Tag Archives: California

Judge OKs $1.6B settlement in Toyota class action

You may remember this story that exploded all over the news.  Around the end of 2009 and start of 2010, the news reported that some Toyota cars had sudden-acceleration defects.

Toyota recently settled a federal class action.  U.S. District Court Judge James V. Seina approved of the federal class action settlement.  The settlement approved is for $1.6 billion, which includes attorney fees and costs calculated at $227 million.  The class members are said to receive anywhere between $125 to $10,000 each.

Toyota has denied liability for the alleged sudden-acceleration problem with the vehicles, as provided in the language of the settlement.  The ABA reports that a spokeswoman for Toyota stated,

This agreement allows us to resolve a legacy legal issue in a way that provides significant value to our customers and demonstrates that they can depend on Toyota to stand behind our vehicles,

It is important to note that Toyota is still facing trials in more than 80 state court lawsuits over the alleged sudden-acceleration defects.

via Judge OKs $1.6B pact in Toyota class action as trial begins in first wrongful death case – ABA Journal.

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Prop. 8: official proponents of Prop 8 could not appeal

The Supreme Court decided Hollingsworth v. Perry, No. 12-144 (2013), holding that petitioners did not have standing to appeal Proposition 8.

As background, California granted same-sex marriages.  However, this was later reversed through Proposition 8.  Under Proposition 8, California Constitution was changed to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.  The California Supreme Court held that Proposition 8 left the rights of same-sex couples largely undisturbed, reserving only the official designation of the term marriage for the union of opposite-sex couples.

The parties in this lawsuit help explain the Supreme Court’s decision.  Respondents (Plaintiffs), two same-sex couples who wished to marry, filed a lawsuit in federal court. Defendants (including the Governor, Attorney General, and other officials) did not decent the law.  Nevertheless, Defendants continued to enforce the law.

Petitioners, who appealed, were official proponents of Proposition 8.  Petitioners, instead of Defendants, defended Proposition 8.  The District Court then held that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional.    Petitioners (not Defendants) appealed.

Now the question is: do these Petitioners have standing in order to be involved in this case?  The California Supreme Court held that Petitioners were authorized to appear and assert the state’s interest in the validity of Proposition 8.  The Ninth Circuit then affirmed the District Court’s decision, ruling that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court ruled that Petitioners did not have standing.  First of all, when Proposition 8 was ruled unconstitutional two things happened: Respondents (Plaintiffs) no longer had an injury to redress because they won; and Defendants chose not to appeal.

Petitioners did not have a personal and individual injury.  There was no “direct stake” in the outcome of the appeal.  In other words, they were pushing a generalized grievance.  Consequently, Petitioners could not appeal.

The Supreme Court explained,

No matter how deeply committed petitioners may be to upholding Proposition 8 or how “zealous [their] advocacy,” that is not a “particularized” interest sufficient to create a case or controversy under Article III.

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Evidence destruction leads to ruling U.S. was negligent

Under the civil rules of procedure, a sanction for the destruction of evidence would include an adverse finding.  In other words, if you are a party to a lawsuit and destroy evidence, the court may find that you were guilty of the allegations.

One of the reasons for this is that now, the court has no way of telling what the evidence said.  Would the evidence point to the party knowing about the problem?  Would the evidence show the party did nothing while it knew?  Would the evidence show nothing?

That is why it is so important to write a Spoliation Letter.  An Spoliation Letter is a letter that explains your duty to preserve evidence.  The letter explains that because there is a lawsuit (or there will be one), you now have to stop destroying evidence.

As an attorney, regardless of what side you are in, you have a duty to advise your client.  A big part of discovery is finding relevant evidence.  It would be against the idea of justice to go about destroying evidence.

This case highlights the importance of not destroying evidence.  In this case, in 2009, a 9-year old boy was at a mountain trail in Lassen Volcanic National Park when the retaining wall gave way.  Unfortunately, the boy died from this accident.

Court records show a complaint that the chief of maintenance shredded all of his documents, some of which dealt with visitor safety issues.  The documents were shredded sometime around December 2009 and January 2010.

As a sanction for destruction of evidence by the National Park Service in a wrongful death case, a federal judge in Sacramento, Calif., ruled Tuesday that the United States was negligent.

U.S. District Judge Nunley, held that the government was negligent “for all purposes in this case.”  The judge found that the government “purposely destroyed” the remains of the retaining wall, and that the park director and some staff knew the wall was unsafe, the newspaper says.

“What is less clear, although highly suspicious, is whether defendant [destroyed] evidence other than the wall,” U.S. Magistrate Gregory G. Hollows wrote in a previous decision.

Still undecided in the case and expected to be addressed at a June hearing is whether the government can assert a “discretionary function” defense under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The government argues that those in charge of the park had discretion to decide whether or not to repair the wall, and hence the government cannot be held liable for their decision-making.

via As sanction for destroying evidence, federal judge finds US negligent in wrongful death case – ABA Journal.

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Sup. Ct. March Calendar

Next month, the Supreme Court will be hearing high profile cases – including the gay marriage debate (California’s Proposition 8 and DOMA), as well as voter registration laws.  In addition, the Supreme Court will hear a variety of important issues, such as class arbitration waivers, generic pharmaceutical regulations, and reimbursement or payment under the Takings Clause.

The following are the oral arguments scheduled for March.

Monday March 18

Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona:

  1. Whether the 9th Circuit erred in creating a new, heightened preemption test under Art. 1, Sec. 4, Cl. 1 of the U.S. Constitution (“the Elections Clause”) that is contrary to the Supreme Court’s authority and conflicts with other circuit court decisions; and
  2. Whether the 9th Circuit erred in holding that under that test the National Voter Registration Act preempts an Arizona law that requests persons who are registering to vote to show evidence that they are eligible to vote.

Bullock v. Bankchampaign

  1. What degree of misconduct by a trustee constitute “defalcation” under Sec. 523(a)(4) of the Bankruptcy Code that disqualifies the errant trustee’s resulting debt from a bankruptcy discharge, and whether it includes actions that result in no loss of trust property.

Tuesday March 19

Sebelius v. Cloer

  1. Whether a person whose petition under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program is dismissed as untimely may recover from the United States an award of attorney’s fees and costs.

Mutual Pharmaceutical Co. v. Bartlett

  1. Whether the 1st Circuit erred when it created a circuit split and held – in clear conflict with this Court’s decisions in PLIVA v. Mensing, Riegel v. Medtronic, and Cipollone v. Ligget Group – that federal law does not preempt state law design-defect claims targeting generic pharmaceutical products because the conceded conflict between such claims and the federal laws governing generic pharmaceutical design allegedly can be avoided if the makers of generic pharmaceuticals simply stop making their products.

Wednesday March 20

Horne v. Dept. of Agriculture

  1. Whether the 9th Circuit erred in holding, contrary to the decisions of 5 other circuit courts of appeals, that a party may not raise the Takings Clause as a defense to a “direct transfer of funds mandated by the Government,” E. Enterp. v. Apfel, but instead must pay the money and then bring a separate, later claim requesting reimbursement of the money under the Tucker Act in the Court of Federal Claims; and
  2. Whether the 9th Circuit erred in holding, contrary to the decision of the Federal Circuit, that it lacked jurisdiction over petitioner’s takings defense, even though petitioners, as “handlers” of raisin under the Raisin Marketing Order, as statutory required under 7 USC 608c(15) to exhaust all claims and defenses in administrative proceedings before the United States Department of Agriculture, with exclusive jurisdiction for review in federal district court.

Dan’s City Used Cars v. Pelkey

  1. Whether state statutory, common law negligence, and consumer protection act enforcement actions against two-motor carrier based on state law regulating the sale and disposal of a towed vehicle are related to a transportation service provided by the carrier and thus preempted by 49 USC 14501-c-1.

Monday March 25

Oxford Health Plans v. Sutter

  1. Whether an arbitrator acts within his powers under the Federal Arbitration Act (as the 2nd and 3d Circuits have held) or exceeds those powers (as the 5th Circuit has held) by determining that parties affirmatively “agreed to authorize class arbitration,” Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. Animalfeeds Int’l Corp., based solely on their use of broad contractual language precluding litigation and requiring arbitration of any dispute arising under their contract.

Federal Trade Commission v. Actavis

  1. Whether reverse-payment agreements are per se lawful unless the underlying patent litigation was a sham or the patent was obtained by fraud (as the court below held), or instead are presumptively anticompetitive and unlawful (as the 3d Circuit has held).

Tuesday March 26

Hollingsworth v. Perry

  1. Whether the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the State of California from defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman; and
  2. Whether petitioners have standing under Art. III, Sec. 2 of the Constitution in this case.

Wednesday March 27

United States v. Windsor

  1. Whether Section 3 of the Defense Marriage Act (DOMA) violates the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws as applied to persons of the same sex who are legally married under the laws of their State; 
  2. Whether the Executive Branch’s agreement with the court below that DOMA is unconstitutional deprives this Court of jurisdiction to decide this case; and
  3. Whether the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the United States House of Representatives has Article III standing in this case.

via New March argument calendar : SCOTUSblog.

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Judge Admonished for Comments About Victim’s ‘Technical Rape’ and Lack of Body Shutdown

You may remember the argument, which caused public outrage, over the belief that a body just “shuts down” when a woman is not subjected to real rape.  A judge used this same language in a California case, and was admonished for showing bias – a trait that runs afoul of judicial ethics.  These are the relevant parts of the article published in the ABA Journal News.

Judge Derek Johnson, from Orange County, California, was publicly admonished for saying a sexual assault victim had suffered only a “technical” rape and didn’t display vaginal damage characteristic of rape victims he had encountered as a prosecutor.

Judge Derek Johnson of Orange County had advanced his theory on body shutdowns during rape in a 2008 sentencing hearing, according to the opinion (PDF) by the California Commission on Judicial Performance.  The judicial discipline opinion has a transcript of his explanation why:

Johnson: “I spent my last year and a half in the DA’s office in the sexual assault unit. I know something about sexual assault. I’ve seen sexual assault. I’ve seen women who have been ravaged and savaged whose vagina was shredded by the rape. I’m not a gynecologist, but I can tell you something: If someone doesn’t want to have sexual intercourse, the body shuts down. The body will not permit that to happen unless a lot of damage is inflicted, and we heard nothing about that in this case. That tells me that the victim in this case, although she wasn’t necessarily willing, she didn’t put up a fight. And to treat this case like the rape cases that we all hear about is an insult to victims of rape. I think it’s an insult. I think it trivializes a rape.”

Johnson: “I just found the threats to be technical threats. I found this whole case to be a technical case. The rape is technical. The forced oral copulation is technical. It’s more of a crim law test than a real live criminal case.”

The commission said Johnson’s remarks reflected biased and insensitive views about sexual assault victims who do not “put up a fight.” Johnson had apologized for the remarks to the commission, saying he was frustrated by a sentencing request he considered inappropriate under the law. He remains on the bench.

via Judge Admonished for Comments About Victim’s ‘Technical Rape’ and Lack of Body Shutdown – News – ABA Journal.

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California Can Make Cuts To Medi-Cal Health Care Program

The Ninth Circuit held that California could make cuts to the Medi-Cal Health Care program and vacated all injunctions against California.  The opinion can be accessed here.  As the three-judge panel stated,

Medicaid, as a voluntary program, does not create property rights.

In 2011, plaintiffs (a Medi-Cal beneficiary, 5 pharmacies, a pharmacy organization, an independent living center, and a CA association of independent living centers) sued California and the U.S. Dep’t of Health and Human Services to block the cuts under the Medicaid Act.  The district court granted injunctions against California, blocking the enactment of the cuts.  The Ninth Circuit, on appeal, vacated these injunctions.

The Ninth Circuit stated that Chevron U.S.A v. Natural Resources Defense Council requires deference to Sebelius’ interpretation of California’s amendment to its Medicaid plan – called a state plan amendment.  The Ninth Circuit stated,

Considering all the evidence of Chevron-esque delegation in these cases, we hold that the balance tips to the side of deference – both to the secretary’s implicit interpretation that states are not required to follow any specific methodology in submitting SPAs [state plan amendment] and to its explicit determination that the SPAs at issue comply with federal law.

The decision notes that Medicaid “is a colossal undertaking,” with joint funding from the U.S. government and the states.

Congress explicitly granted the secretary authority to determine whether a state’s Medicaid plan complies with federal law.

The secretary understands the [Medicaid] Act and is especially cognizant of the all-important yet sometimes competing interests of efficiency, economy, quality of care, and beneficiary access.

The Ninth Circuit also concluded that plaintiffs’ claims that California violated the supremacy clause was unlikely to prevail under Douglas v. Independent Living Center (2012).  The Court explained,

Even assuming that the supremacy clause provides a private right of action – the secretary has reasonably determined that the state’s reimbursement rates comply with § 30(A) [of the Medicaid Act].

via Courthouse News Service.

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9th Cir: tenants and landlords

San Francisco landlords cannot fight a voter initiative that makes it illegal to force out tenants with cash and threats, the 9th Circuit ruled Tuesday.

The Small Property Owners of San Francisco Institute (SPOSFI) and others sued the city and county of San Francisco in 2009, seeking an injunction to stop Proposition M, an ordinance approved by voters the previous year prohibiting “residential landlords and their agents from attempting, ‘in bad faith’ to ‘coerce the tenant to vacate with offers of payments to vacate which are accompanied with threats or intimidation,” according to the ruling.

The group, composed of about 1,500 local landlords, argued that the ordinance violated the free-speech and petition clauses of the First Amendment.

U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup dismissed the group’s claims, finding that it had no standing to challenge the statute and that the city had a valid interest in regulating their actions. A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit affirmed unanimously. The judges said the landlords had not shown that they would be harmed by the law.

“There is no allegation on which to base an inference that any of SPOSFI’s members intend to engage in conduct even arguably proscribed by Proposition M,” wrote Senior U.S. District Judge Frederic Block, sitting on the three-judge appellate panel by designation from the Eastern District of New York. “As a matter of common sense, an allegation that a plaintiff is ‘subject to’ the challenged ordinance cannot suffice.”

via Courthouse News Service.

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