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Author: The Federalist Society

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SCOTUScast is a project of the Federalist Society for Law & Public Policy Studies. This audio broadcast series provides expert commentary on U.S. Supreme Court cases as they are argued and issued. The Federalist Society takes no position on particular legal or public policy issues; all expressions of opinion are those of the speaker. We hope these broadcasts, like all of our programming, will serve to stimulate discussion and further exchange regarding important current legal issues. View our entire SCOTUScast archive at http://www.federalistsociety.org/SCOTUScast
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On February 26, 2019, the Supreme Court decided Nutraceutical Corp. v. Lambert, a case considering whether Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(f), which imposes a 14-day deadline for appealing from a grant or denial of class-action certification, is subject to equitable tolling. Troy Lambert filed a class action lawsuit against Nutraceutical Corp., a drug manufacturer, alleging violations of U.S. Food and Drug Administration requirements and various California consumer protection statutes. The district court initially certified the class action, but following reassignment of the case to a new judge and discovery raising concerns about Lambert’s classwide damages model, Nutraceutical moved to decertify the class and the district court granted the motion on February 20, 2015. Under Rule 23(f), Lambert had fourteen days from the date the motion was granted to seek permission in the Court of Appeals to appeal the order. Lambert indicated on March 2 that he intended to file a motion for reconsideration, but did not do so until March 12, 2015, which fell within a deadline set by the district court but beyond 14-day window specified in Rule 23(f). The district court denied Lambert’s motion, and only then did he seek permission in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to appeal the class decertification. Nutraceutical objected that Lambert’s petition was untimely under Rule 23(f). The Court disagreed, reasoning that Rule 23(f) was non-jurisdictional and the deadline could therefore be equitably tolled given Lambert’s general diligence in following the district court’s instructions. Reaching the merits, the Ninth Circuit then reversed the decertification order on the grounds that the district court had abused its discretion. Nutraceutical successfully petitioned for certiorari. In an opinion written by Justice Sotomayor, the Supreme Court unanimously reversed the judgment of the Ninth Circuit and remanded the case, holding the Rule 23(f) is not subject to equitable tolling. To the discuss the case, we have Michael Morley, Assistant Professor of Law at Florida State University College of Law.
On March 18, 2019, the Supreme Court heard argument in Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill, a case considering racial gerrymandering claims in the the redistricting of Virginia House of Delegates districts. In 2011, the Virginia House of Delegates redrew the 100 Virginia House of Delegates districts. Under the plan, each district was required to have 80,000 residents. Under the 2001 plan, there were twelve districts with a majority black voting age population (BVAP). These districts did not meet the 80,000 resident requirement for the 2011 plan, which meant that “any new plan required moving significant numbers of new voters into these districts in order to comply with the principle one person, one vote.” Title 52 U.S.C. § 10304--section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA)--required that any new plan not “diminish the number of districts in which minority groups can ‘elect their preferred candidates of choice.’” To ensure that at least twelve districts remained, the House of Delegates proposed that the twelve majority-minority districts were required to have a minimum 55% BVAP in the 2011 plan. The bill was passed and signed into law. In 2014, registered voters in the twelve majority-minority districts filed suit against the Virginia State Board of Elections, claiming racial gerrymandering in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. In 2015 the three-judge district court ruled that race was not a predominant factor in the construction of 11 of the 12 challenged districts, but did predominate in one district, (District 75), though in that situation strict scrutiny was satisfied. In 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s judgment with respect to District 75 but vacated the judgment as to the other 11 districts and remanded the case, concluding that the district court had relied on a flawed standard when assessing whether race predominated. On remand, the three-judge district court concluded that race predominated in the drawing of all 11 districts and that none satisfied strict scrutiny. The Virginia House of Delegates appealed to the Supreme Court for further review, raising various concerns regarding the district court’s predominance and strict scrutiny analyses, as well evidentiary issues. For their part the appellees sought dismissal of the appeal for lack of jurisdiction, and the Court directed the parties to address whether the House of Delegates lacked standing to bring this appeal. To the discuss the case, we have Scott Keller, Partner at Baker Botts.
On March 25, 2019, the Supreme Court heard argument in The Dutra Group v. Batterton, a case considering whether punitive damages may be awarded in a general maritime action for unseaworthiness. Christopher Batterton was a deckhand on a ship owned by the Dutra Group. In the course of Batterton's work, a hatch cover that covered a compartment storing pressurized air blew open and crushed Batterton’s left hand. The hatch cover allegedly blew because of the ship's lack of a mechanism for exhausting over-pressurized air. Batterton was permanently disabled because of the injury. He brought suit against Dutra Group in federal district court in California, seeking (among other things) punitive damages for unseaworthiness. Dutra Group moved to dismiss the claim for punitive damages, arguing that although the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had allowed such damages in its 1987 decision Evich v. Morris, that precedent had been implicitly overruled by the Supreme Court's 1990 decision in Miles v. Apex Marine Corp, which held that the parent of a deceased seaman could not recover loss of society damages in a general maritime action. The district court denied the motion and the Ninth Circuit affirmed, concluding that punitive damages differed materially from loss of society damages, and that, under the Jones Act, Evich remained good law: punitive damages are awardable to seamen for their own injuries in general maritime unseaworthiness actions. That ruling, however, put the Ninth Circuit in direct conflict with a contrary ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on the same issue, and the Supreme Court subsequently granted certiorari to address whether punitive damages may be awarded to a Jones Act seaman in a personal-injury suit alleging a breach of the general maritime duty to provide a seaworthy vessel. To the discuss the case, we have Daryl Joseffer, Senior Vice President and Chief Counsel for Appellate Litigation at the U.S. Chamber Litigation Center.
On March 19, 2019, the Supreme Court decided Washington State Department of Licensing v. Cougar Den, Inc., a case involving the 1855 Treaty between the United States and the Yakama Nation of Indians, and whether the “right to travel” granted within the treaty preempts the state’s fuel tax on the importation of fuel. Cougar Den, Inc. is a wholesale fuel importer that is owned by a member of the Yakama Nation. Cougar Den imports fuel from Oregon via Washington public highways to the Yakama Reservation where it is sold to Yakama-owned gas stations within the reservation. In 2013, the Washington State Department of Licensing, because Cougar Den imports the gas by using Washington public highways, assessed the importer $3.6 million in taxes, penalties, and licensing fees. Cougar Den appealed to the Washington Superior Court, claiming that the 1855 Treaty between the United States and the Yakama Nation preempts this tax, since it reserves, among other things, the “right, in common with citizens of the United States, to travel upon all public highways.” The Washington Superior Court held that the tax was preempted by the Treaty, and the Washington Supreme Court affirmed that judgment on appeal. Washington then petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for certiorari, arguing that the 1855 treaty does not forbid the State from imposing a state-wide tax on all fuel importers who transport fuel via ground transportation, including those members of the Yakama Nation. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether the 1855 treaty preempts this importation tax on members of the Yakama Nation. By a vote of 5-4, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Supreme Court of Washington, but without a majority opinion. Justice Breyer, joined by Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, concluded for a plurality that “the ‘right to travel’ provision of the 1855 Treaty between the United States and the Yakama Nation of Indians pre-empts the state’s fuel tax as applied to Cougar Den’s importation of fuel by public highway for sale within the reservation.” Justices Gorsuch and Ginsburg filed an opinion concurring in the judgment--thereby providing the necessary additional votes to affirm the lower court--but on a different rationale. Unchallenged factual findings as to the Yakamas’ understanding of the 1855 treaty terms, they reasoned, indicate that the treaty “does not permit encumbrances on the ability of tribal members to bring their goods to and from market.” Chief Justice Roberts dissented, joined by Justices Thomas, Alito, and Kavanaugh. Justice Kavanaugh also filed a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justice Thomas. To discuss the case, we have Tom Gede, Principal at Morgan Lewis.
On March 4, 2019, the Supreme Court decided Rimini Street Inc v. Oracle USA Inc., a case involving the scope of a federal district court’s ability to award “full costs” to a party in a copyright dispute according to 28 U. S. C. §§ 1821 and 1920. Oracle sued Rimini Street for copyright infringement in federal district court and won a multimillion dollar jury award. After judgment, the District Court ordered Rimini Street to pay Oracle $12.8 million for litigation expenses such as expert witnesses, e-discovery, and jury consulting. On appeal the U.S. Court of Appeals for the NInth Circuit rejected Rimini’s challenge to this award of costs. Although some of the expenses did not fit within the categories of costs authorized by the general federal statute applicable to such awards--28 U. S. C. §§ 1821 and 1920--the Ninth Circuit relied on language in the Copyright Act at 17 U. S. C. § 505, which gives federal district courts discretion to award “full costs” to a party in copyright litigation. The Supreme Court thereafter granted certiorari to resolve a split among the federal circuit courts of appeals on this issue: whether the term “full costs” in § 505 authorizes awards of expenses other than those costs identified in §§ 1821 and 1920. In an unanimous decision, delivered by Justice Kavanaugh, the Court held that a federal district court’s discretion to award “full costs” to a party in copyright litigation pursuant to 17 U. S. C. §505 is limited to the six categories specified in the general costs statute codified at 28 U. S. C. §§1821 and 1920. To discuss the case, we have James Heilpern, Law and Linguistics Fellow at BYU Law.
On March 4, 2019, the Supreme Court decided Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com, a case involving a split among the Courts of Appeals regarding when a copyright owner may initiate a suit for infringement in federal court. Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. is an online news organization that licenses articles to different websites but retains the copyright to those articles. Wall-Street.com and Fourth Estate entered into a license agreement for a number of articles written by Fourth Estate. As part of the agreement, Wall-Street.com was required to remove all Fourth Estate content from its website before cancelling its account. Wall-Street cancelled its account but continued to display Fourth Estate articles, and Fourth Estate filed suit for copyright infringement against Wall-Street.com and its owner in federal district court. At the time Fourth Estate filed suit, it had submitted applications with the Registrar of Copyrights, but the Registrar had not yet acted upon them. Wall-Street.com moved to dismiss, arguing that the Copyright Act permits an infringement suit only after the Registrar of Copyrights approves or denies an application to register the copyright at issue. The district court agreed with the defendants and dismissed Fourth Estate’s complaint without prejudice. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed that judgment, but noted a split among the federal courts of appeals on the issue: whether the ability to file an infringement suit turns on application by the copyright owner (the “application” approach) or the making of a decision on the application by the Registrar of Copyrights (the “registration” approach). Granting certiorari, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the judgment of the Eleventh Circuit. In an opinion delivered by Justice Ginsburg, the Court held that “registration occurs, and a copyright claimant may commence an infringement suit, when the Copyright Office registers a copyright.” To discuss the case, we have Brian Frye, Associate Professor of Law at University of Kentucky College of Law.
On February 20, 2019, the Supreme Court decided Timbs v. Indiana, a case involving the incorporation of the Eighth Amendment’s excessive fines clause against the States. Following his arrest en route to a controlled drug purchase after having previously purchased about $400 worth of heroin from undercover police officers, Tyson Timbs pled guilty to felony counts of drug dealing and conspiracy to commit theft, and was sentenced to a year of home detention and several years of probation, plus roughly $1,200 in police costs and related fees. In addition, the State of Indiana sought forfeiture of Timbs’ Land Rover, which he had purchased using $42,000 of his late father’s life insurance proceeds. Indiana claimed that it could seize the car because it had been driven to buy and transport heroin, even though the car was worth more than four times the maximum fine permitted for Timbs’ drug conviction. The Supreme Court of Indiana upheld the forfeiture against an Eighth Amendment challenge on the grounds that the U.S. Supreme Court had never incorporated that amendment’s “excessive fines” clause against the states. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider the issue. By a vote of 9-0, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Supreme Court of Indiana and remanded the case. In an opinion delivered by Justice Ginsburg, the Supreme Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Eighth Amendment’s excessive fines clause against the States. Justice Ginsburg’s majority opinion was joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh. Justice Gorsuch filed a concurring opinion. Justice Thomas filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. To the discuss the case, we have Christopher Green, Associate Professor of Law and H.L.A. Hart Scholar in Law and Philosophy at University of Mississippi School of Law.
On January 9, 2019, the Supreme Court heard argument in Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt, a case considering whether one state may, without its consent, be sued by a private citizen in another state’s courts. In the 1990s, Gilbert Hyatt moved from California to Nevada. Following an investigation and audit, however, the Franchise Tax Board of California (FTB) claimed that he had misstated the date of his move and therefore owed California millions in unpaid taxes, penalties and interest. Hyatt then brought a tort suit against FTB, which is a California state agency, in Nevada state court--and won a jury verdict of nearly $500 million. Although the Nevada Supreme Court set aside much of the award on appeal, it nevertheless affirmed an award of $1 million for fraud--even though a Nevada statute would have capped such damages in a similar suit against Nevada officials at $50,000. Nevada’s interest in providing adequate redress to its own citizens, the court concluded, superseded the application of any statutory cap for California’s benefit. California sought review in the U.S. Supreme Court, urging it to overrule the 1979 decision Nevada v. Hall, which held that one state’s courts could adjudicate a private citizen’s lawsuit against another state without the second state’s consent. The Supreme Court granted certiorari but split 4-4 on the issue, which resulted in a technical affirmance of the Nevada Supreme Court’s exercise of jurisdiction. Reaching the merits, the Court held by a vote of 6-2 that the U.S. Constitution did not permit Nevada to apply a rule of Nevada law that awarded damages against California greater than it could award against Nevada in similar circumstances. On remand, the Nevada Supreme Court reissued its vacated opinion except as to the damages portion and applied the statutory damages caps for FTB’s benefit. FTB again petitioned for certiorari, however, and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to revisit the issue on which it had previously split 4-4: whether Nevada v. Hall, which permits a sovereign state to be haled into another state’s courts without its consent, should be overruled. To discuss the case, we have Stephen Sachs, Professor of Law at Duke University.
On November 27, 2018, the Supreme Court heard argument in Carpenter v. Murphy, a case considering the 1866 territorial boundaries of the Creek Nations and Indian country jurisdiction. In 1999, Patrick Murphy, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation confessed to the killing of George Jacobs. The State of Oklahoma charged him with murder and he was convicted in state court, receiving the death penalty. In 2004, Murphy sought post-conviction relief in federal district court, arguing that the Oklahoma state courts had lacked jurisdiction because the federal Major Crimes Act requires that a member of an Indian Nation alleged to have committed murder in Indian territory be tried in federal court. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals rejected this argument, concluding Murphy had not shown that the site of the murder fell within Indian territory. Murphy thereafter sought habeas relief in federal district court, again raising his jurisdictional challenge (among other claims). The district court rejected his argument, but granted a certificate of appealability on the issue. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled in Murphy’s favor. Noting the parties’ agreement that the murder occurred within the Creek Reservation if Congress had not disestablished it or diminished its borders, the Court--invoking the Supreme Court’s 1984 decision Solem v. Bartlett--concluded that Congress had not done so. As a result, the Oklahoma courts lacked jurisdiction to charge and try Murphy for murder. Chief Judge Tymkovich, concurring in the denial of Oklahoma’s motion for rehearing en banc, however, suggested the case would benefit from Supreme Court review. He noted, among other things, that “the boundaries of the Creek Reservation outlined by the panel opinion encompass a substantial non-Indian population, including much of the city of Tulsa; and Oklahoma claims the decision will have dramatic consequences for taxation, regulation, and law enforcement.” The Supreme Court subsequently granted certiorari to consider whether the 1866 territorial boundaries of the Creek Nation within the former Indian Territory of eastern Oklahoma constitute an “Indian reservation” today under 18 U.S.C. § 1151(a). To discuss the case, we have Troy Eid, Shareholder at Greenberg Traurig.
On January 14, 2019, the Supreme Court heard argument in Thacker v. Tennessee Valley Authority, a case involving a dispute over the “discretionary-function exception” to waivers of federal sovereign immunity. In 2013, Anthony Szozda and Gary and Venida Thacker were participating in a fishing tournament on the Tennessee River. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) had a crew near the river, trying to raise a downed power line that had partially fallen into the river instead of crossing over it. The crew attempted to lift the conductor out of the water concurrent with Szozda and the Thackers passing through the river at a high rate of speed. The conductor struck both Thacker and Szozda, causing serious injury to Thacker and killing Szozda. The Thackers sued TVA for negligence. The district court dismissed the Thackers’ complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. On appeal, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed that judgment. Although the act creating the TVA waives sovereign immunity from tort suits, the Court held that the waiver does not apply where the TVA was engaged in governmental functions that were discretionary in nature. Applying a test derived from the Federal Tort Claims Act, the Court determined that the TVA’s challenged conduct fell within this “discretionary-function exception” here, and immunity therefore applied. The Supreme Court granted the Thackers’ subsequent petition for certiorari to address whether the Eleventh Circuit erred in using a discretionary-function test derived from the Federal Tort Claims Act rather than the test set forth in Federal Housing Authority v. Burr, when testing the immunity of governmental “sue and be sued” entities (like the Tennessee Valley Authority) from the plaintiffs’ claims. To discuss the case, we have Richard Peltz-Steele, Professor at University of Massachusetts School of Law.
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