Tag Archives: federal court

Drop in Employment Civil Rights Lawsuits

TRAC Reports has recently released its latest data on the trends of employment civil rights lawsuits.  The decrease of civil rights lawsuits in the employment context is not surprising.

TRAC Reports states:

The latest available data from the federal courts show that during February 2013 the government reported 950 new employment civil rights filings. According to the case-by-case information analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse TRAC, this number is down 7.9 percent over the previous month when the number of filings of this type totaled 1,032, and has dropped 13.2 percent from its level one year ago see Table 1.

Drop in Employment Civil Rights Lawsuits

 

TRAC further states that the volume of civil rights matters filed in federal districts during February 2013 was 3.1 per every million persons in the US.  Last year, that number of filings was 4.2.

via Drop in Employment Civil Rights Lawsuits.

Leave a comment

Filed under civil rights, courts, employment

Class action plaintiff can’t avoid federal court

The SCOTUS blog reports on Standard Fire Ins. Co. v. Knowles, 11-1450 (2013).  Here, the Supreme Court held that federal courts aren’t bound by plaintiffs in proposed class actions who try to keep cases in state court by stipulating to the amount in controversy.

The Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday in a unanimous opinion by Justice Stephen G. Breyer. Lead plaintiffs don’t have the authority to bind others prior to class certification and their stipulations don’t make “a critical difference,” Breyer said.

At issue were provisions in the Class Action Fairness Act giving federal courts original jurisdiction in class actions when the aggregated amount in controversy exceeds $5 million and there are more than 100 class members.

Lead plaintiff Greg Knowles had filed his suit in Miller County, Ark., and stipulated that the amount in controversy was less than $5 million. His would-be class action against Standard Fire Insurance Co. had alleged the insurer underpaid claims for hail damage. According to the complaint, “hundreds, and possibly thousands” of people in Arkansas had similar claims.

A federal court considering Knowles’ bid to send the case back to state court had found that the amount in controversy would have exceeded $5 million, absent the stipulation.

Breyer said Knowles’ stipulation does not remove the case from the scope of the federal class-action law. “The stipulation at issue here can tie Knowles’ hands, but it does not resolve the amount-in-controversy question in light of his inability to bind the rest of the class,” Breyer wrote. “For this reason, we believe the district court, when following the statute to aggregate the proposed class members’ claims, should have ignored that stipulation.”

via SCOTUS: Class action plaintiff can’t avoid federal court by stipulating to amount in controversy – ABA Journal.

Leave a comment

Filed under courts, legal decision, Supreme Court

Judge refuses to dismiss Ten Commandments case

The District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania allowed a case challenging the Ten Commandments monument to proceed.

This case arises from the installation of a large stone monument in front of the Valley High School.  Plaintiffs argue that this is a violation of the First Amendment’s prohibiting the government from endorsing a religion.  The district court refused to remove the Ten Commandments monument.  The district’s argument is that the Ten Commandments monument is a historical landmark.

The district asked the federal court to dismiss the lawsuit.  The District Court denied the motion, stating that the case has “sufficient merit” to proceed to the discovery phase.

 

via Judge refuses to dismiss Ten Commandments case | TribLIVE.

Leave a comment

Filed under civil rights, legal decision

Wisconsin Act 10 (Budget bill) Upheld

Do you remember the Governor Walker’s Wisconsin anti-union bill?  Well, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals just upheld it.

As background, Governor Walker signed Act 10 which made its strongest impact on collective bargaining, compensation, retiring, health insurance, and sick leave of public sector employees.

The most-talked about change was to collective bargaining rights.  The bill limited collective bargaining to wages.  As you may know, unions often bargain on a plethora of topics – such as sick leave, vacation, pension, health insurance, funeral leave, discipline, training, retirement, lay offs, and so on.  Further, the bill out-right prohibited employers from collecting union dues and bargaining units would not be required to pay union dues.  However, some units were exempted: local law enforcement, state troopers, and inspectors.

In Wisconsin Educational Council v. Walker, ____F.3d___ (7th Cir. Jan. 18, 2013), the main challenge was based on equal protection.  The bill basically created 2 classifications of public employees: (1) public safety employees, and (2) general employees.  According to the bill, as stated previously, the limitations of collective bargaining rights were applied only to the general employees.

In the 74-page decision, the 7th Circuit Court held that the bill was constitutional.  The court held that the bill did not create view-point discrimination. The court explained that the different treatment was justified on the greater consequences of public safety worker strikes.

 

via Adjunct Law Prof Blog: Breaking News! 7th Upholds The Constitutionality of Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill.

Leave a comment

Filed under Appellate, employment, labor, legal decision, union, wage

Failure-to-warn not preempted by federal law

The Ninth Circuit (en banc) held that a state-law failure-to-warn was not preempted by the Medical Device Amendments to the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.  The Ninth Circuit explained that the Amendments parallels the state-law claim, and therefore does not preempt, either expressly or impliedly.

What does this mean?  The federal court of appeals made a decision whether a federal court or a state court had jurisdiction over the failure-to-warn claims.  The failure-to-warn state-law claims arise when a medical manufacturer fails to warn the patients or its physicians of known-dangers of the medical device.

The arguments in the lawsuit were rooted on the MDA explicit preemption clause – which provided that federal courts had the power to hear the case exclusively.

So why was that preemption clause irrelevant to this situation?  The Supreme Court had previously ruled, in 3 preemption cases under the MDA, that the MDA does not preempt a state-law claim for violating a state-law duty that parallels a federal-law duty under the MDA.

 

If anything else, this is a very interesting read if you are interested in preemption rationales – express, field, and conflict.

Leave a comment

Filed under courts, legal decision

No Probable Cause vs. 1st and 4th amendment?

This is an interesting decision, allowing the first and fourth amendment claims of Port Militarization Resistance, an anti-war group, to go ahead.

The lawsuit arose when allegedly two civilian U.S. Army employees (Towery and Rudd) spied on the anti-war members and secretly disrupted protests.  The anti-war group was protesting the use of sea ports in Washington State for shipments of military supplies to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The lawsuit alleges defendants befriended the anti-war group and “influenced and directed” tactics to disrupt protests without cause, and that defendants broke into a confidential attorney-client list serve.

The district court dismissed most of the claims, but allowed First and Fourth Amendment allegations against Towery and Rudd to go ahead, despite their motion for qualified immunity.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

The Ninth Court stated,

“It is clearly established that intentionally enabling arrests without probable cause in order to suppress speech violates the First Amendment,” the unsigned and unpublished opinion from Seattle states.

“Plaintiffs have pled a plausible violation of their clearly established First Amendment rights,” the ruling states. “Plaintiffs have alleged that defendants ‘deterred or chilled the plaintiff’s political speech’ and that such deterrence motivated defendants’ conduct.”

via Courthouse News Service.

Leave a comment

Filed under Appellate, civil rights, District Court, legal decision, Privacy Rights

Severance Payments Held to be Exempt From FICA Taxes; Creates Split in the Circuits

In a recent case, United States v. Quality Stores, the Sixth Circuit ruled that certain severance payments paid to involuntarily terminated employees pursuant to an employer’s reduction in workforce are not “wages” for FICA tax purposes. This decision creates a conflict in the circuits, as the Federal Circuit, in CSX Corp. v. United States, 518 F.3d 1328, 1344 Fed. Cir. 2008, previously held in favor of the government’s position that such payments are “wages” subject to FICA taxes. The government is likely to request a rehearing or petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court.

The payments at issue were “supplemental unemployment compensation benefits” SUB payments, which are defined in the Internal Revenue Code as payments that are i paid to an employee, ii paid pursuant to an employer plan, iii paid as the result of an employee’s involuntary separation from employment, iv paid as the result of a reduction in force, the discontinuance of a plant or operation, or other similar conditions, and v includible in the employee’s gross income. For income tax withholding purposes, SUB payments are not treated as “wages,” but nevertheless are made subject to income tax withholding. However, for FICA tax purposes, the Internal Revenue Code does not explicitly address whether SUB payments are “wages” or are otherwise subject to FICA taxes.

Although employers outside the Sixth Circuit should continue to withhold FICA taxes from similar SUB payments, they may be advised to consider filing protective claims for refunds of the FICA taxes withheld to preserve the statute of limitations.

via Labor Employment Law Blog: Severance Payments Held to be Exempt From FICA Taxes; Creates Split in the Circuits.

Leave a comment

Filed under employment, legal decision, wage

Citizens United in MN Court (8th Circuit en banc)

Minnesota can ban corporations from contributing to political campaigns but its regulation of independent expenditures is unconstitutional, the full 8th Circuit ruled.

Unlike direct campaign contributions, which are illegal for corporations in Minnesota, an independent expenditure represents money that the corporation pays to advocate for the election or defeat of various candidates.

The state requires corporations making political contributions greater than $100 to form a separate political fund with an appointed treasurer. Corporate donors must also disclose contact information for its treasurer, and a list all depositories or safe deposit boxes used.

The laws regulate not just corporations but almost all associations, meaning a group of two or more people acting together, who are not all family members.

As long as the fund is in existence, the treasurer must file annual reports with the state election board detailing the fund’s activity.

During general election years, which happen every other year, the treasurer must file four additional reports, 28 and 15 days before a primary, and 42 and 10 days before a general election.

These requirements continue until the fund is dissolved. Before dissolution the treasurer has to pay all of the fund’s debts, dispose of all assets valued at more than $100 and file a termination report, including the same info required in the fund’s periodic reports.

With supporting documentation the treasurer has to keep track of all contributions over $20, and all the fund’s expenditures. For four years from the date of filing these disclosure reports the treasurer must maintain the fund’s records for state inspection.

Associations and treasurers that do not comply with the law are subject to criminal and civil penalties ranging from fines to up to five years imprisonment.

Even if the fund is inactive during a general election year it still has to file the five reports.

Three organizations – Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, the Taxpayers League of Minnesota and Coastal Travel Enterprises – sued Minnesota to block the laws in July 2010.

After a federal judge refused to enjoin the laws, a split three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit affirmed last year.

The full St. Louis-based court then agreed to hear the case en banc and vacated the panel decision Wednesday.

A six-judge majority enjoined the political fund reporting requirements, and all 11 judges agreed that the ban on corporate campaign contributions can stand.

“Minnesota’s law hinders associations from participating in the political debate and limits their access to the citizenry and the government,” according to the majority opinion authored by Chief Judge William Riley. “The law manifestly discourages associations, particularly small associations with limited resources, from engaging in protected political speech.”

“We conclude Minnesota’s requirement that all associations make independent expenditures through an independent expenditure political fund … is most likely unconstitutional,” Riley added.

The judges noted that their decision on the ban law relies on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which found that it does not violate the First Amendment to make corporations use Political Action Committees if they wish to make direct political contributions.

Judge Michael Melloy authored a partial dissent on behalf of three other members of the panel. That 12-page opinion states that Minnesota’s disclosure laws are not overly burdensome, and the majority should have deferred to state lawmakers.

“Instead of deferring to the legislature, the majority would instead impose its own judgment to determine that a $100 threshold for requiring reporting is too low, that five disclosure reports in an election year are too many, and that the administrative costs of keeping records in accordance with the law are too high,” Malloy wrote. “These issues are typically and best left to Minnesota’s democratically elected legislators.”

Though Judge Steven Colloton said he echoed Melloy’s opinion, he wrote separately to fight the assertion that Minnesota’s disclosure laws are appropriate to prevent “improper or suspect relationships between elected officials and the persons or groups that support them.”

Colloton wrote that the statement contradicts the Citizens United holding that “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

 

See the decision here.

via Courthouse News Service.

Leave a comment

Filed under Appellate, courts, District Court, legal decision, Minnesota

8th Circuit upholds judicial campaign restrictions

The Eighth Circuit in Wetsal v. Sexton, No. 09-1578, ruled en banc that the Minnesota Code of Judicial Conduct clauses for endorsement, personal solicitation, and solicitation for a political organization or candidate do not violate the First Amendment.

Under strict scrutiny, the State bore the burden of proof that the endorsement and solicitation clauses advance a compelling state interest and that it is narrowly tailored to serve that interest.

Minnesota argued that it had a compelling interest in maintaining judicial impartiality and in maintaining the appearance of judicial impartiality.  The Eighth Circuit agreed.  “[W]e easily conclude Minnesota’s interest in preserving the appearance of impartiality is compelling, particularly when cast against other interests courts have recognized as compelling.”

The Eighth Circuit also held that the judicial campaign restrictions were narrowly tailored.  The Court explained that the endorsement clause is narrowly tailored since it restricts speech for or against particular parties, rather than for or against particular issues.  The court explains its concern as follows,

Under either framework, a judge “who tips the outcome of a close election in a politician’s favor would necessarily be a powerful political actor, and thus call into question the impartiality of the court.”

The Court held the solicitation clause is also narrowly tailored.  The Court first distinguished itself from Republican Party of Minn. v. White, 416 F.3d 738 (8th Cir. 2005) (en banc), which dealt with large group solicitation and signature bans; as opposed to Wersal, which dealt with personal solicitation.  With a personal solicitation, “[a] contribution given directly to a judge, in response to a judge’s personal solicitation of that contribution, carries with it both a greater potential for a quid pro quo and a greater appearance of a quid pro than a contribution given to the judge’s campaign committee at the request of someone other than the judge, or in response to a mass mailing sent above the judge’s signature.”  Quoting Siefert v. Alexander, 608 F.3d 974, 989 (7th Cir. 2010).  The Court also concluded that because recusal would not be a workable remedy to prevent bias or the appearance of bias from personal solicitations, the solicitation clause is narrowly tailored.

Leave a comment

Filed under Appellate, courts, Judges, legal decision, Minnesota

9th Circuit and farm labor workers

A federal appeals court awarded nearly $2 million on Wednesday to more than 600 Latino farm workers who accused a farm labor contractor and two Washington state growers of violating federal labor laws.

The Yakima Valley farm workers claimed that Valley Fruit Orchards and Green Acre Farms illegally and intentionally displaced them by hiring Los Angeles-based Global Horizons to bring in foreign workers in 2004.

U.S. District Judge Robert Whaley in Yakima awarded $237,000 in statutory damages to the workers in 2009, which was to be paid by Global Horizons.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision, ruling that the workers were entitled to damages of nearly $2 million and that Global Horizons and the growers were jointly liable.

“This is a huge victory for local farm workers in the Yakima Valley,” Jose Perez, one of three representative plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit, said in a statement issued by his lawyers. “We’ve waited a long time for this day and we’re glad the court validated these important worker rights.”

via News from The Associated Press.

Leave a comment

Filed under civil rights, courts, employment, wage