Justia Weekly Writers’ Picks – August 1, 2014

Bostic v. Schaefer, US 4th Cir. (7/28/14)
Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Family Law, Government & Administrative Law

gaypride_flagPlaintiffs filed suit challenging Virginia Code sections 20-45.2 and 20-45.3; the Marshall/Newman Amendment, Va. Const. art. I, 15-A; and any other Virginia law that bars same sex-marriage or prohibits the State’s recognition of otherwise-lawful same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions (collectively, the Virginia Marriage Laws). Plaintiffs argued that these laws violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court granted plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and enjoined Virginia from enforcing the laws. As a preliminary matter, the court concluded that each of the plaintiffs had standing as to at least one defendant, and the court declined to view Baker v. Nelson as binding precedent. The court concluded that strict scrutiny analysis applied in this case where the Virginia Marriage Laws impede the right to marry by preventing same-sex couples from marrying and nullifying the legal import of their out-of-state marriages. Proponents contend that five interests support the laws: federalism-based interests, history and tradition, protecting the institution of marriage, encouraging responsible procreation, and promoting the optimal childrearing environment. The court concluded, however, that these interests are not compelling interests that justify the Virginia Marriage Laws. Therefore, all of the proponents’ justifications for the laws fail and the laws cannot survive strict scrutiny. Accordingly, the court concluded that the Virginia Marriage Laws violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the extent that they prevent same-sex couples from marrying and prohibit Virginia from recognizing same-sex couples’ lawful out-of-state marriages. The court affirmed the judgment of the district court.

Read More: Appeals Panel Rejects Virginia Gay-Marriage Ban Continue reading

Supreme Court or Bust: Justia Weekly Writers’ Picks, July 25, 2014

Two federal appeals courts this week issued conflicting opinions on Obamacare.

Health and LawKing v. Burwell, US 4th Cir. (7/22/14)
Health Law, Tax Law

Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the validity of an IRS final rule implementing the premium tax credit provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), 26 U.S.C. 36B. The final rule interprets the Act as authorizing the IRS to grant tax credits to individuals who purchase health insurance on both state-run insurance “Exchanges” and federally-facilitated “Exchanges” created and operated by HHS. The court found that the applicable statutory language is ambiguous and subject to multiple interpretations. Applying deference to the IRS’s determination, the court upheld the rule as a permissible exercise of the agency’s discretion. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court.

Halbig v. Burwell, US DC Cir. (7/22/14)
Health Law, Tax Law

Appellants challenged the IRS’s interpretation of 26 U.S.C. 36B, enacted as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 706(2)(A). The district court held that the ACA’s text, structure, purpose, and legislative history make “clear that Congress intended to make premium tax credits available on both state-run and federally-facilitated Exchanges.” The district court held that even if the ACA were ambiguous, the IRS’s regulation would represent a permissible construction entitled to Chevron deference. The court concluded, however, that the ACA unambiguously restricts the section 36B subsidy to insurance purchased on Exchanges “established by the State.” Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment of the district court and vacated the IRS’s regulation.

Read More: Second federal appeals court rules on health-care law, setting up a same-day circuit conflict Continue reading

Justia Weekly Writers’ Picks, July 18, 2014 – As California Goes . . .

California FlagThis week, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California issued a ruling that California’s death penalty is unconstitutional.  Read Courtney Minick’s analysis of the opinion on Justia’s Verdict: Federal Judge Strikes Down California Death Penalty: What This Could Mean for California.

Texas Div., Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc. v. Vandergriff, et al., US 5th Cir. (7/14/14)
Civil Rights, Constitutional Law

Plaintiff filed suit alleging that the Board violated its First Amendment right to free speech when it denied plaintiff’s application for a specialty license plate featuring the Confederate battle flag. The district court concluded that the Board had made a reasonable, content-based regulation of private speech. The court concluded that speech on specialty license plates is private speech and that the Board impermissibly discriminated against plaintiff’s viewpoint when it denied the specialty license plate. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded.

Read More: Court rules Texas can’t ban sale of Confederate flag license plates

Digitech Image Techs., LLC v. Elecs. for Imaging, Inc., US Federal Circuit (7/11/14)
Patents

Digital image processing involves electronically capturing an image of a scene with a “source device,” such as a digital camera, altering the image in a desired fashion, and transferring the altered image to an “output device,” such as a color printer. According to the 414 patent, all imaging devices impose some level of distortion on color and spatial properties because different devices allow for slightly different ranges of colors and spatial information to be displayed or reproduced. Prior art attempted to correct distortions using device-dependent solutions that calibrate and modify the color and spatial properties of the devices and device independent solutions that translate an image’s pixel data from a device dependent format into an independent color space, which can then be translated to output devices at a reduced level of distortion. The patent expands the device independent paradigm to disclose an improved device profile that includes both chromatic characteristic information and spatial characteristic information. Digitech filed infringement suits against 32 defendants. The district court found that all of the asserted claims were subject matter ineligible and invalid under 35 U.S.C. 101: the device profile claims are directed to a collection of numerical data that lacks a physical component or physical manifestation and the asserted method claims for generating a device profile encompass the abstract idea of organizing data through mathematical correlations. The Federal Circuit affirmed.

Read More: Latest CAFC Ruling Suggests A Whole Lot Of Software Patents Are Likely Invalid Continue reading

Google and the Right to Be Forgotten

Google EspañaLast month, the Court of Justice of the European Union issued a preliminary ruling on the right of natural persons to privacy with respect to the processing of personal data. In the case, Mr. Costeja González, a Spanish national, had lodged a complaint with the Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (AEPD), the Spanish Data Protection Agency, concerning a then 12-year-old announcement in La Vanguardia Ediciones SL, a Spanish newspaper, that mentioned a real-estate auction connected with attachment proceedings for the recovery of Mr. González’s social security debts. Mr. González wanted his personal data in the announcement removed from the La Vanguardia website. In addition, he wanted Google Inc. or Google Spain to remove the La Vanguardia web pages from its search results.

The AEPD rejected the complaint against La Vanguardia because the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs had ordered the announcement to promote the auction and secure as many bidders as possible. However, the AEPD upheld the complaint against Google Spain and Google Inc. The Google companies then brought separate actions before the Audiencia Nacional (National High Court), which stayed the proceedings and referred several questions regarding Directive 95/46 to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

In upholding the right of data subjects to have certain search results associated with their names removed from search engines, the Court of Justice stated that search engines may initially be able to process accurate personal data regarding a person. However, over time, this right may conflict with the Directive if such results are “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to those purposes and in the light of the time that has elapsed.” Accordingly, the right of privacy should be balanced against the economic interest of the search engine operator as well as the “interest of the general public in finding that information.” Continue reading

Justia Resources and Commentary on the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby Decision

U.S. Supreme CourtToday, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in the much-anticipated case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (formerly Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., consolidated with Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell and Autocam Corp. v. Burwell).

In a 5-4 opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, the Court held that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) permits a closely held for-profit corporation to deny its employees the health coverage of contraceptives to which the employees are otherwise entitled by the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA), based on the religious objections of the corporation’s owners.

Here is some commentary tracking the progress of these cases before the Court’s ruling:

Below are the relevant dockets and opinions in the lower courts:

Hobby Lobby

Conestoga Wood

Here are some resources for the consolidated cases before the U.S. Supreme Court:

Continue reading

Super Size It: Justia Weekly Writers’ Picks, June 27, 2014

New York Statewide Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce v. New York City Dep’t of Health & Mental Hygiene, New York COA, (6/26/14)

SodaIn 2012, in an effort to combat obesity among residents of New York City, the New York City Board of Health amended the City Health Code so as to restrict the size of cups and containers used by food service establishments for the provision of sugary drinks. The proposed rule, referred to as the “Portion Cap Rule,” was to go into effect in 2013. Six not-for-profit and labor organizations challenged the Portion Cap Rule. Supreme Court, New York City declared the rule invalid and permanently enjoined its implementation. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that, in adopting the Portion Cap Rule, the Board of Health exceeded its regulatory authority and engaged in law-making, thereby infringing upon legislative jurisdiction.

Read More: Top state court says NYC can’t ban businesses from selling supersize sugary drinks to customers

McCullen v. Coakley, US Supreme Court (6/26/14)

Massachusetts amended its Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act to make it a crime to knowingly stand on a “public way or sidewalk” within 35 feet of an entrance or driveway to any “reproductive health care facility,” defined as “a place, other than within or upon the grounds of a hospital, where abortions are offered or performed.” Mass. Gen. Laws, 266, 120E½. Exemptions cover “employees or agents of such facility acting within the scope of their employment.” Another provision proscribes knowing obstruction of access to an abortion clinic. Abortion opponents who engage in “sidewalk counseling” sought an injunction, claiming that the amendment displaced them from their previous positions and hampered their counseling efforts; attempts to communicate with patients are also thwarted by clinic escorts, who accompany patients to clinic entrances. The district court denied the challenges. The First Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, first noting the involvement of a traditional public forum. The Court employed “time, place, and manner” analysis, stating that the Act is neither content nor viewpoint based and need not be analyzed under strict scrutiny. Although it establishes buffer zones only at abortion clinics, violations depend not “on what they say,” but on where they say it. The Act is justified without reference to the content of speech; its purposes include protecting public safety, patient access to health care, and unobstructed use of public sidewalks and streets. There was a record of crowding, obstruction, and even violence outside Massachusetts abortion clinics but not at other facilities. The exemption for employees and agents acting within the scope of their employment was not an attempt to favor one viewpoint. Even if some escorts have expressed views on abortion inside the zones, there was no evidence that such speech was authorized by any clinic. The Act, however, burdens substantially more speech than necessary to further the government’s legitimate interests. It deprives objectors of their primary methods of communicating with patients: close, personal conversations and distribution of literature. While the Act allows “protest” outside buffer zones, these objectors are not protestors; they seek to engage in personal, caring, consensual conversations with women about alternatives. Another section of the Act already prohibits deliberate obstruction of clinic entrances. Massachusetts could also enact legislation similar to the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, 18 U.S.C. 248(a), which imposes sanctions for obstructing, intimidating, or interfering with persons obtaining or providing reproductive health services. Obstruction of driveways can be addressed by traffic ordinances. Crowding was a problem only at the Boston clinic, and only on Saturday mornings; the police are capable of ordering people to temporarily disperse and of singling out lawbreakers.

Read More: Court strikes down abortion clinic buffer zones Continue reading

Justia’s Weekly Writers’ Picks – June 13, 2014

Scialabba v. de Osorio, US Supreme Court (6/9/14)
Immigration Law

Statue of LibertyQualifying U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) may petition for family members to obtain immigrant visas. A sponsored individual (principal beneficiary) is placed into a “family preference” category based on relationship to the petitioner, 8 U.S.C. 1153(a)(1)–(4). The principal beneficiary’s spouse and minor children qualify as derivative beneficiaries, entitled to the same status and order of consideration as the principal. Beneficiaries become eligible to apply for visas in order of priority date, the date a petition was filed. Because the process often takes years, a child may age out and lose status before she obtains a visa. The Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) provides that if the age of an alien is determined to be 21 years or older, notwithstanding allowances for bureaucratic delay, the petition “shall automatically be converted to the appropriate category and the alien shall retain the original priority date issued upon receipt of the original petition.”  In this case, principal beneficiaries who became LPRs, filed petitions for their aged-out children (who did not have a qualifying relationship with the original sponsor), asserting that the newly filed petitions should receive the same priority date as their original petitions.  U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) disagreed. The district court granted the government summary judgment, deferring to the Board of Immigration Appeals’ (BIA’s) determination under section 1153(h)(3). The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the provision entitled all aged-out derivative beneficiaries to automatic conversion and priority date retention. The Supreme Court reversed, reasoning that each immigrant must have a qualified and willing sponsor. If an original sponsor does not have a legally recognized relationship with the aged-out children, another sponsor must be identified for the alien to qualify for a new family preference category. Immigration officials do not know whether a valid sponsor exists unless the aged-out beneficiary files and USCIS approves a new petition. Section 1153(h)(3) does not require a new petition for derivative beneficiaries who had a qualifying relationship with an LPR both before and after they aged out. In contrast, the nieces, nephews, and grandchildren of the initial sponsors cannot qualify for “automatic conversion.”  The BIA’s interpretation benefits from administrative simplicity and fits with immigration law’s basic first-come, first-served rule.

Read More:  Supreme Court setback for underage visa applicants

Read additional Supreme Court opinions handed down this week at Justia’s Supreme Court Center Continue reading

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Justia Weekly Writers’ Picks June 6, 2014

Makowski v. Granholm, Michigan Supreme Court (6/3/14)
Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Great Seal of MichiganPlaintiff-appellant Matthew Makowski filed an action in the Court of Claims against the Governor and the Secretary of State, seeking a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief to reverse then-Governor Jennifer Granholm’s decision to revoke her commutation of plaintiff’s nonparolable life sentence that had been imposed for his first-degree murder and armed robbery convictions. The Governor had signed the commutation, it was signed by the Secretary of State and affixed with the Great Seal. Four days later, the Governor decided to revoke the order, and all copies of the commutation certificate were destroyed. Plaintiff alleged that the commutation was final when it was signed, sealed, and delivered to the Department of Corrections, and argued the Governor lacked the authority to revoke a completed commutation. The court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment, concluding that it lacked jurisdiction to review the governor’s exercise of discretion over commutation decisions. Plaintiff appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the Governor’s exercise of the commutation power presented a nonjusticiable political question. After its review, the Supreme Court concluded the Constitution did not give the Governor the power to revoke a validly granted commutation: “[b]ecause the Governor signed plaintiff’s commutation and delivered it to the Secretary of State, where it was signed and affixed with the Great Seal, plaintiff was granted an irrevocable commutation of his sentence.”

Read More: Michigan Supreme Court: Granholm wrongly revoked prisoner’s commutation

Limelight Networks, Inc. v. Akamai Techs, Inc., US Supreme Court (6/2/14)
Intellectual Property, Patents

Akamai is the exclusive licensee of a patent that claims a method of delivering electronic data using a content delivery network (CDN). Limelight also operates a CDN and carries out several of the steps claimed in the patent, but its customers, rather than Limelight itself, perform a step of the patent known as “tagging.” Under Federal Circuit case law, liability for direct infringement under 35 U.S.C. 271(a) requires performance of all steps of a method patent to be attributable to a single party. The district court concluded that Limelight could not have directly infringed the patent at issue because performance of the tagging step could not be attributed to it. The en banc Federal Circuit reversed, holding that a defendant who performed some steps of a method patent and encouraged others to perform the rest could be liable for inducement of infringement even if no one was liable for direct infringement. The Supreme Court reversed. A defendant is not liable for inducing infringement under section 271(b) when no one has directly infringed. The Federal Circuit’s contrary view would deprive section 271(b) of ascertainable standards and require the courts to develop parallel bodies of infringement law. Citing section 271(f), the Court stated that Congress knows how to impose inducement liability predicated on noninfringing conduct when it wishes to do so. Though a would-be infringer could evade liability by dividing performance of a method patent’s steps with another whose conduct cannot be attributed to the defendant, a desire to avoid this consequence does not justify fundamentally altering the rules of inducement liability clearly required by the Patent Act’s text and structure.

Read More: No liability for induced infringement when company and customer split patented steps, SCOTUS says

Wilkins v. United States, US 1st Cir. (6/3/14)
Criminal Law Continue reading

10 Shocking Cases That Will Change Your Understanding of American History

May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month. In his proclamation, President Obama cited the accomplishments of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders and acknowledged the difficulties that members of this community have faced both historically and in the present.

Let’s take a short trip through our nation’s case law to look at some of these difficulties. Your lessons in school might not have given you a complete picture on American history.

1. Korematsu v. United States

Exclusion Order No. 34

Photo Credit: National Park Service.

Fred Korematsu, an American citizen of Japanese descent, challenged his conviction for remaining in San Leandro, California, in violation of Exclusion Order No. 34, which required all persons of Japanese ancestry to evacuate from a designated geographical area. The Supreme Court stated that “legal restrictions which curtail the civil rights of a single racial group” must be subject to the most rigid scrutiny. “Pressing public necessity may sometimes justify the existence of such restrictions; racial antagonism never can.”

To justify the exclusion order, the Court cited the “definite and close relationship” between the exclusion order and “the prevention of espionage and sabotage.” The Court acknowledged the overinclusive nature of the exclusion order, noting that most of the people impacted by the exclusion order were “no doubt . . . loyal to this country.” However, the Court was not prepared to question the military’s judgment that “it was impossible to bring about an immediate segregation of the disloyal from the loyal” and upheld the exclusion order.

In dissent, Justice Frank Murphy acknowledged the deference that must be accorded to the military in its prosecution of the war. Nevertheless, the order by the military to remove all persons of Japanese ancestry from the Pacific Coast was not reasonably related to its claimed goal of preventing sabotage and espionage because the reasons offered in support of the exclusion order were based not on expert military judgment, but on “misinformation, half-truths and insinuations that for years have been directed against Japanese Americans by people with racial and economic prejudices.”

Even if “some disloyal persons of Japanese descent on the Pacific Coast [] did all in their power to aid their ancestral land,” “to infer that examples of individual disloyalty prove group disloyalty and justify discriminatory action against the entire group is to deny that, under our system of law, individual guilt is the sole basis for deprivation of rights.”

See Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944) Continue reading

Who Let the Dogs Out? Justia Weekly Writers’ Picks May 30, 2014

Robinson v. Legro, Colorado Supreme Court (5/27/14)
Injury Law

Pug PackA bicyclist was attacked by two ranch dogs herding sheep while participating in a mountain bike race. The cyclist and dogs were on federally owned land on which the attack took place, subject to a sheep grazing permit and a recreational use permit. The cyclist sustained serious injuries during the attack. The cyclist and her husband sued the dog’s owners, alleging negligence, negligence per se and loss of consortium. They also brought a strict liability claim under Colorado’s dog bite statute. The shepherds moved for summary judgment, arguing that: (1) the Colorado Premises Liability Act preempted the cyclist’s common law claims; and (2) they were immune from strict liability under the working-dog exemption to the dog bite statute. The district court granted the shepherds’ motion. The court of appeals reversed, interpreting the working dog exemption as applicable only when the dog is on the owner’s own property. The Supreme Court disagreed and reversed the appellate court: the exemption applied when a dog bite occurs on the dog owner’s property or when the dog is working under the control of the dog owner. Continue reading