December 2009 Court Decisions: Decided
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December 2009 Archives

Yo Ho! Court Rules Sunken Treasure is Spanish Property

There is little doubt that Judge Steven Merryday of the U.S. District Court in Tampa, Florida, enjoyed himself on this case. After all, what's not to like -- a sunken ship, Spanish silver, stories of lost treasure, and two parties dueling in court over ownership. Must make a nice change from the eminent domain suits and the like that he usually finds on his docket.

AZ Goverment Agencies Settle Microsoft Lawsuit for $4.4 mil

Last week, one more Microsoft class action lawsuit settled, this time with all state and local governmental agencies in Arizona. Judge J. Frederick Motz, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, signed the $4 million plus judgment on December 11th. The state's agencies, represented by named plaintiff Daisy Mountain Fire District, alleged Microsoft's conduct broke Arizona state antitrust law and caused monetary damage to the governmental entities that purchased the company's products.

The Empire Struck Down? Microsoft Settles with the EU

Has Microsoft finally met its match in the regulators for the European Union? That's doubtful, but the software giant will have to change its ways or hand over a sizable amount of cash under the terms of the settlement reached last Wednesday.

Google Digital Books Held to Violate French Copyright Law

A Parisian court has decided that Google digital books violates French copyright law. This ruling is just the beginning over litigation about Google's project to scan books on their search engine. Information Week reports that a French judge ordered that Google pay $300,000 euros ($430,000) in damages to a French publisher, Martiniere and a group of other publishers in France. The judge has also ordered that Google must pay an additional $10,000 euros for every day that the search engine keeps the extracts from the publishers' books in its database.

Google has announced that it will appeal the ruling. It told Information Week: "We disagree with the judge's decision and will appeal the judgement. We believe that displaying a limited number of short extracts from books complies with copyright legislation both in France and the U.S. -- and improves access to books." Google argues that the ruling will only hurt the readers of France because they will no longer be able to search and review books that they would be interested in buying. Google digital books are not really books per se. They are just excerpts of books that pop up in search results.

NY Court Stuns Trekkie, Dismisses Phony Memorabilia Suit

In a journey begun in October 2006, one intrepid Trekkie attempted to boldly go where no man has gone before: to sue Christie's for $7 million for selling him phony Star Trek merchandise. Unfortunately for him, the New York Court of Appeals had about as much sense of humor regarding this suit as bunch of Klingons. On Tuesday, December 22, the plaintiff's case was dismissed

Where There's Smoke: $100 Million BP Refinery Verdict Over Fumes

A federal jury in Texas has awarded $100 million dollars over fume inhalation by workers at a BP refinery in Texas City, Texas. Reuters reports that the BP refinery in Texas City had a 2007 incident that left workers sick. Reuters quotes BP spokesman Ronnie Chappell as saying that the company was "shocked and outraged" over the jury's award and that BP plans to appeal. He said: "We believe the evidence showed that BP did not cause harm to anyone on April 19, 2007. The verdict, and punitive damages award in particular, is utterly unjustified, improper and unsupportable."

In the meantime, the plaintiffs' attorney Tony Buzbee said that BP's stance towards worker safety is lax. He told Reuters: "They're like an ostrich with its head in the sand. They don't understand the meaning of responsibility."

Madoff, the Sequel: Petters Convicted for Huge Ponzi Scheme

The DOJ shook off a major loss in November’s Bear-Stearns financial fraud verdict with a big win in a Minnesota courtroom earlier this month. Businessman Thomas Petters was found guilty of perpetrating a $3.65 billion dollar fraud and may be looking at a life behind bars. The jury found Petters guilty on all 20 counts of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering thanks in part to damning evidence delivered by several ex-colleagues.

Will NASA Employee Privacy Rights be Tested by the USSC?

Way back in the dark ages, no not quite 1984, but August 2007, a band of intrepid engineers from the Jet Propulsion Labs in Pasadena, Ca, began their long journey to prevent the government from asking them... who they sleep with. Heard enough? Hopefully, so will the U.S. Supreme Court. Recently, government lawyers requested the Court take up this case regarding employee privacy rights and background checks.

D.C. Settles With More Protesters for $8.25 Million

They say you can't fight city hall. That may be true, but you can make 'em cough up quite a bit of cash if you hang in there. In the weeks since November 23rd, the city of Washington D.C. has settled three cases with protestors stemming from police violations of first amendment rights during protests dating back as far as the year 2000. Nearly 400 protesters who were subjected to a mass arrest in Pershing Park during the World Bank meetings of 2002 will receive a settlement of $8.25 million. Additionally, 700 protesters from a 2000 suit garnered $13.7 million, and $450,000 will be paid to eight war protesters to settle a lawsuit filed after a 2002 detention and interrogation.

Honda Hybrid Mileage Suit Settles: State AGs Protest

A Honda class action lawsuit settlement over some of Honda hybrid models has drawn protests from department of AG (attorney general) in multiple states.

According to U.S. News and World Reports, the lawsuit commenced in 2007 by plaintiffs John True and Gonzalo Delgado who claimed that their Civic Hybrids did not live up to advertised EPA-estimated fuel efficiency. The New York Times reports that the plaintiffs claimed that they only got 31 miles per gallon versus Honda's advertised 49/51 miles per gallon.

While the hybrid mileage lawsuit has been settled by Honda, the car maker refuses to admit that it did anything wrong in its advertisement of its Civic Hybrids' fuel efficiency. Honda claims that it relied on numbers provided by the EPA and followed all federal regulations.

CREW Settles Lawsuit Over Missing White House Emails

The group Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) has settled a lawsuit over missing White House emails from the Bush administration.

According to a press release by CREW, they had filed the lawsuit because the Bush White House failed to archive two and half years worth of emails from the Bush White House servers. In spite of possessing the knowledge that the servers had a problem, the Bush Administration failed to recover the missing White House emails and continued using the broken servers.

The Obama Administration has agreed to restore 94 days worth of emails as part of the settlement. Attempting to recover all of the lost data would have been too expensive and placed an undue burden on the new administration. The days that will be selected for email recovery will be based on volume and on external events.

Colorado Commission Won't Put the Breaks on Drunk Drivers

A Colorado state commission decided late last week not to recommend mandatory jail time for those repeatedly convicted of violating driving laws by getting behind the wheel with a Rocky Mountain high. The commission defeated a proposal to require drunk drivers to spend at least 30 days in jail on a second offense, and at least 60 days in jail on a third offense.

Phoenix in Flames Again: Apollo Group Settles Another Suit

They settled for $9.8 million in 2004. But the lesson must not have sunk in at this for-profit higher education company. This time around, the University of Phoenix and its parent, Apollo Group Inc., should have to write on 78.5 million dollar bills, "I will not illegally recruit students, I will not illegally recruit students." 

Native American Land Suit Reaches "Landmark" Settlement

Last Tuesday, the U.S. government and a class of Native American plaintiffs settled a 19 year-old suit over land trust management for the sum of $3.4 billion dollars. The suit over the management of Indian land began in 1996, but is based on disputes over a system that began in 1887. 

Supreme Court Won't Hear Appeal From Former Gitmo Detainees

Last Monday, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by four former Guantánamo detainees from a lower court decision dismissing their case. The appellants, all British citizens, had claimed violations of human rights from torture as well as violations of religious rights at the hands of U.S. military officials while they were Guantánamo Bay prisoners. The Court of Appeals dismissed their case, and this decision by the Supreme Court lets that decision stand.

Lawsuit over Heartland Payment Systems Breach Is Dismissed

CNET News reported that the lawsuit for Heartland Payment Systems breach has been dismissed. The lawsuit, covered in Findlaw's Common Law blog, was a class action suit over the loss of credit card information to hackers in 2008, and the company's subsequent handling of the data breach.

According to Heartland Payment Systems' official website, the company processes more than 11 million transactions a day, is the 5th largest payment processor in the United States and is the 9th largest  payment processor in the world.

When the company announced that there was a security breach, they announced it on the day of President Barack Obama's inauguration in spite of the fact that the company was aware of the breach a week prior to the announcement.

First Amendment 1, Recording Industry 0, in Downloading Case

It's a good bet that artists like Green Day and Nirvana (that is, minus Kurt) would approve of a ruling handed down December 7th by U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner. Although the defendant in this illegal download suit, Joel Tenenbaum, is on the hook for $675,000 for illegally downloading 30 songs, his First Amendment right to criticize the major record labels for their policies is still intact. Seems like Billie Joe would approve.

Beacon Program Doused, Facebook Settles Privacy Suit

In this season of giving, Facebook is setting up a $9.5 million fund for a nonprofit foundation that will support online privacy, safety and security. No, not out of the goodness of its warm little collective heart, because it had to under a settlement agreement. On December 8th it was reported that Facebook settled a class action suit over its Beacon program. Other corporate defendants in this suit included Blockbuster, Fandango, Hotwire, STA Travel, Overstock.Com,, and Gamefly.

Undocumented Workers Covered by State Workers Comp in Nebraska

In Nebraska, it doesn't matter who you are, if you are injured on the job, you are eligible for Nebraska workers compensation. That's the ruling of a Nebraska Court of Appeals, handed down Tuesday. The decision in this case, Visoso v. Cargill Meat Solutions, says that state workers comp includes everyone, even undocumented workers.  

Dell Lawsuit Dismissed, then Dell Settles for $40 Million

This is the case that just wouldn't die. After Dell thought it was out, with the dismissal of its 2006 shareholder suit, arguments before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals pulled them back in. That is correct, the Dell lawsuit settled after it was dismissed.

End of the Road for One More Enron Class Action

On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Melinda Harmon ended one more suit which ignited as a result of that atom bomb known to all as Enron. Plaintiffs in the Enron class action suit, Newby, et al v. Enron Corp, et al, were persuing recovery from the banks involved with Enron including among others, B of A's Merrill Lynch unit, Barclays, and Credit Suisse. Defendants in this case also included usual suspects Jeff Skilling, Richard Causey and Mark Koeing. The claims against all parties were dismissed.

EPA: Greenhouse Gases Threaten Public Health

On December 7, 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency finally decided to get behind the wheel and drive. After nearly being run over by states like Massachusetts and California in a hurry to begin to curb the greenhouse gases that most agree contribute to global warming, the EPA is now on board. The Agency announced their in its Endangerment Finding, released yesterday, that certain greenhouse gases are pollutants that "threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations."

There's a Suit for That: AT&T Drops Suit against Verizon Ads

AT&T is this country's largest phone company, but that did not stop it from crying foul when the smaller but scrappier Verizon wireless went after it with their "there's a map for that" ad campaign. The well known ads, which play off Apple's iPhone "there's an app for that" spots, compare maps of wireless coverage between the two companies. In Verizon's ads, AT&T's 3G coverage is shown as, well, lacking compared to the apparently endless Verizon 3G coverage. AT&T promptly sued to stop the ads, claiming that the maps suggest AT&T customers can't fully use their wireless devices outside the 3G networks coverage areas. 

Walmart Class Action over Labor Practices Settles For $40 Million

Bloomberg reports that a Walmart class action lawsuit brought has settled for $40 million for hourly workers of the big box chain who claim that Walmart's upper management forced them to work off the clock, cut their breaks short, or did not grant them breaks at all.

The lawsuit, which took place in a trial court in Woburn, MA (made famous by the book/movie A Civil Action) is one of 60 wage/hour lawsuits against the retailing giant.

New York State Senate Votes Against Same Sex Marriage

As previously noted here on the Decided blog, the Supreme Court of New York recently took a very small step toward extending some marital rights to those in same sex relationships. Today, the New York State Senate put an end to those steps by narrowly defeating the bill that would have made recognized some sex marriages in the state.

Can I Get a Witness? Prisoner Preacher Regains Right to Preach

According to an ACLU press statement released November 30, ordained Pentecostal preacher and life-time guest of the New Jersey penal system, Howard Thompson, Jr., can once again minister to his flock. The ACLU and prison officials reached an agreement which restores the First Amendment rights of the prison preacher -- specifically, his right to preach, teach bible classes and lead the choir as he has done for so many years. 

Detainee Photos Case: Supreme Court Sends It Back

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals will have yet another chance to review the disturbing photos of U.S. held detainees as well as a new law that applies to them. In a three sentence, unsigned opinion, the Supreme Court sent the ACLU's long-running case for the release of the infamous detainee photos back to the lower court for reconsideration in light of the new law. 

Supreme Court Leaves $87 Mil Ford Rollover Damages Alone

Ah California... land of movie stars, beaches and impressive punitive damages. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the appeal of Ford Motor Company in the record breaking Ford v. Buell-Wilson case, which awarded damages totaling $87 million (including interest) to the plaintiff. In comparison, according to, the auto maker posted a $997 million third quarter net income

To the Mattresses: Godfather of Spam Gets 51 Months

Spam can get you in real trouble. No, not the food poisoning kind, the wire fraud kind. After a three year investigation headed by the FBI and involving everyone from the SEC to the U.S. Postal service resulted in a guilty plea, the self-proclaimed "godfather of spam" and his spamming lieutenants were sentenced in federal court last Monday. The godfather, Alan M. Ralsky and the godfather's son-in-law, Scott Bradley, received 51 and 40 months respectively and were ordered to forfeit $250,000 each for conspiring to commit wire fraud, mail fraud, and to violate federal CAN-SPAM legislation. Five years of supervised release will follow their stint in jail. Ralsky's other foot-soldiers will receive sentences ranging from one day to 51 months.