The Supreme Court issued orders on Tuesday morning from the justices’ private conference last week. The list of orders was largely uneventful, as the court did not add any new cases to its merits docket for the term. The justices also did not act on several high-profile cases that they considered at Friday’s conference, instead relisting them for consideration again at their upcoming conference on Oct. 15.
The justices called for the views of the U.S. solicitor general in Epic Systems Corporation v. Tata Consultancy Services Ltd., in which Epic has asked the justices to weigh in on whether a state law that places a cap on punitive damages can provide the kind of fair notice that the Supreme Court has said the Constitution’s due process clause requires, so that a punitive damages award that complies with the law passes constitutional muster. Epic, which creates and licenses software for electronic medical records, sued in 2014 alleging the theft of trade secrets by Tata, a company hired by Epic’s largest client to implement Epic’s software.
At trial, a jury awarded Epic (as relevant here) $140 million in compensatory damages and $700 million in punitive damages. But relying on a Wisconsin law that limits punitive damages to either $200,000 or twice the compensatory damages award, the trial judge reduced the punitive damages award to $420 million.
On appeal, Tata challenged the amount of both awards. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit upheld the compensatory award, and it agreed that Epic was entitled to punitive damages. But it ruled that the due process clause barred a punitive damages award that was greater than the amount of the compensatory damages award.
Epic went to the Supreme Court in April, asking the justices to weigh in. But the justices on Tuesday pitched the issue to the federal government, which will file a brief (almost certainly sometime next year) recommending that certiorari be either granted or denied.
The justices declined on Tuesday to take up a major labor case. Boardman v. Inslee was a challenge to a Washington state law that shields the personal information of in-home care providers from public disclosure but allows the state to provide the information to the union that represents the providers. In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in Harris v. Quinn that home health care workers who do not join a union cannot be required to pay a fee to cover the costs of collective bargaining on their behalf. After the court’s decision in Harris, the challengers in this case – home health care workers and a non-profit group – began a campaign to notify other workers of the ruling and to try to unseat one of the unions representing the workers. But after the law barring disclosure of the information was passed (as a ballot initiative), the challengers’ access to the information was stymied.
The challengers went to court, where they argued that the law violates the First Amendment because (among other things) it denies them access to information because of their views on collective bargaining. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit rejected that argument. It reasoned that the law doesn’t address any speaker’s viewpoint, and that the current union gets access to information based on its status as the providers’ exclusive bargaining agent, rather than its views. The challengers came to the Supreme Court in March, asking the justices to weigh in, but the justices turned them down on Tuesday.
The justices also declined review in Ortiz-Diaz v. United States, a challenge to Congress’ authority to criminalize cockfighting in Puerto Rico. In 2019, the plaintiffs in the case, who are involved in cockfighting in various ways ranging from breeding birds to creating “cockfighting-inspired art,” filed lawsuits in federal court in Puerto Rico to challenge the ban. They argued that the ban violated their First Amendment and due process rights, as well as the commerce clause and the territory clause, which gives Congress the power to manage all U.S. territories. The district court rejected that argument, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit upheld that ruling. The challengers came to the Supreme Court in June, but the justices denied their petition for review, leaving the 1st Circuit’s decision in place.
The court did not act on several high-profile petitions for review that have now been pending since the justices’ Sept. 27 “long conference,” including a quartet of cases challenging the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases at the national level and a challenge to a New York regulation that requires employers to fund abortions through their employee health plans. The justices also did not act on the petition for rehearing filed by Barronelle Stutzman, the Washington state florist who has argued that requiring her to create custom flower arrangements would violate her religious beliefs. The justices turned down Stutzman’s petition for review earlier this year, but she is seeking reconsideration of that decision.
The justices’ next private conference is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 15. Orders from that conference are likely to follow on Monday, Oct. 18, at 9:30 a.m.
This post is also published on SCOTUSblog.