The Supreme Court’s 2011-2012 term begins in four days. Putting aside the health-care fracas, there aren’t any blockbuster business cases on the court’s docket that rank with last term’s Wal-Mart and AT&T cases, which made it more difficult to bring class actions. There are, however, several cases of note which could impact corporate America.
Here are three cases that business executives should keep an eye on in the coming months:
First American Financial v. Edwards. The suit involves a claim by a homeowner that a title insurer improperly paid millions of dollars to title companies in exchange for those companies referring business to the insurer. At issue is whether the homeowner has standing to sue if the kickback did not affect the price or quality of the services provided.
While this case may seem a bit esoteric, it is important because it could require the court to address a very important threshold issue that comes up in cases of all types: Whether plaintiffs need to have suffered an actual injury before they have standing to bring a suit. If plaintiffs can pursue actions by alleging merely a technical violation of a statute, without establishing that they were injured by that violation, it would be much harder for defendants to fend off class actions.
Sackett v. EPA. The case involves an Idaho couple accused of violating certain environmental regulations. The petitioners are asking the court to decide whether a landowner can immediately challenge an EPA compliance order in court. If not, it could be a blow to businesses. This is because businesses would first have to comply with the agency’s order before they had the right to protest the order in court. Depending on the cost of the cleanup, this could be very expensive indeed!
FCC v. Fox Television. Fox (and its owner News Corp) got in a bit of hot water because of fleeting expletives uttered during two awards shows. This case addresses whether the Federal Communications Commission’s standards for indecency on television are too vague to be constitutional.
This case is important because it raises fundamental questions about how the FCC regulates broadcast media. Currently, broadcast networks are held to different decency standards than other media, including cable channels, which are entitled to use racier language. But with this case, the Supreme Court potentially could narrow the gap and give broadcasters broader license to include racy language in their programming.