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The U.S. Supreme Court on April 25 and April 26 rendered the following decisions: The justices ruled, 5-4, that federal trial judges have discretion as to whether or not to dismiss a prisoner’s habeas petition as untimely under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), even if a state had mistakenly decided that the petition had been filed in a timely fashion. Day v. McDonough, No. 04-1324. The justices upheld the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling dismissing as untimely Florida inmate Patrick Day’s habeas challenge to his murder conviction and 55-year prison sentence, which was filed after the one-year statute of limitations had expired. A state attorney thought that Day had filed his appeal on time. A U.S. magistrate judge noticed the error and gave Day a chance to argue why his case shouldn’t be dismissed. The district court dismissed the petition sua sponte without the state raising the statute of limitations as an affirmative defense, and the 11th Circuit affirmed. Writing on behalf of the court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that there was no need to adopt either an inflexible rule requiring dismissal whenever AEDPA’s one-year filing deadline has expired, or a rule treating the state’s failure to plead the one-year bar as an absolute waiver. Rather, a district court has discretion to decide whether the administration of justice is better served by dismissal of the case as time-barred or by a decision on the merits of the petition. Ginsburg’s opinion was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and justices Anthony M. Kennedy, David H. Souter and Samuel A. Alito Jr. Justices John Paul Stevens, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Stephen G. Breyer dissented. Torts The justices ruled, 5-2, that an individual claiming to have been prosecuted in retaliation for exercising his rights must show the absence of probable cause for the pressing of the underlying criminal charges. Hartman v. Moore, No. 04-1495. Recognition Equipment Inc. (REI) lobbied the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to adopt multiline optical scanning technology. USPS adopted the multiline technology, but it awarded the equipment contract to a competing firm. Subsequently, USPS inspectors investigated REI and its chief executive, William G. Moore Jr., for their alleged improper role in the search for a new postmaster general. REI and its top officials were prosecuted, but acquitted. Moore sued the federal prosecutor and the postal inspectors, claiming that the prosecution was in retaliation for the lobbying. The suit was dismissed, but the D.C. Circuit reinstated the retaliatory prosecution claim against the inspectors. The inspectors moved for summary judgment, claiming that because the underlying criminal charges were supported by probable cause, they were entitled to qualified immunity. The district court denied the motion, and the D.C. Circuit affirmed. The justices reversed. Writing on behalf of the court, Souter said that because the defendant in a retaliatory prosecution isn’t the prosecutor, who has immunity, but an official who allegedly influenced the prosecutorial decision, the causal connection that needs to be shown is not that between the retaliatory animus of one person and that person’s injurious action, but that between the retaliatory animus of one person and the adverse action of another. Because evidence of an inspector’s animus does not necessarily show that the inspector induced the prosecutor to act when he would not have acted otherwise, a showing of the absence of probable cause is needed to bridge the gap between the nonprosecuting government agent’s retaliatory motive and the prosecutor’s injurious action. Souter’s opinion was joined by Stevens, Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas. Ginsburg and Breyer dissented. Roberts and Alito took no part in the decision. Government The justices ruled unanimously that an entity that isn’t an arm of a state government, and thus doesn’t enjoy immunity under the 11th Amendment, can’t claim common law “residual sovereign immunity” as a defense to an admiralty suit. Northern Insurance Co. of N.Y. v. Chatham County, Ga., No. 04-1618. A couple’s boat was damaged by a drawbridge on the Wilmingon River, operated by Chatham County, Ga. Northern Insurance Co. of New York sued the county for negligent maintenance of the bridge, but a Georgia federal court ruled that though the county didn’t enjoy 11th Amendment immunity from civil suits, sovereign immunity extends to counties and municipalities that exercise power delegated from the state. The 11th Circuit affirmed, ruling that common law has carved out a “residual immunity” that protects political subdivisions such as counties from suit. The justices reversed. Writing on behalf of the court, Thomas said that an entity that does not qualify as an “arm of the State” for 11th Amendment purposes cannot assert sovereign immunity. In addition, though the county may exercise core state functions with regard to navigable waters, U.S. Supreme Court precedent holds that sovereign immunity is no bar to an admiralty suit against a municipal corporation. Constitutional law The justices ruled, 5-3, that when a mailed notice of a tax-forfeiture sale is returned unclaimed, a state must take additional reasonable steps to attempt to notify the property owner before selling the property, if it is practicable to do so. Jones v. Flowers, No. 04-1477. Gary Jones failed to pay property taxes on his Arkansas home. The commissioner of state lands mailed Jones a certified letter, stating that unless he redeemed the property, it would be subject to public sale in two years. Nobody signed for the letter or retrieved it from the post office. Two years later, the commissioner published a notice of public sale in a local newspaper, and the state negotiated a private sale to Linda Flowers. Before selling the house, the commissioner mailed another certified letter to Jones, which was also returned unclaimed. Jones sued in Arkansas state court, alleging that the commissioner’s failure to provide adequate notice resulted in the taking of his property without due process. The trial court ruled that Arkansas’ tax-sale statute, which sets out the notice procedure, complied with due process. The Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed. The justices reversed. Writing on behalf of the court, Roberts said, “It is unlikely that a person who actually desired to inform an owner about an impending tax sale of a house would do nothing when a certified letter addressed to the owner is returned unclaimed.” Because additional reasonable steps were available to the state, the commissioner’s effort to provide notice to Jones was insufficient to satisfy due process. The state could have resent the notice via regular mail. “Other reasonable follow-up measures would have been to post notice on the front door or address otherwise undeliverable mail to ‘occupant,’ ” Roberts wrote. “ Either approach would increase the likelihood that any occupants would alert the owner, if only because an ownership change could affect their own occupancy.” Roberts’ opinion was joined by Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer. Thomas’ dissent was joined by Scalia and Kennedy.

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