Jan. 13 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court will convene Monday to hear its first cases of 2020 -- which include various issues, from New Jersey's "Bridgegate" scandal to a pair of trademark infringement cases.
The high court has set hearings for five cases on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Kelly vs. United States
Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly, former staffers for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, have appealed the sentences they received for their role in the "Bridgegate" scandal in 2013.
Baroni, the former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Kelly, Christie's deputy chief of staff, were convicted in 2016 and sentenced to prison in the case. Prosecutors said the staffers created traffic jams in Fort Lee, N.J., by way of the George Washington Bridge, as political retribution for its Democratic mayor for not supporting the Republican Christie's gubernatorial bid.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit upheld the convictions, ruling Kelly and Baroni engaged in deception when they fabricated a study to justify changing traffic patterns.
In their appeal to the Supreme Court, Kelly and Baroni argue that while their conduct may have been "petty, sensitive and ill-advised," it did not constitute fraud because the Port Authority's power to change traffic patterns is not a property interest for the purpose of fraud statues.
They fear the convictions could set a precedent to allow any government official to be charged with fraud for misrepresenting the reasoning behind their decisions.
Prosecutors say Kelly and Baroni were properly convicted -- not because they hid their motive, but because they lied about the traffic study and Broni did not have authority to close lanes.
The Supreme Court will seek to determine whether Kelly and Baroni committed a federal crime, which could alter the way federal investigations are conducted moving forward.
The high court will hear arguments in the case Tuesday.
Babb vs. Wilke
Noris Babb, a clinical pharmacist at the Department of Veterans Affairs, has appealed to the Supreme Court her complaint that she was a victim of age discrimination by her employer.
Babb sued the VA for making a series of decisions that affected her job duties, pay and opportunities for advancement. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the VA, ruling that Babb could not show her age was the reason behind the decisions. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld the ruling.
The decision was based on a difference in the language of the Age Discrimination Employment Act's federal sector provision from the private sector version. The federal provision states that employment decisions must be "made free from any discrimination based on age" while the private sector version prohibits employers from discriminating "against any individual ... because of such individual's age."
In her appeal, Babb says the difference in the statutes indicates the federal hiring process should be "free from any" age discrimination regardless of whether it is dispositive.
She also notes that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Civil Service Commission agree that the federal government violates the statutes any time it considers prohibited characteristics, such as age in an employment decision.
Arguments in the case will be heard Wednesday.
Thole vs. U.S. Bank
Two participants in U.S. Bancorp's pension plan, James Thole and Sherry Smith, sued the bank after fiduciaries invested 100 percent of the plan's assets in equities, which they argue caused the plan to lose $748 million more during the financial crisis than it would have lost had they been diversified.
They filed a lawsuit under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act after the losses caused the plan's assets to fall to 84 percent of the minimum funding level required by the law. The suit also says U.S. Bancorp invested about $1.2 billion in mutual funds offered by a subsidiary it owned for its own benefit.
A district court ruled the claims were moot under both ERISA and Article III of the Constitution after U.S. Bancorp sold the subsidiary, made a contribution that increased the plan's assets above the statutory minimum and the fiduciaries diversified the investments. An appellate court ruled no claim can be filed against U.S. Bancorp under two sections of ERISA because Thole and Smith hadn't had their benefits reduced.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case Monday.
The high court will hear two trademark infringement cases -- Lucky Brand Dungarees vs. Marcel Fashion Group and Romag Fasteners vs. Fossil.
The former case involves a trademark dispute between Lucky Brand and Marcel Fashion Group, which both hold various trademarks related to the word "Lucky," over the use of Marcel's "Get Lucky" trademark.
The latter involves a Connecticut-based fastener business that's seeking profit payments from Fossil after the company was found guilty of using Chinese-manufactured counterfeit versions of its fasteners.
A jury recommended that Fossil pay Romag about $90,000 and about $6.7 million to deter future trademark infringement.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the Fossil case Tuesday, and the Lucky Brand case Monday.