Articles Posted in Legal Research

By

vaccinationAll states require children to be immunized or to be in the process of receiving immunizations against certain contagious diseases before a child care facility or a school may admit them. For each state, the immunization schedule may be found in the state code or its administrative regulations, usually in the sections governing education (for schools) or public health (for child care facilities). Besides specific vaccine requirements, these schedules may also refer to the schedules provided by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, American Academy of Family Physicians, or American Academy of Pediatrics.

Where states significantly differ is in their recognition of exemptions from vaccination. All states grant a medical exemption to children who cannot be immunized for health reasons. For example, the administration of a vaccine may be contraindicated in children who are allergic to a component of the vaccine or have a suppressed immune system. These exemptions are specific to the vaccine and health condition, and remain so long as the contraindication lasts.

Additionally, 48 states and the District of Columbia permit parents to claim a non-scientific exemption, such as if their religious tenets or practices conflict with immunization or if their personal, philosophical or moral beliefs are opposed to immunization. The lone holdouts are Mississippi and West Virginia. However, in the event of an outbreak, child care facilities and schools may exclude children who have not been vaccinated against the disease until the end of the outbreak.

Verdict offers some insightful analysis into the issue of religious exemptions:

Below, you will find links to state codes, statutes and regulations governing the immunization of children who attend day care, child care, elementary schools, private schools and colleges.

Continue reading →

By

New York Statewide Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce v. New York City Dep’t of Health & Mental Hygiene, New York COA, (6/26/14)

SodaIn 2012, in an effort to combat obesity among residents of New York City, the New York City Board of Health amended the City Health Code so as to restrict the size of cups and containers used by food service establishments for the provision of sugary drinks. The proposed rule, referred to as the “Portion Cap Rule,” was to go into effect in 2013. Six not-for-profit and labor organizations challenged the Portion Cap Rule. Supreme Court, New York City declared the rule invalid and permanently enjoined its implementation. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that, in adopting the Portion Cap Rule, the Board of Health exceeded its regulatory authority and engaged in law-making, thereby infringing upon legislative jurisdiction.

Read More: Top state court says NYC can’t ban businesses from selling supersize sugary drinks to customers

McCullen v. Coakley, US Supreme Court (6/26/14)

Massachusetts amended its Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act to make it a crime to knowingly stand on a “public way or sidewalk” within 35 feet of an entrance or driveway to any “reproductive health care facility,” defined as “a place, other than within or upon the grounds of a hospital, where abortions are offered or performed.” Mass. Gen. Laws, 266, 120E½. Exemptions cover “employees or agents of such facility acting within the scope of their employment.” Another provision proscribes knowing obstruction of access to an abortion clinic. Abortion opponents who engage in “sidewalk counseling” sought an injunction, claiming that the amendment displaced them from their previous positions and hampered their counseling efforts; attempts to communicate with patients are also thwarted by clinic escorts, who accompany patients to clinic entrances. The district court denied the challenges. The First Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, first noting the involvement of a traditional public forum. The Court employed “time, place, and manner” analysis, stating that the Act is neither content nor viewpoint based and need not be analyzed under strict scrutiny. Although it establishes buffer zones only at abortion clinics, violations depend not “on what they say,” but on where they say it. The Act is justified without reference to the content of speech; its purposes include protecting public safety, patient access to health care, and unobstructed use of public sidewalks and streets. There was a record of crowding, obstruction, and even violence outside Massachusetts abortion clinics but not at other facilities. The exemption for employees and agents acting within the scope of their employment was not an attempt to favor one viewpoint. Even if some escorts have expressed views on abortion inside the zones, there was no evidence that such speech was authorized by any clinic. The Act, however, burdens substantially more speech than necessary to further the government’s legitimate interests. It deprives objectors of their primary methods of communicating with patients: close, personal conversations and distribution of literature. While the Act allows “protest” outside buffer zones, these objectors are not protestors; they seek to engage in personal, caring, consensual conversations with women about alternatives. Another section of the Act already prohibits deliberate obstruction of clinic entrances. Massachusetts could also enact legislation similar to the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, 18 U.S.C. 248(a), which imposes sanctions for obstructing, intimidating, or interfering with persons obtaining or providing reproductive health services. Obstruction of driveways can be addressed by traffic ordinances. Crowding was a problem only at the Boston clinic, and only on Saturday mornings; the police are capable of ordering people to temporarily disperse and of singling out lawbreakers.

Read More: Court strikes down abortion clinic buffer zones Continue reading →

By

EraserBy now, you’ve all read that Justice Antonin Scalia made a series of mistakes in the dissenting opinion of EPA v. EME Homer City Generation, L.P. The Supreme Court issued a corrected version of the opinion on its website. For more on the story, read the coverage in the WSJ Law Blog, the Volokh Conspiracy, or SCOTUSBlog. They’ll give you the background – this post will discuss publishing implications, and why it’s problematic that the Court doesn’t notify the public when they make revisions to opinions.

Here’s how the Supreme Court’s electronic publishing process works. The first version of the opinion, called the bench opinion, is released in XML format to a handful of publishers (the “Project Hermes” feed). Later that day, a PDF version – the “slip opinion” – is released on the Court’s website. The slip opinions may be further edited, and then the official opinions are published in the bound volumes as citable opinions.

The Supreme Court’s website issues the following disclaimer about the slip opinions found therein:

Caution: These electronic opinions may contain computer-generated errors or other deviations from the official printed slip opinion pamphlets. Moreover, a slip opinion is replaced within a few months by a paginated version of the case in the preliminary print, and–one year after the issuance of that print–by the final version of the case in a U. S. Reports bound volume. In case of discrepancies between the print and electronic versions of a slip opinion, the print version controls. In case of discrepancies between the slip opinion and any later official version of the opinion, the later version controls.

The Court occasionally issues new versions of slip opinions, but they don’t always notify the public when they do so.  Professor Emeritus of Cornell Law School and legal information expert Peter Martin has written about this, noting that most changes are for minor typographical errors. However, there have been instances where a significant change was made:

Far more recent history includes the removal of a lengthy footnote from the majority opinion in Skilling v. United States, 561 U.S. 358 (2010).  The slip opinion file now at the Court’s web site carries no notice of the revision beyond the indication in the “properties” field that it was modified over two weeks after the opinion’s filing date.  To see the original footnote 31 one must go to the CourtListener site or a collection like that of Cornell’s LII built on the assumption that a slip opinion distributed by the Court on day of decision will not be changed prior to its appearance in a preliminary print.

The changes made to Scalia’s dissent in EME Homer were arguably significant. They were also very public. As far as I can tell, it was Law Professor Richard Lazarus who first discovered the error. He blogged about it, it was picked up by national news, and that’s why we know that the change was made. The Supreme Court notified Professor Lazarus of the change, but there is no mention of it on their site. They simply swapped opinions. Continue reading →

By

Ventura County CourthouseCourthouse News Service won a ruling in the Ninth Circuit recently for access to court filings. CNS went to federal court last year to challenge the Ventura County Superior Court policy of delaying the release of court opinions.  A U.S. district court judge dismissed the case, finding that it was not a First Amendment issue, but a claim that involved sensitive state information, and that the federal court should abstain. The Ninth Circuit overturned that ruling and remanded the case to the federal district court for a decision on the merits.

Courthouse News Service is a periodical that covers courthouses all over the United States. They send reporters into courts every day to review the filings and write about the newsworthy cases. Most courts in California allow reporters daily access to the filings, but Ventura County has a policy that delays reporter access until “official processing” is completed, at which point the cases are no longer breaking news.

The Ninth Circuit found a clear First Amendment interest in immediate reporter access to the opinions. In the opinion, Judge Wardlaw wrote, “CNS’s First Amendment right of access claim falls within the general rule against abstaining under Pullman in First Amendment cases. CNS’s right of access claim implicates the same fundamental First Amendment interests as a free expression claim, and it equally commands the respect and attention of the federal courts.” We have the featured the trial and appellate court filings on Justia Dockets. You can read the full opinion and summary on Justia, as well. Continue reading →

By

Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States, United States Supreme Court (3/10/14)
Real Estate & Property Law, Transportation Law, Zoning, Planning & Land Use

locomotiveThe General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875 provides railroad companies “right[s] of way through the public lands of the United States,” 43 U.S.C. 934. One such right of way, created in 1908, crosses land that the government conveyed to the Brandt family in a 1976 land patent. That patent stated that the land was granted subject to the right of way, but it did not specify what would occur if the railroad relinquished those rights. A successor railroad abandoned the right of way with federal approval. The government sought a declaration of abandonment and an order quieting its title to the abandoned right of way, including the stretch across the Brandt patent. Brandt argued that the right of way was a mere easement that was extinguished upon abandonment. The district court quieted title in the government. The Tenth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed. The right of way was an easement that was terminated by abandonment, leaving Brandt’s land unburdened. The Court noted that that the government had argued the opposite position in an earlier case. In that case, the Court found the 1875 Act’s text “wholly inconsistent” with the grant of a fee interest. An easement disappears when abandoned by its beneficiary.

Read More: Supreme Court Sides With Landowner in Rails-to-Trails Case

Cent. States, SE & SW Areas Health & Welfare Fund v. Lewis, US 7th Cir. (3/12/14)
ERISA, Injury Law, Insurance Law, Legal Ethics

Lewis was injured in an automobile accident and her health plan paid $180,000 for her medical treatment   Lewis filed a tort suit against the driver (her son-in-law), represented by Georgia lawyer Lashgari, and obtained a $500,000 settlement. Lashgari knew the plan had a subrogation lien, but split the proceeds between himself and Lewis. He claimed that the plan was owed nothing. The plan filed suit under ERISA to enforce the lien, 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(3). The defendants argued that because the settlement funds have been dissipated, the suit was actually for damages, not authorized by ERISA. The district judge ordered the defendants to place $180,000 in Lashgari’s trust account pending judgment. The defendants did not comply. A year later, the defendants having neither placed any money in a trust account nor produced any evidence of their inability to pay, the judge held them in civil contempt, ordered them to produce records that would establish their financial situations, and ordered Lashgari to documents relating to the contempt to the General Counsel of the State Bar for possible disciplinary proceedings against him.  The defendants appealed the contempt order. The Seventh Circuit dismissed, characterizing the appeal as frivolous and the defendants’ conduct as outrageous.

Read More: Posner: Appeal brief is ‘a gaunt, pathetic document’; lawyer ‘shenanigans’ should have been reported

United States v. Chhun, US 9th Cir. (3/11/14)
Criminal Law

Defendant, a native of Cambodia and a tax preparer in the United States, was the president of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF), an organization formed for the purpose of removing Prime Minister Hun Sen from power and becoming the controlling party in Cambodia. After CFF committed a series of small-scale attacks on Cambodian establishments, defendant participated in a CFF plan to attack government buildings protected by government forces in Phnom Phenh (Operation Volcano). In this appeal, defendant challenged his convictions for conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country in violation of 18 U.S.C. 956(a), conspiracy to damage or destroy property in a foreign country in violation of 18 U.S.C. 956(b), and expedition against a friendly nation in violation of 18 U.S.C. 960. The court concluded that section 956(a), enacted as part of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, 110 Stat. 1214, 1294-95, was not ambiguous, and therefore, defendant was correctly convicted under the statute; there was sufficient evidence for a factfinder to conclude that defendant had the intent to commit murder; the district court did not plainly err in its jury instruction when it defined “at peace” as the absence of “war” or “military conflict,” and thereby required “military conflict” to end the state of “peace” for the purposes of sections 956(b) and 960; the district court’s failure to instruct the jury to find an overt act that occurred within the five-year limitations period did not affect defendant’s substantial rights; the district court did not commit error in sentencing defendant to life in prison; and defendant’s sentence was not substantively unreasonable. Accordingly, the court affirmed defendant’s convictions and sentence.

Read More: Life Sentence Upheld for ‘Cambodian Moses’

Lippitt v. Bd. of Certification for Geologists & Soil Scientists, Maine Supreme Judicial Court (3/11/14)
Environmental Law, Professional Malpractice & Ethics

Clifford Lippitt was a certified geologist employed at S.W. Cole, Inc. Worcester Associates retained S.W. Cole to provide the necessary technical assistance in order to complete the closure of a landfill Worcester owned. After S.W. Cole drilled bedrock wells and collected data from them, Lippitt submitted a report presenting the results of the tests and concluding that there was no evidence the landfill was impacting neighboring residential wells. The Board of Certification for Geologists and Soil Scientists determined that Lippitt had violated the Code of Ethics applicable to geologists and soil scientists because he had provided a professional opinion “without being as thoroughly informed as might be reasonably expected.” The Supreme Court vacated the superior court’s judgment affirming the Board’s decision, holding (1) the Board’s disagreement with a geologist’s opinion, without a concurrent determination that the opinion is false, is based on false data, or reflects the geologist’s incompetence, cannot be the basis for a determination that the opinion constitutes a violation of the geologists’ Code of Ethics; and (2) the Board erred in determining that Lippitt violated the Code of Ethics on the grounds that Lippitt’s opinion was not “reasonable” in light of the underlying data.

Read More: Restoring A Soiled Reputation

By

OklahomaHT to Professor Peter Martin who posts in his blog, Citing Legally, the news that, as of January 1, 2014, “sixty years after the Oklahoma Supreme Court designated the West Publishing Company as the ‘official publisher’ of its decisions, it [has] revoked that designation.”  Going forward, the electronic versions of Oklahoma appellate court decisions rendered after January 1st and posted on the State’s Court Network are now deemed “official.”  Read more of Professor Martin’s post here.  Way to go Oklahoma — You’re O-K!

By

PACER LogoOhhhhh PACER.

I’m a little bit behind on complaining about it, so here’s the executive summary to catch everyone up: One month after they celebrated 25 years of PACER, the whole thing went down, twice in one week.

In case you missed it, the Administrative Office of Courts issued a statement in December celebrating the twenty five year anniversary of PACER. The electronic filing service was started in 1988. It ushered in the era of electronic filing for federal court documents. To me, the irony of this “celebration” is that PACER, and the local CM/ECF systems, have barely changed since then.

As usual, the Third Branch PR team leads with how PACER has made access “universal.”

“Twenty-five years ago, the vast majority of cases were practically obscure. Today, every Third Branch court is using CM/ECF and PACER,” said Michel Ishakian, chief of staff for the AO’s Department of Program Services, who oversaw PACER from 2008 to 2013. “That means that all dockets, opinions, and case file documents can be accessed world-wide in real time, unless they are sealed or otherwise restricted for legal purposes. This level of transparency and access to a legal system is unprecedented and unparalleled.”

This is technically correct – but Mr. Ishakian neglects two caveats to this statement:

1. Users have to pay to access these documents. You pay to search for them, and you pay to download them.

2. The “opinions” available on PACER are slip opinions, not officially published case law. That means they can’t be cited in court.

Continue reading →

By

Open DataJosh Tauberer recently announced the release of “Open Government Data: Best Practices Language for Making Data ‘License Free.’ That document sets forth recommendations for federal agencies issuing data, and sample Creative Commons Zero (public domain) licensing statements.

In the memorandum, Mr. Tauberer and his colleagues discuss how open licensing protocols can be applied by various federal government authors—agencies in house, through contractors, or a mix—to different outputs, such as codes, laws, reports, etc. The overriding principle is that because the federal government’s material is not subject to copyright protection, a CC0 license will make it clear to users that the government disclaims its copyright.

When contractors are involved, things get a little more complicated: “Works produced under a contract with the government may be subject to copyright protection. Any such contract should specify that any copyright in the work is transferred to the government.” Transferring the copyright to the government, of course, obviates it, as federal government works are not subject to copyright protection under the Copyright Act. For mixes of government and non-government works, they recommend that “non-governmental contributors be required to waive copyright protection to their submissions,” which is another way of bringing taxpayer funded government work product into the public domain. This shouldn’t be a controversial proposition, but we’ve seen what happens when private standards are incorporated by reference into law. Continue reading →

By

MaineToday Media, Inc. v. State, Maine Supreme Court (11/14/13)
Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

telephoneThis case involved three Enhanced 9-1-1 (E-9-1-1) calls regarding an altercation that resulted in three people being shot. MaineToday Media, Inc. sent a series of requests to inspect and copy the three transcripts to the police department, state police, attorney general, and others. The State denied the requests, claiming that the transcripts constituted “intelligence and investigative information” in a pending criminal matter and were therefore confidential under the Criminal History Record Information Act. MaineToday filed suit against the State, arguing that the Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) mandated disclosure of the transcripts as public records and that no exception to their disclosure applied. The superior court affirmed the State’s denial of MaineToday’s request. The Supreme Court vacated the lower court’s judgment, holding that the E-9-1-1 transcripts, as redacted pursuant to 25 Me. Rev. Stat. 2929(2)-(3), were public records subject to disclosure under the FOAA.

Read More: Maine court orders release of 911 transcripts

United States v. Chovan, US 9th Cir. (11/18/13)
Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Defendant appealed the district court’s denial of his motion to dismiss an indictment against him for violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(9), which prohibits persons convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors from possessing firearms for life. Applying United States v. Brailey, the court concluded that defendant’s domestic violence conviction did not divest him of “core” civil rights and he could not qualify for the civil rights restored exception to section 922(g)(9). The court rejected defendant’s argument that the civil rights restored exception violated the Equal Protection Clause for the same reasons the court articulated in United States v. Hancock. Like the First, Fourth, and Seventh Circuits, the court applied intermediate scrutiny to section 922(g)(9) and held that it was constitutional on its face and as applied to defendant. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court.

Read More: Court In SF Upholds Law That Bars Domestic Violence Offenders From Owning Guns

Gissendaner v. Seaboldt, US 11th Cir. (11/19/13)
Criminal Law

Petitioner, convicted of malice murder and sentenced to death, appealed the district court’s denial of her 28 U.S.C. 2254 federal habeas petition. Petitioner convinced her on-again, off-again lover to kill her on-again, off-again husband. The court concluded that the district court correctly denied federal habeas relief on petitioner’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim where the state court reasonably found that she had failed to carry her burden of demonstrating that she was prejudiced by counsel’s advice during the plea process; correctly denied petitioner’s Brady v. Maryland claim where the state habeas court reasonably found that further impeachment of petitioner’s lover based on the undisclosed statements contained in the prosecution team’s notes would not have created a reasonable probability of a different result in either phase of the trial; and correctly rejected petitioner’s penalty phase claim of ineffective assistance of counsel where the state habeas court’s finding that trial counsel conducted a constitutionally adequate mitigation investigation did not involve an unreasonable application of Strickland v. Washington or depend on an unreasonable finding of fact. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court.

By

959347_magnifying_glassThe Administrative Office of the Courts announced yesterday that FDSys will now include opinions from 64 federal courts.  The program to integrate federal court opinions into FDSys began in 2011.  In 2011, they added opinions from 12 courts. In 2012, they increased that number to 28 courts.  In February of this year, they announced that they were expanding the program. And now we know they have increased the number of courts to 64. According to today’s press release, they are backfilling some jurisdictions, putting in an archive back to 2004. They claim to have 750,000 opinions in FDSys now.

According to the statement, “FDsys currently contains opinions from 8 appellate courts, 20 district courts, and 35 bankruptcy courts.”  To put this in perspective, there are 17 circuit courts, 94 district courts, and 195 bankruptcy courts.  All together, they are pulling opinions from 63 of 307 federal courts (roughly). That’s 21% of the federal jurisdictions in 3 years.

As usual, I feel compelled to say “it’s great that they’re doing this, BUT”—they’re focusing on the wrong things. Why are they pulling documents from district courts and bankruptcy courts? The case law that most people care about is appellate opinions that create precedent.  In federal jurisdictions, this means the Circuit Courts of Appeal and the United States Supreme Court.  FDSys has no SCOTUS opinions (which are freely available on the Court’s site), and only about half of the Circuit Courts of Appeal.  Some district court opinions are interesting and useful, and I suppose the same is true for bankruptcy court opinions, but why are they being added ahead of the Supreme Court? 750,000 documents is a lot—my guess is they’re pulling in random orders and rulings that are part of the public record but not especially useful in legal research.

Another thing:  opinions in the FDSys collection are slip opinions. I need to reiterate this point every time I see press release from the AOC, because there is an implication that they’ve given us what we need to cite the law. THEY HAVEN’T. For the non-lawyers in the crowd, slip opinions are the immediate opinions released by the court. They are official, and can be cited to in court documents, only until they are published officially by a private company. They are temporary documents. They are useful if you just want to read the law, but they are not official and they can’t be cited.

I do believe there is value to having this information in a central database that the public can search, alongside other government publications, but I think it’s absurd that the government does not own a copy of its own official work product. It’s absurd that taxpayers throw billions of dollars into a court system that issues opinions that they have to pay to read and cite. It’s even more absurd that the government itself pays to read those cases, through research contracts for Westlaw and LexisNexis. Finally, it’s absurd that the AOC thinks that migrating documents from bankruptcy courts into FDSys is somehow going to solve this problem.

There is a REAL solution, but courts don’t want to talk about it:universal citation. If the clerks judges would put a citation on the opinion and insert paragraph numbers, it will be born digital and official. Make it available for download right away, and the private companies that have sprung up to provide alternative legal research services – some free, some cost effective – can get them up right away. Other companies are exploring ways to add value to these opinions in new and exciting ways. The government can take 3 years to move opinions around between databases and it won’t matter, because the public will use the private services instead.