Archive for April, 2009

Johnson v. Rockwell Automation, Inc., No. 08-1009.

In February 2004, Darrell Johnson, an employee of Eastman Chemical Company, was injured while working on an Allen-Bradley starter bucket.    The starter bucket was designed, manufactured, and supplied to Eastman by Rockwell Automation.  Johnson brought suit in federal court, alleging that the safety interlock on the starter bucket was designed, manufactured, and supplied in a defective condition.  Because of the defect, the safety interlock became electrically powered when it should not have, which caused Johnson’s injuries.

During the course of litigation, Rockman noted it would rely on provisions of the Civil Justice Reform Act of 2003 (“CJRA”).  First, Rockman filed a notice of non-party fault under Ark. Code Ann. 16-55-202, naming Eastman as a nonparty at fault for the accident.  Under this provision of the CJRA, the jury would be allowed to apportion fault between the named party, Rockman, and the unnamed party, Eastman.  Second, Rockman sought enforcement of Ark. Code Ann. 16-55-212(b) to limit evidence of Johnson’s medical treatment to the amounts actually paid by Johnson or on behalf of Johnson.  Johnson was enrolled in a medical plan, which negotiated with Johnson’s medical providers to pay an amount less than the full costs originally charged.

The parties filed a joint motion for certification of these issues in federal court, which was granted.  The federal court certified them to the Arkansas Supreme Court.  The court accepted the certification.

As to Ark. Code Ann. 16-55-202, the court agreed with Johnson that the provision established a procedure that conflicted with the court’s rules of pleading, practice and procedure in violation of Article 4, Section 2 and Amendment 80, Section 3 of the Arkansas Constitution.  The court further stated the following:

[W]e take this opportunity to note that so long as a legislative provision dictates procedure, that provision need not directly conflict with our procedural rules to be unconstitutional.

Because the provision is procedural in nature, the Court held it offended the principles of separation of powers because the power to dictate procedure was granted to the courts.

Similarly, the court struck Ark. Code Ann. 16-55-212(b) because “the plain language of the medical-costs provision reveals that the instant statute promulgates a rules of evidence,” which fall within the court’s purview.  Accordingly, the Court also held that this provision offended the principles of separation of powers.


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Tom Martino of the consumer-advocacy show, “The Tom Martino Show,” invited Melissa Feroglia to call in to discuss her dispute with Mt. Hood Polaris concerning a jet ski she had purchased.  According to Feroglia, the jet ski repeatedly overheated and quit running.  Mt. Hood Polaris replaced the engine, but when that repair did not solve the problems, Mt. Hood Polaris offered to buy the jet ski back.  When Feroglia returned the jet ski, Mt. Hood Polaris refused to honor the offer and noted that the jet ski had been fixed.  At this point in the story, Martino stated, “Yeah…they’re just lying to you.”

Mt. Hood Polaris sued Martino for defamation, false light invasion of privacy, and interference with economic relations.  The trial court dismissed the claims, noting that they were protected by the state and federal First Amendment.  On appeal, Mt. Hood Polaris argued that his statements should not receive First Amendment protection because they were false.  The Ninth Circuit disagreed, holding that Martino’s statements were protected by the First Amendment.  For the full story, click here.

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Under Utah law, an injured worker’s compensation can be reduced if the worker also qualifies for Social Security benefits.  In a 2007 case, Nathan Merrill was permanently disabled while working for Dakota Cabinets.  He received $395 a week in workers’ compensation benefits.  Because Merrill qualified for Social Security, his workers’ compensation benefits were reduced.  The Utah Supreme Court held that the law was unconstitutional because it classified individuals based on their receipt of Social Security benefits without any rational basis for doing so.  For the full story, click here.

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Northwest Insurance Law Blog has an interesting summary of the recent Ninth Circuit decision in California Insurance Company v. Stimson Lumber Co.

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A Texas gas station was sued after its employee, Patrick Chang, accidentally shot a customer, Gary Williams.  Another customer asked Chang if the store sold bullets.  Chang responded by retrieving his personal guns to show them to the customer.  He began playing with the gun, drawing it as if he were in a Hollywood Western, and accident shot Williams who was nearby.  Williams obtained a $750,000 judgment against Chang and the gas station.  On appeal, a Texas appellate court held that Chang was not engaging in his job duties when he retrieved the gun and began playing with it.  For the full story, click here.

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The Connecticut General Assembly has drafted legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry after the Connecticut Supreme Court held that the state constitution required the same.  Governor M. Jodi Rell has noted she will sign the bill.  For a full account of the story, click here.

Vermont has already passed legislation allowing same-sex marriages.  Massachusetts and Iowa permit same-sex marriages because of rulings by their high courts.

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Carder Buick-Olds Co. v. Wooten, No. CA08-898.

In 1991, Carder sued Wooten related to the operation and sale of a used car business.  The parties reached a proposed settlement in 1992, but Carder later stated that no settlement had been agreed upon.  Wooten filed a motion to enforce the settlement, which the court granted in a 1993 judgment that provided Wooten would pay Carder $4,500 and turn over stock in the used car business to Carder within ten days.  Seven days after entry of the judgment, Wooten sent these items to Carder.  Carder return the items and appealed the judgment.  The Arkansas Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment, and Wooten again send the items to Carder.  Carder again returned them.  The matter then lay dormant for approximately eight years.

In 2003, Carder file a petition for writ of scire facias, seeking to revive the judgment against Wooten.  Wooten answered that the judgment had been satisfied by his tender.  The trial court agreed and denied the petition for writ of scire facias.  Carder appealed.

On appeal, Carder argued that Wooten’s earlier tender was not acceptable because it did not provide for any post-judgment interest.  The Arkansas Court of Appeals agreed that Wooten’s tender did not discharge his obligation, but noted that any post-judgment interest on the $4,500 offered seven days after the initial judgment would be minimal.  The court relied on the equitable doctrine of de minimis non curat lex, or the law is not interested in trivial matters, to hold that the minimal amount of post-judgment interest that was not paid in the initial offering was insufficient to allow Carder to now seek mutlipe years of post-judgment interest from Wooten.  The court reversed the trial court’s ruling and remanded the case with instructions for the trial court to enter an order allowing Wooten to satisfy the judgment by paying Carder $4,500 and turning over the stock.

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