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

April 2018 Archives

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.

SCOTUS heard oral arguments this week, in the closely watched Lucia v. SEC case. The petitioner is seeking to invalidate a judgment against him affirmed by an SEC administrative law judge by claiming that the SEC overstepped when it hired ALJs because they should have been appointed by the president or SEC pursuant to the president's constitutional appointment power.

Though Justice Gorsuch only seemed concerned with what sort of remedy the petitioner sought, several other justices seemed rather curious about how invalidating the SEC's current selection process for judges would affect those judges' impartiality and independence. Another big issue that the Court seemed to briskly skirt involved the president's ability not just to hire, but also the power to fire, agency appointees.

Supreme Court Upholds 'Death Squad' Patent System

U.S. Inventor is not your typical protest group, yet there they were protesting outside the U.S. Supreme Court as it heard arguments in Oil States Energy Services v. Greene's Energy Group.

The eclectic group has made headlines before over the sometimes esoteric issues of patent law. Earlier in the year, they burned patents outside the Patent and Trademark Office.

After the Supreme Court upheld the PTO's controversial inter partes review, the protesters were out in force again. In a dissent, Justice Neil Gorsuch had their backs.

As some SCOTUS pundits have caught on, the High Court seems to be slacking this term. Numerous reports explain that the justices have only issued 17 signed decisions so far through the end of March. For sports gambling enthusiasts, the delay must be maddening.

While that number isn't too far off from the past couple years, it's a far cry from the 31 the Court issued in 2013. The numbers haven't been this low since Chief Justice John Roberts became the Chief Justice. And while the volume of cases may be down, the reasons behind the slow down are presently unknown, and nearly unpredictable.

Although the majority of the internet world supported Microsoft's efforts to quash the search warrant that sought to obtain data that was stored abroad, by the time the case made it to the Supreme Court, Congress had passed a new law that effectively decided the dispute.

Curiously though, rather than let SCOTUS rule and affirm the warrant based on the newly passed law, a new warrant was issued and Microsoft just gave up, essentially forcing the hand of the Justices to dismiss for mootness, or, more colloquially, give the case the ole moot boot.

While it has long been a practice of the United States to deport non-citizens who commit a violent felony, what qualifies as a crime of "violence" has been a moving target. As the High Court's opinion in Session v. Dimaya explained, the federal statute requiring deportation defines violent crime in a way that is unconstitutionally vague.

The defendant in the deportation action, James Garcia Dimaya, was convicted of burglary in California. As the majority notes, in some courts, this is considered a violent crime, while in others it is not. Dimaya argued successfully to a lower court that the law was unconstitutionally broad, as his crime resulted in no injuries to his victims. And while Justice Kagan penned the ruling, interestingly, it was Justice Gorsuch's concurring opinion that swung the decision in Dimaya's favor.

Rod Blagojevich may not be the hot news topic that he once was back when he got convicted for trying to sell former President Obama's Illinois senate seat (vacated when he was sworn in as POTUS), as well as his other corruption charges. But the recent rejection of his appeal by the U.S. Supreme Court put the disgraced politician in the headlines, hopefully just one last time before he's released in half a decade.

Blagojevich was appealing to the High Court in hopes of shortening up his 14 year sentence. SCOTUS rejected the appeal, which argued that his status as a "model prisoner" should earn him some time off. However, when you get convicted on 17 out of 20 corruption charges, after a second trial, and your sentence is affirmed a couple times, chances are you don't have a chance with SCOTUS, even if you've been on the Celebrity Apprentice.

While there's no doubt about the fact that Justice Ginsburg is the biggest celebrity on the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Sotomayor may be wrestling away the title of coolest judge. Sure, Ginsburg made a big splash with her workout, but Sotomayor can dance! Also, she's credited with saving Major League Baseball.

And though Ginsburg has a big movie coming out about her in a couple weeks, how can you ignore the fact that Sotomayor, and not Ginsburg, has been interviewed by Oprah. Oprah asked the justice some seriously personal questions, and Sotomayor opened up, even explaining that she enjoyed being an appellate court judge more than she enjoys being a SCOTUS justice. As she explains, it's not that she doesn't like the job, but she really felt like she could be herself as the limelight wasn't as bright in lower court.

CLOUD Act Makes Microsoft Case Moot, Microsoft Agrees

It was the day before the big heavyweight fight, and then suddenly it was off.

One of the fighters got injured, tested positive for drugs, or something. Or as in the case of U.S. v. Microsoft Corp., Congress stepped in and broke it up.

The CLOUD Act, which created new procedures for acquiring data stored across borders, settles the issues in the case. So everybody go home, sorry no refunds.

After several years of appeals, the United States Supreme Court has weighed in, again, on the debate over whether car dealership service advisors are entitled to overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act, in Encino Motorcars v. Navarro. The case ping-ponged from the district to appellate court, to SCOTUS, then back down and back up to SCOTUS again.

The case, filed back in 2012, sought back pay for car dealership service advisors. The basis of the case was a new 2011 Department of Labor interpretation of the FLSA which seemed to remove service advisors from the specific overtime exemption which covered "any salesman, partsman, or mechanic primarily engaged in selling or servicing automobiles, trucks, or farm implements."