Decided - The FindLaw Noteworthy Decisions and Settlements Blog

June 2017 Archives

In a 7-2 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Trinity Church in Missouri should have been awarded public funding for resurfacing their playground with recycled tire rubber. While, at first blush, this may not sound so shocking, the ruling tows the line on the separation of church and state.

While seven justices concurred in the result, even among those justices, there was a difference in opinion regarding whether the decision was limited based on the facts of the case. Basically, the Trinity Church applied for a state grant to provide money to rubberize their playground, but was denied due to being a religious organization. The church filed suit, alleging the denial violated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.

Despite two different federal appeals courts upholding the ban on the travel ban, the U.S. Supreme Court surprisingly reversed both rulings. However, even with their reversal, SCOTUS still limited the reach of the executive order issued by President Trump.

Primarily, the Court found that the ban could not be applied to individuals seeking entry who have sufficient, and legitimate, ties to the United States. The Court did find that in the absence of a prospective foreign visitor's ties to the U.S., the temporary travel ban could be applied.

Brendan Dassey was just 16 when he was railroaded into confessing involvement in the rape and murder of Teresa Halbach. Those who watched his interrogation in "Making a Murderer" saw all the hallmarks of an impressionable and possibly mentally impaired teen harangued by officers until he gave them a nonsensical confession, all without a parent or attorney present.

Now 27, Dassey has been ordered to be released from prison after a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's ruling that Dassey's confession had been coerced, calling it "death by a thousand cuts." But that release may not happen right away.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, federal law enforcement officials ordered hundreds of mostly Muslim, Arab, or South Asian illegal aliens to be taken into custody and detained. These detentions happened before officials demonstrated any particularized suspicion or knowledge that the detainees had any connection to terrorism, and many were held for months under "harsh conditions" that included repeated and random strip searches, 24-hour-lighted cells, and physical and psychological abuse.

Six of those detained filed a lawsuit against a group of federal officials including former Attorney General John Ashcroft, former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller, and former Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner James Ziglar. But the Supreme Court dismissed those claims, ruling that federal officials are immune from such lawsuits.

Convicted sex offenders are subject to a variety of conditions on their probation or parole. Every state has a mandatory sex offender registry requirement, although time on the registry may vary. And courts have even allowed lifetime GPS monitoring of sex offenders. All of which is to say that the government and law enforcement have a lot of leeway when deciding how to punish and monitor sex offenders.

But North Carolina took that a step too far, apparently. The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that a state law banning registered sex offenders from social media sites like Facebook was unconstitutional.

The case against Minnesota officer Jeronimo Yanez for the murder of Philando Castile has finally come to a close. To the surprise of anyone who viewed the Facebook Live video of the aftermath, uploaded by Mr. Castile's fiancee, the jury actually found Yanez not guilty.

Though there is no doubt that Yanez pulled the trigger and killed Philando Castile, this decision, which took five days of deliberations by the jury, goes a long way toward vindicating Officer Yanez of criminal wrongdoing. Despite being cleared of the criminal charges, Yanez and his department can still face a civil wrongful death lawsuit brought by Mr. Castile's next of kin.

When Rolling Stone published their story, "A Rape on Campus," in November 2014, about an alleged ritualistic rape in a fraternity on the University of Virginia's campus, the series of events that unfolded landed the rock n' roll magazine in seriously costly legal trouble. Nearly three years later, the last chapter in their legal saga may finally be closing as they've agreed to pay the fraternity named in the story $1.65 million. Notably, a lawsuit filed by the individual members of the lawsuit was dismissed.

Last year, a jury awarded a $3 million verdict in the defamation lawsuit filed by the then dean, Nicole Eramo, against Rolling Stone. Eramo alleged that the magazine portrayed her as callous and uncaring when it came to the alleged sexual assault victim at the center of the story. The case actually settled this year for a confidential amount while the verdict was being appealed by Rolling Stone.

In an odd stride for equal rights between the genders, and one that is sure to please the "dadvocates" out there, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that laws conferring citizenship to children cannot favor mothers over fathers. The decision does not apply to custody matters, but solely to issues involving the citizenship of a child born outside the borders of the U.S.A. to a parent that is a naturalized U.S. citizen.

In short, the Court struck down the distinction in the law that placed a stricter requirement on fathers than mothers, when it came to eligibility for their foreign-born child to obtain U.S. citizenship.

A ruling handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court this week may make generic pharmaceuticals available just a little bit sooner. The decision centered around a dispute between two drug manufacturers, Sandoz and Amgen, where the former was attempting to market and sell a generic version of the latter's drug.

SCOTUS ruled that Sandoz did not violate the six-month notice period designed to give Amgen time to object to the approval of a similar drug on patent or other legal grounds. Specifically, the Court found that the notice period could begin before the FDA license was approved, despite the fact that notice after licensure appeared to be the industry custom. Basically, this ruling means that generic biologics may be able to hit the market six months earlier than before.

This week, a controversial ruling was handed down by New York's highest court affecting the Big Apple's adult entertainment businesses. Adult book and video stores, as well as locations that offer live entertainment, or video booths, will now be forced to close if they are within 500 feet of a school, church, park, residential, or even commercial area. If you've ever been in NYC, you know that pretty much covers the entire city.

The recent ruling overturned a previous case which allowed adult entertainment stores to continue operating after the city attempted to institute a ban against these businesses in the 1990s. While a challenge to the ruling is anticipated, only the United States Supreme Court can overturn the ruling, and this might not be the type of case SCOTUS wants to take up.

Most Americans hadn't heard of civil forfeiture before John Oliver did a deep dive on the practice two years ago. And it seems like his critique and others like it have gotten not just the attention of citizens, but of judges as well. After the rampant expansion of law enforcement entities seizing assets in criminal cases, largely with judicial support, the Supreme Court looks like it may be finally reigning in the practice.

A unanimous Court ruled that the federal government overstepped its bounds by seizing personal property it could not prove had actually been "tainted" by criminal activity.

The New Jersey town of Bernards Township has agreed to settle the two cases against it stemming from a dispute over whether a mosque could be built on a vacant lot. While the town claims that there was never any discriminatory intent, the lawsuit alleges a bewildering series of hurdles seemingly intended to prevent the mosque from ever being built.

After the group seeking to build the mosque filed their case, which did not allege discrimination, the Department of Justice joined the suit, adding claims of religious discrimination directed at the Muslim group. The group, the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, and the Department of Justice, agreed to a $3.25 million settlement with the township. Of the settlement, $1.5 million will go to the organization for damages, while the remaining $1.75 million will go to attorney fees and case costs.

A Seventh Circuit decision, issued on Tuesday, upheld the lower federal court's preliminary order to allow a transgender teen to use the bathroom that corresponds with his gender identity. The Wisconsin federal court ruled last year that Ashton "Ash" Whitaker could use the boys' restroom, and the school could not prevent or discipline him in any way for doing so.

On appeal, the court sided with Ash on nearly every single point, and even ruled that the case looked like a winner for Ash. The preliminary order allowing Ash to use the bathroom is known as a preliminary injunction. Courts do not grant these unless the party seeking it can immediately prove that they are going to win their case, and if the court doesn't issue the order, irreparable harm/damage will occur.