Decided - The FindLaw Noteworthy Decisions and Settlements Blog

March 2011 Archives

Supreme Court: Ex-Death Row Inmate Won't Get $14 Million

John Thompson had spent 18 years on death row for murder and burglary, when, one month before his execution, exculpatory evidence was discovered proving his innocence.

After being released, Thompson sued New Orleans District Attorney Harry Connick under Section 1983, claiming that his failure to properly train prosecutors about their disclosure duties resulted in his wrongful incarceration.

The jury agreed, awarding him $14 million.

However, this week, the Supreme Court overturned the award, finding that John Thompson failed to prove that Connick showed deliberate indifference towards his employees' training.

No Same-Sex Marriages During Prop. 8 Appeal

In August, the 9th Circuit issued a stay in the Proposition 8 case, denying the plaintiff's request for the state to resume same-sex marriages.

Last month, attorneys for the plaintiffs in the same-sex marriage appeal requested that the court lift the stay, making way for marriages to resume.

The 9th Circuit yesterday declined to do so, stating that the couple had not met its burden under the law "at the time" of filing. Given the state of the gay marriage appeal, it looks like same-sex marriages won't be resuming for quite some time.

Google Books Settlement Rejected by New York Court

In 2004, Google, in conjunction with research libraries, began to scan collections of rare books and documents. They had received no permission from copyright holders.

Authors and publishers filed a class action suit alleging copyright infringement.

This week, the proposed Google Books settlement, which was set to end this lawsuit, was rejected by the presiding judge, putting the future of Google Books in question. Here's what happened.

Workplace Retaliation: Court Makes It Easier to Sue Employers

If you've ever complained about a legal violation to your employer, chances are that you feared (or experienced) workplace retaliation.

But did you know that almost every employee protection law in this country bars employer retaliation should you file a complaint? Well they do, and those provisions may have just gotten easier to enforce.

In Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., the Supreme Court ruled that, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, workplace retaliation is illegal should an employee file a written or an oral complaint.

Wisconsin Judge Maryann Sumi blocks Gov. Walker's Anti-Union Law

Judge Maryann Sumi issued a temporary restraining order today, blocking the Wisconsin anti-union law from coming into effect.

The lawsuit, which comes on the heels of massive pro-labor protests and fleeing legislators, alleges that Republicans passed the Wisconsin anti-union law in violation of the state's open meeting laws.

It is the importance of these laws that underlies Judge Sumi's decision.

Twitter Settlement: Site Promises to Increase Security

You'll never meet a Twitter user who doesn't simultaneously curse and chuckle when greeted with the iconic Fail Whale.

But you'll also never meet a user who doesn't use the microblogging site to criticize Twitter itself.

What does this mean? Tweeters can handle a little downtime, but when Twitter security is breached multiple times, as it was at the beginning of 2009, users are visibly up in arms. Or tweets.

Advertisers Are Free to Buy Search Ads With Rival's Trademark

The 9th Circuit recently determined that it is not de facto trademark infringement when a company purchases a competitor's trademark as a keyword. That way, the company's product will show up under a search engine's sponsored links when a user searches for the competitor's product.

Network Automation owns AutoBase, while Advanced Systems Concepts owns ActiveBatch. Both products are scheduling and management software and are direct competitors.

In order to advertise its product, Network Automation purchased the keyword "ActiveBatch" on Google Adwords and Microsoft Bing. The result is when a user searches for ActiveBatch, an advertisement and link for Network Automation appears in the sidebar or above the objective search results. These links are clearly marked as sponsored.

Supreme Court Expands Prisoner DNA Testing Rights

Prisoners seeking post-conviction DNA testing have a new avenue by which to pursue their rights. In Skinner v. Switzer, the Supreme Court concluded that a denial of access to prisoner DNA testing can be litigated under section 1983 as a civil rights claim.

Plaintiff Hank Skinner, a Texas death row inmate, began to pursue DNA testing immediately after his conviction. The state repeatedly denied his requests, reports The New York Times, eventually stating that he did not meet procedural requirements under its 2001 post-conviction DNA law. He filed a section 1983 suit, alleging that these denials violated his due process rights.

Illinois Supreme Court Revives $10B Tobacco Class Action

The U.S. Fifth District has revived Price v. Philip Morris, a $10 billion class action lawsuit against Philip Morris, now part of Altria Group. The 2000 case began when the law firm Korein Tillery sued Philip Morris on behalf of Sharon Price, contending their light and low tar cigarettes were illegal under consumer fraud law.

The class members alleged that Philip Morris and Altria violated the Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act by fraudulently advertising that their "light" cigarettes delivered less tar and nicotine than regular brands.

Corporations: Persons Without Personal Privacy Rights

Last year, commentators blasted the Supreme Court for its decision in Citizens United, in which corporations were deemed persons for the purpose of the First Amendment. The main concern was that corporate personhood would spread, leading to overly empowered corporations. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court issued a ruling that sheds a bit more light on the concept of corporate personhood, and it may not be as dire as originally predicted.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requires federal government agencies to release information to citizens when they file a FOIA request. Available information generally includes policies, interpretations of law, and anything else that demonstrates how an agency operates. There are, however, a few FOIA exemptions, one of which is at the center of this case.

Free Speech: Court Protects Westboro Baptist Church Protests

The Westboro Baptist Church has been a thorn in the side of nearly everyone who has come into contact with it for a number of years. But taunting people and lacking taste aren't illegal, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1.

The Westboro Church has a history of outrageous behavior and protests. Led by Pastor Fred Phelps, the church contends that god is punishing the United States for "the sin of homosexuality." Their protests feature outrageous and strange signs, such as "God hates fags," and "Thank God for dead soldiers in Iraq." But the actions that really put them on the map were the anti-gay protests at funerals of U.S. troops killed in battle.

Hearsay Exception: Supreme Court Narrows Confrontation Clause

Part of the reason courts do not admit most hearsay statements is because they run afoul of the Constitution. The 6th Amendment's Confrontation Clause gives criminal defendants the right to confront (cross-examine) witnesses who are offering "testimonial" evidence against them.

The underlying case began when a victim, bleeding to death in a gas station parking lot, told police that the defendant, Richard Bryant, shot him through a closed door when he left the defendant's home. He later died.