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High-Profile Lawsuits Headed to the Sixth Circuit in 2013

Posted in News and Analysis, Recent Cases

Last year was an active year for the Sixth Circuit, particularly on its business docket.  As you know from following our blog, the Sixth Circuit issued a number of key opinions in 2012 addressing class actions, expert opinions, white collar crime, franchise and intellectual property issues, and pleading standards.  Although 2013 has started off slowly at the Sixth Circuit, things promise to heat up quickly.  To begin the year off right, we have compiled a list of several high-profile cases that may be headed to the Sixth Circuit in 2013.  Some of these cases ultimately may end up at the U.S. Supreme Court, so we’ll be following the cases closely.

1.  Constitutional Challenge to the Contraception and Abortion Mandate 

In 2013, there is a good chance that the Sixth Circuit will take on the controversial subjects of contraception and abortion as part of the constitutional challenges to the so-called contraception and abortion mandate that went into effect last year under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Public Law 111-148.  The new mandate by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) requires employers to cover contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs in their employee health care plans.  As I discussed extensively during my interview on LXBN TV last month, there currently are over 40 lawsuits making their way through the federal courts challenging the HHS mandate.  The challengers include such national businesses as Hobby Lobby and religious institutions such as Liberty University.  The challengers are arguing that the HHS mandate is a direct attack on their religious freedoms because it requires their employee health care plans to serve as a vehicle for both birth control and abortion.  Just a few weeks ago, a Michigan federal judge granted an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order in favor of a management company owned by the founder of Domino’s Pizza allowing it to delay implementation of the HHS mandate until a final decision was made in the case.  A number of court watchers expect that the U.S. Supreme Court eventually will agree to hear the challenge to the HHS mandate, and that case very well may come out of the Sixth Circuit.

2.  Amish Hair and Beard-Cutting Hate Crime Trial

Last September in Ohio federal court, Amish bishop Samuel Mullet Sr. was found guilty of federal hate crime and conspiracy charges for exhorting his followers to forcibly cut the hair and beards of fellow Amish men and women who disagreed with him religiously.  Fifteen others also were convicted of federal hate crimes for cooperating with Mullet.  The prosecution argued that the defendants targeted their Amish victims because of the spiritual significance that their hair and beards have under the Amish faith.  The defendants soon will be preparing their appeal before the Sixth Circuit.  While this case is attracting international media attention because of the intriguing facts involved, the defendants’ appeal also will be important from a legal standpoint because of the constitutional questions that may be raised.  It is likely that the defendants will argue that 18 U.S.C. § 249(a)(2), part of the “Hate Crimes Prevention Act,” exceeds Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause because the activity regulated does not have a substantial effect on interstate commerce.  As we have reported extensively on our blog, the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent landmark decision upholding the individual mandate under the federal health care statute as a valid exercise of Congress’s taxing (rather than commerce) power has reinvigorated the debate over limits on Congress’s authority.  The Amish hair and beard-cutting case will give the Sixth Circuit another opportunity to define the scope of Congress’s commerce clause power.

3.  The ABA’s Alleged Violation of the ADA for Pushing the LSAT

In another interesting case, the Sixth Circuit is gearing up to take on the Law School Aptitude Test (“LSAT”).   Currently before the court is an appeal brought by Angelo Binno, a legally blind law school applicant, who claims that the American Bar Association’s accreditation practices for American law schools discriminate against the blind and visually impaired in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12189.  In his complaint filed in Michigan federal court, Binno alleged that the LSAT discriminates against blind and visually impaired applicants because it contains “logic game questions” that “require spatial reasoning and diagraming of visual concepts for successful completion by most applicants.”  One of the issues on appeal is whether Binno has standing to bring his claims against the ABA as opposed to the law schools who actually denied him admission.  The district court held, among other things, that Binno failed to allege that the ABA itself had directed improper questions to be included on the LSAT.  See Opinion and Order, Binno v. The American Bar Association (No. 11-12247, E.D. Mich. ) (PDF).  Indeed, the court found that the ABA does not prohibit a law school from using a different test than the LSAT.  We’ll be following this case to see whether the Sixth Circuit allows Binno to bring his claims on the merits.

 4.  Metal-on-Metal Hip Implant Lawsuits

In 2013 (and, indeed, beyond), the Sixth Circuit may address legal issues stemming from the lawsuits brought against DePuy Orthopaedics, Inc., a division of Johnson and Johnson, relating to its ASR XL Acetabular metal-on-metal hip replacement system that was recalled back in August 2010 after many of the devices were failing prematurely.  There currently are thousands of hip replacement lawsuits pending in a multidistrict litigation before Judge David A. Katz of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio (MDL No. 2197).  Plaintiffs claim that DePuy’s ASR hip system was defectively manufactured, forcing numerous patients to have additional surgeries to replace the original hip replacement implant.   Judge Katz has scheduled the first bellwether trials in the MDL for May 6, 2013 and July 8, 2013.  These cases could give the Sixth Circuit additional opportunities to address and refine the law on expert opinions, and thus they are one of the more important business cases that eventually will make their way into the Sixth Circuit pipeline.

5.  The Jimmy Dimora Public Corruption Case

Finally, the Sixth Circuit is gearing up to hear an appeal in one of the largest public corruption scandals in Ohio history.  Back in July 2008, a media frenzy was spawned when FBI agents raided several public offices in Cuyahoga County, Ohio as part of a probe into widespread corruption in county government.  The ensuing investigation led to numerous convictions and ultimately served as the impetus for major reforms in county government.  Former Cuyahoga County Commissioner James “Jimmy” Dimora is the key figure in this corruption scandal that rocked Northeast Ohio.  Last March, a federal jury in Akron, Ohio found Dimora guilty of racketeering and 32 other corruption-related charges.  At his sentencing, a defiant Dimora maintained his innocence, proclaiming that he had never committed a single crime.  Indeed, Dimora has stated famously that, “I have not done anything that any other public official hasn’t done.”  In the face of Dimora’s defiance, U.S. District Court Judge Sara Lioi sentenced Dimora to 28 years in prison (six more than the 22 years requested by prosecutors), effectively netting Dimora, who is 57, a life sentence.  Dimora is now before the Sixth Circuit appealing the final judgment handed down by Judge Lioi.  His opening brief is due to be filed on April 1, 2013.

You can be sure the media will be following Dimora’s high-profile appeal, and of course we’ll be following all the significant Sixth Circuit opinions that get handed down this year, along with our usual insightful analysis and commentary.  Happy 2013, and thank you for following us yet another year!