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SUPREME COURT DOCKET REPORT

Mayer Brown's Supreme Court and Appellate Practice Group distributes a Docket Report whenever the Supreme Court grants certiorari in a case of interest to the business community. We also email the Docket Report to our subscribed members and if you don't already subscribe to the Docket Report and would like to, please click here.

October Term 2009 - April 19, 2010

Today the Supreme Court granted certiorari in three cases of interest to the business community:


Copyright Act—First Sale Doctrine’s Application to Goods Manufactured Abroad

Under the Copyright Act’s first sale doctrine, codified at 17 U.S.C. § 109(a), the owner of any particular copy “lawfully made under this title” may sell or otherwise transfer ownership of that copy without the authorization of the copyright owner. In Quality King Distributors, Inc. v. L’anza Research International, Inc., 523 U.S. 135 (1998), the Supreme Court held that the first sale doctrine is applicable to imported copies. Id. at 138. In the decision below, the Ninth Circuit limited Quality King to its facts, which involved domestically manufactured goods that were sold abroad and then imported back into the United States, and held that the statutory phrase “lawfully made under this title” applies only to domestically manufactured goods. Today the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Costco Wholesale Corp. v. Omega, S.A., No. 08-1423, to decide whether the first sale doctrine applies to imported goods manufactured abroad.

This case is important to any retailer, importer or distributor of copyrighted goods manufactured overseas. Offshore product manufacturing is increasingly common, and businesses need to know whether goods lawfully produced and sold abroad are subject to a copyright infringement action if imported into the United States without the authorization of the copyright owner.

The respondent in Costco, Omega S.A., sought to prevent Costco from reselling watches that incorporated a copyrighted design. The watches were manufactured abroad and originally sold by Omega to authorized foreign distributors. In the decision below, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Costco under a first sale defense, holding under Ninth Circuit precedent that § 109(a) grants first sale protection only to copies legally made and sold in the United States, and not to copies that “were made and first sold abroad.” 541 F.3d 982, 986.

Absent extensions, which are likely, amicus briefs in support of the petitioner will be due on June 10, 2010, and amicus briefs in support of the respondent will be due on July 12, 2010. Any questions about this case should be directed to Andrew Tauber (+1 202 263 3324) in our Washington, D.C. office.


Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act—Imputed Bias

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (“USERRA”), 38 U.S.C. §§ 4311 et seq., prohibits an employer from discriminating based on an employee’s membership in the armed services. Today the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Staub v. Proctor Hospital, No. 09-400, to decide whether an employer can be held liable under USERRA based on the unlawful intent of individuals who caused or influenced but did not make the ultimate employment decision.

This case is important to the business community because many companies have employment and disciplinary procedures that rely on information received from individuals who are not the ultimate decisionmakers. If the Court finds that liability may rest on the discriminatory input of non-decisionmakers, then companies will likely see an increase in employment discrimination claims under USERRA and possibly other federal anti-discrimination statutes.

In the decision below, the Seventh Circuit held that an employer is not liable under USERRA for a non-decisionmaker’s animus, except for the rare case in which the decisionmaker bases her decision on “a single source of [tainted] information” and does not conduct her “own investigation into the facts relevant to the decision.” 560 F. 3d 647, 659 (citations omitted). This employer-friendly standard, also adopted by the Fourth Circuit, is at odds with a standard (adopted by the Sixth, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Circuits) that finds employer liability where the biases of non-decisionmakers “cause” the decision of the formal decisionmaker, as well as with a standard (adopted by the First, Second, Third, Eighth, and District of Columbia Circuits) that finds employer liability where a biased official is in a position to “influence” the decisionmaker.

Absent extensions, which are likely, amicus briefs in support of the petitioner will be due on June 10, 2010, and amicus briefs in support of the respondent will be due on July 12, 2010. Any questions about this case should be directed to Andrew Tauber (+1 202 263 3324) in our Washington, D.C. office.


Chapter 13 Bankruptcy—“Projected Disposable Income”

A Chapter 13 bankruptcy permits an individual with regular income who has fallen into debt to propose a repayment plan that entitles her to make installment payments to creditors. If an unsecured creditor objects to the repayment plan, the plan can be confirmed only if it provides that all of the debtor’s “projected disposable income” during the applicable period “will be applied to make payments to unsecured creditors under the plan.” 11 U.S.C. § 1325(b)(1)(B). Today the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Ransom v. MBNA, American Bank, N.A., No. 09-907, to decide whether, in calculating the debtor’s “projected disposable income” during the plan period, the bankruptcy court may, under 11 U.S.C. § 707(b)(2)(A)(ii)(I), allow an “ownership cost” deduction for a vehicle that the debtor owns free and clear.

The case is important to companies that make loans to individuals, because it addresses the methodology used to determine how much a debtor must commit to repaying unsecured creditors to secure confirmation of a contested Chapter 13 plan.

The Fifth, Seventh, and Eighth Circuits have held that that a debtor may take an ownership deduction for the costs of a vehicle, regardless of whether the debtor is making loan or lease payments. In the decision below, the Ninth Circuit disagreed, holding that the “ownership costs” deduction is available only to a debtor who must make loan or lease payments on the vehicle. The Supreme Court granted the debtor’s petition and will review the Ninth Circuit’s interpretation.

Absent extensions, which are likely, amicus briefs in support of the petitioner will be due on June 10, 2010, and amicus briefs in support of the respondent will be due on July 12, 2010. Any questions about this case should be directed to Andrew Tauber (+1 202 263 3324) in our Washington, D.C. office.


Today the Supreme Court also invited the Solicitor General to file a brief expressing the views of the United States in the following case of interest to the business community:

Placer Dome, Inc. v. Provincial Government of Marinduque, No. 09-944: The questions presented involve (i) the degree of discretion afforded, and the appellate standard of review of, a district court decision to dismiss a case on forum non conveniens grounds; and (ii) whether federal question jurisdiction exists based on the federal common law of foreign relations where substantial foreign policy concerns are implicated but not expressly stated on the face of a complaint.


Mayer Brown's Supreme Court & Appellate practice distributes a Docket Report whenever the Supreme Court grants certiorari in a case of interest to the business community and distributes a Docket Report-Decision Alert whenever the Court decides such a case. We hope you find the Docket Reports and Decision Alerts useful, and welcome feedback on them (which should be addressed to Andrew Tauber, their general editor, at atauber@mayerbrown.com or +1 202 263 3324).

Mayer Brown Supreme Court Docket Reports provide information and comments on legal issues and developments of interest to our clients and friends. They are not a comprehensive treatment of the subject matter covered and are not intended to provide legal advice. Readers should seek specific legal advice before taking any action with respect to the matters discussed. 



 
 
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