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Supreme Court Covers Wide Ground: Convict DNA Testing, Age Discrimination, and More

By Javier Lavagnino, Esq. on June 19, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Supreme Court put out a few noteworthy decisions yesterday, covering issues ranging from postconviction DNA testing to age discrimination in the workplace. In one of the key 5-4 rulings, the Court said convicts had no Due Process right under the Constitution to access the state's evidence for DNA testing. The five justices felt that, considering the fact that federal law and 46 states' statutes already cover access to DNA evidence, it was best left to the states to deal with that postconviction issue.

In another close ruling (with the typically liberal-leaning justices in the minority), the Court held that a plaintiff bringing a federal law age discrimination claim must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that age was the "but-for" cause of the challenged adverse employment action. The ruling noted that the age discrimination statute's language did not track that of Title VII, which deals with other types of discrimination (race, sex, religion, etc.). As a result, age discrimination claims will be gauged under a more scrutinizing light for the plaintiffs, as compared to Title VII.

The other cases dealt with Double Jeopardy issues arising from the partial acquittal of a former Enron subsidiary's exec on charges of securities and wire fraud, and the last case addressed whether a bankruptcy court order barred certain claims against the insurer of the bankrupt major asbestos manufacturer. The following are FindLaw's case summaries with some added notes, and links to the opinions:

District Attorney's Office for the Third Judicial Circuit v. Osborne, No. 08-6
In a 42 U.S.C. section 1983 action seeking the evidence used to convict Defendant of sexual assault for the purposes of DNA testing, summary judgment for Plaintiff is reversed where, assuming Plaintiff's claims could be pursued using Section 1983, he had no constitutional right to obtain post-conviction access to the State's evidence for DNA testing.

Gross v. FBL Fin. Servs., Inc., No. 08-441
In an Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) action claiming a wrongful demotion, judgment for Plaintiff is reversed where a plaintiff bringing an ADEA disparate-treatment claim must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that age was the "but-for" cause of the challenged adverse employment action.

Yeager v. US, No. 08-67
In an appeal from the District Court's order denying Defendant's motion to dismiss his wire fraud indictment on Double Jeopardy grounds, the order is reversed where an apparent inconsistency between a jury's verdict of acquittal on some counts and its failure to return a verdict on other counts does not affect the acquittals' preclusive force under the Double Jeopardy Clause.

Travelers Indemn. Co. v. Bailey, No. 08-295
In objections to a settlement of tort claims against the insurer of an asbestos manufacturer, the Court of Appeals' order sustaining the objections is reversed where the terms of a prior injunction issued in bankruptcy proceedings regarding the manufacturer barred direct actions against Defendant, and the finality of the Bankruptcy Court's orders generally stood in the way of challenging their enforceability.

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