Halloween, Cosplay and Dogs… Oh My! This Week in SCOTUS Arguments

Oh My!

The U.S. Supreme Court will be live-streaming on Friday, Nov.4!

Well, it will be live-streaming a Supreme Court Bar Meeting in honor of the late-Justice Antonin Scalia.

The court will then hold a Special Session in the courtroom, which won’t (surprise, surprise) be live-streamed.

Of course, the high court didn’t live-stream any of its oral arguments this week. But Bloomberg BNA is here to break it down for you. 

Here we go…

First up, an adorable girl and her service dog Wonder went to the high court on Monday to ask the justices to make it easier for disabled students to bring cases in federal court in Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools, No. 15-497.

The issue is whether students first have to undergo a lengthy but informal administrative process before they can do so.

While the justices seemed supportive of the girl’s position, they were also worried that they could undermine Congress’s administrative scheme if they write up a rule that could be bypassed by “artful pleading,” as Justice Anthony M. Kennedy put it.

The justices, therefore, seem like they’ll come to a middle ground in this one. Read why here.

Next, Halloween was an appropriate day for the justices to hear Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands, No. 15-866.

That’s because the “copyright fight over design elements in cheerleading uniforms” implicates… cosplay! Sadly, however, none of the justices dressed up as a storm trooper.

That wasn’t the only source of frustration, Bloomberg BNA IP reporter Anandashankar Mazumdar tells us.

The court didn't focus “on the biggest question that practitioners hope they will tackle—a standard for determining if designs on clothes can be protected,” he said.

“The copyright community had expected that, when the court decided to take up the case, they were interested in clearing up a murky area of the law,” Ananda says.

“Federal appeals courts have applied several different tests to determine whether something applied to clothing is protected, a concept known as conceptual separability.”

“But that didn't seem to be their concern during oral argument,” he says.

Instead, the justices seem to be looking for a narrow way out, Ananda says. Read more here (subscription required).


Day two of SCOTUS oral arguments brought another IP case, SCA Hygiene Products v. First Quality Baby Products, No. 15-927.

The question in this patent case is whether the “laches defense should be aligned for copyright and patent law,” Bloomberg BNA IP reporter Tony Dutra says.

The justices seemed “willing to rein in defendants who try to dodge liability by arguing that patent owners sued for infringement too late,” Tony says. You can read why here (subscription required).

That same day, the court heard a False Claims Act case, State Farm v. United States ex rel. Rigsby, No. 15-513.

Here, a jury found that State Farm defrauded the government by submitting “false claims to the government for payment on flood policies arising out of damage caused by Hurricane Katrina,” Bloomberg BNA’s False Claims Act reporter (!) Daniel Seiden says.

The court didn’t seem to buy State Farm’s argument that violating the False Claims Act’s “seal requirement” should automatically result in dismissal, Daniel says.

Instead, the court seemed to be leaning toward “penalizing violations on a case-by-case basis,” he said. Read Daniel’s coverage here.

With only one argument on Wednesday, the judges decided to go for an “esoteric” topic, Bloomberg BNA reporter Melissa Heelan Stanzione says about Venezuela v. Helmerich & Payne, No. 15-423.

At the center of the case is a “tussle between Venezuela and a U.S.-owned oil company,” Melissa says.

It “highlighted the sticky issue of how difficult it should be to hale a foreign nation into U.S. court,” she says.

“The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela expropriated the property of a company drilling for oil in Venezuela. Later, the company and its U.S.-based parent company, Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Company, sued the country,” Melissa says.

While the specific question relates to the “jurisdictional pleading standard under an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act,” but case seemed to boil down to what would best serve “the interests of international comity,” Melissa says. Read her coverage here.

With that, you’re all caught up. Be sure to check in next Thursday as we recap arguments on immigration, admin law and the Fair Housing Act.

As always, you can follow along with the latest Supreme Court news with a free trial to United States Law Week.