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Posts Tagged ‘#SCOTUS’

In the Driver’s Seat: Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Kansas v. Glover

Posted on: November 11th, 2019

By: Rachael Slimmon

On November 4, the United States Supreme Court held oral arguments in the case of Kansas v. Glover.  The Court examined whether a police officer may conduct a traffic stop solely because the vehicle’s registered owner has a suspended license.  The case started in 2016, when a Kansas police officer ran the license plate on Charles Glover’s truck.  Mr. Glover had a suspended license, so the officer pulled over the truck.  At trial, the parties stipulated that the officer assumed the owner was the driver, and the officer did not testify.

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution forbids “unreasonable searches and seizures.”  For traffic stops, longstanding precedent requires that police officers have “reasonable suspicion” of a crime before they can pull over a vehicle and conduct a traffic stop.

The Justices, particularly Justice Gorsuch, gave conflicting indications about their views during oral arguments.  Justice Gorsuch first appeared concerned that the officer did not testify about his training and experience.  Gorsuch indicated that this lack of officer testimony meant there were no facts behind the officer’s assumption that a vehicle owner is the vehicle driver, and no facts from which to draw reasonable suspicion.  Later, however, Justice Gorsuch opined that requiring an officer to testify and say “magic words” about his training and experience would be formalistic and unhelpful.  Many of the Justices also seemed to disagree whether it was common sense to assume that a vehicle’s owner is the driver, with Justice Breyer appearing most willing to accept that assumption.

Mr. Glover’s attorney proposed multiple options for officers to gain additional evidence before pulling a car over: visually checking to see if the driver is similar in age and gender to the vehicle owner, following the car to wait for another traffic violation, and using statistical studies.  Multiple Justices questioned the wisdom and practicality of these other measures.

If the Court finds the traffic stop unconstitutional, Kansas v. Glover could impose minor or significant changes to law enforcement practices.  Justice Alito summed up the main issue: “What you are proposing is either a trivial decision or a revolutionary decision. It’s a trivial decision if all who’s lacking here is a statement [of the officer’s training and experience] … It’s a revolutionary decision if in every case involving reasonable suspicion there has to be a statistical showing or an examination of all” the additional evidence that Mr. Glover’s attorney proposed.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Rachael Slimmon at [email protected].

Discrimination Without A Difference: Supreme Court To Decide Whether Section 1981 Requires “But For” Causation Or Whether Same-Decision Defense Applies

Posted on: June 24th, 2019

By: Michael Hill

The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to answer the question of where to draw the line when a decision is motivated in part by race discrimination. Must the plaintiff show the decision would not have been made but for his or her race, or is it sufficient to show that race was one factor behind the decision, even if the same decision would have been made for other, race-neutral reasons?

The case at issue, Comcast Corp. v. National Assoc. of African American-Owned Media, is not actually an employment discrimination case, but the Supreme Court’s decision will impact the realm of employment law because of the statute at issue, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (“Section 1981”), prohibits race discrimination in making and enforcing contracts (which includes employment contracts).

The issue is whether Section 1981 requires “but for” causation, or whether a “mixed motive” analysis can be used. In Comcast, an African American-owned television network operator sued the cable company, alleging Comcast’s refusal to contract with the networks was racially motivated. The federal district court in California dismissed the case three times at the pleading stage, holding the complaints failed to allege facts to show Comcast had no legitimate business reasons for its decision not to contract with the networks. On appeal, a three-judge panel at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously reversed, holding a Section 1981 claim can proceed as long as race is alleged to have been one factor in the contract decision, even if there were other, race-neutral factors that would have led to the same decision.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Comcast will have a significant impact on the amount of damages available in cases alleges race discrimination in employment. Race discrimination claims under Section 1981 frequently are pled in tandem with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Title VII was amended in 1991 expressly to allow for “mixed motive” claims, but the only forms of relief available under a Title VII “mixed motive” claim are declaratory relief and attorney’s fees – no damages, back pay, or right to reinstatement. The language of Section 1981, however, contains no such limitation. Also, unlike Title VII, damages under Section 1981 are not capped; the statute of limitations is longer; and there is no requirement to submit the claim to the EEOC before suing in court. Thus, if the Supreme Court rules that Section 1981 covers “mixed motive” claims (and not just claims of “but for” discrimination), then claims alleging “mixed motive” race discrimination could become more valuable (and thus more costly to defend).

If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Michael Hill at [email protected].

A Dishonorable Discharge – Debt Collection, Contempt, and Efforts to Loosen the Bankruptcy Discharge

Posted on: May 23rd, 2019

By: Matthew Weiss

On April 24, 2019, the United States Supreme Court held oral argument in Taggart v. Lorenzen (In re Taggart), 888 F.3d 438 (9th Cir. 2018), cert. granted, 139 S. Ct. 782 (2019), a case addressing the standard for contempt where a creditor attempts to collect against a debtor whose pre-petition bankruptcy debts have been discharged. At issue is whether a creditor who violates a bankruptcy discharge injunction can avoid contempt where it had a good faith belief that the discharge was inapplicable to it. While the facts in that case are narrow, the Supreme Court’s decision in Taggart could have far-reaching implications for creditors who attempt to collect on debts following a bankruptcy.

The case began when real estate developer Bradley Taggart transferred his 25% interest in Sherwood Park Business Center, LLC (SPBC) to his attorney John Berman. Terry Emmert and Keith Jehnke, who also owned 25% of SPBC, filed suit against Taggart and Berman in Oregon state court asserting that the transfer breached SPBC’s operating agreement because Taggart failed to provide the required notice to Emmert and Jehnke so that they could exercise their right of first refusal. The lawsuit sought attorneys’ fees as permitted under the operating agreement.

Taggart subsequently filed a chapter 7 bankruptcy petition, staying the state court action. Following Taggart’s discharge, the state court action proceeded during which time Taggart was deposed.  The state court ultimately entered a judgment against Taggart and Berman and unwound the transfer of Taggert’s interest. Emmert and Jehnke then filed an application for attorneys’ fees against both Berman and Taggart, specifically seeking fees from Taggart arising after the date of Taggart’s bankruptcy discharge. In response, Taggart moved for the bankruptcy court to reopen his case and then filed a motion seeking to hold Jehnke, Emmert, and SPBC (collectively “Taggart’s creditors”) in contempt.

The bankruptcy court held Taggert’s creditors in contempt after finding that they had knowingly violated the discharge injunction by seeking attorneys’ fees even though they had a subjective good faith belief that the injunction did not apply to them. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed the decision of the bankruptcy court, noting that “the creditor’s good faith belief that the discharge injunction does not apply to the creditor’s claim,” because Taggert had “returned to the fray,” precluded a finding of contempt “even if the creditor’s belief is unreasonable.”  Therefore, the bankruptcy court abused its discretion when it found that Taggart’s creditors knowingly violated the discharge injunction. Taggert’s petition for writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court was granted in January, and oral argument was held last month.

Taggart is significant because, if the Supreme Court affirms the Ninth Circuit, creditors will have significantly more leeway to pursue debts following a bankruptcy discharge without fear of being held in contempt so long as they have a “good faith” belief that the injunction does not apply to them, even when their sincerely held belief is unreasonable. While watering down the protections of the Bankruptcy Code’s discharge injunction may provide relief to creditors, it will surely create headaches for discharged bankruptcy debtors who may see increased efforts at collection activity.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Matthew Weiss at [email protected].

California Tax Board for the Win

Posted on: May 21st, 2019

By: Matthew Jones

The California Franchise Tax Board has been dealing with a lawsuit for approximately 28 years. However, the lawsuit has finally come to an end due to the United States Supreme Court’s recent ruling. The highest court in the United States issued a ruling that shields states from private lawsuits filed in other states, thereby implicating the “sovereign immunity” principle. In reaching its decision, the Supreme Court overturned a 40-year-old precedent to now “hold that states retain their sovereign immunity from private suits brought in the courts of other states.”

The lawsuit, Franchise Tax Board v. Hyatt, was filed by a resident of California who earned millions of dollars in royalties from a computer patent. He then sold his California home and moved to Nevada, where he claimed his primary residence. This is significant because Nevada had no state income tax. However, the California Franchise Tax Board claimed the plaintiff who sued owed more than $10 million in taxes to the state of California despite his residency in Nevada. After the audit was upheld, the individual filed the lawsuit in Nevada.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Matthew Jones at [email protected].

FMG Client Headed to Supreme Court in Landmark Title VII Case to Resolve LGBT Employment Standards

Posted on: April 23rd, 2019

The Supreme Court yesterday agreed to review two federal circuit court decisions that reached differing conclusions as to whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 covers sexual orientation. For approximately 40 years, the EEOC and the federal circuit courts have unanimously held that Title VII does not encompass sexual orientation. The EEOC changed its position in 2014 and determined that Title VII encompasses sexual orientation. The Seventh Circuit likewise reversed its position in 2017, and the Second Circuit changed its position in early 2018 and held in Zarda v. Altitude Express that Title VII encompasses sexual orientation. Later in 2018, the Eleventh Circuit re-affirmed circuit precedent and held in Bostock v. Clayton County that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The Supreme Court agreed to review Bostock and Zarda and consolidated the two cases.

Freeman Mathis and Gary, LLP represents Clayton County in Bostock and will argue that Title VII does not apply to a claim of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

In addition, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in the Sixth Circuit case of R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC. That case raises the question of whether Title VII provides protection to transgender persons. That case is similar in some regard to the Bostock and Zarda cases, however, their distinctions are evident in that the Court did not consolidate the Harris case with Bostock and Zarda.

In granting certiorari in the Harris case, the Supreme Court may revisit a concept outlined in its 1989 decision in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, which held that it was unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII to discriminate against employees because they do not conform to ideas of how a certain gender should behave.

These cases will be argued and decided sometime during the Court’s 2019-2020 term, which begins in October.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact us at [email protected].