Supreme Court to decide case over title to riverbeds, 3 others

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday granted certiorari [order list, PDF] in four cases. In PPL Montana v. Montana [docket; cert. petition, PDF] the court will determine if the proper constitutional test for whether a river is navigable for title purposes requires a trial court to consider whether the river was considered navigable at the time the state joined the Union or whether the court can consider new evidence based on current use. The challenge is being brought by a company that owns a hydroelectric power dam on the Missouri River after the Supreme Court of Montana held [opinion, PDF] that the title to the riverbeds passed to Montana when it became a state in 1889 and that the riverbeds are public trust lands under Article X, Section 11. The Supreme Court of Montana ordered PPL to pay $41 million in back rent and more in future rent for use of the riverbeds. Last November, the court requested [JURIST report] the acting solicitor general to submit views on the case.

In First American Financial v. Edwards [docket; cert. petition, PDF] the court will decide whether a plaintiff has standing to sue, on behalf of a nationwide class, claiming a real estate company violated the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act of 1974 [text] without claiming that the violation affected the services rendered. RESPA makes it illegal for settlement service companies to receive a kickback involving any federally related mortgage loan. The plaintiff argues that her title agent improperly referred her to First American Financial [corporate website] in violation of RESPA seeking to recover settlement service charges despite not showing that First American Financial was more expensive or provided inadequate service. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held [opinion, PDF] that the payment of he service charges established an injury in fact sufficient to satisfy Article III standing because RESPA's text does not limit liability to cases where the plaintiff is overcharged.

In Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc. [docket; cert. petition, PDF] the court will here a case over the ability to patent under 35 USC § 101 [text] the observed correlations between natural metabolite reactions of the body to different dosages of a certain type of drug. Prometheus Labs [corporate website] patented the tests doctors use for determining the appropriate dosage of drugs for treating Crohn's disease and other autoimmune diseases. Mayo Collaborative argues that the tests look at "natural phenomenon" and that doctors violate the patents simply by mentally recognizing the correlation regardless of what the doctor does with this knowledge. The Supreme Court accepted a case on this issue before in Laboratory Corp. of America v. Metabolite Laboratories [Duke Law case backgrounder; JURIST report] but dismissed it as "improvidently granted" because the petitioner had not adequately preserved the question.

In Federal Aviation Administration v. Cooper [docket; cert. petition, PDF] the Supreme Court will decide whether a pilot who lost his license for a failure to disclose he had HIV can sue the federal government for mental and emotional damages. The pilot, Stanmore Cooper, did not tell the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that he had HIV but did disclose it to the Social Security Administration (SSA) [official websites] in order to receive disability benefits. This fact was discovered during a government investigation to streamline agencies. Coopers pilots' license was revoked after a determination that he would not have been medically certified to fly if it was known he had HIV. Cooper admitted to delivering a false writing and was sentenced to a fine and probation. Cooper is suing the government claiming that the sharing of documents between the two agencies during the investigation violated the Privacy Act of 1974 [5 USC § 552a] seeking "actual damages" for mental and emotional distress. But the government claims the Privacy Act's "actual damages" does not cover such distress. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held [opinion text] the SSA violated the Privacy Act and that the Cooper could sue for emotional distress damages. Justice Elena Kagan, former solicitor general for the US, recused herself from consideration of this case.

 

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