Supreme Court Scorecard: Looking Back at the 2016 Term and Forward to October

After a tough record in 2015, the Eleventh Circuit batted .400 last term at the U.S. Supreme Court. In the Court’s five merits decisions on appeal from the Eleventh Circuit, two judgments were affirmed, two were reversed, and one was vacated.

The two affirmances were both in criminal cases with majority opinions by Justice Thomas. In Beckles v. United States, 137 S. Ct. 886 (Mar. 6, 2017), the Court held that U.S. Sentencing Guidelines cannot be challenged as void for vagueness. In Manrique v. United States, 137 S. Ct 1266 (Apr. 19, 2017), the Court held that a criminal defendant can forfeit the right to challenge a deferred restitution order by not filing a second notice of appeal from the order imposing the deferred part of the sentence.

The three reversed or vacated judgments were in civil or habeas cases with majority opinions by Justice Breyer.

In Bank of America Corp. v. City of Miami, 137 S. Ct. 1296 (May 1, 2017), the Court unanimously agreed with the Eleventh Circuit that Miami had standing to assert claims under the Fair Housing Act. But the Court vacated and remanded to allow lower courts to define the proximate-cause element of the City’s claims for lost tax revenue and increased municipal expenses allegedly caused by discriminatory lending practices.

In McWilliams v. Dunn, 137 S. Ct. 1790 (June 19, 2017), a divided Court reversed the Eleventh Circuit’s judgment in a habeas case challenging an indigent Alabama inmate’s capital sentence. The majority concluded that Alabama courts had unconstitutionally deprived the inmate of access to a competent psychiatrist to help evaluate, prepare, and present a defense.

Finally, the Court reversed the Eleventh Circuit’s judgment in Midland Funding, LLC v. Johnson, 137 S. Ct. 1407 (May 15, 2017)—a case that we previously covered here and here. The Court resolved a circuit split and held that filing an obviously stale proof of claim (i.e., when the statute of limitations has run) in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceeding does not violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U. S. C. §1692 et seq. The majority reasoned that untimeliness is an affirmative defense and that allowing post-bankruptcy litigation over stale proofs of claim would upset a “delicate balance” under the Bankruptcy Code. 137 S. Ct at 1415. The dissenting opinion emphasized concerns about professional debt collectors’ “hoping that no one notices that the debt is too old to be enforced by the courts.” Id. at 1416 (Sotomayor, J., dissenting).

Looking ahead: During the Supreme Court’s October 2017 Term, the Court has already agreed to consider at least one case from the Eleventh Circuit. In Wilson v. Warden, Georgia Diagnostic Prison, 834 F.3d 1227 (11th Cir. 2016) (en banc), a divided court of appeals held that federal courts in habeas cases do not have to “look through” summary state-court appellate rulings to review the last “reasoned” state-court decision. Time will tell whether dissenting Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan correctly “predict[ed] . . . that the Supreme Court will decide the issue differently than the en banc majority.” Id. at 1242 (Jordan, J. dissenting). The case has been docketed in the Supreme Court as Wilson v. Sellers, No. 16-6855.

For interested observers, the Supreme Court’s new and improved website contains a periodically updated list of cases slated for argument during the October 2017 Term.

Posted by Lee Peifer.

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