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Archive for June, 2009

Brummett v. Taylor, No. 08-1962.

Titan International, Inc., filed a federal racketeering lawsuit against the United Steelworkers of American and 130 union members regarding workers’ compensation claims Titan alleged were fraudulent.  In a press conference regarding the lawsuit, Titan’s president, Maurice Taylor, stated that workers in Des Moines plant had used the mail to file their workers’ compensation claims and had committed mail fraud.  Taylor did not mention any worker by name.  The local newspaper and local television news covered the press conference.  The media also did not mention any worker by name. 

Sixty of the workers sued in the federal racketeering lawsuit later sued Taylor, alleging he had defamed them during the press conference.  After a majority of the workers’ claims had been settled or dismissed, the remaining twenty plaintiffs proceeded to trial.  The jury awarded each plaintiff compensatory and punitive damages.  Taylor filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law.  The trial court granted the motion, holding that there was insufficient evidence of injury to plaintiffs’ reputations and that Taylor had made the statements “of and concerning” each plaintiff.

On appeal, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision.  The court noted that plaintiffs had presented sufficient proof that Taylor intended them to be the object of his statements.  However, following Restatement (Second) of Torts § 564, cmt. a, the court held that the audience also had to understand that the statements were about the individual plaintiffs.

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Norwood v. Sellers, No. CA08-952.

In 2003, Jeannie Rodgers signed as one of the attesting witnesses on the last will and testament of Thomas Norwood.  In 2006, Rodgers signed an affidavit stating that (1) she had been a subscribing witness to the will, (2) Norwood asked her to sign the will, and (3) she signed the will in Norwood’s presence.  However, in 2007, Rodgers testified at a hearing that (1) there were no other signatures on the will when she signed it, (2) Norwood never told her that it was his will, (3) Norwood never acknowledged his signature on the will, (4) she did not see Norwood or other other witness at the time she signed the will, and (5) she believed she was signing a loan.  The trial court accepted Norwood’s 2007 testimony and refused to probate the will.  On appeal, the Arkansas Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling, noting that substantial compliance with the other requirements for a valid will cannot overcome positive proof that one of the witnesses did not see the testator sign or acknowledge the will.

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John Matyas, a New York school district coach, was involved in an altercation with a parent.  Although some school officials discouraged Matyas from pressing criminal charges against the parent, other school officials supported his decision.  The parent was acquitted of the criminal charges and then sued Matyas for malicious prosecution.  Matyas filed a petition under the Education Law for the school district to defend him, and the trial court agreed that the school had a duty to defend him because the incident arose out of his duties as a coach.  On appeal, however, the New York appellate court noted the confusion of whether Matyas was told by the school district not to pursue criminal charges.  Accordingly, the court reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded the case for a hearing.  To read the full story, click here.

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The West Virginia Supreme Court ruled that Kathryn Kutil and Cheryl Hess, a lesbian couple, was entitled to an order preventing the removal of one of their seven foster children to a “traditional” home.  In late 2007, the couple accepted the baby who was born with cocaine and oxycodone in her bloodstream.  A month later, the guardian ad litem filed a motion to remove the baby from the “homosexual environment,” calling it “detrimental to the child’s overall welfare and well-being.”  The Department of Health and Human Resources added that the Kutil-Hess house had seven children in it, which exceeded the state limit on five unrelated children.  The trial court ordered that the child be transferred to a home with a father and a mother.
On appeal, the West Virginia Supreme Court found that the child “has formed a close emotional bond and nurturing relationship with her foster parents, which cannot be trivialized or ignored.”  The court further noted that the department caused that problem and “ignored any consideration of the impact relocation would have on Baby Girl C’s emotional, physical, and mental development.”  Finally, the court held that the couple “should not be excluded from consideration for the reason stated by respondent.”  For the full story, click here.

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Greenwood v. Anderson, No. 08-1200.

On December 30, 2006, Clifford Anderson, Jr., was driving a vehicle with Erica Greenwood and their five-and-a-half-month-old son, Michael Anderson, when they were involved in an automobile accident.  Erica and Michael were killed in the accident.  Michael’s maternal grandparents filed a negligence suit against Anderson on behalf of Michael’s estate.  Anderson moved for summary judgment under the doctrine of parental immunity.  The trial court agreed. 

On appeal, Michael’s grandparents argued that Anderson should not receive the benefit of parental immunity because he had been an “absent father,” who did not provide financial support for the child or spend any significant time with the child.  The Arkansas Supreme Court refused to allow this exception to the parental immunity doctrine, noting that it would require a inquiry into the relationship of all children and their parents to determine if the relationship was sufficient to justify immunity.  The court further stated that such an approach would be highly subjective.  The court affirmed the grant of summary judgment.

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Under the Illinois Domestic Violence Act, law enforcement officers are required to remove a victim of domestic abuse from the scene so that he or she can obtain an order of protection.  Margaret I. Wilson was shot and killed by her husband, David C. Wilson.  Her estate sued the city of Joliet for breaching its duty to protect her under the Act.  Prior to her death, Margaret made several phone calls to police and also flagged down an officer for help. However, the estate said the officers did not help Margaret obtain a protection order and failed to investigate whether there were guns in the Wilson home.  The city moved to dismiss the case, arguing that Margaret had to be a protected person (or under an order of protection) prior to her murder for the Act to apply.  The trial court agreed, but the Illinois Appellate court disagreed, holding that such a requirement would go against legislative intent.  For the full story, click here.

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The case of Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal from the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has gotten a lot of attention, even from this blog (click here for details).  The case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court over concerns regarding whether Justice Brent D. Benjamin should have recused from hearing the case because he had received contributions from Massey Coal.  The Supreme Court agreed that Justice Benjamin should have recused, noting that it was unconstitutional for him to sit on such a case.  For the full story, click here.

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