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Court grants eight cases

The Supreme Court, returning from its summer recess, on Tuesday granted review of eight new cases, including one involving a long-running copyright dispute in Hollywood over the screenplay for the Oscar-nominated 1980 movie, Raging Bull, about the life of boxer Jake LaMotta.

The Court also granted review of two petitions by the federal government and three cases involving issues related to copyrights or patent lawsuits, and accepted one new petition in a so-called “pauper” case involving two Californians in a marijuana case, testing police authority to stop a suspected drunk driver based on an anonymous tip. The new grants probably will allow the Court to fill the remaining slots for oral argument in the January sitting.  It has previously released argument calendars for October, November, and December.

Tuesday’s orders only involved the grants; any other orders resulting from yesterday’s opening Conference of the new Term will be released at 9:30 a.m. Monday — the formal opening day for October Term 2013.  Although much of the remainder of the government is closed because of a budget impasse, the Court is going ahead with its work and, if the practice during prior government shutdowns is followed, it will hold oral arguments as scheduled next week.

The copyright case added to the docket for decision is Petrella v. MGM (12-1315), filed by Paula Petrella, whose father, Frank “Peter” Petrella, had written several works about his personal friend, boxer LaMotta, and did a screenplay for the movie that would bring an Oscar for actor Robert DeNiro, who portrayed the temperamental pugilist.  The issue in the case the Court will review — a question that has split lower courts — is whether a failure to promptly press an infringement claim can bar the claim.

The Tuesday grants represent a strong focus on issues related to intellectual property law.  In addition to the Petrella case, the Court accepted two cases dealing with claims for attorney’s’ fees in patent cases.  Highmark Inc. v. Allcare Health Management Systems (12-1163) asked the Court to clarify when an award of attorney’s fees can be made as a way to deter “patent trolling” — that is, getting a right to a patent primarily for the purpose of seeking royalties or infringement damages.

The second case is Octane Fitness v. Icon Health & Fitness Inc. (12-1184), challenging the Federal Circuit’s test for determining when an entity accused of infringing on a patent but who wins the case can be awarded attorney’s fees to pay for the defense it mounted to the claim.  The fee dispute grows out of a court battle over a patent for exercise equipment.

These are the two government petitions the Court accepted, and a summary of the issues at stake:

* United States v. Castleman (12-1371), seeking clarification of when an individual commits a crime for having a gun after being convicted of domestic violence — a case originating in Tennessee and testing the relationship between a law of that state and a federal statute.

* United States v. Quality Stores Inc. (12-1408), on whether a business firm that shuts down and lets its workers go, and its employees, must pay Social Security and Medicare (FICA) tax on the severance checks given to the workers.  Quality Stores was a larger retail chain that mainly sold goods related to farming and do-it-yourself gardeners.  It was pulled into bankruptcy in 2001, and underwent reorganization. Justice Elena Kagan is not participating in this case.

The marijuana-transport case the Justices will hear is Navarette v. California (12-9490).  The petition had raised two questions, but the Court agreed to review only the first: whether police, after getting an anonymous tip about drunken or reckless driving, must actually observe that kind of misconduct before they may stop a vehicle.  In the stop in this case, officers turned up four bags of marijuana in the pickup truck.

Here, in summary, are the other two granted cases:

* Harris v. Quinn (11-681): The issue is whether it is unconstitutional for a state to require home-care providers to pay fees to a union to represent their interests before state agencies.

* Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States (12-1173): The question is whether the federal government has a right to reclaim ownership of the lands under railroad rights-of-way once the railroad has abandoned its use of the lands and the property goes into private ownership.

Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Court grants eight cases, SCOTUSblog (Oct. 1, 2013, 10:46 AM),