June 9, 2014 United States Supreme Court opinions

Scialabba v Cuellar de Osorio

Cuellar filed an application for immigrant visa and one of the minors listed as a derivative applicant turned 21 while waiting for the visa to be processed. The immigration service gave the derivative applicant the priority date of the time his application actually started being processed instead of when Cuellar applied and listed him. The immigration board affirmed this decision under its interpretation of 8 USC 1153(h)(3). The 9th Circuit ultimately reversed. The Court, 5 (plurality of 3 with a concurrence of 2)-4(solitary dissent and three justice dissent) resolved a circuit split and reversed. Justice Kagen, joined by Kennedy and Ginsberg, argued that 1153(h)(3) is ambiguous because all aged out derivative beneficiaries are covered, but, the operative term “automatically converts” limits the beneficiaries to those who can be automatically reclassified into another category without needing to file their own application. While the board was not required to interpret the statute narrowly, it was a permissible reading and Chevron deference applied. The plurality argued that requiring the braider interpretation here would upset the priority structure created by Congress and introduce uncertainty and administrate burdens into the system. Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Scalia, concurred arguing that (h(3) is not internally inconsistent but rather fails to identify which applications can “automatically convert”. Thus, it is ambiguous and Chevron deference applies. Justice Alito dissented arguing that (h)(3) clearly requires conversion when a category exists to convert the original derivative application and such a category existed in this case. Justice Sotomayor joined by Breyer in full and Thomas except as to one footnote, dissented arguing that (h)(3) unambiguously grants relief to all derivative applicants, that Congress is not presumed to pass self-contradictory laws and the immigrations service handled priority claims for aged out derivative applicants by granting relief to all derivative applicants before (h)(3) was enacted. It also argued that the concurrence was incorrect because it fails to give effect to all the applicable law.

Executive Benefits Insurance Agency v Atkinson

Agency was found to have participated in a fraudulent transfer of bankruptcy estate assets. It appealed arguing the bankruptcy court lacked Article III power to adjudicate that claim. The 9th Circuit rejected its argument and affirmed. The Court affirmed. It held that bankruptcy courts lack power to adjudicate fraudulent transfer claims to final judgment as those claims do not involve any public right. However, the relevant statute has a savings clause which allows the bankruptcy code to continue in effect to the extent it is not unconstitutional in application. Here, 11 USC 157 allows noncore related claims to be heard by the bankruptcy judge who issues proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law which are subject to de novo review by a district court judge. Here, while this precise procedure was not followed, the district court did give de novo review and independently enter judgment. Thus, Agency received the all the process applicable to its claim.

CTS v Waldenberger

Waldenberger sued CTS under CERCLA seeking cleanup of polluted land CTS had operated commercial facilities on. CTS moved to dismiss based on North Carolina’s statute of repose. The district court granted judgment o CTS on that basis, but, the 4th Circuit reversed. Resolving an appellate authority split, the Court, 7-2 with a concurrence in part, reversed. The majority held that 42 USC 9658 only preempts statues of limitations and not statutes of repose. It noted that the terms have been used interchangeably in past, but, at the time 9658 was passed the distinction between the two was acknowledged and the text of 9658 which refers to claims and limitation periods and includes a discovery rule that is consistent with statutes of limitations but not statutes of repose which extinguish claims even before they exist if the set time has expired. The majority also noted that the Congress had a report before which identified statutes of limitations and statues of repose as separate barriers to suits for cleanup and Congress chose to not include “statutes of repose” in 9658. Three justices added an additional support in the presumption against preemption as states are sovereigns whose power is to be respected. Justice Scalia, joined by Roberts, Thomas and Alito, added a concurrence arguing that preemption clauses are to be construed under normal rules not with a  presumption of narrow scope. Justice Ginsberg, joined by Breyer, dissented arguing that 9658 establishes a federal commencement date which supplants the North Carolina statute of repose commencement date and this is consistent with congressional intent as toxic substances have decades long latency periods and allowing repose statutes to bar suit interferes with the thrust of CERCLA to provide remediation.

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