Decided - The FindLaw Noteworthy Decisions and Settlements Blog

January 2010 Archives

Scott Roeder Convicted of First Degree Murder of George Tiller

Anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder was convicted of first degree murder in the fatal shooting of Dr. George Tiller.

According to the New York Times, Roeder, 51, who testified he does not regret George Tiller killing now faces a life sentence in prison. Tiller was known as one of the few doctors in the country to perform late-term abortions.

Many abortion rights supporters say his first degree murder conviction sends a message that violence against abortion doctors is not justified and will be punished.

Former Execs of LA Hospital Settle Medicare Lawsuit

BusinessWeek reports that two former executives of LA hospital have settled a Medicare lawsuit with the U.S. Attorney's Office. They were charged with Medicare fraud and abuse in a civil lawsuit. In the settlement of the civil lawsuit, Robert Bourseau and Dr. Rudra Sabaratnam, former executives of the City of Angels Medical Center, have agreed to pay $10 million dollars. The pair have also pled guilty to criminal charges and have agreed to pay $4.1 million dollars in restitution back in July 2009.

The two men paid a recruiter $500,000 to find homeless people in order to bring them into the hospital for unnecessary medical treatment that they then billed to Medicare and Medi-Cal.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker Settle Your Suit: eHarmony Lawsuit Settles

All you need is love... and a $2 million settlement fund. That is just what a class of plaintiffs will receive based on the settlement reached Tuesday, with online matchmakers eHarmony, known for its "scientific" method of matching couples supposedly based on compatibility of life goals and values (seen the commercials?), will now extend its valuable services to same sex couples seeking true love. Just in time for Valentine's Day.

A Little Birdie Told Me...Twitter Libel Suit Dismissed

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As with so many trends, the celebs might start things off, but we civilians pick up on it soon enough. Last year saw the first ever libel suit via Twitter. As discussed in previous posts on FindLaw's Injured Blog, former Hole front woman Courtney Love Cobain was sued for a nasty 140 characters she warbled about a L.A. dress designer. That case is on-going. As of last Wednesday however, regular person Amanda Bonnen had her Twitter libel (coined "twibel" by smarties at the Citizen Media Law Project), case dismissed by a Chicago court.

"Kids For Cash" Kids Get Their Cases Dismissed

The juveniles who were involved in the "Kids for Cash" scandal got an unexpected surprise. Timesleader reports that Senior Berks County Judge Arthur Grim announced that juveniles that still owe restitution will have their cases dismissed and that they will not have to pay the remainder of any restitution they were previously ordered to pay.

This announcement comes at the heels of an announcement by Luzerne County District Attorney Jackie Musto Carroll who said that she would not retry any of the cases under review after the "Kids for Cash" scandal.

I Copyright the Songs: Court Lowers Award for Illegal Downloads

New iPod nano: $149.00. One legal download from iTunes: $.99. Hearing your favorite song: priceless. Well, not quite. How about a cool $83,000 for your favorite ditty? That was the award amount, per song, levied against Jammie Thomas-Rasset of Brainard, Minnesota, when she was found liable for copyright infringement for her illegal downloads of 24 songs shared via the Kazaa file sharing service. Today it was announced that Minnesota federal court judge Michael Davis has cut the award amount granted by a jury to plaintiffs RIAA from $1.92 million to about $54,000.

DOJ and EPA Settle With Westar Energy for $500 Mill

The Department of Justice and the EPA announced today that they have entered into a major settlement with energy company Westar Energy over violations of the Clean Air Act. The company has agreed to pay nearly $500 million to reduce air pollution from its Kansas power plant, pay a $3 million civil penalty, and spend an additional $6 million on environmental projects.

Supreme Court Rejects CA Challenge to Prison Reform Plan

This week the US Supreme Court rejected California's challenge to a preliminary court order forcing the state to come up with a plan to reduce its prison population.

The preliminary order came after years of litigation, lack of response to court ordered improvements, and findings that conditions in California prisons which violate the Constitution stem from enormous overcrowding.

According to the Associated Press, the high court said it will not disturb the inmate-release order from a three-judge federal panel and will await the state's appeal of the final order.

The final order came down last week. Unlike the preliminary order, which mandated that the state make a plan on how to adequately reduce prison population, the final order mandates that the reduction in prison overcrowding actually happens.

The Schwarzenegger administration is planning to appeal the final order.  As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, the state reluctantly submitted a plan to the three judge panel, but will continue to challenge the legal validity of the panel itself and the extent of its power to order changes in California prisons. 

Storage Rental In Illinois Blunder Leads to $1.2 Mil Judgment

A yoga instructor by the name of Ms. Vartika Dubey won a judgment worth $1.2 million dollars because her storage rental in Public Storage Inc. had a mix up that led to her loss of her property in an auction. The Wall Street Journal reports that the state appeals court found that Public Storage Inc. violated the state's Consumer Fraud Act when it wrongfully took Ms. Dubey's possessions and sold them in an auction in 2003.

Public Storage Inc. claims that its contract barred the storage of property valued in excess of $5,000. It claims as a result, that Ms. Dubey should only be allowed to collect that amount. Ms. Dubey claims that the fair market value of the property she lost was $99,145.

Hey Big Spender! Supreme Court Cuts Limits on Corp Campaign Spending

Will we soon elect the next Senator from Wal-Mart? That is the fear of many after the Supreme Court handed down a game changing decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission today. The ruling was called a doctrinal, political and practical "earthquake" by the New York Times.

NY AG Announces $22.5 Mil Settlement with Abbott Labs

Last week, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced Abbott Laboratories and French drugmaker Fournier have agreed to pay $22.5 million to settle a case alleging the companies attempted to block the development of a generic alternative to their popular drug Tricor. Tricor was developed to help patients lower their "bad cholesterol" and raise "good cholesterol" to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. The drugmakers will pay shares of the settlement to New York, 22 other states and the District of Columbia, according to a news release by the Attorney General's office. About $4.5 million goes to New York.

Supreme Court: The Death Sentence of Mumia Abu-Jamal May Stand

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday reversed an appeals court ruling that would have given Mumia Abu-Jamal a chance to dodge the death penalty.

According to CNN, the Supreme Court ruling tossed out a lower court ruling that would have invalidated the death sentence of black political activist Mumia Abu-Jamal for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals had previously ruled that Abu-Jamal  was entitled to a new sentencing hearing. Now, the appeals court must revisit that decision, with an increased likelihood that it will uphold his original death sentence.

As a result, the Supreme Court ruling likely brings Abu-Jamal significantly closer to execution. The Supreme Court made its ruling after a case in Ohio last week which turned on a similar legal issue relating to jury instructions about mitigating factors in capital sentencing decisions.

Off the Hook: Supreme Court Refuses Injunction in Great Carp Case

Will this be the one that got away? Chicago has just missed being on the hook for a sizable hit to its waterway economy thanks to a Supreme Court decision, announced today. The High Court has refused the request by Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox to close the locks leading from the Mississippi to the Great Lakes to prevent an invasion of Asian Carp.

Court Lifts FDA's Electronic Cigarette Ban

Judge Richard J. Leon of Federal District Court in Washington, D.C. ordered the Food Drug Administration (FDA) to stop their electronic cigarette ban. According to the New York Times, the electronic cigarette ban by the FDA was an aggressive effort switch tobacco regulation into a drug or medical device regulation.

Electronic cigarettes (also known as e-cigarettes) are tubes that are powered by batteries in order to heat lquid nicotine into a vapor that is inhaled by the user. The two companies involved in this lawsuit are Smoking Everywhere Inc. and NJoy; which are two Chinese manufacturers.

Alex Spanos' Sons Settle Housing for the Disabled Lawsuit

ABC News reports that a settlement between A.G. Spanos Companies and the National Fair Housing Alliance has been reached. A.G. Spanos Companies is owned by the sons of prominent GOP sponsor Alex Spanos. The companies settled a a federal lawsuit that claimed that its housing complexes were not accessible to the disabled. Housing for the disabled, or accessibility, is a requirement of the federal Fair Housing Act.

The Fair Housing Act requires that construction companies build housing that is accessible to people with disabilities. This means that they must have public and common areas accessible to persons with disabilities, have doors or hallways accessible to persons with disabilities, and have units that are handicap friendly (such as handicap accessible routes, accessible light switches, outlets, accessible kitchens, and reinforced bathroom walls for installation of grab rails).

It's Over in NY: Gotti Escapes 5th Retrial

Does a handshake still mean anything? It's hard to say, but it is reported that last December, lead government lawyer Elie Honig shook the hand of alleged mob boss John Gotti Jr., as his fourth trial ended in mistrial and wished him well. The gentlemanly gesture may have met something after all, because press reports today say the government has decided not to seek a fifth trial against the defendant who seems to be the newer version of his father, the "Teflon Don." Call it Teflon 2.0.

Update: Nisour Square Plaintiffs Felt Coerced Into Settling

As noted earlier this week in this blog, several of the civil suits filed by Iraqi citizens for the actions of Blackwater guards during the Nisour Square shooting in Baghdad in 2007, were settled. As of yesterday, the Los Angeles Times followed up with reports that the plaintiffs are unhappy with the amounts they have received and are charging they were coerced and duped into settling with the company.

Update: Supreme Court Blocks Cameras in Courtroom for Prop 8

As previously discussed in this blog, the highly publicized hearings on the constitutionality of California's Prop 8 ban on gay marriage was proposed to be one of the first federal hearings to be filmed by cameras. In a compromise, Judge Vaughn Walker, who is presiding over the courtroom, intended to have the filming not streamed live (except to other courtrooms within the jurisdiction), but posted at a later time on YouTube. Yesterday, the Supreme Court called a halt to all discussion of filming the Prop 8 proceedings.

$176 Mil Settlement in Station Night Club Fire Case Finalized

A small amount of relief might have come to those who survived and to the families of the victims of the horrible fire that destroyed The Station, a West Warwick, R.I., night club in 2003 with the settlement approved by a federal judge on January 7. Senior U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Lagueux called the settlement, stemming from the combined suits brought after the fire, a "win-win-win," for all involved.

Heartland Payment Settles With Visa Over Data Protection Breach

Heartland Payment Systems Inc. is one step closer to getting behind a data protection breach that could have compromised over 100 million credit cards. Reuters reports that Heartland Payment Systems Inc. has agreed to pay Visa $60 million dollars as part of a settlement agreement regarding the data protection breach.

This settlement agreement shortly follows a settlement agreement that the payment processor made with American Express. The settlement amount between Heartland and American Express was $3.6 million dollars. The settlement amount for Visa is likely larger because Visa is the largest issuer of credit cards.

Dog Fight: Philly SPCA Denied Sovereign Immunity

Unlike such necessary state appendages as, perhaps the athletic department of a state-run school, the Pennsylvania SPCA felt the bite of the law on December 29th, when the state Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held it did not have the governmental protection of immunity against suits.

Some Plaintiffs in Blackwater Nisour Square Civil Suit Settle

One more step has been taken in the seemingly never ending march of cases involving agents of the company formerly known as Blackwater, now re- christened Xe. Seven of the civil suits against Blackwater guards, stemming from the shooting of Iraqi civilians in Baghdad's Nisour Square in 2007, have been settled before trial. The news of the settlements is bookended by the dismissal of the criminal case against the guards and the arrest of two more former Blackwater employees for murder, based on shootings in Kabul, Afghanistan last May.  

Viewing of Prop 8 Hearings Halted by Supreme Court

Not long ago, as Findlaw's Law and Daily Life Blog noted, a ground breaking decision by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was made to begin a pilot program allowing cameras in the courtroom for those courts under his purvey. One of the first off the runway was going to be a key case, the hearing on the constitutionality of Proposition 8 (Prop 8), California's ban on gay marriage. Although approved not for live streaming (except to other courtrooms), but for download to Youtube later in the day, the U.S. Supreme Court, as of this morning, called a halt to all revelations by cameras of the hearings until further rulings. Specifically, the Court's order states, "...the order of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California...permitting real-time streaming is stayed. ...To permit further consideration in this Court, this order will remain in effect until Wednesday, January 13, 2010, at 4 p.m. eastern time."

1868 Treaty Provides Remedy to One of the Sioux Tribe Today

A settlement was announced January 7, between a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe and the U. S. government, stemming from sexual assault charges brought by Lavetta Elk against an army recruiter. Elk was one of many young women who reported to officials that they had been assaulted by recruiters after expressing interest in the military. More than 80 recruiters were disciplined in 2005 for sexual misconduct with potential enlistees, according to records obtained by the AP.

Broadcom Backdating Suit Settles for Near Record $160 Mil

A decade of record making financial scandals and suits added one more headline just before its close on December 30, 2009. Broadcom, maker of semiconductors for wireless headsets agreed to settle its suit with shareholders for $160.5 million. Under the terms of the settlement, all charges against officers and directors of the company will be dismissed and the company admits to no wrongdoing. This settlement is second only in size to that paid by United Health Group in 2008, for $895 million over its own investor allegations of backdating stock options.

Miles to Go: Caltrans Settles ADA Lawsuit for $1.1 Billion

A journey begun in 2006, when a class action suit was first filed by Californians for Disability Rights Inc., the California Council for the Blind, and several individuals, was one step closer to its end in the last week of 2009. Caltrans has settled a suit over claimed violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act for the inaccessible conditions of 2,500 miles of state-controlled sidewalks, cross walks, ramps and 300 park and ride facilities throughout California.

Mass Senator Blows It: In-Home Device Shows Alcohol Use

An in-home monitoring device may have delivered the final blow to the political career of Massachusetts State Senator Anthony D. Galluccio. The path the Senator had traveled for the last several years was littered with warning signs of an impending disaster due to alcohol use. Now, thanks to a monitoring device, the Senator will finally face the full repercussions, including one year of jail time.

Outback Restaurants Taken Out Back to Woodshed by EEOC

In a settlement that is the largest to date in the Colorado region, the EEOC announced December 30th, an agreement to settle for $19 million with Outback Stakehouses over claims of sexual discrimination. The Commission's class action suit, originally filed in 2006, contended that female workers were consistently denied promotions to managing partner positions at Outback on the basis of their gender.

Injured Player's Suit Against U of Ga Tossed on Technicality

You've heard the expression,"the long arm of the law." Well, the state of Georgia has an even longer reach, as former cornerback Decory Bryant learned to his disappointment on December 4th. Athens-Clarke County Superior Court Judge Lawton Stephens dismissed Bryant's suit against the Athletic Department of the University of Georgia for failing to file the insurance forms that would have provided a cushion after the career destroying injury Bryant suffered on the field in 2003.

Court Dismisses Nisour Square Charges Against Blackwater Employees

On December 31st, U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina dismissed the widely publicized case against five employees of the company formerly known as Blackwater USA for weapons and manslaughter charges. In 2007, the indicted Blackwater agents claimed they fired their weapons into the crowded Nisour Square in Baghdad in response to an attack by insurgents. The shooting left 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians dead.