U.S. Supreme Court - The FindLaw U.S. Supreme Court Opinion Summaries Blog

Raisins, Arbitration, and Incarceration Decisions

Today was not the day where the Supreme Court stood up and affirmed equality. Nor was it the day that they ended affirmative action or a 1960s Voting Rights Act that continues oversight over southern states' elections. Nope. Today was the day of jurisdiction over raisons, narrow decisions on arbitration, and ex post facto application to incarceration non-laws.

If you were waiting for one of the pending landmark cases, we do have good news: more opinions are scheduled for Thursday.

California Raisins (Horne v. Department of Agriculture)

The Horne family hates "communism." And by "communism" (their words), they mean the government's restrictions on the amount of raisins they can produce and/or handle. They were fined for over-growing, raised a takings claim as a defense, and the Ninth Circuit punted, finding that takings claims are a Court of Federal Claims matter.

Sorry, Ninth Circuit. The oft-reversed appeals court's paradoxical ruling was that the Horne family were raisin handlers (instead of producers, which would exempt them from the Marketing Order regulation). However, because they were producers, only the CFC had jurisdiction.

Confused? Yeah, it's the Ninth Circuit. Their raison d'tetre is to be overturned by SCOTUS.

So of course, the High Court unanimously reversed and held that the Ninth Circuit did, indeed, have jurisdiction. More significantly, the court held that a party raising a constitutional defense to an administrative fine won't have to pay the fine in one proceeding, and then file a defensive claim to get their money back in another forum.

Arbitration Concession (Oxford Health Plans v. Sutter)

This could have been a landmark class-action arbitration decision. However, the court stuck to the narrow path and held that when the parties agree that the arbitrator shall interpret the contract, and the arbitrator does exactly that (finding that the contract approved class-action arbitration), then the court will defer to the arbitrator's interpretation.

Key unanimous holding: §10(a)(4) of the Federal Arbitration Act permits courts to "vacate an arbitral decision only when the arbitrator strayed from his delegated task of interpreting a contract, not when he performed that task poorly." Here, the arbitrator interpreted the contract to allow class-action arbitration. As long as the interpretation has some basis in the contract, it will stand.

Alito's concurrence points out that only Sutter himself, the named plaintiff, conceded to allow the arbitrator's interpretation of the contract. He would hesitate to apply the arbitrator's interpretation to the remainder of the class.

Ex Post Facto Guidelines (Peugh v. United States)

We all remember the "ex post facto" clause from fourth grade history class. It says that we can't retroactively make things illegal or increase punishment. What about retroactive changes to sentencing guidelines? They are technically non-binding. It's not retroactive creation or modification of a law, right?

Well, that's the four-judge dissent's take. The majority holds that ex post facto applies to anything that increases the potential punishment, and since the guidelines are so persuasive, "the presence of discretion [won't] displace the protections of [that] clause."

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