Tech Suits, Pension Plans, Removal: Five SCOTUS Arguments


This week’s U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments involved everything from whether incarceration is preferable to removal to whether Silicon Valley tech companies should routinely be sued in Texas.

The future of patent litigation may depend on No. 16-341, TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Foods Grp. Brands LLC.

The case involves whether Kraft Heinz Foods Co. can sue an Indiana company in Delaware.

But the outcome “could end the reign of the Eastern District of Texas, which handles a third of all patent suits,” Bloomberg News’s Susan Decker said.

Tech companies like Google said that court is the biggest venue for patent litigation “even though no major manufacturers are based there,” Susan wrote.

The stakes were also high in an argument over religious hospital pension plans, No. 16-74, Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton.

Here, the court is considering whether religiously affiliated hospitals can treat their pension plans as “church plans” that are exempt from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

The lawsuits in this one claim that hundreds of thousands of “hospital workers face a pension shortfall of about $4 billion” because hospitals have improperly designated their pension plans as church plans, Bloomberg BNA’s Jacklyn Wille said.

The justices “stuck closely” to the question presented: whether a benefit plan can be an exempt church plan if it wasn’t initially established by a church, Wille said. Read more here.

A trio of criminal law controversies rounded out the court’s week.

An attorney’s failure to tell a client that a guilty plea could result in removal is at the center of No. 16-327, Lee v. United States.

Multiple justices suggested that a defendant might prefer imprisonment to being removed, Bloomberg BNA’s Alisa Johnson said. Read why here.

The justices heard a dispute involving a meth conspiracy and asset forfeiture in No. 16-142, Honeycutt v. United States.

It was a tough day in court for the federal government, Bloomberg BNA’s Kimberly Robinson said.

You know your argument “isn’t going well when the justices say that your theory is ‘odd’ and ‘troubling,’ can’t be understood and can’t be found in the text of the particular statute at issue,” she wrote.

The justices had fewer questions in an argument over an infamous murder case, No. 15-1503, Turner v. United States, Bloomberg BNA’s Jessica DaSilva said.

“That likely means the court won’t grant relief” to defendants claiming that prosecutors withheld evidence in their murder trial, a law professor told Jessica. Read more here.

That’s all for March’s arguments. Will April’s have a full bench?

Be sure to follow along with next week’s arguments with a free trial to United States Law Week.