Supreme Court Action: Preemption of State Antitrust Laws and Traffic Stops under the Fourth Amendment

The Supreme Court issued two opinions today.  The first, ONEOK, Inc. v. Learjet, Inc. (13-271),   concerned the preemption of state antitrust laws in the context of natural gas regulation by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) under the Natural Gas Act.  The petitioners in this case, ONEOK, Inc. et al., are pipeline companies that supply gas through interstate pipelines to resellers as well as to direct customers that include the respondents, Learjet et al.  The pipeline companies were sued for reporting false information to indices that are used to set wholesale natural gas prices.  These reports ultimately affected retail price contracts.  The cases were removed to federal court and consolidated in one proceeding in Nevada.  The Ninth Circuit ultimately held that the respondent’s state antitrust claims were not preempted by the Natural Gas Act.  The Supreme Court affirmed.

It held that the Act was carefully drawn to not preempt state concerns such as the fairness of retail pricing even though FERC had authority to regulate wholesale pricing.  While the two are connected, that connection does not deprive state claims for price manipulation at the retail level, at least under the facts and arguments presented in this case.

Justice Breyer delivered the opinion of the Court and was joined by Justice Kennedy, Ginsburg, Alito, Sotomayor, and Kagan.  Justice Thomas joined the opinion as to all but Part I-A, presumably because it contained the dreaded words “legislative history.”  Justice Scalia filed a dissenting opinion that Chief Justice Roberts joined.

The second case is Rodriguez v. United States (13-9972).  Justice Ginsburg sets up the question and outcome in the very first paragraph of the opinion:

In Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U. S. 405 (2005), this Court held that a dog sniff conducted during a lawful traffic stop does not violate the Fourth Amendment’s proscription of unreasonable seizures. This case presents the question whether the Fourth Amendment tolerates a dog sniff conducted after completion of a traffic stop. We hold that a police stop exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures. A seizure justified only by a police-observed traffic violation, therefore, “become[s] unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete th[e] mission” of issuing a ticket for the violation. Id., at 407. The Court so recognized in Caballes, and we adhere to the line drawn in that decision.

The facts of the case are pretty straightforward.  Officer Struble stopped Rodriguez after seeing his vehicle drive briefly on the highway shoulder and then swerve back onto the highway proper.  Rodriguez explained that he was avoiding a pothole.  Officer Struble asked Rodriguez and his passenger for identification and an explanation of their business.  Both complied.  Struble asked Rodriguez to accompany him to the squad car.  Rodriguez asked if this was required.  Struble said no and Rodriguez declined the request.  Struble then issued a warning ticket for driving on the shoulder.  Struble then asked Rodriguez if he could walk his dog around the vehicle.  Rodriguez said no.  Struble then instructed Rodriguez to turn off the ignition and exit the vehicle.  A second officer arrived seven or eight minutes later and walked a dog around the vehicle twice.  The dog indicated that drugs were present.  The officers then search the car and found a large bag of methamphetamine.

Rodriguez moved at trial to suppress the evidence at trial.  The Court denied the motion and he was convicted.  The Eight Circuit said the intrusion on his rights was de minimus and affirmed the conviction.  The Court held that keeping Rodriguez for the search well after concluding the reason for stopping him violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the Court and was joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Scalia, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.  Justice Kennedy filed a dissenting opinion.  Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion and was joined by Justice Alito and Justice Kennedy except for Part III.  Justice Alito filed a dissenting opinion as well.


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