June 18, 2009
Supreme Court Action Today
The Supreme Court issued four opinions this morning. The one making the news is the access to DNA testing. I'll get to that one in a bit. On to the others.
Gross v, FBL Financial Services Inc. (08-441). This case involves Gross's claim that he was demoted in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). The trial court instructed the jury to find for Gross if he proved by a preponderance of the evidence that age was a motivating factor in his demotion. The trial court also instructed the jury to find for FBL if it found that FBL would have demoted him anyway. The jury found for Gross. The Eighth Circuit reversed saying the jury was improperly instructed under the mixed-motive standard established in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins. The Supreme Court vacated the Eight Circuit opinion and held that the ADEA's statutory language does not allow for the burden to shift to the employer to show the action would have taken place anyway, and that the plaintiff has the burden of proving the discrimination. The Court compared discrimination statutes and their revision history as part of the analysis. What makes this case interesting is the Court's statements in part III suggesting that Price-Waterhouse is difficult to apply and may not be decided in the same way if it were before the Court today in the first instance.
District Attorney's Office for the Third Judicial District v. Osborne (08-6). This is the DNA case. Osborne was convicted of sexual assault in Alaska. Long after conviction he filed suit to access evidence against him and subject it to DNA testing at his own expense. There were procedural issues as to whether Osborne should proceed in habeas or whether a §1983 suit was the proper vehicle. Ultimately, the District Court held that Osborne had a constitutional right to new testing. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, stating simply that Osborne has no constitutional right to postconviction access to to the State's evidence for DNA testing. The Court did not decide the procedural question as to which type of suit was the proper vehicle.
Travelers Indemnity Co. v. Bailey (08-295). This case comes out of the complicated Johns-Manville asbestos litigation. Settlement was reached in Bankruptcy Court in 1986 that would find Travelers, as Manville's insurer, to contribute a sum to the Trust settlement of injury claims. Traveler was sued in 26 Direct Actions alleging violations of consumer protection statutes and common law duties based on its knowledge of asbestos from its relationship with Manville. Travelers settled but asked the Bankruptcy Court to clarify its 1986 order in that these Direct Actions were and remain prohibited. The Court approved the settlement and entered the clarifying order. The Second Circuit reversed. The Supreme Court held that the finality of the 1986 Bankruptcy Court order precluded the Direct Actions. The orders became final on direct review at the time and could not be challenged now.
Yeager v. United States (08-67). Yeager was charged with securities fraud and wire fraud for misleading the public over the merits of a fiber-optic system. He was also charged with insider trading for selling stock in the company related to the business, and money laundering the proceeds. The jury at trial acquitted on the fraud counts but could not reach a verdict on the other charges. The government recharged on those counts. Yeager argued that this violated the Double Jeopardy Clause. The Court held that the hung counts did not enter into a preclusion analysis on the acquittals. [MG]
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