The 2013–2014 term of the United States Supreme Court resulted in a wide range of decisions of importance to business. In this article, we highlight some of the key opinions and explore their likely impacts. We also preview a few of the high-profile business disputes the Supreme Court has agreed to hear next term.
Key Business Cases from the 2013–2014 Term
American Chemistry Council v. Environmental Protection Agency: Holding: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reasonably interpreted the Clean Air Act to require sources that would need permits based on their emission of chemical pollutants to comply with “best available control technology” for greenhouse gases. Effect: The decision reinforces the Supreme Court’s previous recognition that the EPA has the power to regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants. However, portions of the decision strongly cautioned the EPA against overreach, stating that the agency may not “bring about an enormous and transformative expansion in [its] regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization.” These comments suggest that the Supreme Court may take a hard line when the Obama Administration’s other climate regulations eventually go to court.
Daimler AG v. Bauman: Holding: A foreign company doing business in a state cannot be sued in that state for injuries allegedly caused by conduct that took place entirely outside of the United States. Effect: Daimler makes it much harder for plaintiffs to establish general jurisdiction over foreign entities. The opinion re-characterizes general jurisdiction as requiring the defendant to be “at home” in the state, a circumstance that the Supreme Court suggested will generally be limited to the places where the defendant is incorporated or where it has its principal place of business. Moreover, the fact that a domestic subsidiary whose activities are imputed to the foreign parent may be “at home” in the state will not make the foreign parent “at home” in that locale for purposes of general jurisdiction.
Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc.: Holding: Plaintiffs in private securities fraud actions must prove that they relied on the defendants’ misrepresentations in choosing to buy stock. Basic v. Levinson’s holding that plaintiffs can satisfy this reliance requirement by invoking a presumption that the price of stock as traded in an efficient market reflects all public, material information, including material misstatements, remains viable. However, after Halliburton, defendants can defeat the presumption at the class certification stage by proving that the misrepresentation did not in fact affect the stock price. Effect: While investors will continue to pursue class actions following large dips in stock prices, the Halliburton decision helps to level the playing field by providing defendants a mechanism to stop such suits at the class certification stage.
Lawson v. FMR LLC: Holding: Employees of privately held contractors or subcontractors of a public company are protected by the anti-retaliation provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX). Effect: Following Lawson, there will likely be an increase in SOX litigation against public and non-public companies. Because many of the issues concerning the scope and meaning of SOX have yet to be resolved, lower courts will continue to wrestle with defining the parameters of the law. Questions left unanswered by Lawson include whether the whistleblower’s accusation must be related to work he or she performed for the company and whether the contract with the public company must have some relation to public accounting or securities compliance.
Chadbourne & Park LLP v. Troice: Holding: The Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1988 (SLUSA) does not preclude state-law class actions based on false representations that the uncovered securities that plaintiffs were purchasing were backed by covered securities. Effect: SLUSA bars the bringing of securities class actions “based upon statutory or common law of any state” in which the plaintiff alleges “a misrepresentation or omission of a material fact in connection with a purchase of sale of covered securities.” The statute defines “covered securities” to include only securities traded on a national securities exchange or those issued by investment companies.
U.S. v. Quality Stores: Holding: Severance payments to employees who are involuntarily terminated are taxable wages for purposes of the Federal Insurance Contributions Act. Effect: Employers should, under most circumstances, treat severance payments to involuntarily terminated employees as wages subject to FICA taxes. There are exceptions, however, and employers should therefore seek legal counsel to assist in determining the tax status of a particular severance arrangement.
Business Cases to Watch in the 2014–2015 Term
Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk: Whether time spent in security screenings is compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Mach Mining v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Whether and to what extent a court may enforce the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s mandatory duty to conciliate discrimination claims before filing suit.
Omnicare v. Laborers District Council Construction Industry Pension Fund: Whether, for purposes of a claim under Section 11 of the Securities Act of 1933, a plaintiff may plead that a statement of opinion was untrue merely by alleging that the opinion itself was objectively wrong, or must the plaintiff also allege that the statement was subjectively false through allegations that the speaker’s actual opinion was different from the one expressed.
Young v. UPS: Whether, and in what circumstances, an employer that provides work accommodations to non-pregnant employees with work limitations must provide work accommodations to pregnant employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.
As in recent years, the Supreme Court continues to grant review on more and more cases involving matters of concern to U.S. businesses. Andrews Kurth attorneys are available to provide further detail and guidance on the decisions highlighted here, and on any other issues of concern to your company that have reached the high court.