Commentary

On Friday the Supreme Court elevated this term from mostly meat and potatoes to historic by agreeing to hear four same-sex marriage cases.  The Court will decide whether it is constitutional for states to prohibit same-sex marriage and whether states may refuse to recognize same-sex marriages lawfully performed out of state.   While the Court refused to hear a number of cases presenting the same issues earlier in the term, these grants came as little surprise.  Between then and now the Sixth...

The City of Roswell lost its case before the Supreme Court on what some might describe as a mere technicality--but overall local governments won.   In T-Mobile South v. City of Roswell the Supreme Court held 6-3 that the Telecommunications Act (TCA) requires local governments to provide reasons when denying an application to build a cell phone tower.  The reasons do not have to be stated in the denial letter but must be articulated “with sufficient clarity in some other written record issued essentially...

In Heien v. North Carolina the Supreme Court held that a reasonable mistake of law can provide reasonable suspicion to uphold a traffic stop under the Fourth Amendment. A police officer pulled over a car that had only one working brake light because he believed that North Carolina law required both brake lights to work.  The North Carolina Court of Appeals, interpreting a statute over a half a century old, concluded only one working brake light is required. highway stop When the vehicle’s occupants behaved suspiciously, the officer asked to search the car.  They consented, and the officer found cocaine.  The owner of the car argued that the stop violated the Fourth Amendment because driving with one working brake light doesn’t violate North Carolina law. The Supreme Court has long held that reasonable mistakes of fact do not undermine Fourth Amendment searches and seizures.  Justice Roberts reasoned in this 8-1 decision:  “Whether the facts turn out to be not what was thought, or the law turns out to be not what was thought, the result is the same: the facts are outside the scope of the law. There is no reason, under the text of the Fourth Amendment or our precedents, why this same result should be acceptable when reached by way of a reasonable mistake of fact, but not when reached by way of a similarly reasonable mistake of law.”

In a unanimous opinion in Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, the Supreme Court held that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require hourly employees to be paid for the time they spend waiting to undergo and undergoing security screenings.  Government employees who work in courthouses, correctional institutions, and warehouses routinely go through security screening at the beginning and/or end of the workday.   SCT stairs Jesse Busk and Laurie Castro worked at warehouses filling Amazon.com orders.  They claimed that they should have been paid for the time they spent waiting and going through security screenings to prevent theft at the end of each shift. Under the FLSA employers only have to pay “non-exempt” employees for preliminary and postliminary activities that are “integral and indispensable” to a principal activity.  According to the Court, an activity is “integral and indispensable” to a principal activity “if it is an intrinsic element of those activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities.”  The Court concluded that security screenings were not intrinsic to retrieving and packing products and that Integrity Staffing Solutions could have eliminated the screenings altogether without impairing employees’ ability to complete their work.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona could upset sign codes nationally.5554035521_f6b59ccafa_n  Most sign codes, like Gilbert’s, include different categories of temporary signs.  It makes sense, for example, to give people more time to remove thousands of election signs and less time to remove a few yard sale signs.  In this case the Court will decide whether local governments may regulate temporary directional signs differently than other temporary signs.  The Court could rule, practically speaking, that all temporary signs must have the same time, place, and manner requirements.  IMLA joined the State and Local Legal Center’s (SLLC) amicus brief asking the Court not to go that far. Gilbert’s Sign Code includes temporary directional signs, political signs, and ideological signs.  After being notified that its temporary directional signs announcing the time and location of church services were displayed longer than allowed, the Good News church sued Gilbert.  The church claimed Gilbert’s Sign Code violates the First Amendment because temporary directional signs receive the less favorable treatment (in terms of size, location, duration, etc.) than political signs and ideological signs.

Even though there was no disagreements among the federal circuit courts of appeals at the time, Court watchers were shocked with the Supreme Court denied certiorari in a series of cases striking down same-sex marriage bans.  All eyes then turned to the Ninth and Sixth Circuits who had pending cases.  The next day the Ninth Circuit struck down Nevada’s and Idaho’s ban.  On November 6 the Sixth Circuit became the first federal circuit court to uphold bans in four states...

Last Friday the Supreme Court’s docket went from boring to big with the grant of just one case:  King v. Burwell.  The issue in this case is whether tax credits for low and middle income health insurance purchasers are available under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) if insurance is purchased on a federal exchange rather than a state exchange.  Only 16 states and the District of Columbia have established exchanges.  The ACA makes tax credits available to those who buy health...

Interpretive and substantive rules.   What is the difference?SupremeCourt2  Under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) substantive regulations interpret statutes and federal agencies adopt them only after notice-and-comment.  Interpretive rules and are promulgated without-notice and-comment.  But what if an agency changes an interpretive rule;   should it first seek notice and comment?  The Supreme Court will decide this issue in Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Association. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) argues yes in its amicus brief, which agrees with the lower court that significant changes to an interpretation of a regulation amounts to effectively changing the regulation, which requires notice-and-comment.  Local governments frequently have been surprised by interpretive rules that have changed regulations.  IMLA joined the SLLC’s brief.

For the six reasons Lyle Denniston describes on SCOTUSblog, the Supreme Court’s announcement on Monday that it would not hear any of the seven petitions striking down same-sex marriage bans was stunning.5554035521_f6b59ccafa_n  Even though there was no circuit split, conventional wisdom indicated the Court would decide the issue because of its importance and because both sides asked the Court for review. Amy Howe also of SCOTUSblog and Scott Michelman writing on SCOTUSblog speculate as to the why the Court’s liberals and conservatives may have decided not to get involved in the issue now.  In short, the liberals had nothing to lose by waiting, and both side face uncertainty about Justice Kennedy’s position on the issue. To understand where were are today with same-sex marriage a timetable is helpful.
  • On Sunday, 19 states recognized same-sex marriage.
  • On Monday, 11 more states were added from the Fourth (Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina) Seventh (Wisconsin and Indiana) and Tenth Circuits (Utah, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, and Wyoming).
  • On Tuesday 5 more states were added when the Ninth Circuit (Idaho, Nevada, Alaska, Arizona, and Montana) struck down the Idaho and Nevada same-sex marriage bans.  (Implementation of this decision is still being worked out).
Technically,

While the Supreme Court’s next term officially begins on October 6, its “long conference” is September 29.  At this conference the Court will review a backlog of petitions that have been piling up over the summer.  SCOTUSblog complies a list of petitions that it thinks have a reasonable chance of being granted.  Eight of the petitions the Court will consider either during the “long conference” or at a later conference directly involve or impact local governments.5554035521_f6b59ccafa_n Public nuisance.  A Brighton, Michigan, ordinance presumes that an unsafe structure will be demolished as a public nuisance if the cost of repairing it exceeds its value.  The owner has no right to repair the structure.  Brighton property owners wanted to repair two unsafe structures even though Brighton estimated it would cost almost double the property value do so.  In Bonner v. City of Brighton, Michigan, the property owners claim the ordinance violates substantive and procedural due process. Employment.  Under federal employment law to bring a discrimination claim a plaintiff must prove that an “adverse action” occurred, and to bring a retaliation claim a plaintiff must prove a “materially adverse action” occurred.  The question in Kalamazoo County Road Commission v. Deleon is whether either can be proven when an employer grants an employee’s request for a job transfer (and the new position turns out to be less desirable than the old position).  The International Municipal Lawyers Association (IMLA) filed an amicus brief in this case.