October Term 2015 Administrative-Law Rulings Heighten Significance of Next Supreme Court Appointment

 

New Faulk photoFeatured Expert Column − Toxic Tort and Environmental Litigation

Richard O. Faulk, Esq., a Partner with Alexander Dubose Jefferson & Townsend LLP serving clients in Texas and Washington DC.

Since the United States Supreme Court’s Skidmore v. Swift & Co., and Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand Co. rulings, the role of judicial deference in administrative law has expanded exponentially.  For example, agencies now receive deference, under the Court’s Auer v. Robins decision, even if their own drafting creates the very vagaries and ambiguities that require interpretation.  Courts also defer to agencies’ interpretations of statutes they are charged to administer (Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. NRDC) and to scientific conclusions reached in the course of the regulatory process (Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. v. NRDC).  By indulging these perspectives, the courts necessarily surrender their constitutional authority to “say what the law is,”1 and contribute to an arrogation of administrative power that threatens not only our constitutional separation of powers, but also their balance.2

Regulatory agencies have grown into what some call a “fourth branch” of our federal government.3 The threat posed by this de facto branch, also known as the “Administrative State”4 or, more colorfully, our “Junior Varsity Congress,”5 has attracted the growing attention of a number of Supreme Court justices.  Continue reading

Supreme Court Observations: Halo Electronics v. Pulse Electronics

Kaminski_Jeffri_LRFeatured Expert Contributor – Intellectual Property (Patents)

Jeffri A. Kaminski, Venable LLP

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Halo Electronics, Inc v. Pulse Electronics, Inc. decision changes the standard for awarding enhanced damages in patent litigation. The ruling reversed a 2015 U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit decision that maintained that court’s longstanding approach to awarding enhanced damages.

In Halo, the Court altered the law on enhanced damages in three ways: 1) it eliminated the requirement to show objective recklessness; 2) it lowered the standard of proof from “clear and convincing evidence” to “preponderance of the evidence;” and 3) it adopted an abuse-of-discretion standard for the Federal Circuit’s review of a district court’s decision to grant enhanced damages. Continue reading

Data-Breach Class Actions Feel the Effects of “Spokeo v. Robins”

supreme courtBy Jeryn Crabb, Judge K.K. Legett Fellow at Washington Legal Foundation and a rising third-year student at Texas Tech University School of Law

With Spokeo v. Robins the US Supreme Court clarified the requirements necessary for plaintiffs to establish standing in federal court.  Federal district courts are only beginning to explore those parameters, but the early applications are generally encouraging in one key area: data-breach class-action litigation.

In Spokeo, Mr. Robins alleged that Spokeo, a “people search engine,” violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act by inaccurately reporting that he was married, employed, and in good financial standing.  The Court held that a plaintiff bringing suit under a federal law that defines a statutory violation as harm must allege the existence of a concrete and particularized injury in order to have standing to sue. Continue reading

WLF’s Annual End-of-Term Review Assesses Key Supreme Court Free-Enterprise Decisions

The U.S. Supreme Court: October 2015 Term Review

Speakers: The Honorable Jay Stephens, Kirkland & Ellis LLP; Andrew J. Pincus, Mayer Brown LLP; Elizabeth P. Papez, Winston & Strawn LLP; Jeffrey B. Wall, Sullivan & Cromwell LLP

Our speakers discussed Court rulings in the areas of class actions, arbitration, the federal False Claims Act, intellectual property, federal regulation, and property rights.

The Supreme Court’s “Universal Health” Ruling: A Net Win for Federal Government Contractors

supreme courtThe U.S. Supreme Court’s June 16, 2016 decision in a closely watched False Claims Act (FCA) case, Universal Health Services, Inc. v. United States ex rel. Escobar, had a little bit in it for everyone.  It held (as had most of the federal appeals courts) that a contractor can be held liable under the FCA for making a fraudulent claim for payment from the federal government, even if the claim was never expressly made but was merely implied.  On the other hand, Universal Health unanimously vacated a First Circuit ruling that had reinstated the plaintiffs’ claims, concluding that the First Circuit applied an insufficiently rigorous test for determining whether the defendant’s allegedly false claims were “material.”

So which side really “won” the case?  If the correct answer to that question turns on whether the Court’s decision will make it more difficult for private relators to prevail in future FCA cases, then the decision was a win for FCA defendants.  For example, the Court unequivocally rejected assertions—frequently raised by FCA plaintiffs—that an FCA claim is proven any time a contractor submits a claim for payment of a contractual claim despite awareness that it has breached a significant provision of its contract. Continue reading

Supreme Court Observations: U. S. Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes, Co.

sboxermanFeatured Expert Column – Environmental Law and Policy

By Samuel B. Boxerman, Sidley Austin LLP with Ben Tannen, Sidley Austin LLP

On May 31, 2016, the US Supreme Court held that a Clean Water Act (CWA) “jurisdictional determination” (JD) was final agency action subject to review under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA)  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes, Co.  Hawkes empowers landowners to challenge decisions that the CWA applies to a specific parcel of property immediately after that determination, rather than after an enforcement action or completion of the lengthy and burdensome permitting process.  The judgment was unanimous, with seven of eight justices signing on to Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion for the Court; Justice Ginsburg concurred in the judgment.

The underlying dispute involved the CWA’s most controversial provision: Section 404, which prohibits the discharge of pollutants from a point source into “waters of the United States” without a permit.1  Section 404 directs the Army Corps to issue permits authorizing the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States, including wetlands. Continue reading

Friday Finger on the Pulse: “Spokeo v. Robins” Edition

On May 16, the U.S. Supreme Court released its highly anticipated decision in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins. The Court sent the case back down to the Ninth Circuit, which had ruled that the Fair Credit Reporting Act accorded the unemployed, single Mr. Robins standing to sue Spokeo—a “people search engine”—for inaccurately reporting that he was employed, married, and in good financial standing. The 6-2 decision, authored by Justice Samuel Alito, stated plainly that “bare” noncompliance with a statute “divorced from any concrete harm,” cannot “satisfy the injury-in-fact requirement of Article III.” WLF had filed an amicus brief in support of Spokeo. Our press release on the victory is here.

Even though the Court answered the question Spokeo posed to it—can a plaintiff sue based on “injury in law” alone?—with a clear “no,” Mr. Robins’ lawyer, Jay Edelson, remarkably asserted, “This is overall a major win for consumers and privacy advocates.” Continue reading