The Supreme Court added five new cases to its merits docket for next term, on topics ranging from international child-custody law to the statute of limitations in cases brought under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.
In Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Christian, the justices will review a case filed by landowners in Montana, who sued Atlantic Richfield in state court to recover pollution cleanup costs that were beyond the remediation ordered by the Environmental Protection Agency. Atlantic Richfield countered that the claims were pre-empted by federal law, but the Montana Supreme Court rejected that argument. Atlantic Richfield appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which asked the federal government to weigh in. The federal government agreed with Atlantic Richfield that the Montana Supreme Court’s decision was wrong, but it nonetheless urged the justices to deny review, which they argued would be “premature.” Despite this recommendation, the justices granted review today.
In Monasky v. Taglieri, the justices will once again take up the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which requires that a child who is wrongfully taken from the country of her “habitual residence” must be returned to that country. The idea behind the requirement is that custody issues should be resolved in the country where the child has her habitual residence, and that a parent cannot gain an advantage by abducting the child to another country.
The case arose when Michelle Monasky, a U.S. citizen married to Domenico Taglieri, an Italian citizen, returned to the United States from Italy when the couple’s child was eight weeks old. Monasky claims that Taglieri repeatedly assaulted her, both before and during her pregnancy. Taglieri went to federal court in the United States, seeking to have the baby returned to Italy; a federal district court granted his petition, finding that Italy was the baby’s habitual residence. The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit upheld that ruling.
Monasky asked the Supreme Court to take up two questions in her case, arguing that the courts of appeals are divided on both. First, she asked the justices to weigh in on the correct standard of review for the district court’s ruling on the baby’s habitual residence: Should the court of appeals have decided the issue as if it were hearing the case for the first time, regardless of what the district court concluded – a standard known as “de novo”? Should it instead have used a deferential version of de novo review? Or should it have been even more deferential and overturned the district court’s decision only if the decision was clearly wrong?
Monasky also asked the justices to weigh in on whether, when an infant is too young to acclimate to her surroundings, the child’s “habitual residence” must be established by an agreement between her parents.
The court will hear the case of James McKinney, who was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder for the 1991 shooting deaths of Christene Mertens and Jim McClain during robberies of the victims’ homes. The justices will consider two questions in McKinney’s case: whether, when a court is correcting a defendant’s sentence or resentencing him, it should apply current law (rather than the law that was in effect when his conviction became final) to determine whether a death sentence is warranted; and (2) whether the Arizona Supreme Court should have sent the case back to the trial court for resentencing, rather than sending it to the appeals court for review.
The justices also agreed to review Intel Corp. Investment Policy Committee v. Sulyma, a case involving the statute of limitations for the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Under ERISA, a lawsuit must be filed no more than three years after the “earliest date on which the plaintiff had actual knowledge of” the violation. The issue in this case is whether a plaintiff can bring a lawsuit when the information relating to the violation was disclosed to him more than three years before he filed his complaint, even if he may not have read the information then.
The question arose when Christopher Sulyma, a former Intel engineer, sued the company’s retirement plans, claiming that plan administrators had violated their fiduciary duties by allocating the plans’ funds to alternative investments, like hedge funds. The plans countered that the lawsuit was barred by the statute of limitations, because Sulyma had received emails pointing him to documents explaining the alternative investments more than three years before he filed his suit. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit rejected the plans’ argument, reasoning that the plans couldn’t rely on the statute of limitations unless they could show that Sulyma had actually read the information.
The justices announced that they will also review Comcast v. National Association of African American-Owned Media. The case arose when Entertainment Studios Network – which is owned by Byron Allen, who is African-American – sued Comcast, claiming that Comcast’s decision not to carry channels that ESN produced violated 42 U.S.C. § 1981, which bars racial discrimination in contracts. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit allowed ESN’s lawsuit, which was seeking billions of dollars in damages, to go forward: It rejected Comcast’s contention that ESN would need to show that the companies would not have turned down ESN were it not for Allen’s race. Instead, the 9th Circuit ruled, ESN merely needed to show that race was one “motivating factor” in the company’s decision.
The justices declined to weigh in on the detention of a Yemeni national who has been held at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for the past 17 years. Moath Hamza Ahmed al-Alwi’s lawyers say that he was in Afghanistan when the United States began its bombing campaign there after the September 11 attacks, but quickly fled to Pakistan, where bounty-hunters turned him over to the United States. He was sent to Guantanamo Bay in 2002 and has remained there ever since, without being charged or sentenced. In 2001, Congress enacted the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which has been interpreted as giving the government the authority to detain prisoners as part of the fight against terrorism. Al-Alwi asked the justices to rule, in effect, that the war on terror has gone on so long, and is so different from traditional conflicts, that the Supreme Court should step in and limit the executive branch’s authority to hold prisoners indefinitely.
Justice Stephen Breyer filed a separate opinion regarding the court’s decision to deny review. Breyer noted that, in the ruling below, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed with the government that the government could keep al-Alwi in detention as long as “armed hostilities” between the United States, on the one hand, and the Taliban and al-Qaeda, on the other, continue. The government, Breyer continued, “represents that such hostilities are ongoing, but does not state that any end is in sight. As a consequence, al-Alwi faces the real prospect that he will spend the rest of his life in detention based on his status as an enemy combatant a generation ago, even though today’s conflict may differ substantially from the one Congress anticipated when it passed the AUMF.” Breyer indicated that he would, “in an appropriate case,” take up the question “whether, in light of the duration and other aspects of the relevant conflict, Congress has authorized and the Constitution permits continued detention.”
The five cases granted this morning will likely be argued next fall. The justices once again did not act on Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries, a petition for review filed by an Oregon couple who, citing their religious beliefs, declined to make a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The justices have considered the Kleins’ petition at nine consecutive conferences and are likely to do so again at their next conference, on Thursday, June 13. We expect orders from the June 13 conference on Monday, June 17, at 9:30 a.m.
This post was also published on SCOTUSblog.