Sebelius v Cloer
Cloer filed a claim under the vaccine compensation program that was ultimately held to be untimely based on the Federal Circuit’s adoption of a first displayed symptom starting point. The Federal Circuit also held that her petition was eligible for an award of attorney fees under 42 USC 300aa-11. The Court unanimously affirmed (with justices Scalia and Thomas not joining the part of the opinion discussing legislative history). The Court held that the text of 300aa-11 and the surrounding sections contained no timeliness limitation on eligibility for attorney fees, had other timeliness requirements for other aspects of the program which demonstrated that timeliness was not a requirement for attorney fee wards and imposing a timeliness requirement would create different meanings of “filing” within the same section. Congressional intent as demonstrated by legislative history is also served by rejecting the timeliness requirement as it encourages good faith nonfrivolous claims. The court rejected as speculative government concern that claims will multiply or the special masters will be overburdened.
Metrish v Lancaster
Metrish raised a diminished capacity defense at his first murder trial. After he was granted habeas relief, he sought to raise the defense at his retrial. The state trail court denied his request as the Michigan Supreme Court had ruled the defense unavailable under governing statute. The Sixth Circuit granted habeas relief holding the abolition of the defense recognized by the state intermediate appeals court violated due process. The court unanimously reversed. It held that as the defense was rejected in a case of first impression and involved an issue which reasonable jurists could disagree on, the Michigan Supreme Court did not unreasonably fail to follow United States Supreme Court precedent and thus habeas relief was unavailable.
PPL Corp. v Commissioner of Internal Revenue
PPL sought to credit windfall taxes paid in the United Kingdom on its US taxes under treasury Regulation 1.901-2. The Third Circuit rejected the credit on the grounds that the government of the United Kingdom did not characterize the tax as an excess profits tax. The Court, resolving a circuit split, unanimously reversed. Emphasizing that the UK tax was based on actual past profits, it held the UK tax satisfied the regulations standard of “predominant character” as the economic reality of the tax was an additional tax on profits above a certain threshold which is the classic definition of excess profits tax. Justice Sotomayor added an concurrence observing that if all the companies subjected to the UK tax are included, the tax appears to be aimed at value not profits and thus not creditable. However, the government did not raise this issue, so, she joined the Court’s opinion.
City of Arlington, Texas v Federal Communication Commission
City challenged a Commission declaratory ruling setting time limits for the processing of telecommunication tower placement requests arguing the ruling was beyond the power of the commission. The Fifth Circuit rejected the challenge applying Chevron deference to the Commission’s determination of its authority. The Court, 6-3 with one justice concurring in part and in judgment, affirmed. The majority held that any attempt to divide jurisdictional from nonjurisdictional questions in the administrative context is specious as all such questions collapse to the issue of whether the agency has exceeded the boundaries of its statutory authority. The majority noted that the court has consistently held that agencies have the power to determine their own jurisdiction and the majority reaffirmed that courts must defer to agency decisions when the statutory text is ambiguous lest decision-making be transferred to the judiciary from the agencies where congress intended it to be. It rejected the dissent’s proposed de novo review as leading inevitably to chaos as various courts impose their view of policy on ambiguous statutes. Justice Breyer concurred in part and in judgment arguing that ultimately courts must independently assess whether Congress has left gaps in the statute and whether the agency should be the one to fill it. Looking at the totality of the circumstances here, he concluded deference was appropriate. The dissent argued that courts must determine n the first instance whether Congress has actually delegated rulemaking authority for the specific statutory ambiguity in question. Given the explosion of administrative agencies which exercise legislative, executive and judicial power, it is imperative for courts to perform their duty to keep the other branches within the boundaries the constitutional and Congress have set.
The Sol Blatt Jr. Law Library will be open its regular operating hours this coming weekend, May 25th – 26th. It will be open from 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. on Monday, May 27th, for Memorial Day. It will be staffed by Charleston School of Law security only then, i.e. there will be no Circulation, Help, or Reference Services. Enjoy the holiday or study hard!
Scroggins v Lee’s Crossing Homeowners Association
Scroggins sought to add a wheelchair ramp to his front door and to use ATVs in Lee’s Crossing. The Association board did not respond to the ATV request for over a year and Scroggins sued under the fair Housing Amendments Act before the board was required to respond to the ramp request. The district court granted summary judgment to Association, but, denied its motion for attorney fees and costs. The panel affirmed in part and reversed in part. It revered on the ramp request holding the ramp claim was not ripe as suit was filed before the time to respond had expired and the Association stated at oral argument that the request would be granted if the required information was included. It held the ATV claim was ripe as the delay in response constructively denied the request. However, it held that the ATV request was properly denied as ATV use on roads is inherently dangerous and Scroggins partial paralysis made his use of ATVs even more dangerous. The Panel affirmed the denial of fees and costs holding that Congress intended to incentivize suits alleging violations of the Act and the Association rule allowing fees and costs was void for violating this public policy.
Wilson v Dollar General Corporation
Wilson filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Dollar alleging violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. He later field for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection and then sued Dollar under the ADA. The district court ruled that Wilson had standing to sue, but, his claim failed on the merits. The panel affirmed. It joined five other circuit courts in holding that because Wilson had explicit rights to possess and sell the property of the Chapter 13 estate, he had implicit power to sue on behalf of the estate. Thus, he had standing to sue. However, the panel affirmed on the merits holding Wilson failed to provide any evidence he could have reported for work with the request two day leave and in fact testified he could not returned to work on the day his leave would have ended. Thus, he failed to prove he was a qualified individual and his claim failed as a matter of law.
Dooley v Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company
Dooley sued Hartford seeking to obtain underinsured motorist befits for injuries sustained in a car accident. The district court granted summary judgment to Hartford. The panel affirmed. Applying Virginia law, the panel held that the antistacking language in the policy, while ambiguous on its own, was rendered unambiguous by another provision stating the underinsurance benefits were governed by Virginia Code 38.2-2206(A) and therefore equal to the general liability amount. As that amount and the insurance available from the other driver were the same, there was no underinsurance situation and judgment was properly granted to Hartford.
Williams v Ozmint
Williams was observed receiving something from a visitor during visitation at a South Carolina state prison. No contraband was discovered. Ozmint suspended Williams’ visitation for two years based on receiving contraband. He sued for monetary and injunctive relief. The district court denied the relief and a jury rejected Williams’ excessive force claim. The panel, with one judge concurring separately, affirmed. The majority held there was no clearly established right to visitation noting the United States Supreme Court had affirmed two year suspensions of visitation for drug violations and the 4th Circuit had held no right to visitation exists. The majority dismissed the appeal of the injunction denial on mootness grounds as Williams’ visitation rights were restored and any future deprivation would be speculative. The majority summarily affirmed the excessive force verdict. The concurrence argued that the outcome was correct, but, the judge felt the decision to suspend visitation was counterproductive and eventually the term of suspension would be so great that constitutional violation will have occurred.
Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Inc. v U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Corps approved a Clean Water Act permit for a mining operation without issuing an environmental impact statement. Coalition sued to require a statement be issued which was denied by the district court. The panel, with one judge adding a concurrence, affirmed. It held that the Corps appropriately considered the various aspects of the quality of the river and watershed which will be impacted by the mining and thus did not misapprehend the baseline quality as Coalition argued. The panel also held that Corps did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in not issuing a statement as it considered the relevant data on the watershed and changed the requirements of the permit in the course of its review and its final decision that there was no need for a statement was reasonable under the circumstances. The concurring judge stated that because there was extensive dialog between the Corps, the mining company and the Environmental Protection Agency, requiring a statement here would create bad incentives for agencies to share information. As enough of a hard look was done, the concurring judge joined the panel opinion.
Procter v Whitlark & Whitlark, Inc.
Procter gambled on video poker machines in Whitlark’s store. She ultimately stole money from her employer and convicted of theft. She sued to recover her gambling losses. Whitlark raised a defense of in pari delicto. The trial court rejected the defense, allowed the suit and judgment was entered against Whitlark. The panel affirmed. It held that in pari delicto does not apply in gambling cases where the gambler seeks a return of all losses greater than $50 as South Carolina code 32-1-10 abolished in pari delicto as defense to such suits. This effectuates the legislature’s policy of protecting gamblers form themselves and encouraging providers of gambling opportunities to stop their activities.
State v Lewis
Lewis was convicted of aiding and abetting homicide by child abuse. The panel reversed. It held there was no evidence Lewis saw the fatal abuse and even if he knew a crime would occur, that is insufficient to support a conviction. The panel also held that failure to intervene is not sufficient to support a conviction as an overt act is necessary. A majority of the panel held that there was a failure of proof as to the mental state as Lewis sought help for the child and initially thought she had a seizure. One judge concurred noting he found sufficient circumstantial evidence to support a finding of the required knowing mental state.
Boykin Contracting, Inc. v Kirby
Boykin did electrical work for Kirby and sued when Kirby refused to pay the balance due under the contract. The trial court found no contract existed, but, awarded damages under quantum meruit. The panel affirmed. It held Kirby received a benefit as he was listed as the owner of the property both before and after the work was done and the work allowed Kirby to run his bingo operation. The panel also affirmed the damages and prejudgment interest award holding the amount and calculation were within the evidence presented at trial.
Town of Hollywood v Floyd
Floyd received permission from the zoning administrator to start a subdivision. Town sued to halt the subdivision and for a declaration that the planning commission needed to approve the subdivision. Floyd countersued for due process and equal protection violations. The trial court granted summary judgment to Town on its suit and a jury awarded damages to Floyd on hiss equal protection claim. The Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. It held that summary judgment on Town’s suit was proper as the zoning ordinance plainly required zoning commission approval for all subdivision greater than 3 lots. The Court admonished Town to keep its ordinances publicly available, but, held there was sufficient evidence the approval requirement existed when Floyd submitted his application. The Court reversed on the equal protection judgment holding there was no evidence that a similarly situated applicant was treated differently as the proposed similarly situated applicants wither applied before the approval requirement was enacted, were parks or were unopposed.
Gibbs v South Carolina
Gibbs sought post conviction relief based on ineffective assitance of counsel arguing failure to object to certain out of court identifications and failing to request a jury charge on alibi prejudiced him. The circuit court found no prejudice and denied the petition. The Court affirmed. On the identification issue, three Justices, one concurring only in result, agreed that there was no prejudice as trial court conducted a though review of the identification procedures and would have admitted the evidence over objection. On the alibi, three justices, one concurring in result only, agreed that the jury charge as a whole required the government to prove Gibbs committed the robbery and was not at home as claimed. Two justices dissented on the alibi issue arguing that Gibbs was entitled to a jury charge on alibi and the evidence against him was not overwhelming. Thus, the dissent would have found prejudice and remanded for a new trial.