With 2020 winding down, many businesses are looking ahead to 2021. For most businesses, 2020 has been a difficult year and they hope that 2021 will bring with it a return to normalcy. While we can never predict the future, businesses should be aware, to the best of their ability, of what lies ahead. This article briefly explores 5 key business-related cases pending before the United States Supreme Court which could have an impact on businesses in 2021.
Van Buren v. U.S. – On November 30, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Van Buren v. U.S. The issue in the case is whether a person who is authorized to access information on a computer for certain purposes violates Section 1030(a)(2) of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act if he accesses the same information for an improper purpose. This is the first time the Supreme Court has heard a case under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act which imposes liability for unauthorized access of computers. Because the case revolves around how the Act applies to individuals who are authorized to access a computer for certain purposes but not others, many businesses should follow closely the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Act. Many businesses grant employees access to their computer systems, but the Supreme Court’s decision may have an especially important impact on financial and healthcare businesses.
Employer Solutions Staffing Group, LLC. v. Scalia– The Supreme Court has not yet decided whether to take this case, although a decision should be coming soon. The issues in this case are threefold: (1) Whether the Supreme Court’s willfulness standard, which requires a showing that “the employer either knew or showed reckless disregard for the matter of whether its conduct was prohibited by the statute,” may be satisfied merely by a showing that a non-compliant employer was on notice of its general requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act but had no actual knowledge of or reason to believe that it was not complying with any requirement of the FLSA; (2) whether the Employer Solutions Staffing Group was liable for overtime wages when there was no evidence that they knew or should have known that overtime wages were not properly being paid by a low-level employee; and (3) whether the Employer Solutions Staffing Group may seek contribution under the FLSA from other joint-employers for joint and several liability for an overtime wage award. Businesses should closely watch what the Supreme Court does with this case as it raises important questions related to a business’ liability under the Fair Labor Standards Act, in particular regarding the knowledge and notice a business possesses regarding a potential violation.
Piersing v. Domino’s Pizza Franchising LLC– Commonplace in employment agreements are arbitration clauses. In fact, arbitration clauses have become so frequently used in all areas of law that it is not uncommon for the Supreme Court to regularly hear such cases. One case which the Supreme Court may weigh in on involves an employment agreement with Domino’s Pizza Franchising, LLC. The issue in this case is whether, in the context of a form employment agreement, providing that a particular set of rules will govern arbitration proceedings is, without more, “clear and unmistakable evidence” of the parties’ intent to have the arbitrator decide questions of arbitrability. If the Supreme Court does take this case, businesses should monitor how the Supreme Court’s decision will affect the arbitration clauses in their own employment agreements. Another arbitration case, Henry Schein v. Archer and White Sales, Inc., was argued before the Supreme Court on December 8, 2020. The issue in that case is whether a provision in an arbitration agreement that exempts certain claims from arbitration negates an otherwise clear and unmistakable delegation of questions of arbitrability to an arbitrator. Both cases may prove to be quite instructive for businesses utilizing arbitration agreements.
Google LLC v. Oracle America Inc.- This is a landmark copyright case between two heavyweight corporations. The details of this dispute are quite technical and complex. The issues, simply stated, are (1) whether copyright protection extends to a software interface; and (2) whether, as the jury found, the petitioner’s use of a software interface in the context of creating a new computer program constitutes fair use. Although those issues may seem irrelevant to most businesses, the import of the case may prove to be more much more significant as the Supreme Court will be weighing in on several key copyright issues including the contrast between “ideas” and “expression” as well as the all-important “fair use” exception to copyright laws. Any business which utilizes copyrights should keep an eye out next year for what could be one of the most significant copyright decisions handed down by the Supreme Court.