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


SCOTUS Vacates Adverse Possession Claim Against Tribe

When a judge says a case will be boring, you can believe it.

Justice Neil Gorsuch said as much as he read the opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in Upper Skagit Indian Tribe v. Lundgren. It was a dispute between a Native American tribe and a family over an adverse possession claim to an acre of land in Washington.

It was not as high-profile as recent decisions over sports betting and mandatory arbitration, but it will make a difference in the near future. The High Court remanded the case to decide whether the property claim is an exception to sovereign immunity.

Few cases this term have been as closely watched, or are as far reaching, as the Epic Systems v. Lewis case. The 5 to 4 decision handed down by the Court in the wage theft case held that arbitration agreements in employment contracts that ban collective action are enforceable.

For the estimated 25 million U.S. workers currently subject to these types of employment agreements, this decision is bad news. As some Court watchers are reporting, this opens up the potential for employers to go Lex Luther on their employees and steal just a little bit from each one in amounts so small, they don't even notice (or can't financially justify taking legal action).

Lawyer Can't Concede Guilt When Client Claims Innocence

Lawyers have to listen to their clients, especially when it comes to pleading guilty.

That's basically what the U.S. Supreme Court said in State of Louisiana v. McCoy. In that triple-murder case, Robert McCoy told his lawyer he didn't do it.

His attorney chose a different strategy, however, and McCoy wound up on death row. Lucky for him though, with the recent Supreme Court decision in his favor, he gets a new trial, but that's only because he's still alive.

For four federal criminal defendants in the Southern District of California, the United States Supreme Court just took away a little major victory they had scored on behalf of all federal criminal defendants in that federal district.

In the United States v. Sanchez-Gomez case, a unanimous Supreme Court reversed the holding of the Ninth Circuit, sitting en banc, that the Federal District Court for the Southern District of California's policy to shackle criminal defendants' hands and feet was unconstitutional. And while the Ninth Circuit truly grappled with the merits of the facts and law, SCOTUS saw an opportunity to give the whole case the old moot boot, and the whole Court took it.

Court: Extra-Territorial Wiretaps 'Not Insufficient'

Rejecting arguments to suppress evidence in a drug case, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the power of a judge to issue wiretap orders outside a trial court's jurisdiction.

In Dahda v. United States, a Kansas judge issued wiretap orders that were used to intercept communications in Kansas and other states. The justices held unanimously that the wiretap orders were "not insufficient" under a federal wiretap statute.

The Court rejected the defendants' argument that allowing judges extra-territorial jurisdiction produced "bizarre" results.

SCOTUS: States Free to Allow Sports Betting

The U.S. Supreme Court has opened up sports betting across the country, but the game is far from over.

No sooner than the court ruling came out, opponents were lining up to take the battle to Congress. Meanwhile, politics made strange bedfellows out of fantasy leagues, casinos, tribes and states that are rolling out the red carpet for bettors.

Observers said the decision will revolutionize spectator sports, even as professional and amateur leagues scrambled for position. For lawyers and court-watchers, however, it was an entirely different game.

A unanimous decision was reached in the controversial Byrd v. United States case, reversing the decisions of the appellate and district courts, which held that an officer did not need probable cause or consent to search a rental vehicle when the driver and sole occupant was not listed on the rental agreement.

As the High Court explained, the fact that a driver isn't listed on a rental agreement does not, in and of itself, impact a person's reasonable expectation in privacy. In short, the Court ruled that so long as a driver is legally in possession of the vehicle, Fourth Amendment protections still apply.

Landing a job as a federal judge's law clerk is a big deal. Unfortunately for many law students, the path to getting hired by any judge is often mired in high level networking, which is beyond the scope of most lawyers, let alone 1Ls, 2Ls, or even 3Ls.

To combat that barrier to entry, a new two-year pilot program was proposed last year and many judges across the country are participating in it. Notably, to encourage even more participation, Justice Kagan recently spoke in support of the pilot program, explaining that she would "take into account" whether judges and schools are complying with the new process when hiring her own clerks.

Supreme Court to Hear Google 'Cy Pres' Settlement Dispute

Agreeing to review an $8.5 million class-action settlement, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether a "cy pres" settlement was close enough.

The cy-pres doctrine allows courts to approve settlements for "as close as possible" to the donor's intent. In Frank v. Gaos, Google settled claims that the company wrongfully shared users' search queries with the settlement money going to the plaintiffs' attorneys and third parties instead of the class members.

An appeals court approved it because otherwise the class members would have received only about 4 cents each. The question is whether that was close enough or, in the words of Maxwell Smart, missed it by that much.

A decision handed down by the conservative majority of the High Court this week was criticized by Justice Sotomayor as using "a sledgehammer to crack a nut."

Notably, the case involved claims under the Alien Tort Statute seeking to hold Arab Bank, a corporation located in Jordan (with a branch in New York), liable for deaths and injuries caused by terrorist acts committed abroad. The majority affirmed the holding of the lower courts that a foreign corporation cannot be held liable under the ATS if all the conduct occurred abroad, and went a step further, ruling that foreign corps can't be sued at all under the ATS.