March 2012 Court Decisions: Decided
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March 2012 Archives

It seems "Joe the Plumber's" lawsuit against state employees in Ohio is heading down the drain.

"Joe the Plumber," whose real name is Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, gained national attention when he confronted then-candidate Barack Obama about taxes in 2008. After video of the confrontation went viral, three Obama supporters who worked for the state of Ohio delved into state databases seeking information about Wurzelbacher, the Associated Press reports.

Those searches violated Wurzelbacher's First Amendment and privacy rights, Joe the Plumber's lawsuit claimed. But three judges on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals flushed those claims down the toilet.

Prison's 'Nutraloaf' May Violate 8th Amendment

Nutraloaf is perhaps the most reviled food in the nation. It's a meatloaf-like substance designed to meet a prisoner's nutritional needs, and is often composed of leftover fruits, vegetables, meats and grains. It's bad-tasting and is often used as a form of punishment.

And according to a recent decision from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, it could actually be used for something far worse. The court has reinstated a lawsuit brought by prisoner Terrance Prude. He has accused the Milwaukee County Jail of feeding him nutraloaf in violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

Boy, 9, Can Pursue Israel Passport Case, US Supreme Court Rules

Nine-year-old Menachem Zivotofsky can pursue his Israel passport case, according to the U.S. Supreme Court. The boy was born in Jerusalem, but as has been the case for decades, the State Department refuses to allow him to list his birthplace as "Israel" on his passport.

Jerusalem is technically a contested territory, with both Israel and Palestine vying for control. The U.S. government has not recognized either nation as the true sovereign, effectively leaving individuals like Zivotofsky without a birth country.

Sup. Ct.: Right to Effective Counsel Includes Plea Bargains

The U.S. Supreme Court has potentially changed the way defense attorneys handle plea bargains. In a pair of cases out of Missouri and Michigan, the Court has ruled that the Sixth Amendment right to effective counsel in criminal proceedings applies to plea offers that lapse or are rejected.

Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, also wrote that plea bargain counsel has a duty to communicate all formal and favorable prosecution offers to the accused. If he or she does not, the defendant may be able to appeal any subsequent punishment.

NJ Man Must Share Mega Millions Jackpot With Co-Workers

Money comes, money goes — especially for the defendant in the New Jersey Mega Millions lawsuit. A jury has awarded $20 million to the former co-workers of Americo Lopes, leaving him with only a sixth of his original $38.5 million ($24 million after taxes) lottery jackpot.

The co-workers sued Lopes after he refused to share the winnings. They claimed he used money from a group lottery pool to buy the 2009 winning ticket. Lopes disagreed, and instead argued that he had bought the ticket for himself.

Graphic Cigarette Label Law is Constitutional: 6th Cir.

The federal government has won the latest round in the battle over graphic cigarette labels, garnering a favorable ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The court was tasked with assessing the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTCA), a piece of federal legislation passed in 2009.

The panel of judges upheld almost all of the law’s major provisions, including one that requires tobacco companies to give significant packaging space to warning labels, Reuters reports. The judges found that the “government has a significant interest in preventing juvenile smoking and in warning the general public about the harms associated with the use of tobacco products.”

Could Dismissal of NJ Ski Injury Lawsuit Affect Ski Resorts Nationwide?

A New Jersey appellate court has upheld the dismissal of a personal injury suit brought against the operator of Mountain Creek , the state's largest ski resort. This wouldn't ordinarily be news, but the ruling may have just kicked off a nationwide trend.

Derek Dearnley filed the Mountain Creek lawsuit after being injured during the 2008-2009 season. When he purchased a 2009-2010 season pass , he unknowingly gave up his ability to continue pursuing these claims.

Sexually Abused Student Can Sue School: Cal. Supreme Court

The California Supreme Court has opened the door for more lawsuits targeting teacher sex abuse. The court has unanimously reinstated a suit against the William S. Hart Union High School District, which has been accused of negligently hiring, retaining and supervising a counselor who sexually abused a 15-year-old student.

District lawyers pointed to a state law limiting the tort liability of public entities. They argued that it does not permit such lawsuits. The court disagreed, finding that a school district can be held liable for injuries caused by such negligence.

Families of two victims of the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings will receive $8 million in a wrongful-death lawsuit, a jury ruled Wednesday.

The suit, brought by relatives of slain students Erin Peterson and Julia Pryde, alleged Virginia Tech officials were negligent in taking too long to notify the campus that a gunman was on the loose, WTKR-TV reports.

The Virginia Tech massacre began when two students were shot and killed in a dorm on April 16, 2007. School officials did not alert the campus because they believed the shootings were an isolated incident, Virginia Tech’s attorneys said.

Feds, Lenders Make $25 Billion Mortgage Settlement Official

Last month's proposed $25 billion mortgage settlement is one step closer to becoming official. Federal representatives have asked a judge to approve the settlement, which involves 49 states, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Ally Financial.

Approximately $20 billion will go to borrowers facing foreclosure. Most of the funds will be used to reduce principal and refinance loans. The remaining $5 billion will be dispersed by state governments to Americans who lost their homes to improper foreclosures between 2008 and 2011.

The Texas legislature's voter ID law likely discriminates against hundreds of thousands of registered Hispanic voters, the Justice Department declared Monday in a forceful objection.

The objection means the Texas law -- which would require voters to present photo identification in order to cast a ballot -- cannot take effect until a federal court in Washington, D.C., weighs in, the Associated Press reports.

Texas lawmakers passed a voter ID law in 2011. It's one of eight states to do so, in response to alleged voter fraud. Opponents, however, see a Republican attempt to disenfranchise voters who tend to vote for more liberal candidates and causes, the AP reports.

Toxic Mold Case Can Go Forward: NY Appellate Court

A New York appellate court has overturned a lower court ruling, allowing a toxic mold lawsuit to go forward. Brenda Cornell had sued the owners of her former apartment building, seeking compensation for the dizziness, rashes and respiratory ailments she acquired after being exposed to mold for nearly six years.

Though Cornell's lawsuit is small in scope, the toxic mold ruling itself impacts the almost 3 million people living in New York and Bronx counties. It has arguably opened the door for thousands of similar lawsuits.

Texas tycoon R. Allen Stanford was convicted Tuesday of running a $7 billion Ponzi scheme -- the biggest investment fraud since the Bernie Madoff scandal.

A jury found Stanford, 61, guilty on 13 of 14 criminal charges, including fraud, conspiracy, and obstructing an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Reuters reports. Jurors acquitted Stanford on a single wire-fraud charge.

"For all the investors, I think there is a sense of relief that they weren't just fools," one of Stanford's victims told Reuters. "We were just conned."

Guns OK on University of Colorado Campuses: State Supreme Court

Students and employees may carry guns on University of Colorado campuses, according to a new ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court. The court's decision overrides a 1994 university policy put in place by the Board of Regents.

The governing body had banned concealed handguns on campus even when individuals had obtained the proper state permits. But in 2003, the state legislature passed the Concealed Carry Act, which the court found trumps the university's policy.

Cigarette Warnings Violate 1st Amendment, Federal Judge Rules

The Food and Drug Administration's new cigarette warnings took another hit on Wednesday. Federal District Judge Richard Leon has again sided with the tobacco companies, finding that the warnings violate the industry's free speech rights.

In addition to textual messages, the challenged rules require cigarette boxes and packaging to carry graphic images depicting the health effects of smoking. The final images include photos of rotting teeth, diseased organs and a dead body.