Decided - The FindLaw Noteworthy Decisions and Settlements Blog

January 2017 Archives

Star Trek fans are likely reacting in some way to the news that the Axanar fan film has settled the lawsuit against it filed by CBS and Paramount. Shockingly, the settlement will allow the fan fic film to be made, but just not as a feature length film as originally intended. Also, the settlement includes numerous other demands the fan film must comply with to proceed with the film and all future projects.

The settlement allows Axanar to make their movie, but it must be no more than two 15 minute pieces, and follow all the other fan film guidelines, including not using the name Star Trek. Also, the film cannot have advertising or really attempt to generate revenue in anyway per the guidelines CBS and Paramount released for fan films to not be objectionable.

A vermiculite mine in northwestern Montana was one of the principal industries for residents in the town of Libby. Unfortunately, a byproduct of mining vermiculite is asbestos, which, for decades, has been known to be a dangerous, toxic substance from which exposure can result in severe illness causing death.

As a result of the mass exposure, workers in the mine, their families, and other residents of the town made up the thousands who have gotten sick over the years. While the mine is now closed, the residents of Libby have been left to face the aftermath.

Chicago was home to 700 homicides in 2016. (And that milestone was reached by December 1.) The city has long been trying to curb gun violence, but has received judicial pushback on its strict gun control laws. So it's perhaps no surprise that the federal Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a comprehensive statute regulating gun ranges in the city of Chicago, a law that included a ban on anyone under 18 from entering a shooting range.

So what avenues are left for a city trying to diminish its death toll?

Let's say that you live in New Hampshire. And let's posit that you don't like abortion. If both of those are the case, you might not be too pleased with New Hampshire's law allowing reproductive health care facilities to enforce a buffer zone banning anti-abortion advocates from protesting the clinic or its patients within 25 feet of the facility. You might be so displeased with the law that you sue the state in an effort to invalidate the law.

Here's the problem, though: the law has never been enforced. No facility in the state has created or demarcated such a buffer zone. Your First Amendment rights have not been chilled, your expressive activities have not been affected, and, thus, you have suffered no injury. Therefore your case is getting tossed out of court.

The newest Star Trek film, which is making headlines due to an active lawsuit headed for trial in a few short weeks, has an inauspicious back story. First-off, it should be noted that the most recent Star Trek film is not official, nor is it licensed by the original creators. The film was created by a fan who assembled a professional production company and crowd-sourced nearly a million dollars.

Let's just say, this isn't your run of the mill fan fiction. The 20 minute teaser to the film, Prelude to Axanar, has nearly 3 million views on YouTube, and clearly has a level of production quality beyond what is generally expected from a fan fiction produced work. In fact, the whole production, with movie website and all, seems a little to professional to be categorized as a work of fan fiction at all, but it is exactly that.

Today, during President Barrack Obama's last week in office, he commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, the former US Army intelligence analyst that leaked classified information to Wikileaks in 2010. Manning, who was not scheduled to be released until 2045, will now be released on May 17, 2017. The 35-year sentence was an extreme result, particularly given that Manning was agreeable to a plea bargain and confessed to her actions.

Manning's leak is notorious for making Wikileaks world famous. Also, Manning's prison sentence has been the subject of controversy due to the fact that Manning came out as transgender after being sentenced, which has posed problems for her incarceration at an all male military prison.

This week, the Detroit Public School Teachers' Union agreed to settle one of the two cases it has brought against the school district and state because of the school system's many failures. The parties were able to come to a compromise regarding claims over the poor building conditions. The settlement agreement provides for a new process to ensure that building repairs get completed in a timely fashion, and appoints an oversight committee to enforce the agreement.

The condition of some Detroit schools are so appalling that this litigation was actually necessary. Teachers complained not just about overcrowding and low pay, but also about the literal conditions of the buildings. Classrooms had mold, vermin, and were actually crumbling. While the Detroit schools are facing a funding crisis, the teachers are dismayed about the conditions that the children are subjected to. So much so that early last year, they organized a walk out that shut down nearly 90 percent of district's schools for one day.

The 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City are most likely remembered as the first since 9/11, or the first to feature more extreme cold-weather sports like snowboarding, moguls, and aerials. (Or maybe you remember it for the bribery scandal that surrounding the site bidding process.)

But for many of those who attended and worked at those winter games and the Olympians that competed, 2002 will be remembered for the National Security Agency "spying on anyone and everyone in the Salt Lake City area" at the time. And now they're suing about it.

A recent appellate decision in California is causing a minor stir throughout the mental health treatment community, particularly for those involved in the treatment of sexual addiction or compulsion.

A certified drug and alcohol counselor and two licensed marriage and family therapists in California sought a court declaration protecting the privacy rights of their patients' therapy sessions. All three plaintiffs work with patients that struggle with sexual addiction/compulsion. As a result of a change in California law in 2015, the three are now required to report to law enforcement when their patients disclose having viewed child pornography online. Needless to say, many therapists have been feeling the implications of the new law since it took effect.

Today, the Dylann Roof saga neared some semblance of closure as the young man was sentenced to death. The jury returned the death sentence after only three hours of deliberation. The speed of the sentencing decision was likely fueled by Roof's own insistence that he did not suffer from any mental impairments, coupled with his lack of a repentant attitude. To make matters worse for Roof, he not only confessed to the murders, he never even appeared remorseful for his actions.

When delving into the tragedy of this hate crime, it becomes abundantly clear that Roof held disturbing, patently false, and racist beliefs. The guilty verdict was reached in mid-December during the guilt-phase of the trial. Roof was convicted of all 33 counts, over 20 of which fell under the federal hate crimes statutes. The death penalty was reached today during the sentencing-phase of the trial. During this phase, the families of the victims were asked to present testimony about their losses. Roof chose to represent himself during this phase of the trial, despite the advice of the court and counsel.

In a decision handed down January 9, 2017, the Supreme Court of the United States explained that a New Mexico police officer acted reasonably when he fatally shot a suspect without warning in October 2011. While officers generally are required to announce their presence, particularly before exerting physical force, let alone deadly force, the Supreme Court was ruling about a very particular, peculiar situation that unfolded in October 2011 where an officer arrived late to an active scene.

The case involved an active police investigation into a road rage incident. The suspects allegedly did not realize that police were present. Instead, they thought that they were under attack. So they came come out of the home firing guns. An officer who arrived at the scene shot and killed one of the suspects.

Divorce proceedings are prone to getting nasty, and Paula and Barry Epstein's divorce appears to be no exception. Paula accused Barry of "serial infidelity," and when Barry's attorney demanded proof, Paula's lawyer turned over dozens of emails from Barry to several women not named Paula Epstein. Believing that Paula must've been forwarding his emails to her address, he sued her (and her attorney) under the federal Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act.

And according to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, auto-forwarding your husband's emails to your address might violate the federal Wiretap Act even if "Congress probably didn't anticipate its use as a tactical weapon in a divorce proceeding."