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Supreme Court to rule on claim against private prison contractors

The US Supreme Court [official website] on Monday granted certiorari [order list, PDF] in Minneci v. Pollard [docket; cert. petition, PDF] to decide whether to allow a cause of action against private contractors running a federal prison. The issue is whether the court should imply a cause of action under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics [opinion text] against individual employees of private companies that contract with the federal government to provide prison services, where the plaintiff has adequate alternative remedies for the harm alleged and the defendants have no employment or contractual relationship with the government. Respondent Richard Lee Pollard sustained injuries while in federal prison and filed suit against the private company that had contracted with the government to run the facility, as well as several of its employees, alleging a violation of his Eighth Amendment [text] rights. A district court dismissed Pollard's case, finding that alternative and superior remedies were available in state court, but the Ninth Circuit reversed [opinion, PDF], creating a split among the circuit courts.

Also Monday, the court declined to hear an appeal on the CIA's extraordinary rendition program [JURIST news archive]. In a September en banc rehearing, the full US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision to dismiss the suit [JURIST reports] against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen Dataplan [corporate website] on the basis of the state secrets privilege [JURIST news archive]. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] appealed [JURIST report] to the Supreme Court in December.

The court also declined to rule on an attempt to remove the phrase "so help me God" from the presidential oath. The challenge was brought by atheist Michael Newdow [JURIST news archive] and several other groups, who claimed the phrase violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment [text]. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected [JURIST report] Newdow's claim last May.

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