Learn more about Peltz-Steele v. UMass Faculty Federation at Court Listener (complaint) and the Liberty Justice Center. The case is now on appeal in the First Circuit as no. 22-1466 (PACER paywall). Please direct media inquiries to Kristen Williamson.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Belgian-waffle makers battle over whose doughy goodness won pride of place on Oprah's list

PxHere CC0
Two Massachusetts business are embroiled in a mouth-watering lawsuit over waffles and Oprah.

Oprah's 2021 "favorite things" featured "Eastern Standard Provisions Gourmet Liège Belgian Waffle Gift Box." Yum.

Eastern Standard Provisions is based in Waltham, Mass., and lists its "Classic Liège Belgian Waffles" for sale online. Here's the pitch:

Our artisanal Classic Liège Belgian Waffles are crafted with real butter and pearl sugar imported from Belgium for a light, sweet crunch. Our Classic Liège Belgian Waffles are different than other waffles you may be used to. Most waffles are made with batter, but our Classic Liège Belgian Waffles are made from dough delivering a soft, brioche-like texture and a one-of-a-kind waffle experience.

This is not Eastern Standard's Oprah debut. Its "artisanal soft pretzels" made the grade in 2019.

But wait. Based in Attleboro, Mass., the Burgundian gourmet street-food brassiere claims in a lawsuit (via WCVB) that Oprah picked Burgundian waffles for the list, because Eastern Standard ripped off the Burgundian recipe it had learned under a non-disclosure agreement when the two explored a co-branding venture.

According to the lawsuit, Burgundian founder Shane Matlock learned how to make the Liège waffles while serving in the U.S. Army, when, for three of 15 years, he was stationed on the France-Belgium border, and, the Burgundian website says, he premiered the waffles in Providence, Rhode Island (my home state, near Attleboro) in 2017.

All I know for sure is that I now have a craving for waffles.

The case is The Burgundian LLC v. Hawthorne Food Co. (Mass. Super. Ct. Suffolk Dep't Bus. Litig. Sess. filed Feb. 3, 2022).  The plaintiff alleges, inter alia, breach of contract, violation of state trade secret law, passing off, false advertising, and unfair trade practices.

Historian explores Grant statue's African odyssey

My photo from Bolama in 2020
RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Martin H. "Jay" Joyce, author and my colleague in the exploration of historical curiosities, has authored a new article about the origins and winding story of the statue of U.S. President Ulysses S Grant on the island of Bolama in Guinea-Bissau and its two appearances on Bissauan postage stamps.

I have written about the Grant doppleganger's odyssey previously, in March 2020, when I got some of the facts wrong, and in November 2020, when I corrected and updated the record. Now Joyce has dived deep. He teases his piece thus:

In the March-April 2020 issue of Topical Time, Mr. George Ruppel recounted the story of why Portuguese Guinea (now Guinea-Bissau) issued stamps in 1946 and again in 1970, featuring Ulysses S. Grant. Grant was honored for arbitrating a dispute between Portugal and Great Britain during his presidential administration in favor of Portugal. The crux of the dispute involved territorial rights over the island of Bolama, just off West Africa’s coast.... In the mid-twentieth century, Bolama frequently appeared in the philatelic press because of the Pan-American Airways Clipper airmail routes, which used Bolama as a stopping point before proceeding across the South Atlantic....

An internet search for statues of American presidents around the world rarely includes this statue. Why not? As former ABC News radio commentator Paul Harvey would say, "Here's the rest of the story...."

The article is Ulysses S. Grant in Portuguese Guinea—the Rest of the Story, Topical Time, May-June 2022, at 60. Topical Time is the journal of the American Topical Association.

Joyce is a 1974 graduate of the United States Military Academy. He is the author of Postmarked West Point: A US Postal History of West Point and its Graduates, a winner of a Vermeil award at the 2021 Great American Stamp Show. His forthcoming work from La Posta Publications is The West Point Post Office: 1815-1981: Keeping It All in the Family—Nepotism, Paternalism and Political Patronage, ... and Dedication to the Corps.

Court denies Exxon anti-SLAPP relief in Mass. climate claims; European court bemoans Russian SLAPP

AG Maura Healey
The Massachusetts anti-SLAPP statute does not work in defense of Attorney General enforcement actions, the Supreme Judicial Court decided in May in climate change litigation against Exxon Mobil Corp. Europe and the UK, meanwhile, are working out their approaches to anti-SLAPP.

I am in general anti anti-SLAPP, because the statutes are drawn too broadly. I recited my lamentations in April 2021. I support anti-SLAPP in principle when it works the way it was intended, but broadly drawn anti-SLAPP statutes create innumerable headaches and are used to protect Goliath from David as often as the other way around. Exxon's attempted reliance on the law fits the mold.

With the usual American MO, anti-SLAPP statutes try to slap an ill-fitting patchwork fix on a systemic problem, which is transaction costs in civil litigation, declaring the problem solved while in fact it festers, rotting social and political institutions from the inside out. Only when a bridge collapses does everybody momentarily notice, and then we move on.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court narrowly saved the bridge from collapse this time by rejecting Exxon Mobil's invocation of the commonwealth's typically broad anti-SLAPP statute. Exxon is defending itself against Attorney General Maura Healey. The AG accuses Exxon of deceptive statements that concealed what Big Oil knew about the climate risk of fossil fuel extraction, thus, responsibility for climate change. 

State and locality climate change lawsuits against Big Oil are proliferating in the United States and the world right now, as governments try to figure out where they will get the money to bolster infrastructure against rising sea levels and tempestuous weather events. In the context of "super torts," I wrote in November 2020 about the lawsuit against Big Oil by my home state of Rhode Island. By focusing on claims in state law, public plaintiffs such as my childhood hometown of Baltimore have managed to steer their claims into state court, evading the impact of a U.S. Supreme Court inclination to see the claims in federal court, as Big Oil defendants would prefer.

Accordingly, AG Healey is pursuing the commonwealth claim under Massachusetts's expansive unfair and deceptive practices act, chapter 93A. The powerful law affords double and treble damages and attorney fees in cases of willful and knowing violations, and it can be used as a private or public enforcement mechanism.

Exxon attempted to use the commonwealth's anti-SLAPP statute in its defense. The essence of Exxon's public statements about the environmental safety fossil fuels constituted participation in the public marketplace of ideas, Exxon asserts, so the AG's persecution is just the sort of action that anti-SLAPP should head off.

One limitation, thankfully, in the Massachusetts anti-SLAPP law is that it hinges on petition activity, not merely free speech. There is some margin around the word "petition," as the statute draws in public statements "reasonably likely to encourage consideration or review of an issue" by government. But the anti-SLAPP statute cannot be triggered simply because whatever civil wrong the defendant is accused of was accomplished by way of communication.

The AG objected to Exxon's invocation of anti-SLAPP on this distinction, because Big Oil made plenty of problematic statements to the public. I think she's right. But the court did not get that far. Rather, the court held in favor of the AG on her alternative argument, that the anti-SLAPP statute simply does not apply to public enforcement actions by the AG.

There is a questionable logic to Exxon's theory that petitioning must be protected against attack when the attacker is the petition-ee, government. A petitioner might be expected instead to make a First Amendment retaliation claim, if the attack theory holds up. Also, the anti-SLAPP statute, in a second provision, authorizes intervention by the AG on behalf of anti-SLAPP movants. So the legislature knew how to say "attorney general" when it wanted to, and the AG isn't mentioned anywhere else.

More importantly, the Supreme Judicial Court held, defense against a public enforcement action is not consistent with the legislative purpose of the anti-SLAPP statute: "The legislative history makes clear that the motivation for the anti-SLAPP statute was vexatious, private lawsuits, especially ones filed by developers to prevent local opposition to zoning approval." That's the paradigmatic case that gave birth to anti-SLAPP in 1988.

The court observed that its holding accords with one other jurisdiction that has considered the same problem. The Supreme Judicial Court of Maine declined to apply its anti-SLAPP statute in a municipal enforcement action for a zoning violation, despite the would-be movant's assertion of victimization.

Curious, though, that mass-media-Goliath defense against defamation and privacy lawsuits didn't get a mention in the court's main text. In a telling footnote, the court opined:

Although originally drafted with a particular purpose in mind—that is, the prevention of lawsuits used by developers to punish and dissuade those objecting to their projects in the permitting process—the anti-SLAPP statute's broadly drafted provisions, particularly its wide-ranging definition of petitioning activity, have led to a significant expansion of its application.... The ever-increasing complexity of the anti-SLAPP case law has also made resolution of these cases difficult and time consuming.... We recognize that this case law may require further reconsideration and simplification to ensure that the statutory purposes of the anti-SLAPP statute are accomplished and the orderly resolution of these cases is not disrupted.... We also note that other States have defined petitioning activity more narrowly and that bills have been filed in our Legislature to do the same....

I don't want to be an I-told-you-so, but.... 

Europe and the UK might ought take heed.

The UK invited public comment in a consultation in the spring as it ponders anti-SLAPP, and the European Commission is working out legislation now for the European Union.

In a March judgment, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) recognized SLAPPs as a human rights problem. The court held that a regional Russian government had violated free speech rights with a civil defamation action against an online media outlet critical of officials. 

Of course, the Massachusetts and Maine cases should only aggravate the European court's worry, because it was a public authority that was the complainant in Russia. What if AG Healey were on a crusade against news outlets, using the deceptive practices law to persecute newspapers critical of the commonwealth government? (Is that how Exxon sees itself, victimized?) Would anti-SLAPP not be an apt defense?

The problem did not wholly escape the court's notice. The court struggled to distinguish an earlier Massachusetts case, Hanover, in which the applicability of anti-SLAPP in public enforcement simply had not been challenged when a town sued a union in a row over procurement. In a final footnote, the court wrote: "We note that the union in Hanover was not seeking to employ the anti-SLAPP statute to prevent local government enforcement of laws. As the issue was not raised in that case, and is not raised here, we need not decide whether any or all local government enforcement actions are beyond the scope of the anti-SLAPP statute."

So while the court lamented the burgeoning complexity of anti-SLAPP with one breath, it opened the door to more confusion with the next.

Hanover was characterized as an abuse-of-process suit, and therein lies a suggestion, I believe and have written before, of a better way to manage SLAPPs.

The Massachusetts case is Commonwealth v. Exxon Mobil, No. SJC-13211 (Mass. May 24, 2022). Justice Scott Kafker wrote the unanimous opinion. Track the case at the Climate Change Litigation Database.

The ECtHR case is OOO Memo v. Russia, No. 2840/10 (Eur. Ct. Hum. Rts. Mar. 15, 2022).

Court: Even upon liability for mere negligence, insurer may refuse to cover statutory attorney-fee award

Gerd Altmann licensed by Pixabay
An insurer is not obliged to reimburse an insured for attorney fees awarded in a quasi-tort action under Massachusetts statute, the commonwealth high court held today.

The insured was a cleaning business operating under the "Servpro" banner. In the dispute underlying the instant case, the insured cleaned up a sewage spill and was held liable to a client who suffered respiratory injury from exposure to disinfectant chemicals.

The personal-injury complainant sued under the unusually broad unfair commercial practices statute, Massachusetts chapter 93A. Chapter 93A affords prevailing parties attorney fees, as well as double or treble damages for complainants able to prove "willful or knowing" violation.

Those powerful incentives tend to cause plaintiffs to abandon common law tort claims when the 93A claim is viable. So here, the plaintiff declined to prosecute her common law negligence claim and was awarded attorney fees on a prevailing 93A theory, an implied warranty of merchantability.

Subsequently, Vermont Mutual Insurance Co. declined to pay the full sum of the award, asserting that the policy did not cover the attorney-fee award.

The Supreme Judicial Court agreed, finding the plain meaning of the insurance contract controlling. The policy covered liability for "bodily injury" and "costs," the court acknowledged. But attorney fees are not "costs 'taxed' against the insured in the suit," the court held; rather, "costs" refers to "the narrower, technical meaning of court-related or nominal costs recoverable as a matter of course to prevailing parties."

The outcome is potentially devastating to small businesses that believe themselves to be insured against negligence liability. An attorney-fee award is enough to put a small business into bankruptcy, yet personal-injury liability insurance typically excludes coverage for fees. 

That exclusion arises, I posit, upon the logic that fees typically are awarded in the states, if at all under "the American rule," only in cases of intentional or reckless wrongdoing, for which insurers also exclude liability. Chapter 93A makes fees much more readily accessible to prevailing plaintiffs and thereby burdens business with an unanticipated transaction cost, while affording multi-state insurers with a windfall.

Notwithstanding my principled objection to deviations from the American rule as an incoherent remedy to our problem of runaway transaction costs, I see no meaningful distinction between a personal injury award and an accompanying fee award when both are predicated on conduct indistinguishable from common law negligence. Vermont Mutual was let off the hook on a technicality, to my mind, and insureds should be entitled to the coverage they reasonably believe they bargained for. 

At minimum, going forward, the commonwealth insurance regulator should compel clear articulation of the risk to insureds of such a coverage limitation specially under chapter 93A. I won't hold my breath.

The case is Vermont Mutual Insurance Co. v. Poirier (Mass. July 6, 2022). Justice Scott L. Kafker wrote the unanimous opinion.

Privilege shields attorney from bankruptcy creditor's claim of sham proceeding to hide client's assets

mohamed hassan CC0 via PxHere
The litigation privilege shields an attorney from tort liability in the conduct of a case, the Massachusetts high court held, even if there was fraud.

The question of litigation privilege arose in connection with a bankruptcy. Creditors of a construction company alleged that its bankrupt owner had transferred assets to his wife in a sham adversarial divorce proceeding, and that their lawyer had orchestrated the plan. Besides attaching property of the debtor, the creditors sued the lawyer who had represented the debtor's wife in the divorce while the debtor appeared pro se. 

The litigation privilege protects participants in litigation, including lawyers and witnesses, from liability arising from their participation in the litigation. The privilege is often employed in defense against tort actions such as defamation and interference with contract.

The litigation privilege is better characterized as an absolute privilege, rather than a qualified privilege, though the line between the two is not always bright.  Qualified privileges usually can be vitiated by malice, whether common law "ill will" malice or actual "reckless disregard" malice.

Closer to impregnable, an absolute privilege can be vulnerable on questions of scope, but usually not on grounds of culpability. For example, the Texas Supreme Court in 2021 declined to extend the litigation privilege to protect an attorney against defamation allegations based on extra-judicial statements to media to garner pre-suit publicity for litigation by the Animal Legal Defense Fund against the commercial owner of the Houston Downtown Aquarium. The privilege failed because of the remoteness of pre-suit publicity from the litigation process, not because of the alleged scienter of the attorney.

The Supreme Judicial Court recounted the common law history of the litigation privilege.

The roots of the litigation privilege can be found in English common law, with the first reported decision dismissing an action against an attorney on the ground of the privilege issued in 1606. See Brook v. Montague ... (K.B. 1606); [T. Leigh] Anenson, Absolute Immunity From Civil Liability: Lessons for Litigation Lawyers [Pepp. L. Rev.] (2004).... In that case, an English court held that an attorney accused of slandering his client's adversary during a previous trial—by asserting that the adversary was a convicted felon—was immune from suit.... The court decided that "[a] counsellor in law retained hath a privilege to enforce any thing which is informed him by his client, and to give it in evidence, it being pertinent to the matter in question, and not to examine whether it be true or false."

Courts in the United States adopted this doctrine in the Nineteenth Century and frequently cited the early English cases in doing so. See, e.g., Marsh v. Elsworth ... (N.Y. Super. Ct. 1869) [citing Brook]; Mower v. Watson [Vt. 1839 (citing Buckley v. Wood (K.B. 1591))]. Over time, the scope of the doctrine has broadened. See [Paul T.] Hayden, Reconsidering the Litigator's Absolute Privilege to Defame ... (1993). Nearly every State, including Massachusetts, has adopted the formulation of the privilege set forth in the Restatement (Second) of Torts, [§ 586 (1977),] which provides:

An attorney at law is absolutely privileged to publish defamatory matter concerning another in communications preliminary to a proposed judicial proceeding, or in the institution of, or during the course and as a part of, a judicial proceeding in which he participates as counsel, if it has some relation to the proceeding.

"The privilege applies regardless of malice, bad faith, or any nefarious motives on the part of the lawyer so long as the conduct complained of has some relation to the litigation." Anenson, supra....

The court also recounted the purpose of the privilege, to "promote[] zealous advocacy by allowing attorneys 'complete freedom of expression and candor in communications in their efforts to secure justice for their clients'" (quoting Mass. precedent). The privilege simultaneously enhances judicial efficiency by precluding "meta-litigation" (my word choice) by disgruntled adversaries. (The same argument has been used to reject civil process torts.)

The litigation is not a privilege to commit wrongs, the court cautioned. Lawyers are subject to a court's inherent authority to sanction, by which a court can compel compensation to a wronged party. And lawyers are subject to bar discipline for violating the rules of professional conduct.

In the instant case, then, the complainants were not permitted to predicate an action for fraud based on the defendant-lawyer's in-court representation of the debtor's wife in the divorce proceedings.

A closer question arose as to the defendant's potential liability for conduct outside the courtroom, what the complainants characterized as orchestration of a fraudulent scheme. But the court resisted the effort to articulate a pattern of conduct apart from the litigation or expression in the course of litigation. The court cited and followed the lead of other state high courts, holding "that the litigation privilege shields an attorney from liability for actions taken during the course of litigation." The court cited a Restatement comment articulating a broad basis for the privilege "upon a public policy of securing to attorneys as officers of the court the utmost freedom in their efforts to secure justice for their clients."

"The litigation privilege thus applies to [the attorney's] advice and to the services he rendered," the court concluded.

The creditors are not without remedy, the court noted, evidenced by their efforts in collateral litigation to attach debtor assets notwithstanding the bankruptcy. Moreover, the court reiterated, civil immunity "would not shield the attorney from any applicable sanction for conduct contrary to the rules of professional responsibility, nor would it suggest to other attorneys that such behavior is acceptable."

The case is Bassichis v. Flores (Mass. July 1, 2022). Justice Serge Georges, Jr. wrote the unanimous opinion.

BU prof's death was tragic accident; investigation shows bad policy, but not criminal negligence

I've posted for public download files of the investigation into the matter of Boston University (BU) Professor David K. Jones, who died on September 11, 2021, when he fell through a rusted stairway near a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) station.

When the Suffolk County (Mass.) DA announced in January that no criminal charges would be filed in the death, I requested the investigative files under state public records law. Record Access Officer Claudia Buruca filled my request promptly and kindly (in May; I'm just getting around to it). The ZIP file I created in Dropbox runs about 97.3 megabytes and includes documents, images, and 911 audio, all appropriately redacted by the DA's office to protect the privacy of the decedent and family.

I wrote about the incident here last October. A professor in the School of Public Health at BU (in memoriam) and husband and father of three in Milton, Mass., Jones was a runner and was out training for a marathon. He mounted a stairway on MBTA property in Boston that connected Old Colony Avenue, below, with Columbia Road, passing overhead. Four treads in the uppermost part of the stairway were missing, and Jones fell through, about 20 feet, to his death.

In reference to the DA's decision on criminal charges, I wanted to know more about why the rusted stairway was accessible to Jones. The file (in accordance with subsequent news reporting) revealed that demolition of the stairway had been planned, but was delayed by confusion over what state agency was responsible. In the meantime, the stairway was blocked at top and bottom. The stairway has been demolished since.

A warning: in the following paragraphs I will describe the evidence dispassionately, and the details might be troubling to some readers, especially if you knew Jones.

All photos are from the investigative file.

It appears that the stairway was well blocked at the top by a jersey wall, fencing, and signage. It was not as well blocked at the bottom. There was a high, temporary fence strung across the alighting threshold. Jones would have to have gone around the fence knowingly and deliberately. But doing so was not hard.

A Google Street View image from November 2020 shows the fence footing sitting well past the stairway corner.

At the left end of the alighting handrail, the fencing was anchored to a vertical steel post, which stood upon a rectangular steel footing. A Google Street View image from the preceding year shows the footing set out well past the end of the stair, so the fencing extended across the threshold and then a prophylactic foot or more. Also, while an apparently older image in the investigative file shows a "Danger / No Trespassing" sign affixed to the fence at the bottom of the stairway, that sign appears to have gone missing by the time of the Google Street View image in November 2020.


Accident-scene images show that the footing had migrated to the corner of the stairway footing and angled to 45 degrees. So a narrow gap between the end of the handrail and the start of the fencing left the stairway more readily accessible. Also, the "Danger" sign still is missing.

Either way, it was never very difficult for a person to squeeze around the end of the fence and onto the stairway. There is video surveillance of Jones walking—not running—up the stairs, and then of him falling. But no camera captured how he circumvented the fence at the bottom, nor what happened when he encountered the gap in the stairs.

I had assumed, based on my own experience as a runner, that Jones had run up the stairs, probably looking up and ahead, and lost his footing at the missing treads. So I was surprised to see that he walked up. Also surprising, about nine seconds, give or take, elapsed between his disappearance from camera view, moving up the stairs, and his falling back through the camera view. That's more time than would have been needed to go the rest of the way. One possibility is that he lost his footing, but was able to hold on to something for a short time before falling. Another possibility is that he saw the gap, tried to circumnavigate it, and failed. There's no way to know.

Whatever the unknown circumstances, personally, I am satisfied that the DA made the right call. The delay in demolition of the stairway, the too easily circumventable fencing, and the missing danger sign significantly and unnecessarily exacerbated the risk of injury or death and evidence bad public policy. But the conditions don't, in my mind, rise to the level of criminal negligence, which involves willful ignorance of an obvious risk of harm—much closer to civil recklessness than to civil negligence. For Jones's part, he had to know that he was taking some risk in circumventing the fencing. And I say that mindful that I've made some bad choices myself in the past, so there but for the grace of God....

Rusted treads that had not yet detached.
Even in the absence of criminal negligence, it would be nice to know that the bad practices of demolition delay, circumventable fencing, and missing danger signs are being addressed by the MBTA. To be fair, the MBTA should be lauded for having closed the stairway before an accident happened in the absence of barriers.

At the same time, why did the staircase rust so to begin with? Ironically, Jones worked as a public health scholar studying social risk factors. Bigger questions loom about our aging infrastructure and who pays the price when it fails.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Communication policy figures as factor in U.S.-India business development after pandemic

From the Summit newsletter, with me at lower left
As promised, on February 24, I joined a panel of "INBUSH ERA World Summit 2022," an international business and policy conference organized by Amity University, India, through its flagship campus at Noida, Uttar Pradesh, near Delhi.

I delivered remarks arising from my paper, "Communication Policy as a Factor in Post-Pandemic U.S.-India Business Development," available on SSRN. Here is the abstract.

For better and worse, we live in the age of the transnational corporation. That corporate landscape is dominated by a very few actors, namely the five-trillion-U.S.-dollar oligopoly of Amazon, Apple, Meta/Facebook, Alphabet/Google, and Microsoft. That market dominance has proven to be counterproductive to countless priorities, including social and economic development, civil rights, and environmental sustainability. And the problem of Big Tech’s market dominance was dramatically exacerbated by the pandemic. Now national governments are trying to figure out what to do. Today, in the context of a program about how the United States and India can move forward together to facilitate transnational business development after the pandemic, I offer observations in two dimensions. One dimension is the jurisdictional relationship of the United States and India. The other dimension is the nature of the legal challenges in the global post-pandemic business environment. These challenges range from the broad level of the competitive marketplace to the narrow level of the information ecosystem, and, en route, pass through the problem of communication regulation, which is my own area of research.

The hosts generously presented me with an "Amity Global Academic Excellence Award."


Sage publishes updated Encyclopedia of Journalism

In March, Sage published the second edition of The Enyclopedia of Journalism (2022).

I was privileged to contribute updated articles on Copyright (previous edition draft) and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (previous edition draft).

A lot has changed since the first edition more than a decade ago. I am grateful for the editorial leadership of Professor Gregory A. Borchard at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, for his direction and feedback on redrafting the content for the new edition.

Here is the description of the project from Sage.

Journalism permeates our lives and shapes our thoughts in ways that we have long taken for granted. Whether it is National Public Radio in the morning or the lead story on the Today show, the morning newspaper headlines, up-to-the-minute Internet news, grocery store tabloids, Time magazine in our mailbox, or the nightly news on television, journalism pervades our lives. The Encyclopedia of Journalism covers all significant dimensions of journalism, such as print, broadcast, and Internet journalism; U.S. and international perspectives; and history, technology, legal issues and court cases, ownership, and economics. The encyclopedia will consist of approximately 500 signed entries from scholars, experts, and journalists, under the direction of lead editor Gregory Borchard of University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Here is the first paragraph of Copyright.

Copyright is a legal protection of expressions that are fixed in tangible media. Copyright describes, for example, an author’s right to reproduce a book manuscript, an artist’s right to duplicate his painting, or a musician’s right to perform an original score. Copyright is part of a family of legal interests loosely termed intellectual property, which also includes trademarks, patents, and trade secrets. This entry examines the origins of copyright as well as related theory and criticism. The entry also discusses copyright law, the fair use doctrine, and legal issues connected to copyright law. The entry concludes with a discussion of copyright within the context of journalism.

And here is the first paragraph of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is an information disclosure statute that provides the principal means of access to records of the executive branch of the United States federal government. The FOIA, codified at 5 U.S.C. section 552, was enacted in 1966 and has been amended since, significantly by the Electronic FOIA Amendments of 1996 and the OPEN Government Act of 2007. This entry discusses the history of the FOIA, its use today by journalists and others, variations in its interpretation, its influence on other governments, and related laws in the United States.

Kenyan presidential election has Nairobi on edge

Kenya will vote for a new president next month in a general election laced with ethnic tensions, which has people in Nairobi on edge.

For two five-year terms, incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta has labored to convince Kenyans that his agenda has generated economic opportunity and quelled corruption. Most of that time he has been effective, at least at the convincing, as evidenced by approval ratings exceeding 70%. But those ratings have occasionally plunged upon allegations that shook the moral high ground.

Perhaps most damning, Kenyatta faced charges in the International Criminal Court alleging complicity in violence, including the burning to death of 28 people inside a church, related to a previous election cycle. In 2014, the court dismissed the indictment for insufficient evidence. Frustrated prosecutors alleged witness tampering and intimidation.

Now Kenyatta is term limited. His exit from power has broader significance because he represents a family dynasty that has maintained control of Kenyan politics since 1963 independence. A rivalry with the Odinga family has lent Kenyatta dominance a gloss of competition, and sometimes a run for its money. But perennial presidential challenger Raila Odinga has never quite made the grade, and the seesawing fortunes of the families come off to more numerous outsiders as oligarchic.

Threads of ethnic tension underlie the contest, too.  The Kenyatta family is part of Kenya's plurality ethnic group, the Kikuyu, a Bantu people constituting about a fifth of the population. Fairly or unfairly, Kenyatta is perceived as having allocated political power to aggrandize Kikuyu hegemony.

But neither of the two leading candidates for the presidency is Kikuyu. One candidate is the familiar Odinga, who hails from the Luo ethnic group, a Nilotic people, like the well known Maasai. Traveling in the Maasai Mara in June, anecdotally, I found people more prone than their Nairobi fellows to view the presidential race through an ethnic prism. Or maybe they were just more willing to say so.

Me with a Maasai mate in June
(C) Alison 2022, licensed exclusively to RJ Peltz-Steele
Though they are longtime rivals, Kenyatta has endorsed Odinga. Further lending support to the feel of oligarchy, the two share a history of occasional accusations of financial improprieties.  Odinga has chosen a Kikuyu running mate with a history similarly suggestive of insider status.

The other contender is the incumbent deputy president, William Ruto. Ruto, who belongs to the Kalenjin ethnic group, also a Nilotic people, was charged in The Hague over election violence, alongside Kenyatta, and saw his charges dismissed likewise in 2016. Ruto also chose a Kikuyu running mate; Martha "Iron Lady" Karua would be the nation's first female deputy president.

That both candidates chose Kikuyu running mates shows the priority of appealing to an ethnic plurality that might fear the loss of long familiar station. Odinga and Ruto have traded the lead in polls, but either way, it is overwhelmingly likely that the highest office in Kenya will, historically, slip out of Kikuyu hands.

With a history of violence following elections—besides the '07-08 turmoil that precipitated ICC investigation, Kenyatta's narrow reelection margin five years ago led to civil unrest and a dramatic court challenge—people in Nairobi are on edge.  I was repeatedly warned to stay away from any assembly that might even morph into a political rally. And I found some city dwellers flatly unwilling to venture out after dark.

All that said, I have to admit, what first caused me to take an interest in the Kenyan presidential election is none of the above. Rather, it was a Ruto billboard that I saw in many places around Nairobi. The billboard boasts the curious tagline, "EVERY HUSTLE MATTERS," or, sometimes, "EVERY HUSTLE COUNTS."

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 RJ Peltz-Steele

I laughed out loud when I first saw it. I asked a taxi driver what it meant, and he told me matter-of-factly that it meant Ruto promises plenty of jobs, "hustles," for people: important in an economy in which a person might derive income from many and various part-time gigs.

A more trusted Kenyan source later told me, yes, Kenyan English does recognize the negative connotation of the word "hustle." And Ruto did indeed take some heat for his unusual choice of words in an election in which anti-corruption figures prominently.

Maybe in the end, the hustle will work for Ruto. After two terms of Uhuru Kenyatta leadership and a half-century of dynastic family control, Kenya struck me as mired in a state of development ill-befitting its reputation as an East Africa leader and below par relative to neighboring Uganda and Tanzania. Perhaps for voters, it's the economy, stupid.

Monday, July 4, 2022

Judge delays decision again on Mass. right to repair, cites need to study SCOTUS climate change ruling

pix4free
Last week, in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a major blow to federal regulators on the climate change front, and the case has stalled, again, release of the trial court decision over the right-to-repair law in Massachusetts.

First, a word on West Virginia, in which the Court struck down climate change-combative regulations for being born of a breadth not sufficiently specifically authorized by Congress. Others will comment more ably than I on the constitutional law of it all, but from where I sit, the case was correctly decided. Before you throw your rotten tomatoes at me for composting, at least absorb my two cents on the matter: 

We have too long been under the rule of administrative fiat in the United States, rather than democratic lawmaking, because our dysfunctional Congress long ago abdicated its role as a co-equal branch of government. Early in the 20th century, the Court unwisely allowed the non-delegation doctrine to slip away, and with it went the checks and balances of the constitutional separation of powers itself. So we're overdue for a correction.

You don't want to hear it from me, but the same problem pertains in the Roe/Dobbs debacle, where the administrative fiats on privacy have been coming from the Court rather than the administrative state, but certainly not from Congress: same difference. People, especially people ill schooled in the separation of powers—wherefore the sorry state of K12?—look to monolithic government for answers to their problems. They don't much care which public office provides the answer. So they fail to distinguish a Supreme Court decision—West Virginia or Dobbs—that says not our job from one that says simply not. Protestors picketing the Supreme Court building in recent weeks were on the wrong side of the street.

Abdication is a win-win for lawmakers, who can rake in the dough from corporations for the small price of doing nothing while blaming other branches of government for failing to offer a fix. Lawmakers sat on their hands on privacy and women's rights for decades in the wake of Griswold and Roe, content to let the Court struggle to map fine lines. Now they pantomime outrage and aspersion when Roe goes away and there is no statutory civil rights framework to replace it, nor even a framework to protect interstate travel rights, which is well within congressional authority.

Anyway, the angle on West Virginia that interests me is that on July 1, the U.S. District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock again delayed his decision in automakers' challenge to the Massachusetts right-to-repair initiative, saying that he would have to study the impact, if any, of West Virginia on his rationale. (E.g., Repair Driven News.)

Issuance of the decision in the case has been delayed time and again this calendar year, and the case has spurred occasional fireworks. Chris Villani for Law 360 wrote in February how "[a]n exasperated federal judge said ... he was close to a verdict in a suit challenging Massachusetts' revised 'right to repair' law, yet he pressed attorneys for a group of manufacturers about why they didn't tell him that new Subaru and Kia vehicles complied with rules they claimed are impossible to follow."

It was not clear, later, whether Subaru and Kia had actually complied, or just turned off the offending telematic features in new cars to be sold in Massachusetts. Turning off an otherwise functional mechanism does not, Massachusetts AG Maura Healey opined, and I agree, comply with the consumer data access law.

Though the omission that aggravated the judge was explainable, the incident is demonstrative nonetheless of automakers' obfuscating foot-dragging in their conduct of the case overall. They threw every kitchen-sink theory and procedural roadblock at the Massachusetts law, because every day of noncompliance is money in the bank, never mind the merits, nor the defense cost to taxpayers.

Automakers' problem is less with telematics regulation and more with being regulated state by state, rather than by federal standards. Federal regulation, rather than state regulation, has two powerful advantages for industry. First, federal regulations are universal, rather than 50+ in number, which vastly reduces compliance costs. More efficiency in compliance costs is good for consumers, too. So that's fair.

Second, federal regulations come from a grinding rule-making process that is almost irretrievably contaminated by the mostly lawful if deeply lamentable corruption of the industry-state complex. So manufacturers can lobby their way free of meaningful burdens that would benefit consumers and protect social and economic rights. Less fair.

It is not clear why Judge Woodlock thinks that West Virginia might affect his ruling. I might be able to say if I followed the Massachusetts case more closely. Absent a study, my guess is that the issue has to do with preemption. One of the automakers' kitchen-sink challenges alleged that Massachusetts could not regulate telematics because federal regulation of the auto industry impliedly preempts state right-to-repair regulation. If the judge thought that the vitality of that theory depended on the breadth of the federal regulations, and the permissible breadth of federal regulations, when ambiguous, is necessarily narrowed by West Virginia, then maybe it's less likely that the federal regulations can be said impliedly to preclude state regulation.

I'm now piling supposition upon supposition, but if I'm right, the likelihood is that the trial court was going to rule in favor of industry, and it's possible but unlikely that West Virginia would change that. I put money on industry on this one back in the winter, too, in part because I supposed that the judge's exasperation was evoked by a seeming deception on the part of the soon-to-be-announced prevailing side, and in part because I'm a pessimist. Or, I like to think, a realist.

My will for public policy, though, if not my bet, is on the side of AG Healey. Previously, I've written favorably about right to repair as a bulwark of consumer protection, and I support the Massachusetts initiative.

The Massachusetts case is Alliance for Automotive Innovation v. Healey (D. Mass. filed Nov. 20, 2020).