On June 6, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Ross v. Blake. While being moved to a prison’s segregation unit, Maryland inmate Shaidon Blake was assaulted by James Madigan, one of two guards moving him. Blake subsequently sued Madigan and fellow guard Michael Ross, alleging excessive force and failure to take protective action. A jury found Madigan liable, but Ross objected that Blake had failed to exhaust “such administrative remedies as are available” before filing suit, as required under the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA). The district court agreed with Ross and dismissed the suit against him, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed, holding that “special circumstances” can excuse a failure to comply with administrative procedural requirements—particularly where the inmate reasonably, even though mistakenly, believed he had sufficiently exhausted his remedies.
By a vote of 8-0, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Fourth Circuit and remanded the case. Justice Kagan delivered the opinion of the Court, holding that the Fourth Circuit’s unwritten “special circumstances” exception was inconsistent with the text and history of the PLRA—though the Court left open on remand the question whether an administrative remedy was in fact “available” to Blake. Justice Kagan’s majority opinion was joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Alito, and Sotomayor. Justice Thomas filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. Justice Breyer filed an opinion concurring in part.
To discuss the case, we have Daniel McConkie, who is Associate Professor of Law at Northern Illinois University College of Law.
On June 16, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons. Academic textbook publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (Wiley) owns the American copyright for textbooks and often assigns its rights to its foreign subsidiaries to publish, print, and sell its textbooks abroad. Supap Kirtsaeng, a Thai citizen who came to the United States in 1997 to study mathematics, asked friends and family in Thailand to buy the English-language versions of his textbooks in Thailand, where they were cheaper and mail them to him. Kirtsaeng would then sell these textbooks in America, reimburse his friends and family, and make a profit.
In 2008, Wiley sued Kirtsaeng for copyright infringement. He ultimately prevailed before the U.S. Supreme Court on the question whether the “first sale” doctrine--under which the owner of a “lawfully made” copy can dispose of it without permission of the copyright owner--applies to copies of a copyrighted work lawfully made abroad. On remand, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the “first sale” doctrine provided Kirstaeng with a complete defense to Wiley’s infringement claim. Kirtsaeng thereafter sought an award of attorneys’ fees pursuant to Section 505 of the Copyright Act, which allows the award of fees to a prevailing party at the court’s discretion. The federal Courts of Appeals have applied several different standards in resolving such fee requests. Here, the Second Circuit affirmed the denial of attorneys’ fees to Kirtsaeng based on the district court’s view that Wiley had taken an “objectively reasonable” position in the underlying litigation.
The U.S. Supreme Court again granted certiorari, to address the following question: What is the appropriate standard for awarding attorneys’ fees to a prevailing party under section 505 of the Copyright Act?
By a vote of 8-0, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Second Circuit and remanded the case. Justice Kagan delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court, which held that (1) when deciding whether to award attorney's fees under the Copyright Act’s fee-shifting provision, a district court should give substantial weight to the objective reasonableness of the losing party's position, while still taking into account all other circumstances relevant to granting fees; and (2) while the Second Circuit properly calls for district courts to give "substantial weight" to the reasonableness of a losing party's litigating positions, its language at times suggests that a finding of reasonableness raises a presumption against granting fees, and that goes too far in cabining the district court's analysis.
To discuss the case, we have Christopher M. Newman, who is Associate Professor of Law at George Mason University School of Law.
On June 20, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Utah v. Strieff. A police officer detained Edward Strieff after seeing him leave a residence that the officer believed, based on an anonymous tip and his own surveillance, was a base for drug dealing. A relay of Strieff’s identification to a police dispatcher revealed an outstanding warrant for a traffic violation. The officer then arrested Strieff and searched him, discovering methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. Strieff ultimately persuaded the Utah Supreme Court to order that evidence suppressed as the fruit of an unlawful stop.
By a vote of 5-3, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Utah Supreme Court. Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court, which held that the evidence the officer seized as part of the search incident to arrest was admissible because the officer’s discovery of the arrest warrant attenuated the connection between the unlawful stop and the evidence seized incident to arrest. Justice Thomas’s majority opinion was joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Kennedy, Breyer, and Alito. Justice Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Ginsburg joined as to Parts I, II, and III. Justice Kagan filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Ginsburg joined.
To discuss the case, we have Orin S. Kerr, who is Fred C. Stevenson Research Professor of Law at The George Washington University Law School.
On May 31, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Lynch v. Arizona without oral argument. A jury convicted Shawn Patrick Lynch of first-degree murder, kidnapping, armed robbery, and burglary for the 2001 killing of James Panzarella. The State of Arizona sought the death penalty, and, before penalty phase began, moved successfully to prevent Lynch’s counsel from informing the jury that the only alternative to a death sentence was life without parole. When the first jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict, a second jury sentenced Lynch to death. After that sentence was vacated by a state appellate court due to errors in the jury instructions, a third penalty phase jury was convened and again sentenced Lynch to death.
On appeal, Lynch, invoking the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Simmons v. South Carolina, argued that the trial court’s refusal to allow mention of his ineligibility for parole violated his federal Due Process rights. In Simmons, the Court stated that “where a capital defendant’s future dangerousness is at issue, and the only sentencing alternative to death available to the jury is life imprisonment without possibility of parole,” the Due Process Clause “entitles the defendant ‘to inform the jury of [his] parole ineligibility, either by a jury instruction or in arguments by counsel.’” The Arizona Supreme Court rejected Lynch’s argument and affirmed his death sentence.
By a of vote of 6-2, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Arizona Supreme Court’s judgment and remanded the case, holding in a per curiam opinion that the Arizona Supreme Court had erred in its attempt to distinguish Lynch’s case from the situation in Simmons. Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Alito joined.
To discuss the case, we have Marah McLeod, who is an Associate Professor at Notre Dame Law School.
On June 20, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Cuozzo Speed Technologies, LLC v. Lee. In 2011, the America Invents Act created an expedited procedure, known as inter partes review, to provide a cost-effective alternative to litigation for resolving certain challenges to patent validity. The Patent Trial and Appeal Board, contained within the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), hears these disputes rather than a federal district court. When construing patent claims, the Board applies a “broadest reasonable interpretation” standard rather than the “plain and ordinary meaning” standard typically applied by federal courts.
Here, Cuozzo Speed Technologies, LLC. (Cuozzo) owns a speed limit indicator patent. Garmin International, Inc. (Garmin) petitioned the Board for inter partes review (IPR) of claims regarding the patent. The Board found that certain claims were unpatentable and denied Cuozzo’s request to replace those claims with several others. Cuozzo appealed the Board’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which (1) held that it lacked authority to review the PTO’s decision to institute IPR, and (2) affirmed the Board’s final determination, finding no error in its application of the “broadest reasonable interpretation” standard.
There were two questions before the Supreme Court: (1) Whether the Federal Circuit erred in holding that the Board may, in IPR proceedings, construe claims according to their broadest reasonable interpretation rather than their plain and ordinary meaning; and (2) whether the Federal Circuit erred in holding that, even if the Board exceeds its statutory authority in instituting an IPR proceeding, the decision to institute the IPR proceeding is judicially unreviewable.
By a vote of 8-0 and 6-2, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Federal Circuit. Justice Breyer delivered the opinion of the Court, which held that the underlying statute precluded judicial review of the kind of claim at issue here, involving the PTO’s decision to institute IPR. The Court further concluded that the PTO was authorized to issue the regulation, setting forth the “broadest reasonable interpretation” standard.
A unanimous Court joined Justice Breyer’s opinion with respect to Parts I and III. Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, and Kagan joined the opinion with respect to Part II. Justice Thomas filed a concurring opinion. Justice Alito filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which Justice Sotomayor joined.
To discuss the case, we have Gregory Dolin, who is Assistant Professor of Law and Co-Director, Center for Medicine and Law at University of Baltimore School of Law.