Findlaw Case Summaries: U.S. Supreme Court. January 26, 2009

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January 26, 2009
CIVIL PROCEDURE, CIVIL RIGHTS, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW, CRIMINAL LAW & PROCEDURE Van de Kamp v. Goldstein, No. 07-854 In the context of 42 U.S.C. section 1983 civil rights suits, a prosecutor’s absolute immunity extends to claims that the prosecution failed to disclose impeachment material due to failure to: 1) properly train prosecutors; 2) properly supervise prosecutors; or 3) establish an information system containing potential impeachment material about informants..

CIVIL PROCEDURE, CIVIL RIGHTS, LABOR & EMPLOYMENT LAW Crawford v. Metro. Gov’t of Nashville, No. 06-1595 The protection of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids retaliation by employers against employees who report workplace race or gender discrimination, extends to an employee who speaks out about discrimination not on her own initiative, but in answering questions during an employer’s internal investigation.

CRIMINAL LAW & PROCEDURE, EVIDENCE Arizona v. Johnson, No. 07-1122 In a case involving the authority of police officers to “stop and frisk” a passenger in a motor vehicle after a traffic stop, the Court rules that: 1) the first condition of Terry v. Ohio, i.e. a lawful investigatory stop, is met whenever it is lawful for police to detain an automobile and its occupants pending inquiry into a vehicular violation; 2) police need not have, in addition, cause to believe any occupant of the vehicle is involved in criminal activity; and 3) to justify a pat-down of the driver or a passenger during a traffic stop, however, just as in the case of a pedestrian reasonably suspected of criminal activity, the police must harbor reasonable suspicion that the person subjected to the frisk is armed and dangerous.

CRIMINAL LAW & PROCEDURE, PER CURIAM, SENTENCING Nelson v. US, No. 08-5657 The Court re-emphasizes that its cases do not allow a sentencing court (as opposed to an appellate court) to presume that a sentence within the applicable Sentencing Guidelines range is reasonable. Here, the sentencing court clearly applied a presumption of reasonableness to petitioner’s Guidelines range, and the circuit court erred in affirming the sentence.

ERISA, FAMILY LAW, LABOR & EMPLOYMENT LAW Kennedy v. Plan Admin. for DuPont Savings & Inv. Plan, No. 07-636 In an ERISA case involving the Act’s limitation on assignment or alienation of benefits, and a divorced spouse’s purported waiver of her entitlement to benefits, the Supreme Court rules in favor of ERISA plan administrator that had paid out benefits to former wife-designated beneficiary because: 1) although a waiver of the type at issue, i.e. a federal common law waiver embodied in a divorce decree that was not a qualified domestic relations order, is not rendered invalid by the text of the anti-alienation provision; nevertheless, 2) plan administrator properly disregarded the waiver due to its conflict with the beneficiary designation made by former husband in accordance with plan documents.

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