How a Supreme Court Vacancy Actually Works and Its Implications Part 1 of 2

Justice Scalia’s unexpected passing has created political upheaval, judicial uncertainty, and a procedural anomaly for the Supreme Court.  The entire nation is receiving a crash course in Civil Procedure as the Court responds to the vacancy created by Scalia. Barring any massive changes in the political situation, it seems this vacancy is one we’re all going to live with for a while.  It seems prudent, then, to analyze and talk to Supreme Court litigation experts about expectations of this extended vacancy, how it might impact the Court, the cases before the Court, and the country.

There is every indication that Scalia’s vacancy will have a big impact on some major issues.  Boris Bershteyn of  Skadden Arps,1  says, “Indeed, some of the most anticipated cases of this Term—including those involving Texas’s regulation of abortion clinics and the Obama Administration’s immigration initiatives—have been or will be heard after Justice Scalia’s death. “With that in mind, Tejinder Singh of Goldstein & Russell, P.C.,2 says, “Until a replacement Justice is confirmed, cases will either be decided by an eight-member Court or rescheduled for hearing later, depending on what the Court decides would be best for that particular case. There is no rule that the Court has to follow; it can do what it wants.”

What Happens to Cases Currently Before the Court that had Scalia’s Involvement Prior to his Death?

Scalia’s death affects any case where the court had not issued an opinion before he died. As Andy Pincus of Mayer Brownsays, “Justice Scalia’s death impacts every undecided case on which he sat – because the Court will now have to decide the case without Justice Scalia’s participation.  If he had responsibility for drafting a majority opinion or dissent, another Justice must take over that role.  If his vote was critical to the decision in the case, the Court will have to reconsider the matter and figure out how to decide it – or divide 4-4.”  This will have a greater impact as time goes on.  Any votes Scalia had cast in cases where the opinion had not been issued do not count. Wilmer Hale Appellate Partner Daniel Volchoksays, “At the time of Justice Scalia’s death, the Court had decided more cases from the October sitting than from any of the later sittings, so in that sense the impact on the later sittings is greater.”

What Happens to Cases During the Vacancy, Where the Court Issues a Ruling but is Divided Evenly?

In the instance where the court is divided evenly, and they agree there is no narrow interpretation they can all agree with, they can ask the case be reargued, or they can issue a short order stating that “the judgment under review is affirmed by an equally divided Court.” This is known as a per curiam opinion, and it is usually issued under the court’s name, instead of a majority and a minority opinion. This split effectively holds up the decision of the lower court, and it does not establish any sort of precedent.  According to Volchok, “Whichever option the Justices take for any particular case, they can do so on their own timetable; they do not have to choose immediately after a 4-4 vote.”

Another option, according to Volchok is “The Court has in the past ordered that cases be re-argued following the appointment of a new Justice.  That occurred, for example, when Justice Samuel Alito succeeded Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.  There’s no reason that couldn’t happen again here.” Less likely, is that a case is just held in limbo after the Court has decided to hear it.  Volchok thinks, “It seems more likely that the Court would simply decide those cases—by a 4-4 tie if necessary—and then take the same issues up again in different cases once the vacancy was filled.”

Some evidence suggests that the court might be taking steps to avoid 4-4 ties.   In Zubik v Burwell, the challenge to the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act, the court took the somewhat unconventional step of asking for supplemental briefs detailing possible compromises to the case.  Bershteyn says, “the Court’s recent, highly unusual order in Zubik v. Burwell . . . heard during the March sitting—may well be an effort to resolve the case in a way that avoids a 4-4 tie.”

Looking ahead, the case selection might be impacted by the vacancy, especially the longer the vacancy persists.  According to Singh, “the Court itself may become more reticent to take on issues that it believes are likely to end in 4-4 ties. So it may eschew cases raising some of the more controversial constitutional issues until it has a ninth Justice.”

How Does Scalia’s Vacancy Impact Certiorari?

Another area that will be impacted by the vacancy on the court is how the court grants certiorari, or decides which cases to hear.  Every year, the court is asked to hear around 7,000 cases.  And every year, the court hears between 75-80 of those cases.  Four justices must vote “yes” to grant certiorari for a case, and it is very difficult to get a case in front of the court.  Now, there is some speculation that it will become herculean to put a case before the Supreme Court.  Volchok says, “four votes are required for a petition to be granted, and now those four votes must now be found among eight Justices rather than nine.  So just as a statistical matter it will be more challenging for any party seeking Supreme Court review.”  Pincus agrees, saying, “it could well be more difficult to obtain four votes to grant certiorari, because there is one fewer Justice to vote on that issue.”

How will Scalia’s Absence Impact the Decision to Seek Appeal?

Other factors complicate the picture further.  Scalia was often among the majority when cases were decided 5 to 4, and this record could impact some litigants desire to seek a hearing by the court. Singh hypothesizes, “any litigant who has a case where they were relying on Justice Scalia as the fifth vote may now be reluctant to try to take the case up, because winning may now be impossible.”   Additionally, possibly, the decision making process of the court might change when it comes to granting certiorari.  Volchok says, “this is highly speculative, but some or all of the Justices will be less willing to vote to grant a petition if they think there is a good chance the Court will ultimately divide 4-4.  To the extent that phenomenon does exist, it is another reason that securing Supreme Court review in the coming months will be even more difficult than usual.”

Additional Supreme Court Procedural Questions and their Implications will be Addressed in Part Two – Next Week.

Copyright ©2016 National Law Forum, LLC


1 Boris Bershteyn is a litigation partner in Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP’s New York office and practices before the Supreme Court of the United States and other appellate courts. He has also held various government positions including: Acting Administrator, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs; General Counsel, White House Office of Management and Budget; Special Assistant to the President and Associate White House Counsel and Deputy General Counsel, White House Office of Management and Budget.

2 Tejinder Singh is a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School’s Supreme Court Litigation Clinic and a partner at Goldstein & Russell, P.C. in Washington D.C. Mr. Singh has represented various parties and amici before the Supreme Court and lower courts.  In 2014, Tejinder argued and won the Supreme Court case Lane v. Franks, establishing that the First Amendment protects the subpoenaed testimony of public employees. 

3 Andrew J. Pincus is a litigation partner at Mayer Brown LLP’s Washington D.C. office.   Mr. Pincus has argued 25 cases before the Supreme Court of the United States.  He has also authored more than 250 appellate briefs.  Andrew is also a former Assistant to the to the Solicitor General in the United States Department of Justice and co-founded and serves as co-director of the Yale Law School’s Supreme Court Advocacy Clinic.

4 Daniel Volchok is a partner in Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP’s Litigation/Controversy Department, and a member of the Appellate and Supreme Court Litigation Practice Group located in Washington D.C. Mr. Volchok has filed numerous merits and amicus briefs in the US Supreme Court as well as in state and federal appellate courts, and has also participated in successful efforts to obtain or oppose certiorari.

Ohio v. Sierra Club: The Integrity of the Clean Air Act

EPAYesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States announced it will not grant Certiorari in Ohio v. Sierra Club, et al. In this case, the Sixth Circuit found an area must adopt required pollution-control measures before the EPA can designate it as having satisfied the law’s health-based pollution standards.

In 1997, the EPA created the National Ambient Air Quality Standards of fine particulate matter in the air.  When the EPA created these standards, regions were designated as having met, or not met the air quality standards.  In order to meet the standards, states were required to adopt “reasonable measures and technologies” to reduce the pollution in the problematic areas.  In 2011, the EPA deemed Ohio to have met the appropriate standards because the air quality had improved. Ohio, however, had never created a pollution regulatory plan as the Clean Air Act required. In response, the Sierra Club filed suit alleging the EPA acted illegally by designated the areas as having met air quality standards.

Creating a pollution regulatory plan is crucial, according to Sanjay Narayan, the managing attorney for the Sierra Club on the case.  Before 1990, the Clean Air Act had no requirement that states produce an implementation plan.  According to Narayan, the expectation was “we [the EPA] don’t care how you get there, we aren’t going to tell you how to get there, we’re just going to check in at the deadline and expect you to have made it. And what happened was that the vast majority of the states did not meet the deadline.”

Narayan describes the implementation plan as “a show your math” requirement. This has been very useful in helping states create lasting change in their air quality–by creating a regulatory framework that shows how they can reduce air pollution, the states are more likely to meet their deadline.  Narayan points out “It’s also useful for other areas to know what worked and what successful areas did.  Here’s what turned out to be cost effective, that kind of record is tremendously useful as we move forward on what was meant to be a nation-wide campaign for healthy air for the public.”

In  Ohio v. Sierra Club, there are a few details to consider.  Pollution decreased, and that’s the goal.  However, it might not be that simple.  In the years preceding Ohio’s drop in air pollution, the economy crashed.  Narayan draws comparisons to the Beijing Olympics, saying, “When people aren’t running their [industrial] plants for economic reasons, the air cleans up a little bit.  But it turns around quickly once you turn the plants back on.”  However, Ohio did meet the standard, and according to Narayan, to comply with the Clean Air Act they’d simply need to go back and show their work.  He says, “They did meet the standard, and they say they have all the controls they need in place.  There is a procedural step that Ohio hasn’t taken, and it shouldn’t be hard for Ohio to take it.”

The Sixth Circuit decision that currently stands requires Ohio to take those regulatory steps. In the current case, the Sixth Circuit agreed that the entire portion of the Clean Air Act must be followed, and that it wasn’t enough for Ohio to have simply met the standards.  Ohio has appealed to the Supreme Court.

Narayan says, “It’s about the integrity of the clean air act.”  These requirements are crucial in ensuring the air gets cleaned up in a timely manner.  Narayan says, Decades of experience has shown us that without these requirements, states miss deadlines, air pollution lasts for much longer than it should and the public really suffers.  The pollution sends kids to the hospital with asthma, it creates respiratory disease in the elderly-delay is a disaster for public health.”

Copyright ©2016 National Law Forum, LLC

Supreme Court Agrees to Review the Appropriate Measure of Design Patent Damages

On March 21, 2016, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Samsung Electronics Co.’s appeal regarding what it must pay Apple Inc. for infringing the design of Apple’s iPhone. This will mark the first time in over a century that the Supreme Court will hear a case involving design patents.

In 2012, a jury found that Samsung infringed Apple utility and design patents and awarded Apple $1.05 billion in damages. On appeal, damages were nearly cut in half to $548 million, which Samsung later agreed to pay to settle the dispute, all the while reserving its right to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Samsung has challenged the Federal Circuit’s decision that the company must pay its entire profits from smartphones that infringed Apple’s design patents, which amounted to $399 million. In making the damages determination, the Federal Circuit relied on Section 289 of the Patent Act, which dates to the 19th century and provides in relevant part: “[w]hoever during the term of a patent for a design, without license of the owner, (1) applies the patented design, or any colorable imitation thereof, to any article of manufacture for the purpose of sale, or (2) sells or exposes for sale any article of manufacture to which such design or colorable imitation has been applied shall be liable to the owner to the extent of his total profit.” 35. U.S.C. § 289 (emphasis added).

A number of tech companies, including Google and Facebook, submitted a brief in support of Samsung’s petition. In the brief, those companies argued that Section 289 is outdated and when enacted, failed to contemplate “products with significant functional features at all.” Thus, Section 289 is obsolete and should not govern awards involving the complex products available today.

When the Court hears the case later this term, the specific question it will address is, “Where a design patent is applied to only a component of a product, should an award of infringer’s profits be limited to those profits attributable to the component?”

Article by Kevin P. Moran & Joseph P. Serge of Michael Best & Friedrich LLP

President Obama Announces Merrick Garland as Nominee to United States Supreme Court

In a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to replace Scalia’s on the United States Supreme Court.  Garland would be the 113th justice, and he is a moderate circuit court judge who is well-respected by both Republicans and Democrats.

Finding Scalia’s replacement has already been contentious, but Garland is uniquely situated to handle the politics at hand.  In the mid-90’s, Garland faced a lengthy political battle that delayed his confirmation for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Obama has made it clear that he intends to fulfill his constitutional responsibility to nominate a Supreme Court Justice, despite calls that the decision wait for the next president.  Obama, in an email to his supporters indicated three tenets in his decision-making process.  He said he was looking for, “an independent mind, unimpeachable credentials and an unquestionable mastery of law” as well as an understanding of the limits of the court and that “justice is not about abstract legal theory, nor some footnote in a dusty casebook.”

Garland’s career has encompassed these tenets, as he used the law in emotional and difficult situations.  In 1995, he coordinated the Justice Department’s response to the Oklahoma City Bombing, immediately arriving on scene.  His hard work and dedication in that role helped cement his reputation and earned him respect on both sides of the aisle. In his formal announcement in the White House Rose Garden this morning, President Obama described Garland as:

More than just a brilliant legal mind. He is someone who has a keen understanding that justice is about more than abstract legal theory. More than some footnote in a dusty casebook. His life experience…informs his view that the law is more than an intellectual exercise. He understands the way the law affects the daily reality of how the law affects people’s lives in a big complicated democracy and rapidly changing times.

Garland, at 63, is an older nominee.  As a centrist nominee he has been on the list of potential nominees for years. Obama has made it clear that he thinks the Senate should move quickly to consider the nomination, as Garland is a qualified and suitable candidate for the job.  However, the nomination could be contentious, as Republican Senators have indicated an unwillingness to consider a candidate.  Additionally, with the court being evenly split, Garland, if confirmed, would be the deciding vote on many issues.

The White house has created a twitter handle @SCOTUSnom to provide up-to-date information on the nomination process.

©2016 National Law Forum, LLC

U.S. Supreme Court Agrees to Review Obama Immigration Action Case

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed today to hear a case challenging President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration. The Supreme Court will decide whether President Obama can proceed with plans to defer deportation and provide work authorization to millions of individuals currently in the United States without lawful status.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari in Texas et al. v. U.S. et al. today and indicated that it will take up an additional issue on whether the Obama administration’s action violates a constitutional clause that requires the president to faithfully execute the law (i.e., the Take Care Clause in Article II of the Constitution). The Court will hear arguments this April and a decision is likely to be issued this June, before the end of the Court’s current session.

In November 2014, the Obama Administration issued new policies allowing certain undocumented immigrants to apply for deferred action and work authorization allowing them to remain and work legally in the United States.  These programs were to apply to certain individuals brought to the U.S. when they were under the age of sixteen (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), and also to undocumented individuals who are parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent resident children (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents).  Twenty six states filed suit to stop these policies from being implemented in December 2014. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas issued a preliminary injunction in February 2015, and, on November 9, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the injunction. The Obama administration petitioned the Supreme Court on November 20, 2015 seeking immediate review of the Fifth Circuit’s decision

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2016

U.S. Supreme Court Clarifies Procedures for Removal to Federal Court under Class Action Fairness Act

Jackson Lewis Law firm

In a divided 5-to-4 opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that defendants seeking to remove a case to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”) need only allege in the notice of removal an amount in controversy in excess of the $5 million threshold and need not attach evidence to the notice of removal proving the amount in controversy. Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co., LLC v. Owens, No. 13-719 (Dec. 15, 2014).

Reversing the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision, the majority opinion (authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, and Sonia Sotomayor) held that a notice of removal need not contain evidentiary submissions because the plain language of the removal statute itself requires only a “short and plain statement of the grounds for removal.”

Background

In the case below, the plaintiff, Brandon Owens, had filed a putative class action in Kansas state court alleging that defendants Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Company, LLC and Cherokee Basin Pipeline, LLC underpaid royalties they owed to Owens and the putative class members under oil and gas leases. The complaint failed to plead a specific amount of damages, seeking only “a fair and reasonable amount” of damages on behalf of Owens and the putative class members.

The defendants removed the case to the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas under CAFA. In their notice of removal, the defendants alleged that the purported underpayments to the putative class members totaled more than $8.2 million, but defendants did not attach to their notice of removal any evidence to support the alleged amount in controversy. The plaintiff moved to remand the case, alleging that the defendants’ notice of removal was deficient because it failed to include evidence proving the amount in controversy exceeded the $5 million threshold under CAFA. The District Court granted the plaintiff’s motion to remand. A divided Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals subsequently denied defendants’ petition for review and petition for en banc review.

Supreme Court Decision

In the majority opinion, the Supreme Court noted the federal statute setting forth the requirements for a notice of removal (28 U.S.C. § 1446(a)) requires only that the notice contain “a short and plain statement of the grounds for removal.” The majority went on to note that, “[b]y design, § 1446(a) tracks the general pleading requirement stated in Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure” and that the legislative history of § 1446(a) indicates the statute was intended to “simplify the pleading requirements for removal and . . . clarify that courts should apply the same liberal rules [to removal allegations] that are applied to other matters of pleading.”

The majority went on to explain that “when a defendant seeks federal-court adjudication, the defendant’s amount-in-controversy allegation should be accepted when not contested by the plaintiff or questioned by the court.” When the plaintiff does contest the defendant’s amount-in-controversy allegation, the majority held, “both sides submit proof and the court decides, by a preponderance of the evidence, whether the amount-in-controversy requirement has been satisfied.” The majority concluded by stating that a notice of removal need only include “a plausible allegation” that the amount in controversy is met, and evidence to establish the amount in controversy is required only when the amount in controversy is contested by the plaintiff or questioned by the court.

Dissenting Opinion

 Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent (which was joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy and Elena Kagan, and joined in part by Justice Clarence Thomas) did not focus on the underlying question regarding the requirements for removal under CAFA. The dissent questioned whether the Supreme Court could even address the substantive issue in light of certain procedural and jurisdictional questions, and does not call into question the reasoning of the majority’s substantive holding.

***

The majority’s opinion resolves a prior split among circuit courts regarding a defendant’s burden when removing a case under CAFA. The law is now settled that a removing defendant need only make a good faith allegation in the notice of removal regarding the amount in controversy in order to meet its burden on removal. Only if the amount in controversy is challenged must a defendant offer evidence. Moreover, the majority made it clear that there is no presumption against removal jurisdiction in cases removed under CAFA, rejecting an argument often made by the plaintiffs contesting removal under CAFA.

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United States Supreme Court Round-Up: Key Opinions from 2013 to 2014 and Upcoming High-Profile Business Disputes

Andrews Kurth

The 2013–2014 term of the United States Supreme Court resulted in a wide range of decisions of importance to business. In this article, we highlight some of the key opinions and explore their likely impacts. We also preview a few of the high-profile business disputes the Supreme Court has agreed to hear next term.

Key Business Cases from the 2013–2014 Term

American Chemistry Council v. Environmental Protection Agency: Holding: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reasonably interpreted the Clean Air Act to require sources that would need permits based on their emission of chemical pollutants to comply with “best available control technology” for greenhouse gases. Effect: The decision reinforces the Supreme Court’s previous recognition that the EPA has the power to regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants. However, portions of the decision strongly cautioned the EPA against overreach, stating that the agency may not “bring about an enormous and transformative expansion in [its] regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization.” These comments suggest that the Supreme Court may take a hard line when the Obama Administration’s other climate regulations eventually go to court.

Daimler AG v. Bauman: Holding: A foreign company doing business in a state cannot be sued in that state for injuries allegedly caused by conduct that took place entirely outside of the United States. Effect: Daimler makes it much harder for plaintiffs to establish general jurisdiction over foreign entities. The opinion re-characterizes general jurisdiction as requiring the defendant to be “at home” in the state, a circumstance that the Supreme Court suggested will generally be limited to the places where the defendant is incorporated or where it has its principal place of business. Moreover, the fact that a domestic subsidiary whose activities are imputed to the foreign parent may be “at home” in the state will not make the foreign parent “at home” in that locale for purposes of general jurisdiction.

Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc.: Holding: Plaintiffs in private securities fraud actions must prove that they relied on the defendants’ misrepresentations in choosing to buy stock. Basic v. Levinson’s holding that plaintiffs can satisfy this reliance requirement by invoking a presumption that the price of stock as traded in an efficient market reflects all public, material information, including material misstatements, remains viable. However, after Halliburton, defendants can defeat the presumption at the class certification stage by proving that the misrepresentation did not in fact affect the stock price. Effect: While investors will continue to pursue class actions following large dips in stock prices, the Halliburton decision helps to level the playing field by providing defendants a mechanism to stop such suits at the class certification stage.

Lawson v. FMR LLC: Holding: Employees of privately held contractors or subcontractors of a public company are protected by the anti-retaliation provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX). Effect: Following Lawson, there will likely be an increase in SOX litigation against public and non-public companies. Because many of the issues concerning the scope and meaning of SOX have yet to be resolved, lower courts will continue to wrestle with defining the parameters of the law. Questions left unanswered byLawson include whether the whistleblower’s accusation must be related to work he or she performed for the company and whether the contract with the public company must have some relation to public accounting or securities compliance.

Chadbourne & Park LLP v. Troice: Holding: The Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1988 (SLUSA) does not preclude state-law class actions based on false representations that the uncovered securities that plaintiffs were purchasing were backed by covered securities. Effect: SLUSA bars the bringing of securities class actions “based upon statutory or common law of any state” in which the plaintiff alleges “a misrepresentation or omission of a material fact in connection with a purchase of sale of covered securities.” The statute defines “covered securities” to include only securities traded on a national securities exchange or those issued by investment companies.

U.S. v. Quality Stores: Holding: Severance payments to employees who are involuntarily terminated are taxable wages for purposes of the Federal Insurance Contributions Act. Effect: Employers should, under most circumstances, treat severance payments to involuntarily terminated employees as wages subject to FICA taxes. There are exceptions, however, and employers should therefore seek legal counsel to assist in determining the tax status of a particular severance arrangement.

Business Cases to Watch in the 2014–2015 Term

Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk: Whether time spent in security screenings is compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Mach Mining v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Whether and to what extent a court may enforce the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s mandatory duty to conciliate discrimination claims before filing suit.

Omnicare v. Laborers District Council Construction Industry Pension Fund: Whether, for purposes of a claim under Section 11 of the Securities Act of 1933, a plaintiff may plead that a statement of opinion was untrue merely by alleging that the opinion itself was objectively wrong, or must the plaintiff also allege that the statement was subjectively false through allegations that the speaker’s actual opinion was different from the one expressed.

Young v. UPS: Whether, and in what circumstances, an employer that provides work accommodations to non-pregnant employees with work limitations must provide work accommodations to pregnant employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.

As in recent years, the Supreme Court continues to grant review on more and more cases involving matters of concern to U.S. businesses. Andrews Kurth attorneys are available to provide further detail and guidance on the decisions highlighted here, and on any other issues of concern to your company that have reached the high court.

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