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Public Law Legal Research Blog

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

Posted by Trish Sifka on Thu, Oct 8, 2020 @ 11:10 AM

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, Trish Sifka

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

Posted by Steven G. Friedman on Thu, Jun 25, 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, Steven G. Friedman, COVID-19, public health, freedom of religion, state police power

CIVIL RIGHTS: Solitary Confinement of Juvenile Offenders Struck Down in Florida

Posted by John M. Stone on Thu, Apr 2, 2020 @ 11:04 AM

John Stone—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     Juvenile offenders and their parents brought a civil rights action against the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and the Secretary of the Department, challenging the constitutionality of state-wide policies and practices of isolating juvenile offenders in solitary confinement, and alleging claims for disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and the Rehabilitation Act. Their claims withstood a motion to dismiss. G.H. ex rel. Henry v. Marstiller, No. 4:19CV431‑MW/CAS, 2019 WL 6694738 (N.D. Fla. Dec. 6, 2019).

     The source for the constitutional challenge was the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment in the Eighth Amendment. To support an Eighth Amendment challenge to conditions of confinement, the conditions must be objectively serious or extreme, that is, the prisoner must show that a condition of his confinement poses an unreasonable risk of serious damage to his future health or safety.

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Topics: Rehabilitation Act, ADA, civil rights, John M Stone, Eighth Amendment, conditions of confinement

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW:  Court Upholds Ordinance Prohibiting Discrimination Against Public Assistance Recipients

Posted by John M. Stone on Fri, Feb 21, 2020 @ 12:02 PM

John Stone—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            A survey conducted in Minneapolis, Minnesota, indicated that barely half of the residential rental listings surveyed were affordable for persons receiving vouchers from the federal government's "Section 8" program, and only about a quarter of those affordable properties were willing to accept such vouchers. The backdrop was a vacancy rate in the city for low-income households of only about 2%.

            Citing this data and its desire to broaden housing opportunities for residents receiving the federal vouchers, the City enacted an ordinance that made it an unlawful discriminatory practice for a landlord to use "any requirement of a public assistance program as a motivating factor" to refuse to sell, rent, or lease real property. While voucher holders must meet the landlords' other requirements that are unrelated to Section 8 participation, landlords cannot avoid the ordinance just by citing business reasons for not wanting to participate in the Section 8 program.

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Topics: constitutional law, public assistance recipients, Section 8 vouchers, housing ordinance

TORTS: Immunity of Yelp for Derogatory User Comments

Posted by Amy Gore on Fri, Aug 2, 2019 @ 11:08 AM

Amy Gore, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            Dawn Hassell and the Hassell Law Group brought a defamation suit against a former client who posted a derogatory review of the attorney's services on the third-party platform, Yelp, which was not a party to the original action. A default judgment was entered that directed Yelp to remove the review and Yelp was served with the judgment. Yelp then objected to the enforcement of the judgment asserting that the judgment was invalid under the Due Process Clause and the Communications Decency Act of 1996, 47 U.S.C. § 230. The U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to hear an appeal of the decision issued by the California Supreme Court in this matter, making the state decision final. Hassell v. Bird, 5 Cal. 5th 522, 420 P.3d 776 (2018), cert. denied sub nom. Hassell v. Yelp, Inc., 139 S. Ct. 940 (2019).

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Topics: Due Process Clause, tort claims, Amy Gore, derogatory comments, Yelp, third-party content

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW: Requiring Major Political Party Affiliation for State Court Judges Runs Afoul of First Amendment Right of Association

Posted by John M. Stone on Wed, Jun 19, 2019 @ 11:06 AM

The Lawletter Vol 44 No 4

John Stone—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            In Delaware, a judicial nominating commission, with members balanced between the two major political parties, provides recommended candidates to the Governor for the appointment of judges to the state courts. When a position becomes open, the commission gives public notice of the position, including the major party membership required for nomination to a particular judgeship. The party membership requirement has its origins in article IV, § 3 of the Delaware Constitution, which effectively excludes all candidates for state judge positions who are not members of either the Republican or the Democratic Party.

            A Delaware resident and member of the Delaware Bar considered applying to become a state judge, but in the end, he did not apply because as an independent politically, his application would have been futile in light of the constitutional provision. Nonetheless, first a United States district court and then a federal appellate court found that he had standing to challenge the limitation on judicial candidates to the two major political parties for the Delaware Supreme Court, the Superior Court, and the Chancery Court on the ground that such exclusion of persons not members of those parties was an unjustified infringement on the plaintiff's First Amendment freedom of associationAdams v. Governor of Del., No. 18-1045, 2019 WL 1549857 (3d Cir. Apr. 10, 2019).

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Topics: Delaware, constitutional law, John M Stone, political party membership, appointment of judgeship, constitutional requirement

CIVIL RIGHTS: Noncitizen Charged with Deportable Crime Is Entitled to Jury Trial

Posted by Jason Holder on Tue, Feb 5, 2019 @ 11:02 AM

Jason Holder—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            Following an incident in which he allegedly grabbed, choked, and struck the mother of his children, Saylor Suazo (“Suazo”) was charged with a variety of crimes including assault in the third degree, unlawful imprisonment in the second degree, criminal obstruction of breathing or blood circulation, endangering the welfare of a child, menacing, and harassment in the second degree.  People v. Suazo, No. 117, 2018 WL 6173962, at *1 (N.Y. Nov. 27, 2018).  Immediately before the start of trial, however, the prosecution moved to reduce the charges to attempt crimes.  Id.  This reduction meant that Suazo now faced a maximum sentence of three months in jail and, more importantly, that the offenses could be tried without a jury pursuant to Criminal Procedure Law § 340.40(2).  Id. 

            Suazo challenged the reduction and continued to assert his right to a jury trial, arguing that he was a noncitizen charged with deportable offenses rendering any conviction sufficiently serious to mandate a jury trial under the Sixth Amendment.

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Topics: Sixth Amendment, civil rights, Jason Holder, noncitizen, deportable crime, entitlement to jury trial

TORTS: Expanding Virginia's Anti-SLAPP Legislation

Posted by Amy Gore on Wed, May 9, 2018 @ 10:05 AM

Amy G. Gore—Senior Attorney

            The Virginia General Assembly has extended a grant of immunity from liability for certain otherwise defamatory statements in an amendment to Va. Code § 8.01-223.2 (Westlaw 2018). Previously, the anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) statute extended immunity to claims for tortious interference with contract and similar theories when brought over a statement made at a public hearing or similar proceeding. Such statements were subject to an immunity defense unless uttered with knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard of falsity. The amendment makes two significant changes.

            First, the type of claims to which the statutory immunity applies now include common law defamation claims and will protect any statements "regarding matters of public concern that would be protected under the First Amendment [and that] are communicated to a third party." Va. Code Ann. § 8.01-223.2 (A). Second, exempt from the grant of statutory immunity are statements made with the actual or constructive knowledge of their falsity, the standard currently applicable to determinations of privilege.

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Topics: torts, Anti-SLAPP legislation, tortious interference immunity, common-law defamation

LOCAL AND STATE GOVERNMENT: State Is Immune from Liability for Sexual Abuse by Adopted Child

Posted by John M. Stone on Fri, Feb 16, 2018 @ 16:02 PM

     The parents of a child sexually abused by a child they adopted brought an action against the state of Nebraska for negligent failure to warn or disclose, and failure to supervise.  A state employee incorrectly stated to the parents before the adoption that the adopted child had no sexual abuse history. After a bench trial, the trial court entered judgment for the State based on the defense of sovereign immunity. When the parents appealed, the Supreme Court of Nebraska affirmed the lower court ruling.  Jill B. v. State, 297 Neb. 57, 899 N.W.2d 241 (2017). 

    Like statutes in many other states, Nebraska's Tort Claims Act, Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 81-8,209 et seq., includes a waiver of the state's sovereign immunity from tort liability, but it also retains such immunity for some broad categories of conduct. Statutes authorizing a lawsuit against the State are strictly construed, since they are in derogation of the State's sovereignty. Under the intentional torts exception, sovereign immunity is not waived for claims arising out of assault, battery, false imprisonment, false arrest, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, libel, slander, misrepresentation, deceit, or interference with contract rights. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 81-8,219(4).

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Topics: adopted child, local government, intentional tort, negligence, sovereign immunity

FRAUD: CFTC Sues Bitcoin Ponzi Scheme Operator

Posted by Nicole Prysby on Thu, Jan 25, 2018 @ 10:01 AM

Nicole D. Prysby, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            The price of Bitcoin has soared in recent months, from approximately $900 in January 2017 to a current price of over $15,000. But even before the 2017 increase, Bitcoin had periods where its value rose sharply. For example, in 2013, it went from about $15 to $800. Bitcoin’s short-term gains have made it a very attractive hook for would-be Ponzi scheme developers. In fall 2017, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) sued Gelfman Blueprint, Inc. (“GBI”), and GBI’s Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”) for operating a Bitcoin Ponzi scheme that allegedly defrauded investors out of more than $600,000.

            In early 2014, the company’s CEO opened a Bitcoin fund and sought customers. He claimed to have a high-frequency, algorithmic, trading strategy (using a bot named “Jigsaw”) and advertised the fund as having monthly returns of 7%-11% with zero downside risk because “trading results are maximized during price drops.” He was able to attract at least 80 customers, who contributed between a few hundred dollars and tens of thousands of dollars each.

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Topics: fraud, Bitcoin, Ponzi scheme, commodity futures

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