These Are Not the Lawsuits that You’re Looking For: Justia Weekly Writers’ Picks – January 16, 2015


Alfred v. Walt Disney Co., Delaware Court of Chancery (1/14/15)
Civil Procedure

X WingThis complaint concerned the T-65 X-wing fighter plane, a fictional vehicle created in connection with the movie Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Walt Disney Company owned the trademark for the fictional vehicle. Plaintiff developed a marketing plan pursuant to which Disney would license to a non-party the right to use the X-wing name and appearance, the non-party would develop the vehicle in the appearance of an X-wing (the “Flying Car”), and Plaintiff would raise the funds for development of the Flying Car. Plaintiff planned on promoting the Flying Car via tie-ins to Disney’s new Star Wars movie to be released in 2017. Plaintiff made an unsolicited proposal involving Star Wars marketing to Disney, but Disney responded that it was not interested in his proposal. Plaintiff filed this complaint against Disney and its CEO and Board Chairman, claiming that Defendants were “stalling the next evolution of human transportation on this planet.” The individual Defendants, both residents of California, moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, and all Defendants moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The Court of Chancery granted the motions, holding that Plaintiff failed to perfect jurisdiction over the individual Defendants and failed to state a claim against any of the Defendants.

Read More: X-wing fighter lawsuit against ‘Star Wars’ rights-owner Disney is shot down by Delaware judge

Whitfield v. United States, United States Supreme Court (1/13/15)
Criminal Law

Whitfield, fleeing a botched bank robbery, entered 79-year-old Parnell’s home and guided her from a hallway to a room a few feet away, where she suffered a fatal heart attack. He was convicted of, among other things, violating 18 U. S. C.2113(e), which establishes enhanced penalties for anyone who “forces any person to accompany him without the consent of such person” in the course of committing or fleeing from a bank robbery. The Fourth Circuit held that the movement Whitfield required Parnell to make satisfied the forced-accompaniment requirement. The unanimous Supreme Court affirmed. A bank robber “forces [a] person to accompany him,” for purposes of section 2113(e), when he forces that person to go somewhere with him, even if the movement occurs entirely within a single building or over a short distance. The word “accompany” does not connote movement over a substantial distance. The severity of the penalties for a forced-accompaniment conviction, a mandatory minimum of 10 years and a maximum of life imprisonment, does not militate against this interpretation; the danger of a forced accompaniment does not vary depending on the distance traversed.

Read More: North Carolina bank robber loses case at U.S. Supreme Court

Jesinoski v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., United States Supreme Court (1/13/15)
Banking, Consumer Law, Real Estate & Property Law

Exactly three years after borrowing money to refinance their home mortgage, the Jesinoskis sent the lender a letter purporting to rescind the transaction. The lender replied, refusing to acknowledge the rescission’s validity. One year and one day later, the Jesinoskis filed suit, seeking a declaration of rescission and damages. The district court entered judgment on the pleadings, concluding that a borrower can exercise the Truth in Lending Act’s right to rescind, 15 U. S. C.1635(a), (f), only by filing a lawsuit within three years of the date the loan was consummated. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The unanimous Supreme Court reversed. A borrower exercising his right to rescind under the Act need only provide written notice to his lender within the 3-year period, not file suit within that period. Section 1635(a)’s language: a borrower “shall have the right to rescind . . . by notifying the creditor . . . of his intention to do so,” indicates that rescission is effected when the borrower notifies the creditor of his intention. The statute says nothing about how that right is exercised and does not state that rescission is necessarily a consequence of judicial action.

Read More: Homeowners Win U.S. High Court Clash on Canceling Mortgages

T-Mobile South, LLC v. City of Roswell, United States Supreme Court (1/14/15)
Civil Procedure, Communications Law, Zoning, Planning & Land Use

Roswell’s city council held a public hearing to consider T-Mobile’s application to build a cell phone tower on residential property. Council members expressed concerns about the tower’s impact on the area. The council unanimously denied the application. Two days later, the city informed T-Mobile by letter that the application had been denied and that minutes from the hearing would be made available. Detailed minutes were published 26 days later. The district court held that the city, by failing to issue a written decision stating its reasons for denial, had violated the Telecommunications Act, which provides that a locality’s denial “shall be in writing and supported by substantial evidence contained in a written record,” 47 U. S. C. 332(c)(7)(B)(iii). The Eleventh Circuit found that the Act’s requirements were satisfied. The Supreme Court reversed. It would be difficult for a reviewing court to determine whether denial was “supported by substantial evidence contained in a written record,” or whether a locality had “unreasonably discriminate[d] among providers of functionally equivalent services,” or regulated siting “on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions,” if localities were not obligated to state reasons for denial. Those reasons need not appear in the denial notice itself, but may be stated with sufficient clarity in some other written record issued essentially contemporaneously with the denial. Because an applicant must decide whether to seek judicial review within 30 days from the date of the denial, the locality make available its written reasons at essentially the same time as it communicates its denial.

Read More: Supreme Court Sides With T-Mobile in Cell Phone Tower Dispute

Jennings v. Stephens, United States Supreme Court (1/14/15)
Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Jennings sought federal habeas relief based on ineffective assistance of counsel during the punishment phase of his state capital murder trial. The district court granted relief on his “Wiggins theories,” that counsel failed to present evidence of a deprived background and failed to investigate evidence of mental impairment, but not on his “Spisak theory,” that counsel expressed resignation to a death sentence during his closing argument. The court ordered Texas to release Jennings unless, within 120 days, it granted a new sentencing hearing or commuted his death sentence. The Fifth Circuit reversed with respect to the Wiggins theories and determined that it lacked jurisdiction over the Spisak claim, noting that Jennings neither filed a timely notice of appeal nor obtained the certificate of appealability. The Supreme Court reversed. Jennings’ Spisak theory was a defense of his judgment on alternative grounds, so he was not required to take a cross-appeal or obtain a certificate of appealability to argue it. Jennings, as an appellee who did not cross-appeal, could “urge” his Spisak theory unless doing so would enlarge his rights or lessen the state’s rights under the district court’s judgment. Jennings’ rights under the judgment were release, retrial, or commutation and his Spisak claim, if accepted, would give him no more. Nor would it encumber the state’s rights to retain Jennings in custody pending retrial or to commute his sentence. Jennings, whether prevailing on a single theory or all three, sought the same, indivisible relief: a new sentencing hearing.

Read More: Supreme Court rules on appellate procedure for habeas corpus petitions

Davis v. Electronic Arts, US 9th Cir. (1/6/14)
Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Entertainment & Sports Law

Plaintiffs filed suit against EA, alleging that Madden NFL, a series of video games, includes accurate likenesses of plaintiffs without authorization, as well as roughly 6,000 other former NFL players who appear on more than 100 historic teams in various editions of Madden NFL. EA moved to strike the complaint as a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) under California’s anti-SLAPP statute, California Code of Civil Procedure § 425.16. The court affirmed the district court’s denial of the motion where EA has not shown a probability of prevailing on its incidental use defense and its other defenses are effectively precluded by the court’s decision in Keller v. Elec. Arts. In this case, EA has not shown that the transformative use defense applies to plaintiffs’ claims; EA has not established a probability of prevailing on either the common law public interest defense or the “public affairs” exemption of California Civil Code 3344(d); the Rogers v. Grimaldi test does not apply to plaintiffs’ right-of-publicity claims; and EA has not established a probability of prevailing on its incidental use defense.

Read More: Electronic Arts Must Face Ex-Players’ Case Over Madden Games

City of San Jose v. Comm’r of Baseball, US 9th Cir. (1/15/15)
Antitrust & Trade Litigation, Entertainment & Sports Law

This case arose when the Oakland Athletics wanted to move to the City of San Jose, but the City falls within the exclusive operating territory of the San Francisco Giants. The City, seeking approval of the move, filed suit against MLB, alleging violations of state and federal antitrust laws, of California’s consumer protection statute, and of California tort law. The district court granted MLB’s motion to dismiss on all but the tort claims and the City appealed. The City argues that the baseball industry’s historic exemption from the antitrust laws does not apply to antitrust claims relating to franchise relocation. The court held, however, that antitrust claims against MLB’s franchise relocation policies are precluded by Flood v. Kuhn, and, under Portland Baseball Club, Inc. v Kuhn, the court rejected any antitrust claim that was wholly unrelated to the reserve clause. Therefore, the City’s claims under the Sherman Act and Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C. 1-7 and 15 U.S.C. 12-27, must be dismissed. Further, the City’s antitrust claims necessarily fall with its federal claims where the City can point to no case that has ever held that state antitrust claims continue to be viable after federal antitrust claims have been dismissed under the baseball exemption. An independent claim under California’s unfair competition law is also barred so long as MLB’s activities are lawful under the antitrust laws. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court.

Read More: Federal appeals court rejects San Jose’s antitrust case against Major League Baseball