Category Archives: Supreme Court

SCOTUS Opinion: Refusal To Produce Vocational Data Not Preclusive Of Effect On Worker’s Social Security Claim

In Biestek v. Berryhill, Michael Biestek applied for Social Security disability benefits, claiming he could no longer work due to physical and mental ailments. His case was heard by an administrative law judge (ALJ), who analyzed whether there was other work Biestek might be able to perform. The Social Security Administration offered the testimony of a vocational expert as... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Court Rejects As-Applied Challenge To Execution By Pentobarbital

After being convicted of murder in Missouri, Russell Bucklew was set to be executed through the lethal injection of the sedative pentobarbital. He raised an as-applied challenge, arguing that he suffered from a medical condition that would result in extreme pain if he received the pentobarbital. Bucklew suggested that he be executed through nitrogen hypoxia instead, which had never been... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Foreign States Must Be Served On Home Soil With Process

To gain personal jurisdiction over a foreign sovereign under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, service of process must be accomplished, among other options, “by any form of mail requiring a signed receipt, to be addressed and dispatched . . . to the head of the ministry of foreign affairs of the foreign state concerned.” 28 U.S.C. sec. 1608(a)(3). In... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: National Park Service Cannot Regulate Navigable Waters

For decades, John Sturgeon drove a hovercraft on the Nation River to get to a moose hunting ground in Alaska. A portion of that river ran through the Yukon-Charley Preserve, which was a designated a conservation unit under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The Act designated as public lands only and being part of such a unit... Read More >

Additional Practical Analysis: Obduskey v. McCarthy & Holthus LLP

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously on March 20, 2019 in Obduskey v. McCarthy & Holthus LLP that a law firm hired to pursue a nonjudicial foreclosure under Colorado law was not a debt collector under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). In a nonjudicial foreclosure, notice to the parties and sale of the property occur outside... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Google Class Action Settlement In Danger Of Losing Standing

When a person enters search terms on Google, and then selects a web page that comes up in the search results, Google sends the host of the web page the search terms the person used to locate the page. Certain plaintiffs filed suit as a class, arguing that Google’s practice violated the Stored Communications Act. The parties settled, with... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Entity Conducting Non-judicial Foreclosure Not A Debt Collector Under Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

After Dennis Obduskey went into default on his mortgage that was secured against his home, the lender hired the law firm of McCarthy & Holthus, LLP to conduct a non-judicial foreclosure of the property. The firm sent Obduskey a notice of its intent to so act, and Obduskey requested that the firm provide him with verification of the debt as... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Manufacturers Have Duty To Warn Sailors Of Products That Require Asbestos Parts

In Air & Liquid System Corp. v. DeVries, a company manufactured equipment for three Navy ships that, as shipped, contained no asbestos, but required asbestos insulation or parts to work as intended. The Navy added the asbestos parts later when the equipment was installed on the ships. The equipment was put into use, releasing asbestos into the... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Fractured Court Upholds 1855 Indian Treaty Against State Gasoline Tax

A company owned by the Yakama Nation Indian tribe transported gasoline from Oregon to the tribe’s land in the State of Washington, using the public highways. Washington sought to tax those imports. The Yakama Nation objected, citing to an 1855 treaty with the federal government granting the Nation the right to use the public highways. The Washington state courts held... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Court Rejects Narrow Reading Of Immigration Detention Statute

Federal immigration law provides that certain criminal aliens may be detained by the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and not released until a determination on deportation is made. The statute in question, 8 U.S.C. § 1226(c)(1), directs the Secretary to arrest the alien “when the alien is released” from jail, and Section 1226(c)(2) mandates that the Secretary keep... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: No Copyright Infringement Suit Until A Copyright Is Registered

In Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com, LLC, Fourth Estate licensed works to a news website. The parties cancelled the licensing agreement, but the website did not remove the works. Fourth Estate sued for copyright infringement under the Copyright Act, but its lawsuit was dismissed because Fourth Estate had only applied to register the works—the Register of... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Lost Wages Awarded Under Railroad Retirement Tax Act Are Compensation Subject To IRS Taxation

Michael Loos was injured while working for BNSF Railway Company. He sued his employer, and after trial was awarded $85,000 in pain and suffering, $11,212.78 in medical expenses, and $30,000 in lost wages as a result of him not being able to work from the injury. BNSF then argued that the lost wages award was “compensation . . . for... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Copyright Act’s Award Of Costs Limited To Those Available Under Typical Bill Of Costs

Oracle accused Rimini Street, Inc. of violating various copyrights, and won at trial. Under the Copyright Act, the district court awarded Oracle $12.8 million in litigation expenses under the Act. The district court acknowledged that it was awarding Oracle costs that were not within the six designated categories set forth under 28 U.S.C. secs. 1821 and 1920,... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Court Limits Immunity Afforded Under The International Organizations Immunity Act Of 1945

Originally, the International Organizations Immunity Act of 1945 (IOIA) granted foreign corporations virtually absolute immunity from suit. In 1952, the State Department adopted a more restrictive view, carving out commercial acts from that immunity. Congress then passed the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) in 1976, which specifically excepted commercial activity with a sufficient nexus in the United States... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Eighth Amendment Bars Execution Of Defendant Without “Rational Understanding” Of The Reason For Execution

After he was sentenced to death for killing a police officer, Vernon Madison suffered a series of strokes and was diagnosed with dementia. In a prior series of appeals by Madison, the U.S. Supreme Court held that his mere inability to remember his crime did not establish that Madison was incompetent to be executed. When his execution was rescheduled on... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Failure To File Appeal Is Constitutionally Deficient Even After Defendant Signs Appeal Waiver

In Garza v. Idaho, Garza signed two plea agreements for state crimes, each of which included a waiver of his appeal rights. After he was sentenced, Garza told his counsel that he wanted to appeal. His counsel did not file any appeal, telling Garza that his waivers made any such appeal “problematic.” After the deadline to appeal passed, Garza... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Deadline To Appeal Class Decertification Not Subject To Equitable Tolling

Under Rule 23(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a party has 14 days to file with the federal circuit appeals court a petition for permission to appeal an order certifying or decertifying a class action. In Nutraceutical Corp. v. Lambert, when the district court decertified his class action, Troy Lambert chose to file a motion for... Read More >

SCOTUS Opinion: Judges Cannot Vote On Cases After Death

In Yovino v. Rizo, the Ninth Circuit heard the case en banc (with 11 then-sitting judges) to restate that circuit’s interpretation of the Equal Pay Act. Judge Stephen Reinhardt authored the majority opinion that was joined by six of the judges, including Reinhardt himself. The other five judges filed concurrences that reached a similar result but under different... Read More >

Eighth Amendment Applies To State Civil Forfeitures

Tyson Timbs pleaded guilty to dealing in heroin in Indiana, for which the maximum fine was $10,000. The State sought to use civil forfeiture to seize his SUV, which Timbs bought for $42,000, which was allegedly used to move the heroin. The state trial court denied the State’s request as violative of the Eighth Amendment’s protection against excessive fines, but... Read More >

Court Again Finds Man Ineligible For Death Penalty Due To Intellectual Disability

In 2017, the Supreme Court held in Moore v. Texas, 581 U.S. ___ (2017), that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals used a flawed analysis to determine that Bobby James Moore was not intellectually disabled, and thus eligible to receive the death penalty. In part, the flaw was that the Texas court focused on Moore’s adaptive strengths instead of... Read More >

Court Applies Intergovernmental Tax Immunity In Favor Of Federal Retirees

In Dawson v. Steager, West Virginia sought to tax a federal law enforcement retiree’s pension. Under 4 U.S.C. §111, the federal government permits this so long as the state tax does not discriminate on the basis of the source of the compensation, otherwise known as the intergovernmental tax immunity doctrine. However, West Virginia, by statute, did not tax... Read More >

In Two Orders, SCOTUS Stays Louisiana Abortion Law, Permits Execution—Both Over Four Dissenters

In June Medical Services, LLC v. Gee, a five-Justice majority (the Chief Justice and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) granted a stay of the Fifth Circuit’s mandate upholding a Louisiana law that required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital. The law is therefore on hold until the Court resolves the petition for certiorari of that... Read More >

Once Sold (Even Under Term Of Confidentiality), An Invention May Not Be Patented

Under the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, an invention may not be patented if it has been “in public use, sold, or otherwise available to the public before the effective filing date of the claimed invention.” In Helsinn Healthcare S.A. v. Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc., the issue was whether an invention had been “sold” within the ambit of the... Read More >

Robbery Is A “Violent Felony” Under Armed Career Criminal Act

The Armed Career Criminal Act provides a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence for anyone who had previously been convicted of three “violent” felonies. The Act defines a “violent felony” as “any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year” that “has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another.”... Read More >

Federal Arbitration Act Does Not Compel Arbitration For Disputes With Interstate Drivers

In New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira, a driver for an interstate trucking company filed a class action claiming that the company denied its drivers lawful wages. The company, citing the mandatory arbitration provision in the driver’s contract, asked the district court to transfer the case to arbitration. The driver argued that the case was exempt under Section 1 of... Read More >

Are Attorneys Conducting Nonjudicial Foreclosures “Debt Collectors?” U.S. Supreme Court To Decide.

On January 7, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear argument in Obduskey v. McCarthy Holthus, LLP, in which Wells Fargo, through counsel, conducted a nonjudicial foreclosure on Obduskey’s home after he defaulted on a loan. The foreclosure notice did not request that Obduskey make any payments on the debt—it simply set forth the total amount due under the... Read More >

Court Rejects Cap On Aggregate Attorney Fees Under Social Security Act

Under the Social Security Act, an attorney representing a claimant seeking past-due benefits is limited in the fees he or she may charge. Section 406(a) of the Act capped fees at the lesser of 25 percent of the past-due benefits, or $6,000 in proceedings before the agency. Section 406(b) of the Act capped fees at 25 percent of the... Read More >

Federal Arbitration Act Forbids Courts From Weighing In On Arbitrability

The Federal Arbitration Act permits parties to enter into contracts agreeing that an arbitrator, rather than a court, will resolve disputes arising out of that contract. However, sometimes there are disputes as to whether a particular claim is subject to arbitration under the agreement. Even when contracts delegate the arbitrability question to an arbitrator, some federal courts had reserved... Read More >

Court Upholds Qualified Immunity For Officer Responding To Domestic Dispute

In City of Escondido v. Emmons, Officer Craig and Sergeant Toth responded to a call reporting a domestic dispute at a home. After talking to the occupants from outside the home for a bit, one of the occupants exited and tried to brush past Officer Craig. The officer quickly took the man to the ground and handcuffed him. The... Read More >

Subsequent SCOTUS Decisions Are Not “Clearly Established Law” For Habeas Petitions

After being convicted by Ohio’s state courts for murder and sentenced to death in 1986, Danny Hill challenged the judgment on the basis that the Eighth Amendment prohibits someone who is “mentally retarded” from receiving a death sentence, as established in Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002). When that failed in the state courts, he filed a federal... Read More >