Order List

January 10, 2005 Supreme Court Update

Greetings, Court fans!

After the long winter recess, the Court has reopened for business, with nine cert grants on Friday and one summary disposition today. Given the numbers, and the likelihood that we'll see some opinions tomorrow, we'll keep our synopses short.

The most newsworthy of the grants is Arthur Andersen LLP v. United States, No. 04-368. The Court will consider whether Andersen's conviction for witness tampering must be reversed because of an allegedly improper jury instruction. Those Wiggin and Dana attorneys who worked on the Andersen trial will be waiting not so patiently for the result. If you're interested in learning about the case, check out this article from the Houston Chronicle: http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/topstory/2982950.

Here are the other cert grants:

Merck KGaA v. Integra Lifesciences I Ltd., No. 03-1237: The Court will determine whether the use of patented drugs in general biomedical research that may lead to drugs submitted for FDA approval falls under the drug-research safe harbor in the 1984 Drug Price Competition and Patent term Restoration Act. The Federal Circuit said no, holding that the safe harbor applies only to the use of patented inventions solely for purposes related to the development and submission of information to the FDA.

Graham County, N.C., Soil & Water Conservation District v. United States ex rel Wilson, No. 04-169, presents the issue of whether the six year statute of limitations period provided by the False Claims Act applies to claims of constructive discharge under the statute or whether such claims are governed by the most closely analogous state limitations period.

Grable & Sons Metal Products v. Darue Engineering, No. 04-603: (1) When the IRS violates 26 U.S.C. § 6335(a) by ignoring a prerequisite provision requiring personal service of notice of a seizure before obtaining service by certified mail, can a defendant in a state quite title action remove the action by claiming that the necessary interpretation of 26 U.S.C. § 6335(a) is a substantial federal question and creates original jurisdiction in the district court? (2) Must the IRS strictly comply with the personal service provisions of 26 U.S.C. § 6335(a), or is the IRS allowed to substantially comply, especially when the IRS admittedly fails even to attempt to comply with personal service before obtaining service by certified mail?

Johnson v. California, No. 04-6964: This case, involving a California defendant's Batson challenge to his criminal conviction, is on a return trip to the Court. Last term, the Court agreed to hear the case but then concluded that it lacked jurisdiction because the defendant had not obtained a final judgment in state court. Now he has, so the case is back.

Halbert v. Michigan, No. 03-10198: This case concerns the constitutionality of a Michigan procedure that denies a free lawyer to defendants who plead guilty but want to seek a discretionary appeal. Last month the Court declined to address that very issue in Kowalski v. Tesmer, No. 03-407, because the attorneys who brought that case lacked standing to assert the rights of prospective indigent clients (see our December 14 update). This new case avoids that problem, because Halbert himself is a defendant who pleaded no contest but then sought to withdraw his plea and to appeal.

Mitchell v. Stumpf, No. 04-637: (1) Is a representation on the record from defendant's counsel and/or the defendant, that defense counsel has explained the elements of the charge to the defendant, sufficient to show the voluntariness of a guilty plea under Henderson v. Morgan, 426 U.S. 637 (1976)? (2) Does the Due Process Clause require that a defendant's guilty plea be vacated when the State subsequently prosecutes another person in connection with the crime and presents evidence at the second defendant's trial that is allegedly inconsistent with the first defendant's guilt?

Bell v. Thompson, No. 04-514: Did the Sixth Circuit abuse its discretion by withdrawing its opinion affirming the denial of habeas corpus relief six months after it should have issued its mandate under the Federal Rules, without notice to the parties or any finding that the court's action was necessary to prevent a miscarriage of justice, where state court proceedings to enforce the inmate's death sentence had progressed in reliance on the finality of the judgment in the federal habeas proceedings?

Mayle v. Felix, No. 04-563: When a habeas petitioner challenging a state judgment amends his petition to include a new claim, does the amendment relate back to the date of filing of his petition, and thus avoid the one-year statute of limitations, so long as the new claim stems from the prisoner's trial, conviction, or sentence?

That's it for Friday's grants. In addition, the Court issued a summary disposition today in Ozmint v. Nance, No. 04-273, in which the South Carolina Supreme Court held that a capital defendant was denied effective assistance of counsel where his lead attorney was an alcoholic, and where the attorney, among other things, refused to plead for the defendant's life, failed to offer "abundant" mitigating evidence, and told the jury that none of the defendant's lawyers wanted to represent him. The court held that under United States v. Cronic, 466 U.S. 648 91985), the defendant was not required to make the normal showing of prejudice, and the state challenged that ruling. The Supreme Court vacated the ruling and sent it back to South Carolina for reconsideration in light of Florida v. Nixon, No. 03-931, in which it held that a defense attorney's decision to concede guilt without his client's consent is not per se ineffective assistance of counsel (once again, see our December 14 update).

Finally, today the Court invited the SG to weigh in on the cert petition in Nielsen v. Private Fuel Storage, No. 04-575, which presents the following question: May a federal court, consistent with ripeness and facial preemption standards, sweepingly invalidate, as preempted on their face by the Atomic Energy Act, a variety of state laws that have not been and may never be applied and that are capable of being validly applied to address nonradiological safety aspects of a proposed storage facility for spent nuclear fuel?

That's all for now, although we expect some opinions tomorrow. Thanks for reading!

Kim & Ken

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