On October 9, 2013, the defendants in Abbott v. Lockheed Martin Corporation filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court seeking to have the 7th Circuit’s recent class certification decision reversed. For our non-lawyer readers, one major difference between Circuit Courts, such as the 7th, and the Supreme Court, is that in an ERISA case such as Abbot the justices of the Supreme Court vote on whether to hear an appeal whereas Circuit Courts must hear any appeals filed because litigants are guaranteed at least one level of appellate review after their cases are heard in a district court.
The petition presents the following question: “Whether a plaintiff has standing to represent a class where the defendant’s alleged misconduct did not cause him harm.” Lockheed Martin argues that the Seventh Circuit’s holding that Plaintiffs do have standing even though they “do not appear to have suffered any damages,” conflicts with decisions by the Third, Sixth, Eighth, Tenth, and Eleventh Circuits. For those interested, here is a good explanation as to exactly what standing means. I will simply summarize it as the ability for a party to bring a claim in a court.
Pursuant to Supreme Court rules, plaintiffs have 30 days in which to file a brief in opposition to the petition. Assuming that plaintiffs file their opposition on the deadline (November 8, 2013), the petition will be distributed for the Supreme Court’s conference of December 13, 2013 for a vote from the justices. If the case is accepted (or said another way: if the petition for a writ of certiorari is granted), this means that the Supreme Court then asks for full briefing by both sides and almost always oral arguments will be scheduled before the 9 justices in Washington, DC.
As regular readers know, I am not in the business of tea leaf reading. After years of litigating ERISA cases in my previous career, I have learned anything is possible. Only time will tell if the Supreme Court finds it necessary to take the case to resolve the “circuit split” that Lockheed Martin alleges related to the question of standing. However, I will repeat this Question and Answer from the Supreme Court FAQ page:
How many cases are appealed to the Court each year and how many cases does the Court hear?
The Court receives approximately 10,000 petitions for a writ of certiorari each year. The Court grants and hears oral argument in about 75-80 cases.