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3 Cases to Watch for the Supreme Court's Next Term

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on May 11, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Supreme Court's October 2014 term is winding down. There will be no more oral arguments before the Court goes on summer vacation at the end of June, though there is still plenty of controversy as 35 cases are as-yet undecided. Among these are same-sex marriage, the Affordable Care Act, and Confederate license plates.

It's never too late to think about the next term, though. The Court has already granted cert. to several cases that it will hear when it reconvenes this October. Here are some highlights.

Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins

Many federal statutes allow for a private right of action, where the only question at issue is whether a defendant violated a federal law. Thomas Robins sued Spokeo, a website that publishes credit information, for violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Spokeo wanted the suit dismissed for lack of standing, as Robins hadn't really pleaded any actual harm to his reputation or employment; his only concrete allegation was that Spokeo violated the FCRA.

The Court took this case on Spokeo's petition in order to answer whether a violation of a federal statute, standing alone, is enough to give a plaintiff Article III standing. A reversal of the Ninth Circuit's decision could have a huge impact on laws like the Americans With Disabilities Act, which allows statutory damages for non-compliance with accessibility requirements, even if the plaintiff has otherwise suffered no actual harm.

Hurst v. Florida

Another term, another death penalty case. Hurst was convicted for murdering a fellow Popeye's employee in 1998. He was sentenced to death despite a defense that he suffered from mental retardation.

In affirming his conviction, the Florida Supreme Court held that Hurst didn't have a right to a jury determination that he was mentally retarded, so as to bar imposing the death penalty. In Ring v. Arizona, however, the U.S. Supreme Court said that facts essential to imposing the death penalty must be decided by the jury as part of the defendant's Sixth Amendment right to have a jury find facts permitting him to be exposed to a greater punishment, as provided in Apprendi v. New Jersey. Hurst argued that "[w]hether a defendant is mentally retarded or not is a factual issue and hence ... must be resolved by the jury."

Ocasio v. United States

Federal conspiracy laws have been called "the darling of the prosecutor's nursery" because they're so broad and reach everyone in the purported conspiracy. Samuel Ocasio, formerly of the Baltimore Police Department, was convicted of extortion and conspiracy for his part in a scheme whereby Baltimore police officers would use their influence to get wrecked cars towed to a particular auto shop for repair. In return, they would receive kickbacks.

The case is a question of statutory interpretation: Whether the Hobbs' Act definition of extorting "property from another" means that the property has to belong to someone outside the conspiracy. One of the charges involved the petitioner's sending his own car to the auto shop for repair, only to have the shop add several hundred dollars in fraudulent charges.

While the Sixth Circuit previously held that a conspirator can't also be a victim of the conspiracy, the Fourth Circuit disagreed in this case, resulting in a circuit split on the issue.

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