Judges to hear congressional arbitration, locomotives and war powers cases


The Supreme Court Wednesday morning granted three more cases from the private judges’ conference last week. Announcement that judges will deal with arbitration, trains and congressional power issues followed of them other sets of orders from the December 10 conference, but the decision to grant a second installment of petitions from that conference followed similar moves in late 2020 and 2019, allowing judges to add more cases to their role for the second half of the term without having to wait for the next regular conference on January 7.

In Torres v. Texas Department of Public Safety, judges will rule on a lawsuit brought against the department by a former state soldier who resigned from his post when the department failed to provide accommodation for respiratory illness resulting from his service as a army reservist in Iraq. A Texas state court ruled that the federal law under which Torres brought his action, the Uniform Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act, which allows military personnel to take legal action to remedy discrimination in employment based on their service, is unconstitutional.

In March, the Supreme Court asked the federal government for its opinion on whether Congress had the power to authorize lawsuits against states, even without their consent, under its war powers. In one brief filed in November, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar told judges the Texas state court ruling was in error, but she nevertheless urged judges to decline the review, noting (among other things) that the court had dismissed a petition on the same issue four years ago. Despite this recommendation, the judges granted Torres’ request after the December 10 conference.

Viking River Cruises vs. Moriana joins the court’s growing arbitration case. The case stems from a lawsuit brought by Angie Morana, who worked as a sales representative for the cruise line, against her former employer, under California law. Private Attorneys General Act, which allows an employee to claim a reward for violations of state labor laws on their own behalf as well as on behalf of other employees. The cruise line has asked the state court to compel Moriana to arbitrate her claims individually, citing an agreement she signed before starting work at Viking. But state courts agreed with Moriana that the deal could not be enforced under state law. That prompted the cruise line to go to the Supreme Court, telling justices the California plaintiffs sought to bypass recent Supreme Court rulings favoring individual arbitration by relying on the PAGA.

And in LeDure v. Union Pacific Railroad, the judges agreed to decide when a locomotive is “in service” on a railway line and therefore subject to the Locomotive Inspection Act and its regulations. The issue comes to court in a case filed by a railroad conductor, who slipped and fell while preparing a locomotive for departure; Bradley LeDure suffered multiple injuries which required surgery and was ultimately found to be permanently disabled.

In May, the court asked the federal government for its opinion on issues arising from the Locomotive Inspection Act and the Federal Law on Employers’ Liability, which are the only recourse for railway workers who are injured on the job. In November, Prélogar advised that the judges rule on the first question of the case – when a locomotive is “in use”. The United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit erred when it concluded that the locomotive in LeDure’s case was not being used, Prelogar wrote.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett participated in the case as a judge on the 7th Circuit and has withdrawn from consideration of LeDure’s petition.

Judges will likely hear pleadings in the spring in cases added to the court’s roster on Wednesday, with decisions to follow by the summer.

This article was originally published by Howe on the Court.

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