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Supreme Court Update: Orders June 4, 2018

The Nine were back in action this morning, as they will be every Monday from here on out (and probably a number or other days besides). There were four new decisions announced today, including what was expected to be one of the blockbusters of the terms, but ended up being more of a punt: In Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Comm'n (No. 16-111), the Court ruled in favor of the Christian "cake artist" who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple due to his religious opposition to gay marriage. The 7-2 decision was decisive, but also narrow—Justice Kennedy's majority opinion rested on the Court's finding that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had exhibited religious hostility toward the baker in this particular case. The Court did not reach the broader question whether the First Amendment prohibits state discrimination laws from being enforced against a religious objector in a neutral proceeding. The sole dissenters were Ginsburg and Sotomayor, but there was a slew of concurring opinions showcasing disagreement about some of the more nettlesome questions posed by the case. We'll tell you all about those opinions later in the week.

The Court (sorta) punted again in Hughes v. United States (No. 17-155), which held that a prisoner sentenced under a plea agreement that stipulates to a specific sentencing range can have his sentence reduced if there is a subsequent retroactive amendment to the Guidelines if the outdated Guidelines range was part of the framework the sentencing court relied on in imposing the sentence or accepting the plea agreement. That issue is tricky enough, but many people were hoping Hughes would also lend clarity to a question that has plagued lower courts: What rule of decision to apply where a Supreme Court decision lacks a controlling opinion (as did an earlier case that failed to definitively answer the sentencing question in Hughes). Apparently, it was easier for a majority to answer the sentencing question than the appellate-procedure question, because the Court left the latter question for another day.

The third decision of the day, Koons v. United States (No. 17-5716), was a bit easier. Based on its "earlier" decision in Hughes, the Court held that the petitioners did not qualify for a sentencing reduction because their sentences (which followed plea agreements stipulating to a range) were not "based on" the subsequently lowered Guidelines range, but rather their mandatory minimums and their substantial assistance to the Government.

Turning from crim-pro to bankruptcy, the Court held in Lamar, Archer & Cofrin v. Appling (No. 16-1215), that a statement about a single asset can qualify as a "statement respect the debtor's financial condition" for purposes of the Bankruptcy Code's prohibition of discharging debts for money, property, services, or credit obtained through a materially false "statement . . . respecting the debtor's . . . financial condition."

Finally, with the third (sorta) punt of the day, the Court issued a per curiam decision in Azar v. Garcia (No. 17-654), the case involving an "unaccompanied minor" immigrant's right to an abortion while in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. As anticipated, the Court granted the Government's petition for certiorari and vacated the D.C. Circuit's decision requiring the Government to facilitate the minor's abortion under the so-called Munsingwear doctrine, because the case had been mooted by the fact that the minor already had the abortion. (Under Munsingwear, when a civil case becomes moot on its way to the Court through the unilateral actions of one of the parties, the general rule is to vacate the decision below.) But the Court did not wade into a more controversial issue in the case. The Government has suggested that the Court consider referring the minor's counsel for professional sanctions based on alleged their alleged misrepresentations to counsel for the Government about when the abortion was scheduled, which, the Government claimed, prevented them from being able to file an emergency stay application before the abortion occurred. The Court stressed the need for counsel to carefully balance their ethical obligations as officers of the court with their obligations of zealous advocacy, but insisted that it "need not delve into the factual disputes raised by the parties in order to answer the Munsingwear question here."

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Kim Rinehart Healthcare lawyer Wiggin Dana
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Kim focuses on class action defense, professional liability matters, complex commercial disputes, and appeals. She is passionate about learning the intricacies of her clients’ businesses, crafting novel legal arguments, and devising creative litigation strategies. Her goal: an effective and efficient approach tailored to the unique needs of each case.  

Chair of the firm's Class Action Defense Practice Group, Kim has substantial experience defending class action lawsuits involving a broad range of industries, including health care, insurance,...

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Tadhg Dooley Litigation lawyer Wiggin Dana
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Tadhg is a Partner in the firm’s Litigation Department, where his practice focuses on appellate and complex civil litigation. He has extensive experience handling appeals in state and federal courts throughout the country and has obtained favorable results for a diverse range of clients, from federal prisoners to foreign presidents, big companies to small towns. Among other recent successes, Tadhg helped a municipality overturn a $6.8 million verdict in the Connecticut Appellate Court, and helped a dental practice overturn a $3.7 million verdict in the Georgia Supreme Court. Tadhg has also been called on to craft amicus curiae briefs advancing the positions of clients in the U.S. and Connecticut Supreme Courts.

At the trial level, Tadhg has represented clients confronting a variety of legal challenges, including defamation and libel suits, consumer class actions, alleged Title IX violations, and lawsuits concerning institutional responses to child sexual abuse. Among other favorable outcomes, he recently persuaded a trial court to dismiss a sexual-abuse lawsuit brought by 19 plaintiffs against a national youth services organization and successfully defended a Connecticut municipality in a bench trial relating to the validity of its mayoral election.

Tadhg has devoted significant time to pro bono matters at the trial and appellate levels. Along with Wiggin and Dana attorney Ben Daniels, he runs the Appellate Litigation Project at Yale Law School, supervising students representing indigent clients in the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Second and Third Circuits. He has been honored by Connecticut Legal Services for his pro bono work on behalf of a single mother facing a defamation lawsuit and received Wiggin and Dana’s Pro Bono Achievement Award in connection with his successful appeal of an Espionage Act sentence in the Second Circuit.

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David Roth Litigation lawyer Wiggin Dana
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David is an Associate in Wiggin and Dana’s Litigation Department and a member of the firm’s Appellate, Art and Museum Law, and Intellectual Property Litigation practice groups. He has assisted insurers, universities, large companies, cultural institutions, and sovereign nations in a variety of complex civil litigation and appeals. Representative matters include trademark, copyright, and patent cases; insurance class-actions; art-ownership disputes; and high-stakes business litigation. David has also represented private individuals and companies in several criminal...

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