Decided - The FindLaw Noteworthy Decisions and Settlements Blog

March 2017 Archives

A federal court judge has approved the $25 million class action settlement against Trump University. The case stemmed from allegations of fraud and misrepresentation, in essence claiming that Trump University provided no value to students, and worse, simply took advantage of students. The settlement actually resolves three separate cases against Trump University that all stem from similar allegations.

Although neither President Donald Trump, nor the Trump University, will be required to admit fault, a $25 million settlement says quite a bit about who was in the wrong, particularly given that the facts were heavily one sided against Trump University. The settlement was approved by the same Indiana-born judge whom President Trump accused of being biased against him for wanting to build the border wall due to the judge's heritage.

In 2014, a class action lawsuit was filed against Neiman Marcus as a result of a data breach in 2013 that exposed the personal data of approximately 350,000 shoppers. The data breach was the result of a hack, and caused the retailer much bad press at the time it was discovered as customers complained about fraudulent charges.

However, recently, the parties have reached a tentative settlement agreement that calls for the retailer to set up a $700,000 claims fund that class members would be able to seek payment from. If a customer can show that they shopped at Neiman, Bergdorf Goodman, Last Call, or Cusp, between July and October 2013, and that their information was part of the breach, they may be entitled to receive $100. Meanwhile, the attorneys are expected to receive approximately $900,000 in fees and costs. Despite the disparity in attorneys' fees and the class recovery, the parties expect the court to approve the settlement.

A common trend amongst the sharing economy employers is to avoid the legal complications of having a regular workforce. However, avoiding legal complications often results in legal battles. Fortunately, for Instacart, the class action that could have potentially reclassified their workforce from independent contractors to employees has settled without upsetting the burgeoning app's status quo.

The Instacart workers were seeking relief for numerous alleged violations of labor codes, including a failure to reimburse expenses, tip pooling, and a lack of a grievance procedure when a worker is deactivated. Under the settlement, the three lead plaintiffs will each receive $5,000, while other workers in the class will receive $500 to $1000 each.

The zigs and the zags, the pleats, and the stripes have all been cleared for copyright protection when it comes to cheerleading uniforms. The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands that the separable features of a cheerleading uniform could confer copyright protection to the specific design of a cheerleader uniform. However, significantly, the court ruled that the features only need to satisfy a deceptively simple two part test.

Under intellectual property law, cheerleading uniforms are considered utilitarian or useful objects, which are generally not legally protectable, meaning that the idea of a cheerleading uniform, like the idea of pants, or a shirt, is not protectable. However, the Court ruled that the design elements, such as graphics, stripes, or other design elements, may confer copyright protection to a cheerleading uniform, such that another maker cannot copy the design.

The US Supreme Court's ruling on Tuesday will have a significant impact on President Trump and potentially all presidents that come after. In short, the court found that a particular appointment by President Barrack Obama in 2011 violated a federal regulation regarding the nomination of an individual for a position that requires a senate confirmation hearing. The ruling is expected to put more scrutiny upon future presidential appointees.

However, the rule that President Obama is alleged to have violated is one that has been violated countless times since it was passed in 1998. And this ruling may have some grave implications for the appointments made in violation of this provision moving forward. The dissenting opinion of the Court stated this provision, the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 (FVRA), has been violated over 100 times with the senate never objecting before.

Remington, the gun maker, has finally settled the massive class action brought against it by gun owners over the defective, extra hair-trigger on certain models. Despite the fact that as part of the settlement Remington has agreed to replace the defective triggers in nearly 7.5 million guns, they refuse to actually admit there is a defect. Remind you of anyone?

Remington's refusal to accept fault, despite agreeing to replace the part plaintiffs claimed was defective, isn't even the most shocking part. As the judge noted, the settlement resolves a potential $500 million of liability for just $3 million. Furthermore, there is a serious problem in logic with the settlement terms due to a recall being issued while the company steadfastly maintains that there is no problem with the triggers that are the subject of the recall (and that have been shown to go off due to a speck of dust).

An ongoing tobacco industry case that had fallen out of the headlines has been making news recently. The Robbins v. RJ Reynolds case may finally get the retrial Reynolds was asking for back in 2014, when the jury awarded over $23 billion to the widow of a deceased smoker and cancer victim.

The Florida court of appeals found that the plaintiff's attorney, in the 2014 trial, crossed the line when he attacked Reynolds in the courtroom by attacking the tobacco industry's character. Essentially, the court reasoned that because these specific types of tobacco cases were part of an earlier class action, there are specific rules that prohibit a plaintiff's attorney from disparaging the tobacco industry.

Domino's has decent enough pizza, if you're in a pinch. What it doesn't have is an accurate payroll system. And that's a big problem when you need to adhere to state minimum wage and overtime laws. A New York Attorney General's Office investigation into Domino's computer payment system discovered that "over a two-year period, 78% of New York franchisees listed rates for at least some employees below the required minimum wage, and 86% listed rates below the required overtime rate."

NY AG Eric Schneiderman has filed numerous lawsuits against the pizza chain, and today announced a $480,000 settlement with three franchisees. Here's a look.

The Federal Appellate Court for the Fifth Circuit rejected the appeal of a few organizations that are trying to protect a controversial, Confederate monuments in New Orleans. Three of the four monuments that are the subjects of this litigation can now be removed and stored pending a more appropriate location (if that even exists).

In the short, three-page, court order ruling against those seeking to preserve the Confederate monuments, issued yesterday, the Court of Appeals specifically states that the groups' legal claims "wholly lack legal viability and support." The group asserted arguments that the city did not own the monuments, nor the property where the monuments were located, and that their protectable interest stemmed from the Napoleonic principle of negotiorum gestio, which is a barely recognized principle anywhere but Louisiana.

Under federal rules of procedure, there is what's known as the "no-impeachment rule" which prohibits jurors from undermining or discrediting their verdicts. The rule is designed to provide finality to jury verdicts as well as promote "full and vigorous discussion" by jurors without fear that they will be harassed after being discharged or summoned to recount their deliberations.

Jury deliberations are essentially a "black box" in that they are free from judicial review in almost all cases. But the Supreme Court added one more exception to that rule, permitting judges to consider evidence of a juror's racial statements and whether they violated a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a trial "by an impartial jury."

The Supreme Court this morning declined to make a definitive ruling on whether transgender students in public schools have a right to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity. The decision comes less than two weeks after the Trump Administration rescinded Department of Education guidance on the matter. Instead, the Court vacated a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, which had used Obama-era guidance to find in favor of a student identifying as male requesting access to male bathrooms.

So what does the ruling mean for the student, and for future transgender rights cases?

Marriage and family therapists in Texas can breathe a sigh of relief now that the state's supreme court has ruled in their favor. The Texas Therapist's Board was sued by the Texas Medical Association in 2008 in order to prevent therapists from diagnosing patients. After nearly a decade, the case may now finally be over.

Last week's ruling overturned the lower trial and appeal courts' decisions, which found that allowing therapists to diagnose patients allowed therapists to engage in the unauthorized practice of medicine. The Texas Supreme Court found that the medical association was being overly semantic by not allowing therapists to diagnose patients. In practical terms, the types of issues diagnosed by therapists generally fall within their area of expertise, and the issues are in a different category of conditions not exclusively diagnosable by medical doctors.

In a recent opinion, issued last week, by the Arkansas Supreme Court, a city's local civil rights law protecting LGBT individuals from discrimination was put in peril. The court's decision is not the final nail in the proverbial coffin, as they have ordered the lower court to reconsider their ruling based upon their order. As such, supporters of the local anti-discrimination statute are gearing up to fight it out again.

The challenged anti-discrimination law was passed by voters in the city of Fayetteville, and essentially extended the same protections to LGBT individuals as provided to the protected classes listed in the Arkansas Civil Rights Act of 1993. While the law was passed by local voters, and seems to reflect positively on the voters of Fayetteville, unfortunately, the law is facing a rather large technical hurdle.