Writer’s Picks: Loughner Competency, Concealed Carry on Campus, and Government Contracts

Our Justia caselaw summary writers have suggested some interesting cases from last week’s load.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a ruling in the case concerning Jared Lee Loughner, who is accused of shooting U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, among others. In United States v. Loughner, the appellate court upheld the trial court’s decision permitting the defendant to be involuntarily medicated. The appellate court concluded that defendant was provided with the substance and procedure demanded by the Due Process Clause before the government involuntarily medicated him: the defendant clearly suffered from a severe mental illness, he represented a danger to himself or others, the prescribed medication was appropriate and in his medical interest, and the district court did not arbitrarily deny the motion to enjoin defendant’s emergency treatment.

Speaking of gun violence, the Colorado Supreme Court struck down a ban on concealed weapons on Colorado state university campuses that has been in effect since the 1970s. In Regents of the University of Colorado v. Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, the Court found that the Colorado Concealed Carry Act’s comprehensive statewide purpose, broad language, and narrow exclusions show that the General Assembly intended to divest the Board of Regents of its authority to regulate concealed handgun possession on campus.

Finally, the Federal Circuit issued an opinion that touches on government contracts, environmental hazards, and judicial conduct. In Shell Oil Co. v. U.S., the Court vacated and remanded a decision because the trial judge failed to recuse himself, and the error was not harmless. During World War II, the U.S. contracted with oil companies for the production of aviation fuel, which resulted in production of hazardous waste. The waste was dumped at the California McColl site. Several decades later, the oil companies were held liable for cleanup costs under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. 9601, and sought reimbursement from the government based on the contracts. The district court entered summary judgment on liability, finding that the contracts contained open ended indemnification agreements and encompassed costs for CERLCA cleanup, and awarded $87,344,345.70. The trial judge subsequently discovered that his wife had inherited 97.59 shares of stock in a parent to two of the oil companies. The judge ultimately vacated his summary judgment rulings; severed two companies from the suit and directed the clerk to reassign their claims to a different judge; reinstated his prior decisions with respect to two remaining companies; and entered judgment against the government ($68,849,505). The Federal Circuit vacated and remanded for reassignment to another judge. The judge was required to recuse himself under 28 U.S.C. 455(b)(4) and the error was not harmless.