Americans for Safe Access, et al v. DEA, US DC Cir. (1/22/13)
Constitutional Law, Drugs & Biotech, Government & Administrative Law, Health Law
The 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.
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.
Connelly v. Steel Valley Sch. Dist., US 3rd Cir. (1/24/13)
Constitutional Law, Education Law, Labor & Employment Law
The school district hired Connelly as a teacher. Connelly had nine years of teaching experience, all in Maryland. Because Connelly acquired his teaching experience outside Pennsylvania, the district credited him with only one year. Other new teachers with like experience acquired within Pennsylvania (but not in the district) received at least partial credit for each year they had taught. Connelly’s initial annual salary was $38,023, which was substantially less than the $49,476 Connelly alleged he would have received with full credit for his experience. Connelly‘s initial salary determination continued to adversely affect his pay. In 2011 Connelly filed suit, asserting Fourteenth Amendment claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983: that failure to fully credit his out-of-state teaching experience violated his right to interstate travel under the Privileges and Immunities Clause and denied him equal protection of the law. The district court dismissed, holding that the classification alleged is based on location of teaching experience, not residency. The Third Circuit affirmed, applying rational basis review. A school district may rationally place a premium on teachers who have more experience working within the Pennsylvania school system in order to achieve the legitimate goal of an efficient and effective public education system.
Doe v. Prosecutor, US 7th Cir. (1/23/13)
Communications Law, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law
Indiana Code 35-42-4-12 prohibits certain individuals required to register as sex offenders (Ind. Code 11-8-8) from knowingly using a social networking web site, an instant messaging, or chat room program that the offender knows allows access or use by a person who is less than 18 years of age. Violation constitutes a Class A misdemeanor; subsequent violations constitute Class D felonies. The law does not differentiate based on the age of victim, the manner in which the crime was committed, or the time since the predicate offense. It provides a defense if the individual did not know the website allowed minors or upon discovering it does, immediately ceased use, and exempts persons convicted of consensual “Romeo and Juliet relationships” where the victim and perpetrator are close in age. In 2000, Doe was convicted of child exploitation. He challenged the law on First Amendment grounds on behalf of a class of similarly-situated sex offenders. The district court rejected the challenge. The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding the law unconstitutional. Though content neutral, it is not narrowly tailored to serve the state’s interest. It broadly prohibits substantial protected speech rather than specifically targeting the evil of improper communications to minors.
Bedor v. Johnson, Colorado Supreme Court (1/22/13)
Constitutional Law, Injury Law
The Colorado Supreme Court court ordered a new trial for a man who sued after he was hit by a car that skidded across an icy patch in the road near Telluride in 2004. The jury ruled in favor of Michael Johnson, who skidded into a car driven by Richard Bedor. Bedor was injured and filed a negligence lawsuit. The Supreme Court concluded jurors may have been confused after they were told a person confronted by a sudden emergency could be expected to respond normally. The Court abolished the “sudden emergency” doctrine entirely, saying the potential to mislead a jury outweighed the benefits.