November 2009 Court Decisions: Decided
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November 2009 Archives

Air Force Nurse Not Guilty of Killing Terminally Ill Patients

Air Force nurse, Capt. Michael Fontana was acquitted recently by a military court following his trial for causing three patients to die after giving them excessive pain medication during end of life care. The Air Force nurse stood accused of ending the lives of the terminally ill patients under his care at Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio, Tx. The Captain was also acquitted of one charge of altering medical records.

Silent Night for Holiday Concert In School

The Circuit Court of Appeals in the Third Circuit has ruled that it will be a silent night when it comes to religious music in the South-Orange Maplewood School District. The Court has decided that any concert in school will be governed at the discretion of the school district board and their policy of complete religious neutrality.

Michael Stratechuk, the father of two students in the School District of South Orange-Maplewood, New Jersey filed the lawsuit claiming that the school district board and its policy on the performance of religious holiday music violates the Establishment Clause and his children's First Amendment rights.

The school district board allowed holiday music to be performed during the School
District's December concerts but in the Fall of 2003, the mother of a School District student told her child's music teacher, William Cook, that she objected to her daughter playing the "Christmas Sing Along" at the December concert.

Riding Mower not a Motor Vehicle under Georgia Theft Laws

If you are going to steal motor vehicles of any kind and go joy riding, stop to consider which state you are in before taking well, anything, out for a spin. In recent cases that have received much attention, we can now add to our collective knowledge that a Lay-Z-Boy (or any other brand name recliner), when motorized, is a vehicle for the purposes of DUI law (at least in Minnesota). In Ohio, do not drive a motorized barstool under the influence. As clarified by Georgia's Supreme Court, however, you can get away with a bit more on a riding lawnmower (at least while sober).

Texas District Court Rules In Favor of Merck & Co. in Vioxx Suit

Reuters reports that Merck & Co. was granted a motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit brought by the Texas Attorney General's office against the drug maker over its pain killer Vioxx. The Texas AG brought the suit for alleged violations of the state's Medicaid Fraud Prevention Act.

The lawsuit sought a refund for the money that was spent for Vioxx pain treatment. Vioxx was withdrawn from the market over safety concerns. Reuters reports that Judge Scott Jenkins of Travis County ruled in favor of the drug company's motion for summary judgment. This is critical news because there are currently 11 similar lawsuits that have been filed by other states' attorneys general against Merck & Co. This is the first case to reach final judgment at the trial level.

Court in NY Rules That Ignoring Is Not Abandonment

Well it turns out New Yorkers can't divorce their spouses if they are being ignored.

The case of Davis vs. Davis decided that a husband who ignored his wife has not constructively abandoned her. Constructive abandonment is one of the fault based criteria that New York state uses for divorces. New York State is the only state that does not have no-fault divorce.

The Cause of Action

The wife filed for divorce under two causes of action: the first was for cruel and inhuman treatment and the second was for abandonment. The husband sought to dismiss the second cause of action because he claimed that the wife's complaint did not contain allegations of constructive abandonment.

Scared to Death: Man Convicted for Woman's Heart Attack

The verdict sounds like a punch line, but two lives are over as a result. Not guilty of murder, but guilty of scaring a grandmother to death, 20 year-old Larry Whitfield will be facing a life sentence from the verdict handed down in a North Carolina courtroom on Friday.

Court Upholds $6 Million McDonald's Strip Search Verdict

McDonald's will have to serve up $6.1 million to plaintiff Louise Ogborn, and an additional award to former assistant manager Donna Summers, according to the Kentucky Court of Appeals decision announced last Friday. The award stems from a 2007 trial charging McDonald's with allowing the strip search, false imprisonment and sexual assault of the McDonald's employee with the unwitting collusion of her then manager, Ms. Summers.

Show Me the Money! Jerry Brown Gets $1.4 Bil from Wells Fargo

As they used to sing on Broadway, the Wells Fargo wagon is a-coming, and this time it's carrying a little something for investors in its auction-rate securities. California Attorney General, Edmund "Jerry" Brown, Jr., announced today that he has secured a settlement in which Wells will pay investors, charities and small businesses $1.4 billion over the purchase of auction rate securities from Wells subsidiaries based on "misleading advice."

A Small Bite of the Apple: NY's Narrow Ruling on Gay Marriages

Advocates for same sex marriages won a small victory in the state of New York's Supreme Court on Thursday. The court unanimously rejected the challenge to NY's policies that can recognize benefits stemming from same sex unions legal in other states such as Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont.

Court: Army Corps of Engineers Liable for Katrina Damage

In a decision handed down Wednesday that is being called "groundbreaking," U.S. District Court Judge Stanwood Duval, Jr. found in favor of four plaintiffs and awarded damages totaling $719,00.00 against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The suit was brought over alleged negligence by the Corps in building and maintaining the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet canal, eerily nicknamed "Mr. Go" by New Orleans residents. In the scope of the disaster wrought by Katrina, this award may sound like a mere drop, but the result opens the channel to many more potential claims.

From the Freezer to the Cooler: William Jefferson Gets 13 Years

What began with a history making raid on a congressional office and $90k found in a freezer, ended with a 13 year sentence for ex-Louisiana Congressman William J. Jefferson last Friday. Jefferson was convicted of 11 out of 16 counts of bribery, racketeering and money laundering related to business ventures in Africa. If he had been convicted on all counts, the 62 year old Jefferson could have faced up to 235 years in prison. As it stands, he is in for a comparatively light 13 years in federal prison. While he might get 15% of this time off for good behavior, there is no parole available in the federal sentencing system.

Down on the Pharm: (Some) Drug Makers Settle Iowa Medicaid Suit

Iowa Attorney General, Tom Miller, announced Friday that Iowa has won a first step in its medicaid lawsuit against big pharma for allegedly over-charging taxpayers for medications. Eight of the 78 drug companies sued by the state have settled for $4.3 million. After lawyers' fees and the federal government has taken its share, Iowa will be left with about $1.2 million, some of which may actually reach it's financially strapped Medicaid program. Iowa's program insures about 422,000 adults and children who are poor, pregnant, blind or disabled.

No Leg to Stand on: Birther Berg's Obama Lawsuit Has No Standing

There is an old saying among attorneys: he who represents himself has a fool for a client. A sharper illustration of this adage cannot be found outside Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision handed down last Thursday in the Philip Berg lawsuit, in which yet another "birther" sued regarding President Obama's birthplace and eligibility to serve as President.

"Provocative Act" Doctrine Narrowed in California Murder Case

There are a variety of ways someone can be guilty for a murder physically committed by someone else. In addition to being part of a conspiracy, or committing another felony (such as armed robbery) in which a partner kills the victim or a bystander, one of can be guilty of murder under something called the "provocative act" doctrine.

The "provocative act" doctrine applies when someone commits an act that provokes someone into killing someone else. The classic example is an attempted murder in which the victim is provoked into firing a gun in self defense, killing a bystander or an accomplice in the attempted murder.

Last week, the California Supreme Court narrowed the "provocative act" doctrine by making clear that to be guilty of first degree murder, all participants must act willfully, deliberately, and with premeditation.

Tannin, Cioffi Not Guilty: Email Not the Magic Bullet against Fund Managers

The widely reported trial of two former Bear Stearns Co. fund managers ended with a surprise verdict on Thursday: not guilty. Despite our dampened collective mood and the need the country has to find someone or something to blame for the market debacle of last year, this one didn't quite stick. Much to prosecutors' surprise, the email evidence they had counted on to seal the fate of fund managers Matthew Tannin and Ralph Cioffi failed to convince the jury of their guilt. Perhaps it's not only what you say, but how you say it.

Spy vs Spy: Appeals Court Rules against Valerie Plame Wilson

In a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit regarding first amendment rights on Thursday, outed spy Valerie Plame Wilson received one more "assist" from the government. Upholding the lower court's decision, the Court of Appeals found Ms. Plame would not be allowed to disclose "classified information" in her memoir relating to her pre-2002 service with the CIA.

AMD vs Intel Settles: Hatfield vs McCoy Is Over; AMD Gets $1.25 Billion

It's all over, including the shouting. The feuding families of Silicon Valley, known to the rest of the world as chip makers Intel and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), have settled a major suit, announced today. The two companies are known throughout the tech community for their contentious, litigious relationship. The AMD vs Intel battle dates back to at least the 1980's, but who exactly wore the white or black hat, of course, depends on who you ask. Or who you work for.

Shell Settlement: $19.5 Million over Environmental Violations

Shell Oil Co. will have to clean up its act.

The company has agreed to pay $19.5 million to settle claims by California Attorney General Jerry Brown that the it violated state environmental laws.

The settlement requires Shell to improve its storage and monitoring of possible fuel leaks and employee training.

The Michael Vick Bonus: Former Falcon QB Keeps the $16 Million

Yesterday, a new ruling stemming from Michael Vick's well known legal troubles allowed the former Falcons QB to keep a $16 million portion of what he has earned from his legal activities while with the NFL.

Check please! This is what approximately 500 California based applicants for American citizenship have been waiting for, some for years.

Bow Wow Wow, Yippie Yo, Yippie... Nay? 'Atomic Dog' Infringed

A federal court of appeals has upheld a lower court decision that "D.O.G. in Me" by the group Public Announcement (featuring a guest spot by Shaquille O'Neal) infringed copyrights in George Clinton's funk classic "Atomic Dog."

"Bow wow wow, yippie yo, yippie yeah" (the Bow Wow refrain) first gained notoriety amongst those listening for signals from funk master Clinton's mothership in 1982.