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Archive for November, 2010

In a 2-1 decision, the First Circuit Court of Appeals held that the four million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico cannot vote in American elections, even though the U.S. government signed an international treaty protecting all citizens’ civil and political rights. The court stated that voting rights are "limited to the citizens of states" and not triggered by citizenship alone. According to the ruling, Puerto Rico residents could only vote in U.S. elections through a constitutional amendment or if the territory became a state.

The court further noted that the Constitution trumped international law in determining whether Puerto Rico has the right to elect its own member to the House of Representatives.

The class action filed by Gregorio Igartua, joined in part by the Puerto Rico government, was another attempt by U.S. citizens in the territory to gain voting rights. The case is Igartua’s fourth action before the First Circuit on the issue. In 2005, the court rejected Igartua’s claims that citizen-residents should be allowed to vote in presidential elections.

For the full story, click here.

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LaFont v. Mixon, No. 10-259.

The parties were involved in a five-car collision near the intersection of Arkansas Highways 7 and 84 in Bismarck, Arkansas. The first vehicle was stopped in the southbound lane of Highway 7, yielding to oncoming traffic while waiting to turn left into a private drive. Three other vehicles then stopped behind the first vehicle. Then, a vehicle driven by Jana Mooney Mixon (“Mixon”) collided with the rear-most of the four vehicles; this impact caused further impacts down the line of stopped vehicles. The third vehicle in the line of four was occupied by Christopher, Erin, and Tyler LaFont (“the LaFonts”). Their vehicle sustained damage from the rear-end impact with the fourth vehicle, as well as front-end impact with the second vehicle.

The LaFonts filed a complaint for negligence against Mixon, claiming damages for physical injuries suffered in the collision. In her answer, Mixon admitted to striking the vehicle in front of hers. Several months after the complaint was filed, Mixon made separate offers of judgment under Rule 68 of the Arkansas Rules of Civil Procedure to Christopher LaFont ($12,000.00), Erin LaFont ($14,000.00), and Tyler LaFont ($4,500.00). Because Mixon admitted liability, the sole issue before the jury was the LaFonts’ damages. Mixon present evidence contesting the LaFonts’ damages. At the conclusion of trial, the jury awarded $3,197.50 in total damages to Christopher LaFont, $2,447.50 in total damages to Erin LaFont, and $231.50 in total damages to Tyler LaFont. Pursuant to Rule 68, Mixon filed a motion for costs of $6,480.81. The trial court granted Mixon’s motion for costs and awarded costs of $6,091.72. The trial court then entered a judgment that (1) the LaFonts take $0 on their complaint against Mixon and (2) Mixon take $215.22 on her motion for costs.

Rule 68 states as follows:

At any time more than 10 days before the trial begins, a party defending against a claim may serve upon the adverse party an offer to allow judgment to be taken against him for the money or property or to the effect specified in his offer, with costs then accrued. If within 10 days after the service of the offer the adverse party serves written notice that the offer is accepted, either party may then file the offer and notice of acceptance together with proof of service thereof and judgment shall be entered. An offer not accepted shall be deemed withdrawn and evidence thereof is not admissible except in a proceeding to determine costs. If the judgment exclusive of interest from the date of offer finally obtained by the offeree is not more favorable than the offer, the offeree must pay the costs incurred after the making of the offer. The fact that an offer is made but not accepted does not not preclude a subsequent offer. . . . For the purposes of this rule, the term “costs” is defined as reasonable litigation expenses, excluding attorney’s fees.

On appeal, the LaFonts argued that, because Rule 68 applies only to offers made by defendants, it violated their fundamental right to a trial by jury under the Arkansas Constitution in that Rule 68 in not the least restrictive means of achieving the state’s interests in encouraging settlement of claims. The LaFonts contended that if Rule 68 allowed for plaintiffs as well as defendants to make offers of judgment and enforce them with the rule’s cost-shifting benefits, then Rule 68 would be implemented in the least restrictive manner possible. The Arkansas Supreme Court noted that, despite the LaFonts’ arguments that their right to trial by jury was chilled or limited by Rule 68, they elected to go forward and try their case before a jury. The court held that when the right to jury trial is not precluded by a procedural rule or statute, the procedural rule or statute is constitutional. Accordingly, because the LaFonts received a jury trial, Rule 68 did not infringe upon that right.

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Prior to his termination in 2009, Blayne Brisson worked for the city of Hewitt for seven years as a utility maintenance supervisor. He was fired, in part, for looking at pornography on his work computer after an investigator found more than 150 such images on his computer. Brisson was denied unemployment benefits and appealed the decision. However, both the trial court and the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the ruling of the administrative law judge, despite the lack of a city policy against the behavior or the commission of a crime. The court stated the following:

Using an employer’s computer to open pornographic e-mail attachments and access pornographic websites is a serious violation of the standards of behavior that the employer has a right to reasonably expect from an employee, even if the employer has not adopted a policy that prohibits the conduct.

For the full story, click here.

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