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This should've been an easy case of reading the plain text of the statute. Unfortunately, it's merely another example of why the entire tax code should be shredded and redrafted.

Quality Stores was going bankrupt. The company offered severance packages to all employees, based on seniority and service time. It withheld and paid Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes, then asked the IRS for the more than $1 million in payments back, arguing that severance pay was not subject to FICA taxation.

The Sixth Circuit, relying on an income tax withholding statute, held that severance payments were not FICA taxable. But the U.S. Supreme Court, in an 8-0 decision (with Justice Elena Kagan recused), felt otherwise.

It's going to be a busy week for SCOTUS with decisions expected in several cases, and on this dreary Monday, the Court did not disappoint. The order list was released with one cert grant, and many denials. The Court also issued an opinion in Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust, and we remember a landmark case beloved to all Torts 1 (and Con Law) students.

Opinion in Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust, et al. v. U.S.

The case of Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust gives us a bit of a lesson in railway history, and examines the application of the General Railroad Right of Way Act of 1875 to a landowner's interest, if any. The United States had obtained a right of way over petitioners' land for railroads, but later relinquished the rights.

You have the right to an attorney of your choosing, if you can afford one. Unfortunately, you can't, because your assets were just seized. Want to challenge the seizure? Not happening.

You also have the right to refuse to allow the police to search your home. Unfortunately, they may drag you away in cuffs and pressure your cohabitant into overriding your refusal. So, there's that. Just make sure you don't give them an "objectively reasonable" reason to slap on the iron bracelets.

Justice Scalia's reputation precedes him. He's a bit crass, a bit of a grouch, and during oral arguments, he makes Professor Charles Kingsfield seem milder than Elle Woods.

Still, his actions during oral arguments in Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States, a case no one except Property Law professors cares about, even managed to surprise regular SCOTUS watchers.

Despite the federal shutdown (now probably, maybe, possibly over!) crippling much of the country, the U.S. Supreme Court chugged on, finding funding in change dropped in the couch cushions and in Alito's stocks (maybe). Business as usual consisted of a few grants, a lot of denials, and a "whoops, we improvidently granted" dismissal.

If you have any interest in firearms, EPA regulations, or Justice Scalia scolding lawyers, read on:

Tired of waiting for the return of the Court?

The first official business of the 2013 term is here, with the Supreme Court issuing an orders list granting certiorari in eight cases. Recall that their summer backlog consisted of about 2,000 petitions, so we'd expect to hear more next week.

As for this week's business, from overrated boxing movies to fee-shifting issues in IP cases, here are the first four (of eight total) grants:

Myriad was an interesting case with interesting issues. Where is the line between finding (and patenting) genetic code, as it exists in nature, and protecting the intellectual property rights of a company that spent time and money researching a gene that can predict predisposition towards breast and ovarian cancer?

It wasn't the only decision released on the court's irregularly-scheduled Thursday. If judicial participation in plea negotiations, federal preemption of local trucking regulations, or interstate water rights disputes are your topic of choice on a Friday afternoon, read on.

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.

Earlier this week, we took a look at the Monsanto case, which had major implications for patent law and our nation’s farming industry. We also hinted at the outcome of the Court’s two other unanimous decisions for this week, one dealing with bankruptcy and defalcation, and the other dealing with a shady tow truck lot and the limits of federal law preemption.

Defalcation Defined

It is undisputed that Randy Bullock was not acting in bad faith when he violated his fiduciary duty as trustee to family life insurance trust. On three occasions, he borrowed funds from the trust, and each time, he paid the trust back — with interest. Nonetheless, his brothers sued and won a judgment against him. He sought to discharge that debt in bankruptcy. The code, however, prevents discharge of debts resulting from defalcation.


It May Float, But it's Not a Boat

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that practical possibilities trump their theoretical counterparts.

In a 7-2 decision, the Court found that a floating home didn't qualify as a "vessel" because "a reasonable observer ... would not consider it to be designed to any practical degree for carrying people or things on water."

(Sidebar: We basically reached the same result when we previewed this case in September.)