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Supreme Court in the News • Computer loss • Lethal injection Cruel • Oregon assisted suicide • Can States be sued
Computer loss Will v. Hallock Hallock sued Will and several other employees of the United States Customs Service under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) for damages resulting from the seizure of Hallock’s computer equipment in violation of the Fifth Amendment. In a previous action, Hallock had sued the United States government under the FTCA for the same Fifth Amendment violation. Although the FTCA waives the government’s sovereign immunity, actions for damage to goods seized by customs agents fall under an exception to the FTCA, under which sovereign immunity is not waived. Thus, the district court dismissed Hallock’s first suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Subsequently, Hallock brought this suit for the same damage against the customs employees instead of the United States. In district court, the defendants moved to dismiss the suit because the FTCA bars suits when judgment has been previously entered for a claim. The district court ruled in favor of Hallock and Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, declaring that it had jurisdiction to hear the matter as an interlocutory appeal. The Second Circuit ruled that Hallock had not properly presented a claim in the first suit because sovereign immunity had not been waived. Therefore, the second suit was not barred by the first suit’s dismissal because no final judgment had been entered in the first suit.
What the Court said • In a warranted search of Susan and Richard Hallocks’ residence, Customs Service agents seized computer equipment, software, and disk drives. No criminal charges were ever brought, but the equipment was returned damaged, with all of the stored data lost, forcing Susan to close her computer software business. She sued the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act, invoking the waiver of sovereign immunity, and alleging negligence by the customs agents in executing the search. While that suit was pending, Susan also filed this action against the individual agents under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents,, alleging that the damage they caused to her computers deprived her of property in violation of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause After the District Court dismissed the first suit on the ground that the agents’ activities fell within an exception to the Tort Claims Act’s waiver of sovereign immunity, the agents moved for judgment in the Bivens action. They relied on the Tort Claims Act’s judgment bar,, which provides that “the judgment in an action under … constitutes] a complete bar to any action … against the employee of the government whose act or omission gave rise to the claim.” The District Court denied the motion, holding that dismissal of the Tort Claims Act suit against the Government failed to raise the Act’s judgment bar. The Second Circuit affirmed, after first ruling in favor of jurisdiction under the collateral order doctrine. Under this doctrine, appellate authority to review “all final decisions of the district courts," includes jurisdiction over “a narrow class of decisions that do not terminate the litigation,” but are sufficiently important and collateral to the merits that they should “nonetheless be treated as ‘final,’ ” Digital Equipment Corp. v. Desktop Direct,
Lethal Injection Cruel WASHINGTON - Florida death row inmate Clarence Hill won a last-minute Supreme Court stay Tuesday night about an hour after It was not clear if the court's intervention would only briefly delay Hill's execution, which had been scheduled for 6 p.m. EST, to give justices additional time to review three separate stay requests. Witnesses had gathered at the Florida State Prison for the execution, which was put off for more than an hour before word came from the court. The witnesses were sent home after Justice Anthony M. Kennedy filed paperwork that said Hill's death sentence would "be stayed pending further order" of the justices. "The court will not rule until tomorrow," said Robby Cunningham, spokesman for the Florida Department of Corrections. Earlier, Hill had lost appeals at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. He was scheduled to die for the Oct. 19, 1982, slaying of a Pensacola police officer and the wounding of his partner. Hill was to be the 61st inmate executed in Florida since 1976, when executions resumed after a 12-year moratorium, and the 257th since 1924, when the state took that duty from individual counties. Hill first asked the court for a stay last week. In one of his appeals, Hill asked for a delay to give him time to contest the chemicals that will be used. Kennedy cited that case in granting the stay. Hill's lawyers argue that the three chemicals used in Florida's lethal injection method of execution cause pain, making his execution cruel and unusual punishment. (Amendment eight) He also contends that he is mentally retarded.
Continued Lethal injections are used in most states that have capital punishment, and there's been a growing dispute over the way they are carried out. The Supreme Court has never found a specific form of execution to be cruel and unusual punishment, and the latest case from Florida does not give court members that opportunity. The justices will, however, spell out what options are available to inmates with last-minute challenges to the way they will be put to death. Hill argues that the doses of three chemicals used in Florida executions — sodium pentothal, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride — can cause pain. The first drug is a pain killer. The second one paralyzes the inmate and the third causes a fatal heart attack. The final drug, potassium chloride, "burns intensely as it courses through the veins toward the heart," Doss wrote in the appeal. He said there is "a foreseeable risk of the gratuitous and unnecessary infliction of pain." Hill argues that the doses of three chemicals used in Florida executions — sodium pentothal, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride — can cause pain. The first drug is a pain killer. The second one paralyzes the inmate and the third causes a fatal heart attack. The final drug, potassium chloride, "burns intensely as it courses through the veins toward the heart," Doss wrote in the appeal. He said there is "a foreseeable risk of the gratuitous and unnecessary infliction of pain." Hill argues that the doses of three chemicals used in Florida executions — sodium pentothal, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride — can cause pain. The first drug is a pain killer. The second one paralyzes the inmate and the third causes a fatal heart attack. The final drug, potassium chloride, "burns intensely as it courses through the veins toward the heart," Doss wrote in the appeal. He said there is "a foreseeable risk of the gratuitous and unnecessary infliction of pain." This case was brought for Amendment 8
Assisted suicide in Oregan The Supreme Court on Tuesday let stand Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law, opening the door to many more such laws across the nation for ending the lives of the terminally ill. In a 6-3 vote, justices ruled that a federal drug law could not be used to prosecute Oregon doctors who prescribed overdoses intended to facilitate the deaths of terminally ill patients. The Bush administration in 2001 sought to go after Oregon doctors who invoked the law, saying that induced suicide was not a "legitimate medical purpose." But during oral arguments last November, several justices seemed skeptical of the government's position. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor pointed out that doctors participate in the administration of lethal injections to death row inmates. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy chided former Attorney General John Ashcroft, who tried to lock horns with Oregon over the law. Kennedy wrote that the "authority claimed by the attorney general is both beyond his expertise and incongruous with the statutory purposes and design." Kennedy said that both Ashcroft and the current attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, were overstepping their bounds in trying to impede Oregon's legislature and the U.S. Congress. The attorneys general had argued that the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) gave them the power to override the Oregon assisted suicide law. "The CSA explicitly contemplates a role for the states in regulating controlled substances," Kennedy noted. Moreover, when Ashcroft said that assisted suicide was not a "legitimate medical purpose," he was seeking to define that term, which was not spelled out in the CSA. If anyone is going to define what a legitimate medical purpose is, Kennedy wrote, it should not be the attorney general, whose job description does not include making health and medical policy. "He is not authorized to make a rule declaring illegitimate a medical standard for care and treatment of patients that is specifically authorized under state law," Kennedy wrote. He was joined in the majority opinion by Justices O'Connor, John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer
continued Peg Sandeen, executive director of the Death With Dignity National Center, said she was pleased but hardly surprised by Tuesday's outcome. "We're pretty convinced states are going to go forward with similar legislation," Sandeen told FOXNews.com, citing pending legislation in Vermont and California. "We really believe the American people want this." The court did not make a bold statement about the right to die, however. It merely said that the attorney general could not use the CSA to prosecute physicians who prescribe deadly doses to terminally ill patients — meaning, Congress could explicitly grant or deprive the attorney general of that power in new legislation. "It's a rebuke to the Bush administration, but it's not any great victory for one side or the other," said Neil Siegel, a constitutional law professor at Duke Law School. "The decision did not [address] the merits of assisted suicide," said Bradford Short, staff attorney for the Culture of Life Foundation. "At the most what it said is that the Controlled Substances This decision was based on states rights
Can States be sued? WASHINGTON (Reuters) - States can be sued in certain bankruptcy proceedings, a divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday in a case that pitted state powers against those of the federal government. By a 5-4 vote, the high court rejected arguments that states could not be sued because of state sovereign immunity. The court said Congress, in adopting the bankruptcy law, has the power to treat states the same way as other creditors. The decision departed from the series of rulings in recent years by the court's conservative majority that generally have expanded the immunity of states from lawsuits while cutting back on the power of Congress. The case involved four state-run colleges in Virginia -- Central Virginia Community College, Virginia Military Institute, New River Community College and Blue Ridge Community College. Wallace Bookstores, which operated a chain of college bookstores, filed for bankruptcy in 2001. The liquidating supervisor of the bankruptcy estate sued the four colleges in an attempt to recover money owed to Wallace. The colleges moved to dismiss on the grounds that state sovereign immunity barred the lawsuit. But a federal bankruptcy court, a federal judge and a U.S. appeals court all rejected the request and said Congress acted within its power in revoking state immunity in bankruptcy proceedings. The high court, in an opinion written by Justice John Paul Stevens, agreed. He was joined by Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. Stevens said the ruling involved proceedings initiated by a bankruptcy trustee to set aside preferential transfers by the debtor to state agencies. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy dissented. Thomas wrote that the majority opinion cannot be justified by the U.S. Constitution and that it conflicted with the court's precedents on state sovereign immunity. This decision was based on powers of government