Short Circuit: A Roundup of Recent Federal Court Decisions
Please enjoy the latest edition of Short Circuit, a weekly feature written by a bunch of people at the Institute for Justice.
New cert petition: In 2014, in a case of mistaken identity, two plainclothes officers nearly beat an innocent college student to death. And despite a previous trip to the Supreme Court and a couple stops at the Sixth Circuit, the case is stuck on a pretty basic question: Can the now-former student even sue the officers at all? Here’s the QP, on which there is a 30-year-old circuit split: Whether the Federal Tort Claims Act’s judgment bar, 28 U.S.C. 2676, which this Court has repeatedly said functions in much the same way as the common-law doctrine of res judicata, nevertheless operates to bar claims brought together in the same action.
- Is Article IV’s Privileges and Immunities Clause “reverse incorporat[ed]” against the District of Columbia through the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause? D.C. Circuit: Boy, that sounds like a tricky question. Too bad this plaintiff doesn’t have standing to raise it.
- Putative class of Medicaid recipients sue D.C. in 2010, alleging that the District is violating the Due Process Clause (the Fifth Amendment’s, naturally) by failing to give them notice and an opportunity to be heard when denying them prescription coverage. District court (2011): Dismissed for lack of standing. D.C. Circuit (2012): Reversed. District court (2014): Dismissed for failure to state a claim. D.C. Circuit (2015): Reversed. District court (2022): Dismissed as moot. D.C. Circuit (2023): Reverse! Reverse! Cha-cha now y’all! And although we’re going to deny the plaintiffs’ request to reassign the case to a different trial judge, we expect the judge to get a move on and let the case proceed to discovery and the merits. (Yes, discovery has been stayed for the past 12 years.)
- Cambodian refugee runs into trouble with the law but can’t be deported because of diplomatic difficulties. He gets his life together and is a model community member for 18 years, getting married and raising three kids. ICE then begins “a campaign of mass arrests of Cambodian nationals,” including the now-dad who is held for 50 days. He sues under the Federal Tort Claims Act and a Massachusetts civil rights law alleging his arrest and detention were illegal, and we all know that this sort of claim is going nowh—but wait! First Circuit: His claim can proceed.
- In 2018, the National Marine Fisheries Service approved a regulation that required industry-funded monitoring for certain herring expeditions. The owners of long-trip herring ships found this fishy and challenged the regulation. The First Circuit, however, thought that their arguments floundered, thrusting a pike into their legal challenge. After taking a while to mullet over, and in hopes of not carping on for too long, the court dismissed their arguments without being koi, and their challenge was fin-ished. Bass-ically, the court found that, in net, the regulation was valid and did not violate the Constitution. In the end, the court seemed to think that the fishers were just being shellfish, and that industry-funded monitoring might be a necessary way to regulate the herring fishing industry at scale.
- Plaintiff: Look, I know I lost in state court, but that shouldn’t count because I’m a natural-gas producer governed by the Natural Gas Act. You can’t let a state court have the final say on important federal matters like the Natural Gas Act. State courts are for, like, cases about the rule against perpetuities, not big-boy federal law stuff. Third Circuit: That’s not how any of this works. Case dismissed!
- In 1990, Virgin Islander is sentenced to 30 years in prison for possession with intent to distribute crack and marijuana. Not long after, in an unrelated case, he’s sentenced to serve 10 years for voluntary manslaughter, to run consecutively with his drug sentence. Near the end of his drug sentence, Congress passes the First Step Act of 2018, which allowed those sentenced under the federal government’s previous 100:1 sentencing disparity for crack versus powdered cocaine—like this guy—to seek a sentence reduction. Inmate: My unconscionably long drug sentence is already completed; can you knock the time off my consecutive sentence for manslaughter? Third Circuit: Creative idea, but no.
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