Decided - The FindLaw Noteworthy Decisions and Settlements Blog

December 2016 Archives

Police officers from Battle Creek, Michigan were recently cleared of wrongdoing for killing two dogs that barked at officers during the execution of a search warrant. The owners of the two dogs were living with a known drug dealer who had recently been released from prison and was suspected to be selling drugs.

The owners filed a civil lawsuit against the officers and police department, which was dismissed on summary judgment. The case went up to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the judgment of the Michigan Federal Court.

If your boss tells you that you can take a 10-minute break, but you have to be ready to jump back into action the whole time, that hardly feels like a break, right? That's what some residential and commercial security guards argued when they sued their employers over "on-call" and "on-duty" rest periods. After winning $90 million judgment, the award was overturned on appeal, and the guards took their case to the California Supreme Court.

Here's what the court said:

A Virginia man is breathing a sigh of relief after the court ruled that his ex-fiance must return the $26,000 engagement ring for the marriage that will never happen. The court ruled that the ring was aptly characterized as a conditional gift, which meant that if the marriage didn't take place, it would need to be returned. Since the marriage has been off for a few years now, the court ordered the ex-fiance to return the ring or pay the $26,000.

Despite marriage seeming like so much more, it really boils down to a financial agreement between two adults, akin to a business partnership. Engagement rings can be viewed as earnest money, or a security deposit, in a business venture. Sometimes it's refundable, sometimes it isn't. Generally, it boils down to how the ring is characterized at the time it is given, or maybe at the time of the breakup.

The San Francisco Academy of Art has agreed to settle the lawsuit filed against them by San Francisco's City Attorney after nearly a decade-long dispute. The academy will pay $20 million to the city (over the next five years) for various housing, code, and zoning ordinance violations they committed in San Francisco over the past decade, while the housing crisis was at an all time peak. Additionally, as part of the settlement, the academy will spend nearly $40 million on bringing two of their own buildings into compliance and offering 160 units of affordable housing to seniors.

While the city might be trying to spin this settlement as a positive result, the Academy's attorney made it clear that they would have accepted this same settlement deal without litigation being filed. The academy has 40 buildings across the city and could easily turn quite a nice profit just by serving as a landlord in one of the most expensive cities in the country. The lawsuit alleged that 33 of the 40 buildings owned by the academy in the city were out of compliance. Furthermore, the academy allegedly illegally converted several building they purchased from residential use to commercial use.

The Florida wife that tried to hire a hitman to kill her husband in 2009 may be facing her third criminal trial soon. This week, the jury in Dalia Dippolito's retrial was unable to reach a verdict. When the judge realized that no amount of deliberation would break the deadlocked jury, he declared a mistrial.

This case has been making headlines for over half-a-decade at this point and was even featured on the popular TV show "Cops." The police department in charge of the case released audio and video footage on Youtube prior to the first trial in 2011. After Dippolito was convicted in 2011, an appeal was filed as a result of the court's failure to allow the defense to question prospective jurors, as well as the failure to ensure jurors were not biased due to the pre-trial media coverage. To the surprise of many, the appeal was successful and a retrial was ordered.

In a controversial case out of Florida, an appellate court judge ordered a criminal defendant to tell police his iPhone passcode. This ruling is significant as it has been routinely held that a court order could not compel a defendant to give up his passcode (although a court could order a person to touch their fingerprint to a fingerprint sensor). Fortunately, this ruling may only affect Floridians.

The appeals judge is being criticized for missing the mark in this ruling, particularly when it comes to analogizing cases. The main issue that legal scholars take with this ruling is that it diminishes the Fifth Amendment and the protection against self-incrimination.

The downtown Los Angeles underground light rail has finally gotten the green light from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Two downtown businesses, a shopping plaza and a hotel, filed suit back in 2013 to stop the construction, claiming that the construction would have a negative impact on their businesses. The two businesses specifically claimed that the noise from the construction, as well as other impacts from the construction, would disturb the retail mall's shoppers as well as the hotel's guests.

Last year, the federal court granted summary judgment against the businesses, however the businesses appealed. After over three years of litigation, it looks like the construction may finally begin on the new lines.

Walmart has agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle a class action lawsuit brought by thousands of employees claiming the retail behemoth denied health insurance benefits to same-sex spouses of employees. While the lawsuit was filed by one former employee, Jacqueline A. Cote, the settlement will apply to thousands of employees who weren't able to obtain health insurance coverage for their same-sex spouses from 2011 to 2013.

Under the terms of the settlement, which still must be approved by the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, Walmart admits no wrongdoing, and contends it is paying plaintiffs "in the interest of resolving this dispute between the parties without the significant expense, delay and inconvenience of further litigation."

The real makers of the popular energy supplement 5-Hour Energy, Living Essential, were pleased this week when a California jury found two individuals guilty of manufacturing counterfeit 5-Hour Energy drinks. The federal charges allege that the criminal drink makers produced millions of counterfeit bottles using unknown ingredients in an unsanitary facility. The couple could face over a decade in jail and $2 million in fines. Their conviction comes after the resolution of the consolidated civil suit earlier this year against more than 20 individuals, all involved in a conspiracy to make and sell fake 5-Hour Energy shots.

The convicted Southern California couple initially had a legitimate deal with Living Essential to distribute 5-Hour Energy drinks in Mexico. However, the initial deal provided the couple with Spanish labeled bottles which they relabeled and then sold in the US below the US market rate. The following year, the couple set up the manufacturing scheme to make the counterfeit drinks.

A Federal judge in Texas is making a big impact from coast to coast on businesses that have salaried employees making less than $45K per year. The overtime pay rules that were slated to go into effect on December 1st have been put on an indefinite hold as the court figures out whether the new rules are legal. The indefinite hold is the result of an emergency preliminary injunction that was ordered at the request of 21 states that have joined together to block the new rules from taking effect.

The challengers to the new rules assert that the Department of Labor overstepped their authority in revising the overtime rules. The new rules would have effectively made all employees who are currently salaried and make less than about $45K per year eligible for overtime pay. Currently, the overtime pay rule applies only if a person's salary is less than approximately $23K per year or $455 per week.