Decided - The FindLaw Noteworthy Decisions and Settlements Blog

June 2014 Archives

Supreme Court Rules on Hobby Lobby, Home-Care Workers' Union Dues

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in Hobby Lobby and Harris v. Quinn, wrapping up its 2013 Term by addressing two contentious issues: Obamacare's contraceptive mandate and public union dues.

In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Court ruled that closely held corporations can object to providing certain forms of birth control to employees as required under Obamacare, if doing so would violate sincerely held religious beliefs. In Harris v. Quinn, the Court held that Illinois home healthcare workers could not be compelled to pay union dues to unions they were not members of.

What was the High Court's rationale in these two much-anticipated opinions?

'No-Fly List' Rules Are Unconstitutional: Federal Judge

The government's "no-fly list" rules were ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in Oregon on Tuesday, who held the government must change its procedures.

U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown issued a ruling criticizing the lack of notice and respect for citizens' due-process rights in flagging passengers for the no-fly list. The Los Angeles Times reports that this ruling is the first of its kind, and recognizes that "international travel is a necessary aspect of liberties sacred to members of a free society."

So how exactly did Judge Brown rule on the "no-fly list?"

Mass. Abortion Clinic 'Buffer Zone' Struck Down by Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts abortion clinic "buffer zone" law that kept protesters more than 11 yards away from patients.

In McCullen v. Coakley, the High Court found that the state's Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act, which made it a crime for protesters to knowingly stand within 35 feet of an abortion clinic, violated the First Amendment. The abortion clinic "buffer zone" effectively cut off free speech efforts on sidewalks and other public thoroughfares, which are traditional forums for speech activities.

Why does this "buffer zone" violate constitutionally protected free speech rights?

Supreme Court Rules on Aereo, Warrantless Cell-Phone Searches

The U.S. Supreme Court released two impactful opinions on Wednesday, potentially changing how the nation treats streaming broadcast TV and warrantless cell-phone searches by police.

In American Broadcasting Cos. v. Aereo, the High Court determined that an online streaming service which allowed users to watch over-the-air broadcast TV on their computers and mobile devices violated copyright law. Meantime, mobile users have been given a bit more protection under Riley v. California, holding that police may not generally search a cell phone after arrest without a warrant.

Let's break down both Supreme Court cases.

Mont. Law Requiring 'Immigration Checks' Struck Down

A federal judge in Montana has struck down most of a state law that required government officials to check the immigration status of those applying for state services.

The law was passed by voters in 2012 and required that Montana state officials run an immigration check on anyone applying for a wide array of state services, including unemployment benefits and crime-victim assistance, reports The Associated Press.

Why did the federal judge take issue with Montana's law?

L.A.'s Ban on Living in Vehicles Struck Down by 9th Circuit

Los Angeles' ban on living in vehicles was struck down by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday, removing a tool used by the city to regulate homeless persons.

The federal appellate court determined that the vague city ordinance was unconstitutional, calling it both "broad and cryptic," reports the Los Angeles Times. This will be the second major victory for homeless persons in the 9th Circuit, following a 2012 case which struck down yet another anti-homeless practice in Los Angeles.

So what was the problem with L.A.'s ban on living in cars?

SunTrust's $1B Mortgage-Abuse Settlement: What Will Consumers Get?

SunTrust Banks Inc. has agreed to pay nearly $1 billion in settlement funds to end a federal probe over mortgage abuses.

The titan mortgage servicer announced in October that it had set aside $1.2 billion to settle this probe, but it appears they will only have to part with $968 million, according to Reuters. SunTrust isn't admitting any liability as part of the settlement, but they will have to pay up.

How much of that settlement cheddar will consumers see?

Patent Office Nixes Redskins Trademarks: 5 Key Questions Tackled

The United States Patent and Trademark Office made big news today when it issued an order canceling six trademarks held by the Washington Redskins.

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruling is just latest twist in the ongoing, multi-decade push by Native American groups and their allies to get the team to change a name that they consider offensive.

So what does this ruling really mean for the Redskins? Let's tackle five key questions about today's Patent Office decision:

Red-Light Camera Tickets in 2 Fla. Cities Invalid Pre-2010: Court

Red-light camera tickets have been dealt a blow in Florida's Supreme Court, after a ruling that some drivers may qualify for refunds for tickets issued before a 2010 state law.

Florida's High Court's ruling focused on two cities in the Sunshine State where red-light programs were established from 2008 to 2010, Reuters reports. These cities' programs for red-light tickets were struck down because they clashed with state law, entitling some residents to refunds.

Which drivers may be owed a refund, and is this another legal blow for red-light cameras?

Federal 'Straw Purchase' Gun Law Upheld by Supreme Court

A federal gun law on "straw purchases" has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, preventing buyers from purchasing a gun just to transfer it to someone else.

In a 5-4 decision, the High Court determined that even if the ultimate recipient of the firearm is legally permitted to own a gun, federal laws intended to prevent sham transactions known as "straw purchases" are still valid, reports The Associated Press.

Can gun buyers still purchase guns as gifts without violating federal law?

Pella Settlement Ruling Offers a Window Into Lawyer's Shady Tactics

Proposed class action settlements are often rejected by judges. But one particular class action settlement was so bad, a federal appellate judge threw both the lead plaintiff and his counsel out of the case.

The case before the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was a class action settlement over allegedly leaky windows manufactured by the Pella company, reports Forbes. What irked Judge Richard Posner was that Paul Weiss, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, inserted his father-in-law as a named plaintiff and negotiated himself a $2 million advance on his fees.

What other shady dealings did Posner take issue with?

'Aged Out' Immigrants Must Start Visa Process Over: Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that foreign-born young relatives of American citizens and legal immigrants need to start the visa process over if they "age out" while waiting for a visa.

Currently the law allows extended relatives (such as nieces, nephews, and grandchildren) of legal U.S. residents to "piggyback" on their parents' visa applications until they reach 21 and "age out." The Supreme Court was asked to interpret whether U.S. immigration law intended to keep extended families together, which it denied, reports Reuters.

Why did the High Court come down hard on immigrants in this case?

Ticketmaster Settlement: $400M for 50M Customers Proposed

Ticketmaster has proposed a $400 million settlement with 50 million customers over misleading fees.

Plaintiffs in the class action suit against Ticketmaster, now owned by Live Nation, complained as early as 2003 that the "order processing fees" and "delivery fees" were not spent on those services, but actually just being pocketed by the company. The Hollywood Reporter claims the settlement would cover customers who paid these fees from October 1999 through February 2013.

But where would this multimillion-dollar settlement money go?

Supreme Court: Chemical Weapons Treaty Can't Be Used in Assault Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that prosecutors can't use a chemical weapons treaty to convict a Pennsylvania woman who attacked her husband's mistress.

Carol Anne Bond was convicted under a federal law which enforces an international treaty prohibiting chemical weapons -- for a crime that the Supreme Court grouped among "the simplest of assaults." Bond had attempted to spread chemicals on her husband's lover's car, door knob, and mailbox in a mostly unsuccessful ploy to give the woman a rash.

So why did the Supreme Court feel Bond couldn't be prosecuted under the chemical weapons statutes?