Supreme Court Oral Arguments in January

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

On January 7, 2019, the US Supreme Court reconvenes for their January sitting.  On tap are the following cases:

Jan. 7th- Merck vs. Albrecht

This involves a state failure-to-warn statute regarding prescription pharmaceuticals and whether their laws are preempted by FDA guidelines.  Specifically, if a manufacturer informs the FDA of a possible side effect and the FDA rejects that claim, should a case go forward in a state claim?  A good example may be: company A tells the FDA the side effect of a drug is pimples.  The FDA, based on the evidence supplied by the company, determines no big deal.  Lady in Washington gets pimples and sues under state law.  Should her claim go to trial?

Jan. 7th- Obduskey vs. McCarthy and Holthus

Every year, debt collectors move against homeowners who default on home loans through foreclosure procedures.  The federal government, reacting to abuses by these debt collectors, passed the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.  Left undetermined is whether these consumer protections apply when a foreclosure does not occur through the courts.  Considering that mortgage debt in the US totals about $8 trillion and thousands of foreclosures occur every month, this is an important case.  In 2016, there were 400,000 homes lost to foreclosure and in half of those cases, the foreclosures were non-judicial.

Jan. 8th- Herrera vs. Wyoming

Here’s a dispute going back to 1868.  Prior to Wyoming’s entry into the union, the government negotiated a treaty with the Crow indians allowing them to hunt unimpeded on the lands of the United States.  The Court is asked whether Wyoming’s admission into the union and/or the establishment of the Bighorn National Forest basically negated that treaty.  Herrera is a member of the Crow tribe who was convicted of sustenance hunting in the Bighorn National Forest.

Jan. 8th- Fourth Estate Co. vs Wall-Street.com

This is a case of statutory interpretation and when a copyright claim begins- when the appropriate paperwork is submitted and fee paid, or when the Copyright Office actually acts?

Jan. 9- Franchise Tax Board of California vs. Hyatt

Previously, the Court in a case called Nevada vs. Hall, determined that a state is not immune from being called into another state’s court system to resolve tax issues among companies or individuals doing business or owning homes in both states.  This case is a direct challenge to that previous case and the Court is being asked to overrule it.

Jan. 14- Thacker vs. Tennessee Valley Authority

While in a fishing tournament, Thacker’s boat crossed a downed power line maintained by the TVA that had fallen into the Tennessee River.  One person was killed and another severely electrocuted.  Thacker is suing the TVA claiming they did not warn voters of the hazard, nor respond in a timely manner in addressing it.  The TVA counters that they are immune from a lawsuit.

Jan. 14- Rimini Street vs. Oracle

Another statutory interpretation case as to what damages can be sought for copyright infringement.

Jan. 15- Home Depot vs. Jackson

A complicated class action interpretation case with all the interest of watching paint dry.

Jan. 15- Azar vs. Allina Health Services

This case will determine whether the Department of Health and Human Services must conduct a notice and comment proceeding before providing challenged instructions to a Medicare administrative contractor.

Jan. 16- Knick vs. Township of Scott, PA

The state of Pennsylvania passed a law requiring public access to cemeteries in the state.  Knick owned land on which a private cemetery existed.  Before making a Fifth Amendment Taking’s Clause case, under existing Supreme Court jurisprudence, plaintiffs must first exhaust state remedies before pursuing a federal cause of action.  A plaintiff who often follows that course of action is then caught in a Catch-22 and precluded from pursuing a federal claim.  Justice Thomas has criticized these previous decisions as “downgrading the Just Compensation Clause to second-class status.”  This case asks the Court to reconsider and reverse previous Court precedent in this area.  This is perhaps the marquee case in January.

Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Assn. vs. Blair

Not only will an 1868 treaty with the Crow in Wyoming be on the docket this month, so will the 21st Amendment which repealed Prohibition.  Tennessee law provides that liquor and wine retailers and wholesalers reside in the state for a specified period of time before being granted a license.  This requirement is being challenged under the 21st Amendment.  Ironically, the state is also invoking the 21st Amendment asserting that under the dormant commerce clause, they have the right to pass such a law.

That’s it for the January sitting.