Decided - The FindLaw Noteworthy Decisions and Settlements Blog


Emma Sulkowicz gained notoriety in 2014 when she began carrying a 50-pound mattress around Columbia's campus as part of her senior art thesis and to protest the university's handling of her sexual assault allegations against fellow student Paul Nungesser. Nungesser was found not guilty of misconduct, and police declined to press charges, but Sulkowicz continued her protest of Nungesser's presence on campus.

Nungesser eventually sued the school, first for failing to protect him from Sulkowicz's protest, then, after that case was dismissed, for violating Title IX, claiming that the school's policies amounted to "sex bias in disciplining him for an alleged sexual assault." Although that lawsuit was also dismissed, Columbia settled with Nungesser, though Sulkowicz was not party to the settlement and the terms remain confidential.

A ruling on a pair of cases out of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, affirmed a private individual's right to record police performing their duties in public. The cases of Amanda Geraci and Richard Fields both involve law enforcement officers retaliating against them for recording officers performing their duties in public.

While the federal district court handling these two cases found that neither Geraci, nor Fields, were protected by the First Amendment, the Third Circuit was quick to correct the lower court on their mistaken interpretation. Notably, the lower federal court was seemingly going rogue with their interpretation.

In a 7-2 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Trinity Church in Missouri should have been awarded public funding for resurfacing their playground with recycled tire rubber. While, at first blush, this may not sound so shocking, the ruling tows the line on the separation of church and state.

While seven justices concurred in the result, even among those justices, there was a difference in opinion regarding whether the decision was limited based on the facts of the case. Basically, the Trinity Church applied for a state grant to provide money to rubberize their playground, but was denied due to being a religious organization. The church filed suit, alleging the denial violated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.

Despite two different federal appeals courts upholding the ban on the travel ban, the U.S. Supreme Court surprisingly reversed both rulings. However, even with their reversal, SCOTUS still limited the reach of the executive order issued by President Trump.

Primarily, the Court found that the ban could not be applied to individuals seeking entry who have sufficient, and legitimate, ties to the United States. The Court did find that in the absence of a prospective foreign visitor's ties to the U.S., the temporary travel ban could be applied.

Brendan Dassey was just 16 when he was railroaded into confessing involvement in the rape and murder of Teresa Halbach. Those who watched his interrogation in "Making a Murderer" saw all the hallmarks of an impressionable and possibly mentally impaired teen harangued by officers until he gave them a nonsensical confession, all without a parent or attorney present.

Now 27, Dassey has been ordered to be released from prison after a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's ruling that Dassey's confession had been coerced, calling it "death by a thousand cuts." But that release may not happen right away.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, federal law enforcement officials ordered hundreds of mostly Muslim, Arab, or South Asian illegal aliens to be taken into custody and detained. These detentions happened before officials demonstrated any particularized suspicion or knowledge that the detainees had any connection to terrorism, and many were held for months under "harsh conditions" that included repeated and random strip searches, 24-hour-lighted cells, and physical and psychological abuse.

Six of those detained filed a lawsuit against a group of federal officials including former Attorney General John Ashcroft, former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller, and former Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner James Ziglar. But the Supreme Court dismissed those claims, ruling that federal officials are immune from such lawsuits.

Convicted sex offenders are subject to a variety of conditions on their probation or parole. Every state has a mandatory sex offender registry requirement, although time on the registry may vary. And courts have even allowed lifetime GPS monitoring of sex offenders. All of which is to say that the government and law enforcement have a lot of leeway when deciding how to punish and monitor sex offenders.

But North Carolina took that a step too far, apparently. The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that a state law banning registered sex offenders from social media sites like Facebook was unconstitutional.

The case against Minnesota officer Jeronimo Yanez for the murder of Philando Castile has finally come to a close. To the surprise of anyone who viewed the Facebook Live video of the aftermath, uploaded by Mr. Castile's fiancee, the jury actually found Yanez not guilty.

Though there is no doubt that Yanez pulled the trigger and killed Philando Castile, this decision, which took five days of deliberations by the jury, goes a long way toward vindicating Officer Yanez of criminal wrongdoing. Despite being cleared of the criminal charges, Yanez and his department can still face a civil wrongful death lawsuit brought by Mr. Castile's next of kin.

When Rolling Stone published their story, "A Rape on Campus," in November 2014, about an alleged ritualistic rape in a fraternity on the University of Virginia's campus, the series of events that unfolded landed the rock n' roll magazine in seriously costly legal trouble. Nearly three years later, the last chapter in their legal saga may finally be closing as they've agreed to pay the fraternity named in the story $1.65 million. Notably, a lawsuit filed by the individual members of the lawsuit was dismissed.

Last year, a jury awarded a $3 million verdict in the defamation lawsuit filed by the then dean, Nicole Eramo, against Rolling Stone. Eramo alleged that the magazine portrayed her as callous and uncaring when it came to the alleged sexual assault victim at the center of the story. The case actually settled this year for a confidential amount while the verdict was being appealed by Rolling Stone.

In an odd stride for equal rights between the genders, and one that is sure to please the "dadvocates" out there, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that laws conferring citizenship to children cannot favor mothers over fathers. The decision does not apply to custody matters, but solely to issues involving the citizenship of a child born outside the borders of the U.S.A. to a parent that is a naturalized U.S. citizen.

In short, the Court struck down the distinction in the law that placed a stricter requirement on fathers than mothers, when it came to eligibility for their foreign-born child to obtain U.S. citizenship.