Supreme Court Action: Patents, Fourth Amendment, Excessive Force Claims, and the Takings Clause

The Supreme Court issued four opinions this morning.  I’m guessing the same-sex marriage case and the Obamacare case will be decided on June 29th, which appears to be the last day of the term.  Today’s cases, while not having the social impact, are interesting nonetheless.

The first case is Kimble v. Marvel Entertainment LLC (13-720).  Kimble entered into a contract with Marvel (the pre-Disney owned Marvel) where Marvel would buy Kimble’s patent on a Spiderman for a lump sum and a 3% royalty on each toy sold.  Sometime near the end of the 20-year patent term Marvel’s spidey sense began to tingle and the company discovered the case of Brulotte v. Thys Co., 379 U.S. 29 (1964 ).  That case held that a patent holder could not charge royalties once the patent had expired.  Marvel sued for and won a declaratory judgment that royalty payments would cease once the patent expired.  The Ninth Circuit affirmed.

The Supreme Court upheld Brulotte and affirmed the lower court decisions on the basis of stare decisis.  The Court said that relief from the rule rests with Congress and not the Court.  It also suggested that the royalty contract could be structured in other ways to spread the payments beyond the expiration of the patent.  Justice Kagan delivered the opinion of the Court and was joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor.  Justice Alito filed a dissenting opinion and was joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas.  The dissent argued that the Court made up the Brulotte rule when the case was decided (wrongly, in its view) and could just as easily get rid of it as there is nothing in the patent laws that direct that result.

The second case is Los Angeles v. Patel (13-1175).  The City of Los Angeles has an ordinance that requires hotel operators to record specific detailed information about their guests.  The ordinance also requires that the records “shall be made available to any officer of the Los Angeles Police Department for inspection,” provided that “[w]henever possible, the inspection shall be conducted at a time and in a manner that minimizes any interference with the operation of the business.”  A group of motel owners sued on the basis that the statute was facially unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment as it afforded no opportunity to challenge the inspection beforehand.  The District Court held for the City ruling that the owners had no privacy interest in the records.  The Ninth Circuit affirmed but then reversed en banc.

The Court held that a facial challenge to the ordinance can be made.  Even though the “search” in this case is administrative, it is still unconstitutional as it does not allow pre-compliance review before a neutral party.  Justice Sotomayor delivered the opinion of the Court and was joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan.  Justice Scalia filed a dissenting opinion and was joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justice Thomas.  Justice Alito filed a dissenting opinion and was joined by Justice Thomas.  The dissents argue essentially that the challenge should fail as the Court decides whether the application of a law is unconstitutional rather than the text of the law in and of itself.

The third case is Kingsley v. Hendrickson (13-6368).  Kingsley was a prisoner awaiting trial when he became uncooperative in his cell.  On one occasion he refused an order to leave his cell and was forcibly removed.  He was handcuffed and stunned with a Taser.  He also alleged officers slammed his head into a concrete bunk.  He filed a §1983 suit.  The trial court issued jury instructions calling for a subjective standard to decide liability.  The jury found for the officers.  The Seventh Circuit affirmed in a divided panel.

The Supreme Court reversed holding that the correct standard was an objective unreasonableness standard in deciding an excessive force claim.  The Court stated that it was consistent with precedent, it is the standard in the pattern jury instructions, officers are trained to a standard, and based on circumstances, the officers may be justified in their actions and given some form of immunity.  Justice Breyer delivered the opinion of the Court and was joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan.  Justice Scalia filed a dissenting opinion and was joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justice Thomas.  Justice Alito filed a separate dissent. Justice Scalia argues that “any intentional application of force that is objectively unreasonable in degree is a use of excessive force that “amount[s] to punishment.””  Justice Alito would dismiss the appeal as other questions need to be answered in the case first.

The fourth case has been to the Court before on procedural issues over jurisdiction.  The Court today decides the substantive issue in the case of Horne v. Department of Agriculture (14-275).  The Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937 lets the Secretary of Agriculture create marketing orders to maintain stable markets.  Horne and his family grow raisins and acts as a handler for other growers by buying their crop and marketing them.  The marketing order establishes the Raisin Administrative Committee.  The Committee imposes a 47% reserve allowing that portion of the crop to be given to the government to sell in noncompetitive markets, give away, or otherwise dispose of.  Any profits after expenses are returned to the grower.

Horne refused to turn over raisins to the government.  He was fined the fair market value of the withheld crop and other civil penalties.  He ultimately sued the government alleging that the program violates the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.  The Ninth Circuit ruled that this was not a per se taking as personal property is afforded less protection than real property.  That court also stated that the Hornes could avoid the problem by growing different crops.

The Supreme Court reversed. The Fifth Amendment applies equally to personal property as to real property, requiring just compensation from the government.  The history of the Fifth Amendment justifies this.  The Committee’s taking of the 47% of the crop is clearly a taking and the net profits are not just compensation.  The Hornes are not required to pay the fine and then seek its return in other proceedings.  Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court and was joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito.  Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan joined the opinion as to Parts I and II.  Justice Thomas filed a concurring opinion.  Justice Breyer filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part and was joined by Justices Ginsburg and Kagan.  Justice Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion.  Justice Breyer would remand the case to determine if any money was due to the Hornes after the accounting.  Justice Sotomayor argues that precedent relied on by the Court does not make the circumstances a per se taking.

Mark

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