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Following are case highlights for the topic areas of Search and Seizure, Securities Litigation, Separation of Powers, Social Security, Sovereign Immunity, and Special Education. To access other case highlights for the 2005-2006 Term or previous terms, or to return to the main Case Highlights page, use the Topic Area menu to the right.

SEARCH AND SEIZURE



Search and Seizure
United States v. Grubbs
Docket No. 04-1414
Reversed and Remanded: The Ninth Circuit

Argued: January 18, 2006
Decided: March 21, 2006
For Case Analysis: See ABA Preview 212

Is a search pursuant to an "anticipatory" warrant valid, if the warrant does not state a triggering condition on its face?

Yes. The President does not have a sweeping mandate to invoke military commissions whenever he deems them necessary. Neither Congress' Joint Resolution authorizing the President to "use all necessary and appropriate force" against those involved in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks nor the Detainee Treatment Act can be read to provide specific, overriding authorization for the commission convened to try the detainee. In addition, the military commission lacks the power to proceed because its structure and procedures violate both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the four Geneva Conventions signed in 1949.

From the opinion by Justice Scalia (joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Breyer; and joined in parts by Justices Stevens, Souter and Ginsburg):

The Ninth Circuit invalidated the anticipatory search warrant at issue here because the warrant failed to specify the triggering condition. The Fourth Amendment's particularity requirement, it held, "applies with full force to the conditions precedent to an anticipatory search warrant." … The Fourth Amendment, however, does not set forth some general "particularity requirement." It specifies only two matters that must be "particularly describ[ed]" in the warrant: "the place to be searched" and "the persons or things to be seized." We have previously rejected efforts to expand the scope of this provision to embrace unenumeated matters.

Concurring in part and concurring in the judgment: Justice Souter (joined by Justices Stevens and Ginsburg) Taking no part in the consideration or decision of the case: Justice Alito

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SECURITIES LITIGATION



SECURITIES LITIGATION
Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. v. Dabit
Docket No. 04-1371
Vacated and Remanded: The Second Circuit

Argued: January 18, 2006
Decided: March 21, 2006
For Case Analysis: See ABA Preview 215

Does Title I of the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998 (SLUSA) pre-empt a private securities fraud class action based on state law?

Yes. The background, text, and purpose of SLUSA's pre-emption provision demonstrate that SLUSA pre-empts state-law class-action claims of the kind alleged in this case.

From the opinion by Justice Stevens (for a unanimous Court):

Respondent does not dispute that both the class and the securities at issue in this case are "covered" within the meaning of the statute [SLUSA], or that the complaint alleges misrepresentations and omissions of material facts. The only disputed issue is whether the alleged wrongdoing was "in connection with the purchase or sale" of securities. … Congress can hardly have been unaware of the broad construction adopted by both this Court and the SEC when it imported the key phrase—"in connection with the purchase or sale"—into SLUSA's core provision. … The presumption that Congress envisioned a broad construction follows not only from ordinary principles of statutory construction but also from the particular concerns that culminated in SLUSA's enactment.

Taking no part in the consideration or decision of the case: Justice Alito

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SEPARATION OF POWERS



SEPARATION OF POWERS
Hamdan v. Rumsfeld
Docket No. 05-184
Reversed and Remanded: The D.C. Circuit

Argued: March 28, 2006
Decided: June 29, 2006
For Case Analysis: See ABA Preview 323

Is a military commission set up to try a Yemeni national who was captured in Afghanistan and detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, authorized?

No. The President does not have a sweeping mandate to invoke military commissions whenever he deems them necessary. Neither Congress' Joint Resolution authorizing the President to "use all necessary and appropriate force" against those involved in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks nor the Detainee Treatment Act can be read to provide specific, overriding authorization for the commission convened to try the detainee. In addition, the military commission lacks the power to proceed because its structure and procedures violate both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the four Geneva Conventions signed in 1949.

From the opinion by Justice Stevens (joined by Justices Kennedy Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer):

We have assumed, as we must, that the allegations made in the Government's charge against [the petitioner] are true. We have assumed, moreover, the truth of the message implicit in that charge—viz., that [the petitioner] is a dangerous individual whose beliefs, if acted upon, would cause great harm and even death to innocent civilians, and who would act upon those beliefs if given the opportunity. It bears emphasizing that [the petitioner] does not challenge, and we do not today address, the Government's power to detain him for the duration of active hostilities in order to prevent such harm. But in undertaking to try [the petitioner] and subject him to criminal punishment, the Executive is bound to comply with the Rule of Law that prevails in this jurisdiction.

Concurring: Justice Breyer (joined by Justices Kennedy, Souter and Ginsburg)
Concurring: Justice Kennedy (joined in part by Justices Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer)
Dissenting: Justice Scalia (joined by Justice Thomas and Alito)
Dissenting: Justice Thomas (joined by Justice Scalia and joined in part by Justice Alito)
Dissenting: Justice Alito (joined in part by Justices Scalia and Thomas)
Taking no part in the consideration or decision of the case: Chief Justice Roberts

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SOCIAL SECURITY



SOCIAL SECURITY
Lockhart v. United States et al.
Docket No. 04-881
Affirmed: The Ninth Circuit

Argued: November 2, 2005
Decided: December 7, 2005
For Case Analysis: See ABA Preview 74

May the United States withhold Social Security benefits to collect student loan debt that has been outstanding for over 10 years?

Yes. The Social Security Act generally exempts benefits from attachment or other legal process; however, the Debt Collection Improvement Act makes Social Security benefits subject to offset by express reference, and supersedes the anti-attachment provision.

From the opinion by Justice O'Connor (for a unanimous Court):

The availability of offsets against Social Security benefits is limited, as the Social Security Act, 49 Stat. 620, as amended, makes Social Security benefits, in general, not "subject to execution, levy, attachment, garnishment, or other legal process." … The Social Security Act purports to protect this anti-attachment rule with an express-reference provision: "No other provision of law, enacted before, on, or after April 20, 1983, may be construed to limit, supersede, or otherwise modify the provisions of this section except to the extent that it does so by express reference to this section." … Because the Debt Collection Improvement Act clearly makes Social Security benefits subject to offset, it provides exactly the sort of express reference that the Social Security Act says is necessary to supersede the anti-attachment provision.

Concurring: Justice Scalia

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SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY



SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY
Central Virginia Community College, et al. v. Katz
Docket No. 04-885
Affirmed: The Sixth Circuit

Argued: October 31, 2005
Decided: January 23, 2006
For Case Analysis: See ABA Preview 98

Is a proceeding initiated by a bankruptcy trustee to set aside preferential transfers by the debtor to state agencies barred by sovereign immunity?

No. The Bankruptcy Clause's history demonstrates that it was intended not just as a grant of legislative authority to Congress, but also to authorize limited subordination of state sovereign immunity in the bankruptcy arena.

From the opinion by Justice Stevens (joined by Justices O'Connor, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer):

Neither our decision in [ Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation v. Hood (2004)], which held that States could not assert sovereign immunity as a defense in adversary proceedings brought to adjudicate the discharge-ability of student loans, nor the cases upon which it relied … rested on any statement Congress had made on the subject of state sovereign immunity. Nor does our decision today. The relevant question is not whether Congress has "abrogated" States' immunity in proceedings to recover preferential transfers. … The question, rather, is whether Congress' determination that States should be amenable to such proceedings is within the scope of its power to enact "Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies." We think it beyond peradventure that it is.

Dissenting: Justice Thomas (joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia and Kennedy)

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SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY
Dolan v. United States Postal Service et al.
Docket No. 04-848
Reversed and Remanded: The Third Circuit

Argued: November 7, 2005
Decided: February 22, 2006
For Case Analysis: See ABA Preview 82

Does the postal exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act bar a plaintiff's suit for injuries suffered when she tripped and fell over mail left on her porch by postal employees?

No. The Court decided that the postal exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act does not preserve sovereign immunity in circumstances in which a postal employee acts negligently while transmitting mail.

From the opinion by Justice Kennedy (joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Stevens, Scalia, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer):

The question is whether, when mail left by the Postal Service causes the slip and fall, the §2680(b) exception for "loss, miscarriage, or negligent transmission of letters or postal matter" preserves sovereign immunity despite the FTCA's more general statements of waiver… Starting with context, the words "negligent transmission" in §2680(b) follow two other terms, "loss" and "miscarriage." Those terms, we think, limit the reach of "transmission." Here, as both parties acknowledge, mail is "lost" if it is destroyed or misplaced and "miscarried" if it goes to the wrong address. Since both those terms refer to failings in the postal obligation to deliver mail in a timely manner to the right address, it would be odd if "negligent transmission" swept far more broadly to include injuries like those alleged here—injuries that happen to be caused by postal employees but involve neither failure to transmit mail nor damage to its contents.

Dissenting: Justice Thomas
Taking no part in the consideration or decision of the case: Justice Alito

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SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY
United States v. Olson et al.
Docket No. 04-759
Vacated and Remanded: The Ninth Circuit

Argued: October 12, 2005
Decided: November 8, 2005
For Case Analysis: See ABA Preview 23

Does the United States waive sovereign immunity under the Federal Torts Claims Act (FTCA) where local law would make "a state or municipal entity" liable?

No. The United States only waives immunity where local law would make a "private person" liable in tort.

From the opinion by Justice Breyer (for a unanimous Court):

The Federal Tort Claims Act … authorizes private tort actions against the United States "under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred." … We here interpret these words to mean what they say, namely, that the United States waives sovereign immunity "under circumstances" where local law would make a "private person" liable in tort. (Emphasis added.) And we reverse a line of Ninth Circuit precedent permitting courts in certain circumstances to base a waiver simply upon a finding that local law would make a "state or municipal entit[y]" liable.

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SPECIAL EDUCATION



SPECIAL EDUCATION
Arlington Central School District Board of Education v. Murphy
Docket No. 05-18
Reversed: The Second Circuit

Argued: April 19, 2006
Decided: June 26, 2006
For Case Analysis: See ABA Preview 382

Can parents who prevailed in a suit under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act recover expert fees under 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)?

No. While Congress has broad power to set the terms on which it disburses federal money to the states, any conditions it attaches to a state's acceptance of such funds must be set out unambiguously. There is no such clear notice regarding expert fees in the IDEA.

From the opinion by Justice Alito (joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas):

Putting the legislative history aside, we see virtually no support for respondents' position. Under these circumstances, where everything other than the legislative history overwhelming suggests that expert fees may not be recovered, the legislative history is simply not enough. In a Spending Clause case, the key is not what a majority of the Members of both Houses intend but what the States are clearly told regarding the conditions that go along with the acceptance of those funds. Here, in the face of the unambiguous text of the IDEA and the reasoning in [prior cases], we cannot say that the legislative history on which respondents rely is sufficient to provide the requisite fair notice.

Concurring in part and in the judgment: Justice Ginsburg
Dissenting: Justice Souter
Dissenting: Justice Breyer (joined by Justices Stevens and Souter)

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