May 2011 Court Decisions: Decided
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May 2011 Archives

Skycap Tips: American Wins Appeals Court Reversal

The U.S. 1st Circuit of Appeals has reversed an earlier decision to grant American Airlines skycaps around $330,000 in baggage fees. The American Airlines skycap reversal hinged on whether the court was to interpret the case via state tip laws, or if they were to interpret the case based on federal law. Federal law prevailed.

The skycaps brought the lawsuit against American Airlines after the airline began charging a $2.00 fee for passengers who opted for curbside check in of their baggage.

Before, passengers would usually tip the skycaps for their help - the service used to be free. However, with mounting costs, American Airlines soon decided to institute the new policy. Passengers were likely confused about if the $2.00 fee constituted a tip, and as a result, the tip income that many of the skycaps relied on fell dramatically, reports The Washington Examiner.

States Can Punish Businesses That Hire Illegal Immigrants

In a 5-3 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Arizona on Thursday, stating that federal immigration statutes do not preempt a 2007 mandatory E-Verify law that also punishes businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

This decision is a big coup for Arizona and other states that have sought to curb the hiring of undocumented workers, also marking the state's first big "win" in its battle against illegal immigration.

Iran Must Pay Victims of State-Sponsored Terrorism $600M

In one of the more unconventional terrorism court cases in the past few years, a federal judge last week ordered Iran to pay a combined $600 million in punitive damages to two American families that fell victim to state-sponsored terrorism abroad.

The orders, issued in two separate lawsuits, end years of litigation, but will be difficult to enforce.

Even so, the presiding judge took these cases as an opportunity to encourage Iran to oppose terrorism.

The underlying lawsuits stem from a 1995 bus-suicide bombing in the the Gaza strip during which Seth Haim, his father and his brother, were injured, and a similar incident in 2003, during which Alan Beer was killed in Jerusalem.

Social Host Liability Extended to Business Functions?

As a result of a recent New Mexico Supreme Court ruling challenging the responsibility of a group of pharmaceutical representatives for a drunk driving accident, state alcohol liability laws no longer only apply to the reckless bar, liquor store, or homebound social host.

Liability has been extended to include persons who host private or business functions in a licensed establishment--so long as they pay for and control the flow of alcohol.

According to the ruling, prior to killing a young child while driving under the influence, Alicia Gonzales was wined and dined by a group of pharmaceutical representatives. In an attempt to gain business, they plied her and her colleagues with alcohol during a luncheon, and then at two separate bars.

NM Police May Remove Guns in Cars During Traffic Stops

In an appeal by convicted felon Gregory Ketelson, the New Mexico Supreme Court has ruled that police may remove guns in cars during a traffic stop even in the absence of reasonable suspicion.

Citing officer safety, the court appears to contradict the more traditional notions of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence and a citizen's right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

The ruling stems from an incident in 2008 when police pulled over Gregory Ketelson for driving with an expired license plate, reports the Associated Press.

Officers, noticing that he had a handgun on his backseat floorboard, removed the gun while running a license check.

BofA Overdraft Lawsuit Settles for $410 Million

The Bank of America overdraft lawsuit has come to a tentative end, with a federal judge granting preliminary approval of a $410 million settlement between the bank and 1 million of its account holders.

Though Bank of America is the only defendant thus far to settle the overdraft lawsuit, the publicity and scrutiny that the suit has brought to overdraft fees has resulted in important regulation and a heightened level of consumer protection.

This settlement stems from a 2009 class action lawsuit filed against Bank of America and a host of other banks, such as Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Chase.

Juvenile Life Without Parole Approved by Wisconsin Supreme Court Holds

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has recently decided that juvenile life without parole is constitutional. In this landmark case, Omer Ninham, then 14 at the time of the crime he committed, was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide for the killing of Zong Vang, then 13.

The facts in the case were horrific. Zang was running an errand for his family when Ninham and a few other juveniles stopped him, accosted him, and then ultimately threw him over a 5-story parking ramp where he plummeted to his death. The crime was unprovoked.

Ninham was convicted after a jury trial in adult court at the age of 16 in 2000. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole, reports the AP.

Daimler Must Face Argentina 'Dirty War' Lawsuit in US Court

DaimlerChrysler must defend a 'Dirty War' lawsuit brought in Northern California federal court by survivors and decedents' heirs of the Argentine military dictatorship's 'Dirty War' between 1976 and 1983.

In Bauman v. DaimlerChrysler Corporation, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has asserted jurisdiction over DaimlerChrysler AG, reports Reuters.

The U.S. District court dismissed the case in 2007 for lack of personal jurisdiction. So now Daimler-Chrysler must defend the plaintiffs' claims on the merits.

Oregon Medical Marijuana Patients Can Have Concealed Handgun

Oregon medical marijuana users were treated to a mixed ruling earlier this week when the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that federal law does not allow local law enforcement to deny patients a concealed weapons permit under state law.

Though an important conclusion for those who champion legalization, the court's ruling also reminded the plaintiff Sheriffs that, if they so wish, they could skip the permitting, choose to enforce federal law, and just outright deny users of medical marijuana guns.

A conglomeration of various lawsuits, Willis v. Winters began when four different plaintiffs brought suit after being denied concealed weapons permits on the basis that they use marijuana. Each had the documentation required by Oregon medical marijuana laws.

Some Georgia Charter Schools May Close After Court Ruling

Though parents across the country have embraced charter schools as a better alternative to traditional K-12 education, hesitant school districts stifled by budgetary constraints sometimes stand in the way.

One such situation led to a ruling this week by the Georgia Supreme Court that has put some Georgia charter schools in the fast lane to closure, and has left nearly 15,000 students questioning the future of their education.

Dept. of Veterans Affairs Must Improve Mental Health Services

In a sweeping and strongly-worded 104-page decision, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered a major overhaul of the Veteran's Affairs mental health care system. The VA court decision has come down at a time when depression and suicide among members of the armed forces have escalated.

The decision was made by a 2-1 majority in the 3-judge Ninth Circuit Panel. Chief Judge Kozinski dissented.

The lawsuit was initiated in 2007 by two non-profit organizations, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth, Inc. They sued the VA and the government for "shameful failures" in the veteran mental health care system, reports Reuters.

Chicago Must Hire 111 Victims of Firefighter Discrimination

After countless appeals, a Supreme Court ruling, and 16 years, a lawsuit brought against the Chicago Fire Department on behalf of nearly 6,000 African-American firefighter applicants is almost over.

On Friday, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, that to rectify the discriminatory and disparate impact of an employment policy, the department must hire 111 of the African-Americans who took a 1995 qualifying exam, and split an estimated $30 million between the rest.

Microsoft Antitrust Settlement Expires After 10 Years

Though it may not seem like it at the moment, there was a time in the mid-1990's when Microsoft and its Windows operating system dominated the computing world.

Of course, the Department of Justice sued under antitrust laws, eventually reaching a settlement in 2001.

That settlement came to an end last week, but the lessons of the Microsoft antitrust era are still incredibly pertinent.

The Microsoft antitrust lawsuit and settlement were primarily concerned with the company's use of its dominance in the operating system market to boost sales of Internet Explorer.

After 20 Years In Prison, Exonerated Man Can't Have $18.5M

A jury awarded Alan Newton $18.5 million for wrongful conviction of rape. Newton served 22 years in prison, before DNA evidence exonerated him. In Newton's civil suit against the City of New York, U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin has granted the City's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

"No reasonable jury could have concluded" the City of New York deliberately denied Newton his constitutional rights, or withheld evidence," Judge Scheindlin ruled last week.

Finding that "a showing of mere negligence was not enough," Judge Scheindlin overruled Newton's $18.5 million jury verdict against the City, reports the New York Times.

Newton served 22 years in a New York prison for the 1985 rape conviction. DNA evidence proved Newton could not have committed the rape, reports the Times.

LimeWire to Pay Record Companies $105 Million Settlement

The RIAA has scored another win against internet music piracy, this time against P2P file sharing software maker LimeWire. The LimeWire settlement totaled $105 million, but was far less than the trillions of dollars of damages that the RIAA attorneys had previously sought.

The settlement deal was made after a court had ordered an injunction against LimeWire last October. LimeWire was supposed to shut down its P2P file sharing service and wait for a jury to deliberate on the total amount of damages it owed to the RIAA.

The RIAA attorneys had originally sought $150,000 for each download of 11,000 songs in the RIAA lawsuit, reports Computerworld Magazine. However, a federal judge ruled that these damages would be too high.

Supreme Court Upholds Warrantless Marijuana Odor Search

If police smell a marijuana odor, and hear movement or a flushing toilet, they can break down your door. And if police, after smelling and hearing, conduct a warrantless search, Kentucky courts following U.S. Supreme Court precedent will now refuse to suppress the evidence found, reports the Associated Press.

The Kentucky Supreme Court had ruled that marijuana and pills seized after police smelled burning marijuana, then broke down the door to an apartment, had been seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

In Kentucky v. King, in an 8-1 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Kentucky high court ruling. Only Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, reports AP.

Seattle Residents Can Opt Out of Yellow Pages Delivery, Judge Rules

Back in November, Seattle became the first city in the United States to pass a yellow pages opt-out law, requiring publishers to honor the wishes of citizens who don't want to receive the outdated and costly books.

Upset, publishers sued the city on First Amendment grounds, requesting that a federal judge grant a preliminary injunction stopping the law's enforcement until trial could be completed.

Last week, a judge denied that request, stating that it's unlikely that the yellow pages opt-out law is unconstitutional.

No Whistleblower Protection for Talking to Press

In a decision that some predict will have a chilling effect, the 9th Circuit dealt a major blow to whistleblowers reporting violations of federal securities law last week, denying protection to those who take allegations of corporate misconduct to the press.

Commentators are concerned that the ruling will lead fewer workers to report wrongdoing and inhibit the government's ability to investigate misconduct.

Like many regulatory schemes, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which deals with securities reporting and auditing, includes a whistleblower protection provision. It bars employers from retaliating against employees who report potential wrongdoing under the Act to the appropriate authorities.

Michigan City Can Ban Downtown Topless Bars

The Sixth Circuit has upheld Warren, Michigan's topless bar ban. Adult entertainment provider Big Dipper Entertainment, LLC, filed suit under 18 U.S.C. sec. 1983, after the Warren city council prohibited adult businesses anywhere within 750 feet of its downtown, a residential district or a planned unit development, reports Courthouse News Service.

The city clerk denied Big Dipper's license application four days late. In ruling for the city, a Sixth Circuit three-judge panel rejected the four-day defect, finding it "immaterial for constitutional purposes," wrote Judge Raymond Kethledge for the majority.

Judge Kethledge's opinion found that Big Dipper's First Amendment challenge also lacked merit.

Billionaire Raj Rajaratnam Guilty in Insider Trading Case

Raj Rajaratnam, billionaire investor and founder of the Galleon Group, has been found guilty of insider trading, fraud and conspiracy. Rajaratnam was convicted on all 14 counts by a federal jury in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York.

One of the richest men in the world, Rajaratnam faces at least 15-1/2 years in prison, reports Reuters. The trial took place over the course of two months, putting Rajaratnam, insider trading, and government phone taps into the spotlight.

Supreme Court Reinstates Cop Killer's Death Sentence

Convicted cop killer Harry Mitts awaits an execution date in Ohio.

Mitts shot and killed an African-American man in 1994, after shouting a racist tirade at the man. In the ensuing shootout, Mitts shot three police officers, wounding two and killing one. An Ohio jury convicted Mitts on two counts of aggravated murder and two counts of attempted murder in 1994. After receiving standard Ohio jury instructions, the jury sentenced Mitts to death, reports Courthouse News.

Court Rules National Day of Prayer Constitutional

The 7th Circuit recently overturned a previous ruling declaring a National Day of Prayer unconstitutional.

In late 2010, plaintiffs in the original suit, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Barack Obama, claimed that the National Day of Prayer violated the establishment clause of the U.S. constitution.

Tivo Settlement: Dish Network, EchoStar to Pay TiVo $500 Million

In a landmark patent infringement case, Dish Network and EchoStar have agreed to pay TiVo a $500 million settlement in a suit about TiVo's "time warp" technology. The TiVo settlement comes after an April 20th ruling by a federal court that Dish and EchoStar were in contempt of a court-ordered injunction.

The injunction was supposed to prevent Dish and EchoStar from using any parts of their digital-video recording service that were infringing on a TiVo patent that allowed TiVo DVRs to record, playback, and fast forward through television programs at the same time, according to Bloomberg.

Ninth Circuit Upholds California Gun Show Ban

The Ninth Circuit has upheld an Alameda County gun show ban this week.

The case, brought by gun show promoters Russell and Sallie Nordyke, challenged a county ordinance passed in 1999 that prohibited firearms and ammunition on county-owned property, including the county fairgrounds where the Nordykes had previously displayed their products.

Bush Cousin Presides over Bush Administration 9/11 Case

Last week, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit by April Gallop against Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Myers in which she alleged that the three conspired to carry out the 9/11 attack against the Pentagon.

While the result isn't surprising, one can't say the same for one of the judges that presided over the case:

Judge John Walker, first cousin to former President George W. Bush.

Supreme Court Blocks ATT Class Action

A lawsuit challenging AT&T's practice of charging tax on the full retail price of a free cell phone may have just rendered class action lawsuits obsolete.

In the recently decided AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, the Supreme Court determined that the Federal Arbitration Act preempts state law that invalidates contractual clauses that bar classwide arbitration.

Stem Cell Research Can be Federally Funded, Court Rules

Siding with the Obama Administration and the National Institute of Health, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals last week vacated an earlier preliminary injunction that sought to end federal expenditures on stem cell research.

Though the case will likely proceed at the District Court level, the Judges' interpretation of federal funding law is a huge victory for proponents of said research.