Recently in Civil Suits Category

SF Deputy City Attorney Christine Van Aken began her argument in City and County of San Francisco v. Sheehan the traditional way: "Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court."  Evidently it didn't, because she was immediately grilled by the Justices one might expect to lean her way for arguing a position different and narrower than the one they thought they had taken the case to decide.

Does the Americans with Disabilities Act have anything to do with the use of force by police to subdue a mentally ill and potentially dangerous person?  It shouldn't.  There is plenty of law governing use of force by police from other sources, and ADA is supposed to be about employment and public accommodations.

Lyle Denniston reports on the argument at SCOTUSblog.  I would not be surprised if the Court drops the case.  Technically, that's Dismissed as Improvidently Granted, or a DIG in SCOTUS practitioner parlance.

Standing

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The U.S. Supreme Court begins its February-March argument session today.  The big news will be on the last day, Wednesday, March 4, the Obamacare subsidy case, King v. Burwell.

The main issue of that case is, of course, off-topic for the blog, and CJLF takes no position on it.  Yet the law is a seamless web, and we always watch Supreme Court cases for points that may spill over and have an effect on our cases.  Adam Liptak reports for the NYT that the issue of standing may pop up in this case.

Standing is an issue in two of CJLF's current cases, HCRC v. USDoJ and Winchell & Alexander v. Beard.  See this post two weeks ago.  Liptak's article begins:

The Supreme Court has developed elaborate tests to determine if plaintiffs have standing to sue. But their essence, Justice Antonin Scalia once observed, is a four-word question: "What's it to you?"

To get into court, it is not enough to be unhappy about something. Only people with a direct stake in a dispute have standing to sue.
But a very complex body of law lies beneath that seemingly simple question.

Toca Set For Argument Anyway

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Last week we noted that the U.S. Supreme Court case of Toca v. Louisiana, No. 14-6381, was moot because a settlement had been reached back in the state court.

Apparently no one has told the Supreme Court that yet, and they have set the argument for March 30.

Update:  A stipulation to dismiss has been filed.  Rule 46.1 provides that "the Clerk, without further reference to the Court, will enter an order of dismissal."  Update 2 (2/3): Done.

Brumfield v. Cain, No. 13-1433, another Louisiana case, is set for the same day and probably will go as scheduled.  It has to do with the way that state handles murderers' claims that they are intellectually disabled.

That's it for criminal cases on the March calendar.  San Francisco v. Sheehan, No. 13-1412, is a law-enforcement-related civil case on the Americans with Disabilities Act and accommodating "an armed, violent, and mentally ill suspect."  It is set for March 23.
Although Hall v. Florida got most of the attention yesterday, the Supreme Court also decided two cases in favor of the police, both unanimous at least in part.

Plumhoff v. Rickard involves the police's use of deadly force against someone who led them on a high-speed chase over 100 miles an hour and continued trying to escape even after the police had him cornered.  There are several holdings worth noting.
Paige Sutherland reports for AP:

Michelle Kosilek, born Robert Kosilek, has been in a heated legal battle to get the surgery, which she [sic] says is required to relieve the emotional stress caused by the disorder. Kosilek is currently serving a life sentence for killing spouse Cheryl Kosilek in 1990.

In 2012, a federal judge ruled that the department must give Kosilek the surgery.

In January, that decision was reaffirmed by a three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said it is a constitutional right to receive medically necessary treatment "even if that treatment strikes some as odd or unorthodox."

The prisons department appealed and won a rehearing before the full appeals court. Five appeals court judges heard arguments on the matter Thursday and could take months to issue a decision.

See also this prior post.

SCOTUS Wednesday

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Today, the US Supreme Court decided United States v. Castleman, No. 12-1371, a case involving the interpretation of the federal statute restricting gun ownership by a person convicted of "a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence," 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(9).  The Court holds unanimously that this includes a state conviction for "having 'intentionally or knowingly cause[d] bodily injury to' the mother of his child," reversing the Sixth Circuit.  There is some disagreement on how much further the statute reaches.

What about the Second Amendment?

Finally, Castleman suggests--in a single paragraph--that we should read §922(g)(9) narrowly because it implicates his constitutional right to keep and bear arms. But Castleman has not challenged the constitutionality of §922(g)(9), either on its face or as applied to him, and the meaning of the statute is sufficiently clear that we need not indulge Castleman's cursory nod to constitutional avoidance concerns.
Now there's a public spanking for an inadequate argument, but no precedent on the Second Amendment question.

For today's oral argument session, the Court is hearing Wood v. Moss.  Aside from its interesting name (placing it in a category with the famous Plough v. Fields and Silver v. Gold) the case is about qualified immunity for Secret Service agents who were sued for thinking that demonstrators against the President just might pose a greater threat than demonstrators for him and acting accordingly.

Update:  Adam Liptak has this article in the NYT on the argument, noting that some of the justices urged the lawyer for the government to take a bolder position than the one he was taking.

The Long Arm Gets A Little Shorter

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Walden v. Fiore is a law-enforcement-related civil case decided yesterday by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Does a police officer conducting a seizure in one state subject himself to civil suit in another state (in this case, on the other side of the country) merely because the seizure will have a foreseeable effect in that other state due to the property owner's residence there?  No, said the Supreme Court unanimously.  Assertion of jurisdiction on such a tenuous basis denies the sued officer due process of law.

The Brew Made Me Do It

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Sheri Qualters reports for the National Law Journal (registration required):

A pro se federal lawsuit by a group of prisoners blaming eight brewers for their life of crime was the most ridiculous lawsuit of 2013, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform.

The list was based on votes cast throughout the year via a dedicated web site, FacesOfLawsuitAbuse.org. The cases were filed in state and federal courts, some pro se and others by lawyers.
The Idaho Statesman had this story on the suit when it was filed almost a year ago.

Keith Allen Brown shot a man to death in Priest Lake five years ago, leading to a 15-year prison sentence. But the 52-year-old says his problems started long before that, when he was just a boy and tasted alcohol for the first time.

Brown and four other inmates at Idaho's Kuna facility are suing major beer companies, blaming their crimes on alcoholism and claiming that the companies are responsible because they don't warn consumers that their products are addictive.

SCOTUS Takes Qualified Immunity Case

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The U.S. Supreme Court took up four civil cases today.  The crime-related case is Wood v. Moss, No. 13-115. The Questions Presented, as framed by the Solicitor General, are:

1.  Whether the court of appeals erred in denying qualified immunity to Secret Service agents protecting the President by evaluating the claim of viewpoint discrimination at a high level of generality and concluding that pro- and anti-Bush demonstrators needed to be positioned an equal distance from the President while he was dining on the outdoor patio and then while he was travelling by motorcade.

2.  Whether respondents have adequately pleaded viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment when no factual allegations support their claim of discriminatory motive and there was an obvious security-based rationale for moving the nearby anti-Bush group and not the farther-away pro-Bush group.
All the press coverage will be on the birth-control insurance cases.

Update: Not quite all.  Robert Barnes has this story in the WaPo.

As the Justices were prepping for the conference, the heavy news coverage was of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy.  All but Justice Kagan are old enough to remember that day.

Foie Gras and the Eleventh Amendment

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The Ninth Circuit today upheld California's foie gras ban in Assoc. des Eleveurs de Canards v. Harris, No. 12-56822.  The relevant part for this blog is when a Governor or Attorney General has Eleventh Amendment immunity against a claim based on their duty to enforce a challenged law.

Libel Suit By Convicted Murderer

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Zoe Tillman has this post at BLT:

Yorie Von Kahl was convicted of second degree murder in the 1983 fatal shooting of two deputy U.S. marshals in North Dakota. Kahl was sentenced to life in prison, but he scored a recent win from a Washington federal judge who found that Kahl could proceed with a libel suit against The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (BNA) over a summary of his case published by the company.
BNA's summary of the case said Kahl "showed no hint of contrition."  That turned out to be a prosecutor's argument rather than the judge's ruling, but Kahl himself may be partly responsible for the confusion.
The US Supreme Court decided one law-enforcement related civil case today.  In Millbrook v. United States, No. 11-10362, the high court held that a suit by a federal prisoner against the government for an alleged sexual assault by correctional officers can go forward under the Federal Tort Claims Act.  It comes within an exception to an exception to the FTCA's exception to sovereign immunity, if you pick your way through the statutes.

Justice Thomas wrote the opinion for a unanimous court.  The case was argued a little over a month ago, making this one of the more rapid decisions.
Next Monday, the D.C. Circuit will hear argument in Cook v. FDA, No. 12-5176.  In that case (formerly Beaty v. FDA), the District Court held that the FDA had acted illegally in allowing importation of sodium thiopental for executions.  The court went on to order the FDA to inform the states that use of their existing stocks of thiopental is illegal and to take steps to recover it.  In issuing the latter part of the injunction, the court was untroubled by the fact that not a single word of the briefing or the court's opinion provided a legal basis for the order.  It was also untroubled by the facts that the states with a powerful interest involved were not parties to the action, the plaintiffs had not taken any steps to make them parties, and the plaintiffs had not shown any reason for an exception to the general rule against adjudicating the rights of nonparties in their absence.

In the Court of Appeals, CJLF appeared as amicus pointing out these problems.  The nonparty problem is the subject of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19.  The plaintiffs largely ignored the brief, just dropping one footnote about the general rule of not considering issues raised only by amici.  That rule has exceptions that the plaintiffs simply ignored.  Some issues must be considered whether a party raises them or not.  Subject matter jurisdiction is one, and Rule 19 is another.

Today the court issued the following order:

It is ORDERED, on the court's own motion, that the parties be prepared to address at oral argument on March 25, 2013, (1) the standing of the appellees to bring this case, with particular reference to the requirement of redressability; and the (2) Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19 and remedial issues raised in the brief of the amicus curiae Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.
A prior post with links to multiple earlier posts on this case is here.  CJLF's summary of argument and a link to the full brief are in this post.

Personal Jurisdiction

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As noted this morning, the US Supreme Court took up one civil case for full briefing and argument, Walden v. Fiore, 12-574.  The case is a Bivens action against a DEA agent.  The specific issue before the Court is the jurisdiction of a federal court in Nevada over a Georgia officer for events happening in Georgia.  The only connection to Nevada is the officers' knowledge that the plaintiffs lived there. The plaintiffs were professional gamblers traveling with a large stash of cash.  The Ninth Circuit majority opinion concludes:
Zoe Tillman has this post at BLT on something I would like to see more often -- attorneys' fees paid by the plaintiff to a prevailing defendant in a civil case.  This case is not crime-related (it is ASPCA against Barnum & Bailey), but issues of attorneys' fee awards often come up in suits against law enforcement officers and agencies.

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