Case: Burlington Northern & Santa Fe/Shell Oil v. United States (consolidated)

Date: Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2009

Issue: In this environmental cleanup case, did the 9th Circuit err by reversing a lower court's ruling adopting a standard of review that conflicted with the decisions of the other court?

Background: This case examines the 9th Circuit's decision to overturn a lower court's calculus in determining the share of clean up costs of a contaminated tract of California land. The lower court ruled the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe (BNSF) Railroad and Shell Oil Company only pay 9 percent of the more than $8 million in cleanup costs. But the 9th Circuit determined that the two companies had "joint and several liability" in the cleanup of the Superfund site. That ruling could make Shell and BNSF responsible for paying the EPA all of the costs associated with the cleanup.

Case: Carlsbad Technology v. HIF Bio

Date: Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2009

Issue: Can federal appellate courts review and reverse the decisions of lower district courts that conclude cases before them are only state matters?

Background: A supposed cancer remedy is the subject of the dispute between two California firms. The legal issue before the Supreme Court is not one of life and death. There are conflicting claims of proprietorship between Carlsbad Technology and HIF Bio. The legal struggles eventually left the state courts and into a federal courtroom to address a claim of racketeering and other issues. The federal district court judge tossed the racketeering complaint and ruled it did not have jurisdiction to review any of the other issues that were state-level disputes. The Federal Court of Appeals refused to intervene saying the lower court's decision to abstain from the case was not reviewable.