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SCOTUS Oral Argument Preview: Week of January 12, 2015

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on January 09, 2015 7:53 AM

After a nice, long, break, the Supreme Court is raring to go again, starting the second half of its October 2014 term with oral arguments on January 12.

The Court is apparently going to ease back into its job after vacation. This first week lacks the more polemical cases that we'll see later, focusing instead on interpreting regulations and statutes. (When will we get to same sex marriage and abortion?!)

What can SCOTUS watchers expect to see in the first week back? Here's a preview:

Reed v. Town of Gilbert (Monday, January 12)

A church and its pastor sued the town of Gilbert, Arizona, claiming that the town's ordinance regulating outdoor signs unconstitutionally favors some types of noncommercial speech (e.g., a political sign or a sign advertising church services) based on their content. This was actually the second time Reed appeared at the Ninth Circuit; in 2009, the court said that the ordinance was a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction that wasn't content-based.

Oneok v. Learjet (Monday, January 12)

After the energy crisis of 2000-02, several retail natural gas buyers sued several natural gas producers, claiming the producers manipulated the price of natural gas by reporting false information to trade publications. The buyers brought state and federal law claims, but the producers argued that the claims were preempted by the Natural Gas Act. The Ninth Circuit found that the NGA was limited to the intersate transport of natural gas for resale and wasn't intended to broadly encompass antitrust claims.

Mach Mining v. EEOC (Tuesday, January 13)

The Civil Rights Act requires the EEOC to try to negotiate an end to unlawful employment practices before pursuing a judicial remedy. Because the EEOC didn't negotiate first, Mach Mining sought dismissal of its suit on the ground that EEOC didn't engage in good faith conciliation first. The Seventh Circuit, disagreeing with other circuits, said that the EEOC's failure to negotiate wasn't a defense to discrimination.

Kellogg, Brown, and Root v. Carter (Tuesday, January 13)

Benjamin Carter, a former employee of KBR, claimed the company fraudulently overbilled the U.S. government for military support services in Iraq. KBR argued that the resulting qui tam action was barred by the False Claims Act's six-year statute of limitations. The Fourth Circuit found that the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act, which tolls an FCA claim during wartime, applied even though the United States had never formally declared war.

Mellouli v. Holder (Wednesday, January 14)

Following a conviction for possessing drug paraphernalia, Moones Mellouli, a lawful resident alien, was deported because of a drug conviction. His record of conviction, however, didn't specify what the conviction was for. The Eighth Circuit said that was irrelevant. The government's introduction of the original complaint for drug possession was enough to prove a drug crime by clear and convincing evidence.

Wellness Int'l Network v. Sharif (Wednesday, January 14)

Anna Nicole Smith returns! In Stern v. Marshall, the Supreme Court said that a bankruptcy court didn't have the authority to enter judgment on a debtor's state law counterclaim against a creditor. Richard Sharif, who found himself in bankruptcy, could have raised that argument in order to object to the bankruptcy judge's authority to enter a final judgment, but failed to, meaning it should have been waived. The Seventh Circuit found instead that this argument (apparently called a "Stern objection" now) can't be waived because it implicates constitutional separation-of-powers principles.

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