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By Kristin Casler
Was the Supreme Court’s decision granting gay couples a constitutional right to marry one of the Top 10 Cases of 2015? How about when it found unconstitutional a city’s demand to see hotel registries without a warrant? Who or what determines the top 10 list? Is it the media? Interest groups? As a barometer, we’ve looked at the Top 10 Cases By Amicus Curiae Interest, as compiled by www.supremecourtreview.com. If the case warranted a lot of amicus briefs, it must be darned important, right? We’ll also throw you a few sleepers that didn’t make the list and let you decide.
Every year, www.supremecourtreview.com compiles many lists and charts. Among them, the ranking of cases by the number of amicus briefs filed. These aren’t necessarily the most impactful cases of the year for you, your firm or the country. But the questions on gay marriage, the Affordable Care Act, patent validity and consumer class actions certainly were important to enough people to make the list.
Here is a rundown of the top cases on the list for 2015, and the number of amicus briefs filed, through June 30. The numbers for the year will change, of course, when briefs for the remaining months are tallied.
Obergefell v. Hodges 146
In a 5 – 4 decision, the high court held that the Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed in another state. It found that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and it overturned state bans on such marriages as unconstitutional.
King v. Burwell 52
In a 6 – 3 decision, the court held that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act allows the federal government to provide nationwide tax subsidies to help poor and middle-class people buy health insurance. Specifically, it found that Internal Revenue Code Section 36B’s tax credits are available to individuals in states that have a Federal Exchange. The petitioners had argued that the plain language of the statute—“established by the state” provided eligibility for tax credits only to those with state-operated exchanges. The Court found this clause ambiguous and held it ought to be interpreted in a manner “that is compatible with the rest of the law.”
Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins 33
The high court was expected to hear arguments on Nov. 2 on the question of whether Congress may confer Article III standing upon a plaintiff who suffers no concrete harm, and who therefore could not otherwise invoke the jurisdiction of a federal court, by authorizing a private right of action based on a bare violation of a federal statute. Plaintiff Thomas Robins seeks to establish standing under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals found that while he suffered no actual damages from an online posting of inaccurate wealth information, he satisfied the FCRA’s injury-in-fact requirement. Opponents are concerned that the case could open the floodgates to no-injury class actions.
Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo 31
The court is expected to hear arguments on Nov. 10 on the question of whether differences among individual class members may be ignored and a class action certified under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3), or a collective action certified under the Fair Labor Standards Act, where liability and damages will be determined with statistical techniques that presume all class members are identical to the average observed in a sample. It also will consider whether a class action may be certified or maintained, when the class contains hundreds of members who were not injured and have no legal right to any damages. Respondents are hourly workers at a Tyson pork-processing facility who allege the company failed to compensate them fully for time spent donning and doffing personal protective equipment and walking to and from their work stations. Not all employees fell into this category, and those who did, did so for varying times. The employees were awarded $5.8 million. A divided Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel affirmed.
Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project 20
The high court decided in June that disparate-impact claims are cognizable under the Fair Housing Act. In the 5 – 4 decision, the court said that housing discrimination in lending, zoning, sales and rental practices need not be intentional in order to be illegal.
EnerNOC, Inc. v. Electric Power Supply 18
The court heard arguments on Oct. 14 on the question of whether the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reasonably concluded that it has authority under the Federal Power Act to regulate the rules used by operators of wholesale electricity markets to pay for reductions in electricity consumption and to recoup those payments through adjustments to wholesale rates. It also will consider whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the FERC rule is arbitrary and capricious. FERC claims that, despite states’ rights to regulate retail demand, it, may regulate it by requiring wholesale-market operators to pay retail customers to forego retail electricity purchases at certain times of day.
Campbell-Ewald Company v. Gomez 17
The high court heard arguments on Oct. 14 on the questions of whether a case becomes moot when a plaintiff receives an offer of complete relief for his claim, and if so, whether the answer is different when the plaintiff has asserted a class action claim but receives the offer of complete relief before any class is certified. Additionally, it will consider if the doctrine of derivative sovereign immunity is limited to claims arising out of property damage caused by public works projects. The case was filed by Jose Gomez who received an unsolicited recruiting text message from the U.S. Navy via a third-party marketing consultant. Gomez alleges the text violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. He rejected an offer to settle the case.
Commil USA v. Cisco Systems, Inc. 17
In a 6 – 2 decision on May 26, the high court held that a defendant’s belief regarding patent validity is not a defense to an induced infringement claim. Commil holds a patent teaching a method to implement short-range wireless networks. A jury found Cisco induced infringement and awarded damages. The Federal Circuit reversed, finding that although Commil’s patent is valid, Cisco’s “good faith belief” that it was invalid is a defense to induced infringement.
City of Los Angeles v. Patel 17
On June 22, the court held in a 5 – 4 decision that facial challenges under the Fourth Amendment are not categorically barred or especially disfavored, but a Los Angeles city ordinance requiring hotel operators to show a list of registered guests to the police on demand is facially unconstitutional because it fails to provide hotel operators with an opportunity for pre-compliance review. The court held that the guest-registry law violated the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches. Hotel operators were required to comply without any opportunity to have a judge intervene.
Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar 17
In a 5 – 4 decision in April, the high court held that Florida’s interest in preserving public confidence in the integrity of its judiciary is compelling and that the state may conclude that judges, charged with exercising strict neutrality and independence, cannot supplicate campaign donors without diminishing public confidence in judicial integrity. The Supreme Court of Florida held that Lanell Williams-Yulee violated bar rules for directly soliciting funds for her county court judicial campaign. Williams-Yulee appealed and claimed that The Florida Bar rule prohibiting a candidate from personal solicitation of funds violated the First Amendment protection of freedom of speech.
Of course the Supreme Court granted review in 64 cases in 2015, so plenty of notable cases did not make this list. Here are just a few:
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores—In an 8 – 1 decision, the high court resurrected an employment discrimination claim by Samantha Elauf, who said she was denied employment because her hijab did not fit Abercrombie’s “look.” The high court said Elauf was not required to tell Abercrombie that she wore the head scarf for religious reasons; it should have been obvious, and the company should have made an accommodation.
Young v. UPS—By a 6 – 3 vote, the high court reinstated an action by Peggy Young, who claimed UPS’s failure to offer her light duty during her pregnancy was discrimination, because UPS offered accommodations to non-pregnant workers.
Michigan v. Environmental Protection Agency—The 5 – 4 decision forced the Environmental Protection Agency to rewrite regulations limiting emissions at coal-fired plants to take the cost of compliance into consideration.
Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Ariz.—The high court unanimously found an Arizona town’s law unconstitutional because it placed different size limitations on temporary political, ideological and directional signs. Signs announcing church services were unfairly limited.
Glossip v. Gross—In a 5 – 4 decision, the high court held that a disputed sedative, midazolam, used to render condemned death row prisoners unconscious before a lethal injection does not violate the Eighth Amendment rule against cruel and unusual punishment.