The Supreme Court opened its new session Tuesday and announced it had agreed to decide eight new cases, including a copyright dispute over the 1980 Oscar-winning film "Raging Bull" and a clash over union fees for home healthcare workers in Illinois.
The court has said it planned to proceed as normal this week, despite the government shutdown, and it is due to hear the first round of arguments next week.
The justices met behind closed doors Monday to sift through more than 2,000 appeals that piled up over the summer. And they set eight, mostly uncontroversial, cases to be heard for a full argument in January. The court took no action on the most closely watched disputes, including challenges to the Obama administration’s greenhouse-gas regulations.
The copyright dispute turns on whether Paula Petrella, whose father, Frank Petrella, wrote the book and screenplay for “Raging Bull,” waited too long to sue over the renewal of his copyright. In 1976, Frank Petrella and boxer Jake LaMotta assigned the rights to their book and screenplay to Chartoff-Winkler Productions. And in 1978, United Artists and MGM acquired the motion picture rights.
But in 2009, Paula Petrella sued MGM for alleged copyright infringement, saying she had spent years asserting her rights to renew her father’s copyright for the book and screenplay after it expired in 1991. (Frank Petrella died in 1981.) A federal judge in Los Angeles and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected her claim on the grounds that she had waited too long to sue.
But Judge William Fletcher pointed out that the 9th Circuit has a reputation for protecting the Hollywood studios. “Our circuit is the most hostile to copyright owners of all the circuits,” he wrote.
University of Pennsylvania Law professor Stephanos Bibas appealed on behalf of Petrella and cited Fletcher’s comment. He argued that the 9th Circuit had adopted a statute of limitations for copyright claims that was not in the law. The Supreme Court voted to hear the case of Petrella v. MGM to resolve the dispute.
In the Illinois case of Harris v. Quinn, lawyers for the National Right to Work Foundation are suing on behalf of some healthcare workers who object to paying fees to the Service Employees International Union. They say they are “challenging a forced unionism scheme enacted by Governors Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn.”
The U.S. 7th Circuit Court in Chicago rejected this claim and said that because these home healthcare workers are paid as public employees, they can be required to pay their fair share of the union’s fees.