CourtSide - The FindLaw Breaking Legal News Blog

August 2013 Archives

The National Football League has agreed to a landmark, global settlement of lawsuits filed by more than 4,000 ex-players with alleged injuries ranging from advanced dementia to head trauma.

Dozens of lawsuits have accused the League of glorifying NFL violence while ignoring health risks and failing to warn players that repeated concussions could lead to brain damage, suicide or depression.

The settlement details came via court-ordered mediation with mediator Layn Phillips, according to the attached press release. The settlement must be approved by U.S. District Court Judge Anita Brody, of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania before the deal is final. The text of Judge Brody's order was released Thursday.

The $765 million settlement would be used for medical exams, concussion-related compensation, and a program of medical research for retired players and their families, according to the announcement. The NFL also agreed to pay legal fees.

Facebook will pay $20 million for putting users’ names and faces in its “Sponsored Stories” advertising program without their permission.

A federal judge granted final approval (see the full order below) to settle the lawsuit over targeted advertising.

Qualified users who joined the class action by the May 3, 2013 deadline will receive $15 from Facebook for having their photos and names featured in “Sponsored Stories.” Five plaintiffs originally filed suit in 2011 because the site shared users’ “likes” of certain advertisers with friends without paying them or allowing them to opt out.

A “Sponsored Story” is an advertisement that appears on a member’s Facebook page and generally consists of a friend’s name, profile picture and an assertion that the person “likes” the advertiser.

The case has highlighted tension between privacy concerns and Facebook’s drive to monetize user content.

Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez has been indicted today for the execution-style murder of his friend.

The Aaron Hernandez indictment (attached below) charges him with first-degree murder and weapons violations in connection with the June 17 killing of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd.

A Fall River, Mass. grand jury indicted Hernandez, 23. Hernandez has been held without bail since his arrest June 26.

If convicted, Hernandez faces a possible sentence of life in prison without parole. Massachusetts does not have the death penalty.

In many jurisdictions, a grand jury decides whether to charge a defendant or not. A grand jury is a group of citizens who are brought in to analyze evidence and determine if the case should be brought to trial.

Grand juries are different than traditional juries because the grand jury proceedings are usually sealed. Regular trials are generally open to the public. The rules of evidence are more flexible in grand jury proceedings, allowing prosecutors to present evidence they may not be able to bring at trial.

Jurors Don't Need to Speak English: New Mexico Supreme Court

Jurors in New Mexico are not required to know English, the state's highest court ruled in a decision that serves as a reminder that non-English speakers have a right to serve on juries.

The New Mexico Supreme Court reminded lawyers and judges the state constitution explicitly allows non-English speaking citizens to serve on juries. The reminder came via the attached ruling that refused to overturn a murder conviction over the dismissal of a juror with limited English skills.

Justice Charles Daniels cautioned (in the attached decision) that the right of non-English speaking citizens to be jurors was affirmed by the state constitution.

"Accordingly, while we affirm defendant's convictions, we stress to trial judges and lawyers that they have a shared responsibility to make every reasonable effort to protect the right of our non-English-speaking citizens to serve on New Mexico juries," Daniels wrote.

Some jurisdictions make English comprehension a requirement to serve as jurors. Missouri and Iowa state courts, plus New York federal courts, require jurors to be able to read, write and understand English to serve, The Wall Street Journal reports. But New Mexico has always allowed non-English speakers to serve as jurors.

American-US Airways Merger Blocked by DOJ Antitrust Lawsuit

The American Airlines-US Airways merger should be blocked to protect consumers from higher fares and fees, the U.S. Justice Department argues in an antitrust lawsuit filed Tuesday.

The antitrust lawsuit (attached below) upends American’s plans to exit bankruptcy via a deal that would create the world’s biggest airline. United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, which both grew through mergers of their own in recent years, are currently the two largest domestic carriers.

The DOJ, along with the attorneys general of six states and the District of Columbia, argue the proposed American-US Airways merger would lead to less competition in the industry, higher fares and cut flight service. The Department the merger would result in four airlines controlling more than 80 percent of the U.S. commercial air travel market.

“This merger will leave three very similar legacy airlines—Delta, United and the new American—that past experience shows increasingly prefer tacit coordination over full-throated competition,” says the lawsuit, filed in Washington, D.C., federal court. “Competition at [Washington’s] Reagan National [Airport] cannot flourish where one airline increasingly controls an essential ingredient to competition.”

US Airways CEO Doug Parker vowed to fight the lawsuit in a letter Tuesday to airline workers.

“We are extremely disappointed in this action and believe the DOJ is wrong in its assessment,” Parker said. “We will fight them.”

Allow Prayer at Town Meetings, Obama Argues in Supreme Court Brief

The Obama administration is backing Christian prayers before government meetings in a brief filed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lawyers for the administration and two groups of lawmakers from the House and Senate (nearly all Republicans) separately made that argument in Supreme Court briefs this week.

Town councils should be allowed to open their meetings with a Christian prayer, the administration argued in the attached amicus brief.

The question is a divisive one: Should the Supreme Court relax the constitutional limits on religious invocations at government meetings?

Last year, the 2nd Circuit ruled the town of Greece, N.Y. crossed the line and violated the 1st Amendment's ban on an "establishment of religion." For years, the town supervisor had invited a local minister to deliver an opening prayer at the council's monthly meeting.

Two residents, one Jewish and one an atheist, sued as only Christians had been invited to lead the prayers.

The Supreme Court decision may well lead to a major change in the law on religion that could go beyond prayers at council meetings.

Apple Import Ban: Obama Admin. Overrules Ban on Some iPhones, iPads

The Obama Administration has vetoed a ban on imports of some Apple iPads and older iPhones — a rare move that undercuts a legal victory for smartphone rival Samsung.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman overruled a June decision by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) which banned imports of the iPhone 4 and some variations of the iPad 2.

Froman’s formal decision (attached below) to veto the ITC ban cited concerns about patent holders gaining “undue leverage” as well as potential harm to consumers and competitive conditions in the U.S. economy.

The action is the first time since 1987 that a presidential administration had vetoed an import ban ordered by the ITC, reports The Wall Street Journal.

The ITC had ruled that the Chinese-made Apple devices violated a patent held by Samsung and couldn’t be imported.

Samsung and Apple are in a global legal battle over smartphones. Patent victories have been claimed by both sides in legal proceedings around the world.

Indeed, Froman said Samsung could continue to pursue its patent rights through the courts.