SUPREME COURT NOTEBOOK

Justices give new life to man’s false arrest lawsuit

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Tuesday gave an Illinois man a new chance to sue the city of Joliet and its police officers who arrested him on trumped up charges and kept him in jail for nearly seven weeks.

The 6-2 ruling ordered the federal appeals court in Chicago to reconsider a lawsuit filed by Elijah Manuel. Police arrested him in 2011 and falsely claimed he was in possession of the illegal drug known as ecstasy.

The police persuaded a prosecutor that Manuel had illegal drugs and the prosecutor took the case to a grand jury and obtained an indictment. When prosecutors finally saw a police lab report showing that the pills Manuel had were vitamins, the indictment was dismissed.

Manuel sued, but lower courts said his claim of unlawful arrest was too late and that he could not sue for unlawful detention under the Fourth Amendment, which bars unreasonable searches and seizures.

Writing for the high court, Justice Elena Kagan said the Fourth Amendment applies not just to arrests, but also when suspects are detained. She said Manuel could bring a claim of wrongful detention because the judge’s order holding Manuel for trial “lacked any proper basis.”

“That means Manuel’s ensuing pretrial detention, no less than his original arrest, violated his Fourth Amendment rights,” Kagan said.

Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented, saying Manuel’s case was a malicious prosecution claim that could not be brought under the Fourth Amendment.

 

Patent suit over adult diapers can proceed

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court says a company that makes adult diapers did not wait too long to sue a rival for copying its patented design.

The justices ruled 7-1 Tuesday that Sweden-based SCA Hygiene Products AB could take legal action against New York-based First Quality Baby Products LLC for violating patents on its adult incontinence products.

A federal appeals court had ruled that SCA’s delay in bringing the lawsuit was unreasonable. But SCA pointed to a 2014 Supreme Court case that said unreasonable delay is not a defense to copyright infringement claims. The company argued that the same reasoning applies to patent cases.

The justices agreed, saying unreasonable delay cannot be used to defend a damages claim case that is filed within the six-year time limit authorized by federal patent law.

 

Court limits the president’s power to fill temporary posts

By Sam Hananel
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Tuesday limited the president’s power to temporarily fill vacant government posts while nominations are tied up in partisan political fights.

The 6-2 ruling said a former top lawyer at the National Labor Relations Board had served in violation of a federal law governing such appointments.

Writing for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts said that Lafe Solomon was not allowed to serve as acting general counsel of the agency that enforces labor laws while he was at the same time nominated to fill that role permanently.

At issue is a 1998 law aimed at preventing the president from using temporary appointments to bypass the Senate’s advice-and-consent role. The Federal Vacancies Reform Act says a person nominated for a post requiring Senate confirmation can’t serve in the same position on a temporary basis.

But the law contains an exception if the nominee served for 90 days as a “first assistant” to the person who previously held the office. The Obama administration said the exception also covered Solomon because he had been a director at a different office at the NLRB.

President Barack Obama named Solomon acting general counsel in June 2010 and he held the office until Nov. 4, 2013. But he never won Senate confirmation because Republicans viewed him as too favorable to labor unions.

Roberts said a close reading of the law’s text shows that the exception did not cover Solomon. He rejected the government’s argument that a ruling against it would hamstring future presidents and call into question dozens of temporary appointments made over the years.

“This does not mean that the duties of general counsel to the NLRB needed to go unperformed,” Roberts said. “The president could have appointed another person to serve as the acting officer in Solomon’s place.”

Solomon’s authority was challenged after an Arizona-based ambulance company was accused of unfair labor practices. The company, SW General, Inc., said the complaint was void because Solomon’s tenure was invalid. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sided with the company.

Roberts dismissed arguments that historical practice supported the government. Since the law was enacted in 1998, three presidents have nominated 112 people for permanent posts who also were serving as acting officials. There was never any objection from Congress.

Roberts said those 112 nominations “make up less than two percent of the thousands of nomination to positions in executive agencies” that the Senate has considered during that time. He said the Senate either may not have noticed a problem or opted not to reject a candidate just to make a point about the law.

It’s the second time in recent years that the presidential appointment process has come under scrutiny by the high court. In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that Obama’s recess appointment of three NLRB members violated the Constitution. That ruling invalidated hundreds of NLRB rulings and forced the agency to reissue those decisions.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, noting that the Senate never objected over the years while more than 100 people served in an acting capacity pending their nomination for a permanent post. She was joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Roberts did not explain what the impact of the court’s ruling would be on specific decisions made by Solomon or any other official who might have served improperly in an acting role. The appeals court had said it did not expect its decision “to retroactively undermine a host of NLRB decisions.”

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