Congress delegated that task to the Secretary of Commerce. In 2018, the Secretary announced that he would reinstate a citizenship question on the 2020 census questionnaire, a question that had been included in almost every census up through 2000. Opposition to the question claimed that the question would... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: State Residency Requirement For Liquor Store Licenses Struck Down

Tennessee law required that to get a license to sell alcohol, the seller had to first be a Tennessee resident for two years. The state agency tasked with enforcing the law declined to do so after the state’s attorney general opined that the law violated the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. When two non-resident businesses applied for licenses, a... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Auer Deference To An Agency’s Interpretation Of Its Own Regulations Survives, Barely

In Kisor v. Wilke, the underlying case concerned a Vietnam War veteran’s quest for disability benefits. The Department of Veterans Affairs interpreted its internal rule to deny the veteran benefits going back to when he first applied. The Federal Circuit affirmed the determination using Auer deference, established by the Court in Auer v. Robbins, 519 U.S. 452 (1997),... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Court Strikes Supervised Release Statute That Permitted Additional Prison Time Without A Jury Determination

In United States v. Haymond, Andre Haymond was found guilty by a jury of possessing child pornography, a crime that permitted a prison term of zero to 10 years. After serving his term and while on supervised release, Haymond was found with what appeared to be images of child pornography on his devices. Under 18 U.S.C. sec. 3583(k), a... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Court Strikes Down Violent Felony Residual Clause As Vague

Under 18 U.S.C. sec. 924(c)(3)(B), a defendant may receive a longer prison sentence for using a firearm in connection with a felony “that by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.” In prior cases, the Supreme Court struck down residual... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Court Clarifies What “Confidential” Information is not Subject to a Freedom of Information Act Request

In Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media, a newspaper filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the Department of Agriculture requesting information about retail stores who participate in the national food stamp program. The Department declined to provide store-level data on the basis that it was “confidential” and thus precluded from disclosure under... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Court Strikes Down Law Against Immoral or Scandalous Trademarks

The Lanham Act prohibits registration of any trademark that contains “immoral[] or scandalous matter.” In Iancu v. Brunetti, an applicant sought to trademark FUCT (pronounced F-U-C-T), but was denied by the Patent and Trademark Office. The applicant appealed, arguing that the Act’s restriction violated the First Amendment. The Federal Circuit struck down the restriction as unconstitutional. The Court,... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Seamen Are Not Entitled To Punitive Damages Under Claims Of Unseaworthiness

In Dutra Group v. Batterton, a sailor was injured when a hatch blew open. He sued the vessel’s owner claiming unseaworthiness, seeking compensatory and punitive damages. The owner moved to strike the punitive damages claim, which was denied by the district court and affirmed by the Ninth Circuit. The Court, in a 6-3 opinion by Justice Alito, reversed and... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Court Vacates Murder Conviction Under Batson Challenge

In Flowers v. Mississippi, Curtis Flowers, a black man, was tried six times for allegedly murdering four people in a small town furniture store. The first three times, he was sentenced to death but the convictions were overturned. The fourth and fifth trials ended in mistrials. Throughout those trials, the prosecution used their peremptory strikes to remove all black... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Under Due Process Clause, State Cannot Tax Foreign Trust Solely Because A Beneficiary Resides In the State

A family trust was created in New York state, with the trustee also located in New York, to distribute assets to the children of the trust creator under the trustee’s sole discretion. One of those children moved to North Carolina. The trustee then divided the trust into three separate trusts, one for each child, retaining full power and discretion over... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Government Must Prove Immigrant Had Knowledge Of Unlawful Residence For Gun Possession Conviction

Under 18 U.S.C. sec. 922(a)(2), it is illegal for an immigrant “illegally or unlawfully in the United States” to possess firearms and “knowingly violates” that prohibition. In Rehaif v. United States, an immigrant entered the country on a nonimmigration student visa, but was dismissed for poor grades, making his further residence unlawful. He then went to a firing... Read More >