Justia U.S. Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Aerospace/Defense
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In 1998, al Qaeda operatives detonated truck bombs outside the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Victims sued the Republic of Sudan under the state-sponsored terrorism exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA, 28 U.S.C. 1605(a)(7)), which included a bar on punitive damages for suits under any of the sovereign immunity exceptions. In 2008, Congress amended the FSIA in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). NDAA section 1083(c)(2) creates a cause of action for acts of terror that provides for punitive damages; it gave effect to existing lawsuits that had been “adversely affected” by prior law “as if” they had been originally filed under the new section 1605A(c). Section 1083(c)(3) provided a time-limited opportunity for plaintiffs to file new actions “arising out of the same act or incident” as an earlier action and claim those benefits. The plaintiffs amended their complaint to include section 1605A(c) claims. The district court awarded the plaintiffs approximately $10.2 billion, including roughly $4.3 billion in punitive damages. The D.C. Circuit held that the plaintiffs were not entitled to punitive damages because Congress had included no statement in NDAA section 1083 clearly authorizing punitive damages for pre-enactment conduct.The Supreme Court vacated and remanded. Even assuming that Sudan may claim the benefit of the presumption of prospective effect, Congress was as clear as it could have been when it expressly authorized punitive damages under section 1605A(c) and explicitly made that new cause of action available to remedy certain past acts of terrorism. The court of appeals must also reconsider its decision concerning the availability of punitive damages for state law claims. View "Opati v. Republic of Sudan" on Justia Law

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The 2002 Homeland Security Act provides that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) “shall prescribe regulations prohibiting the disclosure of information . . . if the Under Secretary decides that disclosur[e] would . . . be detrimental to the security of transportation,” 49 U.S.C. 114(r)(1)(C). TSA promulgated regulations prohibiting the unauthorized disclosure of “sensitive security information,” including “[s]pecific details of aviation security measures.” 49 CFR 1520.7(j). In 2003, TSA briefed all air marshals, including MacLean, about a potential plot to hijack passenger flights. A few days later, MacLean received from TSA a text message temporarily cancelling all overnight missions from Las Vegas. MacLean, who was stationed in Las Vegas, believed that cancelling those missions during a hijacking alert was dangerous and illegal; he told a reporter about the decision. TSA fired him. The Merit Systems Protection Board rejected claims that his disclosure was whistleblowing activity under 5 U.S.C. 2302(b)(8)(A), which protects employees who disclose information that reveals “any violation of any law, rule, or regulation,” or “a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety” unless disclosure was “specifically prohibited by law.” The Federal Circuit vacated. The Supreme Court affirmed. MacLean’s disclosure was not specifically prohibited by law because regulations do not qualify as “law” under the whistleblower statute. Interpreting the word “law” to include rules and regulations could defeat the purpose of the statute, allowing an agency to insulate itself simply by promulgating a regulation that “specifically prohibited” all whistleblowing. MacLean’s disclosure was not prohibited by Section 114(r)(1). That statute does not prohibit anything, but only authorizes TSA to “prescribe regulations.” View "Department of Homeland Security v. MacLean" on Justia Law

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After petitioners fell behind schedule in developing a stealth aircraft (A-12) for the Navy, the contracting officer terminated their $4.8 billion fixed-price contract for default and ordered petitioners to repay approximately $1.35 billion in progress payments for work the Government never accepted. Petitioners filed suit in the Court of Federal Claims ("CFC"), challenging the termination decision under the Contract Disputes Act of 1978, 41 U.S.C. 609(a)(1). The CFC held that, since invocation of the state-secrets privilege obscured too many of the facts relevant to the superior-knowledge defense, the issue of that defense was nonjusticiable, even though petitioners had brought forward enough unprivileged evidence for a prima facie showing. Accordingly, at issue was what remedy was proper when, to protect state secrets, a court dismissed a Government contractor's prima facie valid affirmative defense to the Government's allegations of contractual breach. The Court concluded that it must exercise its common-law authority in this situation to fashion contractual remedies in Government-contracting disputes and held that the proper remedy was to leave the parties where they were on the day they filed suit.