SCOTUS issues four opinions in cases argued this term

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued opinions in four cases on May 17 that were argued during the 2020-2021 term. 

Edwards v. Vannoy

• The case: A non-unanimous jury found Thedrick Edwards guilty of nine counts of armed robbery, one count of attempted armed robbery, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, and one count of aggravated rape. Edwards was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment on each armed robbery count and to life imprisonment on the aggravated kidnapping and aggravated rape counts. Edwards appealed his conviction and sentence, which was denied in state and federal court. He then filed a petition for habeas corpus with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana. The district court denied Edwards’ claim. Edwards appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which refused to issue a certificate of appealability. In a habeas corpus proceeding, an applicant seeking to file an appeal from a state court is unable to do so without a certificate of appealability.

• The question presented: Whether the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Ramos v. Louisiana (2020) applies retroactively to cases on federal collateral review. In Ramos, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the 6th Amendment’s right to a unanimous jury verdict to support a conviction applies in both federal and state courts.

• The outcome: In a 6-3 opinion, SCOTUS upheld the 5th Circuit’s ruling, holding that the jury-unanimity rule does not apply retroactively on federal collateral review. Justice Brett Kavanaugh delivered the majority opinion of the court. Justice Elena Kagan filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor joined. 

BP P.L.C. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore

• The case: The mayor and city council of Baltimore, Maryland (“Baltimore”) filed a claim and sought relief in state court against 26 multinational oil and gas companies, alleging that the companies contributed to and were responsible in part for climate change and that the companies’ actions caused injury to Baltimore. Two of the companies filed to move the case to federal court, claiming that the issues concerned federal law. Baltimore filed a motion to remand the case back to state court. The district court granted Baltimore’s request. The companies appealed to the 4th Circuit and the court affirmed the district court’s ruling.

• The question presented: Whether 28 U.S.C. 1447(d) allows a court of appeals to review any issue included in a district court’s order remanding a case to state court where the removing defendant premised removal in part on the federal officer removal statute, §1442, or the civil rights removal statute, §1443.

• The outcome: In a 7-1 ruling, the court vacated the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit’s ruling and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with the court’s opinion. The court held that the 4th Circuit erred in its conclusion that it lacked jurisdiction to consider all of the defendants’ grounds for removal under §1447(d). Justice Neil Gorsuch authored the majority opinion and Justice Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion. Justice Samuel Alito recused himself from the case and took no part in its consideration or decision.

CIC Services v. Internal Revenue Service

• The case: In 2004, Congress authorized the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to identify and gather details about potential tax shelters. In 2016, the IRS identified certain “micro-captive transactions” as “transactions of interest,” under the umbrella of transactions that must be reported to the IRS. In 2017, risk management consulting firm CIC Services challenged the updated requirements in district court as being beyond the scope of the IRS’ authority and sought to block enforcement. The IRS argued that the court should dismiss the case because it lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The court agreed with the IRS and dismissed the case. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal. 

• The question presented: Whether a suit to block the updated requirements triggered the Anti-Injunction Act (AIA), a federal law barring lawsuits to prevent the assessment or collection of taxes, even though a violation of the notice may result in a tax penalty.

• The outcome: In a unanimous decision, the court reversed the 6th Circuit and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding that the AIA does not apply to lawsuits challenging certain IRS regulations. Justice Elena Kagan authored the majority opinion. Justices Sotomayor and Kavanaugh filed concurring opinions. 

Caniglia v. Strom

• The case: In 2015, Edward Caniglia and his wife had an argument at their Rhode Island home. The next day, the police conducted a wellness check on Caniglia and seized firearms and ammunition from the home. Later, Caniglia attempted to retrieve his firearms from the police department several times. His requests were denied. Caniglia filed suit in U.S. district court, alleging violations to the U.S. Constitution and to state law. The firearms were returned to Caniglia. The district court held that the police officers’ seizures were protected under the community caretaking exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement, where police officers are permitted to perform community caretaking functions on private premises. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeal for the 1st Circuit upheld the district court’s ruling.

• The question presented: Whether the community caretaking exception extends to the home.

• The outcome: In a unanimous opinion, the court vacated the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit’s ruling and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding that neither the ruling nor logic of Cady v. Dombrowski justifies the removal of Caniglia’s firearms from his home by police officers under a community caretaking exception. Justice Clarence Thomas delivered the opinion of the court. Chief Justice John Roberts filed a concurring opinion, in which Justice Breyer joined. Justices Samuel Alito and Kavanaugh also filed concurring opinions.

To date, SCOTUS has issued 36 opinions this term. Seven cases were decided without argument. 

The court is scheduled to conference on May 20 and to issue orders on May 24.

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