U.S. First Circuit - The FindLaw 1st Circuit Court of Appeals News and Information Blog

September 2014 Archives

Dispensing HIV Meds at Window Is Not Deliberate Indiff.: 1st Cir.

For the longest time, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections dispensed HIV-positive prisoners' medication through the "Keep on Person" (KOP) program, where prisoners were given a bimonthly or monthly supply of the drugs to keep in their cell. In 2009, as a cost-saving measure, the DOC switched to dispensing HIV meds at a dispensary window.

Why? Because HIV drugs are expensive, making up more than 40 percent of the DOC's pharmacy budget. The KOP program would result in wasted medication, as prisoners would be transferred, skip taking meds, lose meds, die, or be released. The switch not only reduced costs, but also seemed to have a positive effect on the HIV-positive prisoner population as a whole; 95 percent of these prisoners now having an undetectable viral load, compared to 83 percent before the switch.

Despite that bit of positive news, five inmates sought an injunction to return the meds to the KOP program, arguing cruel and unusual punishment and deliberate indifference. As may have already guessed, their claims failed.

Gov't Won't Pay Fees, Despite Defeat in DOMA Challenge

The McLaughlin Group won. No, not the TV show with political pundits -- this McLaughlin Group, comprised of active-duty members of the United States armed forces and National Guard, veterans, and their same-sex spouses, challenged the Defense of Marriage Act. They were one of many groups challenging the law, and when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the heterosexist definition of marriage present in the Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor, they won.

There was never an argument against their case. The Obama administration took a no-defense, full-enforcement approach to the law, despite the president's own feelings that the law was unconstitutional.

A defense and enforcement without merit? To the McLaughlin Group, this sounded like the circumstances covered by the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), which allows attorneys fees when the government takes an unjustifiable position on a civil rights case.

Mass. High Court: Tesla Can Sell Cars Directly to Consumers

Ever wonder why you can't buy a car directly from the manufacturer? Tesla has. In trying to sell directly to consumers, the California-based manufacturer of sexy (and expensive) electric cars has run up against legal obstacles in the form of state laws prohibiting direct-to-consumer sales of cars.

Such laws were originally meant to protect dealerships from manufacturers, but over the years, they've become more of a way to limit entry into the business of automobile sales. Tesla finally won a small victory in Massachusetts earlier this week when the commonwealth's Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruled that unaffiliated auto dealers don't have standing to challenge the law.

Debt Collection Letter Too Confusing for Unsophisticated Consumer

Last month, we wondered whether lawyers should get involved in the debt collection business. It's fraught with regulations, and this case from the First Circuit demonstrates what can happen to a law firm that doesn't follow those regulations.

Robbie Pollard had a debt of about $612. The Law Office of Mandy L. Spaulding sent Pollard a letter saying that it was collecting on the debt and that, you know what, she was just going to sue her to get this all over with. Efficient? Yes. Legal? No. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) doesn't allow for this. Spaulding claimed that the law didn't contradict the collection notice, which contained some teeny-tiny print advising Pollard of her rights under the FDCPA.

Hard to Win an ADA Retaliation Claim When You Failed at Your Job

This case is neither particularly exciting, nor complicated.

Maria J. Collazo-Rosado worked for the University of Puerto Rico, heading up its student tutoring department. She suffers from Chron's Disease, which causes inflammation of the intestines. You're not a doctor, and neither am I, but that basically means she runs to the toilet a lot and has to have frequent visits with a doctor.

UPR had a pretty strict attendance policy about using time cards, one which she repeatedly failed to follow (ostensibly because of her condition, though she even failed to text or email when she was going to be late, as required by UPR). She might have had a fighting chance at a claim except ... she failed at her actual job, nuking any possible claims of retaliation and pretextual termination.

1st Cir: No Constitutional Violations at Mass. Sex Offender Treatment Center

In Massachusetts, sexually dangerous persons (SDPs), sex offenders who have been ordered to civil commitment, reside in the Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. In 1974, following lawsuits alleging "medieval" conditions at the Center, a district count entered consent decrees ordering the Center to shape up. In 1999, the district court concluded that the problems had been remedied and terminated the consent decrees, but still made the Center subject to a settlement plan.

In 2001, Jeffrey Healey brought suit to enforce the provisions of the plan and to allege constitutional violations. After more litigation and two trials, the district court found that it had breached the terms of the plan by failing to provide "adequate pharmacological evaluation and treatment." This appeal followed, where the Massachusetts Department of Corrections (DOC) wanted the determination in Healey's favor reversed, along with a determination that the settlement plan wasn't an enforceable order.