Decided - The FindLaw Noteworthy Decisions and Settlements Blog


Not all of the country's residents are native English speakers, nor is everyone fluent in the language. This can be a problem during natural disasters or other emergencies when timely information can be the difference between life and death. But currently, the Federal Communication Commission doesn't require broadcasters to translate emergency alerts and broadcast the alerts in languages other than English.

And yesterday a federal court sided with the FCC in a lawsuit challenging English-only emergency alerts.

In one of the two closely watched and highly controversial travel ban cases that the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take up on review this term, an order of dismissal has been issued. However, the dismissal only applies to Executive Order 13,780, a.k.a. travel ban 2.0, which had expired as of September 24, 2017.

As the Court explained in a brief order, because the travel ban in issue had expired, the legal case no longer presented a "live case or controversy." In legal terms, the case was ordered dismissed as "moot" -- which is basically the Court  refusing to hear a case where it can't fix anything anymore.

Churches and religious organizations get some perks when it comes to paying taxes. In fact, 501(c)(3) organizations can be tax exempt, if they follow certain rules. And members of the clergy can get certain tax breaks as well. Or at least they could before a recent federal court ruling in Wisconsin.

The "parsonage allowance" allowed a pastor or "minister of the gospel" to exclude mortgages, utility bills, and other housing-related expenses from gross income on their tax returns. But last week U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled the allowance "violates the establishment clause because it does not have a secular purpose or effect and because a reasonable observer would view the statute as an endorsement of religion." The only question is what the IRS and members of the clergy will do now.

The District of Columbia has been notoriously aggressive with gun legislation, making the D.C. Circuit ground zero for legal battles over the Second Amendment. The latest skirmish -- over whether residents must prove a "special need for self-protection distinguishable from the general community as supported by evidence of specific threats or previous attacks that demonstrate a special danger to the applicant's life" in order to obtain a carry permit -- appears to be over in the circuit court, and may be headed a few blocks over to the Supreme Court.

In July, a three-judge D.C. Circuit panel invalidated the District's gun ordinance, and last week the circuit denied the District's request for an en banc rehearing before the entire court. D.C. can request for review from the Supreme Court, a request most think the Court would grant.

A meager $35 per person tax for residents of Portland, Oregon, used to fund art and music education for school children, has been ruled constitutional by the state's Supreme Court. Despite the state's constitution banning head taxes (taxes that are imposed on everyone uniformly regardless of the ability to pay), the state's highest court ruled that the law's many exemptions allowed it to pass constitutional muster.

Ordinarily, under Oregon law, a head tax would be ruled unconstitutional. However, the fact that the arts education tax exempts social security income, income derived from the state pension program, and those below the poverty line, went a long way to convincing every court that heard the challenge that the tax met the legal requirements.

Over two years after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, same-sex couples are still battling on the fringes for the same rights as heterosexual couples. And when it comes to parental rights, those battles -- for custody, visitation, even access to a spouse and child during and after childbirth -- can be fierce.

The Arizona Supreme Court leaned on that U.S. Supreme Court ruling to settle one of those battles, pertaining to parental rights under the state's paternity statute. Only there was no "pater" in this case -- it involved two female spouses, and the rights of the non-biological parent.

Why wait until you're 15 to understand what it's like to hitchhike from coast to coast? You don't need to be in middle school to feel the yearning and aspirations of 1940s New York City cafe society, right? Surely a tale about two fishermen of varying ages wouldn't be lost on a nine-year-old.

All are semi-compelling arguments for translating canonical books for a younger audience. Unfortunately for the publishers of those kid-friendly classics, none of those is a legal defense to copyright infringement. "The mere removal of adult themes," a federal judge said, ruling that KinderGuides children's versions were unlawful copies of the original works, "does not meaningfully recast the work any more than an airline's editing of R-rated films so that they can be shown to children on a flight absolves the airline from paying a royalty."

There's no doubt our smartphones can be distracting. There's no doubt that distracted driving is dangerous, even deadly. And there's no doubt smartphones, or at least some alerts, could be disabled while we're driving. So does not automatically disabling distracting smartphone functions while we're driving mean that smartphone manufacturers are liable for distracted driving accidents?

Not according to a California Superior Court in Santa Clara, California. The father of a man killed by an 18 year old who was texting and driving, sued Apple, claiming the company knew the dangers of texting and driving, possessed a "lock-out mechanism" capable of disabling functions like texting while someone is driving, and failed to provide the feature for users. But the court dismissed the lawsuit, saying Apple's role in the accident was far too attenuated" to be legally responsible for the death.

Last November, Californians passed on the opportunity to abolish the death penalty in Golden State, and instead voted in favor a measure meant to expedite executions. Proposition 66, referred to as a measure to "mend not end" capital punishment in the state, ostensibly set a five-year deadline on court appeals from death row inmates.

One such inmate challenged the law, saying in part, that it violates the separation of powers doctrine by interfering with the courts' discretion and ability to hear and resolve capital appeals and habeas corpus petitions. But the California Supreme Court today upheld the new provisions, relying on the interpretation that the deadline is "directive rather than mandatory."

Amid controversies over sexual harassment, data security, and an ousted CEO, Uber scored one legal victory last week. The Second Court of Appeals for the Southern District of New York ruled that clicking Uber's "Register" button means consenting to a forced arbitration clause in its terms of service, meaning that customer disputes must be resolved in arbitration, rather than in court.

Spencer Meyer had sued the company over its "surge" pricing feature, but may not be able to get the case in front of a jury.