Justia Writers’ Round Up – Supreme Court Opinions Issued June 17, 2013


Five opinions came down today from the United States Supreme Court. Read the summaries below and read the full text of the opinions at Justia’s U.S. Supreme Court Center.

Alleyne v. United States, United States Supreme Court (6/17/13)
Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

gavelAlleyne was convicted using or carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A), which carries a five-year mandatory minimum sentence. The sentences increases to a seven-year minimum if the firearm is brandished, 924(c)(1)(A)(ii), and to a 10-year minimum if it is discharged, 924(c)(1)(A)(iii). The jury form indicated that Alleyne had “[u]sed or carried a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence,” but not that the firearm was “[b]randished.” Alleyne objected to a sentencing report recommendation of a seven-year term, arguing that the jury did not find brandishing beyond a reasonable doubt and that raising his mandatory minimum sentence based on a judge’s finding of brandishing would violate his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. The district court overruled the objection. The Fourth Circuit affirmed.

The Supreme Court vacated and remanded, overruling Harris v. United States, 536 U.S. 545 and applying Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466. Mandatory minimum sentences increase the penalty for a crime and any fact that increases the mandatory minimum is an “element” that must be submitted to the jury. Defining facts that increase a mandatory minimum as part of the substantive offense enables a defendant to predict the applicable penalty from the face of the indictment and preserves the jury’s role as intermediary between the state and criminal defendants. Because the fact of brandishing aggravates the prescribed range of allowable sentences, it constitutes an element of a separate, aggravated offense that must be found by the jury, regardless of what sentence the defendant might have received had a different range been applicable. The Court noted that its ruling does not mean that any fact that influences judicial discretion must be found by a jury.

Read more: Supreme Court says jury should have final say on facts that trigger mandatory minimums

Salinas v. Texas, United States Supreme Court (6/17/13)
Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Without being placed in custody or receiving Miranda warnings, the defendant voluntarily answered questions about a murder. He fell silent when asked whether ballistics testing would match his shotgun to casings found at the murder scene. At trial in Texas state court, over defendant’s objection, the prosecution used his failure to answer as evidence of guilt. Defendant was convicted and state courts of appeals affirmed.

The Supreme Court affirmed, reasoning that the defendant did not expressly invoke the Fifth Amendment privilege in response to the question. A witness who desires the protection of the privilege must claim it at the time he relies on it. A defendant need not take the stand and assert the privilege at trial, but there is no comparable unqualified right not to speak during a police interview. Failure to invoke the privilege must be excused if governmental coercion makes its forfeiture involuntary, but this defendant agreed to accompany officers to the station and was free to leave at any time. Neither silence nor official suspicion is sufficient by itself to relieve a witness of the obligation to expressly invoke the privilege and they do not do so together. The Court rejected arguments that reliance on the Fifth Amendment privilege is the most likely explanation for silence in a case like this, stating that such silence is “insolubly ambiguous,” and that it would be unfair to require a suspect unschooled in the particulars of legal doctrine to do anything more than remain silent in order to invoke his “right to remain silent.”

Read more: Supreme Court says pre-Miranda silence can be used by prosecutors in court

Maracich v. Spears, United States Supreme Court (6/17/13)
Communications Law, Consumer Law, Government & Administrative Law, Injury Law, Legal Ethics, Transportation Law

Using FOIA requests directed to the South Carolina DMV, attorneys obtained names and addresses, then sent letters to more than 34,000 individuals, seeking clients for a lawsuit against car dealerships for violation of a state law. The letters were headed “ADVERTISING MATERIAL,” explained the lawsuit, and asked recipients to return an enclosed card to participate in the case. Recipients sued the attorneys, alleging violation of the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act of 1994 (DPPA), 18 U.S.C. 2721(b)(4), by obtaining, disclosing, and using personal information from motor vehicle records for bulk solicitation without express consent. The district court dismissed, based on a DPPA exception permitting disclosure of personal information “for use in connection with any civil, criminal, administrative, or arbitral proceeding,” including “investigation in anticipation of litigation.” The Fourth Circuit affirmed.

The Supreme Court vacated and remanded. An attorney’s solicitation of clients is not a permissible purpose under the (b)(4) litigation exception. DPPA’s purpose of protecting privacy in motor vehicle records would be substantially undermined by application of the (b)(4) exception to the general ban on disclosure of personal information and ban on release of highly restricted personal information in cases there is any connection between protected information and a potential legal dispute. The Court noted examples of permissible litigation uses: service of process, investigation in anticipation of litigation, and execution or enforcement of judgments and orders. All involve an attorney’s conduct as an officer of the court, not a commercial actor, seeking a business transaction. A contrary reading of (b)(4) could affect interpretation of the (b)(6) exception, which allows an insurer and certain others to obtain DMV information for use in connection with underwriting, and the (b)(10) exception, which permits disclosure and use of personal information in connection with operation of private tollroads.

Read more: Justices Strike Down Arizona Voter Law

FTC v. Actavis, Inc., United States Supreme Court (6/17/13)
Antitrust & Trade Regulation, Drugs & Biotech, Patents

The Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act of 1984 (Hatch-Waxman Act), 21 U.S.C. 355(j)(2)(A)(vii)(IV) established procedures for identifying and resolving patent disputes between brand-name and generic drug manufacturers. One procedure requires a prospective generic manufacturer to certify to the FDA that any listed, relevant patent is invalid or will not be infringed by the manufacture, use, or sale of the generic drug (paragraph IV). Generic manufacturers filed paragraph IV applications for generic drugs modeled after Solvay’s FDA-approved, patented drug AndroGel. Solvay claimed patent infringement, 35 U.S.C. 271(e)(2)(A). The FDA approved the generic product, but the generic companies entered into “reverse payment” settlements, agreeing not to bring the generic to market for a number of years and to promote AndroGel to doctors in exchange for millions of dollars. The FTC sued, alleging violation of section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act by agreeing to abandon patent challenges, to refrain from launching low-cost generic drugs, and to share in Solvay’s monopoly profits. The district court dismissed. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed.

The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, calling for application of a “rule of reason” approach rather than a “quick look.” Although the anti-competitive effects of the reverse settlement might fall within the exclusionary potential of Solvay’s patent, the agreement is not immune from antitrust attack. It would be incongruous to determine antitrust legality by looking only at patent law policy, and not at antitrust policies. The Court noted the Hatch-Waxman Act’s general pro-competitive thrust, facilitating challenges to a patent’s validity and requiring parties to a paragraph IV dispute to report settlement terms to antitrust regulators. Payment for staying out of the market keeps prices at patentee-set levels and divides the benefit between the patentee and the challenger, while the consumer loses. That a large, unjustified reverse payment risks antitrust liability does not prevent parties from settling their lawsuits; they may settle in other ways, e.g., by allowing the generic to enter the market before the patent expires without payment to stay out prior to that point.

Read more: Supreme Court Says Drug Makers Can Be Sued Over ‘Pay-for-Delay’ Deals

Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Ariz., Inc., United States Supreme Court (6/17/13)
Constitutional Law, Election Law, Government & Administrative Law

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) requires states to accept and use a uniform federal form to register voters for federal elections, 42 U.S.C. 1973gg–4(a)(1). The form developed by the Election Assistance Commission, requires only that an applicant aver, under penalty of perjury, that he is a citizen. Arizona law required rejection of any application for registration, including the federal form, if not accompanied by documentary evidence of citizenship. The district court granted summary judgment, upholding Arizona’s requirement. The Ninth Circuit reversed in part, holding that the requirement is preempted by the NVRA.

The Supreme Court affirmed. The Elections Clause imposes on states the duty to prescribe the time, place, and manner of electing Representatives and Senators, but confers on Congress the power to alter those regulations or supplant them altogether. The Clause confers authority to provide a complete code for congressional elections, including regulations relating to “registration.” The NVRA term “accept” implies that the form is to be accepted as sufficient and Congress, when it acts under the Clause, is always on notice that its legislation will displace some element of a state’s preexisting legal regime. While the NVRA forbids states to demand additional information beyond that required by the federal form, it does not preclude states from denying registration based on information in their possession establishing the applicant’s ineligibility. The NVRA can be read to avoid a conflict, however. The NVRA permits a state to request state-specific instructions on the federal form and a state may challenge rejection of that request. That alternative means of enforcing its constitutional power to determine voting qualifications remains open to Arizona.

Read more: Justices Reject Arizona Voting Law Requiring Proof of Citizenship