2006-2007 Term:
Following are cases at a glance for October 2006. To access other cases at a glance for the 2006-2007 Term, or to return to the main Cases at a Glance page for current cases, use the 2006-2007 Term menu to the right.

Tuesday, October 3


Can a State Felony Drug Conviction Equivalent to a Federal Misdemeanor Be a "Removable" Offense?

Lopez v. Gonzales
Docket No. 05-547
From: The Eighth Circuit


Toledo-Flores v. United States
Docket No. 05-7664
From: The Fifth Circuit

Case at a Glance

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) attaches many consequences to a noncitizen's commission of an "aggravated felony." Not only do these crimes render the noncitizen removable, but they also bar various forms of relief from removal. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines also include specific sentencing consequences for "aggravated felonies." The INA contains a definition of crimes categorized as "aggravated felonies." Circuits are split as to whether this aggravated felony definition includes state law drug felonies that would only be misdemeanors under federal criminal law.

  • Previewed by Jennifer M. Chacón, acting professor of law at the U.C. Davis School of Law in Davis, California

Supreme Court Decision: Pending


Is California's Catch-all Mitigation Instruction Constitutionally Inadequate?

Ayers v. Belmontes
Docket No. 05-493

From: The Ninth Circuit

Case at a Glance

California's catch-all mitigation jury instruction, upheld as constitutional in 1990, directs jurors to consider mitigation evidence beyond that which might excuse the crime. Now the Court is asked to decide whether this instruction likely misled jurors to believe they were forbidden from considering evidence of the defendant's background and character when that evidence had nothing to do with mitigating culpability, but rather was "forward-looking" in that it concerned the defendant's likely ability to adjust to the regimented and structured life of prison.

  • Previewed by Dan Williams, an associate professor at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, Massachusetts.

Supreme Court Decision: Pending

Wednesday, October 4


Must a Patent Licensee Breach a License Agreement Before Filing a Declaratory Judgment Lawsuit Against the Licensor?

MedImmune, Inc. v. Genentech, Inc. and City of Hope National Medical Center
Docket No. 05-608

From: The Federal Circuit

Case at a Glance

Under the Declaratory Judgment Act, when a party reasonably fears that it will be sued by a patent owner for patent infringement, that party is generally allowed to bring an action for a declaratory judgment even when he or she has previously signed a license with the patent owner. However, there is an open legal question whether a patent licensee must first breach the license before the court can decide if the patent is valid and/or infringed.

  • Previewed by Michael M. Carlson and Jason A. Crotty of the San Francisco office of the law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP.

Supreme Court Decision: Pending


Does the Six-Year Statute of Limitations for Contract Claims by the Federal Government Apply to Administrative Proceedings?

BP America Production Company et al. v. Burton
Docket No. 05-669

From: The D.C. Circuit

Case at a Glance

A federal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 2415(a), imposes a six-year limitations period on "actions" brought by the federal government for money damages founded on contract. This case asks whether that six-year statute of limitations applies not only to judicial proceedings, but also to administrative proceedings brought by the federal government. The question arises from an administrative proceeding in which the federal government sought to recover royalties due under natural gas leases covering federal land.

  • Previewed by Richard Seamon, a professor of law at the University of Idaho College of Law and the author of books and articles on administrative law.

Supreme Court Decision: Pending

Tuesday, October 10


Does a Federal Indictment that Lacks an Element of the Charged Offense Require Automatic Reversal?

United States v. Resendiz-Ponce
Docket No. 05-998

From: The Ninth Circuit

Case at a Glance

Juan Resendiz-Ponce, a Mexican citizen, was indicted for attempting to illegally reenter the United States, but the indictment did not explicitly allege an overt act. Resendiz-Ponce argues, and the Ninth Circuit found, that this is a fatal flaw, requiring dismissal of the indictment. The government argues that failing to allege an overt act is subject to the harmless error doctrine and that in this case the government's error was indeed harmless and Resendiz-Ponce's conviction should therefore be affirmed.

  • Previewed by Davalene Cooper, a professor of law at New England School of Law in Boston, Massachusetts.

Supreme Court Decision: Pending


May a Private Party Sue in Federal Court to Enforce an FCC Regulation?

Global Crossing Telecommunications, Inc. v. Metrophones Telecommunications, Inc.
Docket No. 05-705

From: The Ninth Circuit

Case at a Glance

The Communications Act provides that individuals who have been damaged by violations of the Act may bring an action in federal court for damages. In this case, the Ninth Circuit held that a payphone owner had a right to sue in federal court to recover payments that it alleged were due under the FCC's regulations, which require companies providing calling card or pre-paid calling services to compensate payphone providers when the companies' customers use payphones to place calls (so-called "coinless calls"). The D.C. Circuit had previously reached the opposite conclusion.

  • Previewed by James B. Speta, Professor of Law at the Northwestern University School of Law, and Joseph D. Kearney is Dean and Professor of Law at Marquette University Law School.

Supreme Court Decision: Pending


Does FELA Create a Relaxed Causation Standard for Railway Negligence Actions?

Norfolk Southern Railway v. Sorrell
Docket No. 05-746

From: Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District

Case at a Glance

In this case the Supreme Court will resolve a dispute regarding whether the common law standard of "proximate cause" should be used in deciding railroad negligence questions under the Federal Employers' Liability Act. The injured plaintiff contends that this statute dictates a relaxed or lessened level of causation while the railway argues that the common law principles of proximate causation remain applicable to all provisions of FELA.

  • Previewed by Jack E. Karns, a Professor of Business Law at the East Carolina University College of Business.

Supreme Court Decision: Pending

Wednesday, October 11


When May a Judge, Instead of a Jury, Find the Facts on Which a Criminal Sentence Is Based?

Cunningham v. California
Docket No. 05-6551

From: The Court of Appeal of California, First Appellate District

Case at a Glance

For most felonies, California law provides three possible sentences. The sentencing judge may impose the most severe of the three sentences if the judge finds there are circumstances in aggravation of the crime. This case asks whether defendants have a constitutional right to have the facts found by a jury, instead of the judge.

  • Previewed by Michael O'Hear, an associate professor of law at Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Supreme Court Decision: Pending


Can Spectators Deprive a Defendant of a Fair Trial by Wearing Buttons Showing His Alleged Victim's Face?

Carey v. Musladin
Docket No. 05-785

From: The Ninth Circuit

Case at a Glance

The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act limits habeas review to cases in which courts fail to properly apply "clearly established" federal law as determined by the United States Supreme Court. At issue in this case is whether the Ninth Circuit erred in determining that the State of California acted unreasonably in denying a murder defendant's claim that permitting trial spectators to wear photo buttons depicting his alleged victim deprived him of a fair trial.

  • Previewed by David J. Breen, an associate clinical professor at Boston University School of Law in Boston, Massachusetts.

Supreme Court Decision: Pending

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