Halo Electronics, Inc. v Pulse Electronics, Inc.

Halo sought review of the denial of its motion for enhanced damages arguing the Federal Circuit rule on enhanced damages and its method of reviewing awards were contrary to the text of 35 USC 284. The Court, with three justices adding a concurrence, reversed. The Court held that enhanced damages under 284 have historically been understood to be punitive in nature and have always been discretionary. It held the Federal Circuit rule requiring objective recklessness was inconsistent with this understanding as it would allow willful infringement to escape punishment and the second prong of the Federal Circuit rule improperly focuses on the infringer’s attorney’s performance at trial instead of the willfulness of the acts of infringement. It further held that 284 does not impose the clear and convincing evidence standard adopted by the Federal Circuit and the appellate review of enhanced damages is for abuse of discretion not the three tiered approach of the Federal Circuit. It finally held that reenacting 284 after the Federal Circuit rule was announced does not mean Congress meant to adopt the rule and rejected Pulse’s policy argument that innovation will suffer without the Federal Circuit rule noting the centuries long approach in precedent to limit enhanced to damages to egregious willful conduct. Breyer, joined by Kennedy and Alito, added a concurrence arguing willfulness requires more than knowledge of a patent’s existence, not consulting an attorney is not proof of willful infringement, that enhanced damages are not to cover litigation expenses and threats of enhanced damages can stifle innovation and the Federal Circuit can use its expertise when reviewing enhanced damages decisions under the abuse of discretion standard.

Commonwealth of Puerto Rico v Franklin California Tax-Free Trust

Trust sued to enjoin a Puerto Rico statute allowing municipalities and entities to restructure debt. The First Circuit ultimately held the statute was preempted by the bankruptcy code. The Court, 5-2 (Alito recused) affirmed. the majority held that Puerto Rico is included in the definition of state, that its removal from that definition in the municipal bankruptcy provisions only extends to authorizing municipalities to seeking chapter 9 protection under the plain language of the statute and Puerto Rico remains subject to the bar on enacting its own municipal debt restructuring as it is not excluded from the definition of “state” for those purposes. Sotomayor, joined by Ginsberg, dissented arguing that the ban on state municipal debt restructuring only applies to states that can authorize chapter 9 filings based on the structure and language of the preemption provision.

United States v Bryant

The United States sought review of the 9th Circuit decision barring prosecution under 18 USC 117(a) as Bryant’s prior convictions for domestic violence in Indian Country had been uncounseled. Resolving a circuit split, the Court, with one justice adding a concurrence, reversed. It held that the prior convictions could be used to trigger 117(a) as the 6th Amendment does not apply in tribal courts and Bryant had no right to counsel under federal statute as he was not sentenced to more than one year in prison. It noted that Bryant admitted that convictions which only resulted in fines would be available to trigger 117(a) and declined to treat one year sentence cases differently. It finally held that proceedings under the federal statute on Indian prosecutions provide enough protection to ensure reliability. Thomas added a concurrence arguing that precedent baring use of uncounseled convictions to enhance sentences is infirm, uniform assertions about tribal power to prosecute is ahistorical and wrong and there is no basis for congressional plenary power over tribal prosecutions. He called for reevaluation of all these precedents.