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April 2010 Archives

Walmart Lawsuit: 9th Circuit Allows Class Action to Move Forward

This week, the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled 6-5 that a class action Title VII Discrimination lawsuit against Walmart can go forward. The Walmart discrimination case was filed on behalf of several female employees for sex discrimination under the 1964 Civil rights Act. The 9th circuit left it to the lower court to resolve the question of whether Walmart is subject to punitive damages if it loses the case. The retailer has argued that this lawsuit should be brought by individuals.

Kentucky Supreme Court: State Cannot Fund Religious University

What happens when a state legislature allocates $11 million to a religious institution?  The Kentucky Supreme Court answered that question Thursday, April 22, when they struck down the allocation for violating the principle of separation of church and state in the Kentucky state Constitution. 

The question came about after David Williams, a Republican and president of the Kentucky Senate, supported and passed a bill designed to provide $10 million to build a pharmacy school and $1 million in scholarships.   

Supreme Court Rules Mojave Cross Memorial May Stay

In a 5-4 decision Wednesday, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the case of Salazar v. Buono, that a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals judge in California was incorrect in ordering the removal of a cross memorial from a park in the Mojave desert. The judge had ruled that the war memorial cross violated the ban on government endorsement of religion. The Supreme Court overturned that decision, with Justice Kennedy writing for the majority: 

To Ban or Not to Ban: Supreme Court to Hear Violent Video Game Case

On Monday April 26, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear a case it had been holding for months. The Court will hear the case of Schwarzenegger v. Video Software Dealers Association which concerns a California law banning the sale of violent video games to minors. The Court may have been waiting to decide whether to hear the appeal from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision striking down the law until it had decided the outcome of a case with similar First Amendment concerns, U.S. v. Stevens, the "crush videos" case written about here in a previous post.

Supreme Court to CountryWide: Ignorance of the Law is No Excuse

Ignorantia juris non excusat or Ignorantia legis neminem excusat.

One case decided by the Supreme Court this week had a decidedly everyman theme to it. First there is the maxim the majority, written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, uses to define its opinion: "ignorance of the law is no excuse." Justice Sotomayor puts it in slightly more formal terms, but that is the basis for the majority holding that debt collectors may be sued for wrongly pursuing debt collection, even if their case is based on a bona fide legal error.

Bad News Bloggers: NJ Court Says You are Not Journalists

In a decision that will no doubt be a to blow citizen journalists in that state and beyond, an appeals court in New Jersey held that the shield laws applying to journalists do not extend to bloggers. Arising out of a defamation suit against a blogger, Shellee Hale, Too Much Media, LLC, a company supplying software to online porn sites, claims the mom of five sullied their reputation with the comments she posted on a forum on For those out of the loop, Oprano is the self-described "Wall Street Journal of the pornography industry."

End of the Affair: USSC Denies Petition in Charles Hood Case

The Supreme Court has rejected a petition by convicted murderer Charles Hood for a hearing which he hoped would result in a new trial. Hood claimed that the affair carried on between the judge and the prosecutor in his case violated his right to a fair trial. The Court denied Hood's petition without comment.

True Blood: Havasupai Tribe and ASU Settle Dispute over DNA

A dispute between a Native American tribe and a local university was resolved this week, when the Havasupai people and Arizona State University signed a settlement agreement regarding the use of Havasupai DNA for research. Experts watching this case say the agreement could have wider implications, requiring more communication by researchers to those donating genetic material, regarding disclosure of its full intended use.

Supreme Court Supports 'Crush Videos' as Protected Speech

An unusual configuration of the Supreme Court handed down an opinion on April 20 finding that a federal law barring the sale of animal "crush" videos was unconstitutional. The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, found the law to violate the protection of free speech under the First Amendment. 

Ark. Judge Overturns State Ban on Adoption by Unmarried Couples

Late last week, a Pulaski County circuit court judge overturned an Arkansas law banning the adoption or foster care of children in homes where the parents are unmarried. The law had effectively prohibited gay couples in the state from adopting or fostering children as they are not permitted to marry under Arkansas law.

Judge Finds National Day of Prayer Unconstitutional

Yesterday, a Wisconsin federal court judge issued a decision finding the National Day of Prayer to be unconstitutional. Handing down her opinion in the suit brought by the Madison, Wisconsin based Freedom From Religion Foundation, Judge Barbara Crabb held the day to be a government call for religious action, an action she found to be prohibited by the constitutional requirement of separation of church and state.

Re-Decided: 3rd Circuit Will Reconsider Opposing MySpace Opinions

As discussed in a prior post, two three-judge panels of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Pennsylvania ruled on two very similar MySpace cases in February of this year, coming to two dissimilar decisions. In the case of Layshock v. Hermitage School District and of J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District, students posted parodies of their school principals on the social media site MySpace. In one case, the court found the parody was protected speech, in the other, it was not. Now the 3rd Circuit has decided to remedy this legally and "socially" awkward situation.

$1.4M Verdict in Boy Scouts of America, LDS Church Molestation Case

Yesterday, a Portland, Oregon jury awarded $1.4 million in damages to a plaintiff who had accused the Boy Scouts of America together with its local body, the Portland-based Cascade Pacific Council, and the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, of negligence in failing to prevent his molestation by a Scoutmaster in the 1980's. The jury also found the defendants liable for punitive damages, which could reach up to $25 million and will be decided during the next phase of trial.

FCC Loses in Major Net Neutrality Case

On April 6, The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia handed down a decision expected to have a major effect on the on-going policy debates over net neutrality. Net neutrality is the practice of ensuring broadband providers use their networks to treat all traffic on the network equally. The FCC sought to enforce its rules regarding net neutrality against Comcast and was defeated by the decision of the court.

Tiffany's Blues: NY Court Hands the Co. Tough Decision

Oh, the coveted little blue box. But is it the real deal? According to an on-going case in New York, that Tiffany item you got for a steal on eBay? Sometimes, a big fake. On April 1, the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has found eBay is not liable for the trademark infringement and trademark dilution claims made by the historic jeweler. However, the court has not yet decided whether eBay is liable for false advertising claims over the fake Tiffany products that allegedly abound on the auction site. 

Federal Court Rules Warrantless Wiretap Illegal

This week, U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker handed down a major decision in an illegal wiretap case dating back to 2006. Judge Walker found that the electronic surveillance of an Islamic charity and two of its American lawyers was illegal and the attorneys, Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor, have a right to pursue damages against the government.

Immigrant Defendants Have a Right to Know about Deportation Consequences

On March 31, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision finding that immigrants have a right to be told by counsel that a guilty plea to a criminal charge may have consequences that would include deportation. If not informed, the lapse amounts to a violation of a criminal defendant's Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel. Justice John Paul Steven wrote for the majority with Justices Scalia and Thomas dissenting.