November 2010 Court Decisions: Decided
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November 2010 Archives

'Farmville' Creator Zynga Settles Suit Over Trade Secret Thefts

Can't we all just play nice?

Zynga, the maker of the popular Facebook game "FarmVille," and Playdom just settled their heated lawsuit over trade secret theft allegations. Last year, Zynga sued Playdom, alleging that four former Zynga employees stole trade secrets and then joined Playdom. The four employees were Raymond Holmes, David Rohrl, Martha Sapeta and Scott Siegel. Playdom is the maker of "Mobsters" and "Sorority Life." Playdom was acquired by Disney in July for $563 million.

Holmes was sentenced to 10 days in jail and a $4,000 fine for destroying and withholding evidence relating to the case.

Supreme Court Denies Tiffany Appeal Against eBay

Tiffany & Co., the famous jewelry line, has lost its bid against eBay and other online retailers in a trademark case that went all the way to the Supreme Court. In a case that has been widely seen as attempting to define trademark responsibilities for online retailers, the Supreme Court did not comment on the denial.

Tiffany & Co.'s suit against eBay dates back to 2004, when the New York-based company sued the internet giant for the trademark infringements of their users. Tiffany essentially argued that eBay should be held liable for operating a marketplace in which the company knows a substantial amount of goods being sold are counterfeit. eBay spends close to $20 million a year in anti-fraud measures but is not individually responsible for the frauds that are perpetrated by their vendors, unless eBay specifically knows of the counterfeit item; and even in those cases the company's obligation is limited to removing the listing.

Supreme Court: Ignorance no Defense for Illegal Downloaders

Is downloading music illegal if you aren't aware that it's illegal to do so? Yep.

The U.S. Supreme Court delivered a glove slap to that argument, by denying certiorari in the case of a Texas teenager who appealed her case to the high court. The choice not to hear the case means that, at least for now, the Court will not review the RIAA's lawsuits against file sharers.

$1.3B Verdict Against SAP is Largest Copyright Award Ever

An Oakland, California jury has awarded the largest ever copyright award in a suit between Oracle and SAP. The $1.3 billion verdict against SAP was just shy of the $1.7 billion Oracle experts asked for. The sizeable sum also represents the 23rd largest jury verdict of all time.

For an intellectual property case, the issue was fairly straightforward: Oracle sued SAP claiming SAP's U.S.-based "Tomorrownow" unit was illegally downloading their software in order to avoid paying licensing fees and steal customers from Oracle. To arrive at the largest copyright award ever, the jury looked at the scope, timing and duration of the illegal downloading.

Senate Approves $4.5 Billion Settlement to Indian, Black Farmers

After more than a decade in the courts, discrimination cases brought by Native American and Black farmers against the USDA and the Department of the Interior are nearing an end. On November 19, the Senate voted to approve two multibillion-dollar settlements to resolve claims of discrimination and mismanagement by the federal government. Further action by the House also will be needed for final approval, and will likely take place after the Thanksgiving holiday.

The settlement will give Native American plaintiffs in the land trust lawsuit access to a $3.4 billion fund. Black farmers who have joined the lawsuit against the USDA will be part of a $1.15 billion settlement, reports The Washington Post.

The issues that brought these two groups to court were similar, but not precisely the same. The Native American plaintiffs' suit concerned the mismanagement by the government of the payments due for natural resources mined from tribal lands. That case finally settled last December.

Prop 8 Arguments at 9th Circuit to Be Televised

Will the revolution be televised? If you consider the arguments regarding California's ban on same sex marriage, Proposition 8, to be in any way revolutionary, then the answer is yes.

A federal court of appeals has ruled that both C-Span and local news station KGO-TV may televise the arguments before the court. Oral arguments are scheduled to be heard December 6.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the appeal from the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker finding Prop 8 to be unconstitutional. At the time the trial was scheduled, Judge Walker was considering allowing cameras in the courtroom for a live feed. However, the proponents of Prop 8 objected, saying their witnesses would be harassed or otherwise prevented from testifying freely. The U.S. Supreme Court (a body not overly fond of cameras in the courtroom) ruled the trial could not be filmed.

Yelp Review: Court Allows Dentist's Libel Claim

A California appeals court handed down a mixed bag of a decision this week. A pediatric dentist filed a libel suit in Santa Clara County over a bad review by the father of one of her patients that was placed on the review website Yelp. The dentist, Dr. Yvonne Wong, sued Yelp, the father, Tai Jing and his wife Jia Ma for libel. The suit against Yelp was dismissed as were the claims against Ma. However, the libel suit against Tai Jing will proceed.

Tai Jing posted a scathing Yelp review of Dr. Wong regarding her use of silver filings and her use of laughing gas on his son, reports MediaPost. Jing also wrote in his review of Wong that among other complaints, she never warned him that the filing material could contain mercury and that other patients should "[a]void her like a disease!" In 2009, Wong filed suit.

Chandra Levy Murder: Jury Brings in Guilty Verdict

Almost a decade after the disappearance of Chandra Levy tore apart the lives of her family, and that of Congressman Gary Condit who was linked to the intern, a jury has delivered a guilty verdict for her murder. After more than three days of deliberation, a jury found Ingmar Guandique guilty on two counts of first-degree murder.

Judge Gerald Fisher extended his sympathies to Susan Levy, the mother of the victim, before the verdict was read, reports CNN. Jurors, who wiped away tears, were individually polled to ensure it was a unanimous verdict.

Christian Legal Society's Law School Suit Defeated by 9th Cir.

This week, the Christian Legal Society tried to take one more bite of the apple, but was denied the chance by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. On November 17, the appeals court denied the group's attempt to raise the one issue the Supreme Court left them after handing the group a defeat in its case against U.C. Hastings School of the Law.

Early this summer, the Supreme Court found that Hastings' refusal to give funding or other school sanctioning to the CLS because it discriminated against non-believers and homosexuals did not violate the First Amendment rights of the group. In that ruling, reports Courthouse News Service, the Court sent the case back to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for a reconsideration of one issue: did Hastings selectively enforce the non-discrimination policy so as to actually discriminate against the CLS?

Gitmo Detainee Cleared of 224 Murders, Guilty of Conspiracy

Do criminal defendants really have the presumption of innocence in the United States? Defense attorney Peter Quijano, thinks so. His client, former Gitmo detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, was found not guilty Wednesday on 224 murder charges relating to the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya, Tanzania.. He was convicted of one count of conspiracy. Quijano called the verdict "a reaffirmation that this nation's judicial system is the greatest ever devised ... It is truly a system of laws and not men," he said.

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was convicted as the first Guantanamo detainee to be tried in civilian court. Ghailani was tried for conspiracy to destroy buildings and U.S. property in the 1998 terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, as well as the murder charges.

Calif. Supreme Court: Illegal Immigrants Can Pay In-State Tuition

On November 15, the California Supreme Court ruled it was legal for the state to grant California in-state tuition benefits to illegal immigrants while denying in-state tuition to U.S. citizens who live out of state. The court upheld the state law that allowed any student who had completed at least three years of high school and who had graduated or gained their GED in California to be eligible for the lower rate of in-state tuition in the California public university system.

Even though opponents of the law have said they will appeal the ruling, the state's supreme court decision may have far-reaching effects on other states with comparable laws. Similar lawsuits are still pending in Nebraska and Texas, according to The New York Times.

Supreme Court: Don't Ask Don't Tell to Continue... For Now

The Supreme Court has turned down a request by the Log Cabin Republicans to suspend enforcement of "don't ask don't tell" while the fate of the law is being decided by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The group filed an emergency request with the Court hoping to overturn the ruling of the 9th Circuit allowing the military to continue to enforce the law while the merits are being heard by that court.

The Log Cabin Republicans won their suit before a U.S. District Court in California when Judge Virginia Phillips found the law to be unconstitutional, reports CNN. As discussed in a prior post, Judge Phillips ruled that the law infringed on the fundamental rights of gay men and women serving in the military. The judge went on to issue an injunction prohibiting the military from continuing to enforce don't ask don't tell.

Tex. Store Chain Rigged Gas Pumps, Hit With $30M Verdict

The kind of actions the jury found in this case are just the type the Romans must have had in mind when they coined the phrase "caveat emptor." Of course the Romans didn't have to contend with hundreds of illegally calibrated gas pumps that rip you off.

But that is what Texans had to contend with, found a Harris County jury, when they delivered their verdict against SunMart convenience stores November 9. The gas pumps in question were set to deliver less than, but fully charge for, a gallon of gas.

NY Jury: Citigroup Didn't Trick Company Into Buying EMI Music

High-profile British investor Guy Hands lost a high-profile civil trial when a New York jury found that Citigroup didn't fool him and his company into buying EMI Music.

Guy Hands and his Terra Firma Capital Partners LP went down in defeat in the high-profile New York case against Citigroup Inc. Hand's company alleged that they were misled when they bid for EMI Group PLC. Hands alleged that Citigroup and top U.K. investment banker David Wormsley tricked him into believing a bidding war was on for EMI in 2007. But Terra Firma was in fact the only bidder.

It took the jury only four hours to consider the case before ruling that Citigroup did not fool Terra Firma into buying EMI. The verdict was a clear indication that the jury believed that Hands and Terra Firma made a poor business decision, nothing else. Hands testified at the trial but failed to convince the jury that his company was fraudulently misled.

Facebook Defeats Lawsuit From Woman Kicked Off Site

Maryland woman Karen Young was kicked off of Facebook after friending people she did not know that she believed would be interested in cancer awareness. She was not kicked off for inspiring interest in her unquestionably noble cause, but because her actions were characterized as a type of cyber harassment to her new "friends." Young tried to sue the social media juggernaut, and lost the case and her 4,000 friends. However, she did pose some very interesting legal arguments.

In the case of Young v. Facebook, Young argued a range of legal issues in an attempt to have her account restored, including: breach of contract, violation of her constitutional rights (specifically the First Amendment), and even a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (based on Young's bipolar disorder).

'West Memphis 3' Get New Hearing on Cub Scouts Murder

Sometimes justice comes late.

The "West Memphis 3," Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, were convicted of killing three Cub Scouts 16 years ago.

Thanks to newly available DNA evidence, they may now receive a new trial.

Echols was sentenced to death and Baldwin and Misskelley received life sentences. Their cases will be reviewed in a court hearing, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled.

Amway Lawsuit Settles for $150M

Amway has agreed to settle a suit by some of its "independent business owners" (IBOs) alleging that the direct sales giant operated as a pyramid scheme. On November 3, the company announced it would pay $34 million in cash and provide $22 million worth of products to settle the class action suit which began in 2007.

The Amway lawsuit was actually filed against Quixtar, the name formerly used by Amway, by IBOs who claimed the company used unfair and illegal business practices and mislead them about their ability to make money and how much it would cost to be part of the business, reports The Grand Rapids Press. Amway is based in Ada, Michigan.

Google Buzz Lawsuit Settles

Google has settled a class action lawsuit brought against it by users who sued over the Google Buzz social network. The company rolled out the service last February to millions of Gmail users. However, many were upset after they found that their friends on Buzz were pulled from their Gmail contacts. Because Buzz was set up in such a manner, people were suddenly "friends" with people they corresponded with, regardless of whether they were actually friends. Users expressed outrage and Google changed how Buzz worked. Then came the Google buzz lawsuit.

So how much will class action members get in the settlement? $0. That's right. The settlement is actually designed to put $8.5 million into an independent pool that will be used to support education about privacy on the internet. Got a problem with that? You have until Jan. 10, 2011 to object to the settlement by contacting the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. They will undoubtedly be thrilled to hear from you.