Justia Weekly Writers’ Picks – January 24, 2014


Kosilek v. Spencer, US 1st Cir. (1/17/14)
Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

shutterstock_121502677Sixty-four-year-old Plaintiff was born anatomically male but suffered from severe gender identity disorder. In 1992, Plaintiff was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. In 2000, Plaintiff filed a complaint against the Massachusetts Department of Correction (DOC), alleging that the DOC was denying her adequate medical care by not providing her with sex reassignment surgery. The district court subsequently issued an order requiring the Commissioner of the DOC to provide Plaintiff was sex reassignment surgery, finding that the DOC’s failure to provide the surgery violated Plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment rights. The DOC appealed. The First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in finding that Plaintiff had a serious medical need for sex reassignment surgery and that the DOC refused to meet that need for pretextual reasons unsupported by legitimate penological considerations in violation of Plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment rights.

Read More: Court upholds inmate’s right to sex change

Obsidian Finance Group v. Cox, U.S. 9th Cir. (1/17/14)
Communications Law, Injury Law

Plaintiffs filed a defamation suit against defendant where defendant published blog posts on several websites that she created accusing plaintiffs of fraud, corruption, money-laundering, and other illegal activities. The court joined its sister circuits in concluding that the protections of the First Amendment did not turn on whether the defendant was a trained journalist, formally affiliated with traditional news entities, engaged in conflict-of-interest disclosure, went beyond just assembling others’ writings, or tried to get both sides of a story; therefore, the court held that the Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc.’s negligence requirement for private defamation actions was not limited to cases with institutional media defendants; because defendant’s blog post addressed a matter of public concern, even assuming that Gertz was limited to such speech, the district court should have instructed the jury that it could not find defendant liable for defamation unless it found that she acted negligently; the district court also should have instructed the jury that it could not award presumed damages unless it found that defendant acted with actual malice; the court rejected defendant’s argument that plaintiffs are public officials; and the court found no error in the district court’s application of the Unelko Corp. v. Rooney test and rejected plaintiffs’ cross-appeal. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

Read More: First Amendment Doesn’t Distinguish Between Bloggers and Press, Court Says

SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott Laboratories, U.S. 9th Cir. (1/21/14)
Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Drugs & Biotech

GSK filed suit against Abbott over a dispute related to a licensing agreement and the pricing of HIV medications. The central issue on appeal was whether equal protection prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in jury selection. GSK contended that a new trial was warranted because Abbott unconstitutionally used a peremptory strike to exclude a juror on the basis of his sexual orientation. The court concluded that GSK had established a prima facie case of intentional discrimination where the juror at issue was the only juror to have identified himself as gay on the record and the subject of the litigation presented an issue of consequence to the gay community. The court held that classifications based on sexual orientation were subject to a heightened scrutiny under United States v. Windsor. The court also held that equal protection prohibits peremptory strikes based on sexual orientation. The history of exclusion of gays and lesbians from democratic institutions and the pervasiveness of stereotypes about the group leads the court to conclude that Batson v. Kentucky applied to peremptory strikes based on sexual orientation. The court also concluded that a Batson challenge would be cognizable only once a prospective juror’s sexual orientation was established, voluntarily and on the record. The court rejected Abbott’s harmless error argument. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded.

Read More: Sexual Orientation Is No Basis for Jury Exclusion, a Federal Appeals Court Rules

Carnival Corporation v. Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood, South Carolina Supreme Court (1/22/14)
Admiralty & Maritime Law, Government and Administrative Law, Zoning, Planning & Land Use

The plaintiffs in this case consist of four Charleston citizens’ groups. Plaintiffs brought suit seeking an injunction against what they believed to be the unlawful use of a terminal by the Carnival Corporation’s cruise ship, the “Fantasy.” The Terminal is within the City’s Old and Historic District which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places maintained by the United States Department of the Interior. Plaintiffs’ complaint sought injunctive relief based on ten claims: seven based on City ordinances, a public nuisance claim, a private nuisance claim, and a claim based on the South Carolina Pollution Control Act. Following a hearing, the trial court commissioned a report which concluded: that as a matter of law, none of the ordinances applied to the Fantasy’s use of the Terminal; the Pollution Control Act did not govern the Fantasy’s discharges in South Carolina waters; but that the complaint made sufficient allegations to set forth both a private and a public nuisance cause of action. Plaintiffs and Defendants filed exceptions to the report. After considering the report and the exceptions, the Supreme Court dismissed the noise ordinance, sign ordinance, and Pollution Control Act claims, and withheld ruling on the motions to dismiss on the five zoning and two nuisance claims. After ordering briefing on the issues of standing, preemption, and whether the zoning ordinances applied to the Fantasy’s use of the Terminal, the Supreme Court concluded Plaintiffs lacked standing. Accordingly, the Court granted Carnival’s motions to dismiss.

Read More: SC Supreme Court dismisses cruise ship lawsuit