Breaking News

Court limits patent injunctions, grants 4 cases

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that a permanent injunction does not automatically follow a federal court finding that a patent has been infringed. Whether an injunction should issue is within the trial court’s discretion, the Court decided. The Court was unanimous, with the main opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas and with concurring opinions by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Anthony M. Kennedy in the case of EBay v. Mercexchange (05-130).

In a major action on criminal law, the Court agreed to decide at its next Term whether its March 2004 decision in Crawford v. Washington, limiting the admission of out-of-court statements not subjected to cross-examination, applies retroactively. The new case is Whorton v. Bockting (05-595).

The Court also agreed to clarify when the federal government may take over the defense of a lawsuit against a federal employee, in order to provide immunity for the employee. The Court, however, added a question to its consideration, testing whether a Court of Appeals had jurisdiction to review an order of a District Court to return a case to state court. The case is Osborn v. Haley (05-593).

Other cases to be heard next Term are Norfolk Southern Railway v. Sorrel (05-746), seeking clarification of the standards juries are to use in a railroad worker injury cases to judge how much the worker and the company each was at fault, and an important case on the Clean Air Act. In the pollution case, Environmental Defense Fund v. Duke Energy Corp. (05-848), tests the standards the Environmental Protection Agency is to use in judging violations of two separate programs under the Act. The case also involves a question of whether the Fourth Circuit Court had jurisdiction to decide the case; normally, appeals from EPA actions go to the D.C. Circuit Court..

The Court on Monday issued a total of four decisions in argued cases. More opinions are expected next Monday.

In an important cases on states’ authority to give a business firm a tax credit in return for investing in additional facilities in the state, the Court did not reach the merits of that issue. It ruled, in an opinion by the Chief Justice, that taxpayers who had challenged the credit did not have “standing” to do so, so lower courts should not have decided the validity of the credits provided by the state of Ohio. The case was DaimlerChrysler v. Cuno (04-1704), and a companion case (Wilkins v. Cuno, 04-1724).

The Court ruled unanimously that a state government permit is required under the Clean Water Act when water is drawn from a river for use in a dam that serves a power-generating plant and then is returned to the river, without adding any pollution. The Court said that a dam raises a potential for “discharge” under the Act, so a permit is required to assure that the use of the water satisfies state regulation of the waterway. Justice David H. Souter wrote for the Court in S.D. Warren Co. v. Maine (04-1527).

In the fourth ruling of the day, the Court — in another opinion written by the Chief Justice — ruled unanimously that managers of employee benefit funds may sue in federal court to recover benefits they paid from money that a participant had received from another source. The case was Sereboff v. MidAtlantic Medical Services (05-260).

The Court’s orders list was heavy with significant developments, beyond the four new grants. Among the cases the Court refused to hear was a $248 million dispute between the federal government, a number of Indian tribes, and the state of New York. The government and the Cayuga Indian Nation sought reinstatement of a damages verdict of that amount for lands that the state allegedly bought illegally from tribes in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. The Second Circuit ruled that the claims could not be pursued because they were filed too late. The cases were U.S. v. Pataki, 05-978, and Cayuga Indian Nation v. New York, 05-982).

The Court also refused to hear a constitutional challenge to the 1973 law passed by Congress to bar the District of Columbia’s local government from imposing a “commuter tax” on people who work inside the District but live outside, mostly in Maryland and Virginia. The Chief Justice took no part, since he was on a D.C. Circuit panel that had ruled against the challenge to the tax ban. The case was Banner v. U.S. (05-970).

And the Court declined to rule on a claim that it is unconstitutional for states to recognize “common law parenting” — that is, parent-like rights for another person who has had a close relationship with the child. The appeal in Britain v. Carvin (05-974) on that point was supported by the American College of Pediatricians. The case involved a Washington State Supreme Court ruling recognizing a parent-like role for the former lesbian partner of a woman who is the child’s biological mother. The two raised the child from infancy, until their breakup.

In two separate orders, the Court asked the U.S. Solicitor General for the government’s views on two cases. One was Winkelman v. Parma City School District (05-983), testing whether parents who are not lawyers have a right to represent a disabled child or themselves in federal court over public education benefits for the child. The second case, involving patent law (Apotex v. Pfizer, 05-1006), tests whether a manufacturer of a generic drug may sue in court for a ruling that its generic product will not infringe a patent held by a brand-name manufacturer. Apotex’s appeal argues that the failure to secure a court ruling on the infringement issue bars the federal government from approving the generic drug for marketing, and raises the prospect of “massive patent liability.”

Among other significant cases that the Court chose not to hear are a pair of appeals by postal workers, seeking a right to sue for damages for actions they claimed their superiors failed to take to protect them after the anthrax attack in Washington, D.C., in October 2001. (Briscoe v. Potter, 05-977, and Richmond v. Potter (05-990).

The Court did not act on pending cases it had considered on two major issues — the claim by news reporters that they have a qualified privilege not to be forced to reveal their confidential news sources for use in a civil lawsuit, and whether the Court’s college admissions rulings on the use of race in higher education applies to K through 12 schools. The reporters’ appeals (Drogin v. Lee, 05-969, and Thomas v. Lee, 05-1114), grew out of the government investigation of a government laboratory scientist, Wen Ho Lee, over possible mishandling of nuclear arms information. The schools cases, involving race as a factor in student placement, are Parents Involved v. Seattle (05-908) and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board (05-915).

The Court’s electronic docket indicated, later on Monday, that the reporters’ cases and the school cases will be considered again at the private Conference on Thursday of this week. Thus, it is possible some action could be announced next Monday.