Supreme Court rules in Marcos assets, litigating agent, sentencing guideline cases

Supreme Court rules in Marcos assets, litigating agent, sentencing guideline cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] handed down five decisions Thursday, including Republic of the Philippines v. Pimentel [Duke Law backgrounder; JURIST report], where the Court ruled that an interpleader action to determine ownership of assets held by former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos [official profile] cannot continue because an indispensable party is protected by sovereign immunity. The Republic of the Philippines and the Philippine Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) [official website] claim ownership of funds improperly moved out of the Philippines by Marcos and invested with US investment bank Merrill Lynch, as does Mariano Pimentel, the representative of a class of 9,539 people holding an unsatisfied human rights judgment [opinion] against Marcos' estate. Merrill Lynch initiated the interpleader action to settle ownership of the funds, listing the Philippines, PCGG, and Pimentel, among others, as claimants. The Philippines and PCGG asserted their sovereign immunity from the suit and moved to dismiss the entire action, arguing that they are indispensable parties under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19(b) [text]. The Court ruled that the Philippine government was an indispensable party, overturning a decision [PDF text] by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and remanding the case to the district court with instructions to dismiss the interpleader action:

The Court of Appeals' failure to give sufficient weight to the likely prejudice to the Republic and the Commission should the interpleader proceed in their absence would, in the usual course, warrant reversal and remand for further proceedings. In this case, however, that error and our further analysis under the additional provisions of Rule 19(b) lead us to conclude the action must be dismissed.

Read the Court's opinion per Justice Kennedy, along with concurrences and dissents in part from Justices Stevens and Souter [texts]. Reuters has more.

In Taylor v. Sturgell [Duke Law backgrounder; JURIST report], the Court found that a litigant is not barred from pursuing a Freedom of Information Act [text] claim if another litigant had previously pursued a similar claim. Taylor filed a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) seeking to compel disclosure of certain FAA documents, but the suit was dismissed when the district court determined that the claim was barred because a "close associate" of Taylor's had already unsuccessfully pursued a similar claim. The US Court of Appeals for the District Court affirmed [PDF text] the district court based on a "virtual representation" theory, noting that Taylor and the earlier litigant sought disclosure of the same documents and were represented by the same lawyer. The Court Thursday rejected that "virtual representation" theory, finding:

We have never defined the showing required to establish that a nonparty to a prior adjudication has become a litigating agent for a party to the earlier case. Because the issue has not been briefed in any detail, we do not discuss the matter elaboratively here. We note, however, that courts should be cautious about finding preclusion on this basis. A mere whiff of "tactical maneuvering" will not suffice; instead, principles of agency law are suggestive. They indicate that preclusion is appropriate only if the putative agent’s conduct of the suit is subject to the control of the party who is bound by the prior adjudication.

Read the Court's unanimous opinion [text] per Justice Ginsburg. AP has more.

The Court also ruled in Irizarry v. United States [Duke Law backgrounder; JURIST report], holding that a judge is not required to give advance notice to both sides in a criminal case if he plans to pass a sentence that deviates from the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The Court found that a "sentence outside the Guidelines carries no presumption of unreasonableness." The Eleventh Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that the guidelines are only advisory and so notice is not required. Read the Court's opinion per Justice Stevens, and a concurrence [texts] by Justice Thomas. Justice Breyer filed a dissent [text], joined by Justices Kennedy, Souter, and Ginsburg.

The Court also ruled in the consolidated cases of Munaf v. Geren and Geren v. Omar and Al-Odah v. United States of America and Boumediene v. Bush [JURIST reports].