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Monday, May 15, 2006 

Four Handed Down, Four New Grants

The Supreme Court, feeling the heat of their looming deadline, delivered four opinions today. All four opinions were unanimous with a handful of concurrences. Two of the opinions, DaimlerChrysler v Cuno and Sereboff v Mid Atlantic Medical Services were written by Chief Justice Roberts. This gives us a few more opportunities to check out his work.

Of the two, I think that DaimlerChrysler is easily the more interesting case. Prof. Althouse summarizes the history in the following way...
It's hard being a plaintiff who:

1. files a case in state court,

2. has the defendant remove the case to federal court,

3. moves to remand the case on the ground that you don't seem to meet the requirements for standing in federal court,

4. loses that motion,

5. litigates the case in federal court and ultimately wins in the Court of Appeals,

6. has the Supreme Court grant certiorari and now must argue that you do have standing in order to preserve the victory, and

7. loses when the Supreme Court decides that you don't have standing.
This is a standing case. Standing basically means that you, you person filing the lawsuit, must be an injured party in the dispute. For example, if A hits B with his car, I can't sue A. I have no claim. It wasn't my car; I had no injury. Standing was used to boot Michael Newdow's Pledge of Allegiance case out of the Court a few years ago.

The case itself concerned the city of Toledo giving a 10 year tax ememption from property taxes (as well as additional investment tax credits) to get a billion dollar Jeep assembly plant to build in the area. The Chief said the following...
A taxpayer-plaintiff has no right to insist that the government dispose of any increased revenue it might experience as a result of his suit by decreasing his tax liability or bolstering programs that benefit him... To the contrary, the decision of how to allocate any such savings is the very epitome of a policy judgment.
Courts are very worried about lawsuits that second guess every policy decision made by elected legislatures. This would cause most legislatures' activities to come to a grinding halt. Paralysis is not looked at favorably.

The plaintiffs sued, claiming that their status as taxpayers in Ohio was enough to bring a claim. They claimed that their local and state tax burdens were increased by the tax breaks. Federal jurisdiction expert that she is, Prof. Althouse sums up the Court's response nicely...
The Court held unanimously that state tax breaks to business don't injure state taxpayers in a sufficiently "concrete and particularized" way to create a "case or controversy," as required by Article III of the Constitution. Standing in state court, where the plaintiffs originally filed, is governed by state law. It remains unanswered whether the states violate the Commerce Clause when they offer tax breaks to lure businesses into the state.
Justice Ginsburg's concurring opinion showed her skepticism at taxpayer lawsuits that claim a generalized grievance. It's tough suing the government.

The Court also okayed hearing four cases (known as "granting cert") in the next term. The Orders List is here. The most interesting case here is Environmental Defense v Duke Energy Corp. This is a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals case about the EPA's definition of emissions increases under the Prevention of Significant Deterioration program. I, and the rest of the hippies that I hang out with, will be watching this case closely.

For reasons offered here, I think that the Court got it right in Cuno, but the case appears overwhelmingly strong for Congress to revisit ยง1445 and include a better protection for plaintiffs against precisely this kind of mischief on the part of defendants.

I agree. As a matter of law, the Court was right. Something should be done about those procedural tricks though. It's just sneaky lawyering and a really underhanded thing to do.

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