Monday, September 16, 2019

Best friend of teen struck, killed by train may claim negligence without physical injury, appeals court rules

On a "zone of danger" theory, the Massachusetts Appeals Court last week reinstated the claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress by the teenage best friend of a girl struck and killed by an MBTA commuter train in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Fence gap in NECN coverage, Oct. 31, 2014.  More from WCVB below.
Be warned, video surveillance captured girls' screams. 
Thirteen-year-old best friends Kiandra Calderon and Jenaira Fuentes were crossing rail tracks in between their homes and shops, where they bought Halloween costumes.  The court recounted, "For most, if not all, of the ten years during which the defendant [Royal Park, LLC] has owned the property, there have been large holes and gaps in the fence through which adults and children pass on a daily basis in order to reach nearby shopping plazas and the Lawrence High School." On Halloween 2014,Jenaira was struck and killed by an MBTA train.  "Kiandra, who was not struck by the train, tried to perform life saving measures on her friend and then remained close by as rescue personnel unsuccessfully tried to save Jenaira's life."



Kiandra sued on two counts, first, for negligence under the Massachusetts child trespasser statute, and second, for negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED).  The court recognized that the two claims were essentially the same, because the trespasser statute provided the standard of care for the NIED, and the NIED provided the alleged injury required by the trespasser statute.  According to the pleadings, Kiandra's suffering was so severe that it manifested physically, as NIED claims typically require at minimum, requiring medical treatment for "anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, night terrors, nightmares, diminished appetite and food intake, bouts of extreme anger, behavioral problems at home and school, poor educational performance, and self-harm."

Even so, NIED claims are typically disallowed in the United States.  Negligence, or foreseeable accident, is regarded as too thin a reed on which to hold a defendant responsible for the merely emotional suffering of another, in the absence of physical injury.  Imagine if every romantic breakup resulted in an NIED lawsuit.  Whatever tort reformers or foreign observers might think, the United States isn't that lawsuit crazy.

There are exceptions, though, to the no-NIED rule.  Massachusetts is among the states that have kept the door open for the occasional compelling theory of NIED, not rejecting the notion outright.  And there are exceptions that are widely accepted.  Courts throughout the states are willing to award NIED recoveries to plaintiffs who were in the "zone of danger" themselves, even if narrowly escaping physical injury, reasoning that the physical threat was sufficient to make emotional distress claims credible and verifiable.  A smaller number of states are willing to award NIED recoveries to a narrow class of bystanders, those who contemporaneously witness physical injury inflicted on a close family member.

Kiandra's counsel tried to bring her within the bystander category by pleading the closeness of the teens' best friendship; the trial court was not moved.  However, the Appeals Court held, the trial court failed to consider Kiandra's own position in the zone of danger.  The girls were walking the tracks together, and just one was struck and killed.  Pending further development of the facts, it looks like Kiandra was in much the same jeopardy as her friend (see the WCVB video above, but be warned, the audio tough to hear).  The court sharply distinguished bystander NIED recovery from zone-of-danger recovery.  In the latter case, the plaintiff is a direct victim of the defendant's negligence, not an indirect sufferer as witness, and need not prove a close family relationship.  The court reversed and remanded for Kiandra to pursue her day in court.

The case is Calderon v. Royal Park, LLC, No. 18-P-1014 (Mass. App. Ct. Sept. 10, 2019).  Vuono, Wolohojian, and McDonough, JJ., were on the panel.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Shine the light: 'Journal of Civil Information' debuts

There can't be enough research on facilitating the freedom of information, given that today we are a global information society.  A new journal debuted this month from the Brechner Center and partners that strikes at the FOI sweet spot, and as we wish all information projects were, it's open access.  Welcome to The Journal of Civic Information.  Here is its About:

The Journal of Civic Information is an open-access, interdisciplinary journal that publishes peer-reviewed research related to the field of accessibility of public information. We welcome submissions from both scholars and practitioners from all disciplines that involve managing information for public use. 
The Journal is a publication of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida. The Brechner Center is an incubator for initiatives that give the public timely and affordable access to the information necessary for informed, participatory citizenship. The Center is a source of research, expertise and advocacy about the law of gathering and disseminating news across all platforms and technologies. 
The Journal publishes quarterly online, and author submissions will be accepted on a rolling year-round basis. 
Proposals may encompass any research methodological approach (legal, survey, experimental, content analysis, etc.), and should provide insights of practical value for those who work day-to-day in access to government information. Topics may include issues regarding access to public records and meetings, court transparency, access to public employees and elected officials, open data and technology, and other related matters. The Journal gives priority to articles with relevance to the state-and-local levels of government. 
And here is the ToC for volume 1, issue 1:


Submitting authors start here.  The journal is headed by access aces Frank LoMonte, University of Florida; David Cuillier, University of Arizona; and Rachael Jones, University of Florida.  I'm privileged to add the rough edge to an otherwise exceptionally well rounded editorial board.

Bring it on, secrecy!

Friday, September 13, 2019

Appeals court rejects landowner liability for 'open and obvious' danger of backyard zipline

The same day the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided the Boston Globe case this week, the Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment for the defendants against a landowner liability claim in which a six-year-old was injured on a backyard zipline.

A backyard zipline with a child safety seat. (Larry Koester CC BY 2.0.)
A handy defendant had installed the backyard zipline himself.  Six-year-old Aaron was visiting with his father to pick up Aaron's older brother from a sleepover.  The father aided Aaron in trying out the zipline, but after giving the boy some freedom, Aaron lost his grip, fell, and suffered compound fractures to his arm, requiring multiple surgeries.

Plaintiffs sued in landowner liability, alleging an unreasonably dangerous condition, as the zipline lacked a safety seat that could have prevented such an accident.  Defendants answered that the danger of the zipline, including the lack of a safety seat, was open and obvious, so negated the landowner's duty.

The court agreed that the condition was open and obvious, which somewhat negates the duty of a landowner, because it is the open-and-obvious nature of the hazard that makes it unforeseeable that the guest would fail to exercise reasonable care.  Plaintiffs argued that the condition was not open and obvious to the perception of a six-year-old.  The court held that when the child is under adult supervision, it is the perception of the adult, not that of the child, that controls.

However, the court held that an open and obvious condition does not necessarily negate a duty to abate an unreasonably dangerous condition "when the owner knows or has reason to know that visitors might nonetheless proceed to encounter the danger for a variety of reasons, including being distracted, forgetful, or even negligent, or deciding that the benefits of encountering the condition outweigh the risks."  Still, the court found the record "devoid of evidence that the zip line was unreasonably dangerous, or that the defendants facilitated an 'improper' or 'highly dangerous use' ...."

The conclusion is sound, but the reasoning highlights a problem with persistent common law doctrines that revolve around "open and obvious danger."  There is a tendency for litigants and courts to indulge "open and obvious" as a magical incantation that changes the rules of the match, such as here, to negate a duty of care.  Yet as the court observes, the doctrine does not necessarily negate the duty of care.  This approach gets legal duty analysis tied up in a web of factual intricacy that is not what policy-driven landowner duty is supposed to be about.

Harry Potter magic duel 095/365 (Louish Pixel CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Rather than indulging in a tennis match between duty, no duty, and duty again!, the courts should recognize that "open and obvious" is a factual circumstance, so goes to the standard of reasonable care exercised in warning about the danger or abating it.  That's where this case winds up anyway.  And just because it's a reasonableness analysis doesn't mean the court cannot, as here, dispose of the case in pretrial summary judgment when ordinary minds could not differ on the outcome.

I teach landowner negligence (page 25), or premises liability, with "open and obvious" as a matter of evidence rather than a sort-of defense, and I think that's the cleaner doctrine.  But I always have to warn students to watch out, in any given jurisdiction, that a judge might be entranced when counsel waves her wand and utters the spell, "Openanobvius!"

The case is LaForce v. Dyckman, No. 18-P-1234 (Mass. App. Ct. Sept. 9, 2019).  Sullivan, Massing, and Lemire, JJ., were on the panel.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Patriots teachable moment in Torts and Civ Pro:
Civil complaint against Antonio Brown

Antonio Brown in 2014 (by Brook Ward CC BY-NC 2.0)
New England news is afire today over the civil lawsuit filed against NFL Patriots football acquisition Antonio Brown.  It happens that many 1L law students are presently immersed in their first exposures to intentional torts and federal jurisdiction.  So here from Mnwilla at Scribd is the complaint and some comments for thought.




Notes and Questions

1. The case is filed in federal court in Florida, but the claims are all in state tort law. What is the basis for federal jurisdiction?  Why do you think the complaint was filed on Brown's first scheduled day of practice with the Patriots?

2. The fact statement is lengthy, paragraphs 14 to 74. But federal practice requires only "notice pleading."  Plaintiff's counsel gives up a lot of information about the plaintiff's theory of the case by putting more content than necessary into pleadings.  So why so much ink on factual allegations?

3. There are five straightforward counts, or causes: two in battery, one in false imprisonment, one in IIED, and one in invasion of privacy.
  • Notice how false imprisonment appears incidentally to other claims.  Unlike MBE hypotheticals, few cases in real life support false imprisonment by itself. 
  • One of the battery counts is called "sexual battery (rape)."  That's not really a distinct kind of battery in multistate common law, and it doesn't here appear to be covered by any specific statute, apart from common law.  Nevertheless, a plaintiff may claim separate counts of tort upon discrete factual bases.  What are the advantages of doing so?
  • What challenges does the plaintiff face in proving IIED?  Do the factual allegations get her there?  Is there vulnerability on this count or any other to a 12(b)(6) motion?

4. The plaintiff seeks punitive damages, and the bases for that claim are stated within the counts. Some jurisdictions require that sufficient allegations to support a claim for punitive damages be stated in a separate count, even though "punitive damages" is a damages claim, not a tort.  Can you discern the rule for punitive damages in the state jurisdiction, based on the allegations?

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Antitrust regulators need to up their game to meet challenges of media convergence, Argentine researchers write in UNESCO paper

Published by UNESCO, a new policy paper from Argentine researchers Martín Becerra and Guillermo Mastrini warns that antitrust regulation must adapt to the convergence of media, telecommunication, and internet to remain effective and preserve people's rights.

Prof. Mastrini

Becerra is a researcher with the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), an Argentine government agency, and holds academic appointments at the National University of Quilmes (UNQ) and the University of Buenos Aires (UBA).  Mastrini also serves on the UBA faculty.

The researchers reach the counter-intuitive conclusion that the internet's accessibility to new market entrants, and the ease with which new communication technology should facilitate the balkanization of media services, ironically has worked to concentrate property, revenue, and audience globally.  Thus the role of the regulator is more important than ever, while anachronistic regulatory approaches remain siloed in sectors of disparate expertise.

Prof. Becerra
Becerra and Mastrini rather articulate a "relevant market" approach to organize regulatory authority.  At the same time, they eschew a one-size-fits-all approach to the different problems presented by different entities, namely internet "giants," telecommunication conglomerates, and media companies.  Moreover, the researchers stress that values of access to culture, freedom of expression, and pluralism should be baked into the regulatory framework.

The report is La convergencia de medios, telecomunicaciones e internet en la perspectiva de la competencia: Hacia un enfoque multicomprensivo (my translation: The Convergence of Media, Telecommunication, and Internet from the Perspective of Competition: Toward a Multiple-Understanding Approach) and is published by UNESCO as no. 13 in the series, Discussion Notebooks on Communication and Information, ISSN no. 2301-1424 (2019).  The report is in Spanish and includes an executive summary in translation.  HT @ Observacom.


Here is the executive summary:

The converging qualities of information and communication technologies challenge classic regulatory frameworks when regulating audiovisual media activities, on the one hand, and telecommunications, on the other. The digitalization of communications causes a metamorphosis in the definitions of what each sector encompasses and the emergence of actors that provide products and services and develop businesses in convergent markets simultaneously and in increasingly vast geographical areas.

Regulatory approaches that sought to protect freedom of expression in the media, guarantee access to cultural and informational resources and sustain economic competition to avoid distortion of markets today are being reviewed in light of the new reality of progressive integration and of the growing crosscutting elements within the media, telecommunications and Internet ecosystem. In fact, there are limitations that prevent responding effectively and consistently to the problems raised with the consolidation of the digital revolution.

This policy paper provides analytical tools based on comparative law and inquires about antitrust policies and their relationship with the objective of having diverse and pluralistic communication systems that stimulate public debate in democratic societies. Therefore, it has a multi-understanding approach, since one of its objectives is to facilitate the dialogue of areas that until now have had fields of study, normative translations and institutional expressions separated from each other.

After consulting Latin American regulators in the area of defense of competition, specialists in the region in the field and presenting an updated state of the art of the debate about the relevance of economic competition approaches to seek clear answers for the new problems of a convergent environment in communications, the document makes recommendations with the aim of improving the design of public policies both in the field of information and communication services, and in those that serve economic competition, harmonizing fields and disciplines that were not conceived in an articulated way.

In this context, the policy paper is proposed as an input for public policies and a contribution to optimize the understanding of current phenomena with deep repercussions in the culture, information and communication of societies and individuals.

En español:
Las cualidades convergentes de las tecnologías de información y comunicación desafían los encuadres normativos clásicos a la hora de regular las actividades de medios audiovisuales,  por  un  lado,  y  las  de  telecomunicaciones,  por  otro  lado.  La  digitalización de las comunicaciones provoca una metamorfosis en las propias definiciones de lo que cada sector abarcaba y el surgimiento de actores que proveen productos y servicios y desarrollan negocios en los mercados convergentes de modo simultáneo y en ámbitos geográficos cada vez más vastos.

Los enfoques regulatorios que buscaron como objetivos proteger la libertad de expresión en los medios de comunicación, garantizar el acceso a los recursos culturales e informacionales y sostener la competencia económica para evitar la distorsión de los mercados hoy están siendo revisados a la luz de la nueva realidad de la progresiva integración y de los cruces cada vez mayores dentro del ecosistema de medios, telecomunicaciones  e  Internet.  En  efecto,  hay  limitaciones  que  impiden  responder  de manera eficaz y consistente los problemas suscitados con la consolidación de la revolución digital.

El presente policy paper provee herramientas de análisis basadas en el derecho comparado e indaga sobre las políticas antitrust y su relación con el objetivo de contar con sistemas de comunicación diversos y plurales que estimulen el debate público en sociedades democráticas. Por ello es multicomprensivo, dado que uno de sus objetivos es facilitar el diálogo de áreas que hasta el presente han tenido campos de estudio, traducciones normativas y expresiones institucionales separadas entre sí.

Tras consultar a reguladores latinoamericanos del área de defensa de la competencia, a especialistas de la región en la materia y exponer un actualizado estado del arte del debate académico y de divulgación acerca de la pertinencia de los enfoques de competencia económica para satisfacer con respuestas claras los nuevos problemas propios  de  un  entorno  convergente  en  las  comunicaciones,  el  documento  formula  recomendaciones con el objetivo de mejorar el diseño de las políticas públicas tanto en el campo de los servicios de información y comunicación, como en el de las que atienden  a  la  competencia  económica,  armonizando  campos  y  disciplinas  que  no  fueron concebidos de modo articulado.
En este sentido, el policy paper se propone como un insumo de políticas públicas y una contribución para optimizar la comprensión de fenómenos actuales con hondas repercusiones en la cultura, la información y la comunicación de las sociedades y las personas.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Media didn't totally lose in Boston Globe access case over show cause criminal procedure

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today ruled against The Boston Globe in the Spotlight team's bid for access to the court records of a narrow class of show cause criminal hearings.  The case is a loss for access advocates, but not wholly.  The court did not deviate from established analyses for access to the judicial records.  And the court used its superintendence power to require data collection for public scrutiny of what happens in these shadowy hearings going forward.

I wrote about this case and these hearings on The Savory Tort in May.  This particular class of "show cause" hearing is a peculiar creature of Massachusetts law and practice, in which a court clerk, not a judge, gets a chance to second-guess police and refuse to issue a criminal complaint, ending a case.  On the up side, this is a process barrier that protects would-be criminal defendants from harsh consequences in minor matters that don't warrant the expenditure of judicial resources, also encouraging alternative dispute resolution.  On the down side, critics have suspicions about these proceedings being used to protect the powerful, to show favoritism among attorneys, and, willfully or not, to effect race and other forms of discrimination in the criminal justice system.

The Globe sought access specifically to records of the sub-class of these hearings in which clerks found probable cause, yet refused to issue criminal complaints.  Public data about these hearings show big disparities among courts in the prevalence of these outcomes, which occur about 9,000 per year in the commonwealth, fueling speculation as to clerks' motives and rationales.  Making matters worse, there is inconsistency in how well clerks record and track what happens in the hearings, often leaving a scant record for review later, whether by a court, public oversight authority, or investigative journalist.

Photo by tfxc. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.)
The Globe argued for access under common law, the First Amendment, and the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.  In today's ruling, the court rejected access on all three bases.  In doing so, though, the court colored within the lines of existing access doctrine.

Most compelling, first, was the Globe's common law argument: "not without merit," the court conceded.  The court acknowledged that the common law presumption of access to court records is known to attach to three classes of records: criminal cases, search warrants and affidavits after service, and public inquiries.  The court rejected analogy to criminal cases, because the show cause hearing occurs before a criminal case is initiated.  Rather, the proper analogy, the court reasoned, is a grand jury refusal to indict, which is sealed presumptively at common law.  The court also rejected analogy to pre-complaint search warrants, reasoning that the appropriate analogy is to the search warrant denied, or not yet served, when the public interest still weighs in favor of secrecy.

Pressing on the scale in favor of analogy to secret proceedings at common law was the privacy interest of the accused.  Here the broader context of the contemporary internet and technology as a threat to personal privacy overshadowed the court's logic.  The court reasoned that a principal common law rationale for secrecy in grand jury proceedings and in denied search warrants, namely, protection of the reputation of the innocent, is powerfully implicated in today's world, when a public record of a show cause hearing could turn up online.  There it would be accessible to everyone, including landlords and employers, who might discriminate against a person who never suffered a criminal complaint.

For the record, this argument for privacy and reputational integrity pulls at even my skeptical heart strings, as I have advocated for American adoption of the European online erasure concept in precisely this vein, notwithstanding First Amendment objections.  That said, I admit, it's a bit troubling to see this problem of unwarranted discrimination arising in the private misuse of information sneaking in through the back door of common law access and accountability analysis as a justification for government secrets.  Arguably the solution to the misuse of information is to do something about the person who misuses information, rather than redacting the free flow of information itself.  But that's a debate for another day.

Second, the court's First Amendment analysis tracked the common law analysis.  On the up side, the court employed the now long known, if no less opaque and controverted, "experience and logic" test of First Amendment access to the courts.  Building upon the analogy of the show cause hearing to grand jury secrecy, access was bound to fail both prongs of the First Amendment test.  Analogy naturally doomed the experience analysis, because pre-complaint criminal process has never been public.  And the privacy concerns fueled failure of the logic test.  The problem with "experience and logic" always has been that its results are foreordained by how one thinks about the hearing or record to which access is sought. 

Third, the court wrote that it never before has construed the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights more broadly than the First Amendment with regard to judicial access, and it saw no reason to do so today.  That disappoints me mostly just from the broad standpoint of liking creative state judicial construction of state constitutions as an instance of the 50-state-laboratory theory of our federalism.  In an age of paralysis in Washington—think gerrymandering—state constitutional law is a promising way forward.

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
Faithful to access doctrine, the court pointed out that upon its very same grand jury analogy, it remains possible for an intervening movant, say, an investigative journalist, to seek access to a show cause record on a case by case basis.  This is a lesser known, and for my money under-utilized, access strategy, so it's pleasing to see the court stamp its imprimatur.  Common law access and secrecy are both presumptions, and each may be rebutted.  The court explained, "In considering individual records requests, the clerk-magistrate should balance the interests of transparency, accountability, and public confidence that might be served by making the requested records public against the risk that disclosure would unfairly result in adverse collateral consequences to the accused."

Transparency may win out, the court advised, in matters of public interest.  "[W]here the accused is a public official, the interests of transparency, accountability, and public confidence are at their apex if the conduct at issue occurred in the performance of the official's professional duties or materially bears on the official's ability to perform those duties honestly or capably."  That's a key check on clerks who might give the politically powerful a break—as long as watchdogs have an inkling to ask.

How will watchdogs know when something is amiss?  Even the court seemed somewhat concerned about the "wide disparities" in dismissed matters in the Globe's data set, e.g., probable cause with no criminal complaint issuing, one year "from a high of 43.9 percent in the Gloucester Division to a low of 0.2 percent in the Chelsea Division."  Though expressly eschewing any conclusion from the numbers, the court observed that "the magnitude of the apparent differences among courts suggests that different clerk's offices might have very different philosophies regarding the adjudication of these hearings."

To help the watchdog, the court exercised its power of superintendence over lower courts to compel electronic recordings of show cause hearings, preserving the record of judicial reconsideration in appropriate cases, and careful compilation of data about the secret hearings, including the race and gender of persons accused, and the names of attorneys in cases of private complainants.  Courts are expected to come into compliance in a year's time and to report anonymized statistics publicly.

Those measures hardly open the door to secret proceedings the way the Globe wanted, and they do nothing about the problem of clerks appointed through political connections playing an outsized role in the criminal charging process.  But the Globe got better than nothing, and maybe the door is cracked open just enough to deter dubious conduct and to squeeze some accountability out through a shaft of sunshine.

The decision against the Globe's petition for declaratory relief came from a unanimous panel of the Supreme Judicial Court, comprising six of the seven justices, and was authored by Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants.  The case is Boston Globe Media Partners LLC v. Chief Justice of the Trial Court, No. SJC-12681 (Mass. Sept. 9, 2019).

Sunday, September 8, 2019

CFP: New England Political Science Association to meet in Mystic, Conn., April 2020

The New England Political Science Association has released its CFP for the annual meeting in April 2020, which will take place in Mystic, Connecticut.  The NEPSA program always offers a buffet of intriguing work in political science and public policy.  Though attendees are overwhelmingly PhDs and PhD candidates, they've always warmly welcomed me and my modest JD.  Find this call and read more about NEPSA at its web home.



2020 ANNUAL MEETING
Hilton Mystic, Mystic, Connecticut
April 23-25, 2020

CALL FOR PROPOSALS
The New England Political Science Association invites proposals for papers, panels, and roundtables to be presented at its 2020 Annual Meeting, which will convene April 23-25 at the Hilton Mystic in Mystic, Connecticut. Panels will be offered on Friday, April 24, and Saturday April 25; a pre-conference welcome event will be held on the evening of Thursday, April 23.
In NEPSA’s 72nd year, we continue to welcome a broad array of panel and paper proposals reflecting the various subfields of our discipline.  NEPSA has the following dedicated sections:
• AMERICAN POLITICS
• COMPARATIVE AND CANADIAN POLITICS
• INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
• POLITICAL THEORY
• POLITICS AND HISTORY
• PUBLIC LAW
• PUBLIC POLICY
• TECHNOLOGY AND POLITICS
Proposals from undergraduates will once again be considered for presentation.  Undergraduate proposals will be evaluated on a competitive basis by a special Undergraduate Proposals Committee.  Accepted proposals will present on panels dedicated to undergraduate research; presenters must be accompanied at the conference by a sponsoring faculty member.
Proposals for individual papers, full panels, and roundtables – as well as offers to serve as panel chairs and/or discussants – may be submitted via the NEPSA website: www.nepsanet.org. Please scroll to “2020: CONFERENCE” in the menu bar for the drop-down links to submit proposals. Except in special situations, individuals are restricted to two paper presentations.
The deadline for submissions is Friday, November 29th, 2019.
Questions about the conference and requests for further information may be directed to NEPSA’s Executive Director and Program Chair, Steven Lichtman (Shippensburg University): sblichtman@ship.edu.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Dive boat company petitions to limit liability under maritime protection law

The diving boat MV Conception burns off the coast of Santa Cruz island, California. Photo released by the Santa Barbara Sheriff's Office.
Expectant defendants in the horrifying case of the California dive boat fire have petitioned the U.S. District Court to limit their liability exposure under the Shipowners' Liability Act of 1851, 46 U.S. Code § 30505, et seq.  (Hat tip to my Torts I-II alumna, Mara D. Fox, UMass Law J.D. anticipated 2021, for heads up on this story from KTLA 5 Los Angeles (see also L.A. Times).)

Bringing this filing to light is not to knock the petitioners.  Their legal move is smart and routine.  But it raises to light one of the many historic and arguably anachronistic legal liability limitations that are allowing seagoing corporations effective immunity from tort, and therefore impunity in practices regarding physical safety, worker rights, and environmental protection, as just recently rounded up by Hasan Minhaj on Patriot Act.

Deepwater Horizon families visit Congress, 2010. (Nancy Pelosi CC BY 2.0.)
The Shipowners' Liability Act played its part after the sinking of the Titanic, as KTLA coverage observed, and more recently in the 2010 disaster when the Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico (movie; recent coverage; documentary by BBC, James Fox, NatGeo, PBS; report on litigation settlements).  A 2011 Senate bill would have amended the Shipowners' Liability Act, Death On the High Seas Act, and Jones Act to restore wrongful death claims; the bill died in committee.

An excellent overview of the liability act can be found in the background of a comment by Christopher S. Morin, The 1851 Shipowners' Limitation of Liability Act: A Recent State Court Trend to Exercise Jurisdiction over Limitation Rights, 28:2 Stetson L. Rev. 419 (1998).  Morin, a U.S. Navy veteran and now a Florida attorney, explained (at 422, footnotes omitted):
The primary impetus for enacting the Limitation Act was to promote American shipbuilding, commerce, and investment in the merchant marine industry, placing the United States shipping industry on a more competitive footing with those foreign countries already benefiting from forms of limitation. Before comprehensive insurance protection, it was important for investors and owners to have the security that their liability would not exceed the value of their investment—namely the value of the vessel. Thus, in its most basic form, the Limitation Act permitted vessel owners and bareboat charterers to limit their liability to the vessel's post-accident value.
The act was successful for its time, Morin wrote.  But "[m]ore recently, many"—"[c]ourts, lawmakers, and environmentalists alike"—"have criticized the Limitation Act as an outdated and unnecessary tool in the modern insured maritime industry" (p. 423, footnotes omitted).

Here from the Free Law Project is In re Truth Aquatics, Inc., No. 2:19-cv-07693 (C.D. Cal. filed Sept. 5, 2019).

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Colorful CUNY comics teach environmental law, policy, and social justice for all ages

Comic books are not new to legal education, but the Center for Urban Environmental Reform (CUER) at the City University of New York Law School is trailblazing.  Among the fabulous contributions to the recently published The Media Method (CAP), a book about popular culture in legal education, is a chapter by CUNY Law Professor Rebecca Bratspies and her artist-collaborators, including Charlie La Greca.  They are using comic books to reach kids, and, well, me, to talk about environmental conservation and climate change.  They made a video, too, about the project:


When I saw Professor Bratspies at the SEALS conference in July, she gave me a copy of her most recent creation, Book 2 in the Environmental Justice Chronicles!: Bina's Planet.  Suffice to say, it's another hit.  No spoilers, but I was hooked from page one, when heroine-everywoman and high-school-soccer-star-alumna Bina returned to her school-stadium pitch, where, implicitly, young women's soccer reigns supreme.  She goes on to save the day with her colorful cohort, demonstrating en route best practices in youthful social activism à la Greta Thunberg or Xiuhtezcatl Martinez.  I love that Bratspies elevated the tale to the planetary level, making it simultaneously descriptive of the supranational threat and artfully suggestive of trending science fiction by black women writers (see also Terra Nullius).

Bina's Planet is not yet online, but is available in paper from CUER for public education projects.  While you wait for mass dissemination, catch up with Book 1, Mayah's Lot, available to download, or watch and listen online:



Incidentally, for a related CUNY workshop on the Freedom of Information Act in 2018, Bratspies, La Greca, et al., produced a pamphlet-sized special appearance of Mayah on the FOIA.  I have a copy, but cannot find an image in circulation.  I hope they'll put it online in the future.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Not sure how to keep guns away from the mentally unfit? This cop has a stake and a plan.
Plus: Sandy Hook Update

Rob Devine, former deputy police chief of Stoughton,
Massachusetts, and a concerned parent.
Father of two, 19-year police veteran, UMass Law J.D. candidate 2020, and a distinguished survivor of my 1L Torts class, Robert C. Devine has published some practical but scholarly policy advice "to reduce access to firearms by those mentally incapable of handling them or those with current substance addictions."  Here is the abstract:
The United States is in a state of conflict over the ability to obtain firearms as well as their use in highly publicized mass shootings. On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza obtained several firearms that were lawfully owned by his mother, but were improperly secured. Lanza killed his mother that morning and then drove a short distance to the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where he murdered twenty-six people, many of whom were small children. Lanza eventually turned a gun on himself before being confronted by responding officers. Though mass shootings are often headlines in this country, the vast majority of misused firearms by the mentally ill are tragically used in suicide. The lessons of these examples must be used to augment current firearms policy in an effort to reduce the availability of firearms to those suffering with afflictions that make them ill-equipped to have access to them. Though the Commonwealth of Massachusetts asks pointed questions in these areas regarding the fitness of the potential license holder, it collects no data whatsoever regarding other full-time household members where a firearm may be kept, nor what measures the licensee takes to ensure its security.
This Article illustrates a policy, grounded in facilitative principles, designed to reduce access to firearms by those mentally incapable of handling them or those with current substance addictions. Key components to the solution’s success should rely on increased vetting of the licensee’s environment and where lawfully owned firearms will be stored, in combination with assessing the risk factors of having been hospitalized for mental health, drug dependence, or alcohol dependence. This recommendation is merely an expansion of questions already used in the current Massachusetts firearms licensing application and would produce additional factors that a licensing official may consider when determining the suitability of an applicant. It is important to note that this would not be an outright prohibition for a licensee, which would likely be constitutionally impermissible. This Article concludes by reemphasizing the importance of giving licensing officials more information to consider in an effort to lower the risk of lawfully owned firearms ending up in the hands of the mentally ill or violent.

Mr. Devine takes due account of the Second Amendment, but recognizes that we're not doing all we can to implement regulation, even at the margins, that is hardly controversial.  The full article, Recommendations for Improving Firearms Vetting in Massachusetts, is available from the UMass Law Review and published at 14:2 U. Mass. L. Rev. 350 (Spring 2019).

Sandy Hook Update

The Connecticut Law Tribune reported last week that the Connecticut Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on September 26 in the defamation lawsuit against Alex Jones and InfoWars.  The trial court had allowed limited discovery despite the defense's anti-SLAPP motion.  The case is Lafferty v. Jones (Complaint at Scribd).

Meanwhile the Sandy Hook gun manufacturer liability suit against Remington is pending defense cert. petition in the U.S. Supreme Court, since the Connecticut Supreme Court allowed plaintiffs a narrow theory to circumnavigate Remington's federal statutory immunity under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (at The Savory Tort). That case is now Remington Arms Co. v. Soto.


Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Lewinsky calls for online civility, will speak twice in South Coast Massachusetts this academic year

Goodman as Linda Tripp, Molly Shannon as Lewinsky, in
1998 (SNL). President Clinton's escapades were good business
for SNL, which released a Best Of collection in 1999.

Monica Lewinsky has become a public figure in a whole new light in recent years, leaving behind the scandal that took her name, rather than his, mostly to differentiate scandals.  As Time put it, "Monica Lewinsky" was once the butt of a joke, many jokes.  John Goodman playing Linda Tripp (see WaPo reemergence in 2018) made for instant-classic Saturday Night Live bits (see Tripp's later perspective and a brief recollection with Goodman).

The world has changed, #MeToo, and Lewinsky figures into it differently today.  She has described herself as an original victim of cyber-bullying, before it was a thing.  Aptly, she's become an outspoken advocate against it, and a mite more effective in that capacity than the present First Lady.  Lewinsky broke her relative silence in Vanity Fair in 2014 and subsequently became a VF contributor and Twitter personality.  John Oliver interviewed her on Last Week Tonight in his excellent program on "public shaming" (below) (cf. Jon Ronson's definitive 2016 treatment of the subject in his book, So You've Been Publicly Shamed, featured here on The Savory Tort in 2017).


Apparently Lewinsky's "second act" is only getting going.  Among her many projects, she is contributing to the fall 2020 season of American Crime Story, on FX, The Hill reported, in which Sarah Paulson will play Linda Tripp decidedly more darkly than John Goodman did.  Meanwhile on stage, Lewinsky has become an advocate for online civility.  Building on her 2015 TED talk, The Price of Shame, she's booked into an aggressive public speaking agenda.


I can't help but find Lewinsky to be a compelling figure.  Aside from her curious, mostly involuntary role in American history, she embodies the mass media's power to destroy reputations with the impunity the First Amendment affords.  Yet her story unfolded in the highest of political arenas, the American executive office, in which First Amendment values are most urgently implicated, and First Amendment absolutism is most persuasively justified.  Whatever the merits of the case that shaped her perspective, she shares today a meritorious message: If the internet can be tamed, to do more good than harm, it will be by people and their choices, not by law and regulation.

Lewinsky is slated to speak in South Coast Massachusetts in fall and spring.  On October 17, 2019, Lewinsky will give an endowed lecture at Bridgewater College (more from WHSV).  On May 15, 2020, Lewinsky will speak in the New Bedford (Massachusetts) Lyceum at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center ("the Z"); tickets are on sale now.


Sunday, September 1, 2019

UMass Dartmouth appoints 6 to 'Chancellor Professor,' first awarded high academic rank since 2003

The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth has appointed six faculty to the rank of "Chancellor Professor," effective today.  I'm honored and humbled to be among them.  These are the university's first promotions to chancellor professor since 2003.  The number of persons who may hold the high rank is limited to ten percent of the faculty, campus-wide.  The provost's office reported, "All have demonstrated excellence in the art and practice of teaching, a record of scholarship that contributes to the advancement of knowledge, and have made outstanding contributions to the University or to their profession."  From UMass Dartmouth News, here is something of the accomplishments of my colleagues:

Electrical & Computer Engineering
Professor John R. Buck, who has received the prestigious Office of Naval Research Young Investigator award and the National Science Foundation CAREER award, is a Fellow of the Acoustical Society of America, a Fulbright Scholar and a Senior Member of IEEE. His scholarship focuses on underwater acoustics, signal processing, animal bioacoustics and engineering pedagogy. Professor Buck received fifteen research grants from federal agencies. Many of his graduates have continued their research at prestigious universities and national laboratories. Professor Buck’s classes incorporate active and collaborative learning, making the students’ learning the central focus of the classroom. He was UMass Dartmouth’s inaugural winner of the Manning Prize for Excellence in Teaching for outstanding development of curricular materials and innovative assessment of student learning. Professor Buck also received the IEEE Education Society’s Mac Van Valkenburg Award, and the Faculty Federation Leo M. Sullivan Teacher of the Year Award. Professor Buck founded and led several faculty mentoring programs in the Office of Faculty Development, as well as directly mentoring several junior faculty from across the campus.

Bioengineering
Professor Qinguo Fan has made substantial leadership contributions to the College of Engineering overseeing the transformation of Textiles Department into its current form as Bioengineering. As Bioengineering chairperson, he led the development of the new undergraduate major in bioengineering, recruitment and mentoring of new faculty, major renovations to laboratories and formation of an industrial advisory board. Under his strong leadership, the BNG undergraduate program successfully completed its first ABET accreditation in Fall 2016, considered exceptional for a new program doing the ABET accreditation the first time. The Bioengineering department now offers, in addition to the Bioengineering major, a Bioengineering minor, the 4+1 BS/MS program and a Biomedical Engineering concentration. Several Bioengineering graduates have gone on to medical schools, research positions and work at medical device companies. Professor Fan’s research has primarily focused on structural color, blue light cured polymers, and conducting polymers during the last ten years. He is a co-inventor on one U.S. patent. Professor Fan is a member of the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists and the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering. Professional recognition includes receipt of the Highly Commended Award at the Literati Network Awards for Excellence for one of his research articles.

Mathematics
Professor Gottlieb has demonstrated a deep passion for incorporating research into undergraduate education. She has adopted an exploratory, discovery-based approach by using “computing for intuition” as a critical tool to learning, and has worked to engage her undergraduate students in research in computational mathematics. Her advisees have gone to have successful careers at universities and research laboratories. Professor Gottlieb is known internationally as an expert in strong-stability-preserving time discretizations and other schemes for hyperbolic equations. As PI or co-PI, she has been responsible for securing well in excess of $3.5M to support her research. In recognition of her expertise and impact on the field, Professor Gottlieb was recently elected a Fellow of the Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM). Professor Gottlieb’s most significant service has been her leadership of the Center for Scientific Computing and Visualization Research (CSCVR), which she helped form and served as director (2013-2017) and co-director (2017-present). In this capacity she has worked to support, facilitate, and promote the research activities of the scientific computing group and to mentor students and junior faculty of scientific computing in a supportive, broad, and deep interdisciplinary research environment.

Estuarine & Ocean Sciences
Professor Howes played an integral role in the initial development of the marine science graduate program, an internationally recognized marine science and technology program. He has advised and funded graduate students who have gone on to pursue successful careers. Professor Howes has maintained a high level of scholarly productivity in his field, as well as produced numerous technical reports as part of the Massachusetts Estuaries Program (MEP) requirements. He has raised over $23M in extramural research funding through federal, state and municipal extramural grants and contracts. Professor Howes has also made significant contributions to his profession in the form of scientific advances, as well as practical applications that have had a major impact on coastal ecosystem health and water quality in the region.

 
Chemistry & Biochemistry
Professor Yuegang Zuo has a record of contributing to active learning and has sustained a record of graduating M.S. and Ph.D. students. He provides high quality mentorship resulting in graduate students winning external awards for their work. He has also worked with undergraduate students, who have won American Chemical Society awards. Professor Zuo has maintained a high level of scholarly publishing and is successful in attracting substantial extramural funding. He has contributed to the University and his profession serving on diverse departmental, college and university committees as well as the Faculty Senate. He has served his profession as a reviewer, editor, and meeting organizer and serves on the editorial board for seven journals and recently became the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Endocrinology Research.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

It'd Be a Lot Cooler If You Did.
Or, Marlan on Psychedelics and Decriminalization

Mary Jane's in Eugene, Oregon, 2017, since closed.  (Rick Obst CC BY 2.0.)
My colleague Dustin Marlan has published Beyond Cannabis: Psychedelic Decriminalization and Social Justice in 23:3 Lewis and Clark Law Review.  Prof. Marlan is a compelling voice in intellectual property scholarship, lately especially, trademark and the right of publicity.  Here he turns his attention to a libertarian priority.  The abstract:

Psychedelics are powerful psychoactive substances which alter consciousness and brain function. Like cannabis, psychedelics have long been considered prohibited Schedule I substances under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. However, via the powerful psychological experiences they induce, psychedelics are now being shown to be viable therapeutic alternatives in treating depression, substance use disorders, and other mental illnesses, and even to enhance the well-being of healthy individuals. In May 2019, Denver, Colorado became the first city in the country to decriminalize psilocybin (the active compound in “magic mushrooms”) — a potential major shift in the War on Drugs. Ballot initiatives for the decriminalization of psilocybin and similar substances are now reaching voters in other cities and states. What principles might justify this decriminalization — eliminating criminal penalties for, at a minimum, the use and possession — of psilocybin and other psychedelics? This Article provides background on psychedelics and a historic overview of the laws surrounding them. It then considers several potential justifications for decriminalizing psychedelics: (1) medical value; (2) religious freedom; (3) cognitive liberty; and (4) identity politics. Lastly, the Article proposes a reframed justification rooted in principles of social justice.

The article is available on SSRN and from the Lewis & Clark Law Review.  You know, in Oregon.




Massachusetts Bar honors UMass Law's Francomano, advocate for labor, public education

Francomano center. MassBar eJournal photo.
Attorney Patrick Francomano is a first-class person and excellent teacher, one of the assets that makes UMass Law a best-buy treasure for law students and the Commonwealth.  He's a tremendous public servant—and in the same vein, frequent thorn in the side of those in power through his work in labor and in school supervision.  I'm delighted to see him and the work he represents honored by the Massachusetts Bar.  From UMass Law News and the MassBar eJournal:

"Francomano draws inspiration from John Adams’s efforts to establish Massachusetts as one of the first states to grant a constitutional right to education. He believes that public education and the legal system rest on many of the same tenets, and that 'education and social justice are very difficult to disconnect.' As Francomano explained, 'If you have a well-educated society, that is going to be the foundation of a good republic and democracy.'"

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Minhaj: With tort impunity, cruise lines externalize risk, costs to workers, passengers, environment

One of my favorite comedians—saw him perform Homecoming King at intimate Cherry Lane in NYC in 2016—Hasan Minhaj (self-described "second brown John Oliver") has taken on the wide range of problems associated with cruise lines' foreign flagging and legal impunity at sea, threatening the safety and well-being of passengers with legal impacts including virtual immunity from tort liability.  (Patriot Act s4e04.)


Instrumental in this deplorable state of affairs for our part, in U.S. law, is the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA), 46 U.S.C. §§ 30301–30308.  On its face the act simply invites maritime wrongful death actions into U.S. courts.  However, the act's "shortcomings" have been documented in legal scholarship for a long time; the devil is in the details, specifically, damages, which are limited by § 30303 to "fair compensation for the pecuniary loss sustained."  Note, "pecuniary," not the familial wrongful death intangibles recoverable in domestic tort law, and maybe zero for, say, an elderly retired person.  Minhaj reports that attempts to amend the law have been torpedoed in Congress.

But DOHSA is just one piece of the big, messy picture of maritime liability, or non-liability, for cruise lines.  Most civil wrongs involving passengers are sexual assaults, which can come under the lax, overwhelmed, or de facto non-existent jurisdiction of the vessel's flag home.  Same for the abusive conditions to which cruise ship workers are subject, from working hours that would never be tolerated on land, on through to the minuscule compensations available for debilitating injury, such as loss of limb.  And all that's to say nothing of the devastating environmental impact of cruise ship polluting and dumping that occurs beyond the reach of regulators.

Minhaj aptly paints the ugly picture of what happens when an industry escapes the norm-setting and deterrence mechanisms of domestic tort law.  As he suggests, the relatively affordable cost of a cruise as a vacation optionand I confess, I've gone, I've loved it, and I'd like to go againis born disproportionately by an oppressed workforce, injured passengers, and the voiceless marine environment.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Beijing internet court rules against ISP Baidu on posthumous defamation claim under PRC Tort Law

In a Chinese defamation case, the Beijing Internet Court has ruled in favor of the plaintiff and contrary to American tort norms regarding ISP immunity and posthumous defamation.

Sixth Tone reported on the suit "filed by the son of the late playwright, screenwriter, and composer Zhao Zhong" (赵忠).  The suit alleged that an anonymous user of Baidu's Baike, China's answer to Wikipedia, edited Zhao's biographical page to defamatory effect.  The edits by user "charming and beautiful woman" (Qiaonü Jiaren) criticized Zhao as a "thief" and cultural "traitor," and deleted the libretto of the opera Red Coral from his listed oeuvre.  The changes remained on the page for five years, from 2013 to 2018, until Zhao's family noticed and demanded correction.  Baidu reversed the edits.  The son nevertheless complained of negligence in Baidu's failure reasonably to moderate content and consequent reputational injury to the family.

The court ruled against Baidu.  Beijing tort lawyer Qu Zhenhong told Sixth Tone that Baidu's compliance with the defamation notice-and-takedown procedure of PRC Tort Law article 36 did not relieve the internet service provider of liability under article 6 for the defamation's five years in publication.  That approach deviates from the powerful ISP immunity of 47 U.S.C. § 230 in the United States—which has faced slowly mounting criticism both at home and in Europe.

A second deviation from American tort norms arises in the allowance of a defamation action by the family after the death of the person defamed.  Common law jurisdictions including the United States continue generally to observe the historic rule that defamation claims die with their claimants, though states are widely experimenting with the posthumous right of publicity by statute.  Cf. The Savory Tort on Defaming the Dead.

The court made clear that it approves of a family's ancillary defamation claim, not just a decedent's claim that persists after death.  "A negative social assessment of the deceased not only violates the reputation of the deceased, but also affects the overall reputation of the deceased's close relatives as well as personal reputation," People's Court News wrote in summary of the court's decision (Google translation). "Therefore, for any close relative of the deceased, they have the right to request the court to protect the right [of the] deceased, or to pursue the responsibility of infringing on their own reputation based on their close relatives."

By its publisher's description, Red Coral (Hong shan hu) "describes the story of the peoples who lived in the red coral island and fought against the troops of Chiang Kaishek. They cooperated with the Red Army and defeated the enemy with the guidance of the people's Liberation Army."  Red Coral was adapted to film in 1961 (DVD pictured).