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The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 22 ruled, 5-4, that a Muslim inmate cannot sue the government over the disappearance of the prisoner’s copies of the Quran and a prayer rug. Ali v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, No. 06-9130. The justices said the federal law on which the inmate relied prohibits lawsuits against federal corrections officers. Abdus-Shahid M.S. Ali claimed that the missing books and rug reflect widespread harassment against Muslim inmates in federal, state and local prisons triggered by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Ali is serving a sentence of 20 years to life in prison for committing first-degree murder in Washington. The issue in the case was whether federal prison guards are immune from suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The law blocks lawsuits against the government over goods detained by customs and excise officers or “any other law enforcement officer.” Two lower federal courts said Ali cannot sue because prison officials are law enforcement officers. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, agreed with the lower courts. The law “forecloses lawsuits against the United States for the unlawful detention of property by ‘any,’ not just ‘some,’ law enforcement officers,” he said. Besides the two copies of the Quran and the prayer rug, Ali is missing stamps and other personal items worth $177 that he says never showed up after his transfer from a federal penitentiary in Atlanta to Big Sandy penitentiary at Inez, Ky., in 2003. He said the last time he saw the now-missing items was when he turned them over to a prison supervisor in Atlanta. Muslim inmates have been subjected to “very hard times and bad treatment” at the hands of federal, state and local prison employees, Ali said in court papers. Thomas’ opinion was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and justices Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Samuel A. Alito Jr. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s dissent was joined by justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter and Stephen G. Breyer. &bull The justices last week dashed the hopes of defrauded Enron investors who sought to recover billions of dollars from investment banks connected to the collapsed energy firm. Without comment, the justices denied review in Regents of the University of California v. Merrill Lynch, No. 06-1341, in which stockholders claimed that a range of banks participated in “contrived, deceptive deals” that helped Enron show profits that were not real. The justices’ action was widely expected in the wake of its Jan. 15 decision in Stoneridge Investment Partners LLP v. Scientific-Atlanta Inc., No. 06-43. In that decision, written by Kennedy, the court said third parties like bankers, accountants and law firms were immune from so-called “scheme liability” under federal securities law, unless it can be shown that they made public misrepresentations on which investors relied. As soon as the court decided Stoneridge, the lawyer for Enron plaintiffs, Patrick Coughlin of Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins in San Diego, filed a brief with the justices pointing out the differences between his case and Stoneridge. While the Stoneridge suit targeted vendors or suppliers, Coughlin wrote, the Enron suit was filed against “financial professionals who deliberately misled investors.” Lawyers for the financial institutions countered that the Stoneridge rule should apply to them as well. The justices apparently agreed, and decided that the issue of third-party liability was closed.

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