The Week Ahead – January 9, 2017

The Court’s first week of hearing arguments after the holidays will be busy. The week’s schedule includes arguments in five cases.
On Monday the Court will first hear Nelson v. Colorado, a case deciding whether the state’s Exoneration Act violates the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. Under the statute, individuals whose convictions have been reversed must prove their innocence by clear and convincing evidence in order to recover the payments they were required to make to the government as a result of those convictions. The petitioners, Shannon Nelson and Louis Alonzo Madden, were convicted in separate trials of unrelated sexual assault offenses, and each assessed fees and restitution the state imposes only upon convicted defendants. Nelson’s conviction was reversed, and the jury her second trial acquitted her on all counts. The trial court ruled that it lacked authority to directly return the $702.10 that her inmate account had been docked, and Nelson appealed. Madden’s conviction was invalidated on post-conviction review. The trial court refunded Madden his fees, but not the $757.75 in restitution he had already paid. The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in both cases that defendants in their position are entitled to a full refund of any and all monies paid relevant to a conviction that has been vacated. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed in both cases. Chief Justice Nancy Rice held for the majority that no state law authorized trial courts to issue such refunds, and that the civil remedy in the Exoneration Act satisfies whatever due process rights such individuals might have. SCOTUSblog’s Steve Vladeck previews the argument .The New York Times discusses fees imposed by various government entities, including the fees in this case.

Also on Monday the Court will hear Lewis v. Clarke, which presents the issue of whether the sovereign immunity of an Indian tribe bars individual-capacity damages actions against tribal employees for torts committed within the scope of their employment. In 2011, William Clarke, who was on the job, working for the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, rear ended Brian and Michelle Lewis on a highway in Connecticut. The gaming authority is an arm of the Mohegan Tribe. Clarke was driving gamblers home from the Mohegan Sun Casino, owned by the tribe. The Lewises sued Clarke in Connecticut court. The Connecticut Supreme Court held that the tribe’s sovereign immunity applied to Clarke, and therefore, the Lewises can sue in a gaming disputes court operated by the tribe, but not in Connecticut state court. The Atlantic discusses the case, and SCOTUSblog has an argument preview here:

On Tuesday the Court will hear another two cases, starting with Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman. In this case, the Court will decide whether state no-surcharge laws unconstitutionally restrict speech conveying price information or regulate economic conduct. Merchants, led by Expressions Hair Design, have argued that the New York anti-surcharge statute violates the First Amendment because it prevents businesses from describing any higher price they charge to card users as a “surcharge”. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit concluded that the New York statute does not regulate speech, only conduct. The court held that the statute affected only a “pricing practice,” which does not have First Amendment protections. The petitioners argue that the statute would allow the merchants to charge different prices to card users and customers who pay in cash if they told the cash users they were getting a discount. They argue that the statute prohibits only the true statement that merchants are imposing a “surcharge” for payment by card. The difference between using the term “cash discount” or “card surcharge,” they argue, can affect customers’ responses. By forbidding merchants to use the surcharge label, the statute prevents merchants from using accurate information tin communication with their customers, they argue. Bloomberg provides a summary of the case.

Also on Tuesday the Court will hear arguments in Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. v. Haeger. The Court will decide whether a federal court must tailor compensatory civil sanctions imposed under inherent powers to harm directly caused by sanctionable misconduct, as well as what such a causation requirement would involve. Leroy, Donna, Barry and Suzanne Haeger were injured when one of the Goodyear G159 tires on their motor home failed while the car was traveling on an Arizona highway. The Haegers sued in 2005. Discovery commenced in federal court, where the case was moved. After settlement, the Haegers moved for discovery sanctions because of Goodyear’s failure to disclose the results of the federally mandated “Heat Rise” test. The district court relied on its inherent power to sanction. The court found that Goodyear and its lawyers had acted in bad faith and ordered the tire company and two of its attorneys to pay more than $2.7 million in attorney’s fees and costs. The district court did not give Goodyear or its lawyers a jury trial before the sanctions. The U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed. The court of appeals held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding the full amount of litigation fees, even without finding a precise linkage between the acts of bad faith and the Haegers’ trial costs. SCOTUSblog delves into the case.

On Wednesday, the Court will hear Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, which presents the issue of what level of educational benefit school districts must confer on children with disabilities to satisfy the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Endrew F. (also known as Drew), is an autistic student who attended Douglas County School District in Colorado from preschool through fourth grade under an Individualized Education Program. His parents disagreed with school officials about the IEP proposed for him for fifth grade, so they enrolled him in a private school, where he has, according to them, “made academic, social, and behavioral progress.” Drew and his parents filed a complaint with the state’s department of education. They claimed the district had denied Drew a FAPE (“free, appropriate public education”) as the Act guarantees, and sought reimbursement for the tuition they had paid to the private school. A hearing officer ruled for the school district, finding that Drew had progressed in the district. Drew and his parents then sued in federal district court, which also ruled in favor of the school district. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit upheld that ruling. It said that the school district needed to try to provide Drew with an educational benefit that was “merely more than de minimis.” Drew’s proposed IEP was “substantively adequate” under that test, the court concluded. The Denver Post says this could be a landmark case for students with disabilities throughout the nation. Amy Howe of SCOTUSblog also discusses what “appropriate” educational benefit means with regard to FAPE.

The Court will meet in Conference on Friday both to discuss argued cases from the week and to rule on pending petitions for certiorari.

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