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Today's Notable Denials, SCOTUS Snoozers, and More Odd Lineups

By William Peacock, Esq. on June 09, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Were you one of those people who loved logic games? I was.

As an LSAT teacher, I did every logic game ever released, including the weird non-standard games from the 1980s. Despite my affinity for logic games, however, today's batch of opinions was no fun at all: pluralities, partial concurrences and dissents, and one decision sure to titillate Court-watchers: a unanimous opinion dealing with the bankruptcy courts' ability to hear "core" and "non-core" matters as defined in Stern. (And no, there won't be a quiz on that last part.)

But it wasn't all mind-numbing news -- there were notable denials, interesting cross-ideological splits in the Court, and more. Here's the quick version of the day's news:

No to Oil, No to Tobacco

Our Fifth Circuit blog has been kept busy with British Petroleum's repeat visits, en banc denials, and Supreme Court cert. attempts, and well, that's probably not going to change any time soon. (BP has a lot of lawyers, and is still fighting other issues in the district court.) But for now, the traveling circus won't make it up to D.C., as the Court denied the oil company's request to pause payouts while the company appeals the bad bargain they made in the oil spill settlement.

The Court also declined save Big Tobacco from $70 million worth of verdicts in twenty-year-old Florida tobacco litigation. We've covered the odd application of res judicata in that case in our Eleventh Circuit blog -- the state court nixed an earlier class action verdict over commonality issues, but allowed the jury findings on defective and dangerous products to have preclusive effect on future trials. It's res judicata based on a non-verdict, essentially.

3 Cases You'll Forget in an Hour

CTS v. Waldburger: A statute of repose, by any other name, is not as sweet for defendants. The Court's opinion [PDF], even with justices jumping in and out of concurrence, holds that the federal Superfund law, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), does not preempt state statutes of repose, but does preempt statute of limitations.

What's the difference? SOLs are meant to prod plaintiffs into filing, while SORs are meant to protect businesses from indefinite liability for past acts. Justice Kennedy's opinion (at least, the part that others agreed with) looked to legislative history and noted that Congress was warned about SORs and SOLs and chose to address the latter explicitly, while ignoring SORs.

The plaintiffs' claims here were barred by a state SOR, yet would've had a chance under an SOL due to CERCLA preemption.

As boring as that sounds, there was an interesting split:

  • Justice Kennedy wrote the main opinion, which Sotomayor and Kagan agreed with in full.
  • Scalia concurred in part and in the judgment, with Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Thomas and Alito joining his concurrence.
  • Ginsburg dissented, along with Breyer.

Scialabba v. de Osorio: In a painful plurality opinion [PDF], the Court ruled against immigrants seeking visas who "age out" of visa sponsorship by relatives -- once they reach 21, they go to the back of the line rather than have their application prioritized. Why? Mostly Chevron deference to agency interpretation, according to SCOTUSblog's recap of the plurality opinion. Here was the split:

  • Justice Kagan, joined by Kennedy and Ginsburg.
  • Chief Justice Roberts concurring in the judgment, with Scalia.
  • Alito dissenting.
  • Sotomayor dissenting, joined by Breyer and Thomas (with Thomas declining to agree with footnote 3).

Executive Benefits v. Arkinson: Remember that Anna Nicole Smith case that was notable for absolutely nothing but the lady herself? Well, after Stern v. Marshall was decided, certain Article III claims were placed outside of the reach of bankruptcy judges, even if they related to bankruptcy claims. Today, in a unanimous opinion [PDF], the Court clarifies that those judges shouldn't just sit on their hands -- they should issue proposed findings of fact that an Article III court can review de novo.

More Coming

Unsatisfied with today's slate, or in pain due to the splits? Us too. Fortunately, more opinions are expected later this week -- stay tuned.

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