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Justices to tackle copyright dispute next term

The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear a copyright clash over a fashion design and declined to revisit the authority of police officers to enter homes without a warrant.

In an order list from the justices’ May 27 private conference, the justices added just one new case to their docket for next term: Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, in which the justices agreed to weigh in on a technical question of copyright law and procedure arising from a dispute between a Los Angeles fabric designer and fast-fashion retailer H&M. The designer, Unicolors, contends that in 2015 H&M began to use a fabric design that it had created four years earlier. Unicolors went to court, where a jury awarded it nearly $900,000 in damages for infringement. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed the ruling in favor of Unicolors, leading to this appeal. The justices will hear oral argument in the case in the fall, with a decision likely to follow sometime next year.

Two weeks after ruling in Caniglia v. Strom that the “community caretaking” doctrine did not justify the decision to remove a Rhode Island man and his guns from his home without a warrant, the Supreme Court sent the case of an Iowa man back to the lower court for another look in light of its decision in Caniglia. Tuesday’s order came in the case of Kenneth Sanders, who was arguing with his girlfriend, Karina LaFrancois, when police came to the door to check on the couple. LaFrancois spoke with the officers outside and told them that she and her children, who were also in the home, were “ok,” and that she would tell Sanders to come out. When LaFrancois went back into the house, police officers saw her daughter crying and decided that they needed to go in. Once inside the house, the police officers found a gun; Sanders was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Sanders argued that the gun could not be used against him because the police officers had entered the house without a warrant. But the officers argued, and a federal district court agreed, that they were justified under the community-caretaking doctrine. After the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit upheld that ruling, Sanders went to the Supreme Court, which put his case on hold until it issued its ruling in Caniglia.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh agreed with the decision on Tuesday to send Sanders’ case back to the 8th Circuit, but he wrote a separate opinion in which he emphasized that the court’s ruling in Caniglia made clear that there “is no standalone ‘community caretaking’ doctrine that allows warrantless entries into the home.” However, Kavanaugh added, that does not mean that the court of appeals necessarily reached the wrong result in Sanders’ case. When the case returns to the 8th Circuit, Kavanaugh suggested, that court can still consider whether officers were allowed to enter the home, even without a warrant, because they believed that someone in the home was threatened with serious injury.

Also on Tuesday, the court turned down a request from medical giant Johnson & Johnson to review a $2 billion award against it in a lawsuit brought by women who contend that they developed ovarian cancer after using two of Johnson & Johnson’s talcum-powder products: the iconic Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower. Two justices recused themselves from the decision: Justice Samuel Alito, who owns Johnson & Johnson stock; and Kavanaugh, whose father served as the head of the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association, which opposed efforts to require warnings on talc products. [Disclosure: Goldstein & Russell, P.C., whose attorneys contribute to SCOTUSblog in various capacities, was among the counsel to the plaintiffs in the case.]

The justices’ next conference is scheduled for Thursday, June 3. We expect orders from that conference on Monday, June 7.

This post was originally published at Howe on the Court.

Recommended Citation: Amy Howe, Justices to tackle copyright dispute next term, SCOTUSblog (Jun. 1, 2021, 12:55 PM),