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Petitions of the week

Defamation claims against churches and American Samoa’s Deeds of Cession

This week we highlight cert petitions that ask the Supreme Court to consider, among other things, when religious groups are subject to state-law tort claims and whether a federal agency that enacted a new fishing regulation should have taken into account a pair of early 20th century agreements that preserved certain rights of American Samoa.

In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protects religious groups from suits from ministers bringing claims of employment discrimination. Two petitions now ask the Supreme Court to decide how the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty interacts with state-law tort claims, such as defamation. In North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention Inc. v. McRaney, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit allowed Rev. Will McRaney’s defamation and other claims against the Southern Baptist Convention to proceed because a civil court could resolve the case with neutral principles, without weighing in on issues of faith. By contrast, in Lippard v. Holleman, the Court of Appeals of North Carolina barred Kim and Barry Lippard’s defamation claim against the pastor and the music minister of Diamond Hill Baptist Church because the challenged statement occurred in an ecclesiastical setting, even if neutral principles could govern the case.

Territory of American Samoa v. National Marine Fisheries Service presents the justices with the Deeds of Cession. In the Deeds of Cession, American Samoa in the early 1900s became a territory of the United States in return for protections of fa’a Samoa, the customary rights and property of the people of American Samoa. In 2016, the National Marine Fisheries Service changed an earlier regulation that had prohibited large vessels from fishing within 50 miles of American Samoa. The new regulation moved the boundary to 12 miles. American Samoa objected that the new regulation threatened traditional Samoan fishing practices in violation of the Deeds of Cession – and that the fisheries service had ignored American Samoa’s comments about the Deeds of Cession during the rulemaking process. After the district court ruled for American Samoa, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed. The 9th Circuit determined that the fisheries service had properly considered input from American Samoa and that it was “of little import” that the fisheries service never addressed the Deeds of Cession specifically. American Samoa asks the justices to review the 9th Circuit’s decision.

These and other petitions of the week are below:

Badgerow v. Walters
Issue: Whether federal courts have subject-matter jurisdiction to confirm or vacate an arbitration award under Sections 9 and 10 of the Federal Arbitration Act when the only basis for jurisdiction is that the underlying dispute involved a federal question.

North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention Inc. v. McRaney
Issues: (1) Whether a secular court can, consistent with the First Amendment’s religion clauses, adjudicate a minister’s employment-related state-law tort claims against a religious organization using neutral principles of tort law; and (2) whether the First Amendment precludes the adjudication of a minister’s employment-related state-law tort claims only when brought against the legal entity that was the minister’s employer.

Maine Community Health Options v. United States
Issue: Whether the government is required to pay insurers the full amount of the cost-sharing reduction payments required by the unambiguous shall-pay language of Section 1402 of the Affordable Care Act.

Lippard v. Holleman
Issue: Whether the First Amendment’s religion clauses prohibit courts from hearing defamation claims that arise from ecclesiastical settings, even when the claims can be resolved using neutral principles of law.

Territory of American Samoa v. National Marine Fisheries Service
Issue: Whether the Deeds of Cession, by which the territory of American Samoa became part of the United States, establish binding and enforceable obligations on the United States and its agencies.

Johnson & Johnson v. Ingham
[Disclosure: Goldstein & Russell, P.C., whose attorneys contribute to SCOTUSblog in various capacities, is counsel to the respondents in this case. This listing occurs without regard to the likelihood that certiorari will be granted.]
Issues: (1) Whether a court must assess if consolidating multiple plaintiffs for a single trial violates due process, or whether it can presume that jury instructions always cure both jury confusion and prejudice to the defendant; (2) whether a punitive-damages award violates due process when it far exceeds a substantial compensatory-damages award, and whether the ratio of punitive to compensatory damages for jointly and severally liable defendants is calculated by assuming that each defendant will pay the entire compensatory award; and (3) whether the “arise out of or relate to” requirement for specific personal jurisdiction can be met by merely showing a “link” in the chain of causation, as the Court of Appeals of Missouri held, or whether a heightened showing of relatedness is required, as the Ford Motor Company in Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court has argued.

Recommended Citation: Andrew Hamm, Defamation claims against churches and American Samoa’s Deeds of Cession, SCOTUSblog (Mar. 26, 2021, 4:47 PM),