Supreme Court Decisions Affecting Americans’ Civil Rights

The U.S. Supreme Court is finishing its term at the end of this month. Like most years, the Court still has a number of pivotal cases left to consider. A handful of the cases still on the docket involve complex personal injury rights which apply to civil litigants across the nation.

One important case set to be decided in the next few weeks has massive implications involving the world’s largest retailer: Wal Mart. Wal-Mart v. Dukes encompasses certain class action and civil procedure rights as applied to plaintiffs seeking to commence lawsuits against corporations and business entities. At issue in the case is whether it is proper under Federal Rule 23 to join hundreds of thousands of plaintiffs together in one class action. The case involves alleged sex discrimination by the employer against female employees in Wal-Mart stores across the nation. While the Court will not be deciding whether sex discrimination was present, it will be deciding whether it is proper to join that many plaintiffs in one class action. Federal procedure rules require that plaintiffs in a class action suffered nearly identical injuries at the hands of the same conduct by the same defendant. Wal-Mart supporters strongly urge that this type of class action is inappropriate under Federal rules because the women were all employed in different stores with different bosses and in different regions- the legal harm could not possibly be the same.

In another upcoming Court decision, parties in Goodyear Luxembourg Tires, SA v. Brown are eager to find out whether families in a wrongful death action can sue under products liability in America when the accident occurred in a foreign nation as a result of a defective product produced in a foreign nation. The case centers around a 2004 bus accident in Paris, France that left two North Carolina teenagers dead. Their estate brought an action against manufacturer of the bus tires. The tire manufacturer immediately motioned to dismiss based upon lack of personal jurisdiction. The North Carolina state courts held that jurisdiction was proper because the manufacturer’s integrated distribution system resulted in substantial ties to the U.S. that should put the subsidiary on notice that it could find itself vulnerable to the U.S. justice system. The case made all the way through the North Carolina court system and the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in September, 2010.

The outcome of this case will dictate when and under what circumstances an injured U.S. citizen or estate can sue a company under products liability if the product is manufactured wholly outside the United States.

Opinions in both cases are set to be released before the conclusion of this month.