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June 2010 Archives

Denial of Post-Conviction Relief in Capital Case Vacated

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In Sears v. Upton, No. 09-8854, a capital murder prosecution, the Court vacated the Georgia Supreme Court's affirmance of the denial of post-conviction relief, holding that the state post-conviction trial court failed to apply the correct prejudice inquiry the Court had established for evaluating defendant's ineffective assistance claim, because 1) the court curtailed a more probing prejudice inquiry because it placed undue reliance on the assumed reasonableness of counsel's mitigation theory; and 2) the Court never limited the prejudice inquiry under Strickland to cases in which there was only "little or no mitigation evidence" presented.

As the Court wrote:  "According to an expert who testified during state post-conviction relief, petitioner Demarcus A. Sears performs at or below the bottom first percentile in several measures of cognitive functioning and reasoning. The cause of this abnormality appears to be significant frontal lobe brain damage Sears suffered as a child, as well as drug and alcohol abuse in his teens. But because--in the words of the state trial court--his counsel conducted a penalty phase investigation that was "on its face . . . constitutionally inadequate," App. to Pet. for Cert. 27B, evidence relating to Sears' cognitive impairments and childhood difficulties was not brought to light at the time he was sentenced to death."

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McDonald v. City of Chicago, No. 08-1521, involved an action against the City of Chicago alleging that the City's handgun ban left plaintiffs vulnerable to criminals.  The Court reversed judgment for defendants, holding that the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Second Amendment right, recognized in Heller, to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense.

As the Court wrote:  "Two years ago, in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U. S. ___ (2008), we held that the Second Amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense, and we struck down a District of Columbia law that banned the possession of handguns in the home. The city of Chicago (City) and the village of Oak Park, a Chicago suburb, have laws that are similar to the District of Columbia's, but Chicago and Oak Park argue that their laws are constitutional because the Second Amendment has no application to the States. We have previously held that most of the provisions of the Bill of Rights apply with full force to both the Federal Government and the States. Applying the standard that is well established in our caselaw, we hold that the Second Amendment right is fully applicable to the States."

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Free Enterprise Fund v. Pub. Co. Acctg. Oversight Bd., No. 08-861, concerned an action against the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board and its members, seeking, inter alia, a declaratory judgment that the Board was unconstitutional and an injunction preventing the Board from exercising its powers.  The Court affirmed the D.C. Circuit's affirmance of summary judgment for defendants, holding that the Board's appointment was consistent with the Appointments Clause.  However, the Court reversed in part, on the grounds that 1) the dual for-cause limitations on the removal of Board members contravene the Constitution's separation of powers; and 2) the unconstitutional tenure provisions were severable from the remainder of the statute.

As the Court wrote:  "Our Constitution divided the "powers of the new Federal Government into three defined categories, Legislative, Executive, and Judicial."  INS v. Chadha, 462 U. S. 919, 951 (1983). Article II vests "[t]he executive Power . . . in a President of the United States of America," who must "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed." Art. II, §1, cl. 1; id., §3. In light of "[t]he impossibility that one man should be able to perform all the great business of the State," the Constitution provides for executive officers to "assist the supreme Magistrate in discharging the duties of his trust." 30 Writings of George Washington 334 (J. Fitzpatrick ed. 1939)."

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Christian Legal Soc. v. Martinez, No. 08-1371, involved an action against Hastings College of Law, a public law school, alleging that Hastings' refusal to grant a Christian group "Registered Student Organization" status violated its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to free speech, expressive association, and free exercise of religion.  The Court affirmed summary judgment for defendant, holding that 1) the Court considered only whether a public institution's conditioning access to a student organization forum on compliance with an all-comers policy violated the Constitution; and 2) the all-comers policy was a reasonable, viewpoint-neutral condition on access to the RSO forum.

As the Court wrote:  "In a series of decisions, this Court has emphasized that the First Amendment generally precludes public universities from denying student organizations access to school sponsored forums because of the groups' viewpoints. See Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of Univ. of Va., 515 U. S. 819 (1995); Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U. S. 263 (1981); Healy v. James, 408 U. S. 169 (1972). This case concerns a novel question regarding student activities at public universities: May a public law school condition its official recognition of a student group--and the attendant use of school funds and facilities--on the organization's agreement to open eligibility for membership and leadership to all students?"

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Denial of Commodities Trading-Related Patent Application Affirmed

Bilski v. Kappos, No. 08-964, involved a patent application seeking protection for a claimed invention explaining how commodities buyers and sellers in the energy market could protect, or hedge, against the risk of price changes.  The Court affirmed the denial of the application, holding that 1) the machine-or-transformation test is not the sole test for patent eligibility under 35 U.S.C. section 101; 2) Section 101 precluded a reading of the term "process" that would categorically exclude business methods; and 3) even though petitioners' application was not categorically outside of section 101 under the two atextual approaches the Court rejected today, that did not mean it was a "process" under section 101.

As the Court wrote:  "The question in this case turns on whether a patent can be issued for a claimed invention designed for the business world. The patent application claims a procedure for instructing buyers and sellers how to protect against the risk of price fluctuations in a discrete section of the economy. Three arguments are advanced for the proposition that the claimed invention is outside the scope of patent law: (1) it is not tied to a machine and does not transform an article; (2) it involves a method of conducting business; and (3) it is merely an abstract idea. The Court of Appeals ruled that the first mentioned of these, the so-called machine-or-transformation test, was the sole test to be used for determining the patentability of a "process" under the Patent Act, 35 U. S. C. §101."

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Doe v. Reed, No. 09-559, involved a First Amendment challenge to the Washington Public Records Act based on its provision permitting the disclosure of referendum petition signers' names and addresses.  The Court affirmed the Ninth Circuit's reversal of the district court's preliminary injunction in favor of plaintiffs, holding that disclosure of referendum petitions does not as a general matter violate the First Amendment.

As the Court wrote:  "The State of Washington allows its citizens to challenge state laws by referendum. Roughly four percent of Washington voters must sign a petition to place such a referendum on the ballot. That petition, which by law must include the names and addresses of the signers, is then submitted to the government for verification and canvassing, to ensure that only lawful signatures are counted. The Washington Public Records Act (PRA) authorizes private parties to obtain copies of government documents, and the State construes the PRA to cover submitted referendum petitions."

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Morrison v. Nat'l Australia Bank Ltd., No. 08-1191, involved a securities fraud action by Australian citizens claiming that defendant corporation and its officers manipulated financial models to make the company's mortgage-servicing rights appear more valuable than they really were.  The Court affirmed the Second Circuit's affirmance of the dismissal of the action, holding that 1) the Second Circuit erred in considering Securities and Exchange Act section 10(b)'s extraterritorial reach to raise a question of subject-matter jurisdiction, thus allowing dismissal under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1); and 2) section 10(b) did not provide a cause of action to foreign plaintiffs suing foreign and American defendants for misconduct in connection with securities traded on foreign exchanges.

As the Court wrote:  "We decide whether §10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 provides a cause of action to foreign plaintiffs suing foreign and American defendants for misconduct in connection with securities traded on foreign exchanges."

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Granite Rock Co. v. Int'l. Brotherhood of Teamsters, No. 08-1214, an action against a labor union by an employer, invoking federal jurisdiction under section 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), seeking strike-related damages for the unions' alleged breach of contract, and asking for an injunction against the ongoing strike because the hold-harmless dispute was an arbitrable grievance under the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA).  The Court affirmed in part the Ninth Circuit's partial affirmance of the district court's order dismissing plaintiff's tortious interference claims and denying defendant's separate motion to send the parties' dispute over the CBA's ratification date to arbitration, holding that the Ninth Circuit did not err in declining to recognize a new federal common-law cause of action under LMRA section 301(a) for defendant's alleged tortious interference with the CBA.  However, the Court reversed in part, holding that the parties' dispute over the CBA's ratification date was a matter for the district court, not an arbitrator, to resolve.

As the Court wrote:  "This case involves an employer's claims against a local union and the union's international parent for economic damages arising out of a 2004 strike. The claims turn in part on whether a collective-bargaining agreement (CBA) containing a no-strike provision was validly formed during the strike period. The employer contends that it was, while the unions contend that it was not. Because the CBA contains an arbitration clause, we first address whether the parties' dispute over the CBA's ratification date was a matter for the District Court or an arbitrator to resolve. We conclude that it was a matter for judicial resolution. Next, we address whether the Court of Appeals erred in declining the employer's request to recognize a new federal cause of action under §301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947 (LMRA), 61 Stat.156, 29 U. S. C. §185(a), for the international union's alleged tortious interference with the CBA. The Court of Appeals did not err in declining this request."

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Capital Habeas Petition Not "Second or Successive"

In Magwood v. Patterson, No. 09-158, a capital habeas matter, the Court reversed the Eleventh Circuit's reversal of the grant of petitioner's petition, holding that, because petitioner's habeas application challenged a new judgment for the first time, it was not "second or succcessive" under 28 U.S.C. section 2244(b).

As the Court wrote:  "Petitioner Billy Joe Magwood was sentenced to death for murdering a sheriff. After the Alabama courts denied relief on direct appeal and in postconviction proceedings, Magwood filed an application for a writ of habeas corpus in Federal District Court, challenging both his conviction and his sentence. The District Court conditionally granted the writ as to the sentence, mandating that Magwood either be released or resentenced. The state trial court conducted a new sentencing hearing and again sentenced Magwood to death. Magwood filed an application for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court challenging this new sentence. The District Court once again conditionally granted the writ, finding constitutional defects in the new sentence. The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed, holding in relevant part that Magwood's challenge to his new death sentence was an unreviewable "second or successive" challenge under 28 U. S. C. §2244(b) because he could have mounted the same challenge to his original death sentence. We granted certiorari, and now reverse. Because Magwood's habeas application challenges a new judgment for the first time, it is not "second or successive" under §2244(b)."

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In Skilling v. US, No. 08-1394, the Court affirmed in part the Fifth Circuit's affirmance of defendant Jeffrey Skilling's honest-services fraud conviction, holding that pretrial publicity and community prejudice did not prevent Skilling from obtaining a fair trial, and he did not establish that a presumption of juror prejudice arose or that actual bias infected the jury that tried him.  However, the Court vacated in part, on the ground that 18 U.S.C. section 1346, which proscribed fraudulent deprivations of "the intangible right of honest services," was properly confined to cover only bribery and kickback schemes, and Skilling's alleged misconduct entailed no bribe or kickback.

As the Court wrote:  "In 2001, Enron Corporation, then the seventh highest revenue-grossing company in America, crashed into bankruptcy. We consider in this opinion two questions arising from the prosecution of Jeffrey Skilling, a longtime Enron executive, for crimes committed before the corporation's collapse. First, did pretrial publicity and community prejudice prevent Skilling from obtaining a fair trial? Second, did the jury improperly convict Skilling of conspiracy to commit "honest-services" wire fraud, 18 U. S. C.§§371, 1343, 1346?"

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Honest-Services Mail Fraud Convictions Vacated

In Black v. US, No. 08-876, the Court vacated the Seventh Circuit's affirmance of defendants' (including Conrad Black) honest-services mail fraud convictions, holding that 1) the honest-services component of the federal mail-fraud statute, 18 U.S.C. section 1346, criminalized only schemes to defraud that involved bribes or kickbacks, and that holding rendered the honest-services instructions given in this case incorrect; and 2) by properly objecting to the honest-services jury instructions at trial, defendants secured their right to challenge those instructions on appeal, and they did not forfeit that right by declining to acquiesce in the government-proposed special-verdict forms.

As the Court wrote:  "In Skilling v. United States, decided today, ante, p. __,we vacated a conviction because the indictment rested, in part, on an improper construction of the "honest services" component of the federal ban on mail fraud, 18 U. S. C.§§1341, 1346. A similar infirmity is present in this case. Here, too, the Government and trial court advanced an interpretation of §1346 rejected by the Court's opinion in Skilling. Nevertheless, the Government urges, the convictions of the defendants below, petitioners here, should be affirmed for an independent reason. At trial, the Government pursued alternative theories: (1) money-or-property fraud; and (2) honest-services fraud. To pinpoint whether the jury based its verdict on money-or-property fraud, or honest-services fraud, or both, the Government proposed special interrogatories to accompany the verdict. The defendants resisted, preferring an unelaborated general verdict, and the Government ultimately acquiesced in that standard form of submission."

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Constitutional Challenge to Terrorist Support Law Rejected

Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, No. 08-1498, concerned a constitutional challenge to 18 U.S.C. section 2339B(a)(1), which prohibits knowingly providing material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization.  The Court reversed the Ninth Circuit's affirmance of partial judgment for plaintiffs, holding that the material support statute was constitutional as applied to the particular forms of support that plaintiffs sought to provide to foreign terrorist organizations.

As the Court wrote:  "Congress has prohibited the provision of "material support or resources" to certain foreign organizations that engage in terrorist activity. 18 U. S. C. §2339B(a)(1). That prohibition is based on a finding that the specified organizations "are so tainted by their criminal conduct that any contribution to such an organization facilitates that conduct." Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), §301(a)(7), 110 Stat. 1247, note following 18 U. S. C. §2339B (Findings and Purpose). The plaintiffs in this litigation seek to provide support to two such organizations. Plaintiffs claim that they seek to facilitate only the lawful, nonviolent purposes of those groups, and that applying the material-support law to prevent them from doing so violates the Constitution. In particular, they claim that the statute is too vague, in violation of the Fifth Amendment, and that it infringes their rights to freedom of speech and association, in violation of the First Amendment. We conclude that the material support statute is constitutional as applied to the particular activities plaintiffs have told us they wish to pursue. We do not, however, address the resolution of more difficult cases that may arise under the statute in the future."

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Court Addresses Arbitrability and a "Delegation" Provision

Rent-A-Center West, Inc. v. Jackson, No. 09-497, involved an employment discrimination action.  The Court reversed the Ninth Circuit's reversal of the district court's dismissal of the action based on the parties' agreement, holding that, under the Federal Arbitration Act, where an agreement to arbitrate includes an agreement that the arbitrator will determine the enforceability of the agreement, if a party challenges specifically the enforceability of that particular agreement, the district court considers the challenge, but if a party challenges the enforceability of the agreement as a whole, the challenge is for the arbitrator.

As the Court wrote:  "We consider whether, under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA or Act), 9 U. S. C. §§1-16, a district court may decide a claim that an arbitration agreement is unconscionable, where the agreement explicitly assigns that decision to the arbitrator."

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Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms, No. 09-475, involved an action challenging the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's (APHIS) decision to approve the unconditional deregulation of Roundup Ready Alfalfa (RRA), a variety of alfalfa genetically engineered to tolerate the herbicide Roundup.  The court of appeals reversed the Ninth Circuit's affirmance of judgment for plaintiffs, holding that 1) plaintiffs had standing to seek injunctive relief, and defendants had standing to seek the Court's review of the Ninth Circuit's judgment affirming the entry of such relief; and 2) the district court abused its discretion in enjoining APHIS from effecting a partial deregulation and in prohibiting the planting of RRA pending the agency's completion of its detailed environmental review.

As the Court wrote:  "This case arises out of a decision by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to deregulate a variety of genetically engineered alfalfa. The District Court held that APHIS violated the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), 83 Stat. 852, 42 U. S. C. §4321 et seq., by issuing its deregulation decision without first completing a detailed assessment ofthe environmental consequences of its proposed course of action. To remedy that violation, the District Court vacated the agency's decision completely deregulating the alfalfa variety in question; ordered APHIS not to act on the deregulation petition in whole or in part until it had completed a detailed environmental review; and enjoined almost all future planting of the genetically engineered alfalfa pending the completion of that review. The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's entry of permanent injunctive relief. The main issue now in dispute concerns the breadth of that relief. For the reasons set forth below, we reverse and remand for further proceedings."

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New Process Steel, L.P. v. NLRB, No. 08-1457, concerned an appeal from the Seventh Circuit's denial of petitioners' petition for review of the National Labor Relations Board's (NLRB) finding that petitioners committed unfair labor practices.  The Court reversed, on the ground that section 3(b) of the National Labor Relations Act requires that a delegee group of the NLRB maintain a membership of three in order to exercise the delegated authority of the Board.

As the Court wrote:  "The Taft-Hartley Act, enacted in 1947, increased the size of the National Labor Relations Board (Board) from three members to five. See 29 U. S. C. §153(a). Concurrent with that change, the Taft-Hartley Act amended §3(b) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to increase the quorum requirement for the Board from two members to three, and to allow the Board to delegate its authority to groups of at least three members. See §153(b). The question in this case is whether, following a delegation of the Board's powers to a three-member group, two members may continue to exercise that delegated authority once the group's (and the Board's) membership falls to two. We hold that two remaining Board members cannot exercise such authority."

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Stop the Beach Renourishment, Inc. v. Fla. Dept. of Env. Protection, Inc., No. 08-1151, involved an action challenging the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's approval of permits to restore a portion of beach eroded by several hurricanes.  The Court affirmed the Florida Supreme Court's holding that the approval of the permits did not unconstitutionally deprive plaintiffs of littoral rights without just compensation, on the ground that there could be no taking unless petitioner could show that, before the Florida Supreme Court's decision, littoral property owners had rights to future accretions and to contact with the water superior to the State's right to fill in its submerged land.

As the Court wrote:  "We consider a claim that the decision of a State's court of last resort took property without just compensation inviolation of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment, as applied against the States through the Fourteenth, see Dolan v. City of Tigard, 512 U. S. 374, 383-384 (1994)."

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City's Review of Police Officer's Text Messages Upheld

City of Ontario v. Quon, No. 08-1332, involved an action by police officers against the city employing them, claiming that defendants violated their Fourth Amendment rights and the federal Stored Communications Act (SCA) by obtaining and reviewing the transcript of plaintiff-officer's pager messages.  The Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit's reversal of summary judgment for defendants, holding that, because the city's search of plaintiff's text messages was reasonable, defendants did not violate plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment rights.

As the Court wrote:  "This case involves the assertion by a government employer of the right, in circumstances to be described, to read text messages sent and received on a pager the employer owned and issued to an employee. The employee contends that the privacy of the messages is protected by the ban on "unreasonable searches and seizures" found in the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, made applicable to the States by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U. S. 643 (1961). Though the case touches issues of far-reaching significance, the Court concludes it can be resolved by settled principles determining when a search is reasonable."

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Schwab v. Reilly, No. 08-538, involved a Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee's appeal from the Third Circuit's affirmance of the bankruptcy court's order denying the trustee permission to auction certain equipment so that the debtor could receive the money she claimed exempt and the estate could distribute the remaining value to creditors.  The Court reversed, holding that because debtor gave "the value of [her] claimed exemption[s]" on Schedule C dollar amounts within the range the Code allows for what it defines as the "property claimed as exempt," the trustee was not required to object to the exemptions in order to preserve the estate's right to retain any value in the equipment beyond the value of the exempt interest.

As the Court wrote:  "When a debtor files a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition, all of the debtor's assets become property of the bankruptcy estate, see 11 U. S. C. §541, subject to the debtor's right to reclaim certain property as "exempt," §522(l). The Bankruptcy Code specifies the types of property debtors may exempt, §522(b), as well as the maximum value of the exemptions a debtor may claim in certain assets, §522(d). Property a debtor claims as exempt will be excluded from the bankruptcy estate "[u]nless a party in interest" objects. §522(l)."

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Booker Holdings Inapplicable to Proceedings for Sentence Reduction

Dillon v. US, No. 09-6338, involved defendant's motion for a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. section 3582(c)(2).  The Supreme Court affirmed the Third Circuit's affirmance of the denial of the motion, holding that Booker's holdings did not apply to section 3582(c)(2) proceedings, and therefore did not require treating U.S.S.G. secton 1B1.10(b) as advisory.

As the Court wrote:  "A federal court generally "may not modify a term of imprisonment once it has been imposed." 18 U. S. C. §3582(c). Congress has provided an exception to that rule "in the case of a defendant who has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission." §3582(c)(2). In those circumstances, §3582(c)(2) authorizes a court to reduce the term of imprisonment "if such a reduction is consistent with" applicable Commission policy statements. The policy statement governing §3582(c)(2) proceedings instructs courts not to reduce a term of imprisonment below the minimum of an amended sentencing range except to the extent the original term of imprisonment was below the range then applicable. See United States Sentencing Commission, Guidelines Manual §1B1.10(b)(2) (Nov. 2009) (USSG). This case presents the question whether our decision in United States v. Booker, 543 U. S. 220 (2005), which rendered the Guidelines advisory to remedy the Sixth Amendment problems associated with a mandatory sentencing regime, requires treating §1B1.10(b) as nonbinding. We conclude that Booker does not demand that result."

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In Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder, No. 09-60, the Court reversed the Fifth Circuit's denial of petitioner's petition for review of the BIA's order, holding that second or subsequent simple possession offenses are not aggravated felonies under 8 U.S.C. section 1101(a)(43) when, as in this case, the state conviction was not based on the fact of a prior conviction.

As the Court wrote:  "Petitioner Jose Angel Carachuri-Rosendo, a lawful permanent resident who has lived in the United States since he was five years old, faced deportation under federal law after he committed two misdemeanor drug possession offenses in Texas. For the first, possession of less than two ounces of marijuana, he received 20 days in jail. For the second, possession without a prescription of one tablet of a common antianxiety medication, he received 10 days in jail. After this second offense, the Federal Government initiated removal proceedings against him. He conceded that he was removable, but claimed he was eligible for discretionary relief from removal under 8 U. S. C. §1229b(a)."

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Social Security Attorney's Fee Award Payable to the Litigant

Astrue v. Ratliff, No. 08-1322, involved an action against the Social Security Administration for Social Security benefits.  The Supreme Court reversed the Eighth Circuit's reversal of the district court's order that plaintiff's attorney lacked standing to contest an offset imposed by the U.S. against attorney's fees received by plaintiff, holding that a 28 U.S.C. section 2412(d)(1)(A) attorney's fee award was payable to the litigant and was therefore subject to an offset to satisfy the litigant's preexisting debt to the government.

As the Court wrote:  "Section 204(d) of the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), codified in 28 U. S. C. §2412(d), provides in pertinent part that "a court shall award to a prevailing party . . . fees and other expenses . . . in any civil action . . . brought by or against the United States . . . unless the court finds that the position of the United States was substantially justified." We consider whether an award of "fees and other expenses" to a "prevailing party" under §2412(d) is payable to the litigant or to his attorney. We hold that a §2412(d) fees award is payable to the litigant and is therefore subject to a Government offset to satisfy a pre-existing debt that the litigant owes the United States."

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Untimely Restitution Order Upheld

Dolan v. US, No. 09-367, concerned a prosecution for assault resulting in serious bodily injury, the Court affirmed the Tenth Circuit's affirmance of the district court's untimely restitution order, holding that a sentencing court that misses the 90-day deadline nonetheless retains the power to order restitution, at least where, as here, that court made clear prior to the deadline's expiration that it would order restitution, leaving open (for more than 90 days) only the amount.

As the Court wrote:  "This case concerns the remedy for missing a statutory deadline. The statute in question focuses upon mandatory restitution for victims of crimes. It provides that "the court shall set a date for the final determination of the victim's losses, not to exceed 90 days after sentencing." 18 U. S. C. §3664(d)(5). We hold that a sentencing court that misses the 90-day deadline nonetheless retains the power to order restitution--at least where, as here, the sentencing court made clear prior to the deadline's expiration that it would order restitution, leaving open (for more than 90 days) only the amount."

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Full Text of Dolan v. US, No. 09-367

AEDPA Statute of Limitations Subject to Equitable Tolling

Holland v. Fla., No. 09-5327, involved a capital habeas matter.  The Supreme Court reversed the Eleventh Circuit's affirmance of the denial of petitioner's habeas petition, holding that: 1) 28 U.S.C. section 2244(d), the AEDPA statute of limitations, is subject to equitable tolling in appropriate cases, and the per se standard employed by the Eleventh Circuit was too rigid; and 2) the district court incorrectly rested its ruling not on a lack of extraordinary circumstances (which may well be present), but on a lack of diligence.

As the Court wrote:  "We here decide that the timeliness provision in the federal habeas corpus statute is subject to equitable tolling. See Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), 28 U. S. C. §2244(d). We also consider its application in this case. In the Court of Appeals' view, when a petitioner seeks to excuse a late filing on the basis of his attorney's unprofessional conduct, that conduct, even if it is "negligent" or "grossly negligent," cannot "rise to the level of egregious attorney misconduct" that would warrant equitable tolling unless the petitioner offers "proof of bad faith, dishonesty, divided loyalty, mental impairment or so forth." 539 F.3d 1334, 1339 (CA11 2008) (per curiam). In our view, this standard is too rigid. See Irwin v. Department of Veterans Affairs, 498 U. S. 89, 96 (1990); see also Lawrence v. Florida, 549 U. S. 327, 336 (2007). We therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand for further proceedings.

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Barber v. Thomas, No. 09-5201, concerned an action by inmates claiming that the Bureau of Prisons' (BOP) good-time credit calculation method was unlawful because 18 U.S.C. section 3624(b)(1) required a calculation based on the length of the term of imprisonment imposed by the sentencing judge, not the length of time the prisoner actually served.  The Court affirmed the Ninth Circuit's affirmance of summary judgment for defendants, on the ground that, because the BOP's method for calculating good time credit reflected the most natural reading of the statute, it was lawful.

As the Court wrote:  "Federal sentencing law permits federal prison authorities to award prisoners credit against prison time as a reward for good behavior. 18 U. S. C. § 3624(b). Petitioners, two federal prisoners, challenge the method that the Federal Bureau of Prisons uses for calculating this "good time credit." We conclude that the Bureau's method reflects the most natural reading of the statute, and we reject petitioners' legal challenge."

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Disposable Income Calculation Issue in Bankruptcy Matters

Hamilton v. Lanning, No. 08-998, concerned an objection by a Chapter 13 bankruptcy trustee to confirmation of debtor's plan because the proposed payment amount was less than the full amount of the claims against debtor, and because she had not committed all of her "projected disposable income" to repaying creditors.  The Supreme Court affirmed the Tenth Circuit's affirmance of the bankruptcy court's rejection of the objection, holding that, when a bankruptcy court calculates a debtor's projected disposable income, the court may account for changes in the debtor's income or expenses that are known or virtually certain at the time of confirmation.

As the Court wrote: "Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code provides bankruptcy protection to "individual[s] with regular income" whose debts fall within statutory limits. 11 U. S. C. §§ 101(30), 109(e). Unlike debtors who file under Chapter 7 and must liquidate their nonexempt assets in order to pay creditors, see §§704(a)(1), 726, Chapter 13 debtors are permitted to keep their property, but they must agree to a court approved plan under which they pay creditors out of their future income, see §§1306(b), 1321, 1322(a)(1), 1328(a). A bankruptcy trustee oversees the filing and execution of a Chapter 13 debtor's plan. §1322(a)(1); see also 28 U. S. C. §586(a)(3)."

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Krupski v. Costa Crociere S.P.A., No. 09-337, concerned a personal injury action for injuries plaintiff suffered on a cruise ship.  The Court reversed the Eleventh Circuit's affirmance of the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims against a newly added defendant, holding that relation back under Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)(1)(C) depended on what the party to be added knew or should have known, not on the amending party's knowledge or timeliness in seeking to amend the pleading.

As the Court wrote:  "Rule 15(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs when an amended pleading "relates back" to the date of a timely filed original pleading and is thus itself timely even though it was filed outside an applicable statute of limitations. Where an amended pleading changes a party or a party's name, the Rule requires, among other things, that "the party to be brought in by amendment . . . knew or should have known that the action would have been brought against it, but for a mistake concerning the proper party's identity." Rule 1 (c)(1)(C). In this case, the Court of Appeals held that Rule 15(c) was not satisfied because the plaintiff knew or should have known of the proper defendant before filing her original complaint. The court also held that relation back was not appropriate because the plaintiff had unduly delayed in seeking to amend. We hold that relation back under Rule 15(c)(1)(C) depends on what the party to be added knew or should have known, not on the amending party's knowledge or its timeliness in seeking to amend the pleading. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals."

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Court Certifies Juvenile Sex Offender Question

US v. Juvenile Male, No. 09-940, involved the government's appeal from the Ninth Circuit's order reversing the district court's order requiring defendant to register as a juvenile sex offender and to keep his registration current under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act.  The Supreme Court certified the following question to the Montana Supreme Court:  "Is respondent's duty to remain registered as a sex offender under Montana law contingent upon the validity of the conditions of his now-expired federal juvenile supervision order that required him to register as a sex offender, see Mont. Code Ann. §§ 46-23-502(6)(b), 41-5-1513(1)(c) (2005); State v. Villanueva, 328 Mont. 135, 138-140, 118 P. 3d 179, 181-182 (2005); see also § 46-23-502(9)(b) (2009), or is the duty an independent requirement of Montana law that is unaffected by the validity or invalidity of the federal juvenile-supervision conditions, see § 46-23-502(10) (2009); 2007 Mont. Laws ch. 483, § 31, p. 2185?"

As the Court wrote:  "In 2005, respondent was charged in the United States District Court for the District of Montana with juvenile delinquency under the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act (FJDA), 18 U. S. C. § 5031 et seq. Respondent eventually pleaded "true" to knowingly engaging in sexual acts with a person under 12 years of age, which would have been a crime under §§ 2241(c) and 1153(a) if committed by an adult. In June 2005, the District Court accepted respondent's plea and adjudged him delinquent. The court sentenced respondent to two years' official detention and juvenile delinquent supervision until his 21st birthday. The court also ordered respondent to spend the first six months of his juvenile supervision in a prerelease center and to abide by the center's conditions of residency."

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FSIA Inapplicable in Action Against Somali Government Officials

Samantar v. Yousuf, No. 08-1555, involved an action by persons who were persecuted by the Somali government during the 1980s, alleging that defendant, who then held high-level government positions in Somalia, exercised command and control over the military forces committing the abuses, knew or should have known of such acts, and aided and abetted in their commission.  The Supreme Court affirmed the Fourth Circuit's reversal of the dismissal of the action, holding that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) did not govern petitioner's claim of immunity because there was nothing to suggest that "foreign state" in the FSIA should be read to include an official acting on behalf of that state.

As the Court wrote:  "From 1980 to 1986 petitioner Mohamed Ali Samantar was the First Vice President and Minister of Defense of Somalia, and from 1987 to 1990 he served as its Prime Minister. Respondents are natives of Somalia who allege that they, or members of their families, were the victims of torture and extrajudicial killings during those years. They seek damages from petitioner based on his alleged authorization of those acts. The narrow question we must decide is whether the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA or Act), 28 U. S. C. §§1330, 1602 et seq., provides petitioner with immunity from suit based on actions taken in his official capacity. We hold that the FSIA does not govern the determination of petitioner's immunity from suit."

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Alabama v. N. Carolina, No. 132, concerned an action by Florida and Tennessee against North Carolina seeking monetary sanctions under the terms of the Southeast Interstate Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management Compact (Compact), which was entered into by Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.  The Supreme Court adopted the Special Master's recommendations, on the grounds that 1) the terms of the Compact did not authorize the Commission administering the Compact to impose monetary sanctions against North Carolina; 2) North Carolina did not breach its contractual obligation to take "appropriate steps" toward the issuance of a waste disposal license; and 3) under Arizona v. California, 460 U.S. 605 (1983), the Commission's claims were not barred by sovereign immunity so long as the Commission asserted the same claims and sought the same relief as the plaintiff States.

As the Court wrote:  "In 1986, Congress granted its consent under the Compact Clause, U.S. Const., Art. I, §10, cl. 3, to seven interstate compacts providing for the creation of regional facilities to dispose of low-level radioactive waste. Omnibus Low-Level Radioactive Waste Interstate Compact Consent Act, 99 Stat. 1859. One of those compacts was the Southeast Interstate Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management Compact (Compact), entered into by Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. Id., at 1871-1880. That Compact established an "instrument and framework for a cooperative effort" to develop new facilities for the long-term disposal of low-level radioactive waste generated within the region. Art. 1, id., at 1872. The Compact was to be administered by a Southeast Interstate Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management Commission (Commission), composed of two voting members from each party State. Art. 4(A), id., at 1874."

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In Berghuis v. Thompkins, No. 08-1470, a murder prosecution, the Supreme Court reversed the Sixth Circuit's reversal of the district court's denial of petitioner's habeas petition, holding that the state court's decision rejecting petitioner's Miranda claim was correct under de novo review and therefore necessarily reasonable under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act's more deferential standard of review because petitioner's silence during his interrogation did not invoke his right to remain silent.

As the Court wrote:  "The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in a habeas corpus proceeding challenging a Michigan conviction for first-degree murder and certain other offenses, ruled that there had been two separate constitutional errors in the trial that led to the jury's guilty verdict. First, the Court of Appeals determined that a statement by the accused, relied on at trial by the prosecution, had been elicited in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). Second, it found that failure to ask for an instruction relating to testimony from an accomplice was ineffective assistance by defense counsel. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). Both of these contentions had been rejected in Michigan courts and in the habeas corpus proceedings before the United States District Court. Certiorari was granted to review the decision by the Court of Appeals on both points. The warden of a Michigan correctional facility is the petitioner here, and Van Chester Thompkins, who was convicted, is the respondent."

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Discriminatory Taxation Action Must Proceed in State Court

Levin v. Commerce Energy, Inc., No. 09-223, involved an action against the Ohio Tax Commissioner (Commissioner) by independent natural gas marketers (IMs) who offered to sell natural gas to Ohio consumers, alleging discriminatory taxation of IMs and their patrons in violation of the Commerce and Equal Protection Clauses.  The Supreme Court reversed the Sixth Circuit's reversal of the district court's dismissal of the action, holding that, under the comity doctrine, a taxpayer's complaint of allegedly discriminatory state taxation, even when framed as a request to increase a competitor's tax burden, must proceed originally in state court.

As the Court wrote:  "This case presents the question whether a federal district court may entertain a complaint of allegedly discriminatory state taxation, framed as a request to increase a commercial competitor's tax burden. Relevant to our inquiry is the Tax Injunction Act (TIA or Act), 28 U.S.C. § 1341, which prohibits lower federal courts from restraining "the assessment, levy or collection of any tax under State law where a plain, speedy and efficient remedy may be had in the courts of such State." More embracive than the TIA, the comity doctrine applicable in state taxation cases restrains federal courts from entertaining claims for relief that risk disrupting state tax administration. See Fair Assessment in Real Estate Assn., Inc. v. McNary, 454 U.S. 100 (1981). The comity doctrine, we hold, requires that a claim of the kind here presented proceed originally in state court. In so ruling, we distinguish Hibbs v. Winn, 542 U. S. 88 (2004), in which the Court held that neither the TIA nor the comity doctrine barred a federal district court from adjudicating an Establishment Clause challenge to a state tax credit that allegedly funneled public funds to parochial schools."

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SORNA Interstate Travel Prohibition Not Retroactive

In Carr v. US, No. 08-1301, the Supreme Court reversed the Seventh Circuit's affirmance of defendant's conviction for failure to register as a sex offender in Indiana under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), holding that 18 U.S.C. section 2250 does not apply to sex offenders whose interstate travel occurred before SORNA's effective date.

As the Court wrote:  "Since 1994, federal law has required States, as a condition for the receipt of certain law enforcement funds, to maintain federally compliant systems for sex offender registration and community notification. In an effort to make these state schemes more comprehensive, uniform, and effective, Congress in 2006 enacted the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA or Act) as part of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, Pub. L. 109-248, Tit. I, 120 Stat. 590. Among its provisions, the Act established a federal criminal offense covering, inter alia, any person who (1) "is required to register under [SORNA]," (2) "travels in interstate or foreign commerce," and (3) "knowingly fails to register or update a registration." 18 U. S. C. §2250(a).  At issue in this case is whether §2250 applies to sex offenders whose interstate travel occurred prior to SORNA's effective date and, if so, whether the statute runs afoul of the Constitution's prohibition on ex post facto laws. See Art. I, §9, cl. 3. Liability under §2250, we hold, cannot be predicated on pre-SORNA travel. We therefore do not address the ex post facto question."

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