June 10, 2013 United States Supreme Court opinions

Oxford Health Plans, LLC v Sutter

Sutter sued Oxford alleging it failed to make full and prompt payments of services provided under a health insurance to Sutter and a class of other providers. Oxford moved to have the case arbitrated. The arbitrator ruled the parties had agreed to class action arbitration based on the text of the arbitration clause and this was upheld by the district court and 3rd Circuit. The arbitrator reaffirm the decision after Oxford sought another determination when the United States Supreme Court held that parties must agree to class action arbitration before a party can be required to participate in such arbitration. The arbitrator again rejected Oxford’s claim and this was again affirmed. Resolving a circuit split, the Court held that under the Federal Arbitration Act 10(a)(4), the only question is whether the arbitrator based his decision on the text of the contract. Here, the arbitrator did so and that determination is shielded from review. The Court expressed some doubts as to the correctness of the decision, but, given the limited scope of review, even a wrong decision must be affirmed. Justice Alito, joined by Justice Thomas, concurred noting Oxford agreed to have the arbitrator decide the class issue and thus is stuck with the outcome. He further noted that the clause in question does not authorize class arbitration and doubted that other class members would be bound by any decision of the arbitrator on the merits.

Peugh v United States

Peugh was convicted of bank fraud. He was sentenced under the then current sentencing guidelines which significantly raised the presumptive sentence from the guidelines in effect at the time he committed his crimes. He argued this violated the ex post facto clause. His argument was rejected by the 7th Circuit. The Court, resolving a circuit split, reversed 5-4. The majority noted that the governing rule for a sentencing rule which is alleged to have increased the sentence for a criminal act retroactively is whether or not the new sentencing regime creates a significant risk of a higher sentence. Noting that the now advisory sentencing guidelines appear to be followed both up and down by sentencing courts, the majority held that because of the incentives in the system (starting with the guidelines, appellate presumption of reasonableness, and the need to explain deviations downward) the use of a new higher guideline creates a significant risk of a higher sentence and is unconstitutional. It rejected arguments to the contrary holding a sentencing rule does not need to be mandatory to violate the ex post facto clause and Booker ad its follow on cases remain good law because the fact finding concerns in those cases are different form the fundamental fairness concerns present here. Justice Thomas, joined in part by Chief justice Roberts, Justice Scalia and Justice Alito, argued that the federal guidelines do not constrain the sentencing court’s discretion as they area advisory only. Further, the current guidelines are the Sentencing commissions judgment as to the proper balancing of the statutory considerations. For himself, Justice Thomas argued that the existing framework was unworkable and called for return to the original understanding of the clause to only prohibit increases in the statutory punishment of the crime in question. The four dissenters argued that the statutory sentencing range for bank fraud was not changed. Thus, no violation occurred. Justices Alito and Scalia added a dissent explaining there was no need to consider whether a new rule was necessary given the guidelines here did not create a significant risk of increased punishment.

Horne v Department of Agriculture

Department brought an administrative complaint against Horne alleging violations of the agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937 and implanting regulations for failure to deliver a required portion of their raisin crop in a reserve program. Horne argued he was not a handler for the program’s purposes and if he were the requirement was an unconstitutional taking. Horne was fined and the fine was upheld on appeal. However, the 9th Circuit refused to decide his takings claim holding that must be brought under the Tucker Act in the federal claims court. The Court unanimously reversed. It held the claim was ripe as Horne had a final order against him and had utilized the procedures available to him. It also held that jurisdiction over the taking claim was properly in the 9th Circuit as the Act created a comprehensive regulatory scheme which takes it outside the reach of the Tucker Act. Finally, the court held that the takings claim could be brought in the administrative hearing and did nto need to be raised in a claim for the return of the fine.

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