The morning read for Thursday, April 11

The morning read for Thursday, April 11

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Each weekday, we select a short list of news articles, commentary, and other noteworthy links related to the Supreme Court. Here’s the Thursday morning read:

Coming up: On Friday, April 12, the court expects to issue one or more opinions from the current term. We’ll be live at 9:45 a.m. EDT. 

 

The post The morning read for Thursday, April 11 appeared first on SCOTUSblog .

Rideshare companies ask justices to reexamine California worker-protection law

Rideshare companies ask justices to reexamine California worker-protection law

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The Petitions of the Week column highlights a selection of cert petitions recently filed in the Supreme Court. A list of all petitions we’re watching is available here.

The Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in Viking River Cruises v. Moriana was a victory for employers seeking to enforce mandatory arbitration clauses in the face of a landmark California worker-protection law. The court found that the California law was inconsistent with the federal arbitration law’s broad mandate that courts enforce arbitration agreements. This week, we highlight petitions that ask the court to consider, among other things, whether California courts are correct that the law, despite the decision in Viking River, nonetheless allows workers to keep disputes in court.

Twenty years ago, California enacted the Private Attorneys General Act, which allows workers to file lawsuits – on their own behalf and on behalf of other employees – against their employers for any violations of the California labor code. These lawsuits are known as representative actions because the employee is suing in place of the state, which receives the bulk of any money awarded as a result of the lawsuit; the remaining funds are distributed among affected workers.

Johnathon Gregg signed up to drive with Uber in California in 2016. When setting up his account, he did not opt out of Uber’s arbitration agreement, which asks drivers to waive their right to bring lawsuits under the PAGA, specifically, and agree more broadly to address disputes with Uber in arbitration, rather than in court, on an individual basis.

Two years later, Gregg filed a lawsuit in California state court. He argued that, under the PAGA, Uber had violated state law by classifying him and other drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.

Uber sought to enforce the arbitration agreement. The state courts ruled in favor of Gregg, following a decision by the California Supreme Court that voided mandatory arbitration agreements requiring workers to waive their rights under the PAGA.

Uber asked the justices to review the state court’s ruling. While its petition was pending, the court issued its decision in Viking River, holding that the PAGA is inconsistent with the Federal Arbitration Act’s sweeping requirement for courts to enforce arbitration agreements. An eight-justice majority ruled that, when an employment contract contains an arbitration clause, that clause must be enforced against an employee’s right to bring a claim on behalf of themselves under the PAGA.

Five justices went further, concluding that once a worker’s individual claim goes to arbitration, the representative claims should be dismissed because they no longer have a right to sue – known as standing – for injuries against other workers on behalf of the state under the PAGA. In joining that second holding, however, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote separately to emphasize that “if this Court’s understanding of state law is wrong, California courts, in an appropriate case, will have the last word.”

After Viking River, the justices sent Gregg’s case back to the California courts. A state appeals court granted Uber’s request to have the question whether Gregg should be classified as an employee or an independent contractor under California law decided by an arbitrator. But it rejected Uber’s request to go further and toss the representative claims as well.

The California appeals court held that the five-justice majority in Viking River got the state-law question wrong. Once Gregg was compelled to arbitrate his own claim, the state court concluded, he did not lose the ability to bring representative claims under the PAGA. Instead, the court reasoned, those claims should be put on hold until an arbitrator decides whether Uber wrongly classified Gregg as an independent contractor; if so, Gregg could then resume his effort to seek the same relief for other Uber drivers in court. And that arrangement is consistent with the FAA, the state appeals court reasoned, because it still permits the separation of Gregg’s individual, arbitrable claim into a “separate and distinct action[].”

In Uber Technologies, Inc. v. Gregg , the rideshare company asks the justices to reverse the state court’s ruling. Uber argues that the core of Viking River was a recognition that the FAA respects agreements to arbitrate in separate, individual proceedings, and that California courts may not evade that federal mandate by reinterpreting the PAGA. “This Court should grant review,” the company writes, “and put a stop to the California courts’ end-run of the FAA and Viking River.”

In Lyft, Inc. v. Seifu , rival rideshare company Lyft, which also considers its drivers to be contractors and asks them to agree to a similar arbitration clause when enrolling, asks the justices to grant review of and reverse a decision by another California appeals court holding that a driver could maintain a representative action under the PAGA while an arbitrator decides their individual claim to be reclassified as an employee.

A list of this week’s featured petitions is below:

John and Jane Parents 1 v. Montgomery County Board of Education
23-601
Issues: (1) Whether, when a public school, by policy, expressly targets parents to deceive them about how the school will treat their minor children, parents have standing to seek injunctive and declaratory relief in anticipation of the school applying its policy against them; and (2) whether, assuming the parents have standing, a school policy that requires school employees to hide from parents that their child is transitioning gender at school if, in the child’s or the school’s estimation, the parents will not be “supportive” enough of the transition, violates their fundamental parental rights.

Uber Technologies, Inc. v. Gregg
23-645
Issue: Whether the Federal Arbitration Act  requires the complete severance of arbitrable individual claims under the California Private Attorneys General Act  from non-individual claims, with the individual claims committed to a separate proceeding.

Hi-Tech Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Federal Trade Commission
23-704
Issues: (1) Whether a fundamental change in decisional law can independently support relief from a judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6) ; and (2) whether the Federal Trade Commission can obtain compensatory equitable remedies as sanctions for civil contempt of a permanent injunction under Section 13(b) of the Federal Trade Commission Act  when those remedies are not directly available under Section 13(b).

Rose v. PSA Airlines, Inc.
23-734
Issue: Whether non-tracing monetary remedies, such as surcharge, are available under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3)  to plan participants and beneficiaries asserting breach of fiduciary duty claims against plan fiduciaries under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.

Israelitt v. Enterprise Services LLC
23-776
Issue: Whether the Americans with Disabilities Act provides for damages (and therefore a trial by jury) in cases alleging that an employer has violated the act’s anti-retaliation provision .

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The morning read for Wednesday, April 10

The morning read for Wednesday, April 10

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Each weekday, we select a short list of news articles, commentary, and other noteworthy links related to the Supreme Court. Here’s the Wednesday morning read:

Coming up: On Friday, April 12, the court expects to issue one or more opinions from the current term. We’ll be live at 9:45 a.m. EDT. 

 

The post The morning read for Wednesday, April 10 appeared first on SCOTUSblog .

Justices exempt bakery-truck drivers from arbitration requirement

Justices exempt bakery-truck drivers from arbitration requirement

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The justices on Friday ruled in favor of a group of truck drivers who transport goods for Wonder Bread in their arbitration dispute. Bissonnette v. LePage Bakeries Park St. is another of the court’s numerous cases interpreting the Federal Arbitration Act’s command that courts enforce mandatory pre-dispute arbitration agreements. Bissonnette involves an exception from the FAA for any “class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce,” and the question in Bissonnette  is whether that exception turns on the nature of the work the employees do or instead on the nature of their employer’s business. The workers here drive delivery trucks, carrying (among other things), Wonder Bread. They argue that they are transportation workers, because they drive trucks for a living; the employers argue that they are not, because they work in the bakery industry.

Friday’s decision in favor of the workers came in a short unanimous opinion from Chief Justice John Roberts. Roberts started by pointing out that the court always has limited the exemption to “transportation workers,” reflecting the court’s view that the “general phrase ‘class of workers engaged in … commerce’ is controlled and defined by reference to the specific categories ‘seamen’ and ‘railroad employees’ that precede it.”

He then noted that the court’s most recent decision in the area (involving baggage handlers for Southwest Airlines) “expressly declined to adopt an ‘industry-wide’ approach of the sort [the employers] advance here,” largely because the statute’s “language focuses on the performance of work rather than the industry of the employer.” Pointing to the examples of Amazon and Walmart – “which both sell products of their own and transport products sold by third parties” – Roberts sugggested that determining whether any particular employer is in the transportation industry often would be fact-intensive, requiring “[e]xtensive discovery” and “[m]ini-trials” that would make FAA litigation unacceptably “slow” and “expensive.”

Finally, Roberts rejected the argument (discussed with some interest by Justice Brett Kavanaugh at the oral argument) that the exemption should be limited to a particular industry because the references in the statute to “seamen” and “railroad employees” matched industry-specific regulatory systems that were in place when Congress adopted the FAA in 1925. Roberts dismissed that argument out of hand, emphasizing how “strange” it would be “to read the conspicuous absence of … industry-specific language in § 1 as a sign that Congress defined the exemption on an industrywide basis.”

In sum, Roberts concluded, “[a] transportation worker need not work in the transportation industry to fall within the exemption from the FAA.” Accordingly, the court unanimously reversed the contrary decision of the court of appeals.

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Jan. 6 defendant asks Supreme Court to throw out obstruction charge

Jan. 6 defendant asks Supreme Court to throw out obstruction charge

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The Supreme Court will hear oral argument on April 16 in the case of a former police officer from Pennsylvania who entered the Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021, attacks. Joseph Fischer, who was charged with (among other things) assaulting a police officer, disorderly conduct in the Capitol, and obstruction of a congressional proceeding, has asked the justices to throw out the charge that he obstructed an official proceeding, arguing that the law that he was charged with violating was only intended to apply to evidence tampering.

More than 300 other Jan. 6 defendants have been charged with violating the law, which was enacted as part of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the wake of the Enron scandal. It is also at the center of two of the charges brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith against former President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C. – the same case in which the justices will hear argument on April 25 regarding Trump’s claims of immunity.

Before the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol, prosecutors note, Fischer sent text messages in which he indicated to acquaintances that members of Congress “[c]an’t vote if they can’t breathe … lol” and that he might need his police chief “to post my bail … It might get violent.” And on Jan. 6, prosecutors say, Fischer urged rioters to “charge” and “hold the line” and was part of the mob that pushed the police. Fischer says that he arrived at the Capitol after the joint meeting of Congress to count the certified votes in the 2020 presidential election had already gone into recess. He was inside the building for only a few minutes, he contends, where he was pushed into the police line by the crowd.

In a message on social media on Jan. 7, Fischer wrote that he had been “pepper balled and [pepper] sprayed … but entry into the Capital [sic] was needed to send a message that we the people hold the real power.”

The FBI arrested Fischer on Feb. 19, 2021, and charged him with, among other things, assaulting officers of the Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police Department, the primary law enforcement agency for the District of Columbia. He was also charged with violating 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2), which makes it a crime to “otherwise obstruct[], influence[], or impede[] any official proceeding.”

U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols dismissed the obstruction charge against Fischer. In another case involving a Jan. 6 defendant, Nichols had concluded that the previous subsection, Section 1512(c)(1), which prohibits tampering with evidence “with the intent to impair the object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding,” limits Section 1512(c)(2) to cases involving evidence tampering that obstructs an official proceeding.

The government appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which reversed. Judge Florence Pan, in the lead opinion for the court, wrote that the “meaning of the statute is unambiguous”: It “applies to all forms of corrupt obstruction of an official proceeding, other than the conduct that is already covered by” the prior subsection.

Pan acknowledged that “outside of the January 6 cases brought in this jurisdiction, there is no precedent for using” the obstruction provision “to prosecute the type of conduct at issue in this case.” But, Pan continued, quoting a 2001 decision by the Supreme Court, “the fact that a statute can be applied in situations not expressly anticipated by Congress does not demonstrate ambiguity. It demonstrates breadth.”

Judge Gregory Katsas dissented. He wrote that the government’s interpretation of the law would render it “both improbably broad and unconstitutional in many of its applications.”

Fischer then came to the Supreme Court, asking the justices to weigh in on the scope of Section 1512(c), which they agreed to do in December.

In his brief on the merits, Fischer again argues that Section 1512(c)(2) only applies to cases involving evidence tampering involving a congressional inquiry or investigation. When interpreting the law, he first contends, courts must look at the entire law, in context and in light of its place in the broader statutory scheme.

The listing of specific acts of tampering – altering, destroying, mutilating, or concealing – in Section 1512(c)(1), Fischer insists, limits the scope of Section 1512(c)(2), on obstruction. The use of the word “otherwise” in Section 1512(c)(2) links the two, Fischer writes, signaling that the acts that fall under the second subsection must be related to those in the first.

That conclusion, Fischer continues, is also backed by basic principles used by courts to interpret statutes. For example, Fischer’s more limited interpretation is also consistent with the title of the law: “The Corporate Fraud and Accountability Act.” Moreover, he adds, the government’s interpretation would render Section 1512(c)(1) meaningless, because there would be no need to specify in it that destroying certain kinds of records is prohibited “if any act of interference of any official proceeding counts as obstruction” under Section 1512(c)(2).

The Supreme Court’s prior cases interpreting the Sarbanes-Oxley Act also support a more limited interpretation of Section 1512(c)(2), Fischer suggests. Nearly a decade ago, in Yates v. United States , the court held that a fish was not a “tangible object” for purposes of a provision making it a crime to destroy or conceal “any record, document, or tangible object” to obstruct an investigation by a federal department or agency. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg explained, Fischer notes, that although fish are tangible objects, “it would cut” the provision at issue “loose from its financial-fraud mooring to hold that it encompasses any and all objects, whatever their size and significance, destroyed with obstructive intent.”

The history of Section 1512(c) also weighs in his favor, Fischer maintains. The predecessors to Section 1512(c)(1) were focused on tampering with evidence, and the law was enacted in the wake of the Enron accounting fraud scandal and the disclosure that the company’s outside auditor, Arthur Andersen LLP, had destroyed documents that could be incriminating for the company. “Nothing in the statutory or legislative history of Section 1512(c) supports the view that Congress intended subsection (c)(2) to reach acts unconnected to evidence, such as a protest at the Capitol,” Fischer stresses.  

Finally, Fischer criticizes the government’s interpretation of Section 1512(c)(2) as “breathtaking” in its scope, particularly when the government would not even limit it to inquiries or investigations, Fischer says. “So anything that affects or hinders a proceeding falls within the government’s definition” – including, Fischer suggests, political speech protected by the First Amendment, such as “lobbying, advocacy, and protest.”

Fischer similarly decries the D.C. Circuit’s interpretation of Section 1512(c)(2) as “unprecedented.” Before the Jan. 6 cases, he observes, courts had never applied the provision to cases that had not involved the availability or integrity of evidence, and no defendant had ever been convicted under the provision in a scenario that did not involve a legislative investigation.

The federal government counters that Section 1512(c)(2) is not limited to conduct involving the availability of evidence but is instead a “catchall offense designed to ensure complete coverage of all forms of corrupt obstruction of an official proceeding.” Nothing in the text of Section 1512(c) imposes the kinds of limits that Fischer suggests, U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar writes. To the contrary, words like “obstruct” and “impede” are broad terms that can encompass all kinds of conduct that block or hinder official proceedings.

The broad scope of Section 1512(c)(2) is bolstered by the statute’s use of the word “otherwise,” the government says. Contrary to Fischer’s argument, the federal government contends, the term “otherwise” does not require some connection between the two subsections but “instead is a typical way of introducing a catchall clause that sweeps beyond what came before.”

Fischer’s interpretation of “otherwise” as limiting the scope of Section 1512(c)(2) to obstruction focused on evidence tampering would render it meaningless because it would be duplicative of Section 1512(c)(1), the government argues. Indeed, the government notes, Fischer does not identify any conduct to which Section 1512(c)(1) would apply but not Section 1512(c)(2).

The government pushes back against Fischer’s reliance on the Supreme Court’s decision in Yates. That ruling, the government writes, does not actually help Fischer because the phrase “tangible object” followed a list of specific items – “record, document” and therefore should be interpreted in light of those terms. By contrast, the government reasons, Section 1512(c) is broken up into two different paragraphs. Moreover, the government adds, the court in Yates “reasoned that it would make no sense to prohibit ‘falsifying’ or ‘making a false entry in’ an object, like a fish, that is not used to ‘record or preserve information.’ But there is no similar textual incongruity in adhering to the ordinary meaning of the words in Section 1512(c)(2): It is perfectly sensible to speak of a person who ‘obstructs, influences, or impedes’ an ‘official proceeding.’”

The government acknowledges that Section 1512(c) was enacted in the wake of the Enron scandal. In drafting Section 1512(c)(1), the government explains, Congress intended to close the loophole exposed by that scandal – specifically, that the federal obstruction laws did not prohibit people from destroying documents themselves. But Section 1512(c)(2), the government continues, was enacted “to address the larger problem the Enron scandal brought to light — namely, the risk that corrupt obstruction could occur in unanticipated ways not prohibited by statutes targeted at specific forms of obstruction.”

Finally, the government dismisses any concerns that Section 1512(c)(2) could be used too broadly, including to target, for example, speech protected by the First Amendment, as “policy-focused speculation” that “provides no basis for departing from Section 1512(c)(2)’s unambiguous test.” That suggestion, the government continues, also “fails to account for” the provision’s “significant limits.” For example, the government stresses, Section 1512(c)(2) only applies to “acts that hinder a proceeding,” and the provision also requires a defendant to act “corruptly,” which requires more than proof that defendant’s act was intentional or knowing. And in any event, the government concludes, the First Amendment does not give Fischer “any right to assault police officers inside the Capitol as part of an effort to impede an official proceeding.”

A ruling in Fischer’s case is expected by late June or early July. In his filing in the presidential immunity case on Monday night, Smith argued that the obstruction-related charges against Trump would still be valid even if the court were to adopt “the evidence-impairment glass urged by” Fischer, because the charges against Trump rested, in part, on efforts to use phony electoral certificates at the joint session of Congress. Those charges also only account for two of the four counts against him ; he has also been charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to interfere with constitutional rights, such as the right to vote. But Smith and his team will no doubt be watching the case closely.

This article was originally published at Howe on the Court

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The morning read for Tuesday, April 9

The morning read for Tuesday, April 9

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Each weekday, we select a short list of news articles, commentary, and other noteworthy links related to the Supreme Court. Here’s the Tuesday morning read:

 

The post The morning read for Tuesday, April 9 appeared first on SCOTUSblog .

Court rules for property owner in building fee dispute

Court rules for property owner in building fee dispute

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California homeowner George Sheetz won a victory at the Supreme Court on Friday in his challenge to the constitutionality of a fee that he was required to pay the county to receive a permit to build his home. In a unanimous decision authored by Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the justices agreed with Sheetz that conditions on building permits should be subject to heightened scrutiny even if they were authorized by legislation, rather than imposed on an individual basis by administrators.

The decision was a relatively narrow one that did not come as much of a surprise after the oral argument in January, at which Justice Neil Gorsuch had observed that both Sheetz and the county were in “radical agreement” on the question that the court had agreed to decide. The justices on Friday answered only that question – in Sheetz’s favor – and sent the case back to the state courts for another look in light of the Supreme Court’s decision.

The dispute began in 2016, when Sheetz wanted to build a manufactured home on a lot that he owns in Placerville, Calif. El Dorado County, where the lot is located, told Sheetz that he would be required to pay “traffic impact mitigation fees” before he could receive a building permit. Sheetz paid the fee, but he also went to state court to challenge the fee’s constitutionality.

Sheetz argued that the fee violated the Fifth Amendment’s takings clause, which bars the government from taking private property for public use “without just compensation.” He told the state courts that to determine whether the fee passes constitutional muster, they should apply the test outlined by the Supreme Court in two property rights cases, Nollan v. California Coastal Commission and Dolan v. City of Tigard, Oregon . Those cases, taken together, hold that if a government wants to require someone to give up property in exchange for a land-use permit, it must show that such a condition is closely related and roughly proportional to the effects of the proposed land use. In Sheetz’s case, he argued, they meant that the county was required to make a case-by-case determination that the $24,000 fee was necessary to offset the impact of congestion attributable to his project.

The state courts declined Sheetz’s suggestion. They concluded that the Nollan/Dolan test only applies to fees imposed on an individual basis, rather than fees – like the traffic impact mitigation fee – authorized by legislation.

The Supreme Court on Friday disagreed. In her 11-page opinion for a unanimous court, Barrett explained that nothing in the text of the Constitution indicates that the takings clause does not apply to fees imposed by legislatures. The same is true, she continued, for the history of the takings clause. “In fact,” she wrote, “special deference for legislative takings would have made little sense historically, because legislation was the conventional way that governments exercised their eminent domain power.” Nor, she added, do the Supreme Court’s cases interpreting the takings clause distinguish in any way “between legislation and other official acts.”

Barrett emphasized that the court’s ruling did not resolve some of the other issues raised by Sheetz’s challenge regarding the validity of the fee – “including whether a permit condition imposed on a class of properties must be tailored with the same degree of specificity as a permit condition that targets a particular development.” The state appeals court did not weigh in on this or other unresolved questions, Barrett explained, because it “proceeded from the erroneous premise that legislative permit conditions are categorically exempt from the requirements of Nollan and Dolan.” “Whether the parties’ other arguments are preserved and how they bear on Sheetz’s legal challenge are,” Barrett concluded, “for the state courts to consider in the first instance.”

Three different justices wrote brief concurring opinions in which they weighed in on some of the issues that they raised at the oral argument and some of the questions left unanswered by the court’s ruling. Justice Sonia Sotomayor had in January pointed to other property-related fees that governments often impose and questioned whether the takings clause applies to Sheetz’s case at all. In an opinion joined by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, she argued that Nollan and Dolan only apply if the fee would have been a taking of property requiring government compensation if the government had imposed it outside the permitting process. That question, Sotomayor indicated, remains open in Sheetz’s case.

For Gorsuch, the answer to the question “whether the Nollan/Dolan test operates different when an alleged taking affects a ‘class of properties’ rather than a ‘particular development’” was clear: “Nothing about that test depends on whether the government imposes the challenged condition on a large class of properties or a single tract or something in between.”

But in a one-paragraph opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh – joined by Jackson and Justice Elena Kagan – wrote separately to stress that the court had “explicitly decline[d] to decide” the question flagged by Gorsuch in his concurring opinion. Therefore, Kavanaugh noted, the court’s ruling in Sheetz’s case “does not address or prohibit the common government practice of imposing permit conditions, such as impact fees, on new developments through reasonable formulas or schedules that assess the impact of classes of development rather than the impact of specific parcels of property.” Moreover, Kavanaugh stressed, “no prior decision of this Court has addressed or prohibited that longstanding practice.”

This article was originally published at Howe on the Court

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The morning read for Monday, April 8

The morning read for Monday, April 8

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Each weekday, we select a short list of news articles, commentary, and other noteworthy links related to the Supreme Court. Here’s the Monday morning read:

 

The post The morning read for Monday, April 8 appeared first on SCOTUSblog .

The morning read for Friday, April 12

The morning read for Friday, April 12

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At 10 a.m. EDT, the court expects to issue one or more opinions in argued cases from the current term . Join us for live coverage . Each weekday, we select a short list of news articles, commentary, and other noteworthy links related to the Supreme Court. Here’s the Friday morning read:

 

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Announcement of opinions for Friday, April 12 (complete)

Announcement of opinions for Friday, April 12 (complete)

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We were live as the court released opinions in three cases from the current term.

  • In Sheetz v. El Dorado County , a challenge to a traffic impact mitigation fee levied on a California man who wanted to build a home on his property, the court held that the takings clause does not distinguish between legislative and administrative permit conditions.
  • The court ruled unanimously in Macquarie Infrastructure Corp. v. Moab Partners, L. P.  that pure omissions in connection with the sale or purchase of securities are not actionable under SEC Rule 10b-5(b).
  • In Bissonnette v. LePage Bakeries Park St., LLC , the court held that a transportation worker need not work in the transportation industry to fall within the Federal Arbitration Act’s exemption for any “class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.”

Click here  for a list of FAQs about opinion announcements.

 

 

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