October 23, 2012

Case Highlights 2005-2006 Term

Following are case highlights for the topic areas of Federal Courts, Federalism, and Federal Jurisdiction. 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.


Domino's Pizza Inc, et al. v. McDonald
Docket No. 04-593
Reversed: The Ninth Circuit

Argued: December 6, 2005
Decided: February 22, 2006
For Case Analysis: See ABA Preview 128

Does a plaintiff who lacks any rights under an existing contractual relationship with the defendant have standing to bring suit under 42 U. S. C. §1981?

No. In order to have standing under Section 1981, plaintiffs must identify injuries flowing from a racially motivated breach of their own contractual relationship.

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

Among the many statutes that combat racial discrimination, §1981, originally §1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 14 Stat. 27, has a specific function: It protects the equal right of "[a]ll persons within the jurisdiction of the United States" to "make and enforce contracts" without respect to race. 42 U. S. C. §1981(a). The statute currently defines "make and enforce contracts" to "includ[e] the making, performance, modification, and termination of contracts, and the enjoyment of all benefits, privileges, terms, and conditions of the contractual relationship." §1981(b). … We have never retreated from what should be obvious from reading the text of the statute: Section 1981 offers relief when racial discrimination blocks the creation of a contractual relationship, as well as when racial discrimination impairs an existing contractual relationship, so long as the plaintiff has or would have rights under the existing or proposed contractual relationship.

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

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Empire HealthChoice Assurance, Inc. v. McVeigh

Docket No. 05-200

Affirmed: The Second Circuit

Argued: April 25, 2006

Decided: June 15, 2006

For Case Analysis: See ABA Preview 373

Does federal question jurisdiction exist over a suit by a federal government contractor to enforce, on behalf of the United States, a provision in a health benefits plan for federal employees that is part of a government contract established pursuant to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Act (FEHBA)?

No. 28 U.S.C. § 1331 does not encompass the petitioner's suit.

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

If contract-based reimbursement claims are not covered by FEHBA's preemption provision, then federal jurisdiction clearly does not exist. But even if FEHBA's preemption provision reaches contract-based reimbursement claims, that provision is not sufficiently broad to confer federal jurisdiction. If Congress intends a preemption instruction completely to displace ordinarily applicable state law, and to confer federal jurisdiction thereby, it may be expected to make that atypical intention clear. … Congress has not done so here. [The text of 5 U. S. C. § 8902(m)(1) of FEHBA] does not purport to render inoperative any and all State laws that in some way bear on federal employee-benefit plans. … In sum, the presentations before us fail to establish that § 8902(m)(1) leaves no room for any state law potentially bearing on federal employee-benefit plans in general, or carrier-reimbursement claims in particular. Accordingly, we extract from § 8902(m)(1) no prescription for federal-court jurisdiction.

Dissenting: Justice Breyer (joined by Justices Kennedy, Souter, and Alito)

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Kircher et al. v. Putnam Funds Trust, et al.

Docket No. 05-409

Vacated: The Seventh Circuit

Argued: April 24, 2006

Decided: June 15, 2006

For Case Analysis: See ABA Preview 400

Is an order remanding a case removed under the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998 appealable, notwithstanding the limitation placed by 28 U. S. C. § 1447(d) on appellate review of a district court order remanding a case from federal to state court?

No. Orders remanding for want of preclusion under the Act are subject to § 1447(d) and its general rule of nonappealability.

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

The policy of Congress opposes "interruption of the litigation of the merits of a removed cause by prolonged litigation of questions of jurisdiction of the district court to which the cause is removed" … and nearly three years of jurisdictional advocacy in the cases before us confirm the congressional wisdom. In Thermtron [ Products, Inc. v. Hermansdorfer (1976)], we held that the bar of §1447(d) applies only to remands based on the grounds specified in § 1447(c), that is, a defect in removal procedure or lack of subject matter jurisdiction. … The bar of §1447(d) applies equally to cases removed under the general removal statute, §1441, and to those removed under other provisions … and the force of the bar is not subject to any statutory exception that might cover this case.

Concurring in part and concurring in the judgment: Justice Scalia

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Lincoln Property Co. et al. v. Roche et ux.

Docket No. 04-712

Reversed and Remanded: The Fourth Circuit

Argued: October 11, 2005

Decided: November 29, 2005

For Case Analysis: See ABA Preview 29

Can an entity not named or joined as a defendant nonetheless be deemed a real party in interest whose presence would destroy diversity jurisdiction?

No. Defendants may remove an action from state court to federal court on the basis of diversity of citizenship if there is complete diversity between all named plaintiffs and all named defendants, and no defendant is a citizen of the forum State. It is not incumbent on the named defendants to negate the existence of a potential defendant whose presence in the action would destroy diversity.

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

Lincoln has a vital interest in this case. Indeed, Lincoln accepted responsibility, in the event that the Roches prevailed on the merits of their claims, by admitting that, "[since 1996,] it has managed Westfield Village Apartments." [T]he Fourth Circuit had no warrant in this case to inquire whether some other person might have been joined as an additional or substitute defendant. … The Roches sued the entity they thought responsible for managing their apartment. Lincoln affirmed that it was so responsible. Complete diversity existed. The potential liability of other parties was a matter plaintiffs' counsel might have assiduously explored through discovery de vices. It was not incumbent on Lincoln to propose as additional defendants persons the Roches, as masters of their complaint, permissively might have joined.

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Unitherm Food Systems, Inc. v. Swift-Eckrich, Inc.

Docket No. 04-597

Reversed: The Federal Circuit

Argued: November 2, 2005

Decided: January 23, 2006

For Case Analysis: See ABA Preview 92

May a court of appeals review the sufficiency of evidence supporting a civil jury verdict when the party seeking review made a motion for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure before submission of the case to the jury, but neither renewed that motion under Rule 50(b) after the jury's verdict, nor moved for a new trial under Rule 59?

No. Since the respondent failed to renew its pre-verdict motion as specified in Rule 50(b), the Federal Circuit had no basis for reviewing the respondent's sufficiency of the evidence challenge.

From the opinion by Justice Thomas (joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices O'Connor, Scalia, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer):

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50 sets forth the procedural requirements for challenging the sufficiency of the evidence in a civil jury trial and establishes two stages for such challenges—prior to submission of the case to the jury, and after the verdict and entry of judgment. Rule 50(a) allows a party to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence prior to submission of the case to the jury, and authorizes the District Court to grant such motions at the court's discretion … Rule 50(b), by contrast, sets forth the procedural requirements for renewing a sufficiency of the evidence challenge after the jury verdict and entry of judgment. … [A] party's failure to file a Rule 50(b) motion deprives the appellate court of the power to order the entry of judgment in favor of that party where the district court directed the jury's verdict.

Dissenting: Justice Stevens (joined by Justice Kennedy)

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Gonzales v. Oregon et al.

Docket No. 04-623

Affirmed: The Ninth Circuit

Argued: October 5, 2005

Decided: January 17, 2006

For Case Analysis: See ABA Preview 8

Does the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) allow the U.S. Attorney General to prohibit doctors from prescribing regulated drugs for use in physician-assisted suicide under state law permitting the procedure?

No. The CSA's statutory purpose is to prevent doctors from engaging in drug dealing and trafficking; it is silent on the practice of medical practice generally and defers to the state's police powers to regulate medical practice.

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

The Attorney General has rulemaking power to fulfill his duties under the CSA. The specific respects in which he is authorized to make rules, however, instruct us that he is not authorized to make a rule declaring illegitimate a medical standard for care and treatment of patients that is specifically authorized under state law…. In deciding whether the CSA can be read as prohibiting physician-assisted suicide, we look to the statute's text and design. The statute and our case law amply support the conclusion that Congress regulates medical practice insofar as it bars doctors from using their prescription-writing powers as a means to engage in illicit drug dealing and trafficking as conventionally understood. Beyond this, however, the statute manifests no intent to regulate the practice of medicine generally…. The structure and operation of the CSA presume and rely upon a functioning medical profession regulated under the States' police powers…..

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

Dissenting: Justice Thomas

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Marshall v. Marshall

Docket No. 04-1544

Reversed: The Ninth Circuit

Argued: February 28, 2006

Decided: May 1, 2006

For Case Analysis: See ABA Preview 274

Does the probate exception bar federal jurisdiction over any probate-related matter, including claims respecting tax liability, debt, gift, and tort?

No. The Court held that the Ninth Circuit had no warrant from Congress, or from the Court's decisions, for its sweeping extension of the probate exception. Because this case does not fall within the exception's scope, the District Court properly asserted jurisdiction over the petitioner's counterclaim against the respondent.

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

[T]he probate exception reserves to state probate courts the probate or annulment of a will and the administration of a decedent's estate; it also precludes federal courts from disposing of property that is in the custody of a state probate court. But it does not bar federal courts from adjudicating matters outside those confines and otherwise within federal jurisdiction.

Concurring in part: Justice Stevens

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