Lisa Soronen

Author Articles

In a 5-4 decision in Comptroller v. Wynne the Supreme Court held that Maryland’s failure to offer residents a full credit against income taxes paid to other states is unconstitutional. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC)/International Municipal Lawyers Association (IMLA) filed an amicus brief in support of Maryland. 

Maryland taxes residents’ income earned in- and out-of-state. If Maryland residents pay income tax to another state for income earned there, Maryland allows them a credit against Maryland’s “state” tax but not its “county” tax. Maryland also taxes nonresident income earned in the state. Nonresidents pay Maryland “state” tax and a “special nonresident tax” equivalent to Maryland’s lowest “county” tax.

If you know anything about the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) you know that it files amicus briefs in U.S. Supreme Court cases affecting state and local government. The SLLC made an exception and filed an amicus brief in a federal circuit court of appeals case because of the importance of the issue to SLLC members.

In Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl the Tenth Circuit will decide whether Colorado’s law requiring remote sellers to inform Colorado purchasers annually of their purchases and send the same information to the Colorado Department of Revenue is unconstitutional. At least three other states have similar notice and reporting requirements (Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Vermont).

In a 6-2 decision, the Supreme Court declined to decide one of the most important questions this term for state and local government: whether Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires police officers to accommodate suspects who are armed, violent, and mentally ill when bringing them into custody. But the Court held that the officers in City and County of San Francisco v. Sheehan were entitled to qualified immunity.

When police officers entered Teresa Sheehan’s room in a group home for persons with mental illness to take her to a hospital for psychiatric care, she threatened to kill them with a knife she held, so they retreated. Before backup arrived, the officers decided to reenter her room to prevent her from gathering more weapons or escaping. Upon reentry, Sheehan still had the knife in her hand and yelled for them to leave. One officer pepper sprayed Sheehan but she refused to drop the knife. The officers then shot her multiple times but she survived.

To bring a lawsuit in federal court a plaintiff must have “standing” per Article III of the U.S. Constitution. An undisputed element of standing is that the plaintiff has suffered an injury. But what if Congress allows plaintiffs who have suffered no concrete harm to sue based upon a mere violation of statute? The Supreme Court will decide whether such plaintiffs have Article III standing in Spokeo v. Robins

While the impact of this case on state and local governments may not be obvious, there is a finite number of statutes where Congress has created a private right of action and a plaintiff may be unharmed by a violation of the statute. Most are consumer protection statutes like the Truth in Lending Act and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which don’t apply to state and local governments. But a few such statutes do apply—the Fair Housing Act (FHA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA).  

In Green v. Donahoe the Supreme Court will decide for purposes of federal employment discrimination law when the filing period for a constructive discharge claim begins to run. The Court’s choices are:  when an employee resigns or the employer's last allegedly discriminatory act. Often these two events occur at the same time, but not in this case.

This case will apply to constructive discharge claims brought against state and local government employers under Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, all of which must first be brought to the attention of the EEOC before a court.

“I believe that this case is the most important case regarding the energy system in this country that the Supreme Court has ever yet to consider.” Strong words from Former Federal Regulatory Energy Commission (FERC) Chairman Jon Wellinghoff (even though the last two landmark cases involving the nation’s electric grid were from 1923 and 1944).

The Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether FERC may regulate “demand response” payments offered to electric utility customers to reduce their electricity use during periods of high demand. State and local governments may save money through participating in demand response programs. But the Electric Power Supply Association argued, and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, that FERC’s Order 745 encroaches on states’ regulatory authority.

In Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar the Supreme Court held 5-4 that a Florida statute prohibiting judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions does not violate the First Amendment. Thirty of the 39 states that elect (rather than appoint) trial or appellate judges prohibit judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign funds. 

In Mach Mining v. EEOC the Supreme Court held unanimously that a court may review whether the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) satisfied its statutory obligation to attempt to conciliate employment discrimination claims before filing a lawsuit.

The Court’s decision is favorable to employers, including state and local governments, who benefit from the EEOC’s statutory mandate to try to resolve employment discrimination cases before suing employers. If the EEOC fails to try to conciliate employers may sue the EEOC.   

On April 28th the Supreme Court held oral argument in Obergefell v. Hodges. The Court will decide whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry and if they don’t whether states may refuse to recognize same-sex marriages lawfully performed out of state. As usual swing-Justice Kennedy’s vote will be crucial in this case. And as usual Justice Kennedy’s questions during oral argument didn’t give a clear answer as to what he is thinking.

The Supreme Court’s 7-2 ruling in Oneok v. Learjet is a solid win for states, consumer protection, and the Ninth Circuit. The Court held the Natural Gas Act does not preempt state-law antitrust lawsuits alleging price manipulation that affect both federally regulated wholesale natural-gas prices and nonfederally regulated retail natural-gas prices.

Historically, federal regulation of the natural-gas industry has been divided into three segments:  production, interstate gas pipelines (wholesale), and local gas distribution (retail). The federal Natural Gas Act regulates only the second segment—the interstate shipment of gas including rate setting—states regulate the other segments. Since deregulation in the 1970s, pipeline wholesalers have sold natural gas at market rate based on price indices of voluntarily reported data of natural gas sales. In 2003 the indices were found to be inaccurate because natural-gas traders had been reporting false data. 

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