Articles Posted in Legal News

Muhammad Ali

Our legal system offers its own remembrance of Muhammad Ali. In decisions from 1967 to 1971, federal court opinions documented Ali’s fight to seek conscientious objector status when drafted to serve in the Vietnam War. Although he was convicted, sentenced to imprisonment for five years and fined $10,000 for declining to submit to induction, his conviction was ultimately overturned by the United State Supreme Court. The cases below show the circuitous route he took as his challenges traversed through all levels of the judicial system.

Ali v. Connally, 266 F. Supp. 345 (S.D. Tex. 1967). Court dismissed plaintiff’s petition for injunctive relief ruling that the Selective Service Act does not provide for judicial review of orders of the Selective Service Board.

Clay v. United States, 397 F.2d 901 (5th Cir. 1968). The Court held that decisions of the local boards in denying a ministerial exemption and conscientious objector status are final.

Ali v. Division of State Athletic Commission, 308 F. Supp. 11 (S.D.N.Y. 1969). Plaintiff Muhammad Ali alleged that the New York State Athletic Commission had violated his rights under the Due Process Clause by refusing to issue him a license to fight in a prize ring because of his conviction and sentence for refusing to serve in the armed forces. The District Court granted defendant’s motion to dismiss finding a rational basis for the Commission’s refusal to grant the application based on plaintiff’s conviction and sentence.

United States v. Clay, 386 F. Supp. 926 (S.D. Tex. 1969). The United States Supreme Court had granted certiorari and remanded the case back to the District Court to determine whether the defendant’s conviction was tainted by the information obtained as a result of the electronic surveillance. Because defendant was not able to establish that logs of his telephone conversations contained prejudicial material, the court denied his motions to dismiss or set aside the verdict, sentence, and indictment, and for a new trial.

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When I first heard that Alaska Airlines would be taking over Virgin America, I was puzzled because Virgin has built a very distinct brand that spans other product categories. I also assumed that any acquisition would have the support of Sir Richard Branson, the Founder of Virgin Group.

However, in his post On Virgin America, Branson provides the backstory on the creation of Virgin America and offers an interesting comment about the Alaska Airlines takeover:

I would be lying if I didn’t admit sadness that our wonderful airline is merging with another. Because I’m not American, the US Department of Transportation stipulated I take some of my shares in Virgin America as non-voting shares, reducing my influence over any takeover. So there was sadly nothing I could do to stop it.

Virgin America has its principal executive offices in Burlingame, California. In Silicon Valley, many companies are started by foreign-born founders. Some companies even have multiple classes of stock to maintain voting control in the hands of its founders. So, what was different about Virgin America that the US Department of Transportation required Richard Branson to take some of his shares as non-voting shares?
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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 Continue reading →

In re Adoption of K.P.M.A., Oklahoma Supreme Court (10/14/14)

Constitutional Law, Family Law

babyThe issue this case presented for the Supreme Court’s review centered on the termination Respondent-appellant Billy McCall’s (Father) parental rights to K.P.M.A. (Child). Child was born out-of-wedlock to T.Z. (Mother) in 2012. Prospective adoptive parents, petitioners-appellees Marshall and Toni Michelle Andrews had had physical custody of the child since she was released from the hospital after birth. On appeal of his termination, father argued: (1) whether his due process rights were violated; (2) whether he received ineffective assistance of counsel during the termination proceedings; and (3) whether the trial court’s determination was supported by clear and convincing evidence. After review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court concluded that termination of the natural father’s parental rights was improper because the natural father’s due process rights were violated, and the termination of the natural father’s parental rights was not supported by clear and convincing evidence.

Zavodnik v. Harper, Indiana Supreme Court (9/30/14)
Civil Procedure

contractPlaintiff was an abusive litigant. In this case, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant, which the trial court dismissed for failure to prosecute or comply with applicable rules under Ind. Trial Rule 41(E). The court of appeals dismissed Plaintiff’s appeal with prejudice for Plaintiff’s failure to file a timely brief and appendix. The Supreme Court denied Plaintiff’s petition to transfer jurisdiction and refrained from imposing sanctions or restrictions. This per curiam opinion also gave guidance to the state’s courts on options when confronted with abusive and vexatious litigation practices.

Read more: Inspired by man who filed more than 120 lawsuits, Indiana Supreme Court sets pro se limits

Duke v. State of North Carolina, US 4th Cir. (10/1/14)
Election Law

After the Supreme Court lifted certain Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 1973c, restrictions that prevented jurisdictions like North Carolina from passing laws that would deny minorities equal access, North Carolina began pursuing sweeping voting reform with House Bill 589. Plaintiffs and the federal government filed suit against North Carolina, alleging that House Bill 589 violates equal protection provisions of the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act and seeking a preliminary injunction. The court concluded that the district court abused its discretion in denying plaintiffs’ preliminary injunction and not preventing certain provisions of House Bill 589 from taking effect. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court’s denial of the preliminary injunction as to House Bill 589’s elimination of same-day registration and prohibition on counting out-of-precinct ballots. The court affirmed the district court’s denial of plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction with respect to the following House Bill 589 provisions: the reduction of early-voting days; the expansion of allowable voter challenges; the elimination of the discretion of county boards of elections to keep the pools open an additional hour on Election Day in “extraordinary circumstances”; the elimination of pre-registration of sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds who will not be eighteen years old by the next general election; and the soft roll-out of voter identification requirements to go into effect in 2016.

Read more: Divided appellate court strikes part of North Carolina’s controversial voting law Continue reading →

Levitt v. Yelp! Inc., US 9th Cir. (9/2/14)

Business Law, Internet Law

shooting starPlaintiffs, small business owners, filed a class action suit alleging that Yelp, an online forum, extorted or attempted to extort advertising payments from them by manipulating user reviews and penning negative reviews of their businesses. Plaintiffs filed suit against Yelp for violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL), Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 17200 et seq.; civil extortion; and attempted civil extortion. The district court dismissed the suit for failure to state a claim. The court concluded that Yelp’s manipulation of user reviews, assuming it occurred, was not wrongful use of economic fear, and that the business owners pled insufficient facts to make out a plausible claim that Yelp authored negative reviews of their businesses. Therefore, the court agreed with the district court that these allegations did not support a claim for extortion. The court held that, to state a claim of economic extortion under both federal and California law, a litigant must demonstrate either that he had a pre-existing right to be free from the threatened harm, or that the defendant had no right to seek payment for the service offered. Given these stringent standards, plaintiffs failed to sufficiently allege that Yelp wrongfully threatened economic loss by manipulating user reviews. None of the business owners have stated a claim of “unlawful” conduct on the basis of extortion. Therefore, the court dismissed the separate claims of civil extortion and attempted civil extortion. Further, plaintiffs’ UCL claim failed under the “unfair” practices prong. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court.

Lodge No. 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police v. City of Philadelphia, US 3rd Cir. (8/18/14)

Communications Law, Constitutional Law

Chevy TahoeThe Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), an incorporated collective bargaining organization that represents the approximately 6,600 active police officers employed by the Philadelphia, operates a political action committee, COPPAC, for purposes of distributing contributions to candidates for local and state office. FOP, COPPAC, and four police officers challenged the constitutionality of section 10-107(3) of the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter, which prohibits employees of the Philadelphia Police Department from making contributions “for any political purpose,” 351 Pa. Code 10.10-107(3). The provision was enacted in 1951, based on Philadelphia’s history of political patronage. As interpreted by its implementing regulation, employees of the police department cannot donate to COPPAC because it uses some of its funds for partisan political purposes. The Charter ban applies only to the police, and does not proscribe political donations made by Philadelphia’s other 20,000 employees, the vast majority of whom are organized interests. The Third Circuit reversed summary judgment upholding the ban. Despite its valid concerns, the city did not explain how the ban serves in a direct and material way to address these harms. Given the lack of fit between the stated objectives and the means selected to achieve it, the Charter ban is unconstitutional.

Bostic v. Schaefer, US 4th Cir. (7/28/14)
Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Family Law, Government & Administrative Law

gaypride_flagPlaintiffs filed suit challenging Virginia Code sections 20-45.2 and 20-45.3; the Marshall/Newman Amendment, Va. Const. art. I, 15-A; and any other Virginia law that bars same sex-marriage or prohibits the State’s recognition of otherwise-lawful same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions (collectively, the Virginia Marriage Laws). Plaintiffs argued that these laws violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court granted plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and enjoined Virginia from enforcing the laws. As a preliminary matter, the court concluded that each of the plaintiffs had standing as to at least one defendant, and the court declined to view Baker v. Nelson as binding precedent. The court concluded that strict scrutiny analysis applied in this case where the Virginia Marriage Laws impede the right to marry by preventing same-sex couples from marrying and nullifying the legal import of their out-of-state marriages. Proponents contend that five interests support the laws: federalism-based interests, history and tradition, protecting the institution of marriage, encouraging responsible procreation, and promoting the optimal childrearing environment. The court concluded, however, that these interests are not compelling interests that justify the Virginia Marriage Laws. Therefore, all of the proponents’ justifications for the laws fail and the laws cannot survive strict scrutiny. Accordingly, the court concluded that the Virginia Marriage Laws violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the extent that they prevent same-sex couples from marrying and prohibit Virginia from recognizing same-sex couples’ lawful out-of-state marriages. The court affirmed the judgment of the district court.

Read More: Appeals Panel Rejects Virginia Gay-Marriage Ban Continue reading →

Two federal appeals courts this week issued conflicting opinions on Obamacare.

Health and LawKing v. Burwell, US 4th Cir. (7/22/14)
Health Law, Tax Law

Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the validity of an IRS final rule implementing the premium tax credit provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), 26 U.S.C. 36B. The final rule interprets the Act as authorizing the IRS to grant tax credits to individuals who purchase health insurance on both state-run insurance “Exchanges” and federally-facilitated “Exchanges” created and operated by HHS. The court found that the applicable statutory language is ambiguous and subject to multiple interpretations. Applying deference to the IRS’s determination, the court upheld the rule as a permissible exercise of the agency’s discretion. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court.

Halbig v. Burwell, US DC Cir. (7/22/14)
Health Law, Tax Law

Appellants challenged the IRS’s interpretation of 26 U.S.C. 36B, enacted as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 706(2)(A). The district court held that the ACA’s text, structure, purpose, and legislative history make “clear that Congress intended to make premium tax credits available on both state-run and federally-facilitated Exchanges.” The district court held that even if the ACA were ambiguous, the IRS’s regulation would represent a permissible construction entitled to Chevron deference. The court concluded, however, that the ACA unambiguously restricts the section 36B subsidy to insurance purchased on Exchanges “established by the State.” Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment of the district court and vacated the IRS’s regulation.

Read More: Second federal appeals court rules on health-care law, setting up a same-day circuit conflict Continue reading →

California FlagThis week, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California issued a ruling that California’s death penalty is unconstitutional.  Read Courtney Minick’s analysis of the opinion on Justia’s Verdict: Federal Judge Strikes Down California Death Penalty: What This Could Mean for California.

Texas Div., Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc. v. Vandergriff, et al., US 5th Cir. (7/14/14)
Civil Rights, Constitutional Law

Plaintiff filed suit alleging that the Board violated its First Amendment right to free speech when it denied plaintiff’s application for a specialty license plate featuring the Confederate battle flag. The district court concluded that the Board had made a reasonable, content-based regulation of private speech. The court concluded that speech on specialty license plates is private speech and that the Board impermissibly discriminated against plaintiff’s viewpoint when it denied the specialty license plate. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded.

Read More: Court rules Texas can’t ban sale of Confederate flag license plates

Digitech Image Techs., LLC v. Elecs. for Imaging, Inc., US Federal Circuit (7/11/14)
Patents

Digital image processing involves electronically capturing an image of a scene with a “source device,” such as a digital camera, altering the image in a desired fashion, and transferring the altered image to an “output device,” such as a color printer. According to the 414 patent, all imaging devices impose some level of distortion on color and spatial properties because different devices allow for slightly different ranges of colors and spatial information to be displayed or reproduced. Prior art attempted to correct distortions using device-dependent solutions that calibrate and modify the color and spatial properties of the devices and device independent solutions that translate an image’s pixel data from a device dependent format into an independent color space, which can then be translated to output devices at a reduced level of distortion. The patent expands the device independent paradigm to disclose an improved device profile that includes both chromatic characteristic information and spatial characteristic information. Digitech filed infringement suits against 32 defendants. The district court found that all of the asserted claims were subject matter ineligible and invalid under 35 U.S.C. 101: the device profile claims are directed to a collection of numerical data that lacks a physical component or physical manifestation and the asserted method claims for generating a device profile encompass the abstract idea of organizing data through mathematical correlations. The Federal Circuit affirmed.

Read More: Latest CAFC Ruling Suggests A Whole Lot Of Software Patents Are Likely Invalid Continue reading →