Petitions of the week

The Petitions of the Week column highlights a selection of cert petitions recently filed in the Supreme Court. A list of all petitions we’re watching is available here.

Defendants appealing a case in federal court have to follow a series of rules to keep a specific issue alive and eligible for review. This week, we highlight cert petitions that ask the court to consider, among other things, whether a prison official appealing a jury verdict against him can raise a purely legal defense not implicated in the trial.

Guards at the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic & Classification Center outside Baltimore face a history of internal investigations regarding claims of assaulting inmates. In September 2013, three MRDCC guards entered the cell of Kevin Younger, who was awaiting trial at the prison, and physically beat him. Younger sued the guards as well as senior prison officials he alleged were involved in the attack, under the federal law allowing suits against state officials for civil-rights violations.

Former MRDCC intelligence lieutenant Neil Dupree, one of the senior officials, moved to dismiss the lawsuit. Dupree argued that Younger had not first sought out all possible internal prison remedies for the incident, a prerequisite to suits brought by inmates put in place by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995. A federal trial court in Maryland ruled against Dupree, concluding that internal remedies were not “available” to Younger under the PLRA because a pending prison investigation into the attack precluded him from seeking those avenues of relief. A jury trial ensued, and Younger was awarded $700,000 in damages.

Dupree appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, arguing that the prison investigation did not exempt Younger from fulfilling the PLRA’s requirements before bringing a lawsuit. The 4th Circuit dismissed the appeal on the grounds that Dupree did not raise the PLRA defense in his post-trial motion asking the trial court to reverse the jury’s verdict. Under existing circuit precedent, the court held, that meant the issue was ineligible for review.

In Dupree v. Younger, Dupree asks the justices to reinstate his appeal. Unlike the 4th Circuit, Dupree points out, most circuit courts around the country do not require defendants to raise purely legal issues, like the PLRA defense, in a post-trial motion to preserve them for review on appeal. Dupree argues that the availability of internal prison relief had no relevance to the jury once the trial was underway, and so there was no reason for him to ask the trial court to reverse the jury on that ground. His pre-trial PLRA claim, Dupree maintains, was sufficient.

A list of this week’s featured petitions is below:

Dart v. Ziccarelli
Issue: Whether a plaintiff bringing a claim for interference with rights established by the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 must prove that he was denied any rights granted by the Act.

Samia v. United States
Issue: Whether admitting a codefendant’s redacted out-of-court confession that immediately inculpates a defendant based on the surrounding context violates the defendant’s rights under the confrontation clause of the Sixth Amendment.

Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries
Issues: (1) Whether, under Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Oregon Court of Appeals should have entered judgment for petitioners after finding that respondent had demonstrated anti-religious hostility; (2) whether, under Employment Division v. Smith, strict scrutiny applies to a free exercise claim that implicates other fundamental rights, and if not, whether this court should return to its pre-Smith jurisprudence; and (3) whether compelling an artist to create custom art for a wedding ceremony violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment.

Stavrakis v. United States
Issue: Whether a federal court, assessing the sufficiency of the evidence in a criminal case based wholly on circumstantial evidence, must apply the “rule of equipoise” and grant a motion for judgment of acquittal when, construing the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, evidence of guilt and innocence is evenly balanced.

Dupree v. Younger
Issue: Whether to preserve the issue for appellate review a party must reassert in a post-trial motion a purely legal issue rejected at summary judgment.

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