Supreme Court hears arguments on workers compensation, arbitration News
Supreme Court hears arguments on workers compensation, arbitration
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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] in three cases on Tuesday. In Pacific Operators Offshore LLP v. Valladolid [transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court considered when an outer continental shelf worker, injured on land, is eligible for compensation under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) [43 USC §§ 1331-1356 text]. The OCSLA governs those who work on oil drilling platforms and other fixed structures beyond state maritime boundaries, and workers are eligible for compensation for “any injury occurring as the result of operations conducted on the outer Continental Shelf.” Juan Valladolid worked for Pacific Operations Offshore, stationed primarily on an offshore drilling platform, but was killed on the grounds of Pacific Operations’ onshore oil processing facility when he was crushed by a forklift. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] in favor of Valladolid’s estate, explaining that the OCSLA workers’ compensation provision … applies to any injury resulting from operations on the outer continental shelf, regardless of the location of the injury. An injury is ‘the result of’ outer continental shelf operations if there is a substantial nexus between the injury and the operations.” Pacific Operators Offshore argued that the OCSLA has no remedy for an injury that occurred on dry land, but rather Valladolid should have sought relief through state workers compensation law. The federal government argued that the OCSLA covers injuries or death on dry land explicitly, but not under the “nexus” reasoning the Ninth Circuit utilized. Valladolid’s attorney argued that, pursuant to similar treatment in the Jones Act [text], his client’s estate should be compensated for his death that occurred on land. Justice Samuel Alito noted that although the death arrived out of the work, all three parties only wanted to focus on the location: “The curious thing about this case is that the statutory language seems to me to speak quite clearly to some theory of causation. Maybe it’s but-for, maybe it’s proximate, but it’s some—some species of causation. Any injury occurring as a result of operations conducted on the outer continental shelf, that’s—that’s causation. And yet nobody wants this really to be—neither you nor your adversary nor the government wants this to be a—to be based on causation. Everyone wants to smuggle something else into—into here—into this.”

In CompuCredit Corp. v. Greenwood [transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether claims arising under the Credit Repair Organizations Act [15 USC § 1679 et seq.] are subject to arbitration pursuant to a valid arbitration agreement. The case arises from a dispute between consumers and companies that issue low-rate credit cards to people with bad credit. The consumers filed a lawsuit over credit card fees, and the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that they had a right to sue in federal court rather than face arbitration. The attorney for CompuCredit argued that strong federal policy in favor of arbitration overrides any differing laws that discourage waivers of rights to sue. Respondents argued that the Credit Repair Organizations Act explicitly bans any suggestion of waiving the right to sue, and that credit card companies should be fined for even asking applicants to sign an arbitration waiver.

Finally, in Greene v. Fisher [transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments surrounding the “clearly established federal law” standard under 28 USC § 2254(d) [text], as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. Petitioner Eric Greene was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for involvement in a robbery of a convenience store in which the store’s owner was shot and killed. At the trial, Greene objected to the admission of confessions of his conspirators and co-defendants on Confrontation Clause [Sixth Amendment text] grounds. The court allowed the confessions with Greene’s name redacted. He renewed this objection on appeal, arguing on the grounds of the Supreme Court’s decision in Gray v. Maryland [text], where a similarly redacted confession was deemed inadmissible. Gray was decided before Greene’s conviction became final but after the state court’s last decision on the merits. The Third Circuit held that an opinion issued after a decision on the merits in state court is not “clearly established federal Law.” Greene’s attorney argued that it was a bedrock rule that prisoners should benefit from any ruling made before “finality.” The attorney for Pennsylvania argued that Greene asking for law that had been decided after “finality” was asking for new facts to be applied, and thus inapplicable: “For the proposition that our case has emphasized that review under 2254(d)1 focuses on what a State court knew and did. State court decisions are measured against this Court’s precedent as of the time the State court renders its decision. The jumping off point, so to speak, for the Court’s extension of the principle the effect that we are debating today to the area of new facts. And I don’t think there is any way to reconcile that holding with the Petitioner’s argument or with the language of the statute.”