Supreme Court Overview

 

Water War

 

Florida v. Georgia

Docket No. 220142, Remanded to Special Master on June 27, 2018

Original Jurisdiction

 

In 2013, Florida filed a complaint against Georgia alleging that its use of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin was inequitable. In 2014, the Supreme Court granted Florida permission to file a complaint and appointed a Special Master to investigate the case, based on Florida’s claims of widespread environmental, ecological, and economic harm caused by Georgia’s use of the ACF River Basin.  Florida and Georgia further disagreed regarding the Army Corps of Engineer’s rules regarding the Corps’ water storage reserves and the flow of water from said reserves.   On February 16, 2017, the Special Master submitted his final report, recommending that the Supreme Court deny Florida’s request for relief in that any relief which Florida would receive from Georgia would be insufficient given the high degree of control that the Army Corps of Engineers exercises over the ACF River Basin. Florida has submitted exceptions to the Special Master’s findings, arguing that the Supreme Court should decline to adopt said findings as the Special Master used a heightened standard for establishing redressability; improperly concluded that after establishing injury, Florida was still required to prove redressability; improperly stated that the Army Corps of Engineers' discretion in its operations precludes redressability; failed to address how Florida’s injuries would be redressed, regardless of how the Corps exercised discretion; and a number of other flaws in the Special Master’s analysis.  On June 27, 2018, the Court determined that the Special Master had applied too strict a standard in concluding that Florida failed to meet its burden of demonstrating that the Court can eventually fashion an effective equitable decree, and remanded the case to the Special Master with instructions regarding the appropriate standards to apply. If you would like to view the Supreme Court’s ruling, on Florida’s Motion, please go to https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/142%20orig_h3ci.pdf.

 

Procedural 

 

Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District v. Tesla Energy Operations Inc.

No. 17-368, cert. granted December 1, 2017

Appeal of 859 F.3d 720 (9th Cir. 2917)

 

This case springs from SolarCity’s allegation that the Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District was attempting to entrench its monopoly on power provision by setting prices unfavorable to solar power providers.  The Power District immediately moved to dismiss the case under the state-action immunity doctrine.  The District Court denied the motion, citing uncertainties about the Power District’s authority, and the Power District appealed.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the Power District’s appeal and joined the Fourth and Sixth Circuits holding that a defendant may not invoke the collateral-order doctrine to immediately appeal the rejection of a state-action immunity defense. The question presented to the Supreme Court was “[w]hether orders denying state-action immunity to public entities are immediately appealable under the collateral-order doctrine.”  The parties jointly consented to the dismissal of this case on Mar. 20, 2018, and the matter was dismissed on Mar. 22, 2018.

 

Knick v. Township of Scott, Pennsylvania

No. 17-647, cert granted March 5, 2018

Appeal of 862 F.3d 310 (3rd Cir. 2017)

 

On December 20, 2012, The Township of Scott enacted a local ordinance related to the maintenance of cemeteries and burial places.  Knick, the Plaintiff in the case before the District Court, raised a number of claims against the Township related to alleged harm she suffered as a result of the ordinance.  The District Court dismissed Knick’s claims as she had failed to exhaust state remedies as a property owner prior to raising federal takings claims, a requirement first addressed in Williamson County Regional Planning v. Hamilton Bank, 473 U.S. 172 (1985). On appeal the 9th Circuit affirmed the District Court’s ruling.  The questions presented to the Supreme Court are (1) “[w]hether the Supreme Court should reconsider the portion of Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank that requires property owners to exhaust state court remedies to ripen federal takings claims;” and (2) “[w]hether Williamson County’s ripeness doctrine bars review of takings claims that assert that a law causes an unconstitutional taking on its face, as the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 3rd, 6th, 9th and 10th Circuits hold, or whether facial claims are exempt from Williamson County, as the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 1st, 4th and 7th Circuits hold.” Oral argument has not yet been scheduled for this case. Adjudication of this case is still pending.

 

Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA)

 

Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido

No. 17-587, cert. granted February 26, 2018.

Appeal of 859 F.3d 1168 (9th Cir. 2017)

Decided November 6, 2018

 

Two employees, John Guido and Dennis Rankin were hired in 2000 by the Mount Lemmon Fire District.  They were the two oldest full-time employees when they were terminated on June 15, 2009.  Both employees filed separate age discrimination charges before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which ruled in both of their favors, finding that the Fire District had committed age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).  Guido and Rankin then filed suit in the District Court.  The District Court granted summary judgment for the Fire District and found that the Fire District did not qualify as an employer under the ADEA. The 9th Circuit reversed stating that the 20 employee minimum did not apply to the determination of whether or not a political subdivision qualified as an employer.  The question presented to the Supreme Court is “[w]hether, under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the same 20-employee minimum that applies to private employers also applies to political subdivisions of a state, as the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 6th, 7th, 8th and 10th Circuits have held, or whether the ADEA applies instead to all state political subdivisions of any size, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit held in this case.”  Oral argument was heard on October 1, 2018.  In a unanimous opinion issued by Justice Ginsburg, the Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the Ninth Circuit and determined that the ADEA applies to all States or political subdivisions irrespective of the number of employees that they have.  To read the Court’s opinion, go to https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/18pdf/17-587_n7ip.pdf.

 

The American Legion v. American Humanist Association 

No. 17-1717, cert granted Nov. 2, 2018
Appeal of 874 F.3d 195 (4th Cir. 2017)

 

In a memorial park honoring veterans located in Bladensburg, MD, is a 40 foot tall Christian cross, which was constructed in 1918.  In 1961, the Maryland National Park and Planning Commission acquired the cross and the land, which came with the caveat that the Commission would care for and maintain the cross.  Over the years it has allocated more than $217,000 to the maintenance and repair of the cross.  The American Humanist Association and a number of non-Christian individuals have taken offense to the expenditure of government funds on the maintenance and repair of the cross and brought suit alleging violations of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Using the test established in Lemon v. Kurtzman, the District Court found that the Commission did not violate the Establishment Clause because the cross had a secular purpose, it did not advance or inhibit the practice of religion, and it does not have a primary effect of endorsing religion.  On appeal, the Fourth Circuit reversed the District Court’s decision and stated that the cross endorsed religion and created excessive entanglement between the government and religion.  The questions presented to the Supreme Court are as follows:

 

(1) is the display and maintenance of the cross unconstitutional?

 

(2) Under what test should the constitutionality of a passive display incorporating religious symbolism be assessed?

 

(3) Does the expenditure of funds to maintain the cross amount to the government’s excessive entanglement with religion? 

 

Oral argument is scheduled to occur February 27, 2019.