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SCOTUS Issues Lawson Opinion; Bulger Gets 2nd Free Lawyer

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on March 10, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Lawson v. FMR LLC is a case originating in the First Circuit, that dealt with whether the Sarbanes-Oxley Act whistleblower protections extend to employees of a private company that are contractors for public companies. Last week, the Supreme Court issued its opinion clarifying the reach of the Act.

Lawson v. FMR LLC -- The Lower Courts

In Lawson, two contractors who worked for mutual funds (who in practice don't have employees of their own) were essentially fired after they brought up concerns regarding the funds' management. After they sued under 18 U.S.C. § 1514A, the district court denied the mutual funds' motions to dismiss, and the First Circuit reversed. The question before the Supreme Court was whether § 1514A applied to employees of private contractors that did work for public companies.

Lawson v. FMR LLC -- SCOTUS Majority Opinion

Justice Ginsburg, writing for the majority, held that § 1514A's "whistleblower protection extends to employees of contractors and subcontractors," reversed the judgment of the First Circuit, and remanded.

Basing her decision on the text, context and legislative history of § 1514A, Ginsburg found "that the provision shelters employees of private contractors and subcontractors." Influential too was the interpretation of another statute, 49 U.S.C. § 42121, which was parallel and which § 1514A was written to "track ... as closely as possible."

Lawson v. FMR LLC -- SCOTUS Concurring Opinion

Justice Scalia authored a concurring opinion, and was joined by Justice Thomas, where he concurred in principal part to the majority opinion, and in the judgment. His main gripe with the majority opinion was Justice Ginsburg's "occasional excursions beyond the interpretative terra firma of text and context, into the swamps of legislative history." Scalia saw that as unnecessary, and would have reversed and remanded based on the text alone.

Lawson v. FMR LLC -- SCOTUS Dissenting Opinion

Justice Sotomayor dissented, and was joined by Justices Kennedy and Alito, where she disagreed with the "stunning reach" the majority opinion gave § 1514A. According to the dissent, the majority's reading would open the door for babysitters to sue their employers, a scenario that the majority opinion characterized as "more theoretical than real."

Whitey Bulger Gets His 2nd Attorney (for Free)

In other First Circuit news: Last week we mentioned that Whitey Bulger's attorney asked the court for appointment of co-counsel stating, "Given the complexity of the appeal and voluminous record, counsel needs a second experienced appellate lawyer appointed in order to manage this case and present the issues effectively," reports The Boston Globe. In response, Judge Juan R. Torruella appointed James Budreau as an additional attorney to work on the Bulger appeal, according to the Globe.

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