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

No. 14-9496. Argued October 5, 2016--Decided March 21, 2017

During a traffic stop, police officers in Joliet, Illinois, searched petitioner Elijah Manuel and found a vitamin bottle containing pills. Suspecting the pills to be illegal drugs, the officers conducted a field test, which came back negative for any controlled substance. Still, they arrested Manuel and took him to the police station. There, an evidence technician tested the pills and got the same negative result, but claimed in his report that one of the pills tested “positive for the probable presence of ecstasy.” App. 92. An arresting officer also reported that, based on his “training and experience,” he “knew the pills to be ecstasy.” Id., at 91. On the basis of those false statements, another officer filed a sworn complaint charging Manuel with unlawful possession of a controlled substance. Relying exclusively on that complaint, a county court judge found probable cause to detain Manuel pending trial.

While Manuel was in jail, the Illinois police laboratory tested the seized pills and reported that they contained no controlled substances. But Manuel remained in custody, spending a total of 48 days in pretrial detention. More than two years after his arrest, but less than two years after his criminal case was dismissed, Manuel filed a 42 U. S. C. 1983 lawsuit against Joliet and several of its police officers (collectively, the City), alleging that his arrest and detention violated the Fourth Amendment. The District Court dismissed Manuel’s suit, holding, first, that the applicable two-year statute of limitations barred his unlawful arrest claim, and, second, that under binding Circuit precedent, pretrial detention following the start of legal process (here, the judge’s probable-cause determination) could not give rise to a Fourth Amendment claim. Manuel appealed the dismissal of his unlawful detention claim; the Seventh Circuit affirmed.


1. Manuel may challenge his pretrial detention on Fourth Amendment grounds. This conclusion follows from the Court’s settled precedent. In Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U. S. 103, the Court decided that a pretrial detention challenge was governed by the Fourth Amendment, noting that the Fourth Amendment establishes the minimum constitutional “standards and procedures” not just for arrest but also for “detention,” id., at 111, and “always has been thought to define” the appropriate process “for seizures of person[s] . . . in criminal cases, including the detention of suspects pending trial,” id., at 125, n. 27. And in Albright v. Oliver, 510 U. S. 266, a majority of the Court again looked to the Fourth Amendment to assess pretrial restraints on liberty. Relying on Gerstein, the plurality reiterated that the Fourth Amendment is the “relevan[t]” constitutional provision to assess the “deprivations of liberty that go hand in hand with criminal prosecutions.” Id., at 274; see id., at 290 (Souter, J., concurring in judgment) (“[R]ules of recovery for such harms have naturally coalesced under the Fourth Amendment”). That the pretrial restraints in Albright arose pursuant to legal process made no difference, given that they were allegedly unsupported by probable cause.

As reflected in those cases, pretrial detention can violate the Fourth Amendment not only when it precedes, but also when it follows, the start of legal process. The Fourth Amendment prohibits government officials from detaining a person absent probable cause. And where legal process has gone forward, but has done nothing to satisfy the probable-cause requirement, it cannot extinguish a detainee’s Fourth Amendment claim. That was the case here: Because the judge’s determination of probable cause was based solely on fabricated evidence, it did not expunge Manuel’s Fourth Amendment claim. For that reason, Manuel stated a Fourth Amendment claim when he sought relief not merely for his arrest, but also for his pretrial detention. Pp. 6–10.

2. On remand, the Seventh Circuit should determine the claim’s accrual date, unless it finds that the City has previously waived its timeliness argument. In doing so, the court should look to the common law of torts for guidance, Carey v. Piphus, 435 U. S. 247–258, while also closely attending to the values and purposes of the constitutional right at issue. The court may also consider any other still-live issues relating to the elements of and rules applicable to Manuel’s Fourth Amendment claim. Pp. 11–15.

590 Fed. Appx. 641, reversed and remanded.

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


Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The District Of Columbia Circuit

No. 15-1251. Argued November 7, 2016-Decided March 21, 2017

Article II of the Constitution requires that the President obtain “the Advice and Consent of the Senate” before appointing “Officers of the United States.” 2, cl. 2. Given this provision, the responsibilities of an office requiring Presidential appointment and Senate confirmation (PAS office) may go unperformed if a vacancy arises and the President and Senate cannot promptly agree on a replacement. Congress has accounted for this reality by giving the President limited authority to appoint acting officials to temporarily perform the functions of a vacant PAS office without first obtaining Senate approval.

The current version of that authorization is the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 (FVRA). Section 3345(a) of the FVRA permits three categories of Government officials to perform acting service in a vacant PAS office. Subsection (a)(1) prescribes the general rule that, if a vacancy arises in a PAS office, the first assistant to that office “shall perform” the office’s “functions and duties temporarily in an acting capacity.” Subsections (a)(2) and (a)(3) provide that, “notwithstanding paragraph (1),” the President “may direct” a person already serving in another PAS office, or a senior employee in the relevant agency, to serve in an acting capacity instead.

Section 3345 also makes certain individuals ineligible for acting service. Subsection (b)(1) states: “Notwithstanding subsection (a)(1), a person may not serve as an acting officer for an office under this section” if the President nominates him for the vacant PAS office and, during the 365-day period preceding the vacancy, the person “did not serve in the position of first assistant” to that office or “served in [that] position . . . for less than 90 days.”

The general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or the Board) is a PAS office. In June 2010, a vacancy arose in that office, and the President directed Lafe Solomon to serve as acting general counsel. Solomon qualified for acting service under subsection (a)(3) of the FVRA, because he was a senior employee at the NLRB. In January 2011, the President nominated Solomon to serve as the NLRB’s general counsel on a permanent basis. The Senate never took action on the nomination, and the President ultimately withdrew Solomon’s name in favor of a new candidate, whom the Senate confirmed in October 2013. Throughout this entire period Solomon served as the acting general counsel to the NLRB.

In January 2013, an NLRB Regional Director, exercising authority on Solomon’s behalf, issued an unfair labor practices complaint against respondent SW General, Inc. An Administrative Law Judge concluded that SW General had committed unfair labor practices, and the NLRB agreed. SW General sought review in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, arguing that the complaint was invalid because, under subsection (b)(1) of the FVRA, Solomon could not perform the duties of general counsel to the NLRB after having been nominated to fill that position. The NLRB countered that subsection (b)(1) applies only to first assistants who automatically assume acting duties under subsection (a)(1), not to acting officers who, like Solomon, serve under (a)(2) or (a)(3). The Court of Appeals vacated the Board’s order. It concluded that the prohibition on acting service by nominees contained in subsection (b)(1) applies to all acting officers, regardless of whether they serve pursuant to subsection (a)(1), (a)(2), or (a)(3). As a result, Solomon became ineligible to perform the duties of general counsel in an acting capacity once the President nominated him to fill that post.


1. Subsection (b)(1) of the FVRA prevents a person who has been nominated to fill a vacant PAS office from performing the duties of that office in an acting capacity. The prohibition applies to anyone performing acting service under the FVRA. It is not limited to first assistants performing acting service under subsection (a)(1). Pp. 8–18.

(a) The text of the FVRA requires this conclusion. Pp. 8–14.

(1) Subsection (b)(1) applies to any “person” and prohibits service “as an acting officer for an office under this section.” “Person” has an expansive meaning that can encompass anyone who performs acting duties under the FVRA. See Pfizer Inc. v. Government of India, 434 U. S. 308. And “under this section” clarifies that subsection (b)(1) applies to all of 3345: The FVRA contains cross-references to specific subsections and paragraphs. But subsection (b)(1) refers to 3345, which contains all of the ways a person may become an acting officer. The rest of the FVRA also uses the pairing of “person” and “section” to encompass anyone serving as an acting officer under the FVRA, and Congress could readily have used more specific language if it intended subsection (b)(1) to apply only to first assistants acting under (a)(1).

The dependent clause at the beginning of subsection (b)(1)—“[n]otwithstanding subsection (a)(1)”—confirms the breadth of the prohibition on acting service by nominees. In statutes, “notwithstanding” clauses show that one provision prevails over another in the event of a conflict. Here, that means that subsection (b)(1) applies even when it conflicts with the default rule in (a)(1) that first assistants “shall perform” acting duties. Pp. 8–10.

(2) The Board argues that, because the phrase “notwithstanding subsection (a)(1)” does not mention (a)(2) or (a)(3), Congress did not intend the prohibition in subsection (b)(1) to apply to people serving as acting officers under those provisions. The Board relies on the “interpretive canon, expressio unius est exclusio alterius, expressing one item of [an] associated group or series excludes another left unmentioned.” Chevron U. S. A. Inc. v. Echazabal, 536 U. S. 73 (internal quotation marks omitted).

This interpretive canon applies, however, only when “circumstances support[ ] a sensible inference that the term left out must have been meant to be excluded.” Id., at 81. A “notwithstanding” clause does not naturally give rise to such an inference; it just shows which of two or more provisions prevails in the event of a conflict. Singling out one conflict generally does not suggest that other, unaddressed conflicts should be resolved in the opposite manner. Here, the conflict between (a)(1) and (b)(1) is unique: The former uses mandatory language—the first assistant “shall perform” acting duties—while the latter identifies who “may not” serve as an acting officer. The “notwithstanding” clause clarifies that the mandatory language in subsection (a)(1) does not prevail over subsection (b)(1) in the event of a conflict. Subsections (a)(2) and (a)(3) lack that mandatory language, so the natural inference is that Congress left these provisions out of the “notwithstanding” clause because they differ from subsection (a)(1), not to implicitly exempt them from the prohibition in subsection (b)(1).

Moreover, subsection (b)(2) specifies that (b)(1) “shall not apply” to certain people who are “serving as the first assistant.” If (b)(1) applied only to first assistants, stating that limitation would be superfluous. Pp. 10–14.

(b) Because the text is clear, the Board’s arguments about legislative history, purpose, and post-enactment practice need not be considered. In any event, its arguments are not compelling.

The original draft of the FVRA contained a prohibition on nominees serving as acting officers, but explicitly limited that prohibition to first assistants. The Board argues that, when Congress revised this original draft, it made changes to give the President more flexibility to appoint acting officers and did not intend to broaden the prohibition on nominees performing acting service. The glitch in this argument is that Congress did change the prohibition on nominees performing acting service, revising it to clearly apply to all acting officers. The fact that certain Senators stated that they wanted to give the President more flexibility to appoint acting officials does not mean that they got exactly what they wanted. Nor does a statement by one of the sponsors of the FVRA—who said that subsection (b)(1) applies only to first assistants—overcome the clear text, particularly given that the very next Senator to speak offered a contradictory account of the provision.

The Board also argues that, since the FVRA was enacted, Congress has not objected when Presidents have nominated individuals who were serving as acting officers under subsection (a)(2) or (a)(3), and that the Office of Legal Counsel and Government Accountability Office have issued guidance construing subsection (b)(1) to apply only to first assistants. Relying on NLRB v. Noel Canning, the Board contends that this “historical practice” is entitled to “significant weight.” 573 U. S. ___.

“[H]istorical practice” is too grand a title for the Board’s evidence. The FVRA was not enacted until 1998, and the evidence the Board cites is not significant enough to warrant the conclusion that Congress’s failure to speak up implies that it has acquiesced in the view that subsection (b)(1) applies only to first assistants. By contrast, the Court’s decision in Noel Canning dealt with the President’s constitutional authority under the Recess Appointments Clause; an issue that had attracted intense attention from Presidents, Attorneys General, and the Senate dating back to the beginning of the Republic. Pp. 14–18.

2. Applying the FVRA to this case is straightforward. Subsection (b)(1) prohibited Solomon from continuing his service as acting general counsel once the President nominated him to fill the position permanently. The President could have appointed another person to serve as acting officer in Solomon’s place, but did not do so. P. 18.

796 F. 3d 67, affirmed.

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


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

No. 15-927. Argued November 1, 2016--Decided March 21, 2017

In 2003, petitioners (collectively, SCA) notified respondents (collectively, First Quality) that their adult incontinence products infringed an SCA patent. First Quality responded that its own patent antedated SCA’s patent and made it invalid. In 2004, SCA sought reexamination of its patent in light of First Quality’s patent, and in 2007, the Patent and Trademark Office confirmed the SCA patent’s validity. SCA sued First Quality for patent infringement in 2010. The District Court granted summary judgment to First Quality on the grounds of equitable estoppel and laches. While SCA’s appeal was pending, this Court held that laches could not preclude a claim for damages incurred within the Copyright Act’s 3-year limitations period. Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., 572 U. S. ___, ___. A Federal Circuit panel nevertheless affirmed the District Court’s laches holding based on Circuit precedent, which permitted laches to be asserted against a claim for damages incurred within the Patent Act’s 6-year limitations period, 35 U. S. C. 286. The en banc court reheard the case in light of Petrella and reaffirmed the original panel’s laches holding.

Held: Laches cannot be invoked as a defense against a claim for damages brought within 286’s 6-year limitations period. Pp. 3–16.

(a) Petrella’s holding rested on both separation-of-powers principles and the traditional role of laches in equity. A statute of limitations reflects a congressional decision that timeliness is better judged by a hard and fast rule instead of a case-specific judicial determination. Applying laches within a limitations period specified by Congress would give judges a “legislation-overriding” role that exceeds the Judiciary’s power. 572 U. S., at ___. Moreover, applying laches within a limitations period would clash with the gap-filling purpose for which the defense developed in the equity courts. Pp. 3–5.

(b) Petrella’s reasoning easily fits 286. There, the Court found in the Copyright Act’s language a congressional judgment that a claim filed within three years of accrual cannot be dismissed on timeliness grounds. 572 U. S., at ___. By that same logic, 286 of the Patent Act represents Congress’s judgment that a patentee may recover damages for any infringement committed within six years of the filing of the claim.

First Quality contends that this case differs from Petrella because a true statute of limitations runs forward from the date a cause of action accrues, whereas 286’s limitations period runs backward from the filing of the complaint. However, Petrella repeatedly characterized the Copyright Act’s limitations period as running backward from the date the suit was filed. First Quality also contends that a true statute of limitations begins to run when the plaintiff discovers a cause of action, which is not the case with 286’s limitations period, but ordinarily, a statute of limitations begins to run on the date that the claim accrues, not when the cause of action is discovered. Pp. 5–8.

(c) The Federal Circuit based its decision on the idea that 282 of the Patent Act, which provides for “defenses in any action involving the validity or infringement of a patent,” creates an exception to 286 by codifying laches as such a defense, and First Quality argues that laches is a defense within 282(b)(1) based on “unenforceability.” Even assuming that 282(b)(1) incorporates a laches defense of some dimension, it does not necessarily follow that the defense may be invoked to bar a claim for damages incurred within the period set out in 286. Indeed, it would be exceedingly unusual, if not unprecedented, if Congress chose to include in the Patent Act both a statute of limitations for damages and a laches provision applicable to a damages claim. Neither the Federal Circuit, nor any party, has identified a single federal statute that provides such dual protection against untimely claims. Pp. 8–9.

(d) The Federal Circuit and First Quality rely on lower court patent cases decided before the 1952 Patent Act to argue that 282 codified a pre-1952 practice of permitting laches to be asserted against damages claims. But the most prominent feature of the relevant legal landscape at that time was the well-established rule that laches cannot be invoked to bar a claim for damages incurred within a limitations period specified by Congress. In light of this rule, which Petrella confirmed and restated, 572 U. S., at ___, nothing less than a broad and unambiguous consensus of lower court decisions could support the inference that 282(b)(1) codifies a very different patent-law-specific rule. Pp. 9–10.

(e) The Federal Circuit and First Quality rely on three types of cases: (1) pre-1938 equity cases; (2) pre-1938 claims at law; and (3) cases decided after the merger of law and equity in 1938. None of these establishes a broad, unambiguous consensus in favor of applying laches to damages claims in the patent context.

Many of the pre-1938 equity cases do not even reveal whether the plaintiff asked for damages, and of the cases in which damages were sought, many merely suggest in dicta that laches might limit damages. The handful of cases that apply laches against a damages claim are too few to establish a settled, national consensus. In any event, the most that can possibly be gathered from a pre-1938 equity case is that laches could defeat a damages claim in an equity court, not that the defense could entirely prevent a patentee from recovering damages.

Similarly, even if all three pre-1938 cases at law cited by First Quality squarely held that laches could be applied to a damages claim within the limitations period, that number would be insufficient to overcome the presumption that Congress legislates against the background of general common-law principles. First Quality argues that the small number of cases at law should not count against its position because there were few patent cases brought at law after 1870, but it is First Quality’s burden to show that Congress departed from the traditional common-law rule.

As for the post-1938 patent case law, there is scant evidence supporting First Quality’s claim that courts continued to apply laches to damages claims after the merger of law and equity. Only two Courts of Appeals held that laches could bar a damages claim, and that does not constitute a settled, uniform practice of applying laches to damages claims. Pp. 11–15.

(f) First Quality’s additional arguments are unconvincing and do not require extended discussion. It points to post-1952 Court of Appeals decisions holding that laches can be invoked as a defense against a damages claim, but nothing that Congress has done since 1952 has altered 282’s meaning. As for the various policy arguments presented here, this Court cannot overrule Congress’s judgment based on its own policy views. Pp. 15–16.

807 F. 3d 1311, vacated in part and remanded.

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