Diary

The November Supreme Court Oral Argument Docket

In the November sitting, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in ten cases.  None of the cases are blockbusters as the explanations will show.  Without further ado:

Foster vs. Chatman:  On direct appeal from the Georgia Supreme Court, this case must determine whether prosecution actions during jury selection for the capital murder trial of a black defendant and white victim violated prohibitions against race discrimination in the trial.  On appeal, the defendant obtained the prosecutor’s notes on prospective jurors with blacks highlighted or designated B#1, B#2 and so on.  They also developed a “strike list” should it come down to accepting a black juror.  This is a tough case and may just depend on the specifics.  However, there would appear to be a prima facie case for racial discrimination in the jury selection process.

Spokeo, Inc. vs. Robins: This case asks whether Congress can confer Article III standing on a plaintiff who suffered no harm but who nevertheless sought a private right of action due to a bare violation of federal law.  Spokeo is a people search engine on the Internet which gathers information on individuals from a wide variety of public sources.  There is a section that reports on the wealth of individuals although the company specifies that the information cannot be used for credit reporting purposes.  Robins alleges that the information on him is inaccurate although he also admits he never contacted Spokeo to correct it.  The initial court determined there was no direct harm, but on appeal that court determined that since there was a barely visible violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, his suit could proceed.  Given the Court’s propensity for blocking courtroom access unless specifically authorized by federal law, one would appear that Spokeo should prevail.

Lockhart vs. United States:  Lockhart was convicted under mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines which involved a prior conviction under state law for “aggravated sexual abuse,” but did not involve a minor.  Lockhart was sentenced to the mandatory minimum of ten years for possessing child pornography.  He had a previous conviction for aggravated sexual abuse of his adult girlfriend.  The federal court determined that the prior conviction- whether a minor was involved or not- triggered the tougher sentence.  Color me silly but it seems like Lockhart is splitting hairs here and the conviction should stand.

Torres vs. Lynch:  This is a similar case although sexual abuse is not involved.  This is a case of statutory interpretation of “aggravated felony” where the state offense is described in a specific federal statute where that statute contains an interstate commerce aspect that the state offense lacks.  Got all that?  Again, legal hair-splitting.

Shapiro vs. McManus: This is a case of due process.  Usually a three-judge panel would hear a complaint in certain cases.  In this one, a single district court judge dismissed a claim not because it was frivolous, but because the plaintiff failed to state a claim under the rules of civil procedure.  In effect, they are arguing that they were entitled to a hearing before a three-judge panel.  The Court is a stickler for rules and will likely rule that way upholding the single judge scenario.

Bruce vs. Samuels: A technical case about prison inmate lawsuits and payment for them.  Sure to interest very few and likely to be a quick decision (by the end of the year)

Montanile vs. Board of Trustees: An ERISA (employee pension) case likely to elicit the chirping of crickets.

Kingdomware Technologies vs. United States: The Federal Circuit determined that the set-aside for veteran-owned businesses was discretionary.  Seems that mandatory set-asides favoring veteran-owned businesses that restrict competition is just that- mandatory.  Besides, other than the 9th Circuit, the Federal Circuit is regularly slapped down by the Supreme Court.

Tyson Foods vs. Bouaphakeo:  This is an important class action lawsuit case that asks whether statistical averages of alleged damages can be awarded thus assuming that all the members of the class are similarly harmed.  Tyson goes further and wants the entire class action claim denied on the grounds that class includes hundreds of former and current employees who suffered no injury and are entitled to no damages.  This will be important in determining how far a court can go in (1) certifying members of a class action lawsuit and (2) the method/payment of resolution of those damage awards.  Since this involves unionized workers at a pork-processing plant, expect organized labor to scream from the rafters if the Court sides with Tyson.

Luis vs. United States:  This case asks whether a defendant’s Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights are violated when the government seizes a person’s assets- even if those assets are untainted and not traceable to illegal activity- when that defendant needs those assets to retain counsel.  It seems a little inconceivable that the Court would even hear such a case.  It is even more inconceivable that a government would seize a defendant’s assets willy-nilly.  Simply on the basis of fairness, Luis should prevail.

That is it for the November sitting…