Supreme Court decides Iran compensation, veterans benefits, search and seizure cases News
Supreme Court decides Iran compensation, veterans benefits, search and seizure cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] issued three opinions Tuesday. The Court ruled [opinion, PDF] in Ministry of Defense and Support for the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran v. Elahi [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that the brother of dissident Cyrus Elahi, assassinated in Paris in 1990, cannot collect on a default judgment he holds against Iran by attaching a $2.8 million judgment obtained by the Iranian Ministry of Defense against California-based Cubic Defense Systems [corporate website]. Dariush Elahi was awarded $11.7 million in compensatory and $300 million in punitive damages after Iran refused to respond to his 2000 lawsuit brought in a Washington federal court, alleging that the Iranian government was responsible for his brother's death. Iran originally won the $2.8 million judgment against Cubic before the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) [official website] for Cubic's contract breach following the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979 [BBC backgrounder]. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that the attachment was valid under the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002 (TRIA) [text, PDF]. In reversing the lower court's ruling, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote:

We ultimately hold that the Cubic Judgment was not a "blocked asset" at the time the Court of Appeals handed down its decision in this case. We recognize that since that time new Executive Branch action may have "blocked" that asset; but, in light of the posture of the case, we do not decide whether it has done so. Rather, we determine that Elahi cannot attach the Cubic Judgment regardless, for the Judgment is "at issue" in a claim against the United States before the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal. The Judgment consequently falls within the terms of Elahi’s waiver.

The Court's decision was unanimous as to parts I and II. Justice Kennedy filed an opinion dissenting from Part III, which held that Elahi had waived his right to attachment, in which Justices David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined.

The Court ruled [opinion, PDF] 6-3 in Shinseki v. Sanders [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report], retitled from Peake v. Sanders, that the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) [official website] does not bear the burden of proof that it adequately informed a veteran of the information needed to process a benefits claim under the Veterans Claims Assistance Act (VCAA) [text, PDF]. The case involves two veterans whose benefits claims were denied. The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that the burden was on the VA to prove that notice was not prejudicial. In reversing that decision, Breyer wrote:

In our view, the Federal Circuit’s "harmless-error" framework is too complex and rigid, its presumptions impose unreasonable evidentiary burdens upon the VA, and it is too likely too often to require the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (Veterans Court) to treat as harmful errors that in fact are harmless. We conclude that the framework conflicts with established law.

Souter filed a dissenting opinion, in which Ginsburg and Justice John Paul Stevens joined.

Finally, the Court ruled [opinion, PDF] 5-4 in Arizona v. Gant [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that the Fourth Amendment requires law enforcement officers to demonstrate a threat to their safety or a need to preserve evidence related to the crime of arrest in order to justify a warrantless vehicular search incident to arrest conducted after the vehicle's recent occupants have been arrested and secured. Arizona was appealing an Arizona Supreme Court ruling [opinion, PDF] that Rodney Joseph Gant's constitutional rights were violated when police searched his car after he was handcuffed and seated in a police car. In affirming the lower court decision, Stevens wrote:

Police may search a vehicle incident to a recent occupant's arrest only if the arrestee is within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search or it is reasonable to believe the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest. When these justifications are absent, a search of an arrestee's vehicle will be unreasonable unless police obtain a warrant or show that another exception to the warrant requirement applies. The Arizona Supreme Court correctly held that this case involved an unreasonable search.

Justice Antonin Scalia filed a concurring opinion. Breyer filed a dissenting opinion. Justice Samuel Alito filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, and joined in part by Breyer.