The U.S. Supreme Court today inched toward the end of the term with three decisions in the areas of bankruptcy, procedure and prison law.
A collective sigh of disappointment undoubtedly echoed throughout the patent bar as another decision day came and went without a ruling in the term’s major patent case: Bilski v. Kappos, argued last November. Bilski and a bankruptcy case from that month, Schwab v. Reilly, are the oldest cases pending decision.
Although none of three rulings issued Monday is likely to make front page news, they answer questions of practical significance to litigators.
An accident on a cruise ship was the backdrop to Krupski v. Costa Crociere S.P.A. Wanda Krupski tripped over a cable and broke her femur while on board the Costa Magica. She sued Costa Cruise Lines for her injuries. Over the next several months, after the limitations period expired, the cruise line informed her several times that the proper defendant was the carrier, Costa Crociere. She subsequently amended her complaint and served Costa Crociere.
The justices were asked whether the amended pleading “relates back” to the date of the timely filed original pleading under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c). The Court unanimously held that it did.
In preparing to read a brief summary of her opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor drew laughs from the audience when she turned to Justice Antonin Scalia for help in pronouncing “Crociere” with the proper Italian accent. She explained she did not want to put a Spanish accent on the word.
She then explained that the concept of relating back under Rule 15(c) depends on what the party to be added knew or should have known, not on the amending party’s knowledge or its timeliness in seeking to amend the pleading. And, she added, a deliberate but mistaken choice does not foreclose a finding that the rule has been satisfied.
In Hamilton, Chapter 13 Trustee v. Lanning, the justices examined how a bankruptcy court calculates a debtor’s projected disposable income or expenses. The Court was asked to choose between two approaches taken by lower courts: the so-called mechanical approach and the forward-looking approach.
Justice Samuel Alito, writing for an 8-1 majority, said the forward-looking approach is the correct one. It allows a court to account for changes in the debtor’s income or expenses that are known or virtually certain at the time of confirmation of the debtor’s repayment plan. He said that approach is supported by the ordinary meaning of the term “projected disposal income” in the bankruptcy code.
And finally in Barber v. Thomas, the Court in a 6-3 ruling held that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons’ method of calculating good time credit for prisoners was lawful. Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority, said the bureau’s method was supported by the language and purpose of the federal sentencing statute.
The decision provoked a strong dissenting opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Check back later today at NLJ.com for more on this ruling.
The justices today also dismissed for lack of jurisdiction Rodearmel v. Clinton. Last January, the conservative, Washington-based Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, arguing that she was ineligible to serve as Secretary of State under the Constitution’s “emoluments” clause because the salary for that office had increased at least three times during Clinton's U.S. Senate term.
And the Court denied review without comment in School District of Pontiac v. Duncan, a closely-watched challenge to the federal No Child Left Behind education law. Nine school districts from three different states and 10 teachers unions from 10 different states argued that law’s “unfunded mandates provision” absolved states and school districts from complying with any requirement of the act that would increase costs not covered by the additional federal funding under the act.
The justices have 24 cases pending decision. The next scheduled decision day is June 14.