U.S. Supreme Court: March 2010 Archives
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March 2010 Archives

Padilla v. Kentucky, No. 08-651

In Padilla v. Kentucky, No. 08-651, which involved postconviction proceedings arising from a drug distribution prosecution, after which petitioner faced deportation based on his guilty plea and claimed that his counsel failed to advise him of the consequences of the plea, the Supreme Court reversed the state supreme court's denial of postconviction relief, holding that, because counsel must inform a client whether his plea carries a risk of deportation, petitioner sufficiently alleged that his counsel was constitutionally deficient.

As the Court wrote:  "Petitioner Jose Padilla, a native of Honduras, has been a lawful permanent resident of the United States for more than 40 years. Padilla served this Nation with honor as a member of the U. S. Armed Forces during the Vietnam War. He now faces deportation after pleading guilty to the transportation of a large amount of marijuana in his tractor-trailer in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. In this postconviction proceeding, Padilla claims that his counsel not only failed to advise him of this consequence prior to his entering the plea, but also told him that he"'did not have to worry about immigration status since he had been in the country so long.'" 253 S. W. 3d 482, 483 (Ky. 2008). Padilla relied on his counsel's erroneous advice when he pleaded guilty to the drug charges that made his deportation virtually mandatory. He alleges that he would have insisted on going to trial if he had not received incorrect advice from his attorney."

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Shady Grove Orthopedic Assocs., P.A. v. Allstate Ins. Co., No. 08-1008, involved a class action seeking to recover interest due under New York law on plaintiff's insurance claim.  The Supreme Court reversed the Second Circuit's order affirming the district court's dismissal of the action for lack of jurisdiction based on a New York law precluding class actions to recover a "penalty" such as statutory interest, on the ground that Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b) answered the question in dispute -- whether plaintiff's suit may proceed as a class action -- when it stated that "[a] class action may be maintained" if certain conditions are met. Since N. Y. Civ. Prac. Law Ann. section 901(b) attempted to answer the same question, stating that plaintiff's suit "may not be maintained as a class action" because of the relief it sought, that provision could not apply in diversity suits unless Rule 23 was ultra vires.

As the Court wrote:  "New York law prohibits class actions in suits seeking penalties or statutory minimum damages.  We consider whether this precludes a federal district court sitting in diversity from entertaining a class action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23."

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Graham County Soil & Water Conservation Dist. v. US ex rel. Wilson, No. 08-304, concerned an action claiming that county conservation districts and local and federal officials knowingly submitted false payment claims to the U.S. in violation of the False Claims Act.  The Supreme Court reversed the Fourth Circuit's reversal of the district court's dismissal of the action for lack of jurisdiction, holding that the reference to "administrative" reports, audits, and investigations contained in 31 U.S.C. section 3730(e)(4)(A) (the FCA's public disclosure bar) encompasses disclosures made in state and local sources, as well as federal sources.

As the Court wrote:  "The False Claims Act (FCA) authorizes both the Attorney General and private qui tam relators to recover from persons who make false or fraudulent payment claims to the United States, but it bars qui tam actions based upon the public disclosure of allegations or transactions in, inter alia, "a congressional, administrative, or Government Accounting Office [(GAO)] report, hearing, audit, or investigation." 31 U. S. C. §3730(e)(4)(A). Here, federal contracts provided that two North Carolina counties would remediate areas damaged by flooding and that the Federal Government would shoulder most of the costs. Respondent Wilson, then an employee of a local government body involved in this effort, alerted local and federal officials about possible fraud. Both the county and the State issued reports identifying potential irregularities in the contracts' administration. Subsequently, Wilson filed a qui tam action, alleging, as relevant here, that petitioners, county conservation districts and local and federal officials, knowingly submitted false payment claims in violation of the FCA."

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Berghuis v. Smith, No. 08-1402

Berghuis v. Smith, No. 08-1402, involved habeas proceedings brought by an individual convicted of second degree murder by an all-white jury.  The Supreme Court reversed the Sixth Circuit's reversal of the denial of petitioner's habeas petition, on the ground that Duren v. Missouri, 439 U. S. 357 (1979), hardly established -- much less "clearly" so -- that petitioner was denied his Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury drawn from a fair cross section of the community, because petitioner's evidence gave the Michigan Supreme Court little reason to conclude that the county's juror assignment order had any significant effect on the representation of African-Americans in the venire.

As the Court wrote:  "At voir dire in the Kent County Circuit Court trial of respondent Smith, an African-American, the venire panel included between 60 and 100 individuals, only 3 of whom, at most, were African-American. At that time, African-Americans constituted 7.28% of the County's jury-eligible population, and 6% of the pool from which potential jurors were drawn. The court rejected Smith's objection to the panel's racial composition, an all-white jury convicted him of second-degree murder and felony firearm possession, and the court sentenced him to life in prison with the possibility of parole."

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Jones v. Harris Assocs. L.P., No. 08-586

Jones v. Harris Assocs. L.P., No. 08-586, involved an action by shareholders in mutual funds managed by defendant investment adviser alleging that defendant violated section 36(b)(1) of the Investment Company Act of 1940.  The Supreme Court vacated the Seventh Circuit's order affirming the district court on alternative grounds, holding that, based on section 36(b)'s terms and the role that a shareholder action for breach of the investment adviser's fiduciary duty plays in the Act's overall structure, Gartenberg v. Merrill Lynch Asset Management, Inc., 694 F. 2d 923 (2d Cir. 1982), applied the correct standard to section 36(b) claims.  More specifically, to be guilty of a violation of section 36(b), an adviser must charge a fee that is so disproportionately large it bears no reasonable relationship to the services rendered and could not have been the product of arm's length bargaining.

As the Court wrote:  "Petitioners, shareholders in mutual funds managed by respondent investment adviser, filed this suit alleging that respondent violated § 36(b)(1) of the Investment Company Act of 1940, which imposes a 'fiduciary duty [on investment advisers] with respect to the receipt of compensation for services,' 15 U. S. C. § 80a-35(b). Granting respondent summary judgment, the District Court concluded that petitioners had not raised a triable issue of fact under the applicable standard set forth in Gartenberg v. Merrill Lynch Asset Management, Inc., 694 F. 2d 923, 928 (CA2): '[T]he test is essentially whether the fee schedule represents a charge within the range of what would have been negotiated at arm's length in light of all of the surrounding circumstances. . . . To be guilty of a violation of §36(b), . . . the adviser must charge a fee that is so disproportionately large it bears no reasonable relationship to the services rendered and could not have been the product of arm's length bargaining.' Rejecting the Gartenberg standard, the Seventh Circuit panel affirmed based on different reasoning."

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United Student Aid Funds, Inc. v. Espinosa, No. 08-1134

United Student Aid Funds, Inc. v. Espinosa, No. 08-1134, involved an appeal from a bankruptcy court order in a Chapter 13 proceeding, enforcing the confirmation of a student loan debtor's plan and directing creditors to cease any collection efforts. 

The Supreme Court affirmed the Ninth Circuit's judgment reversing the district court's order in favor of student loan creditor, holding that 1) creditor's actual notice of the filing and contents of the debtor's plan more than satisfied its due process rights, and thus debtor's failure to make the required service did not entitle creditor to relief under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(4); 2) although the bankruptcy court's failure to find undue hardship in this case was a legal error, the confirmation order was enforceable and binding on creditor because it had actual notice of the error and failed to object or timely appeal; but 3) the Ninth Circuit erred in holding that bankruptcy courts must confirm a plan proposing the discharge of a student loan debt without an undue hardship determination in an adversary proceeding unless the creditor timely raises a specific objection.

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Bloate v. US, No. 08-728

Bloate v. US, No. 08-728, involved a drug and firearm possession prosecution.  The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to dismiss the indictment on Speedy Trial Act grounds.

The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the time granted to prepare pretrial motions was not automatically excludable from the 70-day limit under 18 U.S.C. section 3161(h)(1), and such time may be excluded only when a district court grants a continuance based on appropriate findings under subsection (h)(7).

Thomas, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Stevens, Scalia, Kennedy, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor, JJ., joined. Ginsburg, J., filed a concurring opinion. Alito, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Breyer, J., joined.

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Milavetz, Gallop & Milavetz, P.A. v. US, No. 08-1119

Milavetz, Gallop & Milavetz, P.A. v. US, No. 08-1119, involved an action by a law firm seeking declaratory relief, arguing that plaintiff was not bound by the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act's (BAPCPA) debt relief agency provisions and therefore could freely advise clients to incur additional debt and need not make the requisite disclosures in its advertisements.

As the Court wrote:  "Congress enacted the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (BAPCPA or Act) to correct perceived abuses of the bankruptcy system. Among the reform measures the Act implemented are a number of provisions that regulate the conduct of "debtrelief agenc[ies]"--i.e., professionals who provide bankruptcy assistance to consumer debtors.  See 11 U. S. C. §§101(3), (12A).  These consolidated cases present the threshold question whether attorneys are debt relief agencies when they provide qualifying services."

The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals' order in part on the grounds that: 1) attorneys who provided bankruptcy assistance to assisted persons were debt relief agencies under the BAPCPA; and 2) BAPCPA section 528's requirements were reasonably related to the government's interest in preventing consumer deception.  However, the Court reversed in part, holding that BAPCPA section 526(a)(4) prohibited a debt relief agency only from advising a debtor to incur more debt because the debtor was filing for bankruptcy, rather than for a valid purpose.

Sotomayor, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Stevens, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Alito, JJ., joined, in which Scalia, J., joined except for n. 3, and in which Thomas, J., joined except for Part III-C. Scalia, J., and Thomas, J., filed opinions concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.

 

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Florida Battery Offense Not a "Violent Felony" under ACCA

In Johnson v. US, No. 08-6925, a circuit court of Appeals upheld defendant's sentence for possession of ammunition by a convicted felon, which was enhanced under the Armed Career Criminal Act.

As the Court wrote:  "We decide whether the Florida felony offense of battery by "[a]ctually and intentionally touch[ing]" another person, Fla. Stat. § 784.03(1)(a), (2) (2003), "has as an element the use . . . of physical force against the person of another," 18 U. S. C. §924(e)(2)(B)(i), and thus constitutes a "violent felony" under the Armed Career Criminal Act, §924(e)(1)."

The Court reversed on the ground that the Florida felony offense of battery by actually and intentionally touching another person does not have as an element the use of physical force against the person of another, and thus does not constitute a violent felony under 18 U.S.C. section 924(e)(1).

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Reed Elsevier, Inc. v. Muchnick, 08-103, involved a class action alleging copyright infringement, in which the Court of Appeals vacated a settlement class certification order for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

As the Court wrote:  "In this case, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that a copyright holder's failure to comply with [17 U.S.C.] section 411(a)'s registration requirement deprives a federal court of jurisdiction to adjudicate his copyright infringement claim. We disagree. Section 411(a)'s registration requirement is a precondition to filing a claim that does not restrict a federal court's subject-matter jurisdiction."

The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, although 17 U.S.C. section 411(a)'s registration requirement is a precondition to filing a copyright infringement claim, a copyright holder's failure to comply with that requirement does not restrict a federal court's subject matter jurisdiction over infringement claims involving unregistered works.

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High Court Rules in Petroleum Marketing Practices Act Case

Mac's Shell Serv., Inc. v. Shell Oil Prods. Co., No. 08-240, involved an action under the Petroleum Marketing Practices Act (Act) by service station franchisees, alleging that a petroleum franchisor, Shell, and its assignee had constructively terminated their franchises and constructively failed to renew their franchise relationships by substantially changing the rental terms that the dealers had enjoyed for years, increasing costs for many of them.  The Court of Appeals partially affirmed judgment for plaintiffs.

As the Court wrote:  "The Petroleum Marketing Practices Act (PMPA or Act) . . . limits the circumstances in which petroleum franchisors may "terminate" a franchise or "fail to renew" a franchise relationship. . . . In these consolidated cases, service-station franchisees brought suit under the Act, alleging that a franchisor had constructively "terminate[d]" their franchises and had constructively "fail[ed] to renew" their franchise relationships."

The Court affirmed in part on the ground that a franchisee who signs and operates under a renewal agreement with a franchisor may not maintain a constructive nonrenewal claim under the Act.  However, the Court reversed in part, holding that a franchisee cannot recover for constructive termination under the Act if the franchisor's allegedly wrongful conduct did not compel the franchisee to abandon its franchise.

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