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Foot Locker Loses Appeal of $180 Million Verdict for ERISA Violations

Foot Locker stepped on its employees, but didn't expect them to kick back.

In Osberg v. Foot Locker, Inc., the plaintiffs won a $180 million judgment against the company for misleading them about their pension plan. The company appealed, saying it was an unfair windfall to more than 10,000 employee claims that were time-barred.

The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the arguments, saying the claims were not barred because the workers could not reasonably determine when they had been wronged.

Silk Road Founder Loses Appeal of Life Sentence for Drug Trafficking

A federal appeals court affirmed the life sentence for a darknet criminal who was convicted of selling more than $180 million in illegal drugs on the internet.

Ross William Ulbricht, who created Silk Road and allegedly hired killers to protect his enterprise, was sentenced to life plus 40 years for his crimes. The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the sentence, rejecting Ulbricht's claims that the government's search warrant for his computer was too broad.

"Ulbricht used his laptop to commit the charged offenses by creating and continuing to operate Silk Road," the court said in United States v. Ulbricht. "Thus, a broad warrant allowing the government to search his laptop for potentially extensive evidence of those crimes does not offend the Fourth Amendment..."

Court Reverses Illegal Smuggling Conviction

A federal appeals court reversed the conviction of a man who smuggled a Pakistani man into the United States, then drove him to board a train to Canada with a fake British passport.

It was part of a scheme for the Pakistani to re-enter the United States (via the United Kingdom) and seek U.S. citizenship with the fake documents, but authorities arrested the men before they reached the Canadian border. Choudry Muhammad Khalil, the smuggler, was sentenced on multiple counts for his crimes.

But the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, in United States of America v. Khalil, reversed one count -- for transporting an alien to further an illegal presence in the United States -- because Khalil was driving the man to Canada.

Union Worker's Profane Post on Facebook Is Protected

An employee's Facebook comments -- including the f-word directed at a supervisor's mother -- days before a union vote were protected by labor laws, a federal appeals court ruled.

The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals said that the Facebook post was "vulgar and inappropriate," but it was not beyond the protections of the National Labor Relations Act. The appeals court said in National Labor Relations Board v. Pier Sixty that the employee should not have been fired under the "totality of the circumstances."

"However, we note that this case seems to us to sit at the out-bounds of protected, union-related comments," the appeals court said.

New York City's 'Black Car' Drivers Are Independent Contractors

In New York City, the color of your car matters if you drive a taxi.

Yellow cars can pick up passengers anywhere and anytime they hail you. Green cars can pick up only in certain burroughs, but still get the same money. Hey, it's a city that never sleeps.

But black cars are different because you work by appointment and you get to pick your hours. So a judge in Saleem v. Corporate Transportation Group says you get no overtime.

It was truly a mad March, and we're not just talking about NCAA basketball or Russian spies. We're talking about the Second Circuit, as well. Over the past 31 days, the Second has ruled on everything from puppy mills to workplace discrimination.

We know you don't have time to read through every case, but we do -- well, almost every case. Here are the ones our caselaw experts marked as the top five, selected for their interesting or unusual scenarios or significant impacts on the law.

Court Overturns Judgment Against Rite Aid Over Pharmacist's Fear of Needles

A federal appeals court reversed a $1.8 million judgment against Rite Aid, concluding the company lawfully fired a pharmacist who was too afraid of needles to give immunization injections to customers.

The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals said Christopher Stevens was fired because he couldn't do the job. A jury had concluded the company discriminated against the pharmacist because of his phobia, but the appeals court set aside the verdict in Stevens v. Rite Aid Corporation.

"It is understandable that the jury had sympathy for Stevens, afflicted as he was with an unusual phobia," Judge Jon O. Newman wrote for the unanimous court. "Nevertheless, his inability to perform an essential function of his job as a pharmacist is the only reasonable conclusion that could be drawn from the evidence."

Tortured Immigrant's Asylum Claim Revived

A federal appeals court has given a Salvadoran refugee another chance at asylum in the United States, but it will depend on a technical question about when he last arrived in the country.

In his petition for asylum, Jose Linares-Urrutia said that he first escaped El Salvador during a civil war that lasted a decade. He testified that he fled because he was tortured as a member of a revolutionary student group. The Salvadoran military shot him in the leg, beat him repeatedly, applied electricity to his genitals, and threatened to kill him, he said.

Linares-Urrutia had entered the U.S. on and off over a 30-year period, twice being deported and having been convicted of several crimes. He last crossed the border from the U.S. to Canada on April 25, 2012, apparently to seek asylum in that country but Canadian authorities returned him to the U.S.

Court Upholds Anti-Puppy Mill Laws

New York City has more cats and dogs than most American cities have people, and that's the problem.

The city has to deal with about one million dogs and cats -- not to mention half a million feral cats -- but it recently got some help from the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court upheld the city's ordinance regulating "puppy mills," the pejorative term for some commercial dog distributors.

The law requires that pet shops may purchase dogs and cats only from "Class A" breeders, which are designated by federal law as breeders with valid licenses to breed on their own premises. "Class B" breeders, who generally buy and sell animals, are not permitted under the city law.

"Requiring pet shops to purchase directly from Class A breeders protects consumers by making it impossible to obscure the source of an animal by using a middleman, enhances animal welfare by reducing the incidence of disease and behavioral problems associated with irresponsible breeding, and alleviates the burden of providing care in public shelters for animals abandoned because of such problems," Judge Edward Korman wrote for the court in New York Pet Assocation v. City of New York.

Fax to Doctors May Violate Law Against Junk Faxes

There's no such thing as a free lunch and apparently no free dinners either -- at least not unsolicited fax invitations for dinner and a business show.

The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals said that an unsolicited fax for a free dinner may have violated the Junk Fax Protection Act of 2005. Although a trial judge ruled the invitation was not a prohibited advertisement, the appeals court said it was close enough because the dinner had a business purpose.

Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc. had faxed doctors an invitation to a free dinner and a presentation about a physical disorder. The company was waiting for FDA approval of its drug to treat the disorder at the time.

"The fax invitation was sent to a doctor, whom Boehringer would presumably hope to persuade to prescribe its drugs to patients," Judge Ralph K. Winter wrote for the court. "Therefore, facts were alleged that Boehringer's fax advertised a free seminar relating to its business."