February 25, 2011
SCOTUS Cert Grant of Interest: Stok & Associates v. Citibank
The Supreme Court granted certiorari this week in Stok & Associates v. Citibank (No. 10-514), which presents the question:
Under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), should a party be required to demonstrate prejudice after the opposing party waived its contractual right to arbitrate by participating in litigation, in order for such waiver to be binding and irrevocable?
SCOTUSblog’s case file is available here, which contains links to the Eleventh Circuit’s opinion below and the cert-stage briefs.
February 23, 2011
SCOTUS Oral Argument in Bond v. United States
Yesterday the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Bond v. United States, covered earlier here, which presents the question:
Whether a criminal defendant convicted under a federal statute has standing to challenge her conviction on grounds that, as applied to her, the statute is beyond the federal government’s enumerated powers and inconsistent with the Tenth Amendment.
Here are links to the oral argument transcript, a story about the case by Adam Liptak in today’s New York Times, and Dahlia Lithwick's story on Slate entitled "The Case of the Poisoned Lover: The Supreme Court gets its sexiest case ever, but all it wants to talk about is standing," which begins:
When the Lifetime Channel casts the movie version of Bond v. U.S., it will doubtless pit someone Valerie Bertinelli-ish against someone Judith Light-like and leave all the good 10th Amendment stuff on the cutting room floor.
PS: For readers interested more in the “Civil Procedure” rather than the “Federal Courts” side of our ledger (not to mention casting options for a potential made-for-TV movie), there’s a reference to Twombly, Conley, and pleading standards on p.16 of the oral argument transcript. Petitioner's counsel was asked how the Court should treat some language in an earlier opinion (Tennessee Electric Power v. TVA) indicating that only states, not individuals, have standing to raise this sort of constitutional challenge. Counsel responded: “[I]f you ask me what you should do with it, you should do what you did in Twombly, with some language in an opinion that had continued to cause trouble in the 50 years since. You should just say that's no longer good law because it's not.”
Today's SCOTUS Decision in Williamson v. Mazda: More on Federal Preemption of State Tort Claims
Following up on yesterday’s decision in Bruesewitz v. Wyeth, the Supreme Court issued another decision on preemption today: Williamson v. Mazda (covered earlier here). Justice Breyer wrote the Opinion of the Court, which begins:
Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208 (1989 version) requires, among other things, that auto manufacturers install seatbelts on the rear seats of passenger vehicles. They must install lap-and-shoulder belts on seats next to a vehicle's doors or frames. But they have a choice about what to install on rear inner seats (say, middle seats or those next to a minivan's aisle). There they can install either (1) simple lap belts or (2) lap-and-shoulder belts.
The question presented here is whether this federal regulation pre-empts a state tort suit that, if successful, would deny manufacturers a choice of belts for rear inner seats by imposing tort liability upon those who choose to install a simple lap belt. We conclude that providing manufacturers with this seatbelt choice is not a significant objective of the federal regulation. Consequently, the regulation does not pre-empt the state tort suit.
The Court distinguished Geier v. American Honda Motor, 529 U.S. 861 (2000), which had held that a similar regulation preempted state tort law: “In Geier, . . . the regulation’s history, the agency’s contemporaneous explanation, and its consistently held interpretive views indicated that the regulation sought to maintain manufacturer choice in order to further significant regulatory objectives. Here, these same considerations indicate the contrary.”
Justice Sotomayor joined Justice Breyer’s opinion but also wrote a separate concurrence “to emphasize the Court's rejection of an overreading of Geier that has developed since that opinion was issued.”
Justice Thomas did not join Justice Breyer’s opinion but concurred in the judgment. His concurring opinion begins: “The Court concludes that the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 (Safety Act) and Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208 (FMVSS 208) do not pre-empt the Williamsons' state tort lawsuit. I agree. But I reach this result by a more direct route: the Safety Act's saving clause, which speaks directly to this question and answers it.” In reaching this conclusion, Justice Thomas reiterated his view that “[p]urposes-and-objectives pre-emption -- which by design roams beyond statutory or regulatory text -- is . . . wholly illegitimate.”
Justice Kagan took no part in the case.
February 22, 2011
Today's SCOTUS Decision in Bruesewitz v. Wyeth: Preemption of State Tort Claims by National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act
The Supreme Court issued its decision today in Bruesewitz v. Wyeth (covered earlier here), which presents the question “whether a preemption provision enacted in the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 (NCVIA) bars state-law design-defect claims against vaccine manufacturers.” Splitting 6-2, the Court held that the claims were preempted. Justice Scalia wrote the majority opinion, and Justice Sotomayor wrote a dissent that was joined by Justice Ginsburg. Justice Breyer joined the majority opinion but wrote a separate concurrence. Justice Kagan took no part in the case.
From Justice Scalia’s majority opinion:
We set forth again the statutory text at issue: “No vaccine manufacturer shall be liable in a civil action for damages arising from a vaccine-related injury or death associated with the administration of a vaccine after October 1, 1988, if the injury or death resulted from side effects that were unavoidable even though the vaccine was properly prepared and was accompanied by proper directions and warnings.”
The “even though” clause clarifies the word that precedes it. It delineates the preventative measures that a vaccine manufacturer must have taken for a side-effect to be considered “unavoidable” under the statute. Provided that there was proper manufacture and warning, any remaining side effects, including those resulting from design defects, are deemed to have been unavoidable. State-law design-defect claims are therefore preempted.
If a manufacturer could be held liable for failure to use a different design, the word “unavoidable” would do no work. A side effect of a vaccine could always have been avoidable by use of a differently designed vaccine not containing the harmful element. The language of the provision thus suggests that the design of the vaccine is a given, not subject to question in the tort action. What the statute establishes as a complete defense must be unavoidability (given safe manufacture and warning) with respect to the particular design. Which plainly implies that the design itself is not open to question.
Justice Sotomayor’s dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Ginsburg, begins:
Vaccine manufacturers have long been subject to a legal duty, rooted in basic principles of products liability law, to improve the designs of their vaccines in light of advances in science and technology. Until today, that duty was enforceable through a traditional state-law tort action for defective design. In holding that §22(b)(1) of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 pre-empts all design defect claims for injuries stemming from vaccines covered under the Act, the Court imposes its own bare policy preference over the considered judgment of Congress. In doing so, the Court excises 13 words from the statutory text, misconstrues the Act’s legislative history, and disturbs the careful balance Congress struck between compensating vaccine-injured children and stabilizing the childhood vaccine market. Its decision leaves a regulatory vacuum in which no one ensures that vaccine manufacturers adequately take account of scientific and technological advancements when designing or distributing their products. Because nothing in the text, structure, or legislative history of the Vaccine Act remotely suggests that Congress intended such a result, I respectfully dissent.
Justice Breyer’s concurring opinion begins:
I join the Court’s judgment and opinion. In my view, the Court has the better of the purely textual argument. But the textual question considered alone is a close one. Hence, like the dissent, I would look to other sources, including legislative history, statutory purpose, and the views of the federal administrative agency, here supported by expert medical opinion. Unlike the dissent, however, I believe these other sources reinforce the Court’s conclusion.