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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?


Posted in: Legal News

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Mandatory Fees at the University of CaliforniaThe California State Auditor recently released a report titled The University of California: Its Admissions and Financial Decisions Have Disadvantaged California Resident Students. Figure 9, which charts the mandatory fees paid by undergraduate students, caught my attention. I’ve removed the numbers and the Y-axis scale for illustrative purposes.

At first glance, it appears that residents are paying higher mandatory fees than nonresidents. From 2011 onwards, the chart gives the impression that residents are paying twice as much as nonresidents. However, this chart is incredibly misleading.


Posted in: Education Law

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SUPREME_COURT_7375

Same-sex marriages are legal in the United States, but you would not know that if you only consulted the state codes. Last June, the United States Supreme Court handed down its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. ___ (2015). In Obergefell, the Court considered two questions: (1) did the Fourteenth Amendment require states to license a marriage between two people of the same sex; and (2) did the Fourteenth Amendment require states to recognize a same-sex marriage that was lawfully licensed and performed in a different state. On both questions, the Court answered in the affirmative.

So, what happens when a court holds that a state law is unconstitutional? I wanted to see if state legislatures updated their state codes in the face of adverse United States Supreme Court precedent so I looked up the marriage laws from the states that were the subject of this litigation: Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.


Posted in: Civil Rights

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Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. applied for an interesting fraud detection patent in March 2014. This patent covers the process of verifying the identity of a client who calls in for customer service. If you have ever called a credit card company or your bank, you should already be familiar with their security prompts. First, the bank sees whether the call came from an authorized phone number. Next, you are prompted for your mother’s maiden name or the answer to another challenge question.

This patent looks at voice biometrics by analyzing voice signals to detect stress during the verification process, such as when the caller is prompted by a verification or security question. If the caller provides a higher frequency response during the verification process, that may indicate a fear of being detected or exposed.

This process also seeks to match voice biometrics with voice samples of individuals suspected of being fraudsters from a database.


Posted in: Patent

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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.


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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


Posted in: Legal News

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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.


Posted in: Legal News

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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


Posted in: Legal News

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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.


Posted in: Legal News

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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.


Posted in: Legal News