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Supreme Court in Session: What’s at Stake for Older Adults

Cases could impact jobs, voting rights, drug prices

Supreme Court in Session: What’s at Stake for Older Adults

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Learn about the cases that will have the greatest impact on seniors during the upcoming Supreme Court term.

En español | The Supreme Court is taking up several cases this term that could affect people age 50 and older. The issues the court will examine that are important to older people range from voting rights to investor fraud.

“The Supreme Court plays an increasingly vital role in shaping the laws and policies that affect older adults,” according to AARP Foundation Senior Vice President for Litigation William Alvarado Rivera. “As we live longer, healthier lives, it is critical that we advocate on behalf of AARP members and others in cases like these that can adversely affect our ability to work, save, vote and otherwise choose how we live as we age."

Here is a look at key cases, issues and what’s at stake, according to AARP Foundation’s annual U.S. Supreme Court Preview

Protecting older investors from fraud

The Cyan, Inc. v. Beaver County Employees Retirement Fund case could make it harder to guard the financial security of older people and other investors. The question the Supreme Court is considering is whether state courts have jurisdiction to hear class action fraud claims that shareholders file using the federal Securities Act.

Shareholders of networking-products maker Cyan — including two pension funds that invested in the firm ahead of its May 2013 initial public offering (IPO) — sued in California state court after the stock performed poorly. The plaintiffs alleged that the company’s IPO registration statement was misleading. (The company’s shares went public at $11, but were worth far less when Cyan was acquired by telecom-equipment maker Ciena for $4.77 a share in 2015.) Cyan contends state courts lack jurisdiction over such suits.

Retirement and pension fund managers rely on the claims made in the company’s prospectus to make investment decisions. Having access to both state and federal courts is essential to fully protect investors, according to attorney Julie Nepveu.

Promoting prescription drug affordability

The patent review process directly affects prescription drug affordability and the speed of new drugs to the market. The case of Oil States Energy Service v. Greene’s Energy Group could eliminate an administrative review process that Congress created to expedite the examination of questionable patents, ultimately forcing all patent challengers to spend more time and money in court, according to AARP attorney Barbara Jones.

Oil States filed an infringement suit against Greene’s in 2012 over a patented oilfield tool used in hydraulic fracking. Greene's then challenged the underlying patent before the federal Patent Trial and Appeal Board. The board invalidated Oil States’ patent, and an appellate court affirmed that decision. The case before the Supreme Court challenges that decision and the entire administrative process used by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board.

Protecting voting rights and fighting electoral fraud

In Ohio, failing to vote over two years can result in removal — or purging — of a citizen’s name from voter rolls, making them ineligible to vote. If older citizens’ names are purged from voter registration rolls, they’ll face difficulties reregistering, says AARP Foundation attorney Dan Kohrman. The A. Philip Randolph Institute, retired veteran Larry Harmon and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless successfully sued to stop these purging actions triggered by failures to vote, based on an assumption that not voting means a voter has moved. In 2016, an appeals court agreed that the practice violates federal law. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted persuaded the Supreme Court to review the matter in the case of Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute.

Helping older workers fight back

The right of older workers to band together to challenge unlawful employer practices — such as employment discrimination based on age or disabilities — is at stake in the case of National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc. For many employees, class action and collective cases are the only affordable way to combat unlawful employment practices, according to AARP Foundation attorneys.

The case will review three separate lower court cases and examine whether contracts that bar employees from pursuing work-related claims collectively or on a class action basis are prohibited under the National Labor Relations Act. Three appellate courts disagreed on whether an employer violates the NLRA by requiring workers to agree to arbitrate disputes on an individual basis only, waiving all rights to pursue class action suits and collective claims.

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