Supreme Court Update: Warger v. Shauers (13-517), Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk (13-433) and Order List

December 13, 2014 Supreme Court Update

Greetings, Court fans!

We're back with summaries of the first signed decisions of the term, Warger v. Shauers (13-517) on whether Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) precludes juror testimony during a proceeding in which a party seeks to secure a new trial on the ground that another juror lied during voir dire (yep), and Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk (13-433), on whether warehouse workers who package products for Amazon.com are entitled to compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act for the time they spend going through security screening at the end of each workday (nope). We'll also catch up on recent cert grants.

Let's start with Warger v. Shauers (13-517), where the Court held that a plaintiff who lost a personal-injury case arising out of an automobile collision could not seek a new trial through the use of an affidavit sworn by one juror suggesting that the jury foreperson had lied during voir dire. According to the affidavit, during deliberations the jury's foreperson had confided that her own daughter had been at fault for a similar collision in which a man had died, and that it would have "ruined [her daughter's] life" had she been sued. This information just might have been relevant to the plaintiff, Warger, during jury selection, but at that time the foreperson stated that she would be fair and impartial and would not have trouble awarding damages if warranted.

Armed with the affidavit, Warger moved for a new trial under McDonough Power Equipment, Inc. v. Greenwood (1984), which held that a party may obtain a new trial if he demonstrates that a juror failed to answer honestly a material question during voir dire and that the truthful answer would have provided a basis for a challenge for cause. Warger seemed to have a pretty strong basis for a new trial, but the District Judge refused to grant it, holding that the juror affidavit (the only evidence Warger presented) was inadmissible under FRE 606(b), which precludes, in any "inquiry into the validity of a verdict," evidence "about any statement made or incident that occurred during the jury's deliberations." The Eighth Circuit affirmed.

And so did the Supreme Court, in a 9-0 decision authored by Justice Sotomayor, which should satisfy the proponents of all the major canons of statutory construction. For the textualists, Justice Sotomayor wrote that, by holding that Rule 606(b) applies to the juror testimony at issue in this case, "we simply accord Rule 606(b)'s terms their plain meaning." "A postverdict motion for a new trial on the ground of voir dire dishonesty plainly entails ‘an inquiry into the validity of [the] verdict': If a juror was dishonest during voir dire and an honest response would have provided a valid basis to challenge that juror for cause, the verdict must be invalidated." For those concerned with historical context, Justice Sotomayor underscored that "the text of Rule 606(b) is consistent with the underlying common-law rule on which it was based" and proceeded to discuss the evolution of the rule against admitting juror testimony from its origins in a 1785 decision of the King's Bench through Congress's enactment of Rule 606(b) in 1975. And, "[f]or those who consider legislative history relevant," Justice Sotomayor demonstrated that the Court's understanding of Rule 606(b) was consistent with Congress's intent, as demonstrated by its rejection of an alternate rule that would have excluded juror testimony only where it related to jurors' subjective intentions and thought processes in reaching a verdict. The Court rejected as hair-splitting Warger's argument that his postverdict motion was merely an inquiry into the voir dire process and not into the "validity of the verdict" and also concluded that the testimony he wished to submit did not fall into Rule 606(b)'s exception for "extraneous prejudicial information," inasmuch as the life experience a juror brings to a case—even if it causes bias—is internal, not extraneous. Nevertheless, the Court (in a footnote) left open the door for a future argument that Rule 606(b) must be interpreted differently in "cases of juror bias so extreme that, almost by definition, the jury trial right has been abridged." This argument may be available, for example, where juror testimony would show that a juror lied about racial bias to get on a jury. But in this case, where the jury foreperson had at most an unusual bias toward those responsible for life-altering car accidents, Warger is out of luck.

The Court was also unanimous in Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk (13-433), where Justice Thomas took the pen for the majority. Plaintiffs, who were warehouse workers that packaged and shipped Amazon.com products, filed a collective active under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 ("FLSA") arguing that they should have been compensated for the approximately 25 minutes they spent each night waiting for and undergoing a security screening designed to prevent employee theft. The District Court denied their claim, but the Ninth Circuit reversed. Plaintiffs' victory was short-lived though, as the Court reversed right back.

FLSA established a minimum wage and required that overtime be paid for work in excess of 40 hours per workweek. As originally passed, "work" and "workweek" were not defined, leading to broad court interpretations, which threatened massive liability for employers based on time (walking to job sites, etc.) that employees had never understood to be compensable. Calling the situation an "emergency," Congress swiftly passed the Portal-to-Portal Act, which clarified that travel to a job site and "activities which are preliminary to or postlimi­nary" to an employee's "principal activities" are not included in those definitions. Here, the Court reasoned, the security check – though required – had nothing to do with the principle activities of these employees. They were hired to pack and ship boxes, not to go through security checks. As a result, Defendant's security protocol, though required, was a noncompensable postliminary activity. Plaintiffs' complaints should be taken up at the "bargaining table," and not through the courts.

Justice Sotoymayor, joined by Kagan, concurred. Though they joined the Court's opinion in full, they wrote to point out that, under FLSA, "closely related activities which are indispensable to a principal activity's performance" are compensable. Thus, a butcher's work sharpening knives or a battery worker's time spent donning and doffing protective gear are compensable because while those activities may be done prior to the start of the principal work (cutting the meat; making the batteries), that work could not be done effectively or safely without them. Here, however, because the security screening had no bearing on the employees' performance of their principal job duties, it was noncompensable under FLSA.

The Court has also been busy adding cases to its docket:

Commil USA v. Cisco Systems, Inc. (13-896), which asks "Whether the Federal Circuit erred in holding that a defendant's belief that a patent is invalid is a defense to induced infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 271(b)?"

Brumfield v. Cain (13-1433), which presents two questions: "(1) Whether a state court that considers the evidence presented at a petitioner's penalty phase proceeding as determinative of the petitioner's claim of mental retardation under Atkins v. Virginia (2002), has based its decision on an unreasonable determination of facts under 22 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2); and (2) Whether a state court that denies funding to an indigent petitioner who has no other means of obtaining evidence of his mental retardation has denied petitioner his ‘opportunity to be heard,' contrary to Atkins and Ford v. Wainright (1986), and his constitutional right to be provided with the ‘basic tools' for an adequate defense, contrary to Ake v. Oklahoma (1985)."

Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans (14-144) also raises two issues: "(1) Do the messages and symbols on state-issued specialty license plates qualify as government speech immune from any requirement of viewpoint neutrality?; and (2) Has Texas engaged in ‘viewpoint discrimination' by rejecting the license-plate design proposed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, when Texas has not issued any license plate that portrays the confederacy or the confederate battle flag in a negative or critical light?"

Michigan v. EPA (14-46), Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA (14-47), and National Mining Association v. EPA 14-49), which will be consolidated for argument and limited to the question "Whether the Environmental Protection Agency unreasonably refused to consider costs in determining whether it is appropriate to regulate hazardous air pollutants emitted by electric utilities."

Kimble v. Marvel Enterprises, Inc. (13-720), which asks: "Whether this Court should overrule Brulotte v. Thys Co., 379 U.S. 29 (1964) [which held that licensing fees need not be paid after expiration of a patent notwithstanding that the parties' agreement provided otherwise]."

Bullard v. Hyde Park Savings Bank (14-116), which will answer this key question for all the bankruptcy practitioners out there: "Whether an order denying confirmation of a bankruptcy plan is appealable."

Harris v. Viegelahn (14-400), another case for the bankruptcy lawyers, asks: "Whether, when a debtor in good faith converts a bankruptcy case to Chapter 7 after confirmation of a Chapter 13 plan, undistributed funds held by the Chapter 13 trustee are refunded to the debtor (as the Third Circuit held in In re Michael, 699 F.3d 305 (2012)) or distributed to creditors (as the Fifth Circuit held below)."

Toca v. Louisiana (14-6381), which presents two questions for review: "(1) Does the rule announced in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U. S. __ (2012), apply retroactively to this case? (2) Is a federal question raised by a claim that a state collateral review court erroneously failed to find a Teague exception?"

And finally, San Francisco v. Sheehan (13-1412) asks: (1) Whether Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires law enforcement officers to provide accommodations to an armed, violent, and mentally ill suspect in the course of bringing the suspect into custody; and (2) Whether it was clearly established that even where an exception to the warrant requirement applied, an entry into a residence could be unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment by reason of the anticipated resistance of an armed and violent suspect within."

With opinions starting to trickle out for the cases argued in October, you should expect to hear more from us soon. Until next time,

Kim & Tadhg