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Archive for the ‘Constitutional Law’ Category

After he was arrested and later released without charge, Illinois resident Bruce Williams filed suit against four officers, alleging Fourth Amendment violations. According to Williams, the officers arrested him without probable cause and proceeded to assault him, causing facial scars that made it impossible for him to follow his vocation of cosmetologist/educator. Williams was allowed to proceed in forma pauperis and later retained attorney Garry Alonzo Payton on a contingent-fee basis.

Six months after the trial court’s deadline for the filing of a final pretrial order, and after repeated attempts to elicit a response from a draft pretrial order, the officers moved for sanctions. The trial court declined to dismiss the case, but refused to schedule a pretrial conference. Instead he ordered Williams and Payton to reimburse the legal expenses incurred in order to obtain a response to the draft order, approximately $9,000, within 30 days.

Williams unsuccessfully tried to negotiate a payment plan at a rate of $25 per month, unable to afford more on his $1,050 monthly salary. The officers rejected the plan and the 30-day deadline passed without payment. Though he acknowledged Williams’ poverty, the trial court dismissed the case for failure to pay the sanction.

Williams also complained to the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, blaming Payton for the delay in responding to the pretrial order. The commission agreed and ordered Payton to pay the sanction and suspended him for 45 days.

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals criticized the dismissal as a disproportionate response to the misdoing:

[Williams] was given 30 days; he sought 11,000. But the court was mistaken to term the plaintiff’s failure to pay ‘contumacious.’ No one doubts that he can’t afford to pay the monetary sanction. To ignore a party’s inability to pay a sanction could result in a disproportionate punishment–as this case illustrates.

Had the case been allowed to proceed to trial, the $10,000 settlement offered by the officers could have covered the sanction. The Seventh Circuit applauded the decision of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, noting that "Payton got off lightly. Ignoring the need to prepare a pretrial order was inexcusable. Ignoring the order to pay sanctions was worse; it was contempt of court." The Seventh Circuit reinstated Williams’ case and remanded it back to the trial court.

For the full story, click here.

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In 2003, Arizona requested a waiver from the Secretary of Health and Human Services (“the Secretary”) to expand its mandatory Medicare co-payments for (1) childless, nondisabled adults who earn up to 100% of the federal poverty level and (2) former recipients of state health care benefits in order to lower health care costs and close a $1 billion budget gap. The Secretary granted the waiver in 2004.

After the waiver was granted, a group of "economically vulnerable" Arizonans filed a class action against the Secretary and the director of Arizona’s Medicaid agency, alleging that (1) the increased and expanded mandatory co-payments violated the Medicaid Act’s cost-sharing restrictions, (2) the waiver was illegal, and (3) they had received inadequate notice of the changes. The trial court ruled that the plaintiffs, while vulnerable, were not defined as a "medically needy" population under the Medicaid Act. Because Arizona’s state health care plan does not cover them, the trial court found that the state was exempted from the law’s cost-sharing provisions as an "expansion population."

On appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed on this point, but remanded the case for a new look at the waiver and notice issues because of the following:

There is little, if any, evidence that the secretary considered the factors [federal statute] requires her to consider before granting Arizona’s waiver. . . . The record is not sufficient for this court to review the agency’s consideration of the impact Arizona’s demonstration project would have on the economically vulnerable.

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According to a complaint, a nine-year-old known old known only as Jane Doe in the court documents was checked out of Covington County Elementary School at least six times by an unauthorized stranger during the 2007-08 school year. The stranger, Tommy Keyes, signed the child out as her father and at least once as her mother. The complaint alleges that Keyes raped, sodomized, and molested Jane during these sessions and then returned her to school. The complaint further alleges that school officials never asked Keyes for identification or checked the "permission to check-out form" that each parent or guardian submitted to the school with the names of adults authorized to pick up their children.

Jane’s father and grandmother, Daniel and Geneva Magee, filed the complaint against the Covington County School District, several educators, and Keyes. The trial court dismissed the case against the school and its officials, however, holding that they had no duty to protect the girl.

On appeal, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the Magees that the school had a "special relationship" with Jane:

[She] was required to attend the school throughout the entire school day, out of the presence of her legal guardian and without any ability to leave; and Jane’s exclusive confinement by the school, entirely without the protection of her legal guardian, in combination with her young age, made Jane wholly dependent on the School for her safety.

After finding that a special relationship existed, the court then concluded that the school and its officials acted with deliberate indifference to Jane’s safety by checking her out to an unauthorized adult (whom they did not know) without verifying his identity to confirm that he was authorized by Jane’s legal guardian to check her out of school. The court then reversed the dismissal of the school district to allow the family to proceed in its case against the school district for possible violations of her substantive due-process rights. The court agreed, however, that qualified immunity protects the school officials from liability.

For the full story, click here.

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Gregory Lowrey, owner of the Happy Valley Tattoo parlor, challenged the Utah Department of Workforce Services Appeals Board’s decision that the wages of a former employee, Jacklyn Johnson, were subject to unemployment insurance. Lowry argued that the business was part of his church, UBU Ministries, which includes tattooing among its religious tenets.

On appeal to the Utah Court of Appeals, Lowrey contended that Johnson was an employee of UBU and was fired for just cause. The court found that Lowrey failed to prove any of his claims, including the point that UBU qualified as an exempt religious organization:

Lowrey does not identify anything in the record besides his testimony as to UBU’s religious nature that would establish UBU as an exempt organization under the statutory definition.

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Viasystems, Inc. v. EMB-Papst St. Georgen GmbH & Co., KG, No. 10-2460.

Facts

Viasystems, Inc. (“Viasystems”), is a Delaware corporation based principally in Saint Louis, Missouri, that manufactures telecommunications equipment. In 2007, Viasystems contracted with Ericsson A.B. (“Ericsson”), a Swedish company, to manufacture base units that would eventually be distributed in Japan. Each unit required a cooling fan, which Viasystems purchased from EMB-Papst St. Georgen GmbH & Co. (“St. Georgen”), a German corporation. At no point did the cooling fans or base units enter the United States.

Ericsson found that some of the cooling fans were malfunctioning and informed Viasystems. Viasystems traced the issue to a manufacturing defect. Ericsson paid over $5 million to replace the defective cooling fans and demanded reimbursement from Viasystems. Viasystems partially reimbursed Ericsson and made a demand upon St. Georgen to assume responsibility for the replacement costs. St. Georgen made a partial payment of almost $1.5 million to Viasystems and then refused to pay anything further.

Viasystems filed suit in federal court against St. Georgen, claiming diversity jurisdiction and asserting various contract and tort claims. St. Georgen filed a motion to dismiss based on lack of personal jurisdiction. The trial court granted the motion, and Viasystem appealed.

Decision

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals explained that personal jurisdiction over a defendant can be general or specific:

‘Specific jurisdiction refers to jurisdiction over causes of action arising from or related to a defendant’s actions within the forum state,’ while ‘[g]eneral jurisdiction . . . refers to the power of a state to adjudicate any cause of action involving a particular defendant, regardless of where the cause of action arose.’

Although Viasystems alleged both specific and general jurisdiction over St. Georgen, the court noted that the due-process threshold was not satisfied for either. As the Supreme Court of the United States has long held, a defendant must have had sufficient minimum contacts with the forum state so that the defendant should reasonably anticipate being taken to court in that state. The court found that St. Georgen’s calls, e-mails, and a money transfer to Missouri could not provide the substantial connection needed to confer jurisdiction.

Accordingly, the court upheld the trial court’s dismissal.

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In 2004, Mercatus Group partnered with Evanston Northwestern Healthcare to open a physician center in the village of Lake Bluff, a short distance away from the almost 70-year-old Lake Forest Hospital. Recognizing the threat a competing facility would pose, Lake Forest Hospital began a lobbying and public-relations campaign to prevent the center’s launch. The hospital directly lobbied the village board and community members and offered incentives to keep physician-practice groups from leaving the hospital to join the new center. After the village board refused to rezone the land for medical use, the physicians stayed at the hospital, killing the Mercatus center. Mercatus then sued the hospital, alleging anti-competitive practices under the Sherman Act. The trial court found that the hospital’s efforts were constitutionally protected speech and granted summary judgment to the hospital.

On appeal, Mercatus argued that the hospital made misrepresentations to the board, the public, and the physicians it pulled away from the center and that those misrepresentations negated constitutional protection. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the arguments, noting antitrust litigation "’cannot be used to chill [the] constitutional right’ to ‘petition without fear of sanctions.’" The court further stated the following:

To make such injuries from public relations campaigns actionable under the antitrust laws would ‘be tantamount to outlawing all such campaigns.

Finally, the court explained that, though the hospital allegedly lied to physicians that Mercatus had violated certain anti-kickback regulations, antitrust laws do not prohibit "conduct that is only unfair, impolite, or unethical.” Accordingly, the court affirmed the trial court’s decision.

For the full story, click here.

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In September 2005, Tanisha Matthews, an overnight stocker at Wal-Mart for nine years, became involved in an impassioned discussion about God and homosexuality with a lesbian co-worker named Amy during a break. When Wal-Mart officials investigated the incident, they learned that Matthews screamed at Amy that God does not accept gays, that gays should not "be on earth," and that they will "go to hell" because they are not "right in the head." After the three-month investigation, Matthews was fired for violating Wal-Mart’s Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy, which prohibits employees from harassment based on an individual’s status, including sexual orientation.

Matthews sued Wal-Mart, arguing that Wal-Mart fired her for stating her religious belief that gays will go to hell, which she maintains is central to her Apostolic-Christian faith. If perceived harassment had really spurred Wal-Mart’s action, Matthews said the company would not have let her continue working with Amy for the next three months during the company’s investigation. The trial court granted summary judgment to Wal-Mart, finding no evidence that similarly situated employees had received different treatment.

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision, noting the following:

Wal-Mart fired [Matthews] because she violated the company policy when she harassed a coworker, not because of her beliefs, and employers need not relieve workers from complying with neutral workplace rules as a religious accommodation if it would create an undue hardship.               

For the full story, click here.

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