Justia Weekly Writers’ Picks – March 21, 2014


Bray v. Planned Parenthood Columbia-Willamette, Inc., US 6th Cir. (3/21/14)
Civil Procedure, Communications Law, Constitutional Law

Bray is an antiabortion activist and wrote a book, A Time to Kill. In 1985, Bray was convicted for a felony relating to physical damage to abortion centers. He spent four years in prison. Planned Parenthood (PPCW) was a plaintiff in a 1995 suit against antiabortion activists (including Bray) for intimidation by threat of force under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, 18 U.S.C. 248. In 2005, PPCW sought to collect its $850,000 judgment and obtained a writ of execution authorizing seizure of specified property. The Bray family filed a “Bivens” suit, claiming that U.S. Marshals conspired with PPCW to seize their property in an unconstitutional manner. The complaint alleged that during a “surprise raid” Bray was required to sit on his couch while flak-jacketed Marshals, advocates for political positions that Bray despised, plus unknown persons, seized the books, papers, computers and cameras, of Bray and his family, excepting only children’s books and Bibles. Bray was not allowed to leave the couch or to call his lawyer. Eventually a Marshal called Bray’s lawyer. The district court dismissed. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting that Bray had settled with all defendants, except the Marshals, who were entitled to qualified immunity in carrying out a presumptively valid federal court order, even by “highly questionable ways.” The unconstitutionality of certain actions was not then clearly established with sufficient specificity. If the alleged facts are true, the incident was “more like home raids by Red Guards during China’s Cultural Revolution than like what we should expect” in the U.S., even if Bray’s ideas are “repugnant.”

R.R.D. v. Holder, US 7th Cir. (3/19/14)
Immigration Law

While R. was an investigator for Mexico’s Federal Agency of Investigation, he arrested hundreds of suspects and repeatedly testified against drug traffickers. Drug organizations tried to kill him.  The Agency repeatedly transferred him, but threats soon resumed. He was wounded twice while on duty and eluded capture several times. Assassins shot at him, missed, and wounded his father. He quit the Agency, opened an office-supply business, and tried to conceal his former job. Strangers continued looking for him. He sought asylum in the U.S., contending that he had been persecuted as a member of the social group of honest police officers. The IJ denied the application. The Board of Immigration Appeals agreed, distinguishing between honest police and effective honest police, reasoning that only if criminal organizations target all honest officers would R. be entitled to asylum, 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(42)(A). The Seventh Circuit vacated. The law calls for assessments of causation and risk. That R. is at more risk than that most “honest police” is a poor reason to disqualify him. The Board did not consider whether Mexico’s more-than-400,000 officers are willing and able to protect former colleagues. Nothing R. can do will erase his employment history. The court questioned why DHS wants to remove R.  He appears to have led an exemplary life in the U.S. since entering (lawfully) and applying for asylum.

United States v. Abair, US 7th Cir. (3/19/14)
Banking, Criminal Law, White Collar Crime

Abair emigrated from Russia in 2005 and married an American citizen. Abair owned an apartment in Moscow. After her divorce, Abair sold the apartment and deposited the proceeds with Citibank Moscow. She signed a contract to buy an Indiana home for cash. Citibank refused to transfer funds because her local account was in her married name and the Moscow account used her birth name. Over two weeks Abair withdrew the daily maximum ($6400) from Citibank ATMs and deposited $6400 to $9800 at her local bank. A deposit on Tuesday, May 31 followed the Memorial Day weekend and was posted with one made on Saturday, pushing her “daily” deposit over the $10,000 trigger for reporting, 31 U.S.C. 5313(a). Abair was charged with structuring financial transactions to evade reporting. IRS agents testified that during her unrecorded interview, Abair, who is not fluent in English, revealed knowledge of the reporting rules. Abair testified that she was aware of the limit when she spoke with the agents, but had learned about it after making the deposits, when she asked why identification was required.  She said her deposit amounts were based on how much cash would fit in her purse. Abair was convicted and agreed to forfeit the entire proceeds. The Seventh Circuit remanded, finding that the government lacked a good faith basis for believing that Abair lied on tax and financial aid forms and that the court erred (Rule 608(b)) by allowing the prosecutor to ask accusatory, prejudicial questions about them. On the record, Abair is at most a first offender, according to the court, which expressed “serious doubts” that forfeiture of $67,000 comports with the “principle of proportionality” under the Excessive Fines Clause.

Read More: ‘[T]he kind of rigid and severe exercise of law-enforcement discretion that would make Inspector Javert proud’

Narayanan v. British Airways, US 9th Cir. (3/19/14)
Injury Law, International Law

Panansam Narayanan suffered from an advanced-stage lung disease. While he was aboard a British Airways international flight, he was allegedly denied supplemental oxygen. When Narayanan died six months after the plane landed, his heirs and estate filed suit pursuant to Article 17(1) the Montreal Convention, S. Treaty Doc. No 106-45, alleging that the denial of supplemental oxygen on his flight to London hastened Narayanan’s death. The action was filed more than two years from the date of the flight’s arrival, but within two years of Narayanan’s death. The court held that Article 35(1) of the Convention was clear: a claim for damages based on an injury incurred aboard an international flight must be filed within two years of the date upon which the aircraft arrived at its destination. In this case, plaintiffs’ wrongful death claim was not timely filed and the court held that the district court correctly dismissed the complaint without leave to amend. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court.

Read More: 9th Circ. Won’t Revive British Airways Wrongful Death Suit

People v. Melongo, Illinois Supreme Court (3/20/14)
Civil Rights, Communication Law, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Defendant was charged with computer tampering in an unrelated case. The docket sheet, the judge’s half sheet, and the court call sheet for the arraignment date indicate that defendant was not in court and that the arraignment did not take place. Defendant’s efforts to have a court reporter change the transcript were unsuccessful. The court reporter referred defendant to her supervisor, Taylor. In a telephone conversation, Taylor explained that any dispute over the accuracy of a transcript should be presented to the judge. Defendant surreptitiously recorded three telephone conversations with Taylor and posted recordings and transcripts of the conversations on her website. Defendant eventually obtained a fraudulent court transcript. Defendant was charged with eavesdropping, (720 ILCS 5/14-2(a)(1), and using or divulging information obtained through the use of an eavesdropping device, 720 ILCS 5/14-2(a)(3). Defendant claimed am exception for “reasonable suspicion that another party to the conversation is committing, is about to commit, or has committed a criminal offense against the person … and there is reason to believe that evidence of the criminal offense may be obtained.” The state argued that the exception did not apply because the reporter accused of creating a forged transcript was not a party to the recorded conversations. After a mistrial, the court found the statute facially unconstitutional and unconstitutional as applied to defendant. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, applying intermediate scrutiny and finding the statutes overbroad as criminalizing a range of innocent conduct. The eavesdropping statute does not distinguish between open and surreptitious recording and burdens substantially more speech than is necessary to serve a legitimate state interest in protecting conversational privacy. The language of the recording statute criminalizes the publication of any recording made on a cellphone or other such device, regardless of consent.

People v. Clark, Illinois Supreme Court (3/20/14)
Civil  Procedure, Communications Law, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Clark was indicted under 720 ILCS 5/14-2(a)(1)(A) for having used an eavesdropping device to record a conversation between himself and attorney Thomas without her consent and having used a device to record a conversation between himself, Judge Janes, and Thomas while Janes was acting in the performance of official duties, without the consent of either. Defendant stated that he was in court and attorney Thomas was representing the opposing party; there was no court reporter nor was there any recording device, so he made recordings to preserve the record. He claimed he had a first amendment right to gather information by recording officials performing their public duties. The circuit court dismissed, holding that the statute is unconstitutional on substantive due process and first amendment grounds. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, reasoning that if another person overhears what we say, that person may write it down and publish it, but if that same person records our words with a recording device, even if it is not published in any way, a criminal act has been committed. The statute goes too far in its effort to protect individuals’ interest in the privacy of their communications and burdens substantially more speech than necessary to serve interests it may legitimately serve. It does not meet the requirements necessary to satisfy intermediate scrutiny.

Read More on Both these Illinois Opinions: Court Deals Illinois Eavesdropping Law Final Blow