Supreme Court Notebook

Justices to review Tyson Foods appeal over suit

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court agreed Monday to weigh new limits on the ability of workers to band together to dispute pay and workplace issues.

The justices said they will review a $5.8 million class-action judgment against Tyson Foods Inc. over the pay for more than 3,000 workers at its Storm Lake, Iowa, pork processing plant.

The case could allow the high court to elaborate on its 2011 decision blocking a massive sex-discrimination case against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. that would have included up to 1.6 million female workers.

Tyson, the Springdale, Arkansas-based company, said it should not have been forced to defend a class-action lawsuit that claims it failed to pay thousands of "knife-wielding" employees and others for time spent putting on and taking off protective work clothes and equipment.

A federal appeals court in St. Louis ruled 2-1 for the employees, who worked on the slaughter or "kill" floor and on the processing or "fabrication" floor.

Tyson argues that lower courts should not have allowed statistics to determine damages for the entire class based on average times observed in a sample of workers from the class. The company calls that a "trial-by-formula" that the high court rejected in the Wal-Mart case.

The company also says the lower courts improperly allowed the class to include hundreds of members who were not injured and would receive no damages in an individual lawsuit.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs say courts have used "representative proof" to allow class actions to go forward for nearly 70 years.

Tyson has faced similar litigation around the country. In 2010, it settled a decade-long dispute with the U.S. Department of Labor by agreeing to pay workers at some poultry plants for time they spent putting on and taking off protective clothing.

The case, Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo, 14-1146, will be argued when the court's new term begins in the fall.


Court won't hear Anti-whaling campaign appeal

WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court won't hear an appeal from a radical environmentalist group found in contempt of court for disrupting Japanese whale hunters off the waters of Antarctica.

The justices on Monday let stand a lower court ruling that said the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and founder Paul Watson violated a court order to stop their dangerous protests.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that the transfer of assets and control of Sea Shepherd to Australia and other countries didn't change its 2012 order to the group to cease its dangerous activities. It said the group's U.S. affiliate could be found liable for aiding and abetting the organization's foreign offices to violate the court's injunction.

The Japanese whalers are demanding $2 million in damages and attorney fees.


Justices to take on new case over frozen assets

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether the government can put a hold on untainted money and property that a criminal defendant needs to hire a lawyer.

The justices said that they will review the case of Sila Luis of Miami-Dade County, Florida, who has been indicted on fraud charges involving $45 million in allegedly improper Medicare payments. On the same day Luis was indicted in 2012, federal prosecutors froze her assets.

Luis said the freeze includes money with no ties to the charges against her and that she has a constitutional right to use the funds to hire a lawyer to mount a defense. Lower courts ruled against her.

The Supreme Court has previously upheld the government's ability to put a hold on property and money that can be tied to illegal activity. Last year, the justices ruled that defendants do not have a right to a hearing at which they can plead for access to their money.

The new case goes to whether untainted money can be frozen when the defendant needs it to hire a lawyer. The Justice Department said the assets can be frozen even if they are untainted. In this case, the government said it sought to freeze substitute assets that would be forfeited after a conviction because Luis already has spent the ill-gotten gains on luxury items and travel.

The case, Luis v. U.S, 14-419, will be argued in the fall.


Justices reject NRA appeal over SF gun laws

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court has turned down another National Rifle Association-led appeal aimed at loosening gun restrictions and instead left in place two San Francisco gun laws.

The court on Monday let stand court rulings in favor of a city measure that requires handgun owners to secure weapons in their homes by storing them in a locker, keeping them on their bodies or applying trigger locks. A second ordinance bans the sale of ammunition that expands on impact, has "no sporting purpose" and is commonly referred to as hollow-point bullets.

Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas said they would have heard the appeal from the NRA and San Francisco gun owners.

Gun rights supporters have been frustrated by the court's unwillingness to expand on a seminal gun rights ruling from 2008.


High court won't hear appeal over Medicaid cuts

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court won't hear an appeal from Maine officials who want to remove thousands of low-income young people from the state's Medicaid rolls.

The justices on Monday left in place a lower court ruling that said the Obama administration could reject the state's plan to eliminate Medicaid coverage for about 6,000 19- and 20-year-olds.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with federal officials that rolling back coverage for that age group was illegal because President Barack Obama's health care law requires states to keep coverage levels for children until 2019. Maine has covered that population for more than two decades.

Maine officials argued that the cuts should be allowed because the Supreme Court has ruled previously that states can't be forced to expand their Medicaid programs.


Court to weigh 3-judge rule for redistricting cases

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court will decide whether it was proper for a single federal judge to throw out a lawsuit challenging Maryland's 2011 congressional redistricting plan.

The justices on Monday agreed to hear an appeal from a group of Maryland residents who say their First Amendment challenge should have been reviewed by a three-judge panel.

Federal law requires a special panel of three judges to hear constitutional redistricting cases unless a single judge who initially considers the case decides it is frivolous or "obviously without merit."

After the residents filed their lawsuit, a district court judge decided it didn't belong before a full panel because it was based on theories the court had previously rejected.

The Maryland residents say any ruling that considers the merits must be heard by three judges.

Published: Tue, Jun 09, 2015


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