Articles Posted in US Supreme Court

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The Southern District of California adopted a districtwide policy permitting the use of full restraints—handcuffs connected to a waist chain, with legs shackled—on most in-custody defendants produced in court for non-jury proceedings by the U.S. Marshals Service. Before the Ninth Circuit could issue a decision on a challenge to the policy, the underlying criminal cases ended. That court—viewing the case as a “functional class action” seeking “class-like relief,” held that the case was not moot and the policy was unconstitutional. A unanimous Supreme Court vacated, finding the case moot. The federal judiciary may adjudicate only “actual and concrete disputes, the resolutions of which have direct consequences on the parties involved.”. Such a dispute “must be extant at all stages of review, not merely at the time the complaint is filed.” Precedent does not support a freestanding exception to mootness outside the Rule 23 class action context. The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure establish for criminal cases no vehicle comparable to the civil class action, and the Supreme Court has never permitted criminal defendants to band together to seek prospective relief in their individual cases on behalf of a class. The “exception to the mootness doctrine for a controversy that is capable of repetition, yet evading review” does not apply, based only the possibility that some of the parties again will be prosecuted for violating valid criminal laws. View "United States v. Sanchez-Gomez" on Justia Law

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Oil States sued Greene's Energy for infringement of a patent relating to technology for protecting wellhead equipment used in hydraulic fracturing. Greene’s challenged the patent’s validity in court and petitioned the Patent Office for inter partes review, 35 U.S.C. 311-319. The district court issued a claim-construction order favoring Oil States; the Board concluded that Oil States’ claims were unpatentable. The Federal Circuit rejected a challenge to the constitutionality of inter partes review. The Supreme Court affirmed. Inter partes review does not violate Article III. Congress may assign adjudication of public rights to entities other than Article III courts. Inter partes review falls within the public-rights doctrine. Patents are “public franchises” and granting patents is a constitutional function that can be carried out by the executive or legislative departments without “judicial determination.’ Inter partes review involves the same basic matter as granting a patent. Patents remain “subject to [the Board’s] authority” to cancel outside of an Article III court. The similarities between the procedures used in inter partes review and judicial procedures does not suggest that inter partes review violates Article III. The Court noted that its decision “should not be misconstrued as suggesting that patents are not property for purposes of the Due Process Clause or the Takings Clause.” When Congress properly assigns a matter to adjudication in a non-Article III tribunal, “the Seventh Amendment poses no independent bar to the adjudication of that action by a nonjury factfinder.” View "Oil States Energy Services, LLC v. Greene's Energy Group, LLC" on Justia Law

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Petitioners sought compensation under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), part of the Judiciary Act of 1789, 28 U.S.C. 1350, based on terrorist acts committed abroad. They alleged that those acts were in part facilitated by Arab Bank, a Jordanian institution with a New York branch. They claimed that the bank used that branch to clear dollar-denominated transactions that benefited terrorists through the Clearing House Interbank Payments System (CHIPS) and to launder money for a Texas-based charity allegedly affiliated with Hamas. The Second Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of the case. Foreign corporations may not be defendants in suits brought under the ATS, which is "strictly jurisdictional” and does not provide or define a cause of action for international law violations. The Court noted that after the Second Circuit permitted plaintiffs to bring ATS actions based on human-rights laws, Congress enacted the 1991 Torture Victim Protection Act, creating an express cause of action for victims of torture and extrajudicial killing. ATS suits then became more frequent but “the presumption against extraterritoriality applies to [ATS] claims.” Separation-of-powers concerns that counsel against courts creating private rights of action apply with particular force to the ATS, which implicates foreign-policy concerns. Courts must exercise “great caution” before recognizing new forms of liability under the ATS. In this case. the only alleged connections to the United States, the CHIPS transaction and a brief allegation about a Texas charity, are “relatively minor” and the litigation has caused diplomatic tensions with Jordan, a critical ally. View "Jesner v. Arab Bank, PLC" on Justia Law

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In 2013, federal agents obtained an 18 U.S.C. 2703 warrant requiring Microsoft to disclose all e-mails and other information associated with a customer's account that was believed to be involved in illegal drug trafficking. Microsoft determined that the account’s e-mail contents were all stored in Microsoft’s Dublin, Ireland datacenter and moved, unsuccessfully, to quash the warrant with respect to that information. The court held Microsoft in civil contempt. The Second Circuit reversed, holding that requiring Microsoft to disclose the electronic communications in question would be an unauthorized extraterritorial application of section 2703. In March 2018, Congress enacted and the President signed the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act (CLOUD Act), Pub. L. 115–141, amending the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. 2701, to add: “A [service provider] shall comply with the obligations of this chapter to preserve, backup, or disclose the contents of a wire or electronic communication and any record or other information pertaining to a customer or subscriber within such provider’s possession, custody, or control, regardless of whether such communication, record, or other information is located within or outside of the United States.” The Supreme Court vacated, finding the case moot. No live dispute remains between the parties over the issue with respect to which certiorari was granted; a new warrant replaced the original warrant. View "United States v. Microsoft Corp." on Justia Law

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Samuel served as legal advisor to his mother Ethlyn. After falling out with Samuel, Ethlyn transferred her property into a trust and designated her daughter, Elsa, as her successor trustee. Ethlyn sued Samuel and his law firm over the handling of her affairs (trust case). When Ethlyn died, Elsa took Ethlyn’s place as trustee and as plaintiff. Samuel filed a separate complaint against Elsa in her individual capacity. The district court consolidated the cases under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(a) and held a single trial. In the individual case, the jury returned a verdict for Samuel. The court granted Elsa a new trial. In the trust case, the jury returned a verdict against Elsa. The Third Circuit dismissed her appeal, finding the judgment not final because the individual claims against Elsa remained unresolved. A unanimous Supreme Court reversed. When one of several cases consolidated under Rule 42(a) is finally decided, that decision confers the immediate right to appeal, regardless of whether other consolidated cases remain pending. Under the consolidation statute, the predecessor of Rule 42(a), consolidation was understood not as completely merging the constituent cases into one, but as enabling more efficient case management while preserving the distinct identities of the cases and rights of the separate parties. Rule 42(a) was expressly modeled on that statute. The Court stated that its decision does not mean that district courts may not consolidate cases for all purposes in appropriate circumstances. View "Hall v. Hall" on Justia Law

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The Securities Act of 1933 creates private rights of action pertaining to securities offerings, grants both federal and state courts jurisdiction over those suits, and bars their removal from state to federal court. The 1995 Private Securities Litigation Reform Act includes substantive reforms, applicable in all courts, and procedural reforms, applicable only in federal court. To avoid the new obstacles, plaintiffs began filing securities class actions under state law. The 1998 Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act (SLUSA), 15 U.S.C. 77p, disallows, in state and federal courts, “covered class actions,” in which damages are sought under state law on behalf of more than 50 persons,” alleging dishonest practices in the purchase or sale of a "covered security,” listed on a national stock exchange. Section 77v(a) (the “except clause”) now provides that state and federal courts shall have concurrent jurisdiction over 1933 Act cases, “except as provided in section 77p . . . with respect to covered class actions.” Investors brought a class action in state court, alleging 1933 Act violations. A unanimous Supreme Court affirmed the denial of a motion to dismiss, rejecting arguments that SLUSA’s “except clause” stripped state courts of jurisdiction over 1933 Act claims in “covered class actions.” The “except clause” ensures that in any case in which sections 77v(a) and 77p conflict, 77p controls. Section 77p bars certain state law securities class actions but does not deprive state courts of jurisdiction over federal law class actions. The alternative construction would prevent state courts from deciding any 1933 Act large class suits, even suits raising no particular national interest, which would be inconsistent with SLUSA’s "purpose to preclude certain vexing state-law class actions.” Wherever 1933 Act class suits proceed, the substantive protections necessarily apply. SLUSA does not permit defendants to remove class actions alleging only 1933 Act claims from state to federal court. View "Cyan, Inc. v. Beaver County Employees Retirement Fund" on Justia Law

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Lakeridge. a corporation with a single owner (MBP), filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, owing U.S. Bank $10 million and MBP $2.76 million. Lakeridge submitted a reorganization plan, proposing to impair the interests of both. U.S. Bank refused, blocking Lakeridge’s reorganization through a consensual plan, 11 U.S.C. 1129(a)(8). Lakeridge then turned to a “cramdown” plan, which would require consent by an impaired class of creditors that is not an “insider” of the debtor. An insider “includes” any director, officer, or “person in control” of the entity. MBP, unable to provide the needed consent, sought to transfer its claim to a non-insider. Bartlett, an MBP board member and Lakeridge officer, offered MBP’s claim to Rabkin for $5,000. Rabkin purchased the claim and consented to Lakeridge’s proposed reorganization. U.S. Bank objected, arguing that Rabkin was a nonstatutory insider because he had a “romantic” relationship with Bartlett. The Bankruptcy Court, Ninth Circuit, and Supreme Court rejected that argument. The Ninth Circuit correctly reviewed the Bankruptcy Court’s determination for clear error (rather than de novo), as “mixed question” of law and fact: whether the findings of fact satisfy the legal test for conferring non-statutory insider status. The standard of review for a mixed question depends on whether answering it entails primarily legal or factual work. Using the Ninth Circuit’s legal test for identifying such insiders (whether the transaction was conducted at arm’s length, i.e., as though the parties were strangers) the mixed question became: Given all the basic facts, was Rabkin’s purchase of MBP’s claim conducted as if the two were strangers? Such an inquiry primarily belongs in the court that has presided over the presentation of evidence, i.e., the bankruptcy court. View "U. S. Bank N. A. v. Village at Lakeridge, LLC" on Justia Law

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Murphy was awarded a judgment in his federal civil rights suit against two prison guards, including an award of attorney’s fees; 42 U.S.C. 1997e(d)(2) provides that in such cases “a portion of the [prisoner’s] judgment (not to exceed 25 percent) shall be applied to satisfy the amount of attorney’s fees awarded against the defendant.” The district court ordered Murphy to pay 10% of his judgment toward the fee award, leaving defendants responsible for the remainder. The Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that section 1997e(d)(2) required the district court to exhaust 25% of the prisoner’s judgment before demanding payment from the defendants. The Supreme Court affirmed. The mandatory phrase “shall be applied” suggests that the district court has some nondiscretionary duty to perform. The infinitival phrase “to satisfy the amount of attorney’s fees awarded” specifies the purpose of the preceding verb’s nondiscretionary duty and “to satisfy” an obligation, especially a financial obligation, usually means to discharge the obligation in full. The district court does not have wide discretion to pick any “portion” that does not exceed the 25% cap. This conclusion is reinforced by section 1997e(d)’s surrounding provisions, which also limit the district court’s pre-existing discretion under section 1988(b). View "Murphy v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Artis filed a federal-court suit against the District of Columbia, alleging a federal employment discrimination claim and three allied claims under D.C. law; nearly two years remained on the statute of limitations for the D.C. claims. More than two years later, the district court rejected the federal claim and dismissed the D.C.-law claims under 28 U.S.C. 1367(c). Artis refiled those claims in the D.C. Superior Court 59 days later. That court dismissed them as time-barred. The D.C. Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed. Section 1367(d) provides that the “period of limitations for” refiling in state court a state claim “shall be tolled while the claim is pending [in federal court] and for a period of 30 days after it is dismissed unless State law provides for a longer tolling period.” The Court rejected an argument that the section merely provides a grace period, permitting the statute of limitations to run while the claim is pending in another forum and averting the risk of a time bar by according the plaintiff a fixed period in which to refile. Considering the ordinary meaning of the statutory language, the section is a tolling provision. It suspends the statute of limitations both while the claim is pending in federal court and for 30 days post-dismissal. The stop-the-clock interpretation of section1367(d) does not present a serious constitutional problem. View "Artis v. District of Columbia" on Justia Law

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The Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1362, prohibits “any addition of any pollutant to navigable waters,” defined as “the waters of the United States.” Section 1311(a) contains exceptions, including permitting schemes under the EPA's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program and an Army Corps of Engineers program, which encompass the “waters of the United States.” The EPA and the Corps proffered the “Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule,” which “imposes no enforceable duty on any state, local, or tribal governments, or the private sector,” 80 Fed. Reg. 37102 and “does not establish any regulatory requirements.” Objectors challenged the Rule in district courts. Many filed “protective” petitions in Circuit Courts to preserve their challenges should their district court lawsuits be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction under 33 U.S.C. 1369(b), which enumerates EPA actions for which review lies directly and exclusively in the federal courts of appeals. Such actions include EPA actions “approving or promulgating any effluent limitation or other limitation under section 1311, 1312, 1316, or 1345,” and EPA actions “issuing or denying any permit under section 1342.” The Sixth Circuit denied motions to dismiss consolidated actions. The Supreme Court reversed. The Rule falls outside section 1369(b)(1), so challenges must be filed in district courts. It is not an “effluent limitation,” “on quantities, rates, and concentrations” of pollutants, nor is it an “other limitation under section 1311; it simply announces a regulatory definition. The Rule was promulgated under section 1361(a), which grants the EPA general rulemaking authority. The Rule neither issues nor denies NPDES permits under section 1342. View "National Association of Manufacturers. v. Department of Defense" on Justia Law