SCOTUS News, June 16th, 2017: Santana, Santander, and the Gorsuch

The Supreme Court released a per curiam decision in Virginia v. LeBlanc. This case concerns the factors necessary for habeas relief. In the opinion, SCOTUS reaffirms that a court must act “unreasonably” in order for habeas relief to be possible. The Fourth Circuit believed LeBlanc’s original trial court acted unreasonably, but SCOTUS reverses this ruling. They cite relevant case law that governed the original trial court’s decision.

SCOTUS released four other opinions earlier this week. Let’s take a brief look.

Sandoz v. Amgen/Amgen v. Sandoz

Look here for our summary of the original case. The BPCIA facilitates litigation between companies in order to resolve patent disputes before a new biologic goes to market. Amgen filed an injunction against Sandoz for not submitting its application and manufacturing information. On appeal, the Federal Circuit ruled that Amgen could not file an injunction under federal law. SCOTUS agrees with the Federal Circuit, though they clarify that the Circuit used the wrong statute in its conclusion. SCOTUS differs with the Federal Circuit on a few aspects of the case. The major difference is over how Sandoz’s actions should be judged under California law. SCOTUS remands due to this state-level concern. They thus leave untouched the possibility of state-level dismissal or reversal. Instead, SCOTUS vacates this first part of the ruling.

The second issue is a bit more straightforward. Sandoz began marketing their biologic less than 180 days after FDA approval. The marketing began, however, more than 180 days after they had submitted their drug for approval. The Federal Circuit interpreted the BPCIA to suggest that this was unlawful. SCOTUS disagrees. The language of the statute only specifies that 180 days must pass between the application and the marketing of the drug (once approved by the FDA). Because of this, and because 180 days did pass between these two events, irrespective of when the FDA granted approval, SCOTUS reverses the Federal Circuit here.

Microsoft v. Baker

A district court denied class status to a group of plaintiffs suing Microsoft. Plaintiffs wanted to appeal the denial of class certification. To do so, under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, plaintiffs had to request re-certification from the court of appeals. The court of appeals denied this request. The denial of their class status meant the plaintiffs could pursue individual cases. Instead of doing so, plaintiffs found a kind of workaround on the class certification issue. They voluntarily dismissed their individual claims.

This goes against the doctrine of “finality”, something both Ginsburg and Thomas address in the majority opinion and concurring opinion, respectively. In a nutshell, the plaintiffs never ran the full course of their claims. Because of this, they cannot ask for a re-certification of potential class status. Thomas, joined by Alito and Chief Justice Roberts, goes even further than the majority. The plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their claims. This means they simply no longer have a case to argue in the first place, per Article III of the Constitution.

Though the Court splits on the reasons for the judgment, the judgment itself is unanimous. SCOTUS reverses and remands this case back to the Ninth Circuit.

Sessions v. Morales-Santana

This case (formerly Lynch v. Morales-Santana) concerns citizenship conferred on children born to only one parent with a citizenship claim. The district court originally ruled that Morales-Santana did not have a citizenship claim. The Second Circuit reversed. SCOTUS affirms in part, reverses in part, and remands.

There has been a trend toward consideration of gender equality across government in general, and the Supreme Court in particular, for the last fifty or so years. The Court has overturned many assumptions about inequality between mothers and fathers in equal protection cases over this period. Ginsburg’s majority opinion continues this trend of attacking unbalanced equal protection concerns. She does so on multiple fronts. Old precedents assumed that mothers hold a greater cultural influence on their child’s upbringing than fathers. This assumption was used in the past to justify granting citizenship to children born of unwed citizen-mothers abroad. This same assumption did not apply to fathers under the same circumstances, though. The Court assails this, utilizing Congress’ wish for a child to have “a strong connection” to the U.S. SCOTUS discards many other statutory bases that have fallen to the wayside with the advent of greater gender equality. Ginsburg’s opinion in fact invites Congress to rewrite the various rules on these types of citizens in order to comport with Equal Protection as it is now understood.

This is not completely a happy ending for Morales-Santana, though. SCOTUS reverses the Second Circuit in part, due to other circumstances in the case. The Court points to precedent that invalidates exceptions to rules, rather than extending those exceptions. The exception in this case concerns a shorter length of U.S. residency for unwed citizen-mothers. If this exception is invalidated, as the Court suggests Congress may want to do, than Morales-Santana’s father did not meet the length of residency requirement under the law. Equal protection concerns notwithstanding, in this particular case, Morales-Santana’s ultimate fate is left to whether the Second Circuit decides to extend the short residency length exception, or maintain the longer length in the general rule. Here, as so many times before, the Court cannot, and does not, presume to know what Congress would ultimately decide.

Henson v. Santander

The issue here is an ostensible violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Henson claimed that Santander made illegal attempts to collect expired debts. But the district court and the Fourth Circuit both sided with Santander. They held that Santander didn’t qualify as a debt collector because it purchased the debts for itself. The regulatory framework concerns only the collection of debts “owed…another”, not owed the owner of the debt.

Enter Gorsuch. In his first opinion, Gorsuch writes a pithy and grammar-based argument shared by the Court in this unanimous opinion. Not only does Gorsuch detail the ways in which the participle “owed” can also act as the adjective “owed”, but he also reminds petitioners that what one thinks a law should do can be far from what the language of a law actually does. Additionally, Gorsuch points out – as SCOTUS so often does – that the Court cannot legislate. As many in the media have discussed since the beginning of the year, Gorsuch adds a pointed and at times entertaining voice to the Court.

The Crowd and the Algorithm

No surprises for the Henson case. Gorsuch’s first opinion as an Associate Justice is, predictably, short and sweet and unanimous.

The Sandoz v. Amgen double-header was a bit sloppier, but the Crowd and the Algorithm handled this one well. The wide miss in Amgen v. Sandoz and its doppelgänger was probably caused more by the pitfalls of listing a counter-claim in a consolidated case, than from any serious doubts about the main thrust of the ruling. SCOTUS treated this case with a careful touch, and chose to leave several questions unanswered. The only issue clearly decided in the case concerns the timing mechanism of the 180 day approval-to-marketing waiting period.

We warned a few months back that the Microsoft case might get dicey. We were incorrect. The logic of the respondents was a little out on a limb, and this is probably the reason for a strong showing from both the Crowd and the Algorithm:

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Microsoft v. Baker

{Marshall}+ did gain one on the Crowd this week, though. Sessions v. Morales-Santana was a sticky wicket:

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Sessions v. Morales-Santana

While the Crowd and the Algorithm disagreed on which way the cagier bloc of Kennedy and Kagan would swing, they both underestimated the sheer facts in the second issue of the case. Namely, Morales-Santana’s ineligibility, equal protection claims notwithstanding.


The {Marshall}+ Algorithm picked up a win this week in Morales-Santana. That case had quite an interesting spread, for all those in the FantasySCOTUS Crowd with a competitive streak.

Crowd: 40/49 cases; Accuracy Rate: 81.63%
{Marshall}+: 29/49 cases; Accuracy Rate: 59.18%

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