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Feds: US Supreme Court should turn down 'Bridgegate' appeal
Lawyer Blog News | 2019/05/16 15:59
The U.S. solicitor general's office has recommended that the U.S. Supreme Court not hear the appeal of two convicted defendants in the "Bridgegate" case, nudging the four-year legal saga of New Jersey's most famous traffic jam toward a conclusion.

"Further review is not warranted," the brief filed late Wednesday said. The Supreme Court is expected to decide whether to hear the case by the end of its term next month.

Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni want the court to hear the appeal of their 2016 convictions for causing gridlock near the George Washington Bridge to punish a mayor for not endorsing their boss, former Republican Gov. Chris Christie.

Christie wasn't charged, but the revelations from the scandal and conflicting accounts of when he knew about the plot combined to sabotage his 2016 presidential aspirations.

Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff at the time of the 2013 lane realignments in the town of Fort Lee, and Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, had their sentences reduced this spring after a federal appeals court tossed some convictions last fall. Kelly petitioned the Supreme Court to consider the rest of the convictions, and Baroni joined in the appeal.

They argued that while their actions may have been ethically questionable, they weren't illegal because neither derived personal benefit, and the Port Authority, which operated the bridge, wasn't deprived of tangible benefits as a result of the scheme.


Apps cost too much? Court allows suit adding to Apple’s woes
Business Law Info | 2019/05/14 22:53
Consumers can pursue a lawsuit complaining that iPhone apps cost too much, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday, adding to Apple’s woes that already include falling iPhone sales and a European investigation.

The lawsuit could have major implications for the tech giant’s handling of the more than 2 million apps in Apple’s App Store, where users get much of the software for their smartphones. While most of those apps are free to download, some impose fees for people to use the software and subscribe to the services.

In those cases, Apple charges a commission of 30%, a practice that the lawsuit contends unfairly drives up the price for the apps. Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote the majority opinion that agreed the antitrust lawsuit can move forward in a lower court.

The court’s four liberal justices joined Kavanaugh, one of President Donald Trump’s two high court appointees, to reject a plea from Apple to end the lawsuit at this early stage. The decision did not involve the merits of the suit.

Apple argues it’s merely a pipeline between app developers and consumers, and that iPhone users have no claims against Apple under antitrust law and a 1977 Supreme Court decision. Tens of thousands of developers create the software and set the price, Apple says.

“We’re confident we will prevail when the facts are presented and that the App Store is not a monopoly by any metric,” Apple said in statement issued in response to Monday’s ruling. The lawsuit could take years to wind to its conclusion.


Supreme Court says 1 state can’t be sued in another’s courts
Lawyer Blog News | 2019/05/10 22:51
The Supreme Court decided Monday that one state cannot unwillingly be sued in the courts of another, overruling a 40-year precedent and perhaps, foreshadowing an argument over the viability of other high court decisions.

The outcome left one dissenting justice wondering “which cases the court will overrule next.”

The justices divided 5-4 to end a long-running dispute between California officials and Nevada inventor Gilbert Hyatt.

Hyatt is a former California resident who sued California’s tax agency for being too zealous in seeking back taxes from him. Hyatt won a judgment in Nevada courts.

But Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court’s conservative justices that the Constitution forbids states from opening the doors of their courts to a private citizen’s lawsuit against another state. In 1979, the high court concluded otherwise.

The four liberal justices dissented, saying they would have left alone the court’s decision in Nevada v. Hall. Justice Stephen Breyer said there are good reasons to overrule an earlier case, including that it is no longer workable or a vestige of an otherwise abandoned legal doctrine.

But Breyer said that justices should otherwise adhere to the principle of stare decisis, Latin for to stand by things decided.

“It is far more dangerous to overrule a decision only because five members of a later court come to agree with earlier dissenters on a difficult legal question,” Breyer wrote. He included a reference to the court’s 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey that reaffirmed the right to abortion the court declared in Roe v. Wade in 1973.

The future of abortion rights at the court is a matter of intense interest as several states have enacted increasingly restrictive abortion laws in the hope that a more conservative Supreme Court majority will uphold them.

In his majority opinion, Thomas cited other Supreme Court precedent that held “stare decisis is not an inexorable command.”

The Hyatt case had been to the Supreme Court twice before. In 2016, the justices split 4-4 over the same question that was finally answered on Monday.


A loophole could keep young terror suspects out of US courts
Business Law Info | 2019/05/07 17:14
The Justice Department's ability to charge minors for supporting terrorist groups has been hampered by a 2018 Supreme Court decision, forcing prosecutors to hand off at least one such case to local authorities in a state without anti-terrorism laws.

The court's decision in a case unrelated to terrorism opened a loophole that could allow young supporters of groups like the Islamic State to skate on charges from the federal government.

The legal gap was highlighted by the case of Matin Azizi-Yarand , who was sentenced in a Texas state court last month after plotting to shoot police officers and civilians at a suburban shopping mall in an Islamic State-inspired rampage planned to coincide with the Muslim holiday of Ramadan.

In most cases like this, federal prosecutors would have brought terrorism charges. But U.S. prosecutors in Texas didn't charge Azizi-Yarand because he was 17 at the time and considered a minor under federal law.

Federal law allows prosecutors to charge anyone supporting or working with a State Department-designated terror group, even if the person was not in contact with the group. But to charge a juvenile with providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization, the attorney general would have to determine that the suspect committed what's known as a "crime of violence" under federal law.

The Supreme Court struck down part of that law last year, finding it too vague to be enforced in the case of a Philippine man who was facing deportation over burglary convictions. Justice Neil Gorsuch joined the court's more liberal judges, finding that the law crossed constitutional boundaries and that the law was not specific enough because it failed to adequately define what would be a violent crime.


News attorneys: Opioid distribution data should be public
Business Law Info | 2019/05/06 00:13
Attorneys for news organizations argued Thursday that the U.S. public should be allowed to see federal data about how prescription opioids were distributed as the nation’s overdose crisis was worsening.

They urged a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati to overturn a lower court judge’s denial of access to the information. The judges will rule later.

“The value of transparency here is great,” said Karen C. Lefton, an Akron, Ohio, attorney representing The Washington Post. The data concerns “a public health crisis” that affects many more people than a typical case, she said.

The data is a key piece of evidence in hundreds of lawsuits filed by state and local governments against companies that make and distribute the drugs. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration database details the flow of prescription painkillers to pharmacies, showing the number and doses of pills.

A Justice Department attorney told the judges releasing the data would compromise investigations.

“This is an issue of really critical importance to the United States and DEA,” said government attorney Sarah Carroll. Making the information public, she said, “would tip defendants off to the scope of DEA investigations.”

Cleveland-based U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, who is overseeing more than 1,500 of the lawsuits, had ruled in July 2018 that the information cannot be made public. He said that doing so would reveal trade secrets. The Post and the HD Media newspaper chain, which had asked the court for the data, then appealed to the federal circuit.

The appellate judges raised a number of questions about Polster’s orders keeping the data secret and hundreds of filings in the case that are under seal.

Judge Eric Clay said it seemed that the secrecy in the case had “just gone overboard.” He told Carroll, of the Justice Department, that “just saying” cases would be compromised seems inadequate.


Trump, GOP states ask appeals court to kill ‘Obamacare’
Class Action News | 2019/05/05 00:12
Taking a harder line on health care, the Trump administration joined a coalition of Republican-led states Wednesday in asking a federal appeals court to entirely overturn former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law — a decision that could leave millions uninsured.

Congress rendered the Affordable Care Act completely unconstitutional in 2017 by eliminating an unpopular tax penalty for not having insurance, the administration and GOP states told the court.

The “Obamacare” opponents hope to persuade the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans to uphold U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor’s ruling late last year striking down the law.

If the ruling is allowed to stand, more than 20 million Americans would be at risk of losing their health insurance, re-igniting a winning political issue for Democrats heading into the 2020 elections. President Donald Trump, who never produced a health insurance plan to replace “Obamacare,” is now promising one after the elections.

The Trump administration acknowledged it had changed positions in the case. Early on, the administration argued that only certain key parts of the ACA, such as protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions, should be invalidated. But it said other important provisions such as Medicaid expansion, subsidies for premiums and health insurance markets could continue to stand.

Wednesday, the administration said it had reconsidered in light of O’Connor’s ruling. “The remaining provisions of the ACA should not be allowed to remain in effect — again, even if the government might support some individual positions as a policy matter,” the administration wrote in its court filing.

The Justice Department’s legal brief also seemed to be trying to carve out some exceptions. For example, the administration said the ACA’s anti-fraud provisions should remain in effect.


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