Update on 2014-2015 United States Supreme Court Decisions
Last year we posted an article suggesting to keep an eye out on certain cases pending to be heard by the Supreme Court during its 2014-2015 term (see here: https://affinitylaw.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=226&action=edit). Here’s a post from our excellent law clerk Ashley Franco following up on how the Supreme Court decided those cases. For a brief overview of the facts surrounding each case please see our previous post on the matter.
In the two consolidated cases of Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Association and Nickolas v. Mortgage Bankers Association, the issue was whether a federal agency must engage in a notice and comment procedure before it can significantly alter an interpretation of one of its own rules. On March 9, 2015 the court held that agencies are not required to follow notice-and–comment rulemaking procedures when amending or repealing their interpretations of its own rules. The effect of this decision allows agencies to modify their regulations faster and easier.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in the following case is bad news for employees who must spend extra hours going through security screenings as part of their employment. In Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, the issue was whether the employee should be compensated for the time spent in security screenings after work hours. On December 9, 2014 the court held the time spent in the security screenings at issue were not compensable work time. The basis for the court’s decision was that the security screenings (1) were not the “principal activities” which the employees were employed to perform, and (2) were not “integral and indispensable” to the employees’ duties. Employers should take a close look at the Supreme Court’s opinion in order to determine whether they must compensate employees for activities performed before and after work hours.
In Heien v. North Carolina, the issue presented was whether a police officer’s mistake of law provides justification for a search under the Fourth Amendment. On December 15, 2014 the Supreme Court held in an 8-1 decision that a search or seizure is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment when an officer makes a reasonable factual or legal mistake. What does this mean? This holding offers great leeway to police officers. In other words, a police office may stop you even if he is mistaken as to whether your actions are illegal. Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissenting opinion addressed her concerns with the majority’s holding stating, “there is nothing in our case law requiring us to hold that a reasonable mistake of law can justify a seizure under the Fourth Amendment and quite a bit suggesting just the opposite. I see nothing to be gained from such holding and much to be lost.”
In the consolidated cases of Alabama Legis. Black Caucus v. Alabama and Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabama, the issue presented was whether Alabama’s legislative redistricting plans unconstitutionally classified black voters by race by intentionally packing them in districts designed to maintain supermajority percentages produced when 2010 census data are applied to the 2001 majority-black districts. On March 25, 2015, in a 5-4 decision. the court reversed the district court’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. The court held that that the district court erred in focusing on whether the redistricting plan as a whole was unconstitutional racial gerrymandering, rather than making the determination on a district-by-district basis. The court stated the case would be remanded for the district court to consider whether the individual districts, not the state as a whole, were drawn with race as a predominant factor. This holding is a victory for the plaintiffs’ civil rights.
The Supreme Court has heard oral argument on the following important cases, but has yet to release a decision:
In Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Inc. v. United States ex rel. Carter, one of the two issues presented is whether the False Claims Act’s “first-to-file” bar functions as a “one-case-at-a-time” rule allowing an infinite series of duplicative claims so long as no prior claim is pending at the time of filing. Oral argument heard on January 13, 2015.
In Elonis v. United States the issue presented was whether consistent with the First Amendment (freedom of speech) and Virginia v. Black, conviction of threatening another person under 18 U.S.C. § 875(c) requires proof of the defendant’s subjective intent to threaten, or whether it is enough to show that a “reasonable person” would regard the statement as threatening. Oral argument was heard on December 1, 2014. However, the Court has not yet ruled on this case. This case is one to keep on eye on, as we are now in the era of where internet threats are increasing, and using them as “true threats” can have substantial implications for those who post them.
If you are interested in reading the full transcript or listening to the oral argument of any of the above cases they may be found at the Supreme Court’s website at http://www.supremecourt.gov.