On April 19, 2017, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Weaver v. Massachusetts. Kentel Myrone Weaver was convicted of first degree murder for the 2003 shooting of Germaine Rucker. In 2011, Weaver filed a motion for a new trial, claiming that he was denied effective assistance of counsel. A court officer had closed the court to Weaver’s family and other members of the public during jury selection because of overcrowding. Weaver claimed that this closure violated his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial, and his counsel had failed to object to the closure. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts affirmed Weaver’s conviction on direct appeal and declined to grant relief on his Sixth Amendment claim.
The question before the Supreme Court is whether a defendant asserting ineffective assistance that results in a structural error must, in addition to demonstrating deficient performance, show that he was prejudiced by counsel's ineffectiveness, as held by four circuits and five state courts of last resort; or whether prejudice is presumed in such cases, as held by four other circuits and two state high courts.
To discuss the case, we have Peter M. Thomson, who is Special Counsel at Stone Pigman Walther Wittmann LLC.
On March 29, 2017, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Turner v. United States, which was consolidated with Overton v. United States. In 1984, the body of Catherine Fuller was discovered in an alley after she had been beaten and raped. Sufficient physical evidence to identify the perpetrators was not recovered, and the medical examiner could not determine the number of attackers involved. Thirteen teenagers were initially indicted for being involved in a group effort to originally rob and subsequently assault and kill her. Two of them, Harry Bennett and Calvin Alston, pled guilty and agreed to testify, but the details in their accounts differed. Turner and nine other defendants were found guilty by a jury, and their convictions were affirmed on direct appeal. Nearly 25 years later, Turner and several of the other original defendants moved to have their sentences vacated, claiming that they had not received fair trials because the government had withheld exculpatory evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland. They also argued that newly discovered evidence, including the recantations of Bennett and Alston, established that they were actually innocent of the crime. The trial court denied the motion, and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals affirmed. The Court held that the defendants had not shown a reasonable probability that the outcome of their trials would have been different with the new evidence.
The question now before the Supreme Court is whether the petitioners' convictions must be set aside under Brady v. Maryland.
To discuss the case, we have Brian Lichter, who is Associate at Latham & Watkins.
On April 17, 2017, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in California Public Employees’ Retirement System v. ANZ Securities. Between July 2007 and January 2008, Lehman Brothers raised over $31 billion through debt offerings. California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), the largest pension fund in the country, purchased millions of dollars of these securities. CalPERS sued Lehman Brothers in 2011, and their case was merged with another retirement fund’s putative class action suit against Lehman Brothers and transferred to a New York district court. Later that year, the other parties settled, but CalPERS decided to pursue its own claims individually. The district court dismissed for untimely filing, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed.
The questions now before the Supreme Court is whether the filing of a putative class action serves, under the American Pipe & Construction Co. v. Utah rule, to satisfy the three-year time limitation in Section 13 of the Securities Act with respect to the claims of putative class members
To discuss the case, we have Paul Stancil, who is Professor of Law at Brigham Young University.
On March 21, 2017, the Supreme Court decided National Labor Relations Board v. SW General, Inc. SW General, Inc. provides ambulance services to hospitals in Arizona. A union had negotiated longevity pay for SW General’s emergency medical technicians, nurses, and firefighters. In December 2012, between the expiration of one collective bargaining agreement and the negotiation of a new one, SW General stopped paying the longevity pay. The union filed an unfair labor practices claim with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which issued a formal complaint. An administrative law judge determined that SW General had committed unfair labor practices, but SW General contended that the NLRB complaint was invalid because the Acting General Counsel of the NLRB at the time, Lafe Solomon, had been serving in violation of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA). President Barack Obama had nominated Solomon--who had then been serving as Acting General Counsel after the General Counsel had resigned--to serve as General Counsel, but the Senate had not acted on the nomination. The president had ultimately withdrawn the nomination and replaced it with that of Richard Griffin, who was confirmed. In the intervening period--including when the NLRB complaint had issued against SW General--Solomon had continued to serve as Acting General Counsel. SW General argued that under the FVRA, Solomon became ineligible to hold the Acting position once nominated by the president to the General Counsel position. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit agreed and vacated the NLRB’s enforcement order. The NLRB then obtained a writ of certiorari from the Supreme Court.
By a vote of 6-2, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the D.C. Circuit. In an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court held that (1) subsection (b)(1) of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998, which prevents a person who has been nominated to fill a vacant office requiring presidential appointment and Senate confirmation from performing the duties of that office in an acting capacity, applies to anyone performing acting service under the FVRA and is not limited to first assistants performing acting service under Subsection (a)(1); and (2) Subsection (b)(1) prohibited Lafe Solomon from continuing his service as acting general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board once the president nominated him to fill the position permanently. The Chief Justice’s majority opinion was joined by Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan. Justice Thomas filed a concurring opinion. Justice Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Ginsburg joined.
To discuss the case, we have Kristin Hickman, who is the Distinguished McKnight University Professor, Harlan Albert Rogers Professor of Law, and Associate Director, Corporate Institute at the University of Minnesota Law School.
On April 25, 2017, the Supreme Court decided Lewis v. Clarke. Petitioners Brian and Michelle Lewis were driving on a Connecticut interstate when they were struck from behind by a vehicle driven by respondent William Clarke, a Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority employee, who was transporting Mohegan Sun Casino patrons. The Lewises sued Clarke in his individual capacity in state court. Clarke moved to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, arguing that because he was an employee of the Gaming Authority—an arm of the Mohegan Tribe entitled to sovereign immunity—and was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident, he was similarly entitled to sovereign immunity against suit. He also argued, in the alternative, that he should prevail because the Gaming Authority was bound by tribal law to indemnify him. The trial court denied Clarke’s motion, but the Supreme Court of Connecticut reversed, holding that tribal sovereign immunity barred the suit because Clarke was acting within the scope of his employment when the accident occurred. It did not consider whether Clarke should be entitled to sovereign immunity based on the indemnification statute.
By a vote of 8-0, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Supreme Court of Connecticut and remanded the case. In an opinion by Justice Sotomayor, the Court held that (1) in a suit brought against a tribal employee in his individual capacity, the employee, not the tribe, is the real party in interest and the tribe's sovereign immunity is not implicated; and (2) an indemnification provision cannot, as a matter of law, extend sovereign immunity to individual employees who would otherwise not be protected. Justice Sotomayor’s majority opinion was joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Kennedy, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan. Justices Thomas and Ginsburg filed opinions concurring in the judgment. Justice Gorsuch took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
To discuss the case, we have Zachary Price, who is Associate Professor at University of California Hastings College of Law.