Articles Tagged with Justia Weekly Writers’ Picks

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 →

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 →

Scialabba v. de Osorio, US Supreme Court (6/9/14)
Immigration Law

Statue of LibertyQualifying U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) may petition for family members to obtain immigrant visas. A sponsored individual (principal beneficiary) is placed into a “family preference” category based on relationship to the petitioner, 8 U.S.C. 1153(a)(1)–(4). The principal beneficiary’s spouse and minor children qualify as derivative beneficiaries, entitled to the same status and order of consideration as the principal. Beneficiaries become eligible to apply for visas in order of priority date, the date a petition was filed. Because the process often takes years, a child may age out and lose status before she obtains a visa. The Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) provides that if the age of an alien is determined to be 21 years or older, notwithstanding allowances for bureaucratic delay, the petition “shall automatically be converted to the appropriate category and the alien shall retain the original priority date issued upon receipt of the original petition.”  In this case, principal beneficiaries who became LPRs, filed petitions for their aged-out children (who did not have a qualifying relationship with the original sponsor), asserting that the newly filed petitions should receive the same priority date as their original petitions.  U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) disagreed. The district court granted the government summary judgment, deferring to the Board of Immigration Appeals’ (BIA’s) determination under section 1153(h)(3). The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the provision entitled all aged-out derivative beneficiaries to automatic conversion and priority date retention. The Supreme Court reversed, reasoning that each immigrant must have a qualified and willing sponsor. If an original sponsor does not have a legally recognized relationship with the aged-out children, another sponsor must be identified for the alien to qualify for a new family preference category. Immigration officials do not know whether a valid sponsor exists unless the aged-out beneficiary files and USCIS approves a new petition. Section 1153(h)(3) does not require a new petition for derivative beneficiaries who had a qualifying relationship with an LPR both before and after they aged out. In contrast, the nieces, nephews, and grandchildren of the initial sponsors cannot qualify for “automatic conversion.”  The BIA’s interpretation benefits from administrative simplicity and fits with immigration law’s basic first-come, first-served rule.

Read More:  Supreme Court setback for underage visa applicants

Read additional Supreme Court opinions handed down this week at Justia’s Supreme Court Center Continue reading →