Supreme Court hears arguments in Microsoft email disclosure, retaliatory arrest cases

Supreme Court hears arguments in Microsoft email disclosure, retaliatory arrest cases

The US Supreme Court [official website] heard arguments on Tuesday for two cases, United States v. Microsoft Corp. and Lozman v. City of Riveria Beach, Florida [SCOTUSBlog materials].

United States v. Microsoft Corp. [transcript, PDF] concerns the application of a 20 year-old statute, the Stored Communications Act (SCA) [materials], to modern technology. The case, which began in 2013, centers around a warrant that ordered Microsoft [corporate website], headquartered in Redmond, Washington, to overturn the contents of emails stored in Ireland in an attempt to uncover information regarding drug trafficking. Microsoft argued that the SCA, which compels email providers to surrender the contents of emails should the government obtain a warrant, only applies to contents that are stored in the US. The government contended that it is an issue of control, and not location:

Under … the basic rule of both domestic and international law … when a court has personal jurisdiction over an individual before the court and issues an order requiring disclosure of information, that person must comply with the order regardless of where it has chosen to store the information over which it has control.

The second case, Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, Florida [transcript, PDF], asks the justices to decide whether probable cause can override a claim of retaliatory arrest for First Amendment protected expression. In 2006 Fane Lozman took an opportunity to speak during a public comments session during a public meeting for the city of Riviera to discuss what he felt was the possible corruption of local politicians. When asked to discontinue his commentary, he refused and was subsequently removed from the meeting and arrested. Lozman filed a lawsuit alleging that the city arrested him in retaliation for two instances of First Amendment protected expressions: a then-pending lawsuit under the Florida Sunshine Act and his history of publicly criticizing city officials and policies, including the 2006 incident and various activities leading up to it. The City requested that the Court uphold the Eleventh Circuit’s decision in this case, which was based on earlier case in the Eleventh Circuit that held that a plaintiff cannot prevail on a First Amendment retaliatory arrest claim if there was probable cause to justify the arrest. Additionally, the city relied on the Supreme Court’s 2006 decision in Harman v. Moore [LII materials], which held that probable cause bars First Amendment claims alleging retaliatory prosecution. Fozman asked the court to distinguish between the case at hand and Hartman, pointing out that the decision in Hartman “rest[ed] entirely on the fact that there was absolute prosecutorial immunity for the actor who actually imposed the injury there.”