Decided - The FindLaw Noteworthy Decisions and Settlements Blog


From the state that brought you decriminalized prostitution by minors, came a lawsuit to legalize prostitution for everyone. The Erotic Service Provider Legal, Education & Research Project (ESP) had sued the district attorneys of the City and County of San Francisco, Marin County, Alameda County, and Sonoma County, all the way up to the Attorney General of California, in hopes of invalidating California's ban on prostitution.

The lawsuit made several constitutional claims, including that the ban violates the Fourteenth Amendment's substantive due process right to sexual privacy, and the freedom of association protected under the First or Fourteenth Amendments. Unfortunately for the plaintiffs, prostitutes, and Johns, those claims were dismissed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the dream of making the world's oldest profession legal appear to have been dashed.

Starbucks customers are pretty fussy when it comes to their daily fix. That much was evidenced by fans of their lattes filing a class action lawsuit claiming the coffee chain was shorting them on their steamed milk. "Starbucks lattes are uniformly underfilled pursuant to a standardized recipe," the suit alleged. "By underfilling its lattes, thereby shortchanging its customers, Starbucks has saved countless millions of dollars in the cost of goods sold and was unjustly enriched by taking payment for more product than it delivers."

But a federal judge disagreed, ruling that the lawsuit "fail[ed] to show that lattes contain less than the promised beverage volume represented on Starbucks' menu boards," and dismissing the suit.

Last month, researchers from the Electoral Integrity Project scored North Carolina's overall electoral integrity at 58/100, placing it alongside the likes of Cuba, Indonesia, and Sierra Leone in terms of fostering free and fair and democratic elections. Not exactly the best of company. So bad, in fact, that those in charge of the study didn't consider our twelfth state a democracy.

While North Carolina was lacking in terms of legal framework and voter registration, the main points of contention were its voting district boundaries. "North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting," according to the EIP, "but the worst entity in the world."

It seems a federal court in North Carolina agreed, ordering the state to redraw its congressional map. It marks the first time a federal court has blocked a state's congressional map because of partisan gerrymandering.

While the matter of Masterpiece Cakeshop was argued before the Supreme Court in December, a ruling as yet to be issued. And in the meantime, the Oregon Court of Appeals decided another case of bakers refusing to provide a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, upholding a $135,000 fine against Aaron and Melissa Klein for discrimination under state law.

It was the third ruling against the Kleins' now-closed Sweet Cakes by Melissa, but its validity could depend on what the Supreme Court does this term.

It was a busy year for the Supreme Court, which started 2017 down one justice. Then Neil Gorsuch joined the Court in April, and immediately began making an impact. Lower federal and state courts handed down some influential rulings as well.

Here are the major court decisions from 2017:

The long, strange, and often silly legal saga of Cliven Bundy and his anti-federal government militiamen took another odd turn this week, one that indicates this is not the last we'll hear about the men in court. A federal judge declared a mistrial in the case against Bundy, his two sons Ryan and Ammon, and a fourth man, Ryan Payne, relating to an armed standoff with federal agents in Nevada in 2014.

A mistrial can be declared for any number of reasons, so why did the judge think it was warranted in this case?

The long, tragic legal saga of Brendan Dassey continued last week, this time taking a turn for the worse. After a federal magistrate judge and a three-member panel of the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals previously ruled Dassey's 2006 confession to officers was coerced, a full panel of the Seventh Circuit overturned those rulings, reinstating his murder and rape conviction.

Despite conceding that Dassey's "youth, his limited intellectual ability, some suggestions by the interrogators ... and inconsistencies in Dassey's confession," the appeals court ruled that the trial court was not unreasonable in ruling the confession was voluntary.

Selling food or goods on L.A. sidewalks is illegal, and remains so despite promises from lawmakers to legalize and regulate vending. Even so, the city is about to spend $150,000 to settle a class action lawsuit claiming that police and cleaning crews confiscated and destroyed vendors' property as "a sort of extrajudicial street punishment."

"Law enforcement now recognizes that street vendors have legal rights to their property," said plaintiffs' attorney Cynthia Anderson-Barker, adding the settlement "restores some dignity to a group that has been mistreated by law enforcement."

As the Supreme Court said in one of the seminal free-speech-in-school cases, "It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." So if students still have First Amendment rights on school grounds, what about speech that takes place outside of school? And do "likes" on social media posts fall under freedom of speech protections?

A student at a high school in the Bay Area started a racist Instagram account, and had other students interacting with the posts. A federal judge just ruled that the school could discipline those students for their social media activity, even off-campus.

Maryland was already one of the ten toughest states when it comes to gun control laws. And then the state's General Assembly banned the sale of military-style rifles and detachable magazines in 2013, in the wake of the deadly shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

Guns rights groups challenged the Firearm Safety Act on Second Amendment grounds, but it was upheld by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. As expected, that decision was appealed to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case, leaving the Fourth's Circuit's decision in place.