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Supreme Court hears oral argument on jurisdiction

The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] in two cases [JURIST report] on Wednesday pertaining to jurisdiction. The first, Arlington v. FCC [transcript, PDF], addresses whether Chevron USA v. NRDC [opinion] allows a federal agency to determine its own jurisdiction. The provision at issue, 47 USC § 332(c)(7) [text] of the Federal Communications Act, states that "nothing in this chapter shall limit or affect the authority of a State or local government." However, § 332(c)(7)(B)(ii) requires states or local authorities to act within a "reasonable" period of time. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) [official website], under its general jurisdiction to administer the Federal Communications Act, defined a "reasonable" period of time to be 90 days for some types of applications and 150 days for others. Failure of the state or local governments to act within the defined time periods allows affected individuals to bring an action in court or petition the FCC. Arlington argued that by establishing these time periods, the FCC was effectively limiting the power of state and local governments in violation of USC § 332(c)(7)(A). The FCC argued that under Chevron when the statute is ambiguous, the court simply must determine whether the agency's interpretation of the provision at issue is a permissible construction. The FCC argued that their interpretation was indeed reasonable, thus the FCC, as a government agency, should be given deference.

The court also heard oral arguments in Gunn v. Minton [transcript, PDF], which addressed who should adjudicate a dispute arising out of patent law, which would require interpretation of patents but does not rule on the merit of the patent. The Texas Supreme Court ruled that federal courts had exclusive jurisdiction over any issue arising from a patent dispute. The particular case is a state law malpractice claim involving interpretation of federal patent law. Gunn argued that "arising under" jurisdiction requires that there be a significant federal issue embedded in the state law claim for a federal court to take jurisdiction. Gunn argued that although the experimental use exception of patent law was at issue in the state claim, the case did not require a court to interpret how the doctrine worked, how it is applied or what its parameters are. Therefore, there would be no actual federal law at issue since all that was required was for the court to make a hypothetical determination. Minton argued in response that the malpractice claim rested solely on an issue of patent law that is heard only in federal courts and that allowing a state court to adjudicate the case would "upset the balance between State and Federal judicial responsibility." Minton further argued that would be improper for a state court to rule on a patent issue which potentially could have issue preclusion effects in federal courts on an issue of federal law.

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