2016 Court Decisions: Four Rulings You Need to Know About


Some court cases receive major media attention and everyone hears about them, but the majority of court proceedings fly under the radar. As a result, important judicial decisions are made all the time, unbeknownst to many of the people who are most affected by them.

We’ve been following the rulings made by our country’s courts to keep you up to date on what you may have missed. Let’s review four of the most impactful court decisions of 2016, and how they could change your life in the coming year.

New Overtime Rule Gets Delayed

The most recent court decision of great significance could have major consequences for millions of American. On November 22, a Federal judge in Texas issued an injunction on a rule that would have expanded the number of employees eligible for overtime pay.

Currently, only workers earning less than $23,660 are eligible for time-and-a-half overtime pay for every hour over 40 they worked in a week. The new rule would have raised the salary threshold to $47,476 and made an estimated four million more workers eligible for extra income.

The injunction, or halt, was prompted by a lawsuit brought by 21 states and business groups over concerns that the salary threshold increase was too high. With the rule set to go into effect Dec. 1, the judge issued an injunction to delay its implementation until he had time to review the case more thoroughly. That will happen in 2017. Until then, employers and employees are in limbo as they wait for the decision.

Medical Marijuana Wins Big

Marijuana of every kind is illegal under federal law in the U.S. but it is permitted in some form in 28 states and the District of Columbia. This contradiction puts growers and distributors at the mercy of federal agencies, even if they were abiding by their state’s marijuana laws.

Congress tried to put an end to this dilemma in 2014 with a bipartisan measure that prohibited the Department of Justice from using federal funds to prevent states from setting up a medical marijuana program. The DOJ took this to mean that it could not prevent states from implementing medical marijuana, but could still target individuals who grow and sell it.

On August 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit clarified the intent of the original Congressional act. The court ruled that the DOJ can’t prosecute individuals engaged in growing and distributing medical marijuana in California and Washington, as long as they are in compliance with their state’s laws, according to a Reuters report.

The ruling only applies in those two states, but it could influence the decision in a similar case should it arise in another state. With six more states, including Florida, legalizing medical marijuana in 2016, this issue is almost certain to come up again somewhere else. Should that happen, medical marijuana supporters can be optimistic of the case’s outcome because of the precedent set by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Arbitration Clauses Are Illegal

On May 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that arbitration clauses in employee contracts prohibiting them from banding together as a class and require disputes with the employer to be settled in arbitration are illegal, according to the New York Times.

In arbitration there is no judge or jury, and a private arbiter makes a legally binding decision after weighing the arguments of both sides. Some have argued that arbitration is a quicker and more efficient way for employees to resolve disputes with their employers. However, an investigation by the NYT found many employees give up their legitimate complaints when they can’t join together.

Arbitration is also a private forum, allowing employers to cover up any wrongdoing more easily. The Seventh Circuit ruling opened up the possibility for the removal of arbitration clauses from employee contracts, but it is in conflict with a decision upholding arbitration in a Louisiana court in 2013. This split may cause the Supreme Court to weigh in on the topic in 2017, putting the legality of arbitration clauses to bed for the entire country once and for all.

Public Sector Employees Must Pay Union Fees

On March 29, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public sector unions can collect dues from workers who choose not to join the union but still benefit from its collective bargaining activities, according to the New York Times. Public sector unions include government employees at all levels, including teachers, police officers, firefighters, and members of the postal service.

Union fees go towards paying for union representatives, lobbying on behalf of the union, and the all important strike fund, among other things. Having these things increases the union’s collective bargaining power, and gives its representatives the ability to negotiate better wages and benefits for union members. People who don’t join unions still benefit from the aforementioned services, and the law requires them to pay union fees as a result, according to the Times.

Had the court ruled these employees were exempt from dues, it would have struck a blow to public sector labor by denting the negotiating power of their unions. Instead, the court upheld current practices so public sector employees maintain the power to negotiate for themselves the best wages and benefits possible.

What Can You Expect in 2017?

All of the cases mentioned above have been resolved, but the issues they were about will likely be revisited by other courts before a final conclusion on them is reached. Some will be resolved in 2017, and others will continue being debated in courtrooms for years to come.

You can read more about how changing laws impact your life on our website in 2017, and if you’re ever in need of legal assistance don’t hesitate to fill out a free case evaluation form to learn how one of our attorneys may be able to help you.