Writer’s Weekly Picks

Here’s a round-up of interesting cases from this week, as reported by our Daily Opinion Summary writers.

From the US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, Ochoa v. Workman, which looked at the Atkins standard of mental retardation in a capital case. In that case, the petitioner argued that the trial court erred in applying the Atkins test to his mental condition at the time of trial instead of at the time of the crime. The Court denied his petition.

From the Supreme Court of Rhode Island, we have Higgins v. R.I. Hosp.

This case offered an interesting application of the firefighter’s rule, which bars public-safety officials from “maintaining a negligence action against a tortfeasor whose alleged malfeasance is responsible for bringing the officer to the scene of [an]…emergency where the officer is injured.” The plaintiff here brought a patient to the hospital while working as an EMT/firefighter. After he delivered his patient, he assisted a nurse with a disorderly patient, who seriously injured the plaintiff. The district court and Supreme Court found the firefighter’s rule barred the plaintiff’s recovery even though the plaintiff’s injury did not arise from the same circumstances that originally brought him to the scene.

Laura, the writer who reviewed this case, noted that “the Court didn’t mention any public policy issues surrounding this decision. If I were a dissenting judge, I sure would have.”

Paige v. DEA, from the  D.C. Court of Appeals, presents an amusing fact pattern. In that case, a DEA agent shot himself in the leg while giving a gun safety presentation to children and their parents. A video depicting the incident was released on the internet and on the DEA’s email system. The agent sued, alleging violations under the Privacy Act and the Federal Tort Claims Act. The court held that his claim failed under the Privacy Act because the video was not part of a system of records – an element of the act. The FTCA claim also failed because he did not establish all of the elements under Florida law for the tort of invasion of privacy by public disclosure of a private fact.

The United States Supreme Court released an opinion in a much anticipated intellectual property case,  Golan v. Holder.  In it, the Court upheld section 514 of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA) which removed literary and artistic works from the public domain, now making them subject to copyright protection. The court held that section 514 did not exceed Congress’ authority under the Copyright Clause and did not violate the First Amendment rights of anyone who previously had access to such works.

The US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit issued an opinion that touched on religious freedom and prisoners’ rights. In Grayson v. Schuler, the Court allowed a 42 USC 1983 action against a prison official to proceed. A former inmate sued an officer who ordered forcible shearing of plaintiff’s dreadlocks, despite plaintiff’s claim that they were part of his religious observance. Illinois inmates are allowed to have any length of hair that does not create a security risk, but the officer told plaintiff that only Rastafarians were allowed to have dreadlocks, and the court found this was a case of “outright arbitrary discrimination.”

Laurel, the writer who covered this case, notes that it included a photo of the late great Bob Marley.