18 May 2015

Law in Plain English: Comptroller v. Wynne

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogComptroller v. Wynne

Argument: Nov 12 2014 (Aud.)

Background: The Wynnes are part owners of Maxim, a company that does a national business providing health care services. For tax purposes, the business is treated as an S corporation. As a result Maxim's income was "passed through" to its owners for federal income tax purposes, and the Wynnes reported a portion of the corporation's income on their 2006 individual federal income tax return. Because Maryland accords similar pass-through treatment to the income of S corporations, the Wynnes also reported pass-through income of Maxim on their 2006 Maryland tax return. A substantial portion of the pass-through income had been generated in other states and was taxed by those states for the 2006 tax year. The Comptroller of Maryland made a change in the computation of the local tax owed by the Wynnes and revised the credit for taxes paid to other states on the Wynnes' state tax form. According to the Comptroller, Maryland law allowed the Wynnes to receive a tax credit against their Maryland state taxes for income taxes paid to other states, but it did not allow the Wynnes to claim a credit against their Maryland county taxes. The net result was a deficiency in the Maryland taxes paid by the Wynnes, and the Comptroller issued an assessment. After several appeals, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that the failure of the Maryland income tax law to allow a credit against the county tax for a Maryland resident taxpayer with respect to pass-through income of an S corporation that arises from activities in another state and that is taxed in that state violates the dormant Commerce Clause of the federal Constitution.

Issue: The question before the Court is whether the United States Constitution prohibits a state from taxing all the income of its residents -- wherever earned -- by mandating a credit for taxes paid on income earned in other states.

Holding:  In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Maryland’s personal income tax scheme violates the dormant Commerce Clause.

12 May 2015

Law in Plain English: Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogWilliams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar

Argument: Jan 20 2015 (Aud.)

Background: In September 2009, Lanell Williams-Yulee became a candidate for County Court Judge, Group 10, Hillsborough County, Florida. On September 4, 2009, Williams-Yulee signed a campaign fundraising letter, in which she personally solicited campaign contributions. She admitted to having reviewed and approved the letter. A referee determined that Williams-Yulee violated Canon 7C(1) of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, which provides in pertinent part: “A candidate...for a judicial office that is filled by public election between competing candidates shall not personally solicit campaign funds....” Williams-Yulee appealed, alleging that Canon 7C(1) violated the First Amendment. The Florida Supreme Court upheld the finding, ruling that Canon 7C(1) served compelling State interests in protecting the integrity of the judiciary and maintaining the public’s confidence in an impartial judiciary; and that it was narrowly tailored to effectuate those interests.

Issue: The question before the Court is whether a rule of judicial conduct that prohibits candidates for judicial office from personally soliciting campaign funds violates the First Amendment.

Holding: In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Florida Bar's rule was narrowly tailored to serve the State’s compelling interest in preserving public confidence in the integrity of its judiciary. As a result, the Rule did not violate the First Amendment.

28 April 2015

Deconstructing a misleading tweet, one photo at a time

I found this tweet today:

Over 6,000 RTs! Except there's one problem. The two bottom pictures, which purport to show "white people in Baltimore looting"? The first was published on sfgate.com last November:


And the second was taken from reddit in January (and was also published on sfgate.com). Both pictures are apparently from an unrelated event in Oakland.



When confronted by this, the tweeter resorted to old faithful: "the narrative:" Where have we heard this before?

25 April 2015

On Bruce Jenner and Bravery

I suppose I'm in the minority by saying that I don't believe that Bruce Jenner did anything particularly brave. Bruce Jenner has made millions of dollars from reality TV shows and has a strong support structure to back him up. He made his announcement in a scripted television interview. In my opinion, there is very little chance that Bruce Jenner will suffer any real negative consequences from his announcement.

What is brave to me, on the other hand, are the many people who go forward without a strong support structure. Without the backing of millions of dollars in appearance fees. Without the family support structure. For these folks, there is a very real possibility that their lives will become worse before they get better. Yet, they still press forward. That's bravery to me.

24 April 2015

Law in Plain English: United States v. Wong

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogUnited States v. Wong

Argument: Dec 10 2014 (Aud.)

Background: Hong Kong citizen Kwai Fun Wong, a leader of the Wu Wei Tien Tao religious group, was detained and deported for unlawful entry into the United States. On May 18, 2001, Wong filed a negligence claim with the (then) Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS),  alleging that she had been mistreated by that agency while she was detained. After the INS denied her claim on December 3, 2001, Wong filed a claim on August 13, 2002, under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), alleging the same conduct. The FTCA has a statute of limitations that “[a] tort claim against the United States shall be forever barred...unless action is begun within six months after the...final denial of the claim by the agency to which it was presented.” The district court dismissed Wong's FTCA claim because it was not filed within six months. An en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit reversed, finding that the statute of limitations was subject to equitable tolling. Wong's claim was filed late "due solely to the delay inherent in the Magistrate Judge system," and not through any fault of Wong's. As a result, Wong's claim could proceed.

Issue: The question before the Court is whether the six-month time bar for filing suit in federal court under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b), is subject to equitable tolling.

Holding: In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 2401(b)’s time limits are subject to equitable tolling. Section 2401(b)’s time limits are subject to equitable tolling because the Court previously adopted a “rebuttable presumption” that such time bars maybe equitably tolled. As a result, the Court concluded, Congress thus must do something special to tag a statute of limitations as jurisdictional and so prohibit a court from tolling it. Congress did no such thing in enacting §2401(b).

21 April 2015

Law in Plain English: Rodriguez v. United States

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogRodriguez v. United States

Argument: Jan 21 2015 (Aud.)

Background: A Nebraska K-9 police officer stopped Dennys Rodriguez's vehicle for veering onto the shoulder of the highway. The officer gathered Rodriguez’s license, registration, and proof of insurance, and returned to his vehicle to complete a records check. He returned to the vehicle and issued a written warning. The officer then asked for permission to walk his dog around Rodriguez’s vehicle. When Rodriguez refused consent, the officer instructed him to exit the vehicle. Rodriguez then exited the vehicle and stood in front of the patrol car while they waited for a second officer to arrive. A few minutes later, a deputy sheriff arrived, and a minute later, Struble walked the dog around the outside of Rodriguez’s car. The dog alerted to the presence of drugs halfway through the second pass, approximately twenty or thirty seconds later. All told, seven or eight minutes had passed from the time the officer had issued the written warning until the dog indicated the presence of drugs. A search of the vehicle revealed a large bag of methamphetamine. Rodriguez was charged with possessing with intent to distribute methamphetamine. The district court denied Rodriguez’s motion to suppress the evidence, holding that the delay caused by the dog sniff did not violate Rodriguez’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures. The Eighth Circuit affirmed, finding that the seven- or eight-minute delay was reasonable because the officer waited for a second officer to arrive to ensure his safety, and that the the delay was a de minimis intrusion on Rodriguez's personal liberty.

Issue: The question before the Court is whether an officer may extend an already completed traffic stop for a canine sniff without reasonable suspicion or other lawful justification.

Holding: In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that absent reasonable suspicion, police extension of a traffic stop in order to conduct a dog sniff violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures.

Law in Plain English: Oneok Inc. v. Learjet, Inc.

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogOneok Inc. v. Learjet, Inc.

Argument: TBD (Aud.)

Background: Learjet and other retail buyers of natural gas sued Oneok and other natural gas traders for state and federal anti-trust claims, alleging that they manipulated the price of natural gas by reporting false information to price indices published by trade publications. The district court ruled for the defendants, finding that the state law anti-trust claims were pre-empted by the Natural Gas Act, 15 U.S.C. § 717 et seq. (NGA). The Ninth Circuit reversed, finding that Congress had carefully divided up the regulatory power over the natural gas industry. It did not envisage federal regulation of the entire natural gas field to the limit of constitutional power. Rather, it contemplated the exercise of federal power only as specified in the NGA. Congress has previously limited the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and in this case the panel determined that the state law anti-trust claims arose out of transactions outside of FERC's jurisdiction. As a result, the NGA did not preclude these claims.

Issue: The question before the Court is whether the Natural Gas Act, which occupies the field as to matters within its scope, preempts state-law claims challenging industry practices that directly affect the wholesale natural gas market when those claims are asserted by litigants who purchased gas in retail transactions.

Holding: In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Respondents’ state-law antitrust claims are not within the field of matters pre-empted by the Natural Gas Act.

01 April 2015

Law in Plain English: Armstrong v. Exceptional Child Center, Inc.

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogArmstrong v. Exceptional Child Center, Inc.

Argument: Jan 20 2015 (Aud.)

Background: Section 30(A) of the Medicaid Act requires that state Medicaid plans contain procedures to ensure that reimbursement rates for healthcare providers “are consistent with efficiency, economy, and quality of care and are sufficient to enlist enough providers” to meet the need for care and services in the geographic area. The Ninth Circuit has interpreted Section 30(A) to require that reimbursement rates bear a reasonable relationship to provider costs. Where rates fail to “substantially reimburse providers their costs,” there must be some justification other than “purely budgetary reasons.”  Richard Armstrong, the Director of Idaho's Department of Health and Welfare, conducted yearly cost studies between 2006 and 2009, developed a new rate setting methodology, and recommended substantial increases in reimbursement rates for supported living services based on the cost study results; but did not implement the proposed rate changes because the Idaho legislature did not appropriate the necessary funds. The district court ruled in favor of the Medicaid providers, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed.

Issue: The question before the Court is whether the Supremacy Clause gives Medicaid providers a private right of action to enforce 42 U.S.C. § 1396a(a)(30)(A) against a state where Congress chose not to create enforceable rights under that statute.

Holding: In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Supremacy Clause does not confer a private right of action, and that Medicaid providers cannot sue for an injunction requiring compliance with § 30(A). The Court reasoned that the Supremacy Clause instructs courts to give federal law priority when state and federal law clash, but that it is not the source of any federal rights.