It’s been a busy week at the high court for the Sixth Circuit.  The Supreme Court handed down three decisions in Sixth Circuit cases – among them, the unanimous affirmance of a Sixth Circuit ruling on standing.

Lexmark International, Inc. v. Static Control Components

In Lexmark, the Supreme Court affirmed the Sixth Circuit, albeit on different grounds.  Resolving a circuit split, the Court announced the test for determining who may bring false advertising claims under the Lanham Act.  The Sixth Circuit afforded standing to Static Control under the Second Circuit’s “reasonable interest” test.  Petitioners argued for the narrower antitrust standing test adopted by several other circuits.

Taking a different approach, the Supreme Court adopted the “zone of interests” test.  Justice Scalia authored a unanimous opinion holding that plaintiffs have standing under the Act if they fall within the ”zone of interests” protected by the statute and if their injury was proximately caused by a violation of the statute.  Affirming the judgment below, the Court concluded that Respondent Static Control’s alleged injuries—lost sales and damage to its business reputation—fall within the Act’s zone of interests.  The Court’s decision brings clarity and uniformity to pleading requirements for false advertising claims under the Act.

United States v. Quality Stores, Inc.

Quality Stores posed the question of whether severance payments are subject to the taxes imposed by the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA).  Justice Kennedy, writing for the Court, said yes, holding that the payments fall within the definition of “wages” taxed under FICA.  (FICA taxes, which fund Social Security and Medicare programs, are distinct from the income tax.)  Relying on provisions of the Internal Revenue Code, the Sixth Circuit held that the tax did not apply to severance payments.  The Supreme Court reversed under the language and history of the FICA statute, but acknowledged a potential conflict with IRS rulings.

United States v. Castleman

Federal criminal law treats defendants more harshly when they’ve been previously convicted of certain crimes.  Often those prior convictions come from state court, and the federal court is left wrestling with how the state conviction fits into federal law.  Castleman was convicted in Tennessee of “intentionally or knowingly caus[ing] bodily injury” to the mother of his child.  Federal law forbids a person convicted of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” from possessing guns.  Resolving a circuit split and siding with Judge McKeague’s Sixth Circuit dissent, the Supreme Court concluded that Castleman’s state conviction qualifies as a crime of domestic violence.

Driving the debate, the federal statute defines a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” to involve the use of “physical force.”  But “physical force” itself is not clearly defined.  The Sixth Circuit majority relied on an earlier Supreme Court decision defining “physical force” for purposes of violent felonies as “violent force.”  Justice Sotomayor’s opinion adopted a contextual definition of “physical force,” which in the misdemeanor setting imports the  common law meaning of “offensive touching” (a much lower threshold).  Justice Scalia would have ruled on narrower grounds.  Justices Alito and Thomas concurred in the judgment.