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Supreme Court rules in sovereign immunity, habeas time limit cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday handed down opinions in two cases, including Northern Insurance v. Chatham County [Duke Law case backgrounder], 04-1618, where the Court held that an entity that is not entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment cannot assert "residual sovereign immunity" as a defense to an admiralty suit under common law. In the case, an insured's boat was destroyed by a drawbridge operated by Chatham County, Georgia, but when the insurance company sued for negligent maintenance of the bridge, the county government asserted immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled [text] that the county was acting as an "arm of the state" and was entitled to sovereign immunity based on common law, but not under the Eleventh Amendment, but the Supreme Court overturned the lower court in a unanimous decision. Read the Court's opinion [text], written by Justice Thomas.

In the second case decided Tuesday, the Court held in Day v. McDonough [Duke Law case backgrounder], 04-1324, that a trial court has discretion to dismiss a habeas corpus petition as untimely under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 [PDF text]. In the 5-4 decision, the Court upheld an Eleventh Circuit decision [PDF text] affirming the dismissal of a habeas petition that was filed after the one-year statute of limitations had expired. The district court dismissed the petition sua sponte without the state raising the statute of limitations as an affirmative defense. Read the Court's majority opinion [text], per Justice Ginsburg, along with dissent [text] from Justice Scalia, joined by Justices Breyer and Thomas, and a separate dissent [text] by Justice Stevens, who was joined in part by Justice Breyer. SCOTUSblog has more.

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