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1411719_clipart_cloudCALI has developed a prototype for uploading, storing, and sharing official court opinions called CourtCloud. Elmer Masters, the Director of Internet Development there, calls it a “Dropbox for courts.” The purpose of CourtCloud is to help courts self-publish their opinions.

I’ll break it down for non-technical people (such as myself):

The court clerk or judge has a CourtCloud folder on their computer desktop. When the opinions are written and ready to go, the clerk will drag it into the folder. From there, it is uploaded to the secure Court Cloud server. There, an algorithm converts it to pdf, html, and xml formats and places them into the same folder. The clerk can retrieve them in the chosen format and publish them to the court website. A copy will also automatically go to the Free Law Reporter, CALI’s court opinion database.

Americans for Safe Access, et al v. DEA, US DC Cir. (1/22/13)
Constitutional Law, Drugs & Biotech, Government & Administrative Law, Health Law

marijuanaThe DEA, under the authority of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, 21 U.S.C. 812(b)(1)(B), classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug, the most restricted drug classification under the Act. Petitioners challenged the DEA’s denial of its petition to initiate proceedings to reschedule marijuana as a Schedule III, IV, or V drug. The principal issue on appeal was whether the DEA’s decision was arbitrary and capricious. First, the court denied the Government’s jurisdictional challenge because the court found that at least one of the named petitioners had standing to challenge the agency’s action. On the merits, the court held that the DEA’s denial of the rescheduling petition survived review under the deferential arbitrary and capricious standard where the petition asked the DEA to reclassify marijuana, which, under the terms of the Act, required a “currently accepted medical use.” A “currently accepted medical use” required, inter alia, “adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy.” The court deferred to the agency’s interpretation of these regulations and found that substantial evidence supported the agency’s determination that such studies did not exist. Accordingly, the court denied the petition for review.

Read More: D.C. Circuit snuffs challenge over marijuana classification

Colby v. Union Sec. Ins. Co., US 1st Cir. (1/17/13)
ERISA, Government & Administrative Law, Insurance Law, Labor & Employment Law

Plaintiff was a partner in a medical practice where she served as a staff anesthesiologist. When Plaintiff’s dependence on opioids came to light, her employer had in force a group employee benefit plan, underwritten and administered by Union Security Insurance Company & Management Company for Merrimack Anesthesia Associates Long Term Disability Plan (USIC), which included long-term disability (LTD) benefits. When Plaintiff applied for those benefits, USIC refused to pay benefits past the point when Plaintiff was discharged from a treatment center, finding that Plaintiff’s risk for relapse was not the same as a current disability. Plaintiff brought suit in the federal district court. The district court ultimately awarded Plaintiff LTD benefits for the maximum time available under the plan, concluding that categorically excluding the risk of drug abuse relapse was an unreasonable interpretation of the plan. The First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that, in an addiction context, a risk of relapse can be so significant as to constitute a current disability. Continue reading →

Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, US Supreme Court (1/15/13)
Admiralty & Maritime Law, Transportation Law

floating_houseLozman’s floating home was a plywood structure with empty bilge space underneath to keep it afloat. He had it towed several times before deciding on a marina owned by the city of Riviera Beach. After various disputes and unsuccessful efforts to evict him from the marina, the city brought an admiralty lawsuit in rem against the home, seeking a lien for dockage fees and damages for trespass. The district court found the floating home to be a “vessel” under the Rules of Construction Act, which defines a “vessel” as including “every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water,” 1 U. S. C. 3; concluded that admiralty jurisdiction was proper; and awarded fees and damages. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, noting that the home was “capable” of movement over water despite subjective intent to remain moored indefinitely. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the case was not moot, although the home has been destroyed. Lozman’s floating home is not a “vessel.” The definition of “transportation” must be applied in a practical way; a structure does not fall within its scope unless a reasonable observer, looking to the home’s physical characteristics and activities, would consider it designed to a practical degree for carrying people or things over water. But for the fact that it floats, nothing about Lozman’s home suggests that it was designed to any practical degree to transport persons or things over water. It had no steering mechanism, had an unraked hull and rectangular bottom 10 inches below water, and had no capacity to generate or store electricity. It lacked self-propulsion, unlike an ordinary houseboat. The Court considered only objective evidence to craft a “workable and consistent” definition that “should offer guidance in a significant number of borderline cases.”

Read More: Floating home is not vessel, Supreme Court says

Stickley v. Byrd, et. al., US 8th Cir. (1/14/13)
Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Plaintiff brought this action under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that his constitutional rights were violated while he was detained at Faulkner County Detention Center (FCDC). The court held that, in the circumstances presented in this case, defendants’ refusal to grant plaintiff’s request for additional toilet paper did not violate any clearly established right. Accordingly, defendants were entitled to qualified immunity. Therefore, the order denying qualified immunity was reversed and the case was remanded to the district court for the entry of an appropriate order.

Read More: Court rejects Ark. inmate’s toilet-paper appeal Continue reading →

Happy new year! We’re starting off 2013 with opinion picks that cover four “c”s of legal practice areas: copyright, construction law, contracts, and criminal law.

Harney v. Sony Pictures Television, Inc., US 1st Cir. (1/7/13)
Copyright

1207509_wanted_posterPlaintiff, a freelance photographer, took a photograph of a man, who called himself Clark Rockefeller, and the man’s daughter. Later, it was discovered that the man had abducted his daughter and that his real name was Christian Gerhartsreiter. The photo was used by the FBI in a “Wanted” poster and was distributed in the media. Appellee Sony Pictures Television, Inc. subsequently produced a movie based on Gerhartsreiter’s identity deception. In the movie, Sony pictured the photo using an image similar and pose and composition to Plaintiff’s original. The photo, however, was different in a number of respects. Plaintiff filed this infringement action, alleging a copyright violation. The district court granted summary judgment for Appellees, concluding that no reasonable jury could find substantial similarity between Sony’s recreated photo and Plaintiff’s original. The First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that no jury could properly conclude that Sony’s adaption of the photo infringed Plaintiff’s copyright in his work.

Read More: Appeals Court Rejects Photographer’s Claim That Sony TV Movie Stole Image
West Bend Mut.l Ins. Co v. Arbor Homes, LLC, US 7th Cir. (1/8/13)
Construction Law, Insurance Law

Arbor builds homes in Indiana and contracted with Willmez Plumbing, which was to obtain insurance naming Arbor as an additional insured. Willmez subcontracted to Alarcon. After the work was ostensibly completed, the buyers noticed a foul odor and felt ill. Alarcon had not connected the plumbing to the main sewer line. Raw sewage had discharged into the crawl space. Willmez corrected the connection. Arbor contracted for cleanup that required excavation and decontamination and cost about $65,000. The owners demanded replacement of the house. Arbor told Willmez to notify its insurer West Bend. Hearing nothing, Arbor assumed the insurer had no objections and agreed to build a new home, pay closing costs and moving expenses, and to compensate for any increase in mortgage rate. Arbor sued Willmez, alleging negligence, breach of contract, slander of title, and constructive fraud, and sent West Bend a copy. The district court granted West Bend summary judgment, finding that it was relieved of duties to defend or indemnify by “fungi and bacteria exclusion” and “voluntary payments” provisions. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Although Arbor’s quick and decisive action was laudable, failure to obtain West Bend’s consent to the settlement relieved it of any obligation.

Read More: 7th Circuit Holds Insured’s Voluntary Payments Barred Coverage Continue reading →

331490_big_brotherAccess to opinions and codes is of particular interest to the bloggers at Justia. We complain mightily about private citation formats, paywalls to codes and caselaw online, privatization of court services and filings, and the government’s overall failure to provide us with official, free access to the public record. Last week’s news about the reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act, however, highlights an altogether different problem of access to the law: secret, sealed court opinions from the nation’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court. This body of law is not available for free or for purchase. It is sealed and hidden from the American people.

There is plenty of news coverage about the Act, and plenty of opinions online about the threat it poses to the freedom and privacy of Americans and non-Americans here and abroad. I’d like to highlight the problem of access to the output of the FISA Courts, and why we are still in the dark about their decisions – decisions that are legally binding precedent but that we know nothing about. Continue reading →