June 13, 2013 United States Supreme Court opinions

American Trucking Associations, Inc. v City of Los Angeles

City required terminal operators to use trucking companies that complied with requirements in a mandatory operating agreement. Operators who used unauthorized trucks were subject to criminal penalties. American challenged five requirements in federal court. The district court upheld the requirements as did the 9th circuit. The court unanimously reversed as to two provisions. It held that 49 USC 14501(c)(1) preempted a requirement to have a placard on the trucks and to submit an offsite parking plan as City used criminal sanctions to obtain compliance with these objectives rather than negotiate as a market participant. The court refused to rule on two other provisions stating the record was unclear as to whether they would ever be enforced by permanently banning companies who violate them. Justice Thomas filed a concurrence noting his view that 14501(c)(1) is unconstitutional as beyond the scope of congressional power. As no party raised the issue, however, he joined the court’s opinion.

Tarrant Regional Water District v Herrman

District sued the Oklahoma water Board alleging Oklahoma water law which effectively prevents transfers of Oklahoma water out of state violated Section 5.05(b)(1) of the Red River Compact and the interstate commerce clause. The district court granted judgment to Board and the 10th Circuit affirmed. The Court unanimously affirmed. It held that 5.05(b)(1) did not grant District a right to water in Oklahoma without paying given the background principle that states do not give up sovereignty lightly, other compacts explicitly grant cross border rights and set out mechanisms and standards to go even these transactions and no state tried to obtain out of state water under 5.05(b)(1) before district field this suit. The Court noted that the Compact has a remedy if Texas thinks Oklahoma is obtaining too much water in that Texas can call for an accounting of water. The Court rejected the commerce clause claim holding there is no unallocated water in the Red River and the states involved thus have control over the water.

United States v Davila

Davila moved for new counsel. At an ex parte hearing, the magistrate advised Davila to plead guilty. Three months later, Davila did so. He tried to withdraw his plea, but, this was denied. The 11th Circuit held the magistrate’s comments violated federal rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1) and required automatic vacation of the plea without a showing of prejudice. The Court, resolving a circuit split, reversed with two justices concurring in part and in judgment. The majority held that Rule 11(h) makes Rule 11 violations subject to harmless error review. This is reinforced by the commentary to the rules and Court precedent limiting “structural errors” to significant errors such as denying counsel or allowing conviction on evidence not beyond a reasonable doubt. The case was remedy for further proceedings. Justices Scalia and Thomas concurred agreeing the text of rule 11(h) resolved the case and rejecting the majority’s reliance on nonauthoritative commentary

Association for Molecular Pathology v Myriad Genetics, Inc.

Myriad discovered the parts of BRCA1 and BRCA2 which are associated with significant risks of breast and ovarian cancer. It obtained patents for the natural and synthetic genes involved in its discovery. It sent cease and desist letters to several medical facilities using BRCA tests. Associations and other plaintiffs sued alleging the gene patents were invalid as natural phenomena. The district court grated judgment to Myriad which was ultimately affirmed by the federal Circuit. The Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. It held the natural gene sequences were not patentable under 35 USC 101 as they existed before Myriad discovered them and myriad does not change them in any way. It refused to give deference to the Patent office granting of patents for genes noting that the federal government took the opposite position on patentability in this case. However, because the synthetic DNA does not exist in nature, it may be patented if it meets the other requirement of the Patent Act. The Court noted that there no method or application claim involved in this case nor was the situation where a gene sequence is altered present. The Court declared these were open issues and declined to comment on them. Justice Scalia refused to join the portion of the opinion which described DNA and the processes of isolating it.

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