SUPREME COURT NOTEBOOK

Justices won't hear Ford appeal of tax overpayment

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court won't hear an appeal from Ford Motor Co. seeking to recover about $450 million in interest on taxes the company overpaid the Internal Revenue Service.

The justices on Monday left in place a lower court ruling that upheld the IRS' refusal to pay the interest.

The case began when Ford made an $875 million payment in the 1990s after the IRS said the company had underpaid taxes by nearly $2 billion during the previous decade. Ford initially paid the money as a cash bond, but later asked the IRS to treat it as an advance tax payment.

The IRS ultimately determined that Ford's deposit was an overpayment, but said interest started accruing only when it was converted to an advance tax payment. Ford disputed that decision.

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Court sides with inmate in excessive force case

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court on Monday made it easier for inmates who are accused of crimes - but not yet convicted - to bring cases of excessive force against jail officials.

The justices ruled 5-4 in favor of a Wisconsin man who sued jail officers for civil rights violations after they used a Taser gun and other rough tactics while transferring him to another jail cell.

The incident involved Michael Kingsley, who was jailed pending trial on drug charges. He claimed he only had to show the officers were unreasonable in using force.

A lower court ruled Kingsley also had to prove the use of force was intentional, or at least reckless. But the Supreme Court agreed with Kingsley that he only needed to show the conduct was "objectively unreasonable."

Writing for the majority, Justice Stephen Breyer said the standard should not be applied "mechanically." He said a court must consider the perspective of "a reasonable officer on the scene," taking account of the need to manage the jail and maintain order and security.

Breyer was joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Writing in dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia said a prison guard's use of more force than necessary might have been "the result of a misjudgment about the degree of force required to maintain order or protect other inmates" and not any improper motive.

Scalia was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas.

Justice Samuel Alito dissented separately to say he would have dismissed the case until the court decides when a pretrial inmate can bring a claim of excessive force against a jail employee.

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Justices say seizure of raisins is unconstitutional

By Sam Hananel
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the government can't force raisin farmers to give up part of their annual crop for less than it's worth, a victory for conservative groups that hailed the decision as a win for private property rights.

The justices ruled 8-1 that a 1940s-era program born out of the Great Depression is unconstitutional because it allows federal officials to seize personal property from farmers without fully compensating them, even though the goal is to benefit farmers by stabilizing market prices.

The court sided with California farmers Marvin and Laura Horne, who claimed they were losing money under a program they called outdated and ineffective. They had been fined $695,000 for trying to get around it.

Writing for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts said the government must pay "just compensation" when it takes personal goods, just as when it takes land away.

Roberts rejected the government's argument that the Hornes voluntarily chose to participate in the raisin market and have the option of growing different crops if they don't like it.

"'Let them sell wine' is probably not much more comforting to the raisin growers than similar retorts have been to others throughout history," Roberts said. "Property rights cannot be so easily manipulated."

The case was considered one of the most important property disputes to reach the high court since 2005, when the justices ruled that the city of New London, Connecticut, could use the power of eminent domain to hand private homes or businesses to developers to help stimulate economic improvement. That case sparked a backlash in many states and led more than 40 state legislatures to pass laws protecting property rights.

By contrast, Monday's ruling in the raisin case was seen as a decisive win for property-rights advocates seeking to limit government power.

"The decision confirms what should be obvious: the government cannot come and take your personal property without compensation, whether raisins or other property, on the ground that the taking is for your own good," said J. David Breemer, attorney for the Pacific Law Foundation, a conservative group that backed the Hornes.

The program was authorized by a 1937 law that allows the U.S. Department of Agriculture to keep prices for raisins and other crops steady by helping to manage supply. A 1949 marketing order allowed farmers to form a committee that decides how much of the raisin crop handlers must turn over to the government each year.

These raisins would be placed into a reserve pool to be sold outside the open market, used for the school lunch program or given away to charities and foreign governments. Any profits from these reserve sales would go toward funding the committee and anything left over went back to the farmers.

The Hornes refused to participate in the program in 2003, when farmers were required to give up 47 percent of their crop but received far less in return than their costs of production. They also refused to cooperate in 2004, when other farmers gave up 30 percent of the crop in 2004 and were paid nothing.

The Hornes' lawyer, John O'Quinn, called the ruling "a personal vindication" for the couple and "an important win for personal liberty."

Raisin prices have been stable recently, and farmers have not been ordered to put crops in reserve since 2010.

Only a small number of other crops are regulated in the same way, though federal officials say most programs are not active. Those include California dried prunes, California dates, California almonds, tart cherries, walnuts and spearmint oil.

A USDA spokesman said agency officials were reviewing the ruling and had no immediate comment.

Roberts said the government could have restricted raisin sales by limiting production, which is how the vast majority of crops programs work.

In a separate opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer agreed that the Hornes were entitled to be properly paid for their crops, but he said the case should be sent back to a lower court to decide whether they would have been owed any money had they complied with the program.

Breyer's separate opinion was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan.

Justice Clarence Thomas took issue with Breyer's point and wrote separately to say that sending the case back to figure out compensation "in this case would be a fruitless exercise."

Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the only dissenter. She said the program did not deprive the Hornes of all property rights, it just limited the amount of potential income they could earn from it.

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Justices rule against Spider-Man toy inventor

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court says the inventor of a popular Spider-Man web-shooting toy can't keep reeling in royalties after his patent ran out.

The justices ruled 6-3 Monday against Stephen Kimble in his long-running dispute with Marvel Entertainment over a Web Blaster toy that shoots foam string from a glove.

Kimble sold his patent on the toy to Marvel in 2001 and has earned more than $6 million in royalties under terms of a settlement agreement. But Marvel stopped making payments in 2010 once the patent expired.

Kimble had urged the high court to overrule a half-century-old case that says a licensing agreement cannot pay royalties once a patent ends.

But the justices declined. The court said it should be up to Congress to change patent laws.

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Court rejects appeal from general denied promotion

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court won't hear an appeal from a retired Air Force general who claims he was illegally denied a promotion after the Defense Department said he failed to adequately protect against a terrorist strike.

The justices on Monday left in place a lower court ruling that said Brig. Gen. Terryl Schwalier was not entitled to a second star.

Schwalier was in charge of the unit hit by a June 1996 bomb at Khobar Towers barracks in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 airmen. His promotion to major general had already been confirmed by the Senate, but President Bill Clinton removed him from the promotion list after an investigation found him at fault.

A federal appeals court ruled that presidential action was required to complete the promotion. Schwalier retired in 1997.

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Justices won't hear appeal on recovery for Madoff victims

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court won't hear an appeal from the trustee trying to recover nearly $4 billion for victims of Bernard Madoff's massive Ponzi scheme.

The justices on Monday let stand a lower court decision that blocked trustee Irving Picard from recovering and distributing nearly $2 billion and raised questions about an additional $2 billion in potential recoveries and distributions.

A federal appeals court ruled last year that some Madoff customers who received more in payouts from Madoff than their original investment were protected under bankruptcy laws.

Picard said the ruling guts his authority to recover money from those who profited from illegal schemes and redistribute money to those who did not.

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Court voids routine police check of hotel registries

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court struck down a Los Angeles ordinance Monday that allowed police to inspect hotel guest records on demand.

The justices voted 5-4 to reject the city's argument that the measure was needed to help fight prostitution, drug trafficking and illegal gambling at budget hotels and motels.

Los Angeles said that people engaging in those activities are less likely to use hotels if they know the facilities must collect guest information and turn it over at a moment's notice.

But Justice Sonia Sotomayor said for the court that the law is unconstitutional because it penalizes the hotel owners if they don't comply.

"A hotel owner who refuses to give an officer access to his or her registry can be arrested on the spot," Sotomayor wrote. Business owners must at least be given a chance to object to a judge, she said.

Justice Anthony Kennedy and Sotomayor's three liberal colleagues joined her in the majority.

In dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia said the law "is eminently reasonable" given the use of cheap motels as places to stash migrants who have been smuggled across the border and as rendezvous points for child sex workers and their clients.

"The warrantless inspection requirement provides a necessary incentive for motels to maintain their registers thoroughly and accurately: They never know when law enforcement might drop by to inspect," Scalia said. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas also dissented.

The federal appeals court in San Francisco divided 7-4 in ruling that the ordinance violates the privacy rights of the hotels, but not their guests.

Courts in other parts of the country have upheld similar laws.

Los Angeles requires hotels and motels to record basic information about guests and their vehicles.

Guests without reservations, those who pay in cash and those who rent a room for less than 12 hours must also present photo identification at check in.

Nothing in the court's ruling on Monday affects the record-keeping requirements.

The case is Los Angeles v. Patel, 13-1175.

Published: Wed, Jun 24, 2015

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