First Monday

October 3, 2007 Supreme Court Update

Greetings, Court Fans!
First Monday has arrived, and the Court opened the October 2007 Term with arguments in two cases: Washington State Grange v. Washington State Republican Party, concerning whether Washington's "top two" open primary system violates the First Amendment rights of political parties, and Board of Education of the City of New York v. Tom F., concerning tuition reimbursement for special education children under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Yesterday, the Court heard two federal sentencing cases, Gall v. United States and Kimbrough v. United States, the latter concerning the so-called "100:1 crack/powder" ratio in sentencing for cocaine cases. And today, the Court heard another election law case, New York Board of Elections v. Torres, concerning a Second Circuit ruling mandating a primary rather than a party convention for candidates for stat trial judge positions, and United States v. Santos, which asks the pivotal question of whether the federal crime of using the "proceeds" from money laundering to promote or conceal unlawful activities applies to the gross receipts of the laundering or only the net profits. (How'd you like to be the money launderer making the argument that you should get off because you weren't using the profits, just the gross revenues?)
Apart from the arguments, the big news from the week was the Court's order list denying cert in about 1900 cases that had piled up over the summer (we'll spare you the list). The Court did, however, invite the Solicitor General to brief four petitions that have aroused the Court's curiosity. Two of these were ERISA cases (yes, two), while two were discrimination or civil rights-related. Here are the questions posed by the petitions:
AT&T Pension Benefit Plan v. Call (06-1398): This case concerns an ERISA defined benefit pension plan's "anti-cutback" provision protecting beneficiaries against certain reductions in benefits. The questions presented are: (1) whether, under the abuse-of-discretion standard established in Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Bruch and corollary interpretive principles adopted by the Second, Fifth, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits but rejected by the Seventh Circuit in this case, the Court of Appeals was required to defer to the plan administrator's interpretation of the plan; and (2) whether the Court of Appeals erred in awarding prejudgment interest and, in conflict with decisions of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Ninth Circuits, in calculating that interest at the prime rate.
Geddes v. United Staffing Alliance Employee Medical Plan (06-1458): Did the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit correctly rule that the decision to deny the Geddeses' claim for medical benefits was entitled to ERISA abuse of discretion review where it also ruled that the entity that made that decision was not a fiduciary, and is not even subject to suit under ERISA?
Meacham v. Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory (06-1505): (1) Whether an employee alleging disparate impact under the ADEA bears the burden of persuasion on the "reasonable factors other than age" defense, as held by the Second Circuit in this case in conflict with the decisions of other circuits and a regulation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; and (2) Whether respondents' practice of conferring broad discretionary authority upon individual managers to decide which employees to lay off during a reduction in force constituted a "reasonable factor other than age" as a matter of law.
Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee (06-1595): Does the anti-retaliation provision of section 704(a) of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protect a worker from being dismissed because she cooperated with her employer's internal investigation of sexual harassment?
That's all for now. Until next time, thanks for reading!

Ken & Kim

From the Appellate Practice Group at Wiggin and Dana
For more information, contact Kim Rinehart, Ken Heath, Aaron Bayer, or Jeff Babbin at 203-498-4400