March 2010 Court Decisions: Decided
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March 2010 Archives

Shut the Open Source Case: Jury Finds Novell Owns Unix Rights

Since 2004, companies SCO Group and Novell, Inc., have been litigating the question of who owns the copyrights to the Unix operating system. On March 30, a federal jury verdict in Salt Lake City found that Novell is the legal owner of the Unix copyrights.

A Patent on Mother Nature? Court Invalidates Gene Patents

Holding that one cannot patent a "law of nature," United States District Court Judge Robert W. Sweet struck down seven patents held by the biotech company Myriad Genetics, on BRCA1 and BRCA2, the genes whose mutations are connected with breast cancer. The company had asked the court to dismiss the challenge to its patents, arguing that the act of isolating the gene from the body changes it into a patentable material. The court disagreed.

Federal Judge Upholds D.C. Gun Control Laws

The gun control laws in Washington D.C. are among the nation's most strict and were upheld by a federal judge as constitutional.

The ruling was in line with the landmark U.S. Supreme Court's June 2008 decision striking down D.C.'s old handgun ban and rejected assertions that the city's current gun laws are too restrictive, the Washington Post reports.

RICO Violation Gives Kaiser a Win of $141 Mil from Pfizer

On March 25, Reuters news service reported that a jury in Boston awarded a verdict of $141 million in damages to plaintiffs Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, against defendants the Pfizer corporation. The jury found Pfizer was liable for its promotion of the drug Neurontin for off-label uses.

On Friday, March 26, a the Federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia put into action the decision from the U.S. Supreme Court in the famous Citizens United v. FEC. That decision, criticized by many, including President Obama, struck down spending limits on corporations' campaign contributions to support or defeat political candidates. As The Washington Post reports, the ruling of the D.C. court following the Supreme Court is expected to "unleash a flood of money ahead of the congressional elections in November ..."

Carp-e-Diem? Supreme Court Again Refuses to Close Locks to Asian Carp

Like a fisherman who keeps casting into the same fishing hole where he has had no luck before, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox returned to the Supreme Court for a second try at an injunction forcing the closure of the locks on the waterways leading to Lake Michigan. According to The Christian Science Monitor, Cox made his second attempt to take the only action he argues will protect the Great Lakes from the notoriously invasive Asian carp and rescue the $7 billion fishing and tourism industry from their hungry grasp. The Court denied the request for an injunction.

In a narrow decision by the United States Supreme Court on Tuesday, the Court sided against a student-loan company, saying that the company could not collect interest on an erroneous student loan discharge by the Bankruptcy Court.

The student, Francisco Espinosa, had filed bankruptcy several years earlier. At that time, the Bankruptcy Court discharged the $5,000 in interest remaining on the loan, allowing Espinosa to pay back the $13,000 in loan principal. 

During the bankruptcy process, the student loan company, United Student Aid Funds, was given a chance to object to student loan discharge and had been alerted to Espinosa's bankruptcy petition. United, however, came after Espinosa for the interest, claiming that the notice of the bankruptcy petition was not adequate process for the student loan discharge. 

The World Trade Center lawsuit settlement might not be working out as well as originally contemplated.  Manhattan Federal Court Judge Alvin Hellerstien said on Friday that he rejected the proposed settlement in the World trade Center lawsuit. He stated that the settlement is not enough, includes too large a chunk in attorney fees, and does not provide plaintiffs adequate information to decide whether to opt in or not.

In the proposed settlement, reached earlier this month, several Ground Zero rescue workers heard that they may be entitled to thousands, if not millions, under a $657 million settlement amount.

Under the settlement's terms, ninety-five percent of the plaintiffs would need to accept the settlement by June, in order for it to be in full force.

Judge Hellerstein, in addition to stating that the settlement amount was "not enough," said he was taking "judicial control." He took issue with almost 1/3 of the proposed settlement going to attorneys' fees, and with the lack of information plaintiffs would have before deciding whether to opt in or out.

As the Time quoted him, Judge Hellerstien said, "I will not preside over a settlement based on fear or ignorance." 

Louisiana Judge Impeached by Unanimous House Vote

A New Orleans federal judge became only the 15th judge in U.S. history to be impeached by the House of Representatives. In a vote taken last Thursday, the House unanimously approved the four articles of impeachment for Judge Thomas Porteous.

The Final Cut: Pink Floyd and EMI Group Lawsuit

The rock band Pink Floyd and its battle against EMI Group has finally ended with the U.K. High Court granting the band a right to stop EMI Group from selling their individual songs online. The court ruled that a clause in the contract between EMI Group and Pink Floyd prohibits EMI Group from selling the individual songs without permission from Pink Floyd.

As reported by CNN, the contract had a clause that required EMI Group to "preserve the artistic integrity" of Pink Floyd's albums.

Major Settlement over Community Housing for the Mentally Ill

In a settlement mental health advocates are calling a landmark, hundreds of mentally ill patients under the care of the state of Illinois will have a chance to live a more independent life. Under the settlement, the state will have five years to help residents of "institutions for mental disease" (IMD's) make the transition to smaller, more private living situations like apartments and smaller houses. The court will need to approve the settlement and both sides have asked for a hearing to review details.

9th Circuit: World's Oldest Profession Must Limit Ads

The folks on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals must have enjoyed this one, it's not every day you can sink your teeth into a good fight involving both the First Amendment and the World's Oldest Profession. Well, not unless Larry Flynt's in court. MSNBC reports that on Thursday, the Court of Appeals decided that the brothels of Nevada were not permitted to advertise their goods and services outside of the counties in the state where prostitution is legal.

Vaccine Court Rules Against Thimerosal Autism Link

Another shot was fired in the vaccine wars on Friday, March 12. The Vaccine Court, a special court set up within the federal system to handle only those cases related to the vaccines given to children, found against plaintiffs claiming that the vaccine preservative thimerosal was to blame for their children's autism.

Very Classy: Classmates.com Settles Deceptive Email Suit

In a move eerily reminiscent of that date who stood you up for the dance in high school, Classmates.com was sued in 2009 for allegedly telling their customers old friends were looking for them, and then, no one showed up. The suit has settled, with the plaintiffs due to receive up to $9.5 million in damages.

Massachusetts High Court Upholds Law Requiring Gun Locks

Gun control advocates celebrated a victory as the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (the state's highest court) upheld a law requiring gun locks.

As reported by the Associated Press, the court ruled in the case of Richard Runyan, charged with improperly storing a hunting rifle under his bed. Apparently, his mentally disabled 18-year-old son shot at a neighbor with a BB gun and then showed police where his father kept the gun.

The state Supreme Judicial Court upheld the constitutionality of a law requiring owners to lock their weapons.

A $657.5 million settlement was reached in the 9/11 World Trade Center lawsuit. Rescue and recovery workers who were exposed to toxic substances at the World Trade Center site filed suit in 2003 and finally reached an agreement on Thursday night, after years of legal battles. 

There is a catch, however. In order for the settlement to take effect, 95 percent of the plaintiffs of the World Trade Center Lawsuit must accept the terms of the settlement. If 100 percent accept the terms, then the settlement would be $657.5 million. If, however, only 95 percent accept the terms, the settlement would be reduced to $575 million. 

The suit was brought on behalf of thousands of firefighters, police officers, construction experts and emergency workers, among other 9/11 heroes. In a suit with over 10,000 plaintiffs, some plaintiffs may only receive a few thousand dollars from the suit. 

Still One Nation ... 9th Cir Upholds the Pledge of Allegiance

After a leaving a legal trail long enough to circle the globe, the case over recitation of the pledge of allegiance in public schools has come to rest, for the moment at least, with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, CA. According to the opinion of a three judge panel, the pledge can be recited in the state's public schools without violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution.

True Grit: After 10 Years, Texas Couple Wins $58M in Home Defects Case

Bob and Jane Cull of Mansfield, Texas, saw the light at the end of a long legal tunnel on March 2nd. On that day, the jury in their case against powerful home builders, Perry Homes, came back with an award in favor of the stubborn plaintiffs: $58 million. That may seem like an over-payment for a home defects case involving repairs on a house that only cost the couple $234,000 when they purchased it, but consider what they had to go through to get there.

Books Behind Bars: Prison Writings OK'ed in NC

On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation announced a settlement with the North Carolina Department of Correction allowing inmates to write and seek publishers for their work without interference from prison staff. The suit was initiated when the ACLU took up the case of Victor L. Martin, charging he had been denied his First Amendment rights after staff members at Raleigh's Central Prison confiscated a 310-page handwritten manuscript for a novel titled Redemption Thru Peace. The lawsuit claimed the manuscript was destroyed.

FTC Secures $11 Million Settlement from LifeLock

The Federal Trade Commission announced today that it has settled with the security company LifeLock for $12 million. The FTC alleged that LifeLock made false claims regarding the security from identity theft it could provide to its customers both outside and inside the company. Most of the settlement money, $11 million of it, will be refunded to consumers. The additional $1 million will be shared between the Attorneys General of the 35 states who participated in the suit.

Whole Hog Awarded to Plaintiffs in Missouri Pig Farm Suit

Last Thursday, a jury awarded $11 million to plaintiffs in a case that just smelled rotten from the start. In this particular instance, that is not a metaphorical, but a literal description. The plaintiffs in this case are the farming neighbors of a Premium Standard Farms hog farm. The Premium Standard operation in Gentry County, Missouri, emitted odors so foul, they "defied description," according to Stephen A. Weiss, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs.

You can't sue the United Nations for sexual discrimination. And, you can't sue diplomatic officials in sex discrimination lawsuits, or in any other civil lawsuits.  

At least not according to the New York Court of Appeals, which upheld a 2007 District Court decision. The 2007 decision stated that the United Nations had immunity under the 1946 Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations. 

Essentially, what the New York court said on appeal was that certain officials of the United Nations and, of course, the United Nations as a whole, had diplomatic immunity from lawsuits. 

Nancy Benoit's Mom Wrests Right to Daughter's Pics from Hustler

This Monday, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from that old friend of the First Amendment, publisher Larry Flynt. According to CNN, Flynt and his magazine Hustler, were sued by Maureen Toffoloni, the mother of slain wrestler Nancy Benoit, after the mag published two decade-old nude pictures of her daughter a year after she and her son were killed by her husband, wrestler Chris Benoit.

Is it gender discrimination if you hire mostly male workers to work in a warehouse? 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission seems to think so. According to the EEOC, excluding women from certain positions is a violation of Title CVII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, was being accused of violating equal opportunity rights at its London, Kentucky warehouse, a sex-discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC lawsuit alleged. 

According to a press release from the EEOC: "Walmart Stores will  pay $11.7 million in back wages and com­pen­satory damages, its share of  employer taxes, and up to $250,000 in administration fees and will furnish  other relief, including jobs, to settle a sex discrimination lawsuit filed by  the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)."

Dannon's Decision: Yogurt Co Settles with Consumers for $45 Mil

You have probably seen a vibrantly healthy Jamie Lee Curtis on those Dannon Yogurt commercials telling America how Activia yogurt can boost the immune system and regulate the digestive system. Except, it may not. According to a report by ABC news, in a settlement reached last week, the Dannon corporation has agreed to pay a class of plaintiffs up to $45 million dollars to settle claims that Dannon charged more for a yogurt that provided no more benefit than your average carton of Yoplait.

Blind Gamer Sees His Sony Lawsuit Dismissed

The Sony lawsuit filed by a blind gamer named Alexander Stern was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson. The Sony lawsuit, which we wrote about previously in FindLaw's Injured Blog, centered around whether or not Sony needs to revise their video games to be more accessible to disabled individuals under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and under California civil rights law.  

Judge Anderson wrote that the reason for the dismissal of the lawsuit hinged on a failure to state a claim. In order to prevail in a Title III of the ADA, the plaintiff must show:

  •  He/she is disabled within the meaning of the ADA,
  • The defendant is a private entity that owns, leases, or operates a place of public accommodation
  • The plaintiff was denied public accommodations by the defendant.

14 Days: Supreme Court Sets Miranda Deadline

In an unusual unanimous opinion written for the Court by Justice Scalia with Justices Thomas and Stevens concurring, the Supreme Court handed down its second case this term revolving around the Miranda warnings. The warnings, given when a suspect enters police custody are the most familiar part of the justice system to many. Stemming from the 1966 Miranda v. Arizona case, the police must remind a suspect in custody that he or she has a right to remain silent, to an attorney and to have an attorney provided if they cannot afford one. There are many nuances to the Miranda rules and one of them was addressed by the Supreme Court yesterday.