Monday, September 30, 2019

Court refuses to dismiss Harvard in student-suicide suit

The Massachuetts Superior Court, per Judge Michael D. Ricciuti, denied Harvard University's motion to dismiss a negligence claim brought by the parent of a student, Luke Tang, who committed suicide on campus in 2015.  The case comes in the wake of a 2018 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) decision refusing to allow the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to be held responsible for a student's suicide.

Luke Tang lived at Harvard's Lowell House.  (Photo by Carrie Anderson
CC BY-SA 2.0)
In the 2015 case, Nguyen v. MIT, discussed here, the SJC ruled that the university-student relationship does not support a duty in tort law akin to the custodial relationship between a parent and child, or custodian and dependent.  That ruling was consistent with historic and enduring common law norms, which hold that a person's intentional suicide, in some jurisdictions a crime, interrupts the chain of duty and causation that would link the death to any earlier-in-time carelessness.

However, the SJC left open the possibility that a university could be responsible for a suicide if the decedent had been in a "special relationship" with the defendant.  "Special relationship" is a term of art in tort law, referring to the very relationships in which public policy supports a person's expectation of care from another.

In the instant case, Tang v. Harvard College, plaintiff seeks to pin liability on Harvard and its employees through that very allowance for special relationships.  As reported by the Harvard Crimson last year, Tang was known to Harvard as a suicide risk.  Tang had been transported to a hospital after a suicide attempt freshman year.  When he returned to school, he signed an agreement with Harvard that he would stay in counseling with Harvard mental health staff.  Returning to school after the summer, though, Tang failed to keep his appointments, and the complaint alleges that Harvard failed to follow up.

Special relationships in tort law can be created when a medical professional undertakes care of a patient, or when any person voluntarily takes on the responsibility of caring for another, which can be signified by action or contract.  Tang's theory of special relationship resonates in those ways, considering the counseling function of Harvard staff and the agreement that Tang signed with Harvard.

Superior Court Justice Michael D. Ricciuti found sufficient basis to distinguish Nguyen.  Justice Ricciuti wrote, "Harvard's argument to dismiss this case reduces Nguyen to a check-box, and that once a university checks one of the three boxes—a protocol, or if there is none, clinical care, or if that is refused, reaching an emergency contact—its duty ends regardless of how well or poorly the university fulfils its duty. That interpretation cannot be correct."

Justice Ricciuti is himself a 1984 graduate of Harvard Law.  A native of Quincy, Massachusetts, he was in private practice and served as federal prosecutor before being confirmed to the bench.

The case is Tang v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, No. 18-2603 (Mass. Super. Ct. Sept. 9, 2019).  Hat tip @ Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly (pay wall).  Read more at The Harvard Crimson.  For a short time, I will park a copy of Justice Ricciuti's ruling here.

A documentary film about Luke Tang, Looking for Luke, seeks to raise awareness of mental health problems affecting young people.  Here is the trailer.


Sunday, September 29, 2019

Conn. adopts alternative liability in mill-fire suit against teen smokers

The Connecticut Supreme Court adopted alternative liability in a case seeking to hold three smoking teens responsible for a vacant-mill fire.  The case is Connecticut Interlocal Risk Management Agency v. Jackson, No. SC-19946 (Conn. Sept. 17, 2019).  Here are the facts from the court opinion:

At approximately 1 a.m. on June 2, 2012, the defendants, all of whom were teenagers at the time, entered an abandoned mill located in the town. Once inside, the defendants proceeded to explore the multistory structure while drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. Each of them smoked approximately five cigarettes, and each discarded the cigarette butts by tossing them onto the wooden floor of the mill without extinguishing them.  The defendants left the mill at approximately 1:45 a.m.  By about 2:20 a.m., the property was engulfed in flames, and the Somers Fire Department had been dispatched to the scene. The fire destroyed both the mill and the sewage line.

Law students usually encounter “alternative liability” in the classic California case, Summers v. Tice, 199 P.2d 1 (Cal. 1948).  This multiple-liability concept allows a plaintiff to charge multiple defendants with responsibility for a wrong without establishing that any one of them was in fact responsible.  In other words, the doctrine engages a fiction as preferable to letting all defendants off the hook.

Beaver Creek quail hunting (Torrey Wiley CC BY 2.0)
In Summers, plaintiff was struck in the eye by shot as his two fellow hunters fired at quail.  It could not be determined to a preponderance of the evidence, i.e., more than 50% likelihood, which of the hunters actually fired the shot that struck the plaintiff.  But because both bore equal moral culpability under the circumstances, relative to the position of the plaintiff, it makes more sense to hold them both liable then to let both prevail.  A little shy of that result, technically, the actual effect of alternative liability is to shift the plaintiff’s burden to prove a defendant’s responsibility to a burden of each defendant to prove non-responsibility.

Alternative liability, as articulated in the Second Restatement of Torts and the Court (quoted here), pertains when: (1) “all of the defendants acted negligently and harm resulted,” (2) “all possible tortfeasors have been named as defendants,” and (3) “the tortfeasors’ negligent conduct was substantially simultaneous in time and of the same character so as to create the same risk of harm.”  Alternative liability is a lawyer-at-cocktail-party favorite, but few cases have facts that can measure up to this stringent test.

Alternative liability had ramifications in the later development of narrow but important product liability doctrines, in cases in which plaintiffs struggle to link a single manufacturer among many with a particular injurious product—think in terms of a dangerous pesticide containing a mix of chemical compounds, each purchased from various sellers.  Some extension of the doctrine has been controversial in the scholarship and ill received in the courts, insofar as product liability is strict, that is, not arising upon proof of any legal or moral fault by a defendant seller.  It can seem, then, that strict product liability effectively penalizes participation in the marketplace.  Add to that the fiction of alternative liability, and it can be just too much for the conscientious economic conservative.

HT @ TortsProf Blog.  Images, by Jim Michaud, from the 2012 mill fire:

Saturday, September 28, 2019

EU court rules for Google, narrows French 'right to be forgotten' order to Europe

In the latest battle of the feud between Google and the French data protection authority (CNIL), the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that the CNIL's "right to be forgotten" order should be limited to internet users in Europe.  However, the court did not rule out the possibility of a worldwide order if the facts warrant.

The court wrote:

[T]he right to the protection of personal data is not an absolute right, but must be considered in relation to its function in society and be balanced against other fundamental rights, in accordance with the principle of proportionality....  Furthermore, the balance between the right to privacy and the protection of personal data, on the one hand, and the freedom of information of internet users, on the other, is likely to vary significantly around the world. 

While the EU legislature has, in Article 17(3)(a) of Regulation 2016/679 [GDPR], struck a balance between that right and that freedom so far as the Union is concerned ... it must be found that, by contrast, it has not, to date, struck such a balance as regards the scope of a de-referencing outside the Union.

"Proportionality" is a core principle of EU human rights law when regulation collides with individual rights, or, as here, state power is implicated to favor one individual's rights over those of others.  The same principle also constrains supra-national authority over member states.

The case arose from a CNIL fine of Google.  The French authority had ordered Google to de-list search results to protect certain individuals' privacy under the "right to be forgotten," or "right to erasure," when those individuals were searched by name.  "De-listing" or "de-referencing" search results is the front line of right-to-erasure court challenges today, though the specter of erasure orders that reach content providers directly looms on the horizon.

Google complied with the CNIL order only for European domains, such as "google.fr" for France, and not across Google domains worldwide.  Google employs geo-blocking to prevent European users from subverting de-listing simply by searching at "google.com" (United States) or "google.com.br" (Brazil).  Determined users still can beat geo-blocking with sly technocraft, so CNIL was dissatisfied with the efficacy of Google's solution.  Undoubtedly, a dispute will arise yet in which the CNIL or another European data protection authority tests its might with a more persuasive case for global de-listing.

The case is Google, LLC v. Commission Nationale de L’informatique et des Libertés (CNIL), No. C-507/17 (E.C.J.), Sept. 24, 2019.  Several free speech and digital rights NGOs intervened on behalf of Google, including Article 19, the Internet Freedom Foundation, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Wikimedia Foundation, as well as Microsoft Corp.  The case arose initially under the 1995 EU Data Protection Directive, but carries over to the new regime of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Friday, September 27, 2019

Book review: Towles's 'Gentleman in Moscow' weaves rich tapestry of 20th-century Soviet Russia

I'm part of a book group, among other reasons, to find an excuse to read things I otherwise would not take the time to read. I love my group, but a lot of the times, the reading only confirms my good judgment about use of time in the first place. The exceptions, though, stand out, e.g., Fredrick Backman's Man Called Ove, and invariably make the whole commitment worthwhile.

Last month was such a worthwhile month.  We read Amor Towles's A Gentleman in Moscow, selection of public-service-lawyer-extraordinaire Karen Owen Talley.  Here's the beautiful and clever book trailer (Delphine Burrus, dir.).



"Beautiful and clever" only begins to describe this book.  I have not read Towles's previous and popular Rules of Civility, so I cannot compare.  Suffice to say, though, I was surprised to learn that Towles is a Boston-born investment manager writing from Manhattan, and not a full-time scholar of the Russian Revolution, or even a recently arrived time traveler from 1920s Moscow.  Shelved as "historical fiction" in some libraries, this book depicts changing Russian society over decades after the revolution, from the 1920s to 1950s, all from the curious and ultimately delightful perspective of an aristocratic political prisoner under house arrest in an upscale hotel.

Maybe Towles was playing at Russian style, or it's just his speed; the book feels slow on plot a good ways in.  Ordinarily that's a turn-off for my action-aficionado, smartphone-addled brain.  Yet somehow this book was engrossing; every day I looked forward to re-immersing my mind's eye in the fantastical world of the Metropol Hotel, as envisioned from the endearingly witty perspective of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov.

Towles is brilliant at authoring irresistible rabbit holes for the reader.  Sometimes these seemingly discrete stories feel like pointless tangents; a fellow groupie and I had simultaneously imagined Towles as the sort of person who carries around a small memo pad to jot down vignettes of the day, from his peculiar perspective, and then litters his writing room with the pages.  Yet these seeming tangents weave themselves together later in the book into a tapestry that is so much more than the sum of their parts.  While each vignette in the book seems dispensable in its time, the whole of the novel would be painfully incomplete were it lessened by any one.  Here's a short example, just as the Count has discovered morning coffee and the reward of grinding it himself:

Even as he turned the little handle round and round, the room remained under the tenuous authority of sleep.  As yet unchallenged, somnolence continued to cast its shadow over sights and sensations, over forms and formulations, over what has been said and what must be done, lending each the insubstantiality of its domain.  But when the Count opened the small wooden drawer of the grinder, the world and all it contained were transformed by that envy of the alchemists—the aroma of freshly ground coffee.
In that instant, darkness was separated from light, the waters from the lands, and the heavens from the earth.  The trees bore fruit and the woods rustled with the movement of birds and beasts and all manner of creeping things.  While closer at hand, a patient pigeon scuffed its feet on the flashing.

. . . .

So perfect was the combination that upon finishing, the Count was tempted to crank the crank, quarter the apple, dole out the biscuits, and enjoy his breakfast all over again.
But time and tide wait for no man.

I won't go much into the meat of the tale, other than to counsel the reader to watch for time as a theme.  The seeming absence of plot is itself a grand illusion, representative of how time passes and transforms Russia outside the steady, unchanging walls of our protagonist's hotel confinement.  I didn't realize that until we started to put the pieces together as a book group, and now I wish I had paid closer attention on first read.

A TV series is in the making.  I thought that a bad idea, at first, worried that this delicate marvel would be tortured by Hollywood-like priorities until it yields something more fast and furious.  But a fellow groupie pointed out that it's all in the characters: an unhurried and dignified telling might be executed well in the right hands.  Perhaps it bodes well then that Kenneth Branagh is set to produce and star.  But don't wait for a screen adaptation; you'll be cheating yourself out of a journey best rendered by the imagination.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Conn. high court hears argument after non-dismissal of Sandy Hook parent suit against Alex Jones

As reported in my Sandy Hook update a couple of weeks ago, today was the day for Connecticut Supreme Court oral arguments over a discovery dispute in the Alex Jones case.  The Connecticut Supreme Court usually gets audio up within a day.  Check here. [UPDATE: Now posted and embedded below.]


Alex Jones (by Sean P. Anderson CC BY 2.0)
This is the defamation lawsuit against Jones and InfoWars brought by Sandy Hook parents for the broadcasters' assertions that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax, perpetrated in media with the help of "crisis actors."  Megyn Kelly, making her mark after jumping ship from Fox, (in)famously interviewed Jones on this matter in 2017.  You can watch that weird-meets-weirder interview at NBC.  Kelly and NBC managed to infuriate both Jones and Sandy Hook advocates.  The latter objected to giving Jones the platform to sell his brand of crazy and included a few paragraphs on the interview under the "Campaign of Abuse" heading in the May 2018 complaint.

The case is Lafferty v. Jones, No. UWY-CV18-6046436-S.  The complaint is available from the Connecticut docket.  Besides defamation and defamation per se, plaintiffs claim false light, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, deceptive trade practices under statute, and civil conspiracy on the common law claims.  After removal to and return from federal court, the Connecticut trial court allowed limited discovery over the defense's anti-SLAPP motion.  Thus we are in Hartford.

News coverage so far is lackluster.  "Lawyer Norman Pattis told the Connecticut Supreme Court on Thursday that Jones exercised his free speech rights," Dave Collins wrote for The AP (e.g., via WaPo) this afternoon.  To be fair, this appeal focuses on a discovery compliance dispute, which is tangled up in First Amendment considerations, but does not squarely present the anti-SLAPP problem.  The Hartford Courant has more detail on the merits and procedural posture.

Meanwhile...


Also as reported earlier, the Sandy Hook gun manufacturer liability suit against Remington is pending with a 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, No. 18-A-1185.

Amici in Remington Arms piled in to the Court on September 3 and 4 and are collected on the case page at SCOTUSblog.  The NRA, 22 members of the U.S. House, the State of Texas, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the Gun Owners of America, and Professors of Second Amendment Law filed briefs.  The latter comprise "Randy Barnett (Georgetown), Royce Barondes (Missouri), Robert Cottrol (George Washington), Nicholas Johnson (Fordham), Joyce Malcolm (George Mason), George Mocsary (Southern Illinois), Michael O’Shea (Oklahoma City), Joseph Olson (Mitchell Hamline), Glenn Reynolds (Tennessee), Eugene Volokh (UCLA), and Gregory Wallace (Campbell)," with counsel for the Firearms Policy Coalition, the Independence Institute, and the Cato Institute submitting the brief.

Oral Argument in Lafferty


Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Teachable torts: Court succinctly dismisses 'outing' case collateral to terrorism prosecution

Attendees dance during the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender mixer
hosted by Joint Task Force Guantanamo Equal Opportunity Leaders for JTF
Troopers and Naval Station Guantanamo Bay Residents to honor LGBT
Pride Month in 2018. Photo by JTF GTMO PAO Trooper.
A short decision upon compelling facts in a civil case collateral to the criminal prosecution of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, accused of being a September 11 architect, offers a worthwhile exercise in the study of tort law.

Semmerling, a lawyer on the defense team of Guantánamo-held Mohammed, accused the head of the defense team of outing Semmerling to Mohammed as gay.  The revelation of Semmerling's sexual orientation resulted in his removal from the team, because Mohammed would not work with a gay (or Jewish) lawyer.

Typical outing cases present some interesting problems in privacy law for several reasons.  First, they emphasize the distinction between the disclosure privacy tort and the defamation tort, because the revelation in an outing case is true.  First Amendment absolutism challenges the disclosure tort for its threat of liability upon a truthful statement, though there is little doubt that the disclosure tort would survive a direct Supreme Court challenge today.

Second, a plaintiff's homosexual (or other non-heterosexual) identity is rarely an absolute secret, disclosed to no one, but more often—and healthily—a personal datum that the plaintiff has disclosed with thought and care to different persons—parents, friends, public—at different times.  But "the secrecy paradigm" that dominates American privacy law disallows tort recovery unless intimate information remains intimately safeguarded.  (This is a critical point of difference between U.S. and European privacy law.)

Third, outing cases are complicated as a matter of social policy, for fear that a liability award might validate the view that homosexual orientation should be a source of shame, so either a truth properly kept secret (privacy tort), or a falsehood injuriously uttered (defamation tort).

This case is not typical—Semmerling's sexual orientation was only a secret to Mohammed—but its unusual facts, assuming the allegations as true for sake of argument on the motion to dismiss, left Semmerling with only less prospect of a tort remedy than usual.

Invoking the common law litigation privilege, the U.S. District Court, per Judge Robert W. Gettleman, rejected claims against the defense team leader herself. The absolute privilege ensures that an attorney has unfettered discretion in communicating with a client on matters pertaining to litigation.  The court also dismissed claims of negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) against the United States as defense counsel's employer.

Tim Jon Semmerling is a Chicago criminal-
defense attorney. In addition to his private
practice, he has worked pro bono for the
Center for Justice in Capital Cases at DePaul
University.
The negligence and IIED claims against the United States did survive dismissal under the Federal Tort Claims Act.  The FTCA on its terms disallows libel and slander claims against the United States, and the court opined that even a defamation claim disguised as IIED (or general negligence) would not survive that disallowance.  For the very fact that Semmerling complained about a truthful disclosure, his claim cannot be equated with libel or slander, and so was not a disguised defamation claim.

On tort law merits, though, Semmerling failed to state a claim, the court ruled.  He tried to predicate negligence on the defendant's one-time assurance to him that she would allow him to work on the case without disclosing his sexual orientation to Mohammed.  That was not basis enough, the court opined, to establish a duty of the United States to Semmerling for the purpose of proving negligence. The court did not wade in more deeply, but I expect that the duty requirement was especially elevated given Semmerling's lack of physical injury.

As to IIED, Semmerling sufficiently pleaded neither intent nor outrageousness.  Semmerling found out about the dislcosure only by way of hearsay and only some time after being fired.  So, the court reasoned, evidence was lacking that the disclosure was calculated to cause him emotional distress.  Also the disclosure was at worst "offensive," the court opined, and not "utterly intolerable in a civilized community," as Illinois law requires.

I wonder whether the facts would have supported a tortious interference claim; alas, that cause is expressly disallowed by the FTCA.

The case is Semmerling v. Bormann, No. 18-CV-6640 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 11, 2019).  HT@ ABA Journal.

[NOTE, Sept. 25, 2019: A generous colleague brought to my attention that the complaint in the case also pleaded defamation.  The claim failed on the litigation privilege as against lead counsel and was precluded by the FTCA as against the United States.  I ought to have marked the point that Semmerling was unable to claim disclosure in part because he guarded no intimately held secret.  The defamation claim was grounded in the allegation that lead counsel falsely suggested to the client a particular sexual interest in him.  That's an intriguing hypothetical when one considers the consequent analyses on the merits, including "capable of defamatory meaning."]

Monday, September 23, 2019

EU frets over Privacy Shield adequacy, and NGO insists, emperor still naked

The Commission of the European Union is reviewing the U.S.-EU Privacy Shield framework for conformity with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and NGO AccessNow is again demanding an inadequacy finding.

A lot is at stake.  For the uninitiated, European regulators have a dramatically different take on the protection of personal information than the free-wheeling free marketeers of the United States.  I've written some about the problem here and elsewhere (e.g., here and here), arguing that the American people are not so far from European privacy norms, but it's our law that lags behind the democratic will.  For my money, the definitive macro analysis of why American and European approaches to privacy have differed is James Q. Whitman's.  Anyway, the GDPR does not allow the export from Europe of information to countries that do not comport with its privacy protections, and that creates a monumental problem for the trans-Atlantic flow of not only information, but commerce.

The problem is not new and existed under the GDPR's predecessor law, the 1995 Data Protection Directive (DPD).  A number of mechanisms were devised to work around the problem, and they were approved by European regulators under the umbrella of "the Safe Harbor agreement."  But it's widely understood, at least on the European side, that Safe Harbor was something of a sham: No one with a straight face could argue that U.S. law was comparable to the DPD.  Safe Harbor in practice comprised mostly industry standards, voluntarily adopted and barely enforced by U.S. regulators.  There's also an important piece of this problem in the vein of national security, government spying, and personal information; I'm not even getting into that.

Privacy Shield is stronger than Safe Harbor, but the GDPR is a lot stronger than the DPD.  There have been remarkable advancements in privacy law in some states, notably California, in the EU direction.  And quite a number of court challenges have followed, winding their way through the process, some derived from objections in the commercial sphere, some the civil rights sphere: you've probably heard of "the right to be forgotten."  But our patchwork state laboratories hardly sum reassurance to Europe.  So in the absence of a comprehensive peace offering at the federal level, the debate over the EU's adequacy determination regarding Privacy Shield pretty much boils down to whether or not we're going to admit that the emperor is naked.

AccessNow, a global NGO and sponsor of RightsCon, has consistently called for honesty about the emperor's sorry state.  A recent memo calls on the Commission to rule Privacy Shield inadequate, and AccessNow has invited republication of a new infographic in support of its position.  I hereby oblige. It's past time we get serious about protecting personal information in the United States and stop commercial exploitation of human identity upon industry's abusive invocations of civil rights such as the freedom of speech and freedom to contract.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Teachable torts, Rugby World Cup edition: When battery exceeds consent in sport

More than once over the years, I've received student-evaluation feedback complaining that my use of sport cases and hypotheticals in 1L Torts is detrimental to students not interested in sport.  Now I explain to the class in advance why we do it.

Torts is about deriving the rule of law from what the enlightenment philosophers termed our "social contract."  The sport field is a brilliant place to test out tort law, because it's a place where the social contract is most unusually suspended.  If your office workmate punches you in front of the copier, you'll consider suing her for battery.  Meanwhile, you'll most likely swallow your wounded pride when she takes you down on the soccer pitch.  Understanding the difference between the two cases is what tort law is all about.

In that vein—and in honor of the Rugby World Cup, with England v. Tonga getting under way as this post goes live—I present for your consideration St. Helens vs. Wigan in the 2014 Super League Grand Final of rugby: also remembered as Lance Hohaia v. Ben Flower.


There is, moreover, fascinating follow-up to this encounter to be found in Guardian coverage in 2015 and in BBC coverage in 2016.  The incident was recently recalled by TV NZ 1's Luke Appleby, who suggested that tort liability might be just the thing to bring rugby sluggers to heel.

HT@ barrister David Casserly, who first brought this dust-up to my attention.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Takings are out of control; whither went democracy?

My colleague Prof. Ralph Clifford is cited and quoted in this item from the Pacific Legal Foundation. The PLF opined with disapproval upon takings problems in which the government essentially exploits the takings power after discounting property value by tax liability, a one-two punch, kicking the owner to the street.

The abuse is compounded by the continuing latitude of governments to line the pockets of private investment with the proceeds of takings, upheld in Kelo v. New London (2005).  See also the award-winning documentary Little Pink House (2017), and a mouth-watering Kelo epilog.

This on the heels of discussion at UMass Law last week of a U.S. Supreme Court cert. petition filed in Smyth v. Conservation Commission of Falmouth (Mass. App. Ct. Feb. 19, 2019), now No. 19-223 (pet. filed U.S. Sept. 19, 2019), in which the Massachusetts Court of Appeals rejected a takings claim upon denial of a building permit.  (HT@ Dean Eric Mitnick.  The court heard arguments in the case at UMass Law last year.)

One doesn't have to look far nowadays for abuses of governmental power that are bipartisanly objectionable yet persist to the shameless aim of making the rich richer.  I'm presently reading Amor Towles's A Gentleman in Moscow, a fiction about the aftermath of the Russian revolution; when you're a libertarian and you start thinking "those Bolsheviks weren't all bad," something has gone awfully wrong in America.

Here is an excerpt of the PLF item:
Uri is a retired 83-year-old Michigan engineer, and in 2014 he accidentally underpaid, by $8.41, the property taxes on a home he rented out. But instead of notifying him of the issue and helping him, his county government seized the home and sold it at auction for $24,500. The county then kept all the proceeds—leaving Rafaeli with nothing.
All for an 8 buck mistake.
That may sound like an extreme and unusual case. But in fact, this type of tax forfeiture abuse, called home equity theft, is completely legal in 13 states.
In Alabama, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, and Wisconsin, governments not only keep the value of unpaid property taxes and interest from the sale of a seized home—they also keep the surplus value rather than returning it to the property owner. In Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Nebraska, private investors often reap the gains of home equity theft.
Here is the abstract of Prof. Clifford's 2018 study:
Prof. Clifford
The predominant method for collecting delinquent real estate taxes in Massachusetts is the use of the “tax deed” as authorized by Chapter 60, Sections 53-54. Under the authorized procedures, each municipality’s tax collector can execute and record a deed that transfers fee simple title to the real estate to the municipality subject to the taxpayer’s statutorily created redemption right. If the redemption right is or cannot be exercised, all of the taxpayer’s rights in the property, as well as other’s rights created by encumbrances such as mortgages, are terminated by the foreclosure process provided for in the statute. Importantly, the municipality does not obtain title to the taxpayer’s land by foreclosure; instead, it merely frees itself of any remaining claim by the taxpayer.
The problem with the tax deed procedure is that it fails to provide both procedural and substantive due process to the taxpayer. Procedurally, although adequate notice is given, title to the taxpayer’s real estate is taken by the government without a hearing. Based on an unreviewed decision by a municipal tax collector, the taxpayer immediately loses title to the land. Substantively, by using a tax deed, the municipality engages in the taking of property without providing reasonable compensation. The value of the land taken for payment of the tax debt is not evaluated in the context of the debt owed. Empirical evidence shows that the property’s value significantly exceeds the debt owed, giving the municipality the ability to collect almost fifty dollars for every dollar of delinquent real estate tax owed, on average. Each year, approximately $56,000,000 is unconstitutionally appropriated from taxpayers. This article explores these problems. 
And here are the questions presented in the Smyth petition:
In Penn Central Transp. Co. v. N.Y., 438 U.S. 104 (1978), this Court held that Fifth Amendment “regulatory takings” claims are governed by three factors: the “economic impact” of the challenged regulatory action, the extent of interference with a property owner’s “distinct investment-backed expectations” and the “character of the governmental action.” Id.
Falmouth, Mass., property, posted by Frank Haggerty to Patch.
The Massachusetts Appeals Court applied the Penn Central factors to hold that Respondent Town of Falmouth (Town) did not unconstitutionally take Petitioner Janice Smyth’s (Mrs. Smyth) property by denying a permit to build a home. Mrs. Smyth’s parents purchased the lot in 1975 for $49,000 ($216,000 in today’s dollars), but did not develop it. In the meantime, the entire subdivision was developed. When Mrs. Smyth inherited the lot and sought to build, the Town refused to grant a permit based on regulation post-dating her interest. The denial left Mrs. Smyth’s lot without any possible use except as a “playground” or “park,” and stripped it of 91.5% of its value. Yet, the court below held that none of the Penn Central factors weighed in favor of a taking under these circumstances.
The questions presented are:
1. Whether the loss of all developmental use of property and a 91.5% decline in its value is a sufficient “economic impact” to support a regulatory takings claim under Penn Central.
2. Whether a person who acquires land in a developed area, prior to regulation, has a legitimate “expectation” of building and, if so, whether that interest can be defeated by a lack of investment in construction?
3. Whether the Court should excise the “character” factor from Penn Central regulatory taking analysis.
My Comparative Law class is reading about democratic deficit in Europe.  It's a good time to remember that the study of comparative law can be as much about similarities as differences.

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

Teachable torts, Patriots edition: 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.