Friday, November 24, 2017

Fourth Amendment privacy case, set for oral argument Nov. 29, touches on US-EU data protection divide

I've published a short preview of Carpenter v. United States, 819 F.3d 880 (6th Cir. 2016), cert. granted, No. 16-402 (U.S. June 5, 2017) (SCOTUSblog), a Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2703(d), set for oral argument in the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, November 29.  Here's an excerpt; link below to the full article and the ABA publication in which it appears.

U.S. Supreme Court accepts cell phone privacy case with transnational implications

A privacy case headed to the U.S. Supreme Court will give justices an opportunity to examine “the third-party doctrine” in U.S. constitutional law. The doctrine manifests a central feature of American privacy policy, marking a divide that has flummoxed transnational data transfer negotiators.
*  *  *

The urgent problem on the transnational scene is that the secrecy paradigm is incompatible with emerging global privacy norms. In EU data protection, for example, privacy follows data downstream. A person can divulge information with strings attached, and the strings are enforceable against subsequent recipients, such as Internet retailers. Even in public places, a data collector, such as a surveillance camera owner, has affirmative obligations to captured subjects. This incompatibility goes a long way to explain the incongruence of European apoplexy and American nonchalance in reaction to global surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency.
*  *  *

However suspenseful, Carpenter proffers bad facts to kill the third-party doctrine outright. As the Sixth Circuit observed, ordinary people know that cell phones communicate with nearby towers, and their location data are not as damningly precise as GPS. The privacy intrusion was therefore modest, and statute afforded some safeguard. What will be interesting to see in Carpenter is whether more justices lend their voices to the Alito or Sotomayor position, and whether the replacement of Justice Scalia with Justice Gorsuch unsettles the Court’s fealty to originalism.

Read the article at pp. 5-6 of the fall 2017 newsletter of the Privacy, Cybersecurity & Digital Rights Committee of the Section of International Law of the American Bar Association, available here in PDF

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Mass. SJC remands internet jurisdiction, defamation case

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) last week remanded an internet jurisdiction case because the lower court jumped to constitutional due process arguments without first applying the state long-arm jurisdiction statute.  The case, replete with fun Internet trade names, highlights the limits of Massachusetts long-arm jurisdiction relative to the global growth in jurisdictional reach in online commerce.

SCVNGR, Inc., doing business as "LevelUp," is a Delaware-incorporated, Boston-headquartered tech company that works with customers through an app to promote participating restaurants with deals and a special payment system.  Punchh is a Delaware-incorporated, California-headquartered company with a similar business model.  Punchh works with customers in Massachusetts and with restaurants with Massachusetts locations, but Punchh denies any physical tie to Massachusetts.

At one time, LevelUp and Punchh entered into an agreement to work together.  But according to LevelUp, Punchh then bad-mouthed LevelUp to LevelUp clients.  LevelUp terminated their agreement, but the allegations state, the bad-mouthing didn't stop.  LevelUp sued in Massachusetts superior court on theories including defamation, trade defamation, tortious interference, and statutory unfair competition.  Punchh disputed personal jurisdiction.

The trial court dismissed for want of personal jurisdiction on federal constitutional due process grounds.  The trial court declined to apply the state long-arm statute because, the court explained, the parties had only argued due process.  LevelUp appealed, and the SJC transferred the case from the appeals court sua sponte.  Notwithstanding the trial court's dispositive conclusion on due process, the SJC opined, it was reversible error not to analyze the state long-arm law first.  That is to say, it was reversible error not to have observed the doctrine of constitutional avoidance.

The Massachusetts long-arm statute is not the typical sort that U.S. law students read about in civil procedure, defining state personal jurisdiction as maximally co-extensive with the limits of constitutional due process.  Rather, Massachusetts constrains long-arm jurisdiction to eight scenarios:

  • (a) transacting any business in this commonwealth;
  • (b) contracting to supply services or things in this commonwealth;
  • (c) causing tortious injury by an act or omission in this commonwealth;
  • (d) causing tortious injury in this commonwealth by an act or omission outside this commonwealth if he regularly does or solicits business, or engages in any other persistent course of conduct, or derives substantial revenue from goods used or consumed or services rendered, in this commonwealth;
  • (e) having an interest in, using or possessing real property in this commonwealth;
  • (f) contracting to insure any person, property or risk located within this commonwealth at the time of contracting;
  • (g) maintaining a domicile in this commonwealth while a party to a personal or marital relationship out of which arises a claim for divorce, alimony, property settlement, parentage of a child, child support or child custody; or the commission of any act giving rise to such a claim; or
  • (h) having been subject to the exercise of personal jurisdiction of a court of the commonwealth which has resulted in an order of alimony, custody, child support or property settlement, [in certain modification or enforcement proceedings].

Certainly the statute affords plenty of room to argue still over the bounds of due process.  But the terms of a statute may be subject to limiting construction.

The SJC declined to hint at the appropriate outcome under the statute, bemoaning an incomplete record.  However, the Court observed that the first four provisions of the statute, paragraphs (a) to (d), might be in play.  In a footnote, the Court recalled Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783 (1984) (Justia), in which the U.S. Supreme Court allowed California jurisdiction over a non-resident defamation defendant because the defendant was alleged to have calculated its libel to cause injury in California.  As the SJC moreover observed, the U.S. Supreme Court later limited Calder in Walden v. Fiore, 134 S. Ct. 1115 (2014) (Justia), finding "minimum contacts" wanting when a non-resident's "allegedly unlawful seizure of money elsewhere caused harm to plaintiffs living in Nevada."

The Calder-Walden dichotomy, played out in a defamation context such as SCVNGR v. Punchh, serves as reminder that the United States has rather a dearth of case law in the area of long-arm Internet jurisdiction.  After the earth-rattling assertion of jurisdiction by the High Court of Australia in Dow Jones v. Gutnick in 2002, observers such as me should be forgiven for expecting that we would have moved the ball forward a good bit more in 15 years.  Internet jurisdiction remains a turbulent battlefield in lower domestic courts both here and around the world.

The case is SCVNGR, Inc. v. Punchh, Inc., No. SJC-12297 (Mass. Nov. 8, 2017).

[UPDATE: The Superior Court denied jurisdiction under the long-arm statute in September 2018.  See coverage at Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly (MLW), by Eric T. Berkman (subscription required) (quoting yours truly).  Image at right from MLW.] 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Error that led to Texas mass murder recalls recent tort claim against police after Massachusetts shooting

The Air Force yesterday admitted that it failed to pass on information about the violent record of the Texas church shooter that might have stopped him from having ready access to firearms (WaPo).  Good on the USAF, by the way, for coming clean quickly, however tragic and futile the admission is now for the 26 people who lost their lives.  That angle of the Texas story caused me to pull back up a Massachusetts Appeals Court decision that last week I filed away as "unremarkable." 

After an escalating argument in Somerville, Mass., in 2012, Santano Dessin shot Carlos Andrade "in the neck, shattering Andrade's spine and leaving him paralyzed from the neck down," the court recounted (  It turned out that Dessin possessed three firearms, including the one he used to shoot Andrade, and he should not have had them because of a prior juvenile delinquency adjudication.  The Somerville Police Department at one point had confiscated the three firearms from Dessin, but then returned them erroneously.  Despite subsequent notice to the department by public safety authorities and the Superior Court that Dessin remained disqualified from possessing firearms, police failed to re-confiscate them.  Andrade and family sued police for negligence under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act (MTCA).

The court rejected liability under the MTCA § 10(e), which, typically of state sovereign immunity laws, disallows tort claims predicated on "any claim based upon the issuance, denial, suspension or revocation or failure or refusal to issue, deny, suspend or revoke any permit, license, certificate, approval, order or similar authorization."  The court reasoned, "A local police department's duties to receive, store, and dispose of weapons when a person's firearms license is revoked or denied 'are central to the functions that are immunized from liability by § 10(e)'" and "'cannot be parsed from the remainder of the process'" (quoting Smith v. Registrar, 66 Mass. App. Ct. 31, 33 (2006)).

Guns and Somerville, Mass., share a revolutionary history.

However routine and appropriate a construction of statute the Mass. App. decision is, it points up a policy problem that played out with tragic consequences in Texas.  Gun control opponents including the NRA routinely contend that gun control proponents' job-one should be enforcing the laws that are already on the books, rather than lobbying for new ones.  On the enforcement question, we should all be on the same page.

The merits of our unusual cultural value in gun ownership, as expressed in the Second Amendment, and the appropriate scope of reasonable regulation, may be debated.  Nevertheless, at present, we hold gun ownership as a presumptive, fundamental right.  At the same time, declining to regulate gun ownership on the front end of the transaction means that, on the back end, we must vigorously enforce properly adjudicated deprivations of the right.  Public safety--the competing fundamental right to life--requires no less.

In the area of freedom of expression, we vigorously, presumptively, and even prophylactically protect free speech.  But after proper adjudication, we allow proscription of obscenity, criminal punishment of conspiracy, and enforcement of defamation liability.  Perhaps we ought exercise greater care with prophylactic protection of Second Amendment rights, because the potential consequences of error are grave.  But that wasn't the problem in Massachusetts or Texas, where the risk of error was real and known.

The case is Andrade v. City of Somerville, No. 16-P-1407 (Mass. App. Ct. Oct. 30, 2017).

Friday, November 3, 2017

UIA Congress studies global legal issues: irresponsible journalism, anti-corruption in sport, and intellectual freedom in fashion

Just this week I returned from the annual world congress of the Union Internationale des Avocats, which did not disappoint.  Lawyers from around the world gathered in Toronto to exchange experiences and ideas on a range of cutting-edge themes.

Highlights of this year’s UIA for me included the media law and sports law panels.  The media law panel was coordinated by Emmanuel Pierrat, of Cabinet Pierrat, and Jean-Yves Dupeux, of Lussan & Associés, both in Paris.  The sports law panels were coordinated by Fernando Veiga Gomes, Abreu Advogados, Lisbon; Robert J. Caldwell, Kolesar and Leatham, Las Vegas; and Emanuel Macedo de Medeiros of the International Centre for Sport Security, an NGO based in Doha.

Liability for Journalism

The media law program asked panelists to examine how "irresponsible" and "responsible" journalism are faring in today's legal systems.  Thierry Bontinck of Daldewolf SCRL in Brussels ran through recent developments in the European Court of Human Rights.

We’ve always known that the European approach to freedom of expression is characterized more by balance than the presumption-rebuttal approach of the U.S. First Amendment.  That tension goes a long way to explain U.S. reluctance to enforce foreign libel judgments over the decades, a reluctance codified in the SPEECH Act during the Obama Administration.  But Bontinck’s analysis shows a recent trend in the ECtHR to further downplay the primacy of free speech, putting it on par with competing interests, such as privacy, fair trial, and law enforcement.

It is not clear to me whether this trend will further alienate Europe from fundamental rights analysis in U.S. constitutional law, or might be running in parallel to a trending subordination of free speech in our own courts.  Frankly I would welcome the change here were rights of reputation and privacy to elbow a little more room for themselves in our First Amendment law.  But I would be less eager to embrace a free speech trade-off with more abrupt implications of state power, such as surveillance by law enforcement.

Litigation against Saudi Arabia and the FBI

Also on the media law panel was Thomas Julin of Gunster Yoakley & Stewart, P.A., Miami.  Julin gave an expert overview of developments in American media law.  Yet most captivating was his update on the efforts of families to sue Saudi Arabia in S.D.N.Y. for September 11 losses, more than US$100bn in damages, under Congress’s remarkable waiver of the Saudis’ foreign sovereign immunity.

Julin represents the award-winning Florida journalist Dan Christensen in FOIA litigation against the FBI, now going to the Court of Appeals, for records related to 9-11 investigation of the Saudis.  Needless to say, plaintiffs in the New York litigation are carefully watching the collateral FOIA litigation, which could unlock a vault of evidence.

Julin pointed out that Saudi moves toward commercial and political liberalization, such as a planned IPO of the oil industry in New York and even the recent announcement that Saudi women would be allowed to drive cars, might be a function of U.S. liability exposure.

Whither Goes Sullivan?

In running down U.S. legal developments, Julin talked of course about the Hulk Hogan case, Bollea v. Gawker ($140m verdict, $31m settlement) and the Pink Slime settlement (Beef Products, Inc. v. ABC, Inc.).  Although the Pink Slime settlement was confidential, Julin said that SEC filings disclosed a $177m pay-out from ABC News parent Disney to the beef industry (on its $1.9bn claim), and that doesn’t include losses covered by insurance.  That might be the biggest defamation settlement in the world, ever, Julin noted.

From the audience, Jim Robinson of Best Hooper Lawyers, Melbourne, Australia, added to the mix Rebel Wilson’s record-setting A$4.57m win in Victoria.  All this led Julin to express some concern about whether New York Times v. Sullivan today carries waning cachet (a mixed blessing in my opinion).

Arbitration in Sport

In sports law, a first panel compared case outcomes across international dispute resolution systems.  Moderated by Caldwell, the panel comprised David Casserly of Kellerhals Carrard in Lausanne, Switzerland; Paul J. Greene of Global Sports Advocates, LLC, in Portland, Maine; Roman E. Stoykewych, senior counsel for the National Hockey League Players Association in Toronto; and Clifford J. Hendel of Araoz & Rueda in Madrid.

One case the panel examined involved the hit of NHL player Dennis Wideman on linesman Don Henderson in January 2016.  The video (e.g. SportsNet Canada) is not pretty, but it turns out there is much more than meets the eye.  In the video, at first blush, Wideman seems quite deliberately to hit the linesman from behind.

In context, however, Wideman was coming off of a concussive blow into the boards himself.  Stoykewych explained that Wideman was woozy, and what looks like a raising of his stick to strike Henderson can in fact be explained as a defensive maneuver whilst skating into an unidentifiable obstacle, if not a perceived opponent on the attack.  Casserly moreover suggested that Wideman’s plight might be likened to the exhausted fighter who inexplicably starts beating on an intervening referee.  The NHL rule on intentional strikes is all the more confounding, as it seems to define intent with an objective reasonableness test.

Ultimately the players’ union won reduction of Wideman’s heavy sanction to something like time served.  The case occasioned a vibrant discussion of evidentiary procedures, decision-making standards, and review standards in sport arbitration.  In the bigger picture, the case makes for a fascinating study of civil culpability standards and comparative dispute resolution mechanisms.

Integrity in Sport

Moderated by Macedo de Medeiros, the second sports law panel comprised Randy Aliment of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP in Seattle, Washington; Matthew Shuber of the Toronto Blue Jays Baseball Club; and Veiga Gomes.  The panel occasioned introduction of the Sport Integrity Global Alliance, a meta-organization born in 2015 to bolster integrity in global sport governance.  Not many people need to persuaded any longer, since the FIFA Sepp Blatter fiasco, of the problem of corruption in world sport.  Boston's and Hamburg’s disgruntled withdrawals from Olympic contention spoke volumes about skepticism of sporting mega-events, and I for one wonder at Eric Garcetti’s embrace of Olympic promise for Los Angeles.

Yet the corruption problem infects more than just the highest echelons of sport governance, as money filters through so many political layers and across so many social sectors.  Veiga Gomes illustrated for example:  Ninety percent of European footballs clubs do not publish their books, enjoying utter opacity in their accounting.  At the same time, 77% of European clubs are insolvent or “close to insolvent.”  Meanwhile, FIFA, UEFA, and the European football associations generate more than US$3bn in annual revenue.  So where is all that money going?  Thus, Veiga Gomes concluded, a “major transparency problem” renders football vulnerable to corruption and organized crime.

Strike a Pose

Though I was not able to spend as much time there as I liked, the UIA commissions on contract law, fashion law, and intellectual property law put on a fabulous full-day working session on “launching a fashion label business,” ranging across the areas of law practice implicated by a fashion-label client.  Sharing the helm of this ambitious program was an IP lawyer whom I admire, Gavin Llewellyn, of Stone King LLP, London. 

Taking part in the program was my friend and esteemed colleague from UMass Dartmouth Public Policy, Professor Nikolay Anguelov.  Dr. Anguelov talked essentially about the thesis of his book, The Dirty Side of the Garment Industry: Fast Fashion and Its Negative Impact on Environment and Society.  His talk made a vital and unusual contribution by making lawyers in the business think about the externalities of their commercial work in many dimensions, including social, economic, and environmental.  Credit to Llewellyn for bringing in Anguelov.
For every snippet of the fashion law program I was able to catch, I learned something.  My favorite takeaway was a discussion by Renata Beržanskienė, of the Sorainen law firm in Vilnius, Lithuania, about the “Jesus Jeans” case.  The case involves clothing and its advertising by the Robert Kalinkin fashion house.  Provocative images of a shirtless Jesus wearing Kalinkin jeans drew a public morals fine from the Lithuanian consumer protection authorities under national advertising law.  Presenting issues in free expression, commercial speech, and public authority to regulate morality, the case is pending before the European Court of Human Rights.

Compare Mark 4:14 (ERV) (“‘They will look and look but never really see.’”) with Jordache 1983 (“You’ve got the look.").

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Documentary film critically examines 'Deflategate,' exposes science-for-hire industry, Big Sport marketing machine

At UMass Law School, from left to right: yours truly, sporting a Brady kit gifted by my Torts students, night class of 2018; author, commentator, and comedian Jerry Thornton, former NFL employee Scott Miller; Lemon Martini producer and UMass Law alumna Ami Clifford; and Julie Marron, acclaimed director of Happygram and Four Games in Fall.

The UMass Law School community had a special treat of an event last week: an invitation-only, friends-and-family pre-screening of the director’s cut of the forthcoming documentary, Four Games in Fall, from director Julie Marron and Lemon Martini Productions.  See the film’s home page and trailer here, or the trailer below.  The film is in essence a documentary about “Deflategate,” the 2015 scandal in the National Football League in which New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady was accused of orchestrating the under-inflation of footballs to rig games in his favor in the Patriots charge to Superbowl victory.

UMass Law alumna Ami Clifford is a producer of Four Games in Fall, putting her legal education to creative use making—as the tagline for Lemon Martini puts it—“social justice documentaries with a twist.”  Marron is an acclaimed Massachusetts director fresh off the roaring success of her 2015 documentary about mammograms and breast cancer, Happygram.  For a Q&A after the screening, Marron and Clifford were joined by documentary interviewees: Scott Miller, a New Yorker and former NFL employee; Jerry Thornton, WEEI radio personality and author of From Darkness to Dynasty: The First 40 Years of the New England Patriots; and Andrew E. Wilson, a marketing and management professor at St. Mary’s College of California.

Four Games in Fall did not disappoint.  Marron and Clifford explained in the Q&A that neither one of them had more than a passing interest in the NFL and the Patriots when they set out to make the documentary.  But they were attracted to exactly that aspect of the Deflategate scandal: that so many people without a vested interest in Patriots football, with nothing to gain by sticking their necks out, seemed to be taking an interest in the case.  Roughly as Clifford said it, when a lot of very smart people in the sciences, with at best ordinary interest in American football, started looking at the Deflategate case and the penalties exacted against Brady, and saying “something smells here,” she and Marron started paying attention.  They had no agenda, but Four Games in Fall definitely raises red flags—or, I guess, throws yellow ones—on what seems to be NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s hell-bent persecution of star-athlete and national celebrity Brady and football’s Superbowl-winningest team.

Therein lies the subtle brilliance of Four Games in Fall, which takes full advantage of the documentary format not only to examine Deflategate on its facts and merits, but to place the affair in a critical context from social, commercial, scientific, and legal perspectives.  Reminiscent of Morgan Spurlock’s classic Super Size Me, Four Games features Professor Wilson to explain marketing phenomena such as “anchoring” and “confirmation bias.”  Those concepts help to explain why the conventional wisdom about what actually happened in Deflategate runs so contrary to the facts.  Following the dollar, Marron furthermore examines the enormous market power of the NFL, which amplifies its messaging and suppresses contrary views from the audience and the players’ union.  In this vein, the film brings in the NFL’s reluctant engagement with the mounting evidence of CTE injury and critically exposes the "science for hire" industry.  Meanwhile, science--the real stuff--reveals the startling imprecision behind NFL rules such as ball-inflation standards.  Those standards are so faulty as not to account for on-field temperature in a sport played in late autumn and early winter.

Against this backdrop, Brady’s case winds through the courts, where yet another story unfolds: the un-level playing field of pervasive arbitration agreements, affecting even NFL players, and the Second Circuit’s judicial-typical capitulation to boilerplate contract at the arguable expense of fundamental fairness.  Brady dropped his case before trying to press on to the U.S. Supreme Court, disappointing many observers, including, at that time, he confessed, Thornton.   But the film and the panelists explained a number of reasons why it made no sense to continue.  Brady’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, which did not bolster the QB’s will to litigate.  Yet just as importantly, Brady’s legal team must have realized that its case, implicating NFL players and their union in opposition to the enormous power of the NFL, was sui generis.  It did not make for the kind of broad-implication inquiry that the Supreme Court would likely want to see before exercising discretionary review.  In truth, the many NFL players who are not stars do face physical hardships out of proportion to their remuneration and job security, just like an average factory Joe.  At the same time, NFL players are not Willy Loman, and the NFL is not--quite--E Corp.

Nevertheless, Deflategate, informed by Four Games in Fall, leaves a bad taste in the mouth.  We do, as Americans, seek to identify personally with our sporting heroes, however aspirational the comparison.  Tom Brady’s retiring temperament (supermodel spouse notwithstanding) and boyish charm have the feel of an underdog American David who took on the NFL corporate Goliath and lost.  Whether one agrees or not with the physical and social scientists who populate the frames of Four Games in Fall, it’s hard to conclude on the legal end that Brady and the Patriots got a fair shake.  And with so many of us worker bees—tied up in arbitration contracts we did not meaningfully agree to and don’t really want, beholden to the disproportionate and opaque oligopolistic power of mammoth corporations for just about everything we do, including our employment and especially lately our healthcare—Brady’s loss unexpectedly hits home with all the punch of a 300-pound offensive tackle.

Our hero should have vanquished Goliath and failed.  If Tom Brady can’t beat the monster, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Four Games in Fall is setting off soon for the festival circuit and will come to consumers through one media channel or another shortly thereafter.  See it.  You don’t have to be a fan of American football; I’m not.  This film is about so much more.

 Four Games in Fall trailer.