Supreme Court Agenda Includes Key Business Cases

By | October 7, 2014

Gay marriage may be the most anticipated issue heading for the U.S. Supreme Court, but the justices also must tackle a host of business cases as they convene for their new term, including a patent battle involving Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.

The court on Monday opened its term, which ends in June. The Teva case, a showdown between the Israeli company and generic rivals over a patent for the multiple sclerosis drug Copaxone, is one of the first business cases the justices will hear, with oral arguments on Oct. 15.

It’s important in the short-term as Teva seeks to protect for as long as possible a $4-billion-a-year drug responsible for 50 percent of its profits.

The case also has broader ramifications in the patent arena as shown by the number of businesses backing the generic companies including Google Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Yahoo Inc. and Intel Corp.

The nine justices are likely to rule this term on whether states can ban gay marriage. In the meantime, more than half the 48 cases they already have accepted are business-related, including seven labor and employment disputes, three antitrust cases and three tax cases.

The court added another big business case on Thursday, agreeing to decide what types of racial discrimination claims can be made under the Fair Housing Act in a Texas case closely watched by banks and insurance companies.

Other cases include a federal agency’s claim against Abercrombie & Fitch Co. for not hiring a Muslim women because she wore a head scarf, a pregnant woman’s employment claim against UPS Inc and a dispute over whether workers should be paid for the time it takes to go through security checks.

Business cases are “the bread and butter of the court’s docket,” said Kannon Shanmugam, a Washington lawyer at the Williams & Connolly law firm.

Big business does not always win even in a court earning a business-friendly reputation under Chief Justice John Roberts. Last term, the business community failed to get what it wanted in high-profile cases on environmental regulations and securities class-action litigation.

The court’s interest in patent cases has been linked in part to divisions among judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which handles all patent appeals. The justices reversed the appeals court in five of six patent cases it heard last term.

The issue in Teva is how much deference the appeals court must give to conclusions made by federal district court judges. Tech companies would prefer the appeals court to keep the same broad power to review lower courts that it has now, said Stanford Law School professor Mark Lemley.

They worry that judges in certain parts of the country seen as friendly to “patent trolls” – companies holding patents only for the purpose of suing firms seeking to develop new products – will get “too much power to decide patent cases,” Lemley said.

Key business-related cases before the U.S. Supreme Court

Oct 3 (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court’s new term began on Monday. Between then and the end of June, the justices are set to hear oral arguments and issue rulings in a number of important business-related cases. Here is a list of some of those cases.

* Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project: The court has agreed to weigh whether so-called disparate impact claims can be made under the Fair Housing Act. The banking and insurance industries are particularly eager to bring an end to litigation premised on the disparate impact claim theory, which creates liability for seemingly neutral practices that may have a discriminatory effect. (No date yet set for oral arguments).

* Teva Pharmaceuticals v. Sandoz: The court will consider Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.’s appeal in a patent case that favored the developers of generic versions of Copaxone, the company’s top-selling multiple sclerosis drug. In July 2013, the appeals court ruled in favor of two teams developing cheaper generic forms of Copaxone: one involving Novartis AG’s Sandoz Inc. and Momenta Pharmaceuticals Inc. and another involving Mylan Inc. and Natco Pharma Ltd. The case tests whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has a free hand to second-guess a district court’s findings about the meaning and scope of an individual patent. Teva, which won in the district court but lost in the appeals court, is arguing that the district judge’s findings should be given more weight than they are currently. Tech companies that regularly battle “patent trolls” – companies that hold patents only for the purpose of suing firms seeking to develop new products – back the generic drug manufacturers. (Arguments on Oct. 15.)

* Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk: The case could determine whether companies such as Amazon.com Inc. must pay workers for the time they spend waiting to clear security checks at the end of their work shifts. (Arguments on Oct. 8.)

* North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. U.S. Federal Trade Commission: The case centers on whether a state regulatory board is exempt from antitrust laws when some of the board’s members are participants in the market being regulated. (Arguments on Oct. 14.)

* Omnicare Inc v. Laborers District Council: The court will weigh an appeal by Omnicare Inc, the leading U.S. provider of pharmacy services to the elderly, in a securities class action case filed by investors who say the company made untrue statements prior to a public offering. (Arguments on Nov. 3.)

* Young v. UPS: The court will determine whether the package delivery company UPS Inc. treated a pregnant employee unfairly by denying her request for temporary restrictions on her work duties. (Arguments on Dec. 3.)

* Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch: This case concerns whether a Muslim woman denied a job at an Abercrombie & Fitch Co. clothing store because she wears a head scarf was required to specifically request a religious accommodation. (No date yet set for arguments).

(Compiled by Lawrence Hurley; Edited by Will Dunham)

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