Articles Posted in US Supreme Court

by
SAS sought inter partes review (35 U.S.C. 311(a)) of ComplementSoft’s software patent, alleging that all 16 of the patent’s claims were unpatentable. The Patent Office instituted review on some of the claims and denied review on the rest. The Federal Circuit rejected SAS’s argument that section 318(a) required the Board to decide the patentability of every claim challenged in the petition. The Supreme Court reversed. When the Patent Office institutes an inter partes review, it must decide the patentability of all of the claims the petitioner has challenged. Section 318(a), which states that the Board “shall issue a final written decision with respect to the patentability of any patent claim challenged by the petitioner” is mandatory and comprehensive. The Director’s claimed “partial institution” power (37 CFR 42.108(a)) appears nowhere in the statutory text. The statute envisions an inter partes review guided by the initial petition. While section 314(a) invests the Director with discretion on whether to institute review, it does not invest him with discretion regarding what claims that review will encompass. The Director’s policy argument—that partial institution is efficient because it permits the Board to focus on the most promising challenges and avoid spending time and resources on others—is properly addressed to Congress. View "SAS Institute Inc. v. Iancu" on Justia Law

by
Oil States sued Greene's Energy for infringement of a patent relating to technology for protecting wellhead equipment used in hydraulic fracturing. Greene’s challenged the patent’s validity in court and petitioned the Patent Office for inter partes review, 35 U.S.C. 311-319. The district court issued a claim-construction order favoring Oil States; the Board concluded that Oil States’ claims were unpatentable. The Federal Circuit rejected a challenge to the constitutionality of inter partes review. The Supreme Court affirmed. Inter partes review does not violate Article III. Congress may assign adjudication of public rights to entities other than Article III courts. Inter partes review falls within the public-rights doctrine. Patents are “public franchises” and granting patents is a constitutional function that can be carried out by the executive or legislative departments without “judicial determination.’ Inter partes review involves the same basic matter as granting a patent. Patents remain “subject to [the Board’s] authority” to cancel outside of an Article III court. The similarities between the procedures used in inter partes review and judicial procedures does not suggest that inter partes review violates Article III. The Court noted that its decision “should not be misconstrued as suggesting that patents are not property for purposes of the Due Process Clause or the Takings Clause.” When Congress properly assigns a matter to adjudication in a non-Article III tribunal, “the Seventh Amendment poses no independent bar to the adjudication of that action by a nonjury factfinder.” View "Oil States Energy Services, LLC v. Greene's Energy Group, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Petitioners sought compensation under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), part of the Judiciary Act of 1789, 28 U.S.C. 1350, based on terrorist acts committed abroad. They alleged that those acts were in part facilitated by Arab Bank, a Jordanian institution with a New York branch. They claimed that the bank used that branch to clear dollar-denominated transactions that benefited terrorists through the Clearing House Interbank Payments System (CHIPS) and to launder money for a Texas-based charity allegedly affiliated with Hamas. The Second Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of the case. Foreign corporations may not be defendants in suits brought under the ATS, which is "strictly jurisdictional” and does not provide or define a cause of action for international law violations. The Court noted that after the Second Circuit permitted plaintiffs to bring ATS actions based on human-rights laws, Congress enacted the 1991 Torture Victim Protection Act, creating an express cause of action for victims of torture and extrajudicial killing. ATS suits then became more frequent but “the presumption against extraterritoriality applies to [ATS] claims.” Separation-of-powers concerns that counsel against courts creating private rights of action apply with particular force to the ATS, which implicates foreign-policy concerns. Courts must exercise “great caution” before recognizing new forms of liability under the ATS. In this case. the only alleged connections to the United States, the CHIPS transaction and a brief allegation about a Texas charity, are “relatively minor” and the litigation has caused diplomatic tensions with Jordan, a critical ally. View "Jesner v. Arab Bank, PLC" on Justia Law

by
Patchak filed suit challenging the authority of the Secretary of the Interior to invoke the Indian Reorganization Act, 25 U.S.C. 5108, and take into trust the Bradley Property, on which the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians wished to build a casino. In an earlier decision, the Supreme Court held that the Secretary lacked sovereign immunity and that Patchak had standing. While the suit was on remand, Congress enacted the Gun Lake Act, 128 Stat. 1913, which “reaffirmed as trust land” the Bradley Property, and provided that “an action . . . relating to [that] land shall not be filed or maintained in a Federal court and shall be promptly dismissed.” The D.C. Circuit and the Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of Patchak’s suit. Section 2(b) of the Gun Lake Act does not violate Article III of the Constitution. While Congress may not exercise the judicial power, it may make laws that apply retroactively to pending lawsuits, even when it effectively ensures that one side will win. Congress violates Article III when it “compel[s] . . . findings or results under old law,” but not when it “changes the law.” By stripping federal courts of jurisdiction over actions “relating to” the Bradley Property, section 2(b) changed the law and is a jurisdiction-stripping statute. When Congress strips federal courts of jurisdiction, it exercises a valid legislative power. View "Patchak v Zinke" on Justia Law

by
The Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1362, prohibits “any addition of any pollutant to navigable waters,” defined as “the waters of the United States.” Section 1311(a) contains exceptions, including permitting schemes under the EPA's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program and an Army Corps of Engineers program, which encompass the “waters of the United States.” The EPA and the Corps proffered the “Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule,” which “imposes no enforceable duty on any state, local, or tribal governments, or the private sector,” 80 Fed. Reg. 37102 and “does not establish any regulatory requirements.” Objectors challenged the Rule in district courts. Many filed “protective” petitions in Circuit Courts to preserve their challenges should their district court lawsuits be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction under 33 U.S.C. 1369(b), which enumerates EPA actions for which review lies directly and exclusively in the federal courts of appeals. Such actions include EPA actions “approving or promulgating any effluent limitation or other limitation under section 1311, 1312, 1316, or 1345,” and EPA actions “issuing or denying any permit under section 1342.” The Sixth Circuit denied motions to dismiss consolidated actions. The Supreme Court reversed. The Rule falls outside section 1369(b)(1), so challenges must be filed in district courts. It is not an “effluent limitation,” “on quantities, rates, and concentrations” of pollutants, nor is it an “other limitation under section 1311; it simply announces a regulatory definition. The Rule was promulgated under section 1361(a), which grants the EPA general rulemaking authority. The Rule neither issues nor denies NPDES permits under section 1342. View "National Association of Manufacturers. v. Department of Defense" on Justia Law

by
The Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced steps to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program by March 2018, concluding that DACA violates the Administrative Procedure Act and the Due Process Clause. The Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of challengers. The government then moved to stay the district court order requiring completion of the administrative record until after resolution of motions to dismiss and for a preliminary injunction. The court stayed its order for one month. The government petitioned the Supreme Court, which vacated. The district court’s order required the government to turn over all “emails, letters, memoranda, notes, media items, opinions and other materials ... actually seen or considered, however briefly, by Acting Secretary ... in connection with the ... decision … all DACA-related materials considered by persons (anywhere in the government) who thereafter provided … written advice or input … all DACA-related materials considered by persons (anywhere in the government) who thereafter provided … verbal input … all comments and questions propounded ... to advisors or subordinates … and their responses, and … all materials directly or indirectly considered by former Secretary of DHS John Kelly leading to his February 2017 memorandum not to rescind DACA. The court should have first resolved the government’s threshold arguments that the decision was unreviewable as “committed to agency discretion,” 5 U.S.C. 701(a)(2), and that the Immigration and Nationality Act deprives the court of jurisdiction. The court may not compel the government to disclose any document that the government believes is privileged without first providing an opportunity to argue the issue. The Court did not consider the merits of the claims or defenses. View "In Re United States" on Justia Law

by
In January 2017, President Trump signed executive order EO-1, "Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry," suspending, for 90 days, entry of foreign nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, and suspending the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days. The Ninth Circuit upheld a nationwide temporary restraining order. The government revoked EO-1. EO-2 issued on March 6, describing conditions in six countries that “demonstrate ... heightened risks to [U.S.] security.” EO–2 section 2(a) directs Homeland Security to determine whether foreign governments provide adequate information about nationals applying for U.S visas and to report those findings to the President within 20 days; nations identified as deficient will have 50 days to alter their practices (2(b)). EO–2 2(c) directs that entry of nationals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, be suspended for 90 days; section 3(c) provides for case-by-case waivers. Section 6(a) suspends decisions on applications for refugee status and travel of refugees under the USRAP for 120 days; 6(b) suspends refugee entries in excess of 50,000 for this year. The order’s stated effective date is March 16, 2017. The Ninth Circuit again declined to stay a temporary injunction. The Supreme Court stayed the order in part, with respect to sections 2(c), 6(a), and 6(b). An American individual or entity that has a bona fide relationship with a particular person seeking to enter the country can legitimately claim concrete hardship if that person is excluded, even if the 50,000-person cap has been reached. As to these individuals and entities, the Court did not disturb the injunction; as to those lacking any such connection, the balance tips in favor of the government’s compelling interest in security. The Court noted a June 12 Ninth Circuit decision vacating the injunction as to 2(a) and stated that the Executive should conclude its work and provide adequate notice to foreign governments within the 90-day life of 2(c). View "Trump. v. International Refugee Assistance Project" on Justia Law

by
Under the Civil Service Reform Act, the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) has the power to review certain personnel actions against federal employees. If an employee asserts rights under the CSRA only, MSPB decisions are subject to judicial review exclusively in the Federal Circuit, 5 U.S.C. 7703(b)(1). If the employee invokes only federal antidiscrimination law, the proper forum is federal district court. An employee who complains of a serious adverse employment action and attributes the action, in whole or in part, to bias based on race, gender, age, or disability brings a “mixed case.” When the MSPB dismisses a mixed case on the merits or on procedural grounds, review authority lies in district court, not the Federal Circuit. Perry received notice that he would be terminated from his Census Bureau employment for spotty attendance. Perry agreed to early retirement. The settlement required Perry to dismiss discrimination claims he had filed separately with the EEOC. After retiring, Perry appealed to the MSPB, alleging discrimination based on race, age, and disability, and retaliation for his discrimination complaints. He claimed the settlement had been coerced. Presuming Perry’s retirement to be voluntary, an ALJ dismissed his case for lack of jurisdiction. The MSPB affirmed, stating that Perry could seek review in the Federal Circuit. Perry instead sought review in the D.C. Circuit, which transferred the case to the Federal Circuit. The Supreme Court reversed. The proper review forum when the MSPB dismisses a mixed case on jurisdictional grounds is district court. A nonfrivolous claim that an agency action appealable to the MSPB violates an antidiscrimination statute listed in section 7702(a)(1) suffices to establish district court jurisdiction. Had Congress wanted to bifurcate judicial review, sending merits and procedural decisions to district court and jurisdictional dismissals to the Federal Circuit, it could have said so. View "Perry v. Merit Systems Protection Board" on Justia Law

by
In the 1970s, federal district courts began ordering disgorgement in Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement proceedings. The Commission may also seek monetary civil penalties; 28 U.S.C. 2462 establishes a five-year limitations period for “an action, suit or proceeding for the enforcement of any civil fine, penalty, or forfeiture.” In 2009, the Commission brought an enforcement action against Kokesh for concealing the misappropriation of $34.9 million from business development companies, seeking monetary civil penalties, disgorgement, and an injunction. A jury found that Kokesh’s actions violated securities laws. The district court determined that section 2462’s limitations period applied to the monetary civil penalties but did not apply to the $34.9 million disgorgement judgment. The Tenth Circuit affirmed. A unanimous Supreme Court reversed. SEC disgorgement operates as a penalty under section 2462. It is imposed by the courts as a consequence for violating public laws, i.e., a violation committed against the United States rather than an aggrieved individual, and is imposed for punitive purposes. SEC disgorgement is often not compensatory. Disgorged profits are paid to the courts, which have discretion to determine how the money will be distributed. When an individual is made to pay a noncompensatory sanction to the government as a consequence of a legal violation, the payment is a penalty. Although disgorgement may sometimes serve compensatory goals, “sanctions frequently serve more than one purpose.” View "Kokesh v. Securities and Exchange Commission" on Justia Law