Supreme Court hears arguments on vaccine lawsuits

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; merit briefs] Tuesday in Bruesewitz v. Wyeth [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report] on compensation for injuries caused by childhood vaccines. The question is whether § 22(b)(1) [text] of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, which expressly preempts certain design defect claims against vaccine manufacturers "if the injury or death resulted from side effects that were unavoidable even though the vaccine was properly prepared and was accompanied by proper directions and warnings," preempts all vaccine design defect claims. The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that the act preempts all design defect claims. Counsel for the petitioners argued that the Third Circuit's holding was in error for three reasons:

First, the court overlooked the numerous provisions of the Act protecting manufacturers from liability, but it did not expressly preempt design defect claims. Second, the court misconstrued the word "unavoidable" in section 22(b)(1)'s Federal law defense. And third, the court adopted a policy that exposes children to unnecessary safety risks.
Counsel for the respondents argued that Congress intended to preempt all design defect claims. Counsel for the US government argued on behalf of respondents as amicus curiae.

In Harrington v. Richter [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether a defense counsel's reliance on cross-examination in lieu of forensic evidence violates the client's Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel. Granting federal habeas corpus review, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found [opinion, PDF] in an en banc rehearing that Richter's counsel "failed to undertake the most elementary task that a responsible defense attorney would perform" by not presenting forensic analysis of a blood pool found at the scene of a murder Richter is accused of committing. A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit, the California Supreme Court, the California Court of Appeals, and the US District Court for the Eastern District of California had all previously rejected the application. Counsel for the petitioner argued that "the Ninth Circuit failed to give the State court decision the proper deference—indeed, double deference—it was owed. Counsel for the respondent argued that a different verdict could have been reached if there had been forensic analysis of the blood pool.

In Premo v. Moore [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the court heard arguments on whether the standard established in Arizona v. Fulminante [opinion text]—that erroneous admission of a coerced confession at trial is not harmless—applies if a collateral challenge is based on a defense attorney's decision not to move to suppress a confession prior to a guilty or no contest plea and whether that is clearly established under federal law. The Ninth Circuit reversed [opinion, PDF] the district court's decision to deny Moore's writ of habeas corpus. Counsel for the petitioner argued:

The court of appeals held that Arizona v. Fulminante was the clearly established Federal law to control and govern the outcome of this case. This was an error, because this Court has never applied Fulminante's direct appeal harmless error standard, which places the burden of proof on the government, to a collateral ineffective assistance of counsel claim, where the burden of proof is on the inmate.
Counsel for the respondent argued that the Ninth Circuit correctly established that Moore was prejudiced by the error.

 

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