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    The Lawletter Blog

    CRIMINAL LAW: Insanity Defense

    Posted by Mark V. Rieber on Tue, Feb 2, 2021 @ 10:02 AM

    The Lawletter Vol 46 No 1

    Mark Rieber—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                In Kahler v. Kansas, 140 S. Ct. 1021 (2020), the U.S. Supreme Court recently held that the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution does not require a state to adopt a particular formulation of the insanity defense. The ruling came in a case out of Kansas where the state had adopted the "cognitive incapacity" test, which examines whether a defendant was able to understand what he was doing when he committed the crime. The Kansas statute does not incorporate the "moral incapacity" test, which is the inquiry into whether a defendant could not distinguish right from wrong when committing the crime. The defendant contended that the state's failure to allow a defendant to raise a defense based on "moral incapacity" violated due process. The Court rejected such argument, holding that a state's insanity rule was substantially open to state choice.

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    Topics: Due Process Clause, criminal law, Mark V. Rieber, Kansas, insanity defense, cognitive incapacity test

    CIVIL PROCEDURE: Maritime Law—Could COVID-19 Cruise Ship Passenger Litigation Sink the Cruise Line Industry?

    Posted by Charlene J. Hicks on Tue, Feb 2, 2021 @ 10:02 AM

    The Lawletter Vol 46 No 1

    Charlene Hicks—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                The COVID-19 pandemic has proven disastrous for cruise lines and passengers alike, with multiple coronavirus outbreaks and lengthy quarantine periods imposed. The resulting lawsuits have met with mixed results.

                In Weissberger v. Princess Cruise Lines, Ltd., No. 2:20-CV-02328-RGK-SK, 2020 WL 3977938 (C.D. Cal. July 14, 2020), plaintiffs claimed that Princess Cruise Lines was negligent and/or grossly negligent because it had knowledge that a disembarking passenger had symptoms of COVID-19 but it made the conscious decision to continue sailing with 3,000 passengers aboard. The Weissbergers claimed emotional distress damages arising from the ship's quarantine and the associated trauma from fear of developing the virus.

                The court recharacterized the negligence counts as claims for the negligent infliction of emotional distress. Id. at *2. From there, the court invoked the "zone of danger" test applicable to maritime cases, which "limits recovery for emotional injury to two categories of plaintiffs: (1) 'plaintiffs who sustain a physical impact as a result of a defendant's negligent conduct'[;] and (2) plaintiffs 'who are placed in immediate risk of physical harm by that conduct.'" Id. (quoting Consol. Rail Corp. v. Gottshall, 512 U.S. 532, 547-48 (1994)) (Weissberger court's emphasis).

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    Topics: emotional distress, damages, Charlene J. Hicks, maritime law, COVID-19, liability of cruise line

    PROPERTY: Landlord Liability for Wrongful Death

    Posted by D. Bradley Pettit on Fri, Dec 18, 2020 @ 11:12 AM

    The Lawletter Vol 45 No 6

    Brad Pettit—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                In a very recent ruling that was consistent with prior Virginia state court decisions that favor residential landlords in cases involving personal injury suits by tenants against landlords, a federal district court sitting in Virginia dismissed wrongful death and intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED") actions by the plaintiff, a mobile home owner, against a mobile home park lot owner that arose when a decaying tree fell on the plaintiff's mobile home and crushed her son to death. Darlington v. Harbour E. Vill. LLC, No. 3:20cv157-HEH, 2020 WL 3979664 (E.D. Va. July 14, 2020) (slip copy) (only the Westlaw citation is currently available), appeal filed (4th Cir. Aug. 11, 2020). Even though there was evidence that prior residents in the mobile home park had warned the lot owner at least three times about the decaying tree and the dangers that it posed, the Darlington court ruled that, in the absence of a statutory or common-law duty on the part of the mobile home park lot owner/lessor to the mobile homeowner/lot lessee to maintain a safe condition of the lot, the plaintiff could not bring a wrongful death claim against the lot lessor:

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    Topics: wrongful death, property, landlord liability, D. Bradley Pettit, statutory or common-law law duty, IIED claim

    CIVIL PROCEDURE: Bid to Recover Picasso Painting Foiled in Rare Case Where Laches Defense Overcomes Express Statute of Limitations

    Posted by Paul A. Ferrer on Fri, Dec 18, 2020 @ 11:12 AM

    The Lawletter Vol 45 No 6

    Paul Ferrer—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                Laches is "a defense developed by courts of equity to protect defendants against unreasonable, prejudicial delay in commencing suit." SCA Hygiene Prods. Aktiebolag v. First Quality Baby Prods., LLC, 137 S. Ct. 954, 960 (2017) (internal quotation marks omitted). It is frequently said, however, that laches cannot be invoked to bar legal relief in the face of an express statute of limitations enacted by Congress. Id. at 959. But that is exactly what happened in Zuckerman v. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 928 F.3d 186 (2d Cir. 2019), cert. denied, 140 S. Ct. 1269 (2020).

                In Zuckerman, the plaintiff, Laurel Zuckerman, brought suit to recover a painting—"The Actor" by Pablo Picasso—that had been owned by her great-granduncle and aunt, the Leffmanns. The Leffmanns were German Jews who were forced to flee the country in 1937. They arranged for the painting to be held by a Swiss acquaintance, who sold the painting in 1938 to raise funds for the Leffmanns to relocate to Brazil.

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    Topics: Paul A. Ferrer, statute of limitations, laches defense, Picasso painting, Zuckerman v. MOMA

    CORONAVIRUS: Hoarding During the Pandemic

    Posted by James P. Witt on Fri, Dec 18, 2020 @ 11:12 AM

    The Lawletter Vol 45 No 6

    Jim Witt—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                While the as yet unexplained hoarding of toilet paper may be thought of as the light side of the coronavirus pandemic, on the not-so-light side is the hoarding of medical supplies, notably drugs and medical equipment such as masks and ventilators. The federal government has taken two steps in this regard—first, an Executive Order from the President, and, second, a warning from the Department of Justice.

                Executive Order No. 13910, 85 FR 17001, "Preventing Hoarding of Health and Medical Resources to Respond to the Spread of COVID-19" (Mar. 23, 2020), was announced under the authority of the Constitution and the Defense Production Act of 1950 (the "Act"), as amended (50 U.S.C. §§ 4501 et seq.).

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    Topics: James P. Witt, COVID-19, presidential orders, hoarding, Defense Production Act

    CONTRACTS: Emergency Orders and Delayed/Excused Action

    Posted by Jason Holder on Fri, Dec 18, 2020 @ 10:12 AM

    The Lawletter Vol 45 No 6

    Jason Holder—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

         With the spread of COVID-19, most jurisdictions have declared a state of emergency and/or issued executive orders curtailing daily life. See, e.g., Cal. Exec. Order N-33-20 (Californians must "stay home or at their place of residence except as needed to maintain continuity of operations of the federal critical infrastructure sectors"); D.C. Mayor’s Order 2020-054 (District residents must "stay in their residences except to perform essential activities, engage in essential business, provide or obtain government services, or engage in certain authorized recreational activities not involving close contact with other persons"); N.Y. Exec. Order 202.8 (nonessential businesses and nonprofit entities must "reduce the in-person workforce at any work locations by 100%"); Va. Exec. Order 53 (nonessential "brick and mortar retail business[es] . . . may continue to operate but must limit all in-person shopping to no more than 10 patrons per establishment"). State and federal courts have also been forced to alter procedures, extend deadlines, or even limit court access. An updated list of orders, see https://web.csg.org/covid19/executive-orders/. Court closures and restrictions can be found at https://www.law360.com/articles/1252836.

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    Topics: contracts, Jason Holder, COVID-19, executive orders, suspension of contractual obligation

    FEDERAL TORTS CLAIMS ACT: Feres Doctrine Cracked? Opening of Pandora's Box or Further Encasement in Stone?

    Posted by Trish Sifka on Thu, Oct 1, 2020 @ 08:10 AM

    The Lawletter Vol 45 No 5

    Trish Sifka, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

         On December 20, 2019, President Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act ("NDAA"), SB 1790, 133 Stat 1198, into law. This legislation included a substantial "crack" in the over 70-year-old, court-imposed Feres doctrine, which barred tort claims by military members against the United States for injuries incurred incident to service. Under this new provision in the NDAA, the Department of Defense ("DOD") can administratively receive, review, and settle tort claims filed by military members for personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of a DOD health-care provider. However, there are limitations. The injuries must not have been sustained in a combat zone. Claims are limited to medical malpractice claims against military medical personnel at military medical facilities. The provision also sets a two-year statute of limitations except for 2017 injuries that are filed in 2020.   Damages will be based on average federal court damages data for similar injuries. Claimants will be allowed to be represented by an attorney, but there is no judicial review.

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    Topics: FTCA, Feres Doctrine, claims against DOD health-care provider, National Defense Authorization Act

    ESTATES: Can Legitimacy of a Putative Heir Be Challenged in an Intestacy Administration?

    Posted by Matthew T. McDavitt on Mon, Sep 28, 2020 @ 11:09 AM

    The Lawletter Vol 45 No 5

    Matt McDavitt, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

         When a person dies without a will, the decedent’s estate is passed via the statutory regime of intestate succession, representing the presumed intention of most people to gift their estate at death to their close heirs.

         A decedent’s intestate heirs encompass one’s closest blood relatives (plus more remote relatives via representation through deceased family members who have died leaving surviving issue), plus any children that were legally adopted by the decedent, or their issue. However, while it is common nowadays for out-of-wedlock children to petition estate administrations in order to prove their relation to a claimed deceased father, the related circumstance also arises where the paternity of a presumptive child of marriage is challenged.

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    Topics: intestacy, estates, putative heir, presumption of legitimacy, clear and convincing evidence

    INSURANCE: Business Interruption—COVID-19 Claims

    Posted by Amy Gore on Mon, Sep 21, 2020 @ 12:09 PM

    The Lawletter Vol 45 No 5

    Amy Gore—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                During this pandemic, many business owners believed that valuable coverage they had purchased for the businesses would provide a source of some financial security. Prudent business entities purchased business interruption coverage to "indemnify the insured against losses arising from the inability to continue the normal operation and functions of the business, industry, or other commercial establishment insured." Annotation, William H. Danne Jr., Business Interruption Insurance, 37 A.L.R. 5th 41 (1996 & Westlaw 2020). A typical event that has triggered this kind of coverage would be a fire or a hurricane, or some other natural disaster that caused damage to the business premises and closure of the business.

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    Topics: Insurance, Amy Gore, retroactive coverage, denial of coverage

    FIRST AMENDMENT/PUBLIC HEALTH: Freedom of Religion During the COVID-19 Pandemic

    Posted by Steven G. Friedman on Fri, Jun 19, 2020 @ 11:06 AM

    Steve Friedman, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

         In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, many aspects of our lives have been severely altered and restricted in the name of public health. The extent of the states' police power is currently being tested amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and one such legal battleground involves the freedom of religious practice.

         As long ago noted by the Supreme Court, "[t]he right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community . . . to communicable disease or the latter to ill health or death."  Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 166‑67 (1944).  As illustrated below, even the fundamental right to gather in worship can be somewhat restricted by the government (i.e., prohibiting in-person services), but even such restrictions have limits (i.e., cannot ban drive-in services).

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    Topics: First Amendment, COVID-19, public health, freedom of religion, state police power

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