Cases of the Week

Our summary writers have highlighted some interesting cases this week — all from state supreme courts.

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled on an assault weapons ban, remanding it back to the trial court to determine whether the law comports with the Second Amendment. In Wilson v. Cook County, the court found that given the early stage of the litigation, it cannot be said conclusively whether “assault weapons” as defined by the ordinance fall within the scope of rights protected by the Second Amendment. The question requires an empirical inquiry, beyond the scope of both the record and judicial notice. The county has not had an opportunity to establish a nexus between the ordinance and the protected governmental interest.

In Utah, the Supreme Court ruled on an insurance law question that had some interesting policy implications. In McArthur v. State Farm, the Court found that (1) exhaustion clauses that require the liability insurer to pay out its full policy limits before permitting payment of uninsured motorist benefits are generally enforceable in the State of Utah; and (2) because uninsured motorist exhaustion provisions are conditions precedent and not covenants capable of being breached, no showing of prejudice is required to sustain their invocation. The opinion discusses the trends in exhaustion clauses across the country, and the “troubling” policy aspects of these clauses in the uninsured motorist context. The concurrence suggested that Utah adopt the judicially created constructive-exhaustion doctrine that many other states have adopted.

The North Dakota Supreme Court issued an interesting case on jurisdiction. In N.D. State Board of Higher Education v. Jaeger, the State Board of Higher Education wanted the Court to exercise original jurisdiction and enjoin the Secretary of State from allowing a measure on the June 2012 ballot to reinstate the “Fighting Sioux” nickname and logo for the University of South Dakota. The Court concluded this was not an appropriate exercise of original jurisdiction and declined to hear the case.

Finally, the New York Court of Appeal issued an opinion in a case with some pretty absurd facts. In People v. Pagan, the defendant appealed a criminal charge related to an underlying dispute over cab fare. Defendant fought with a cab driver over a $4 fare, scratching, biting, and threatening him with a knife. On appeal, the petitioner asserted a right of defense and a mistake of fact defense, arguing that she thought the money was hers. The court affirmed her conviction.

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