May 25, 2012
Supreme Court Action Yesterday: Fee Splitting Under RESPA and Double Jeopardy
The Supreme Court issued two opinions yesterday. The first is Freeman v. Quicken Loans, Inc. (10-1042). The case involves an interpretation of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA). The Act (§2607(b)) provides that no person shall give and no person shall accept “any portion, split, or percentage of any charge made or received for the rendering of a real estate settlement service . . . other than for services actually performed.” The petitioners received mortgage services from Quicken and filed suit alleging they were charged fees for services not provided, violating RESPA. The District Court granted summary judgment to Quicken on the basis there were no allegations of fee splitting. The Fifth Circuit affirmed.
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision, holding that under the Act, the plaintiffs must demonstrate that the charge for settlement services was divided between two or more people for a violation of the Act. The Court interpreted the section as requiring two distinct transactions, a charge, and then a split. It rejected the interpretation that merges both transactions into a single event. The Court examined the grammar of the statute at length to come to this conclusion. Justice Scalia delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
The second case is Blueford v. Arkansas (10-1320). This is a Double Jeopardy case. Blueford was charged with capital murder for the death of a one-year-old child. Lesser offences in the charge included first-degree murder, manslaughter, and negligent homicide. The trial court instructed the jury to consider the lesser charges if they had reasonable doubt on the capital murder charge. The verdict forms presented the option of conviction on one charge or acquittal on all charges. There was not an option to acquit on some.
The jury pursued deliberations and reported that it could not reach a verdict. The trial court asked about the progress on each event and the jury reported it was unanimous against a verdict of capital murder and first-degree murder, deadlocked on the manslaughter charge, and had not deliberated the negligent homicide count. The jury ultimately could not reach a verdict and the judge declared a mistrial. The State then began a retrial on all charges. Blueford moved to dismiss the capital and first-degree murder charges. The judge denied the motion and the Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed.
The Supreme Court held that the Double Jeopardy Clause does not bar retrial on the capital and first-degree murder charges. The Court based its conclusion on the fact that the jury may have reported that it was against guilt on these charges, but that was not a final resolution of anything. The jury continued to deliberate and could have revisited the issue of guild before deliberations had concluded. The declaration of a mistrial was not improper under the circumstances. Blueford argued that the trial court should have taken action on the report, such as sending the jury partial verdict forms. The Court said it never required a trial court of break the impasse, let alone require a court to give the jury new options. The form of the instructions was allowed by Arkansas law. I’ll take retrials for $300, Alex. Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court, joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Breyer, and Alito. Justice Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Ginsburg and Kagan. [MG]