Buck v Davis

Buck sought review of the rejection of his Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6) motion to reopen the judgment in his habeas case. The Court, 6-2, reversed. The majority noted that the 5th Circuit in its analysis of Bucks application for a certificate of appealability did not follow the two step process of determining of Buck’s position is debatable then reviewing the merits but instead went straight to the merits and that this was not correct. It next held that trail counsel was deficient in calling an expert witness who testified being black makes a person more likely to be violent and that the district court erred in concluding that there was no prejudice as the issue of future dangerousness was the key issue of the sentencing and Buck’s race was key evidence in support of a finding of dangerousness. It next held that district court abused its discretion in not finding extraordinary circumstances as the death sentence here was based in part on Buck’s identity as a black man and the fact that in five other cases where the same expert gave testimony about the connection between being black and future violence Texas confessed error and waived procedural bars because consideration of race is not appropriate in criminal sentencing let alone death sentence hearings. It finally held that recent Court precedent allows hearing a claim of ineffective assistance on second or subsequent habeas petitions if counsel failed to raise the issue in the initial petition and counsel was ineffective for failing to raise the issue and that here Davis waived any argument that the new case law does not apply as he failed to raise the issue at the district court, before the 5th Circuit or in its response to Buck’s petition for certiorari. Thomas, joined by Alito, dissented arguing that the 5th Circuit correctly considered the merits its it analysis and if the majority were serious about this criticism no certificate of appealability could ever be denied, that the majority’s ineffective assistance analysis was wrong as there was no substantial likelihood of a different outcome here as Buck’s lack of remorse was itself sufficient to prove dangerousness and the crime here was cruel and premeditated and two of the victims were not Buck’s romantic partner which undermines his claim that he only hurts his partners and that the majority wrongly applied de novo review to the Rule 60(b)(6) issue and failed to appreciate the race testimony was de minimus and was introduced by defense counsel and thus Texas did nothing improper here. He argued the decision here is likely to have little effect as it is fact bound and changes no law.

Life Technologies Corporation v Promega Corporation

Life sought review of the Federal Circuit ruling that supplying one component of a patented item for assembly out of country triggers liability under 35 USC 271(f)(1). The Court, with two justices concurring in part and in judgment, reversed and remanded.  The Court held that the text “all or a substantial portion of the components” is ambiguous as it could mean many of the components or an important part of the components, but, a quantitative reading is the most reasonable as all and portion are quantitative terms and the reading it gives effect to “of the components” while there are no textual clues supporting a qualitative reading. It held that supplying one component cannot violate the statute, as components are plural and the next subsection “any component’ to refer to a single component. The majority held the history of the statue also supported the reading as the statute was passed to fill a gap crated by a court case and does reach single component supply. Alito, Joined by Thomas concurred in part noting the genesis of the statute does not shed light on the issue here.

Fry v Napoleon Community Schools

Fry sought review of the dismissal of their claims for a failure to exhaust the administrative remedies of the Individuals with disabilities education act. Resolving a circuit split on the issue, the court, with two justices concurring in part and in judgment, reversed and remanded. It held that the exhaustion requirement in 20 USC 1415(l) only applies when the relief sought is for the free and appropriate public education required by the Act as that is the only type of relief that a hearing officer could order in a case. It held that district courts should look to the substance of a complaint to determine if the relief sought concerns denial of the appropriate education or is in fact a claim of simple discrimination based on disability. The majority suggested that asking if the claim would be viable for adults at eh school or the child in a non-school setting, and if so, then the requirement is not implicated. It suggested that a claim which was preceded by administrative procedures under the Act would be a clue the claim is subject to the exhaustion requirement. As the 6th Circuit did not use the correct standard in its analysis, the case was remanded with direction to evaluate the claim including whether Fry used the formal procedures under the Act. Alito, joined by Thomas, concurred in part and in judgment arguing the clues do not work when there are overlaps in claims for denial of adequate education and disability discrimination and the use of procedures may only indicate that the parents were advised there was no relief a viable under the Act and thus choose to sue under a different statute and thus the clues are likely to confuse lower courts and lead them astray.