By Amy Howe
June 21, 2022
at 5:18 p.m.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday morning added two cases — one involving the Bank Secrecy Act, the other involving the government’s power to dismiss allegations of fraud — to its 2022-23 docket. In a list of orders from the judges’ private conference last week, the judges also rejected – following a dissent by Judge Clarence Thomas who was joined by Judge Samuel Alito – a request by Ohio to restore the conviction. and the death penalty for an inmate who was found guilty of murdering his cellmate.
The justices did not act on several high-profile petitions they considered last week, including a challenge to New York’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate for healthcare workers and a North Carolina case asking judges to weigh in on the doctrine of electoral law. known as the “independent state legislature” theory. The judges could decide to take up these cases next Monday.
Filing requirements under the Bank Secrecy Act
By granting a review in Bittner v. United Statesjudges agreed to determine whether failure to file an annual report disclosing foreign bank accounts counts as a single violation of the Bank Secrecy Act, regardless of the number of foreign accounts a taxpayer has, or whether a violation occurs whenever an individual account is not properly reported.
The question arose in court in the case of Alexandru Bittner, a businessman with dual US/Romanian citizenship who failed to declare his foreign bank accounts while living in Romania. When Bittner finally returned to the United States and learned he was required to report his foreign bank accounts, he filed reports revealing only his most important account and falsely stated that he had no interest in more than 25 accounts. The IRS fined Bittner $2.72 million — $10,000 for each unreported bank account each year from 2007 through 2011. The district court ruled the appropriate fine was $50,000 — $10,000 for each report Bittner failed to file. But the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit reversed and reinstated the $2.72 million fine. She ruled that every failure to report an account was a violation of the Bank Secrecy Act. Bittner came to the Supreme Court in February asking the justices to weigh in, which they agreed to do on Tuesday.
Dismissing Cases Under the False Claims Act
In United States ex rel. Polansky v. Executive Health Resources, the court agreed to decide whether, when an individual brings a lawsuit on behalf of the government alleging fraud in the United States, the government has the authority to dismiss the lawsuit after initially refusing to take over the affair. The question was posed in court in a case brought by Jesse Polansky, who alleges that a private billing company fraudulently billed the government for unnecessary hospital stays. Two years after Polansky filed the case, the federal government opted out of the case, and the case continued, but several years later the government sought to dismiss the case.
An interstate port saga
The judges also agreed to engage in a dispute between New York and New Jersey over the latter’s efforts to withdraw from a 1953 agreement between the two states intended to combat corruption and racketeering in the port that states share. The deal created a commission to oversee hiring at the port and work with law enforcement to investigate crimes. In December 2021, New Jersey announced that it planned to withdraw from the agreement and end the commission.
In 2018, the commission filed a complaint to block the then government. Chris Christie to enforce the New Jersey law that would disband the commission and give the money intended for the commission to the state police to investigate crimes in the port instead. But the United States Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit ruled that New Jersey’s sovereign immunity barred the commission from suing, and the Supreme Court declined to review that decision.
New York came to the Supreme Court in March of this year, asking judges to decide its dispute with New Jersey under its original jurisdiction – that is, a case brought directly to court, a power that the Constitution gives to the tribunal for interstate disputes. Violating the covenant violates federal law, New York told the judges, as well as the Constitution. If the pact is terminated, New York added, it will “likely increase opportunities for individuals associated with organized crime families or other criminal enterprises to access waterfront employment at the port and ‘use this job for criminal activities’.
New Jersey agreed with New York both that the judges should take up the dispute and that the court should resolve the case without appointing a “special master”, an expert who could be appointed by the court. to hold a trial and make a recommendation to the court. judges. Judges can decide the case solely on the basis of briefs from the two states, New Jersey insisted, because the dispute rests on the interpretation of the pact. And if they do, New Jersey argued, New Jersey should prevail because clearly the state can opt out of the pact without New York’s approval.
In a brief order on Tuesday, the judges granted New York’s request to file its lawsuit and ordered both sides to file briefs to decide the case without a special counsel. The briefing will be completed by the end of November, potentially setting the stage for the judges to hear oral argument and decide the case in the next quarter.
A CVSG in an education case
The judges sought the opinion of the United States Solicitor General on Perez vs. Sturgis Public Schoolsa case involving whether and when federal education law requires a student to fully pursue claims not made under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act when to do so would be futile, as well as whether that requirement s applies to claims seeking remedies that are not available under IDEE.
The issue is brought to court in a case brought by a deaf student, Miguel Perez, who did not receive a qualified sign language interpreter for 12 years – leaving him, he says, “unable to learn or to communicate with others and making him an academic”. and social pariah. Perez filed claims in state administrative proceedings under both IDEA and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The hearing officer dismissed the ADA’s claim, finding it lacked authority to hear it, and the school district later settled Perez’s IDEA claim. When Perez later filed a lawsuit in federal court for his ADA claim, the district court denied the claim because he had not fully pursued it in state administrative proceedings, and the Court of Appeal upheld this decision. Perez asked the Supreme Court to take up his case, but the justices on Tuesday asked the Biden administration to weigh in first.
There is no deadline for the Biden administration to file its brief.
Conviction overturned in capital case
Judges have refused to restore the conviction of Ohio inmate August Cassano, who was sentenced to death for the 1997 murder of his cellmate. Last year, the United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ordered the state to either quickly retry him or overturn his conviction, and on Tuesday the judges allowed the ruling to stand.
Cassano’s case centered on whether he properly invoked his constitutional right to represent himself. Shortly before his trial, Cassano had filed a waiver of his right to an attorney form at the same time as he asked the trial judge to appoint an attorney for him. He also asked the judge to represent himself. The 6th Circuit found that Cassano’s rights were violated when the judge did not allow him to represent himself.
The state came before the Supreme Court in November, asking the justices to intervene or summarily strike down the 6th Circuit. He argued that although defendants have the right to represent themselves, as they generally do not do so as effectively as lawyers, courts require defendants to make clear and specific requests – which Cassano did not in this case. Additionally, the state added, because the case was brought to federal court on a post-conviction relief claim, federal courts can only award relief if the state court’s decision was either contrary to decisions of the Supreme Court, or based on an unreasonable opinion. facts, none of which are true here.
Cassano, in turn, told the judges they shouldn’t “delve into such a factual matter.” And on Tuesday, they refused to do so.
Thomas, joined by Alito, objected to the decision not to summarily overturn the 6th Circuit’s decision. He considered the matter “simple”. He argued that an earlier decision by the Ohio Supreme Court, which found against Cassano, “leaves no doubt that the state’s high court has reached and ruled on the merits of the case. Cassano’s claim”, and therefore the 6e Circuit could only grant Cassano post-conviction relief if he was clearly wrong under federal law – which Thomas said was not the case.
Thomas observed that the Supreme Court had repeatedly struck down the 6e Circuit rulings because the lower court failed to properly apply federal post-conviction law. “Many of these inversions,” Thomas added, “have been sketchy. The Court should add this case to the list. Instead, Thomas continued: “[b]By imposing on the state the risk and expense of retrying a quarter-century-old repeat murderer’s landmark case, the Court allows the Court of Appeals to “interfere[e] on [Ohio’s] sovereignty to a degree matched by few exercises of federal judicial authority.
The judges will reconvene for another private conference on Thursday, June 23. The court will issue the orders of this conference on Monday, June 27 at 9:30 a.m.
This article was originally published in Howe on the Court.