December 2011 Court Decisions: Decided
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December 2011 Archives

'Ghost Rider' Belongs to Marvel, Federal Judge Rules

Who owns "Ghost Rider" -- Marvel, or the man who created the comic book character? According to U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest, Marvel does. Writer and former Marvel employee Gary Friedrich's lawsuit against the comic book company was dismissed in federal court this week.

Friedrich created the fiery motorcycle-riding "Ghost Rider" character in the early 1970s.

He sought movie rights after he heard that Marvel planned other uses of the "Ghost Rider" character. The 2007 "Ghost Rider" flick, starring Nicolas Cage, grossed around $115.8 million in the U.S. and Canada.

BofA to Pay Record Settlement for Discriminating Against Minorities Buyers

Over 200,000 minority home buyers will receive part of a $335 million settlement reached between Bank of America and the Justice Department. The BofA minority settlement stems from charges that its Countywide Financial unit discriminated against African American and Hispanic home buyers between 2004 and 2007.

BofA acquired Countrywide in 2008, inheriting the company's legal liabilities. Amongst them were accusations that loan officers pushed minorities into more expensive mortgages and charged them higher interest rates and fees.

Convicted Cop-Killer Granted Death Row Appeal by 11th Cir.

Billy Joe Magwood will be leaving Alabama's death row after 30 years. The 11th Circuit has overturned the convicted cop-killer's death sentence, ordering the imposition of a new, non-capital sentence.

The U.S. Supreme Court had originally remanded the case for re-sentencing last year, but Alabama prosecutors objected to the district court's subsequent ruling. The 11th Circuit affirmed that ruling, finding that the 1979 murder of Sheriff C.F. Gantham was not eligible for capital punishment.

A federal agency's ruling in Apple's HTC patent lawsuit is being called a partial victory for Apple in the increasingly competitive smartphone market.

The U.S. International Trade Commission ruled Monday that some user-friendly features available on several HTC smartphones are protected by an Apple patent, The New York Times reports.

Apple's patent covers touchscreen technology that allows a user to place a call by tapping a phone number embedded in an email or text message. The technology also allows users to tap on a date mentioned in an email to add an appointment to their calendar.

Tweets Were Free Speech, Not Cyberstalking, Federal Judge Rules

Twitter stalking is free speech, according to a federal judge in Maryland. Well, at least when the tweets don't constitute true threats or defamation.

The FBI arrested William Lawrence Cassidy in February after receiving complaints from Alyce Zeoli, a Buddhist leader. The two had been friends, but a falling out led to some heated exchanges. Cassidy sent 8,000 tweets and created a number of blog posts about Zeoli, including pleas for her to kill herself.

Zeoli's ability to ignore those messages factored heavily in the judge's decision.

Facebook Can Be Sued Over Its 'Like' Ads, CA Judge Rules

A lawsuit challenging Facebook's "like" ads can go forward, according to a federal judge in San Jose.

Facebook rolled out the ads -- also known as "Sponsored Stories" -- in January without much fanfare. When a Facebook friend "likes" a product, page or company, the site generates an ad. It includes the friend's name, photo and an accompanying endorsement.

A group of users filed a lawsuit, arguing that Facebook had misappropriated their names and images.

Class Action Against Oracle Revived by 9th Circuit

The 9th Circuit has revived an overtime lawsuit against California-based Oracle Corp., possibly affecting thousands. The Oracle class action seeks to represent a group of nonresident employees who traveled to California to teach customers how to use Oracle products.

They sued, arguing that California's overtime laws applied while they worked in the state. Oracle had been paying an overtime rate consistent with the employees' home states. Those rates are less generous than California's.

The 9th Circuit agreed with the employees, and has ordered further proceedings.

Most bone marrow donors can now get paid for their donation, thanks to a federal appeals court decision that advocates say will help save countless lives.

The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has held that advances in medical technology now make bone marrow donations more akin to donating blood, The Los Angeles Times reports. As with other types of blood donations, bone marrow donors can now accept compensation, the court said.

Previously, bone marrow had been classified as an organ donation under the 1984 National Organ Transplant Act. The law bars organ donors from receiving money or "valuable consideration."

Blogger Crystal Cox is No Journalist, Must Pay $2.5M in Damages

Bloggers aren't covered by media shield laws, at least that's how an Oregon federal court has ruled. The court issued a judgment against investigative blogger Crystal Cox, who was accused of defamation.

Cox originally blogged about Obsidian Finance Group and its co-founder Kevin Padrick. She accused Padrick of acting illegally and unethically as trustee of a bankruptcy proceeding. Now she must pay $2.5 million in damages.

Cox argued in her defense that she didn't need to provide sources to corroborate her blog posts under shield laws. These laws are on the books of about 40 different states. They protect journalists from having to reveal their sources. The court disagreed.

Transgender Discrimination is Unconstitutional, 11th Cir. Rules

Is transgender discrimination sex discrimination? And if so, is it prohibited by the Constitution?

The 11th Circuit answered both of these questions in the affirmative on Tuesday, ruling for Vandy Beth Glenn, a transgender woman fired from her job with Georgia's General Assembly. Glenn had sued the state, arguing that her termination violated the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause.

The court unanimously agreed, pointing to a cache of prior case law.

Death Sentence of 'Big Evil' Gang Leader Tossed by Cal. Sup. Ct.

The California Supreme Court has unanimously overturned the murder conviction and death sentence of Cleamon "Big Evil" Johnson, a notorious Los Angeles gang leader. He led the 89 Family Bloods in the 1980's and early 1990's until he was convicted of murdering two rival gang members in 1997.

Big Evil appealed that conviction, arguing that the trial judge had improperly dismissed Juror No. 11 during deliberations. The Cal. Supreme Court agreed, finding that the judge abused his discretion. There was no evidence that the juror had prejudged the case or relied on outside evidence.

Fed. Judge Orders Google to Remove Sites From Search Results

A fake Chanel lawsuit seems to be causing quite the stir. The real luxury manufacturer sued about 600 websites in federal court seeking an injunction against the sale of fake goods. But it's not the trademark infringement itself that is gaining attention: It's an order issued by the federal judge overseeing the case.

In addition to granting a preliminary injunction against the defendant websites, the judge instructs all Internet search engines and social networks to remove access to those sites. He specifically tells Google, Yahoo, Twitter and Facebook to "de-index" the domain names from all search results.