Public Citizen in the Supreme Court
To preserve public-interest victories in the lower courts, Public Citizen Litigation Group lawyers often offer assistance to counsel for individuals opposing petitions for certiorari. Our assistance ranges from drafting the opposition to the petition, to editing the lawyer’s draft, to providing strategic advice, to simply answering questions about Supreme Court procedure. In the Supreme Court’s 2014 Term, which ended on June 30, 2015, Public Citizen Litigation Group provided substantial assistance at the petition stage in more than 30 cases. Among the cases in which we helped successfully to oppose certiorari are –
Baltimore City Police Department v. Owens
During James Owens’s trial for burglary, rape, and murder in 1988, the investigating officers failed to disclose to the defense that the state’s star witness changed his story five times in speaking with the officers during the trial. Owens was convicted and spent more than twenty years in prison before he was granted a retrial based on DNA evidence in 2007. In 2008, the state dropped the charges against him. In 2011, Owens sued the officers and the Baltimore police department (among others) for violations of his constitutional rights, including his right not to have exculpatory evidence withheld from his defense. The district court dismissed the case on the grounds that the three-year statute of limitations had expired and, in the alternative, that the officers were immune from suit. In 2014, the court of appeals reversed and reinstated Owens’s lawsuit. The officers and the police department petitioned the Supreme Court for review, and the Litigation Group assisted in preparing the brief in opposition to the petition. The Supreme Court denied review.
Chase Investment Services Corp. v. Baumann
Joseph Baumann sued Chase Investment Services, his former employer, claiming that Chase had violated California laws by treating him and other employees as “exempt” salaried employees and denying them overtime pay and meal and rest breaks. He sued in state court under California’s Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA), which allows employees to sue on behalf of the state to collect penalties for labor code violations. Most of the penalties go to the state, with some going to the employee who sues, as well as to other employees found to be victims of the violations. Chase tried to remove the case to federal court on the grounds that it was a class action subject to removal under the Class Action Fairness Act or based on conventional diversity jurisdiction. The Ninth Circuit rejected these arguments and sent the case back to state court. When Chase petitioned the Supreme Court for review, and the Litigation Group wrote the brief in opposition. The petition was denied.
City of Farmington Hills v. Marshall
When David Marshall, an African-American sergeant in the Detroit Police Department, refused to remove his service weapon after being pulled over for a traffic violation by officers from another police department, they tasered him and arrested him. In state court, the parties entered into a conditional agreement: Marshall would agree not to bring any civil rights claims against the City, and the prosecutor would dismiss all charges against him, as long as two conditions were met. The two conditions were not met, but the state court judge nevertheless found the agreement binding and dismissed the charges against Marshall. Because the conditions for his agreeing not to sue were never met, Marshall sued the City under federal civil rights law. The City countered that the lawsuit was barred by the state court’s order. The Sixth Circuit held that the civil rights lawsuit was not barred under Michigan law, and the City petitioned the Supreme Court for review. The Litigation Group took the lead in drafting the opposition, and the petition was denied.
LVNV Funding, LLC v. Crawford
After Stanley Crawford filed for bankruptcy protection, LVNV Funding tried to collect from Crawford a debt that had become unenforceable under the state’s limitations period. Crawford claimed that LVNV Funding’s attempt to collect a time-barred debt violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The court of appeals held that it was misleading under the FDCPA for LVNV Funding to try to use the judicial process to enforce a time-barred debt. LVNV Funding petitioned the Supreme Court for review, asking the Court to determine that a proof of claim filed in a bankruptcy proceeding cannot be the basis for a violation of the FDCPA. The Litigation Group assisted by drafting the brief in opposition to the petition, which was denied.
Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. v. Superior Court of California
Olga Pikerie, the plaintiff in this case, was taking generic sodium alendronate drug products manufactured by Petitioners. Unbeknownst to her, long-term treatment with these drugs had caused her bones to become so brittle that one day, when she stood up from a park bench, her femur bone snapped in half. It turned out that the label on the brand-name version of the drugs had been changed before Pikerie’s injury to warn about the risk of femur fracture and to provide the warning signs of an impending fracture. Pikerie alleged that the generic drug labels did not have the same warnings. She sued Petitioners in state court for claims based on the inadequate labeling. Petitioners contended that Pikerie’s claims were precluded by federal law. The state appellate court disagreed and allowed Pikerie’s suit to proceed. The drug manufacturers petitioned the Supreme Court for review, arguing that federal law preempts state tort claims based on allegations that the generic drug label should have been the same as the label on the brand-name equivalent. The Litigation Group assisted in opposing the petition. The Court called for the views of the Solicitor General, which field a brief arguing for denial of the petition, and the Court denied the petition.