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The high court on June 20 and June 23 rendered the following decisions: The justices unanimously ruled that California farmers do not have the right to sue the federal government over unfulfilled water contracts, holding that Congress had not waived the federal government’s sovereign immunity to such suits. Orff v. U.S., No. 03-1566. About two dozen farmers wanted the federal government to compensate them for water they never received. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation had diverted the water to help protect two endangered species of fish. The justices noted that Congress had waived the government’s immunity to an extent in 43 U.S.C. 390uu, which states that “[c]onsent is given to join the United States as a necessary party defendant in any suit to adjudicate . . . the contractual rights of a contracting entity and the United States.” Writing on behalf of the court, Justice Clarence Thomas said that Section 390uu is best interpreted as consent to join the United States in an action between other parties when the action requires construction of a reclamation contract and joinder of the United States is necessary. It doesn’t permit a plaintiff to sue the United States. CIVIL PRACTICE The justices ruled, 5-4, that in civil litigation that gets to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction, the federal court can exercise jurisdiction over plaintiffs whose claims are too small to meet the current $75,000 amount-in-controversy requirement. Exxon Corp. v. Allapattah Services, No. 04-70, and Ortega v. Star-Kist Foods, No. 04-79. A class of Exxon dealers, in one case, and a girl whose finger was cut on a tuna can, in the other, sued under diversity jurisdiction. But their claims were challenged because some of the plaintiffs could not claim injury above $75,000. The high court interpreted a 1990 law giving federal courts supplemental jurisdiction in diversity cases to mean that smaller-claim plaintiffs should be included. “When the . . . complaint contains at least one claim that satisfies the amount-in-controversy requirement,” Writing on behalf of the court, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said that the district court has jurisdiction over all others involved in the same incident. Kennedy’s opinion was joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and justices Antonin Scalia, David H. Souter and Thomas. Justices John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer dissented. The justices ruled, 7-2, that people have only as much time as state law allows in which to file lawsuits alleging that their bosses retaliated against them for reporting fraud against the federal government. Graham County Soil & Water Conservation District v. U.S. ex rel. Wilson, No. 04-169. The court rejected a whistleblower’s argument that she should have been allowed up to six years from the time of the retaliation to sue under the federal False Claims Act. The justices held that the six-year duration pertains only to the time in which a fraudulent claim must be reported to the federal government. Because it begins when the fraud is committed, the six-year time limit cannot similarly apply to a retaliation claim. Rather than make the federal statute of limitations apply to retaliation claims, Congress, according to the justices, sought to ensure that the most relevant state law governed the time in which retaliation claims under the False Claims Act were brought. Rehnquist, Stevens, O’Connor, Scalia, Kennedy and Souter concurred in Thomas’ opinion. Breyer and Ginsburg dissented. CONSTITUTIONAL LAW The justices unanimously upheld Michigan’s annual $100 truck fee, rejecting the argument that the tax discouraged trucking companies from engaging in interstate commerce. American Trucking Associations Inc. v. Michigan Public Service Commission, No. 03-1230. The justices upheld the fee imposed on every truck engaged in commercial hauling in Michigan, even if most deliveries involve picking up goods in one state and delivering them in another. The American Trucking Associations Inc. had argued that the fee discriminated against companies engaged in intrastate hauling only occasionally in violation of the so-called dormant commerce clause, according to which states may not provide advantages to in-state businesses that it denies to out-of-state businesses. Denying that the fee was discriminatory, Breyer said, “The statute applies evenhandedly to all carriers that make domestic journeys. It does not reflect an effort to tax activity that takes place in whole or in part outside the state. Nothing in our case law suggests that such a neutral, locally focused fee or tax is inconsistent with the Dormant Commerce Clause.” The justices’ 5-4 ruling that local governments may seize people’s homes and businesses against their will for private development is discussed on the Front Page [see related link]. Kelo v. City of New London, No. 04-108. The justices upheld, 6-3, the constitutionality of the $100 fee assessed to trucks with Michigan license plates that operate entirely in interstate commerce. Mid-Con Freight Systems Inc. v. Michigan Public Service Commission, No. 03-1234. The justices upheld the fee against the trucking industry’s claim that Congress had pre-empted the state’s authority in this area by passing the so-called Single State Registration System, under which interstate truckers who have a federal permit need to register in only one state to operate throughout the country. The federal law also said states participating in the program may not impose any additional “registration requirement.” Writing for the court, Breyer said that Congress did not intend to pre-empt all state registration requirements for trucks, only those affecting trucks with a federal permit. Breyer’s opinion was joined by Stevens, Scalia, Souter, Thomas and Ginsburg. Kennedy’s dissent was joined by Rehnquist and O’Connor. The justices unanimously ruled that people who lose state claims that the government had improperly taken their property can’t count on federal courts for help. San Remo Hotel v. City and County of San Francisco, No. 04-340. The justices ruled against a San Francisco hotel that wanted to convert rooms-previously designated for permanent residents-to accommodate tourists. The city had restrictions on hotel changes, as part of an ordinance intended to preserve housing for the poor, disabled and elderly. The ordinance required owners to replace lost residential rooms or pay a fee equal to 80% of the rooms’ construction costs. When the San Remo Hotel was ordered to pay $567,000, it sued in state court and lost in the California Supreme Court in 2002. Writing on behalf of the court, Stevens said, “State courts are fully competent to adjudicate constitutional challenges to local land-use decisions.” CRIMINAL PRACTICE The justices ruled, 5-4, that the one-year limitations period in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, 28 U.S.C. 2255, under which a federal prisoner may file a motion to vacate His sentence, begins to run on the date on which the Supreme Court “initially recognized” a right asserted in an applicant’s motion, not on the date on which that right was made retroactive. Dodd v. U.S., No. 04-5286. Writing on behalf of the majority, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said, “This result may make it difficult for applicants filing second or successive � 2255 motions to obtain relief, since this Court rarely announces a new rule of constitutional law and makes it retroactive within a year, but the Court is not free to rewrite the statute that Congress has enacted.” O’Connor’s opinion was joined by Rehnquist, Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas. Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer dissented. The justices ruled, 7-2, that a Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) motion seeking to challenge a district court ruling denying a habeas petition is not a prohibited “second or successive” habeas petition for purposes of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, 28 U.S.C. 244(b). Gonzalez v. Crosby, No. 04-6432. The justices held that motions that do not seek to attack the district court’s adjudication of a claim on the merits, but instead address only the integrity of the habeas proceeding, cannot be considered second or successive petitions, and thus may be decided by a district court without prior permission from a circuit court. However, in the present case, though the Rule 60(b) motion was not a second or successive habeas petition, it affirmed its denial. Writing on behalf of the court, Scalia said that the petitioner showed a lack of diligence in seeking direct appellate review of the statute-of-limitations issue. Scalia’s opinion was joined by Rehnquist, O’Connor, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg and Breyer. Stevens’ dissent was joined by Souter. The justices struck down, 6-3, a Michigan law that barred state-paid legal help for poor defendants who plead guilty but then want to appeal. Halbert v. Michigan, No. 03-10198. Antonio Dwayne Halbert had pleaded no contest in 2001 to two child molestation charges and received up to 30 years in prison. He sought to contest the sentence, but Michigan’s 1994 law barred automatic appeals for defendants who plead guilty or no contest. Writing for the majority, Ginsburg said that Halbert had a right to an attorney. “Navigating the appellate process without a lawyer’s assistance is a perilous endeavor for a layperson.” Ginsburg’s opinion was joined by Stevens, O’Connor, Kennedy, Souter and Breyer. Thomas’ dissent was joined by Scalia and Rehnquist. The justices ruled, 7-2, that an amended habeas petition cannot avoid the federal habeas one-year filing deadline when it makes a new claim that is based on facts differing from those in the original pleading. Ginsburg’s opinion was joined by Rehnquist, O’Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas and Breyer. Souter’s dissent was joined by Stevens. Mayle v. Felix, No. 04-563. The justices’ 5-4 ruling setting aside a Pennsylvania man’s death penalty because his lawyers had failed to search for mitigating evidence is discussed in the News section [see related link]. Rompilla v. Beard, No. 04-5462.

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