Posts tagged United States Supreme Court

Supreme Court Watch: Millbrook v. United States

Imag­ine a prison guard at a fed­eral prison rapes an inmate. Can the United States be held respon­si­ble for that guard’s actions?

That is the ques­tion before the Supreme Court today. There are sit­u­a­tion in which the gov­ern­ment can be sued when a prison guard, act­ing within the scope of his or her employ­ment, com­mits an “inten­tional tort” — that is, know­ingly and pur­posely vio­lates the civil rights of an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen. When not on duty, a prison guard can be sued like any­one else for harm­ing another per­son (for instance, by rap­ing some­one), and the gov­ern­ment is not liable then. Is the gov­ern­ment ever liable when an employee is on duty and doing an assigned job, but some­how abuses the power entrusted to that employee?

The answer is: usu­ally not. The gov­ern­ment nor­mally can’t be sued due to the actions of a gov­ern­ment employee who is doing his or her job, even if that per­son does some­thing which would nor­mally be ille­gal. This is called “sov­er­eign immunity”.

But when on duty, and when exer­cis­ing the author­ity granted by being a prison guard, the gov­ern­ment some­times, in cer­tain cir­cum­stances, is con­sid­ered liable for the actions of that guard. This is called “a waiver of sov­er­eign immunity.”

The ques­tion here is whether the gov­ern­ment can be held liable for sex­ual assault when the guard is not specif­i­cally exer­cis­ing author­ity to “exe­cute searches, to seize evi­dence, or to make arrests for vio­la­tions of Fed­eral law.” (more…)

Supreme Court Watch: Levin v. United States

Are our mil­i­tary hos­pi­tals man­u­fac­tur­ing battery?

Today’s case is one of those with a sur­pris­ingly large dis­con­nect between the facts that led to trial and the deci­sion being addressed by the Supreme Court. The facts that led to the trial have to do with informed con­sent in a med­ical pro­ce­dure. But the Supreme Court is exam­in­ing a ques­tion of juris­dic­tion and immunity.

The juris­dic­tion and immu­nity ques­tions aren’t new to our Supreme Court Watch series. We’ve cov­ered cases with that topic three times before. The immu­nity dis­cus­sions keep aris­ing because those bound­aries are far from clear. Today is another instance where the bound­ary may be unde­fined.  (more…)

Supreme Court Watch: Maracich v. Spears

For a car dealer, the best defense is a good offense. (Filistro: this car has Ontario plates.)

For a car dealer, the best defense is a good offense. (Fil­istro: this car has Ontario plates.)

Per­haps head­ing the list enti­tled “Fed­eral Laws that You Didn’t Know Existed” is the Fed­eral Driver’s Pri­vacy Pro­tec­tion Act (DPPA) of 1994. It tells states what infor­ma­tion driver’s license bureaus may legally dis­close. Now enshrined as 18 USC § 2721, it says

A State depart­ment of motor vehi­cles, and any offi­cer, employee, or con­trac­tor thereof, shall not know­ingly dis­close or oth­er­wise make avail­able to any per­son or entity: per­sonal information …

and then, in a list of 14 exemptions,

4. For use in con­nec­tion with any civil, crim­i­nal, admin­is­tra­tive, or arbi­tral pro­ceed­ing in any Fed­eral, State, or local court or agency or before any self-​​regulatory body, includ­ing the ser­vice of process, inves­ti­ga­tion in antic­i­pa­tion of lit­i­ga­tion, and the exe­cu­tion or enforce­ment of judg­ments and orders, or pur­suant to an order of a Fed­eral, State, or local court.

12.  For bulk dis­tri­b­u­tion for sur­veys, mar­ket­ing or solic­i­ta­tions if the State has obtained the express con­sent of the per­son to whom such per­sonal infor­ma­tion pertains.

Does this give a legal team prepar­ing a class action civil law­suit the right to col­lect per­sonal infor­ma­tion from the South Car­olina Depart­ment of Motor Vehi­cles (DMV)? (more…)

Supreme Court Watch: Missouri v. McNeely

How far can police go in obtain­ing evi­dence with­out per­mis­sion? There are some instances (called “exi­gent cir­cum­stances”) in which the law holds that Fourth Amend­ment pro­tec­tion against unrea­son­able searches and seizures, and the need for a search war­rant, are com­monly sus­pended. The lim­its of this idea will be tested in the Supreme Court today.

The case of Mis­souri v. McNeely asks whether a law enforce­ment offi­cer may obtain a non­con­sen­sual and war­rant­less blood sam­ple from some­one sus­pected of dri­ving while intox­i­cated, under the argu­ment that wait­ing the time needed to obtain a war­rant would allow “the nat­ural dis­si­pa­tion of alco­hol in the blood­stream.” This, argues the State of Mis­souri, pro­vides “exi­gent cir­cum­stances” which per­mit the State to over­ride the driver’s Fourth Amend­ment rights. (more…)

Supreme Court to Rule on PPACA Today

The Supreme Court is sched­uled to read its last deci­sions of the 2011–2012 term today, start­ing at 10:00 am EDT. That means that some­time this morn­ing, the world will finally have an answer on the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of the Patient Pro­tec­tion and Afford­able Care Act (PPACA, or “Obamacare”).

If you want to read the three arti­cles we wrote pre­view­ing the oral argu­ments of late March, they are here, here and here.

If you want to par­tic­i­pate in the live­blog at SCO­TUS­blog, use this link. Amy Howe of SCO­TUS­blog has an excel­lent run­down of the argu­ments “in Plain Eng­lish”.

Shortly after the deci­sion is announced, we will post up an arti­cle out­lin­ing the key points in the deci­sion. Any com­ments made here will be trans­ferred to the new arti­cle, so if you want to start an argu­ment now, or lay down a marker on the antic­i­pated out­come, do that here.

Update 10:13 am: It looks like the PPACA was upheld in its entirety, by a 5–4 vote (Alito, Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas dis­sent­ing), with some lim­i­ta­tions on Med­ic­aid fund­ing to states. Michael is work­ing on the full arti­cle that will replace this one. Stay tuned.

The State of Disunion

The Big Deci­sion isn’t until tomor­row, but the Supreme Court has had a busy and pro­duc­tive ses­sion, with a plethora of cases that will have sig­nif­i­cant impact in the com­ing years.

One of the cases I pre­viewed, Knox v. Ser­vice Employ­ees Inter­na­tional Union, will affect the abil­ity of unions to involve them­selves in the demo­c­ra­tic process in Amer­ica. If cor­po­ra­tions are peo­ple, because peo­ple own cor­po­ra­tions and get div­i­dends from them, then surely unions are peo­ple, since the point of unions is to rep­re­sent the inter­ests of their mem­bers. That being the case, if cor­po­ra­tions can pro­vide unlim­ited fund­ing for cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions, under the assump­tion that they rep­re­sent the inter­ests of their share­hold­ers, it seems rea­son­able for unions to do so as well. Or does it? (more…)

Go to Top