09 December 2014

Law in Plain English: Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogIntegrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk

Argument: Oct 8 2014 (Aud.)

Background: Jesse Busk and Laurie Castro are former employees of Integrity Staffing Solutions, which provides warehouse space and staffing to clients such as Amazon.com. Busk and Castro sued Integrity under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA, as amended by the Portal-to-Portal Act) for requiring its employees to pass through a security clearance area at the end of each shift without being compensated for that time. The district court ruled for Integrity, holding (based on cases from two other circuits) that the time spent clearing security was not compensable. The Ninth Circuit reversed, finding that because Integrity required the security screenings to prevent employee theft, the time could be considered 1) necessary to the principal work performed and 2) done for the benefit of the employer.

Issue: The question before the Court is whether time spent in security screenings is compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act, as amended by the Portal-to-Portal Act.

Holding: In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court ruled that the time that respondents spent waiting to undergo and undergoing security screenings is not compensable under the FLSA because the screenings at issue were noncompensable postliminary activities as defined by the Portal-to-Portal Act.

Law in Plain English: Warger v. Shauers

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogWarger v. Shauers

Argument: Oct 8 2014 (Aud.)

Background: Gregory Warger sued Randy Shauers for injuries he sustained during a traffic accident. The jury returned a verdict for Shauers. However, after the jury was released, one of the jurors contacted Warger's lawyer and expressed his concern as to the jury foreperson having behaved inappropriately during deliberations. Specifically, the juror alleged the foreperson had focused on her own daughter's past experience with a serious traffic accident, rather than the evidence presented at trial, In an affidavit, the juror contended that during deliberations the foreperson stated her daughter's life would have been ruined had her daughter been held liable for damages caused by the accident, and that she was unwilling to return a verdict for Warger because the Shauers were a young couple and their lives would also be ruined should they be found liable. Courts have held that juror testimony can be used to show dishonesty during voir dire for the purpose of contempt proceedings against the juror, but there is a split among the circuits as to whether such testimony may be used to challenge a verdict. The Eighth Circuit ruled that the juror's affidavit was not admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b), which prohibits inquiries into the validity of a verdict. Although Rule 606 provides three exceptions to the general rule prohibiting the admissibility of such evidence, the panel ruled that jurors' personal experiences do not meet the extraneous information exception.

Issue: The question before the Court was whether Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) permits a party moving for a new trial based on juror dishonest during voir dire to introduce juror testimony about statements made during deliberations that tend to show the alleged dishonesty.

Holding: In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Rule 606(b) applies to juror testimony during a proceeding in which a party seeks to secure a new trial on the ground that a juror lied during voir dire because the plain meaning of Rule 606(b) applies to “an inquiry into the validity of [the] verdict.”

07 December 2014

Phantom test flight

Here is the (mostly) raw video from the first test flight of my DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter. I have a GoPro camera on the Phantom.

 

03 December 2014

Law in Plain English: Mach Mining v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogMach Mining v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Argument: Jan 13 2015 (Aud.)

Background: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received a charge of discrimination in early 2008 from a woman who claimed Mach Mining had denied a number of her applications for coal mining jobs because of her gender. After investigating the charge, the agency determined there was reasonable cause to believe Mach Mining had discriminated against a class of female job applicants at its mine near Johnston City, Illinois. In late 2010, the EEOC notified the company of its intention to begin informal conciliation. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 directs the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to try to negotiate an end to an employer’s unlawful employment practices before suing for a judicial remedy. In September 2011, the EEOC told Mach Mining that it had determined the conciliation process had been unsuccessful and that further efforts would be futile. The EEOC filed its complaint in the district court two weeks later. Mach Mining’s answer asserted several affirmative defenses, including the allegation that the suit should be dismissed because the EEOC failed to conciliate in good faith. The district court held that judicial review of conciliation is appropriate in the form of an affirmative defense. The Seventh Circuit reversed, noting that language of the statute, the lack of a meaningful standard for courts to apply, and the overall statutory scheme convinced the court that an alleged failure to conciliate was not an affirmative defense to the merits of a discrimination suit.

Issue: The question before the Court is whether and to what extent a court may enforce the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's mandatory duty to conciliate discrimination claims before filing suit.

Holding: TBD

01 December 2014

All good things must come to an end

I've been writing Plain English summaries of Supreme Court cases for a while now. By last count, I have written nearly 230 of them over the last few years. As I wrote last year:
The time that goes into each particular page varies, but on average I spent about 30-60 minutes during the initial write-up.
This is a lot of time! Something on the order of 75 cases per year, plus other summaries, at 30-60 minutes (or more), takes a huge amount of resources. I'm reaching the point where the return is no longer worth my investment. I had hoped to be able to spin off this effort from my blog into something bigger, but that just hasn't panned out (of course, if this is something you're interested in, please let me know and I'll be happy to reconsider). So my plan is to finish off this term, through June 2015. After that, I plan to discontinue blog posts for every case, but I don't have specific details on what I want to do after that.

You can view the full body my Plain English summaries by clicking on the tabs above for the term in question; or just click here (OT12, OT13, OT14).

I have really enjoyed spending the last few years working on Plain English. I hope that you have enjoyed it, too.

Law in Plain English: Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc.

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogTexas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc.

Argument: Jan 21 2015 (Aud.)

Background: The Inclusive Communities Project (ICP) is a non-profit organization that assists low-income, predominately African-American families who are eligible for the Dallas Housing Authority’s Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program in finding affordable housing in predominately Caucasian, suburban neighborhoods. ICP filed suit action against the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) alleging that TDHCA's allocation of Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) in Dallas resulted in a disparate impact on African-American residents under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The district court held that ICP had proven that the allocation of tax credits resulted in a disparate impact on African-American residents. The Fifth Circuit remanded the case to the district court to apply the burden-shifting approach found in HUD regulation 24 C.F.R. § 100.500 for claims of disparate impact under the FHA. First, a plaintiff must prove a prima facie case of discrimination by showing that a challenged practice causes a discriminatory effect. If the plaintiff makes a prima facie case, the defendant must then prove “that the challenged practice is necessary to achieve one or more substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interests....” If the defendant meets its burden, the plaintiff must then show that the defendant’s interests “could be served by another practice that has a less discriminatory effect.”

Issue: The question before the Court is whether disparate-impact claims are cognizable under the Fair Housing Act.

Holding: TBD

Law in Plain English: Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogWilliams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar

Argument: Jan 20 2015 (Aud.)

Background: In September 2009, Lanell Williams-Yulee became a candidate for County Court Judge, Group 10, Hillsborough County, Florida. On September 4, 2009, Williams-Yulee signed a campaign fundraising letter, in which she personally solicited campaign contributions. She admitted to having reviewed and approved the letter. A referee determined that Williams-Yulee violated Canon 7C(1) of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, which provides in pertinent part: “A candidate...for a judicial office that is filled by public election between competing candidates shall not personally solicit campaign funds....” Williams-Yulee appealed, alleging that Canon 7C(1) violated the First Amendment. The Florida Supreme Court upheld the finding, ruling that Canon 7C(1) served compelling State interests in protecting the integrity of the judiciary and maintaining the public’s confidence in an impartial judiciary; and that it was narrowly tailored to effectuate those interests.

Issue: The question before the Court is whether a rule of judicial conduct that prohibits candidates for judicial office from personally soliciting campaign funds violates the First Amendment.

Holding: TBD

30 November 2014

Law in Plain English: United States v. June

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogUnited States v. June

Argument: Dec 10 2014 (Aud.)

Background: On February 19, 2005, Andrew Edward Booth was killed in a car accident on an interstate highway in Arizona when the vehicle in which he was traveling as a passenger crossed a cable median barrier and crashed into oncoming traffic. In 2006, Marlene June, acting as conservator for Booth’s minor son, filed a wrongful death action against a contractor and against the State of Arizona for negligently installing and maintaining the median barrier. Because of FHWA's delays in making certain employees available for deposition, June's counsel did not learn until April 2009 that the FHWA permitted the allegedly defective cable median barrier to be installed and remain in service despite never having passed the FHWA’s crashworthiness testing. On December 20, 2010, more than five years after the accident, respondent presented a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The FTCA has a statute of limitations that “[a] tort claim against the United States shall be forever barred unless it is presented in writing to the appropriate Federal agency within two years after such claim accrues...” On March 18, 2011, the FHWA denied respondent’s claim as untimely. The district court dismissed the case as untimely filed. An en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit reversed, finding that 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b) was subject to equitable tolling. As a result, June's claim could proceed. 

Issue: The question before the Court is whether the two-year time limit for filing an administrative claim with the appropriate federal agency under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b), is subject to equitable tolling.

Holding: TBD

Law in Plain English: United States v. Wong

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogUnited States v. Wong

Argument: Dec 10 2014 (Aud.)

Background: Hong Kong citizen Kwai Fun Wong, a leader of the Wu Wei Tien Tao religious group, was detained and deported for unlawful entry into the United States. On May 18, 2001, Wong filed a negligence claim with the (then) Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS),  alleging that she had been mistreated by that agency while she was detained. After the INS denied her claim on December 3, 2001, Wong filed a claim on August 13, 2002, under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), alleging the same conduct. The FTCA has a statute of limitations that “[a] tort claim against the United States shall be forever barred...unless action is begun within six months after the...final denial of the claim by the agency to which it was presented.” The district court dismissed Wong's FTCA claim because it was not filed within six months. An en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit reversed, finding that the statute of limitations was subject to equitable tolling. Wong's claim was filed late "due solely to the delay inherent in the Magistrate Judge system," and not through any fault of Wong's. As a result, Wong's claim could proceed.

Issue: The question before the Court is whether the six-month time bar for filing suit in federal court under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b), is subject to equitable tolling.

Holding: TBD

Law in Plain English: Gelboim v. Bank of America Corporation

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogGelboim v. Bank of America Corporation

Argument: Dec 9 2014 (Aud.)

Background: Ellen Gelboim filed a lawsuit against Bank of America and other financial institutions alleging that they colluded to manipulate the London Interbank Offer Rate (LIBOR), a daily interest rate benchmark that is used to help set the interest rate of financial transactions across the globe. Gelboim’s case was consolidated with a number of other similar cases (four from the Southern District of New York, and three from the Northern District of Illinois) in New York for pre-trial purposes. During the pre-trail phase, the district court dismissed a number of the cases, including Gelboim’s, for failure to state a claim. Gelboim appealed, but the Second Circuit dismissed Gelboim’s appeal and held that it lacked jurisdiction over the appeal because the district court had not entered a final order concerning all the claims in the consolidated action.

Issue: The question before the Court is whether and in what circumstances the dismissal of an action that has been consolidated with other suits is immediately appealable.

Holding: TBD

My Country Music in Ten Songs: Brad Paisley / Old Alabama

One in a series of posts presenting ten songs that represent country music for me. Not necessarily my top ten favorite songs. Presented in no particular order. For the rest of the series, see here.

25 November 2014

The first whistleblowers

In today's age of whistleblowers, it's worth noting that the practice is hundreds of years old. One of the first, although not commonly recognized as such, was at the center of one of the most important Supreme Court cases in our nation's history.

In 1816, the Congress of the United States passed a law which provided for the incorporation of the Second Bank of the United States. The Bank first went into full operation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1817, the Bank opened a branch in Baltimore, Maryland. Soon thereafter, the General Assembly of Maryland passed an act designed to impose a tax on all banks in the State of Maryland that hadn't been chartered by the legislature (the Baltimore Branch of the Second Bank of the United States was the only such bank).

James W. McCulloh (right; misspelled McCulloch in the eventual Supreme Court case; and not to be confused with James H. McCulloch, who was the customs collector in Baltimore at the same time), cashier of the Baltimore Branch of the Second Bank of the United States, refused to pay the tax. The State of Maryland argued that because the Constitution did not specifically state that the federal government was authorized to charter a bank, the Bank of the United States was unconstitutional. The courts in Maryland agreed; but in a landmark decision, the Supreme Court reversed. Chief Justice John Marshall famously expounded upon the scope of Congressional powers under Article I of the Constitution, and in particular, the Necessary and Proper Clause.

Most of that history is well known. What is less known is how the case came to the courts in the first place. The Maryland law passed to tax the Bank included the following provision:
And be it enacted that the President, cashier, each of the directors and officers of every institution established or to be established as aforesaid, offending against the provisions aforesaid shall forfeit a sum of $500 for each and every offence, and every person having any agency in circulating any note aforesaid, not stamped as aforesaid directed, shall forfeit a sum not exceeding $100, every penalty aforesaid to be recovered by indictment or action of debt in the county court of the county where the offence shall be committed, one-half to the informer and the other half to the use of the State...
John James was the informer who filed the lawsuit against McCulloh for failure to pay the tax, knowing that he would recover half of the prescribed penalties (today, this sort of whistleblower claim is sometimes called a qui tam action). But because McCulloh ultimately prevailed, John James was never able to recover from his whistleblower claim. Maybe that's one reason why very little is known about James. A contemporary directory of Baltimore lists a tin manufacturer named John James. Beyond that, there isn't much to go on.

The Brown family is partially responsible for what happened last night in Ferguson

Michael Brown's family had largely claimed the moral high ground in the weeks leading up to the indictment announcement by calling for nonviolent protest. Then--despite having a pretty good idea of what the result would be--immediately upon hearing that result, Michael Brown's stepfather repeatedly yelled, "Burn this bitch down!" Raw emotion, but the moral high ground had been lost. Yes, I'm calling out Michael Brown's family for being partially responsible for last night's violence. To be clear, I'm not suggesting they they're criminally responsible or that they should be charged with a crime. But they certainly have some moral responsibility for what happened. We lost our son in a situation that involved a police officer, too. Different circumstances, but in the end our son is dead, too. We, as much as anyone else can, understand the raw emotion. But what Michael Brown's stepfather did went too far. He took advantage of the spotlight that had been on the family and used it to push for destructive ends. He used his position as a grieving step-father in the spotlight to encourage people to commit violence. It is inexcusable.


17 November 2014

Do the right thing

Last week, I was riding the Baltimore Light Rail and I found a wallet. I'll be honest with you--the first thought that went through my head was to leave it. I know this sounds heartless. But knowing the shady types of people that one is likely to encounter on the Light Rail (and I've seen my fair share), my first instinct is to leave it because I don't want to get involved. My brain has been wired to expect that it's entirely possible that someone is running some type of scam. Maybe they're not targeting me directly, but they're looking for a sucker. I didn't want to be that guy.

Against my initial thought, I picked it up and looked through it. It was an ID wallet with several disability ID cards for the Light Rail and DC Metro as well as other stuff you find in a wallet (no, there was no money or credit cards).

I thought about turning the wallet over to the Light Rail driver, but wondered how long it might take to find its owner, if ever. I thought about dropping it off at the MTA headquarters, but again wondered if this wallet would get lost in the system. Against my initial thought, I pocked the wallet with the intent of locating the owner and returning it to him.

When I returned home (with a little bit of advance work by my better half), it took all of five minutes of searching to find the owner. I was able to contact him, confirm it was his, and then meet up with him (in a public place) to turn it over.

I write this not to suggest that I did anything special. I did what I hope someone else would do if I had lost my wallet. He probably went through a hassle to get his disability ID cards and I was able to save him the pain. But more importantly, I went against my initial reaction. Riding the Light Rail every day, walking through Baltimore every day, grates on you. Your guard is up at all times. Your head is on a swivel. You're always looking out for potential threats. This isn't to suggest that Baltimore is a terrible place. But I've learned though experience that being cautious is the best defense. A few murders and assaults in the immediate vicinity of the campus will do that to you. Being on guard 24/7 wears you down emotionally and physically. After a while, it becomes very easy to say "no" to everything.

But sometimes, you should do the right thing.