Supreme Court Update: Carroll v. Carman (14-212), Johnson v. City of Shelby (13-1318) and Order List

November 10, 2014 Supreme Court Update

Greetings, Court fans!

We're back with decisions two and three of OT14 (did you already forget about Lopez v. Smith?) as well as last week's news of cert petitions granted and likely to be granted.

Police officers had a good day today, prevailing both as plaintiffs and defendants in two cases involving Section 1983. In Carroll v. Carman (14-212) the Court confronted a question of utmost importance to vacuum salesmen, Trick-or-Treaters, and cops without a warrant: Which door should I knock on? In this case, officers searching for a car thief were tipped off that he might be hiding; in the home of Andrew and Karen Carman. When they arrived at the house, which was on a corner lot, they parked their cruisers in a gravel lot at "the far rear of the property," rather than out front, where there were no spots. Rather than walk around to the front of the house, the officers knocked on a sliding-glass door that opened onto a deck in the back, thinking it "looked like a customary entryway." Though the knock-and-talk didn't result in any arrest or seizure, the Carman's sued the police officers under Section 1983, alleging unlawful entry in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The district court instructed the jury that the officers could not be liable if the jury found that the officers "restricted their movements to walkways, driveways, porches and places where visitors could be expected to go." The jury returned a verdict for the cops, but the Third Circuit reversed, holding that the officers violated the Fourth Amendment as a matter of law because the knock-and-talk exception requires that officers begin their encounter at the front door. The Third Circuit further held that, because this rule was clearly established law, the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity. Describing the lower court's reasoning as "perplexing," the Supreme Court summarily reversed. In its brief per curiam order, the Court cited a number of other circuit court decisions holding that police officers may knock on other doors without violating the Fourth Amendment, and concluded that in light of these cases (and the lack of any controlling authority to the contrary), there is no clearly established law forbidding police officers from knocking at secondary doors. Apparently content to leave the law unestablished, the Court held simply that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity, whether or not their actions violated the Fourth Amendment.

The cops were on the other side of § 1983 in Johnson v. City of Shelby (13-1318), which arose from a lawsuit brought by several police officers against the City of Shelby alleging wrongful discharge in violation of their due process rights. The district court dismissed the complaint because the officers had not specifically cited § 1983 in their complaint. The Fifth Circuit affirmed, and the Court summarily reversed. As the Court clarified, federal pleading rules do not require a "punctiliously stated ‘theory of the pleadings.'" While the Court's decisions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal (2009) require that facts be stated with sufficient particularity to render the allegations of the complaint plausible, there is no requirement that the legal theories supporting the claims be set forth in the complaint with particularity. Accordingly, because the police officers' complaint was not factually deficient, it was error to dismiss it merely for failing to invoke Section 1983 by name.

Moving on now to cert grants. Though the Court did not grant any petitions in today's order list (aside from the GVRs in the two cases discussed above), it did grant a biggie on Friday: King v. Burwell (14-114), which asks "[w]hether the [IRS] may permissibly promulgate regulations to extend tax-credit subsidies to coverage purchased through Exchanges established by the federal government under section 1321 of the ACA." Let's unpack this language a bit. Section 1401 of the Affordable Care Act provides subsidies in the form of tax credits for the purchase of insurance in "exchanges established by the State under Section 1311." Though Section 1311 requires states to set up insurance exchanges, the majority have not, and in these states the federal government has stepped in to set up exchanges itself under Section 1321. Recognizing that the tax-credit subsidies are critical to the functioning of the ACA, the IRS has issued regulations extending them to individuals enrolled in the federal exchanges, notwithstanding that these exchanges are not, strictly speaking, "exchanges established by the State under Section 1311." Back in July, a divided panel of the D.C. Circuit held, in Halbig v. Burwell, that the IRS regulations conflict with the plain language of Section 1401. On the same day, the Fourth Circuit came to the opposite conclusion in King v. Burwell. There isn't technically a circuit split, because the D.C. Circuit has voted to rehear Halbig en banc. Nevertheless, given the importance of the issue, the Court has decided to grant cert in King even before the en banc D.C. Circuit revisits Halbig. Thus, the stage is set for yet another end-of-term Obamacare decision, for the third year in a row.

And yet, it's quite possible that King v. Burwell won't be the term's biggest blockbuster, given the decision by the Sixth Circuit last Thursday upholding gay-marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. As we reported earlier in the term, the Supreme Court denied certiorari in seven cases where the appellate courts had struck down gay-marriage bans. With the Sixth Circuit's contrary conclusion, we now have the circuit split we've been waiting for and the plaintiffs are scrambling to have cert granted in time for a decision in June.

Before we go, we'd be remiss if we did not report the other cert grant from Friday, Chen v. City of Baltimore (13-10400), which asks "Whether, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(m), a district court has discretion to extend the time for service of process absent a showing of good cause, as the Second, Third, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Circuits have held, or whether the district court lacks such discretion, as the Fourth Circuit has held."

With Obamacare back on the docket, likely to be joined by gay marriage and . . . service of process, OT14 has certainly gotten much more interesting in the last week.

Until next time,

Kim & Tadhg