Week in Review: Arguments from the Week of October 30, 2017

This week, the Supreme court heard arguments in four cases. As our weekly preview explained, this week’s cases raised questions about habeas procedure and appellate review standards, and reviewed the meaning of the tolling provision for state court claims in supplemental jurisdiction cases.

On Monday, the Court heard arguments in two cases. The first was Ayestas v. Davis.  This case involves 18 U.S.C. §3599(f), which provides funding for indigent habeas petitioners to hire mitigation specialists – expert or investigative assistants – to help develop claims about ineffective counsel in capital cases. The case raises the question of whether a capital defendant who requests such funds should have to meet the Fifth Circuit threshold of showing “substantial need” for such services on a “viable” and not merely speculative claim, or rather meet the somewhat lower standard that such services are “reasonably necessary.”

Ayestas’ counsel, University of Maryland law professor Lee Kovarsky, argued that “reasonably necessary” should be understood as what a reasonable attorney for a client with finite means would find necessary. The New York Times gave an account of the debate about the distinction here. Kovarsky further argued that by using the higher standard, the Fifth Circuit is effectively requiring counsel to conduct a full investigation into his client’s ineffectiveness of counsel claim to affirm that it is viable before he would be allowed to request funding for the experts that could assist in making such a claim.  Scott A. Keller, the Solicitor General of Texas, argued that the Supreme Court did not have jurisdiction because a claim of funds under the CJA (Criminal Justice Act) is an administrative request and is outside of the purview of judicial power. This argument generated skeptical questioning from Justices Sotomayor and Breyer. Keller further argued that Ayestas’ trial representation was not deficient in a way that prejudiced Ayestas. Transcript available here. SCOTUSblog has more here.

Monday’s second case was Wilson v. Sellers. According to Jurist, this case asks whether a court sitting in habeas proceedings should “look through” a summary state court ruling to the last reasoned decision, or whether the Court’s decision in Harrington v. Richter nullifies such a presumption. In this case, the Eleventh Circuit, en banc, held that a Georgia Supreme Court’s one-sentence order was the final adjudication on the merits and thus the relevant state court decision for the federal courts to review on habeas.

Mark E. Olive, Wilson’s lawyer, argued that the holding in Richter should be applied narrowly so that the state supreme court’s summary order denying his client’s appeal would be the type of order that a federal habeas court could “look through” to review a lower court’s denial of relief. Sarah Hawkins Warren, Solicitor General of Georgia, argued that 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) does not require that the court offer reasoning or a statement of opinions when ruling on a CPC request. Transcript available here. SCOTUSblog has a more detailed argument analysis here.

Tuesday, the court heard arguments in U.S. Bank National Association v. Village at Lakeridge, LLC. The question presented is whether, in a bankruptcy proceeding, a trial court’s decision that an individual is, or is not, a non-statutory insider should be reviewed under a standard of clear error or de novo. Gregory A. Cross, counsel for the creditor, U.S. Bank National Association, argued that the case presents a mixed question of law and fact – that the legal test the Ninth Circuit articulated was a two-pronged test to determine a) whether the parties’ relationship was sufficiently close that it could be compared to a relationship between statutory insiders, and b) whether the parties transacted at arm’s length. Cross further argued that the guidelines and principles that govern the application of the standard to the underlying historical facts of a case are a question of law and therefore whether an individual is a non-statutory insider should be determined by de novo review. Daniel L. Geyser, arguing for the debtor, the Village at Lakeridge, LLC, argued that the question about whether the parties transacted at arm’s length is a question only of fact and therefore should be reviewed only for clear error. Geyser was joined in this argument by Morgan Goodspeed on behalf of the U.S. Solicitor General. During oral argument, it became clear that the standard of review may only make sense if the Court also reviews the legal standard for determining whether an individual is an insider. According to Jurist, the court may have to take up the legal standard question before being able to determine whether an individual’s non-statutory insider status is a question of law or fact. If this were to occur, the Court could request additional briefing and set the case for re-argument, or chose instead to dismiss the case entirely. Transcript available here. SCOTUSblog has more here, including an explanation of the significance of being an “insider” for purposes of bankruptcy law.

Finally, on Wednesday, the Court heard arguments in Artis v. District of Columbia. The issue presented in this case is whether the tolling provision in 28 U.S.C. §1367(d) freezes the statute of limitations “time clock” on tag-along state court claims or only suspends the statute of limitations for 30 days after a supplemental jurisdiction case is dismissed from federal court. Adam G. Unikowsky, counsel for Artis, noted that statutes most commonly stop the clock on a statute of limitations. Unikowsky also argued that there are several reasons refiling in state court may take longer than 30 days, including possibly rewriting the complaint based on new facts that came out in discovery or state pleading rules differing from the federal pleading rules; figuring out which state or court to file in; and finding a new lawyer who specializes in state court proceedings. Loren L. Alikhan, Deputy Solicitor General, Washington, D.C., argued that the statute’s 30-day grace period and “express and self-conscious deference” to a state’s ability to set a longer tolling period for supplemental jurisdiction claims makes §1367(d) a fundamentally different type of tolling scheme. Alikhan further argues that a case dismissed without prejudice is treated as if it had never been brought – meaning that the statute of limitations has been running the whole time the claims were pending in federal court. The 30-day grace period protects the litigant by providing time to file otherwise time-barred complaints in state court while protecting defendants from complaints being filed years after the claim had accrued. Transcript available here.

This post was drafted by ISCOTUS Fellow Eva Dickey, Chicago-Kent Class of 2020, and was edited by ISCOTUS Fellow Bridget Flynn, Chicago-Kent Class of 2019.

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