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The U.S. Supreme Court on June 12 and June 15 rendered the following decisions: The justices ruled, 5-4, that a violation by the police of the “knock-and-announce” rule when they enter a home with a warrant does not bar the use of evidence gathered in the search. Hudson v. Michigan, No. 04-1360. Detroit police obtained a warrant to search Booker Hudson’s home for drugs and firearms. When they arrived, the police announced their presence, but waited only a few seconds before entering. Police found both drugs and firearms. Hudson moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that the premature entry violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The Michigan trial court granted his motion. An intermediate appellate court reversed, holding that suppression is inappropriate if entry is made pursuant to warrant but without proper knock-and-announce. The Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal. The justices affirmed. Writing on behalf of the court, Justice Antonin Scalia pointed out that the “exclusionary rule” is applicable only when its deterrence benefits outweigh its social costs. The interests protected by the knock-and-announce rule include human life and limb, property and privacy and dignity. But the rule has never protected one’s interest in preventing the government from gathering evidence described in a warrant. Since the interests violated in this case here have nothing to do with the seizure of evidence, the exclusionary rule is inapplicable. Scalia’s opinion was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. Justice Stephen G. Breyer’s dissent was joined by justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The justices ruled unanimously that a death row inmate can challenge the constitutionality of a state’s method of lethal injection under 42 U.S.C. 1983 even when all other appeals have been exhausted. Hill v. McDonough, No. 05-8794. In 1983, Clarence E. Hill was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Hill filed an action, under Section 1983, to enjoin the three-drug lethal injection procedure that the state was likely to use on him. He alleged that the procedure could cause him severe pain and thereby violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments. A Florida federal court ruled that the Section 1983 claim was the functional equivalent of a habeas petition. Because Hill had sought federal habeas relief earlier, the court deemed his petition successive and barred under 28 U.S.C. 2244. The 11 th Circuit affirmed. The justices reversed. According to the high court’s 2004 ruling, Nelson v. Campbell, 124 S. Ct. 2117, death row inmates may file Section 1983 suits challenging the conditions of their confinement without violating federal laws that restrict repetitive habeas petitions. Writing on behalf of the court, Kennedy said that Hill was not challenging his sentence as a general matter; he was only seeking to enjoin the state from executing him in a manner that “allegedly causes a foreseeable risk of gratuitous and unnecessary pain . . . .Under these circumstances a grant of injunctive relief could not be seen as barring the execution of Hill’s sentence.” The justices ruled, 5-3, that a death row inmate can use DNA evidence to attempt to prove his innocence 20 years after his conviction. House v. Bell, No. 04-8990. A Tennessee state jury convicted Paul Gregory House of the 1985 murder of Carolyn Muncey and sentenced him to death. The evidence against him included semen apparently consistent with House’s on Muncey’s clothing. Following rejection of his state court appeals, House sought habeas relief, asserting ineffective assistance of counsel and prosecutorial misconduct. A Tennessee federal court granted summary judgment to the state on most of House’s claims, and then held that House had failed to demonstrate actual innocence of the murder. A sharply divided en banc 6 th Circuit affirmed. The justices reversed. High court precedent holds that prisoners asserting innocence must demonstrate that in light of the new evidence, it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The justices pointed out that DNA testing has established that the semen on Muncey’s clothing came from her husband, not House. Writing on behalf of the court, Kennedy said that though House had not shown actual innocence that would render his execution unconstitutional, he had made the stringent showing required by the actual-innocence exception to procedural default. Thus his federal habeas action may proceed. Kennedy’s opinion was joined by Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer. Roberts, Scalia and Thomas dissented. BANKRUPTCY The justices ruled, 6-3, that insurance carriers’ claims for unpaid workers’ compensation premiums owed by an employer are not entitled to priority status under Section 507(a) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Howard Delivery Service v. Zurich American Insurance Co., No. 05-128. Howard Delivery Service Inc. owned and operated a freight trucking business. Every state in which Howard operated required it to maintain workers’ compensation coverage. Howard contracted with Zurich American Insurance Co. to provide this insurance. In 2002, Howard filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition. Zurich filed an unsecured creditor’s claim, seeking priority status for some $400,000 in unpaid workers’ compensation premiums. Zurich claimed that these unpaid premiums qualified as “[c]ontributions to an employee benefit plan” entitled to priority under Section 507(a)(5). The bankruptcy court denied priority status to Zurich’s claim on the ground that the overdue premiums do not qualify as bargained-for benefits furnished in lieu of increased wages, and hence they fall outside Section 507(a)(5). The 4th Circuit reversed. The justices reversed. Writing on behalf of the court, Ginsburg said that unlike pension plans or group life, health and disability insurance, workers’ compensation provides something for employees, assuring limited fixed payments for on-the-job injuries, and something for employers, removing the risk of large judgments and heavy costs in tort litigation. No such tradeoff is involved in employer-sponsored fringe benefit plans. Moreover, employer-sponsored pension and health plans characteristically insure the employee only. In contrast, workers’ compensation insures the enterprise. Workers’ compensation carrier claims for unpaid premiums fall outside the priority allowed by Section 507(a)(5). Such premiums are more appropriately bracketed with liability insurance premiums for, e.g., motor vehicle, fire or theft insurance, than with contributions made for fringe benefits that complete a pay package, e.g., pension plans and health, life and disability insurance, which undisputedly are covered by Section 507(a)(5). Ginsburg’s opinion was joined by Roberts, Stevens, Scalia, Thomas and Breyer. Kennedy’s dissent was joined by Souter and Alito. CIVIL PRACTICE The justices ruled, 5-4, that federal-question jurisdiction does not exist over a suit by a federal government contractor to enforce a provision in a health benefits plan for federal employees that is part of a government contract established pursuant to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Act. Empire Healthchoice v. McVeigh, No. 05-200. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which negotiates and regulates health benefits plans for federal employees, contracted with the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association to provide a nationwide fee-for-service health plan administered by local companies. The plan obligates the carrier to attempt to recoup amounts paid for medical care. Empire HealthChoice Assurance Inc. administers the plan for federal employees in New York state. Denise McVeigh, administrator of the estate of Joseph McVeigh, a former plan enrollee who was injured in an accident, brought a state court tort suit against third parties alleged to have caused the injuries. The suit was settled. Empire then sued in a New York federal court seeking reimbursement of the $157,309 it had paid under the plan for McVeigh’s medical care. The court granted McVeigh’s motion to dismiss for want of subject-matter jurisdiction. The 2d Circuit affirmed, holding that Empire’s claim arose under state law. The justices affirmed. Writing on behalf of the court, Ginsburg said that the reimbursement and subrogation provisions in the OPM-Blue Cross contract are linked together and depend upon a recovery from a third party under terms and conditions ordinarily governed by state law. Empire has failed to demonstrate a significant conflict between an identifiable federal interest and the operation of state law. Unless such a showing is made, there is no cause to displace state law. Had Congress found it necessary or proper to extend federal jurisdiction to contract-derived reimbursement claims between carriers and insured workers, it would have been easy enough to say so. “The Government’s important interests in attracting able workers and assuring their health and welfare do not warrant turning into a discrete and costly ‘federal case’ into an insurer’s contract-derived claim to be reimbursed from a federal worker’s state-court-initiated tort litigation,” she wrote. Ginsburg’s opinion was joined by Roberts, Stevens, Scalia and Thomas. Breyer’s dissent was joined by Kennedy, Souter and Alito. See Page 4 for a story on the justices’ unanimous ruling that a federal court of appeals doesn’t have jurisdiction to review a lower court order remanding to state court a lawsuit removed to federal court under the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998 because the federal court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction. Kircher v. Putnam Funds Trust, No. 05-409.

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