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Tobacco challenge ends; a pile of grants

An effort by four major tobacco companies to nullify a $270 million program to encourage Louisiana smokers to quit ended quietly in the Supreme Court Monday, as the Justices simply denied review and passed up a chance to clarify the constitutional status of controversial class-action lawsuits.  That denial was perhaps the highest-visibility order on a lengthy closing-day list that included 11 new grants, helping the Court to fill what had appeared to be empty spaces in its early winter calendar.  A final round of orders will come out Tuesday morning, but the Court is already in recess.

With the denial of review in Philip Morris USA, et al., v. Jackson (docket 10-735), an order issued last September by Justice Antonin Scalia, blocking the verdict, lapsed automatically.   The flat rejection of the case was a surprise.  Filed last December, it had been kept on hold until the Justices ruled in the high-stakes case, Wal-Mart v. Dukes case (10-277).   The Wal-Mart case had potential constitutional issues in it, but the Court decided none of those when it blocked the class-action lawsuit last week, keeping a class of perhaps 1 million female workers of the discount retailer from pursuing their massive case together.

After the Wal-Mart decision, the tobacco companies made a new plea to the Court to take up their case, since the Court had not resolved any constitutional questions in the retailer’s case.  But, at the most, Court observers had speculated that, if the Court did not grant review, it at least would wipe out the Louisiana court’s verdict and order it to reconsider under Wal-Mart.  An outright denial was not at all anticipated.

Another closely watched case that was  turned aside on Monday was an attempt to revive a lawsuit by former Iraqi civilians who had been detained by U.S. military forces at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Iraq.   Their lawsuit sought to hold private companies serving as militry contractors at the prison liable for abuse and torture of individual detainees.    The D.C. Circuit had barred their case from proceeding, partly on the basis of a conclusion that the Alien Tort Statute did not apply to private contractors working overseas in a combat zone, and partly on a “battlefield exemption” to the ATS’s coverage.   The denied case was Saleh, et al., v. CAC International, et al. (09-1313).  The Court accepted the Solicitor General’s suggestion that it deny review of the petition.

The Court also denied review of six other petitions which the Solicitor General had also recommended be denied, but it granted review of one case the government had said should be denied, and agreed to hear the one case in this latest group that the Solicitor General had urged be taken for decision.   Despite the government’s suggestion, the Court agreed to decide National Meat Association v. Brown (10-224), a case that will clarify the power of states to regulate the operation of slaughterhouses.   Agreeing with the Solicitor General, the Court said it would decide whether federal law protects a brand-name drug from generic competition for all uses of that drug, even if the brand-name company only holds a patent on some specific uses.  That case is Caraco Pharmaceutical Laboratories v. Novo Nordisk (10-844).

Those cases, and all of the others granted Monday, will be heard and decided at the Court’s next Term, starting in October.  (Two of Monday’s grants, on federal government appeals on profanity and nudity on TV and radio, and on police use of GPS tracking devices, are discussed in this separate post on the blog.)

Among the other newly granted cases, the Justices gave themselves a further opportunity to clarify legal immunity for police when they carry out a search under a court-approved warrant, if the warrant turns out later to have been invalid.    The case of Messerschmidt, et al., v. Millender, et al. (10-704) also raises issues about prosecutors’ authority to use evidence that had been obtained in a search under a warrant found invalid.  The Court had been holding the petition for several weeks, then finally decided to take it.

In an important job rghts case, Coleman v. Maryland Court of Appeals, et al. (10-1016), the Court will be deciding whether Congress has taken away states’ Eleventh Amendment immunity to claims involving the right to work leave, under the Family and Medical Leave Act.   The case involves a fired employee of the Maryland court, who contended that his right to sick leave under the Act was denied in retaliation for his complaints of wrongdoing in his office.  The Fourth Circuit Court ruled that Congress had not validly stripped states of their immunity to claims under the leave provision, upholding dismissal of the lawsuit.

Here, in summary, are the issues the Court will review in the other five cases the Justices will be hearing:

** Knox v. Service Employees Internatonal Union (10-1016): whether non-union employeees may constitutionally be required to pay fees to a union to help cover political spending on ballot measures.

** Mims v. Arrow Financial Services (10-1195): whether Congress has barred private lawsuits lawsuits in federal courts to enforce the provisions of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

Kappos v. Hyatt (10-1219): whether a seeker of a patent challenging in federal District Court a denial of the application by the U.S. Patent Office may offer new evidence that could have been offered to the Patent Office, but was not.  The case also raises an issue of whether the District Court must defer to the decision of the PTO.

** Credit Suisse Securities, et al. v. Simmonds (10-1261): whether federal law permits any interruption (technically, “tolling”) of the two-year time limit for filing a lawsuit claiming that insiders in a corporation made illegal profits by trading short term in the company’s stock in the market.

** Martel v. Clair (10-1265): whether a death-row prisoner is entitled, in a federal court challenge in his case, to replace his court-appointed lawyer simply because he prefers a different lawyer and claims that his assigned counsel was not performing adequately.

Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Tobacco challenge ends; a pile of grants, SCOTUSblog (Jun. 27, 2011, 10:45 PM),