Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Federal Circuit

No. 14-1538. Argued December 6, 2016--Decided February 22, 2017

Respondent Promega Corporation sublicensed the Tautz patent, which claims a toolkit for genetic testing, to petitioner Life Technologies Corporation and its subsidiaries (collectively Life Technologies) for the manufacture and sale of the kits for use in certain licensed law enforcement fields worldwide. One of the kit’s five components, an enzyme known as the Taq polymerase, was manufactured by Life Technologies in the United States and then shipped to the United Kingdom, where the four other components were made, for combination there. When Life Technologies began selling the kits outside the licensed fields of use, Promega sued, claiming that patent infringement liability was triggered under 271(f)(1) of the Patent Act, which prohibits the supply from the United States of “all or a substantial portion of the components of a patented invention” for combination abroad. The jury returned a verdict for Promega, but the District Court granted Life Technologies’ motion for judgment as a matter of law, holding that 271(f)(1)’s phrase “all or a substantial portion” did not encompass the supply of a single component of a multicomponent invention. The Federal Circuit reversed. It determined that a single important component could constitute a “substantial portion” of the components of an invention under 271(f)(1) and found the Taq polymerase to be such a component.

Held: The supply of a single component of a multicomponent invention for manufacture abroad does not give rise to 271(f)(1) liability. Pp. 4–11.

(a) Section 271(f)(1)’s phrase “substantial portion” refers to a quantitative measurement. Although the Patent Act itself does not define the term “substantial,” and the term’s ordinary meaning may refer either to qualitative importance or to quantitatively large size, the statutory context points to a quantitative meaning. Neighboring words “all” and “portion” convey a quantitative meaning, and nothing in the neighboring text points to a qualitative interpretation. More-over, a qualitative reading would render the modifying phrase “of the components” unnecessary the first time it is used in 271(f)(1). Only the quantitative approach thus gives meaning to each statutory provision.

Promega’s proffered “case-specific approach,” which would require a factfinder to decipher whether the components at issue are a “substantial portion” under either a qualitative or a quantitative test, is rejected. Tasking juries with interpreting the statute’s meaning on an ad hoc basis would only compound, not resolve, the statute’s ambiguity. And Promega’s proposal to adopt an analytical framework that accounts for both the components’ quantitative and qualitative aspects is likely to complicate rather than aid the factfinder’s review. Pp. 4–8.

(b) Under a quantitative approach, a single component cannot constitute a “substantial portion” triggering 271(f)(1) liability. This conclusion is reinforced by 271(f)’s text, context, and structure. Section 271(f)(1) consistently refers to the plural “components,” indicating that multiple components make up the substantial portion. Reading 271(f)(1) to cover any single component would also leave little room for 271(f)(2), which refers to “any component,” and would undermine 271(f)(2)’s express reference to a single component “especially made or especially adapted for use in the invention.” The better reading allows the two provisions to work in tandem and gives each provision its unique application. Pp. 8–10.

(c) The history of 271(f) further bolsters this conclusion. Congress enacted 271(f) in response to Deepsouth Packing Co. v. Laitram Corp., 406 U. S. 518, to fill a gap in the enforceability of patent rights by reaching components that are manufactured in the United States but assembled overseas. Consistent with Congress’s intent, a supplier may be liable under 271(f)(1) for supplying from the United States all or a substantial portion of the components of the invention or under 271(f)(2) for supplying a single component if it is especially made or especially adapted for use in the invention and not a staple article or commodity. But, as here, when a product is made abroad and all components but a single commodity article are supplied from abroad, the activity is outside the statute’s scope. Pp. 10–11.

773 F. 3d. 1338, reversed and remanded.

Sotomayor, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan, JJ., joined, and in which Thomasand Alito, JJ., joined as to all but Part II–C. Alito, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which Thomas, J., joined. Roberts, C. J., took no part in the decision of the case.

FRY et vir, as next friends of minor E. F. v. NAPOLEON COMMUNITY SCHOOLS et al.

Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Sixth Circuit

No. 15-497. Argued October 31, 2016--Decided February 22, 2017

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) offers federal funds to States in exchange for a commitment to furnish a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) to children with certain disabilities, 20 U. S. C. 1412(a)(1)(A), and establishes formal administrative procedures for resolving disputes between parents and schools concerning the provision of a FAPE. Other federal statutes also protect the interests of children with disabilities, including Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. In Smith v. Robinson, 468 U. S. 992, this Court considered the interaction between those other laws and the IDEA, holding that the IDEA was “the exclusive avenue” through which a child with a disability could challenge the adequacy of his education. Id., at 1009. Congress responded by passing the Handicapped Children’s Protection Act of 1986, overturning Smith’s preclusion of non-IDEA claims and adding a carefully defined exhaustion provision. Under that provision, a plaintiff bringing suit under the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, or similar laws “seeking relief that is also available under [the IDEA]” must first exhaust the IDEA’s administrative procedures. 1415(l).

Petitioner E. F. is a child with a severe form of cerebral palsy; a trained service dog named Wonder assists her with various daily life activities. When E. F.’s parents, petitioners Stacy and Brent Fry, sought permission for Wonder to join E. F. in kindergarten, officials at Ezra Eby Elementary School refused. The officials reasoned that the human aide provided as part of E. F.’s individualized education program rendered the dog superfluous. In response, the Frys removed E. F. from Ezra Eby and began homeschooling her. They also filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), claiming that the exclusion of E. F.’s service animal violated her rights under Title II and 504. OCR agreed, and school officials invited E. F. to return to Ezra Eby with Wonder. But the Frys, concerned about resentment from school officials, instead enrolled E. F. in a different school that welcomed the service dog. The Frys then filed this suit in federal court against Ezra Eby’s local and regional school districts and principal (collectively, the school districts), alleging that they violated Title II and 504 and seeking declaratory and monetary relief. The District Court granted the school districts’ motion to dismiss the suit, holding that 1415(l) required the Frys to first exhaust the IDEA’s administrative procedures. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, reasoning that 1415(l) applies whenever a plaintiff’s alleged harms are “educational” in nature.


1. Exhaustion of the IDEA’s administrative procedures is unnecessary where the gravamen of the plaintiff’s suit is something other than the denial of the IDEA’s core guarantee of a FAPE. Pp. 9–18.

(a) The language of 1415(l) compels exhaustion when a plaintiff seeks “relief” that is “available” under the IDEA. Establishing the scope of 1415(l), then, requires identifying the circumstances in which the IDEA enables a person to obtain redress or access a benefit. That inquiry immediately reveals the primacy of a FAPE in the statutory scheme. The IDEA’s stated purpose and specific commands center on ensuring a FAPE for children with disabilities. And the IDEA’s administrative procedures test whether a school has met this obligation: Any decision by a hearing officer on a request for substantive relief “shall” be “based on a determination of whether the child received a free appropriate public education.” 1415(f)(3)(E)(i). Accordingly, 1415(l)’s exhaustion rule hinges on whether a lawsuit seeks relief for the denial of a FAPE. If a lawsuit charges such a denial, the plaintiff cannot escape 1415(l) merely by bringing the suit under a statute other than the IDEA. But if the remedy sought in a suit brought under a different statute is not for the denial of a FAPE, then exhaustion of the IDEA’s procedures is not required. Pp. 9–13.

(b) In determining whether a plaintiff seeks relief for the denial of a FAPE, what matters is the gravamen of the plaintiff’s complaint, setting aside any attempts at artful pleading. That inquiry makes central the plaintiff’s own claims, as 1415(l) explicitly requires in asking whether a lawsuit in fact “seeks” relief available under the IDEA. But examination of a plaintiff’s complaint should consider substance, not surface: 1415(l) requires exhaustion when the gravamen of a complaint seeks redress for a school’s failure to provide a FAPE, even if not phrased or framed in precisely that way. In addressing whether a complaint fits that description, a court should attend to the diverse means and ends of the statutes covering persons with disabilities. The IDEA guarantees individually tailored educational services for children with disabilities, while Title II and 504 promise nondiscriminatory access to public institutions for people with disabilities of all ages. That is not to deny some overlap in coverage: The same conduct might violate all three statutes. But still, these statutory differences mean that a complaint brought under Title II and 504 might instead seek relief for simple discrimination, irrespective of the IDEA’s FAPE obligation. One clue to the gravamen of a complaint can come from asking a pair of hypothetical questions. First, could the plaintiff have brought essentially the same claim if the alleged conduct had occurred at a public facility that was not a school? Second, could an adult at the school have pressed essentially the same grievance? When the answer to those questions is yes, a complaint that does not expressly allege the denial of a FAPE is also unlikely to be truly about that subject. But when the answer is no, then the complaint probably does concern a FAPE. A further sign of the gravamen of a suit can emerge from the history of the proceedings. Prior pursuit of the IDEA’s administrative remedies may provide strong evidence that the substance of a plaintiff’s claim concerns the denial of a FAPE, even if the complaint never explicitly uses that term. Pp. 13–18.

2. This case is remanded to the Court of Appeals for a proper analysis of whether the gravamen of E. F.’s complaint charges, and seeks relief for, the denial of a FAPE. The Frys’ complaint alleges only disability-based discrimination, without making any reference to the adequacy of the special education services E. F.’s school provided. Instead, the Frys have maintained that the school districts infringed E. F.’s right to equal access—even if their actions complied in full with the IDEA’s requirements. But the possibility remains that the history of these proceedings might suggest something different. The parties have not addressed whether the Frys initially pursued the IDEA’s administrative remedies, and the record is cloudy as to the relevant facts. On remand, the court below should establish whether (or to what extent) the Frys invoked the IDEA’s dispute resolution process before filing suit. And if the Frys started down that road, the court should decide whether their actions reveal that the gravamen of their complaint is indeed the denial of a FAPE, thus necessitating further exhaustion. Pp. 18–20.

788 F. 3d 622, vacated and remanded.

Kagan, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor, JJ., joined. Alito, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which Thomas, J., joined.


Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Fifth Circuit

No. 15-8049. Argued October 5, 2016--Decided February 22, 2017

Petitioner Duane Buck was convicted of capital murder in a Texas court. Under state law, the jury was permitted to impose a death sentence only if it found unanimously and beyond a reasonable doubt that Buck was likely to commit acts of violence in the future. Buck’s attorney called a psychologist, Dr. Walter Quijano, to offer his opinion on that issue. Dr. Quijano had been appointed to evaluate Buck by the presiding judge and had prepared a report setting out his conclusions. To determine the likelihood that Buck would act violently in the future, Dr. Quijano had considered a number of statistical factors, including Buck’s race. Although Dr. Quijano ultimately concluded that Buck was unlikely to be a future danger, his report also stated that Buck was statistically more likely to act violently because he is black. The report read, in relevant part: “Race. Black: Increased probability.” App. 19a. Despite knowing the contents of the report, Buck’s counsel called Dr. Quijano to the stand, where he testified that race is a factor “know[n] to predict future dangerousness.” Id., at 146a. Dr. Quijano’s report was admitted into evidence at the close of his testimony. The prosecution questioned Dr. Quijano about his conclusions on race and violence during cross-examination, and it relied on his testimony in summation. During deliberations, the jury requested and received the expert reports admitted into evidence, including Dr. Quijano’s. The jury returned a sentence of death.

Buck contends that his attorney’s introduction of this evidence violated his Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel. Buck failed to raise this claim in his first state postconviction proceeding. While that proceeding was pending, this Court received a petition for certiorari in Saldano v. Texas, 530 U. S. 1212, a case in which Dr. Quijano had testified that the petitioner’s Hispanic heritage weighed in favor of a finding of future dangerousness. Texas confessed error on that ground, and this Court vacated the judgment below. Soon afterward, the Texas Attorney General issued a public statement identifying six similar cases in which Dr. Quijano had testified. Buck’s was one of them. In the other five cases, the Attorney General confessed error and consented to resentencing. But when Buck filed a second state habeas petition alleging that his attorney had been ineffective in introducing Dr. Quijano’s testimony, the State did not confess error, and the court dismissed the petition as an abuse of the writ on the ground that Buck had failed to raise the claim in his first petition.

Buck then sought federal habeas relief under 28 U. S. C. 2254. The State again declined to confess error, and Buck’s ineffective assistance claim was held procedurally defaulted and unreviewable under Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U. S. 722. This Court’s later decisions in Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U. S. 1, and Trevino v. Thaler, 569 U. S. ___, modified the rule of Coleman. Had they been decided before Buck filed his federal habeas petition, Buck’s claim could have been heard on the merits provided he had demonstrated that (1) state postconviction counsel had been constitutionally ineffective in failing to raise the claim, and (2) the claim had some merit. Following the decision in Trevino, Buck sought to reopen his 2254 case under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6). To demonstrate the “extraordinary circumstances” required for relief, Gonzalez v. Crosby, 545 U. S. 524, Buck cited the change in law effected by Martinez and Trevino, as well as ten other factors, including the introduction of expert testimony linking Buck’s race to violence and the State’s confession of error in similar cases. The District Court denied relief. Reasoning that “the introduction of any mention of race” during Buck’s sentencing was “de minimis,” the court concluded, first, that Buck had failed to demonstrate extraordinary circumstances; and second, that even if the circumstances were extraordinary, Buck had failed to demonstrate ineffective assistance under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U. S. 668. Buck sought a certificate of appealability (COA) from the Fifth Circuit to appeal the denial of his Rule 60(b)(6) motion. The Fifth Circuit denied his application, concluding that he had not shown extraordinary circumstances justifying relief from the District Court’s judgment.


1. The Fifth Circuit exceeded the limited scope of the COA analysis. The COA statute sets forth a two-step process: an initial determination whether a claim is reasonably debatable, and, if so, an appeal in the normal course. 28 U. S. C. 2253. At the first stage, the only question is whether the applicant has shown that “jurists of reason could disagree with the district court’s resolution of his constitutional claims or . . . could conclude the issues presented are adequate to deserve encouragement to proceed further.” Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U. S. 322. Here, the Fifth Circuit phrased its determination in proper terms. But it reached its conclusion only after essentially deciding the case on the merits, repeatedly faulting Buck for having failed to demonstrate extraordinary circumstances. The question for the Court of Appeals was not whether Buck had shown that his case is extraordinary; it was whether jurists of reason could debate that issue. The State points to the Fifth Circuit’s thorough consideration of the merits to defend that court’s approach, but this hurts rather than helps its case. Pp. 12–15.

2. Buck has demonstrated ineffective assistance of counsel under Strickland. Pp. 15–20.

(a) To satisfy Strickland, a defendant must first show that counsel performed deficiently. 466 U. S., at 687. Buck’s trial counsel knew that Dr. Quijano’s report reflected the view that Buck’s race predisposed him to violent conduct and that the principal point of dispute during the penalty phase was Buck’s future dangerousness. Counsel nevertheless called Dr. Quijano to the stand, specifically elicited testimony about the connection between race and violence, and put Dr. Quijano’s report into evidence. No competent defense attorney would introduce evidence that his client is liable to be a future danger because of his race. Pp. 15–17.

(b) Strickland further requires a defendant to demonstrate prejudice—“a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” 466 U. S., at 694. It is reasonably probable that without Dr. Quijano’s testimony on race and violence, at least one juror would have harbored a reasonable doubt on the question of Buck’s future dangerousness. This issue required the jury to make a predictive judgment inevitably entailing a degree of speculation. But Buck’s race was not subject to speculation, and according to Dr. Quijano, that immutable characteristic carried with it an increased probability of future violence. Dr. Quijano’s testimony appealed to a powerful racial stereotype and might well have been valued by jurors as the opinion of a medical expert bearing the court’s imprimatur. For these reasons, the District Court’s conclusion that any mention of race during the penalty phase was de minimis is rejected. So is the State’s argument that Buck was not prejudiced by Dr. Quijano’s testimony because it was introduced by his own counsel, rather than the prosecution. Jurors understand that prosecutors seek convictions and may reasonably be expected to evaluate the government’s evidence in light of its motivations. When damaging evidence is introduced by a defendant’s own lawyer, it is in the nature of an admission against interest, more likely to be taken at face value. Pp. 17–20.

3. The District Court’s denial of Buck’s Rule 60(b)(6) motion was an abuse of discretion. Pp. 20–26.

(a) Relief under Rule 60(b)(6) is available only in “extraordinary circumstances.” Gonzalez, 545 U. S., at 535. Determining whether such circumstances are present may include consideration of a wide range of factors, including “the risk of injustice to the parties” and “the risk of undermining the public’s confidence in the judicial process.” Liljeberg v. Health Services Acquisition Corp., 486 U. S. 847–864. The District Court’s denial of Buck’s motion rested largely on its determination that race played only a de minimis role in his sentencing. But there is a reasonable probability that Buck was sentenced to death in part because of his race. This is a disturbing departure from the basic premise that our criminal law punishes people for what they do, not who they are. That it concerned race amplifies the problem. Relying on race to impose a criminal sanction “poisons public confidence” in the judicial process, Davis v. Ayala, 576 U. S. ___, ___, a concern that supports Rule 60(b)(6) relief. The extraordinary nature of this case is confirmed by the remarkable steps the State itself took in response to Dr. Quijano’s testimony in other cases. Although the State attempts to justify its decision to treat Buck differently from the other five defendants identified in the Attorney General’s public statement, its explanations for distinguishing Buck’s case from Saldano have nothing to do with the Attorney General’s stated reasons for confessing error in that case. Pp. 20–24.

(b) Unless Martinez and Trevino, rather than Coleman, would govern Buck’s case were it reopened, his claim would remain unreviewable and Rule 60(b)(6) relief would be inappropriate. The State argues that Martinez and Trevino would not govern Buck’s case because they announced a “new rule” under Teague v. Lane, 489 U. S. 288, that does not apply retroactively to cases (like Buck’s) on collateral review. This argument, however, has been waived: the State failed to advance it in District Court, before the Fifth Circuit, or in its brief in opposition to Buck’s petition for certiorari. Pp. 24–26.

623 Fed. Appx. 668, reversed and remanded.

Roberts, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Thomas, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Alito, J., joined.N