Washington Matters


Supreme Court Takes Up Business Cases


The new session of the U.S. Supreme Court beginning Oct. 5 promises to shed important insight on the approach to business and labor law that the high court is charting under Chief Justice John Roberts.

It will be the first full session with Sonia Sotomayor as a member and one where intrigue will surely surround the future of justices John Paul Stevens, 88, who many court observers suspect is near to stepping down, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is recovering from pancreatic cancer and was admitted to the hospital Thursday night

Several major cases are on the docket this fall, and how they are decided will have ramifications for industry practices, labor law and legal precedent. Among notable cases are:

Granite Rock Co. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The question before the court is whether an employer can sue a union that is not a direct signatory to a collective bargaining agreement if the outside union organizes work stoppages in violation of a no-strike clause.

Conkright v. Frommert. Do employees who receive lump-sum retirement benefits under a company's defined pension benefit plan and then later are rehired by the company have the right to seek additional pension benefits calculated on earlier years of service?

American Needle v. National Football League. Did NFL team owners violate antitrust law by limiting the number of licensed makers of the league’s sports merchandise, such as team apparel and head gear?  The court will determine whether the team owners, in favoring one supplier for all the teams, acted as a "single business entity" or as separate entities working in collusion and thereby in violation of antitrust law.  The decision could affect supplier agreements with other professional sports leagues, including the NHL and the NBA, and it may also affect franchisors in other business sectors.

Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission. Although the case is narrow and involves whether a corporate-financed video critical of Hillary Clinton violated campaign finance rules, the court is widely expected to expand the scope of the case and possibly decide to lift most limits on what corporations and unions can spend to influence the outcome of elections.

Bilski v. Kappos. The court will determine whether patent protections can be applied to non-physical innovations, such as a complex mathematical formula,  developed by a company specifically to aid its business. The case involves a business method used by a hedge fund, but the court's determination could have a broad impact, especially in the software development industry.




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