Justia Weekly Writers’ Picks – May 23, 2014


Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., US Supreme Court (5/19/14)
Civil Procedure, Copyright, Entertainment & Sports Law

Copyright SymbolThe Copyright Act protects works published before 1978 for 28 years, renewable for up to 67 years, 17 U.S.C. 304(a). An author’s heirs inherit renewal rights. If an author who has assigned rights dies before the renewal period the assignee may continue to use the work only if the author’s successor transfers renewal rights to the assignee. The Act provides for injunctive relief and damages. Civil actions must be commenced within three years after the claim accrued-ordinarily when an infringing act occurred. Under the separate-accrual rule, each successive violation starts a new limitations period, but is actionable only within three years of its occurrence. The movie, Raging Bull, is based on the life of boxer Jake LaMotta, who, with Petrella, told his story in a screenplay copyrighted in 1963. In 1976 they assigned their rights and renewal rights to MGM. In 1980 MGM released, and registered a copyright in, Raging Bull. Petrella died during the initial copyright term, so renewal rights reverted to his daughter, who renewed the 1963 copyright in 1991. Seven years later, she advised MGM that it was violating her copyright. Nine years later she filed suit, seeking damages and injunctive relief for violations occurring after January 5, 2006. The district court dismissed, citing laches. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed. Laches cannot bar a claim for damages brought within the three-year window. By permitting retrospective relief only three years back, the limitations period takes account of delay. Noting the “essentially gap-filling, not legislation-overriding,” nature of laches, the Court stated that it has never applied laches to entirely bar claims for discrete wrongs occurring within a federally prescribed limitations period. It is not incumbent on copyright owners to challenge every actionable infringement; there is nothing untoward about waiting to see whether a violation undercuts the value of the copyrighted work, has no effect, or even complements the work. The limitations period, with the separate-accrual rule, allows an owner to defer suit until she can estimate whether litigation is worth the effort. Because a plaintiff bears the burden of proof, evidence unavailability is as likely to affect plaintiffs as defendants. The Court noted that in some circumstances, the equitable defense of estoppel might limit remedies. Allowing this suit to proceed will put at risk only a fraction of what MGM has earned from Raging Bull and will work no unjust hardship on innocent third parties. Should Petrella prevail on the merits, the court may fashion a remedy taking account of the delay and MGM’s alleged reliance on that delay.

Read More: ‘Raging Bull’ copyright suit isn’t barred by doctrine of laches, SCOTUS rules

ProtectMarriage.com v. Bowen, US 9th Cir. (5/20/14)
Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Government & Administrative Law

Plaintiffs filed suit challenging California’s Political Reform Act of 1974, Cal. Gov. Code 81000-91014 (PRA), which requires political committees to report certain information about their contributors to the State. Plaintiffs are political committees that supported the November 2008 passage of Proposition 8 and argued that their donors have been harassed as a result of the PRA disclosures. Plaintiffs sought an injunction exempting them from the PRA’s future reporting deadlines and declaratory and injunctive relief requiring the State to purge all records of their past PRA disclosures. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the State on all counts. The court held that Family PAC v. McKenna directly precluded plaintiffs’ challenge to the $100 contribution threshold and the government’s interest in disclosing contributions to ballot initiative committees is not merely a pre-election interest. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court’s judgment with regard to plaintiffs’ facial challenges to the post-election reporting requirements. In regard to plaintiffs’ as-applied challenges, the court concluded that plaintiffs’ request for an injunction does not present a live controversy where the information that plaintiffs seek to keep private has been publicly available on the Internet and in hard copy for nearly five years; plaintiffs’ request for injunctive relief did not fall within the mootness exception for cases that are capable of repetition, yet evading review; and plaintiffs’ claim for forward-looking relief is not ripe for judicial review. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, dismissed in part, and remanded with instructions.

Read More: CA Law Naming Prop. 8 Supporters Upheld

Laura picked two similar cases from different states involving implied consent laws:

Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Deering, Maryland Court of Appeals (5/21/14)
Government and Administrative Law

This case centered on the implied consent, administrative per se law (“Law”), under which a suspected drunk driver may choose either to take or to refuse a breath test to measure blood alcohol concentration. A test refusal or a particular test result both result in an automatic suspension of the driver’s license. At issue was whether a detained driver has a right to consult with legal counsel before making the decision of whether to take the breath test. The driver in this case (“Driver”) asked the arresting officer if she could call an attorney before making that choice. Driver’s request was refused. Driver subsequently took the test, which indicated she had an elevated blood alcohol concentration. In accordance with the Law, Driver’s license was suspended for ninety days. An administrative law judge upheld Driver’s suspension. The circuit court reversed, concluding that the denial of Driver’s request to contact her attorney violated her right to due process. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, even if a suspected drunk driver is denied the opportunity to consult counsel before deciding whether to take a breath test, the driver remains subject to the administrative license suspension that the test assigns to the test refusal or test result.

Axelberg v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, Minnesota Supreme Court (5/21/14)
Government & Administrative Law

After she was arrested for driving while impaired, Driver took a urine test, which revealed an alcohol concentration of twice the legal limit. Pursuant to the state’s implied consent law, Driver’s license was revoked. Driver sought judicial review, arguing that her license should not have been revoked because she acted out of necessity to protect herself from her violent husband. After an implied consent hearing, the district court upheld the revocation, concluding that necessity is not an affirmative defense that drivers may raise to challenge a civil license revocation. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the plain language of Minn. Stat. 169A.53(3) does not permit a driver to raise the affirmative defense of necessity at an implied consent hearing.

Read More: Minn. Supreme Court rejects DWI defense for fleeing abuse

Kumar v. Gate Gourmet, Inc., Washington Supreme Court
Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Labor & Employment Law

Appellants James Kumar, Ranveer Singh, Asegedew Gefe, and Abbas Kosymov brought a class action lawsuit against their employer, Gate Gourmet Inc., alleging two common law torts and two violations of Washington’s Law Against Discrimination (WLAD). The lawsuit stemmed from Gate Gourmet’s employee meal policy, which barred employees from bringing in their own food for lunch (for security reasons), leaving only employer-provided food for the employees to eat. According to plaintiffs, the policy forced them to work without food or eat food that violated their religious beliefs. The meals ostensibly consist of one vegetarian and one meat-based main dish. The employees alleged that Gate Gourmet used animal by-products in the “vegetarian” option, and despite switching to turkey for a meat-based option, the company reverted to using a beef/pork mixture in violation of others’ religious dietary restrictions. The complaint, therefore, alleged that Gate Gourmet deceived “putative class members [to] unknowingly eat[ing] food forbidden by their beliefs,” and that class members “have faced the choice of eating food forbidden by their sincerely held beliefs or not eating. Those that did consume meals, they argued, suffered offensive touching due to their contact with food prohibited by their beliefs, and suffered distress as a result.” The trial court granted in full Gate Gourmet’s CR 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, finding that the WLAD contained no requirement that employers make reasonable accommodations for their employees’ religious practices. The Washington Supreme Court granted direct review and reversed. The Court held that the WLAD created a cause of action for failure to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious practices. With regard to plaintiffs’ tort claims, the Court found the trial court dismissed them at the pleading stage, and the tort claims went without analysis. “In light of this fact and in light of Washington’s relatively liberal standard for stating a cognizable claim,” the Court remanded the case back to the superior court for further proceedings.

Read More: Sea-Tac workers can sue over lunch menus