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July 2008 Archives

FDA Orders Labeling Changes for Anemia Drugs

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ordered Amgen to make labeling changes to two drugs used for the treatment of anemia. Prescribing information for Aranesp and Procrit must now include warnings on the risk that the drugs may actually worsen the effects of cancer when administered to patients undergoing chemotherapy.

In a letter to Amgen, the FDA stated that the new labeling must "address the risk of increased mortality and/or poorer tumor outcomes" in patients being treated for certain types of cancer. As the New York Times reports, this marks the first time the FDA has acted under authority provided by a 2007 amendment to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which gives the agency the power to order labeling changes for prescription medications. "Previously, the F.D.A. could only negotiate with a drug's manufacturer to change the label," according to the Times.

Bush Signs Broad Housing Relief Bill

President Bush has signed into law a sweeping housing rescue bill, a package that promises help for homeowners facing foreclosure, and provides temporary assistance to struggling mortgage finance companies Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

A key provision of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 authorizes the Federal Housing Administration to insure up to $300 billion in home loans, allowing struggling borrowers to replace sky-high mortgages with more affordable government-backed loans. The legislation also provides a "temporary line of U.S. Treasury credit" to mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, and "gives the government the option to buy shares in them if they run into trouble," according to Reuters. The Senate gave its approval to the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 on July 26, three days after passage in the House of Representatives. President Bush signed the bill this morning at the White House. The New York Times calls the housing rescue package "the most aggressive intervention by the government into the housing market in more than a generation, perhaps since the New Deal."

Aides to former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wrongfully rejected potential U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) employees based on the candidates' politics, and may have unlawfully considered sexual orientation in making hiring decisions, a government probe has revealed.

The investigation concluded that, when asked to fill vacant DOJ positions -- including Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) and Immigration Judge posts -- a number of aides to Gonzales improperly considered the candidates' political or ideological affiliations. In one instance, a senior aide stated that a potential AUSA hire "gave her pause because judging from his résumé he appeared to be a 'liberal Democrat,'" according to a report from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Professional Responsibility and DOJ Office of the Inspector General. The New York Times reports that one candidate was improperly rejected because his wife was active in Democratic politics, and another prosecutor was turned down in part because she was believed to be homeosexual. In a statement released Monday, current U.S. Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey declared that he was "disturbed" by the findings.

New California Law Bans Trans Fats in Restaurants

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today signed legislation that will phase out the use of trans fats in food preparation in all state restaurants beginning in 2010, making California the first state to pass such a law.

In a news release issued today, the Office of the Governor declared that "scientific evidence demonstrates a strong association between the consumption of artificial trans fat and the development of coronary heart disease and stroke, as well as other chronic conditions such as diabetes." The news release cited New England Journal of Medicine findings indicating that the elimination of trans fats could prevent between six and 19 percent of heart attacks and related deaths annually. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the new California law "will take effect Jan, 1, 2010, for oil, shortening and margarine used in spreads or for frying. Restaurants could continue using trans fats to deep fry yeast dough and in cake batter until Jan. 1, 2011."

Cancer Research Director Warns on Cell Phones

The director of a prominent cancer research institute has issued a memo to his 3,000 faculty and staff members, warning of a possible link between cell phone use and the development of cancer, and urging that use of handheld cell phones be limited, the Associated Press is reporting.

The warning from Dr. Ronald Herberman, head of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, is based on "early unpublished data" according to the AP, but Herberman believes people should take action now since "it takes too long to get answers from science." The New York Times reports that, while some research has suggested a link between use of cellphones and certain types of tumors, any risk is still very low. And a U.S. Food and Drug Administration Q&A on cell phone safety states that "available scientific evidence does not show that any health problems are associated with using wireless phones."

Federal Minimum Wage Increase Takes Effect

Effective today, the federal minimum wage is now $6.55 per hour -- up from $5.85 -- and a number of states' minimum wages will see a corresponding increase. Today's seventy-cent hike in the federal minimum wage is the second of three provided for in the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007. The third increase will take place on July 24, 2009, when the rate will rise to $7.25 per hour.

States that link their minimum wage laws with the federal rate -- including North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia -- also adopt the new $6.55/hour rate starting today. (Check minimum wage laws in your state). But Reuters reports that "more than half of U.S. state governments have raised minimum wages on their own above the federal standard, with a handful tying increases to annual inflation, an important criterion as higher energy, food and healthcare costs have cut into earnings."

FDA Links Jalapeno Peppers to Salmonella Outbreak

A number of grocery store chains have pulled jalapeno peppers from their produce aisles, after federal health officials announced that a strain of salmonella bacteria linked to a nationwide outbreak was detected on a jalapeno pepper.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's warning on jalapenos came Monday, after Salmonella Saintpaul bacteria was detected on a raw jalapeno pepper imported from Mexico and found at Agricola Zaragoza, a produce distributor in McAllen, Texas. Testing revealed a genetic match to a strain of Salmonella Saintpaul bacteria linked to thousands of illnesses nationwide. Prior warnings from FDA and other health agencies had tied fresh tomatoes to the same Saintpaul strain, but that warning has since been lifted. The Los Angeles Times reports that a number of southern California grocers have begun pulling jalapeno peppers from their shelves, after initially continuing to sell them in the wake of Monday's announcement, a move that "highlighted the conflicting messages that the nation's mostly voluntary food safety network sends out at times like this." HEB Grocery Co., a Texas-based chain, has also pulled jalapenos from its shelves.

FDA is advising consumers to avoid eating raw jalapeno peppers (or foods made from raw jalapeno peppers). The warning does not include cooked or pickled jalapeno peppers.

New Social Security Online Benefits Estimator

Whether your retirement is just around the corner or still decades away, the Social Security Administration's new Online Retirement Estimator can help you get a quick estimate of the Social Security income you can expect to receive.

With the new Retirement Estimator, users can get personalized Social Security benefit estimates based on their current and future earnings, and can compare different scenarios based on retirement age. In announcing the SSA's new online feature, Commissioner of Social Security Michael J. Astrue declared that it "greatly improves the information available when trying to decide the right time to retire. It is simple, easy-to-use and will provide highly accurate benefit estimates for those nearing retirement age. For younger workers, it will provide valuable information to help them plan and save for their retirement."

Merck to Begin Vioxx Payments in August

In August, Merck & Co. Inc. will begin paying settlement claims to those injured by Vioxx, the once-popular pain medication that was pulled from the marketplace in 2004 because of links to increased risk of cardiovascular problems in patients.

97 percent of those eligible have chosen to participate in the settlement, Merck announced last Thursday, and threshholds necessary to trigger funding of the claims have been met. In all, Merck reports that it expects to pay $4.85 billion to settle qualifying claims. According to Reuters, "[p]ersonal-injury lawyers representing former Vioxx users agreed to the settlement after Merck triumphed in a high percentage of court battles with plaintiffs who said the medicine had harmed them." Beginning in 1999, Vioxx (rofecoxib) was used to treat osteoarthritis and management of acute pain in adults. But in September 2004, Merck announced that it was withdrawing Vioxx from the market worldwide, due to increased risks of heart attack and stroke in users of the drug.

D.C. Passes New Handgun Regulations

The Council of the District of Columbia has given its unanimous approval to new regulations on the possession of handguns in homes. The new legislation comes less than a month after a D.C. ban on handguns was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court as part of a landmark ruling on the scope of the Second Amendment.

According to the Washington Post, under the new regulations handguns must be unloaded, disassembled or trigger-locked while in the home (except where a "threat of immediate harm to a person" exists), gun owners must undergo written and eye exams, and police officers will be allowed to conduct ballistics tests on the weapons to make sure they have not been used in the commission of a crime. The new regulations also continue the district's ongoing ban on semi-automatic handguns. The Associated Press reports that some D.C.'s new handgun regulations will likely be challenged in court.

Calif. Vote on Same-Sex Marriage Ban Will Proceed

Californians will cast their votes this fall on whether to allow same-sex marriages to continue, after the state's Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected an effort to have the ballot initiative removed.

Proposition 8 (called the "California Marriage Protection Act"), which would amend a relevant portion of the California constitution to read "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California," will now likely go before state voters in November, after the California Supreme Court voted unanimously to turn away a drive to have the proposition removed. According to the Los Angeles Times, the state's high court rejected an argument that Prop 8 "was an illegal constitutional revision and that voters had been misled when they signed petitions to put it on the ballot," clearing the way for "what some observers expect to be a close vote on the marriage measure." In May, the court held that the state's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, opening the door to the November ballot measure.

Court: eBay Not Liable for Counterfeits

Online auction giant eBay is not responsible for monitoring the presence of potentially counterfeit goods up for bid on its website, a federal court judge ruled on Monday. The decision came in a closely-watched dispute over the liability of companies whose websites sometimes facilitate the transfer of phony goods -- and violations of federal laws on copyright and trademark.

The lawsuit was filed by Tiffany & Co., which sought to hold eBay liable for failing to take steps to prevent the auctioning of thousands of pieces of phony Tiffany jewelry on the e-commerce company's website. After a non-jury trial, New York federal district court Judge Richard Sullivan issued a ruling Monday declaring that the law does not impose trademark infringement liability on eBay for its failure to take "preemptive steps" in light of the company's general knowledge that phony goods may be bought and sold on its site, and that ultimately "Tiffany must ultimately bear the burden of protecting its trademark." BusinessWeek calls the case "indicative of other lawsuits that are trying to put more onus on Internet companies to police their pages and ensure they're not being used as a conduit for copyrighted content and pirated or counterfeit goods."

Court Rejects Federal Clean Air Rule

A federal appeals court has rejected Bush administration efforts at curbing air pollution, holding that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) overstepped its powers in issuing new emissions standards under a 2005 clean air rule.

In a decision issued on Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found "more than several fatal flaws" in the Clean Air Interstate Rule adopted by the EPA in 2005. The Los Angeles Times reports that the rule "required 28 mostly Eastern states to reduce smog-forming and soot-producing emissions that can travel long distances in the wind," with the EPA estimating that it would prevent approximately 17,000 deaths per year. In Friday's decision, the court held that the EPA had gone beyond its authority in setting the new pollution standards. According to the New York Times, this ruling, "along with a court decision issued in February striking down the environmental agency's rule controlling mercury emissions from power plants, means that virtually all new controls imposed on the electric utility industry by the Bush administration have no force."

IRS Warns of Identity Theft Scams

Consumers should be on the lookout for phony e-mails and faxes in which scammers use the name of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to gain access to taxpayers' computers and personal information, the agency announced on Thursday.

Most of the scams involve promises of bogus tax refunds and economic stimulus payments, and instruct consumers to click on a link to access a claim form -- or to provide detailed personal information -- allowing scammers to commit identity theft. An IRS Press Release issued Thursday contains detailed information on the scams, and steps consumers can take to protect themselves. The IRS advises people wishing to access the IRS Web site to type into their Internet address window, rather than clicking on a link in an e-mail or opening an attachment (either of which could cause consumer to inadvertently download malicious code or visit a harmful web site). According to the Associated Press, the IRS "does not normally send e-mails to taxpayers and does not request security-related personal information, such as PIN numbers, from taxpayers."

Senate OKs Surveillance Overhaul Bill

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved a bill that broadens the federal government's wiretap and surveillance powers, and effectively gives some telecommunications companies legal immunity for cooperating in government investigations related to terrorism.

The Senate approved the overhaul of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) by a 69 to 28 vote. Calling Wednesday's vote the "biggest revamping of federal surveillance law in 30 years," the New York Times reports that the measure "gives the executive branch broader latitude in eavesdropping on people abroad and at home who it believes are tied to terrorism, and it reduces the role of a secret intelligence court in overseeing some operations." President Bush, who on Wednesday called the legislation "critical to America's safety," is expected to sign the law during a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden on Thursday.

FDA Warns on Antibiotics, Tendon Injury Link

Certain antibiotic medications may cause tendonitis and tendon ruptures and should carry stronger warnings, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on Tuesday.

The FDA's warning pertains to fluoroquinolone antimicrobial drugs -- like Cipro and Floxin -- approved for the treatment or prevention of certain bacterial infections. In a Press Release issued on Tuesday, the agency announced it was notifying manufacturers that two steps are now necessary for fluoroquinolones: the addition of a "Black Box Warning" label on the increased risk of tendinitis and tendon rupture, and a risk evaluation study to ensure that the benefits of the drug outweigh the risks. Reuters reports that the warnings apply to Bayer AG's Avelox and Cipro, Oscient Pharmaceuticals Corp's Factive, Depomed Inc's Proquin XR, Johnson & Johnson's Levaquin and Floxin, and Merck & Co Inc's Noroxin.

July 2008 Spotlight: Summer Travel Tips

Each month FindLaw highlights a legal topic. Despite the high cost of gasoline and rising airline ticket prices, many families are taking to the roads and the skies for summer vacations, so this month's spotlight is on summer travel. FindLaw's July 2008 Spotlight: Summer Travel Tips offers information on new passport and border entry requirements, tips on carry-on luggage for air travelers, things to keep in mind when booking a room, information on resolving legal disputes related to travel, and more. And if you're planning a road trip this summer, you'll find a link to helpful Tips for a Safe Summer Trip from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

E Coli Illnesses Prompt Beef Recall

More than 530,000 pounds of beef products are being pulled from stores nationwide, after health inspections found e. Coli contamination in beef samples from a Nebraska supplier.

The recall involves over 530,000 pounds of beef products supplied to supermarkets by Nebraska Beef Ltd., a company based in Omaha, Nebraska. See a complete list of affected products and labeling information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). The FSIS reports a link between the ground beef products and at least 35 illnesses reported in Michigan and Ohio. According to the New York Times, some of the affected beef was distributed to Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania, and a supermarket chain in southern California is pulling ground beef supplied by Nebraska Beef Ltd. from its stores.

Fireworks Laws and Safety Tips

The Fourth of July means backyard barbeques and weekend trips, but perhaps nothing symbolizes the nation's celebration of Independence Day like fireworks. Every state has laws regulating the sale and use of fireworks by consumers -- with some states prohibiting all private use of fireworks, and others legalizing only certain types. This week, FindLaw Features takes a look at laws regulating the sale and use of fireworks, and provides links to in-depth information on fireworks laws in your state. And if you are thinking about using fireworks this Fourth of July (provided they are legal where you live), you'll also find tips on making sure your experience is safe and enjoyable.

Lead Paint Verdict Overturned by R.I. High Court

Rhode Island's top court has overturned a 2006 jury verdict against three lead paint manufacturers, which had held the companies liable for lead paint-related health problems and could have forced them to pay billions of dollars to clean up lead paint contamination throughout the state.

Today's Rhode Island Supreme Court decision overruled a jury's finding that the manufacturers -- including Sherwin-Williams, NL Industries Inc., and Millenium Holdings -- were liable for failing to disclose the health risks posed by lead paint. In today's ruling, the state's top court held that the legal theory relied upon by the state in the 2006 case -- known as "public nuisance" law -- could not provide a remedy for the harm allegedly caused by lead paint. The court ruled that Rhode Island's Attorney General "has not and cannot allege any set of facts to support its public nuisance claim that would establish that defendants interfered with a public right or that defendants were in control of the lead pigment they, or their predecessors, manufactured at the time it caused harm to Rhode Island children." Reuters reports that today's decision allows the companies to avoid paying as much as $2.4 billion in clean-up costs, and "could influence court decisions in other states, counties and cities where lead-poisoning lawsuits are pending."