Decided - The FindLaw Noteworthy Decisions and Settlements Blog

June 2011 Archives

'Obamacare' Health Care Law Constitutional, 6th Cir. Rules

Is the health care law constitutional?

Though it's far from a definitive answer, in the first of three appellate court decisions expected this year, the 6th Circuit ruled on Wednesday in favor of last year's health care reform bill, finding that Congress does have the authority to mandate that citizens purchase insurance.

As all of these cases do, it all came down to the Commerce Clause.

Pharma Companies Can Buy Prescription Data: S.Ct. Rules

The Supreme Court's prescription data decision in Sorrell v. IMS Health Inc. has invalidated Vermont's prescription data-mining law in a 6-3 decision.

The data-mining law, officially called Vermont's Prescription Confidentiality Law, made it so that without the patient's consent, doctors and other healthcare providers could not sell or give their information to pharmaceutical companies and other entities, according to the Court's opinion.

The data in question is prescription records that data collectors or data miners buy from pharmacists or other healthcare providers. They then re-sell the information to drug manufacturers.

Not Illegal to Sell Violent Video Games: CA Law Struck Down

The Supreme Court has deemed illegal a video game law targeting violent video games. The California ban, passed in 2005, made it illegal to sell or rent "violent video games" to minors under the age of 18.

A "violent video game" was a game that depicts "killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being" such that a reasonable person would find it would be deviant or morbid to minors, is patently offensive in the prevailing community, and does not have any serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value to children, reports USA Today.

Due to the lawsuit, the video game ban was never enforced, but it did call for new labeling requirements for violent video games, and a $1,000 fine for violators, according to USA Today.

Florida Death Penalty Sentencing Unconstitutional, Court Rules

A U.S. District Judge has ruled that the sentencing method of the Florida death penalty is unconstitutional.

Judge Jose Martinez relied in part on the Supreme Court ruling in Ring v. Arizona from 2002, where the court found that defendants are entitled to have the jury find and agree on the aggravating factors that contributed to the defendant's punishments, reports the Miami Herald.

The ruling came down in a case against Paul Evans, a convicted murderer who will now have a new sentencing hearing, reports the Miami Herald.

Anna Nicole Smith Ruling Cuts Bankruptcy Court Authority, $89M Award

The Supreme Court's bankruptcy court-based decision in Stern v. Marshall has made headlines partially because of the case's major players: Anna Nicole Smith, the now-deceased Playboy Playmate and E. Pierce Marshall, son of the billionaire tycoon she was married to.

But the Supreme Court 5-4 decision also narrows the authority of U.S. bankruptcy courts - state-law based decisions will not be allowed by bankruptcy court judges.

Smith married her late husband, J. Howard Marshall, when she was 26 and he was 89. He died not too long after their nuptials. Smith was then embroiled in a legal battle with E. Pierce Marshall, her late husband's son, for part of the $1.6 billion estate that Howard left behind.

Supreme Court: Deadbeat Dads Have No Right to Counsel

With the release of its decision in Turner v. Rogers, the Supreme Court has ushered in a new era of child support enforcement in the nation's courts.

According to the Supreme Court, deadbeat dads that face incarceration for failing to pay child support are not entitled to free counsel under the Sixth Amendment.

However, they are entitled to some procedural safeguards.

Walmart Class Action: S. Court Rules Against Female Plaintiffs

In its long awaited decision, the Supreme Court put an end to the Walmart class action today, a gender bias lawsuit that was projected to reach nearly 1.5 million plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs in Wal-Mart v. Dukes may be correct that, at Walmart, gender discrimination is prevalent in the provision of raises and promotions.

But their inability to demonstrate that all class members suffered from the alleged discrimination is what led to the downfall of the case.

Juvenile Miranda Rights: Police Must Consider Age

In a complete turnaround, the Supreme Court, which as recently as last year was chipping away at Miranda protections, ruled on Thursday in favor of a more expansive approach to juvenile Miranda rights.

Citing common sense and the unique vulnerability attributable to children, the Court's decision in J.D.B. v. North Carolina directed law enforcement to consider a juvenile's age when determining whether or not they must give him his Miranda warnings prior to questioning.

Gender Discrimination in US Citizenship Law? Court Divided

The Supreme Court issued a divided opinion this week in the case of Ruben Flores-Villar, a would-be citizen who was challenging, on the basis of gender discrimination, citizenship law in the United States.

Born to a Mexican mother and an American father, Flores-Villar was arguing that, citizenship laws that more easily grant citizenship to children of American mothers violate the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause.

At the time Ruben Flores-Villar was born, CNN reports that a father could only pass on citizenship if he lived in the U.S. for at least 10 years prior to his child's birth, 5 of which must occur after he was 14.

Wash. Employers Can Fire Medical Marijuana Users, Court Rules

A clear decision has been made by Washington's Supreme Court, and the end result is that the state's Medical Use of Marijuana Act does not protect employee medical marijuana use.

In addition to siding with employer drug policies, the court made another interesting statement:

The state's Human Rights Commission, which is charged with investigating workplace discrimination, has no authority to investigate cases involving medical marijuana.

Supreme Court: Cocaine Sentence Upheld via 'Cocaine Base'

According to a new decision by the Supreme Court, "cocaine base" is not limited to crack cocaine for the purposes of prosecution and mandatory minimum sentencing under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 (ADAA).

Instead, it refers to the substance's basic form.

In other words, the disparate treatment between powder and crack cocaine has now been extended to other substances, such as freebase and coca paste.

Black Farmer Settlement: USDA Begins to Notify Class Members

With Congress-backed approval and a preliminary acceptance by a federal judge, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has begun notifying potential class members of their rights under the $1.25 billion black farmer settlement agreement arranged last year.

If approved by the judge in September 2011, class members, their heirs, or legal representatives will likely have until February 28, 2012 to file claims for up to $50,000 each, and may also be able to take part in the USDA's loan forgiveness program.

This particular black farmer settlement stems from a series of class action lawsuits, Pigford and Pigford II, that alleged that the USDA systematically discriminated against African-Americans in the provision of farm loans, reports Reuters.

Risperdal Lawsuit: Johnson and Johnson to Pay $327M

Johnson & Johnson, through its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals, has been on the receiving end of many a Risperdal lawsuit, usually stemming from the way it has marketed the antipsychotic drug to doctors across the country.

Finding that the company made misleading claims in a series of promotional letters and understated the drug's risks, a state judge in South Carolina has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $327 million in fines.

That's $4,000 per violation.

Graduation Prayer Allowed at Public School, 5th Circuit Rules

The graduation ceremony at Medina Valley High School in Castroville, Texas went off without a hitch this past weekend, and even managed to include a moment for a student-requested graduation prayer.

Such a moment almost didn't happen, but the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals stepped in on Friday, dissolving a preliminary injunction that had ordered the school to ban its valedictorian from asking audience members to join her in prayer.

Stanford Loses HIV Patent Case with Roche at Supreme Court

The Roche Supreme Court decision (in Stanford v. Roche) has come down in favor of Roche, 7-2, granting Roche and Stanford equal rights in the patent over a HIV testing technology.

The court decision centered around the Bayh-Dole Act, which governs who owns the right to inventions and discoveries made by employees under federal research funds.

The issue in the case was about the creation and discovery of a method for testing HIV treatment. Mark Holodniy, the employee at the center of the suit, originally worked for Cetus Corp. doing research, according to the opinion.

John Ashcroft Lawsuit Rejected: Not Liable for Muslim Detentions

In a ruling that skirts the bigger issues, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of former Attorney General John Ashcroft, dismissing a lawsuit that sought damages on behalf of Abdullah al-Kidd, who alleges that he was improperly held for 16 days on a material witness warrant.

Though the decision on the Ashcroft lawsuit leaves open important legal questions about the use of the federal material witness statute, it indicates that judges should more closely scrutinize government evidence before issuing a warrant.

Appeals Court Upholds NYC School Church Service Ban

A ruling by the 2nd Circuit on Thursday upheld New York City's school church service ban, allowing the district to continue denying access to school facilities to churches for formally organized religious worship services.

Although the schools must still grant access to those who wish to engage in religious activities and teaching, the court approved the ban on the grounds that it was viewpoint neutral and that the district reasonably concluded that to do otherwise would violate the Establishment Clause.

The NYC Board of Education has in place a policy that prohibits the use of school property for "religious worship services or otherwise using a school as a house of worship."