Justices will take up cases on arbitration, locomotives, and Congress’ war powers 

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Supreme Court steps with the Library of Congress in the background

The Supreme Court on Wednesday morning granted three more cases from the justices’ private conference last week. The announcement that the justices will take on issues relating to arbitration, trains, and congressional power followed two other sets of orders from the Dec. 10 conference, but the decision to grant a second tranche of petitions from that conference followed similar moves in late 2020 and 2019, allowing the justices to add more cases to their docket for the second half of the term without having to wait for the next regularly scheduled conference, on Jan. 7.

In Torres v. Texas Department of Public Safety, the justices will weigh in on a lawsuit brought against the department by a former state trooper who resigned from his job when the department would not provide accommodations for a respiratory condition resulting from his service as an Army reservist in Iraq. A Texas state court ruled that the federal law under which Torres brought his suit, the Uniform Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act, which allows members of the military to sue to remedy employment discrimination based on their service, is unconstitutional.

In March, the Supreme Court asked the federal government for its views on whether Congress has the power to authorize lawsuits against states, even without their consent, pursuant to its war powers. In a brief filed in November, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar told the justices that the Texas state court’s decision was wrong, but she nonetheless urged the justices to deny review, noting (among other things) that the court had turned down a petition involving the same question four years ago. Despite that recommendation, the justices granted Torres’ petition after the Dec. 10 conference.

Viking River Cruises v. Moriana joins the court’s growing arbitration docket. The case stems from a lawsuit brought by Angie Morana, who worked as a sales representative for the cruise line, against her former employer, under California’s Private Attorneys General Act, which allows an employee to seek an award for violations of state labor laws on her own behalf as well as on behalf of other employees. The cruise line asked the state court to compel Moriana to arbitrate her claims individually, citing an agreement that she had signed before beginning to work at Viking. But the state courts agreed with Moriana that the agreement could not be enforced under state law. That prompted the cruise line to come to the Supreme Court, telling the justices that plaintiffs in California have sought to circumvent recent Supreme Court decisions promoting individual arbitration by relying on the PAGA.

And in LeDure v. Union Pacific Railroad, the justices agreed to decide when a locomotive is “in use” on a railroad’s line and therefore subject to the Locomotive Inspection Act and its regulations. The question comes to the court in a case filed by a conductor for the railroad, who slipped and fell while getting a locomotive ready for departure; Bradley LeDure suffered multiple injuries that required surgery and was eventually deemed permanently disabled.

The court asked the federal government in May for its views on the questions arising from the Locomotive Inspection Act and the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, which provide the only remedy for railroad workers who are injured on the job. In November, Prelogar recommended that the justices weigh in on the first question in the case – when a locomotive is “in use.” The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit was wrong when it concluded that the locomotive in LeDure’s case was not in use, Prelogar wrote.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett participated in the case as a judge on the 7th Circuit and recused herself from the consideration of LeDure’s petition.

The justices will likely hear argument in the spring in the cases added to the court’s docket on Wednesday, with decisions to follow by summer.

This article was originally published at Howe on the Court. 



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