[March 21, 2020] Sabbatical update: For obvious reasons, I am home, and not in Africa. Thanks to my wife who booked my return journey from Windhoek to Boston. Stay tuned for a return to normalcy. Meanwhile, #QuarantineLife.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

'Ley contra la pandemia': CFP se extiende a las contribuciones en español


¡Convocatoria de contribuciones!

Los académicos, estudiantes, profesionales, todas las disciplinas, todas las naciones, están invitados a contribuir con artículos, comentarios y otros trabajos al nuevo sitio web y blog, Law Against Pandemic. Se aliente especialmente el trabajo de los estudiantes.  (CFP en inglés via The Savory Tort.)

Law Against Pandemic es un espacio para el debate sobre los aspectos legales de las pandemias como una herramienta de desarrollo y popularización de los logros de las ciencias sociales. El objetivo principal del proyecto es a crear una plataforma de publicación de artículos de alta calidad sobre aspectos legales de pandemias, para contribuir al discurso y al análisis de posibles soluciones.

Se aceptan textos en inglés, francés, alemán, polaco, y, ahora, español.


  

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Estos comentarios recientes se publican en Law Against Pandemic.

Alternative dispute resolutions during global pandemic and beyond
by August Adamowicz

Is there a tool that could be used by the lawyers to mitigate the negative effects arising from the situation we are in? I believe that in some instances proper use of Alternative Dispute Resolution methods could help resolve disputes remotely, but also after the epidemic ends it could reduce the number of urgent court cases and at least in some part help to return the judicial system to normal functioning.  Read more.

Pandemic and international trade law. Is there a silver lining?
by Cyprian Liske

Current events show more clearly than ever how strong economic interconnections between countries are in the modern, globalised world. A severe crisis in just one country can break supply chains around the whole globe, not even to mention financial consequences which, as we know at least since 2008, can spread just like a deadly virus.... How do the countries choose to deal with it internationally? Do we restrict trade in the face of such dangers? Or are we trying to liberalise it in order to keep the flow of goods? What about the export of deficit goods which may be used by countries to fight pandemic domestically?  Read more.

Labour market after COVID-19
by Łukasz Łaguna

Currently, the whole world is fighting the COVID-19 epidemic. All countries are racing to find anti-crisis solutions to ensure the least possible losses for every labour market. At the same time, it should be borne in mind that no country in the world will be able to maintain such intensive financial assistance in the long run. High social benefits are only an ad hoc aid for the temporary maintenance of financial continuity of entrepreneurs.  Read more.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

First Circuit dismisses Mount Ida student class action, incidentally limits emerging data protection theory

Holbrook Hall, Mount Ida College, Newton, Mass. John Phelan CC BY 3.0
An angle in a recent First Circuit decision deserves a mention in U.S. data protection circles.  I hadn't been aware of this angle of the case, so hat tip to attorney Melanie A. Conroy at Pierce Atwood in Boston for analyzing the case carefully in the The National Law Review.

The First Circuit affirmed dismissal in the ugly and unfortunate matter of Mount Ida College students' class action against the school after its abrupt closure and sale to the University of Massachusetts system.  Conroy's rundown on the case is thorough.  I want only to highlight one important point: the court refused to recognize, in Massachusetts law, a fiduciary duty owed by university to student.

The decision comports with multistate norms, but is nonetheless important in limiting an emerging doctrine of data protection in U.S. common law tort.  State courts that have recognized something like a data protection right in civil cases have used fiduciary duty to bootstrap their way there.

American common law invasion of privacy is too stringent to get the job done, that is, to articulate a data protection right, for various reasons.  One reason is its incorporation of what Professor Daniel Solove termed "the secrecy paradigm": information must be kept secret to remain secret.  Thus, I cannot complain when my bank tells someone about my financial transactions, because I already let my bank know about them.  My resort must be to banking privacy law, by statute.  And there arises the second problem for privacy plaintiffs: statutes are too stringent to get the job done.  I might be unhappy if my employer divulges information about my psychiatric condition to my insurer, but neither one of them is a healthcare provider covered by the federal patient privacy law ("HIPAA"), which does not (directly) provide for a cause of action anyway.

In 2018, the Connecticut Supreme Court bridged the common law gap from statutory insufficiency to actionable privacy claim by relying on the physician-patient duty of confidentiality.  In short, the court held, HIPAA + duty of confidentiality = protectible common law interest.  The court thereby allowed a woman to sue her ObGyn provider upon an allegation of breached confidentiality.  That duty of confidentiality is a form of fiduciary duty.  So a theory emerged of how U.S. common law might stumble its way to recognition of what the rest of the world, especially Europe, calls "data protection."

There are a lot of ways for us to start catching up with the rest of the world in recognizing people's right to personal data integrity; this is just one.  And it remains.  But it is limited by the scope of duties that might stand in for that second piece of the equation.  The Mount Ida case shows correctly that it will be harder for a plaintiff to get there against a business defendant that is not a professional, and the data held are financial information tangential to the nature of the relationship, here, educational.

The First Circuit aptly instructed Mount Ida students that if they wanted better protection for their personal information in state law, their remedy was with the state legislature.  The same can be said for Americans, data protection, and our torpid Congress.

The case is Squeri v. Mount Ida College, No. 19-1624 (1st Cir. Mar. 25, 2020).  U.S. Circuit Judge Lynch wrote for the panel, which also included Stahl and Kayatta, JJ.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Colorful U.S. case of baroness, Swiss bank makes waves in international jurisdiction, student note reports

Swiss banks in Geneva. Photo by torange.biz CC BY 4.0.
Spencer K. Schneider, my eminently able teaching and research assistant, has published a short case note in a research journal, the International Journal of Procedural Law, on a Massachusetts jurisdictional case with interesting facts.
The Massachusetts Appeals Court handed a win to a Swiss heiress who claims she was suckered into a bad investment in alchemy by a fellow aristocrat, a storied Swiss bank, and American entrepreneurs. The lower court erred when it dismissed defendant Swiss bank Rothschild for want of personal jurisdiction, the American appeals court ruled in June 2019.
Mr. Schneider aptly considers: "The American approach to jurisdiction over foreign corporations via personal agency feeds the possibility of inconsistency with jurisdictional law elsewhere in the world, such as under the Brussels Convention in Europe."

The note is Spencer K. Schneider, Aristocrats’ Squabble Over Fortune Squandered on American Alchemy May Expose Swiss Bank to U.S. Jurisdiction, in Michele Angelo Lupoi, Grandes Décisions/Leading Cases, 9:2 Int'l J. Proc. L. 339, 360 (2019).

The case is Von Schönau-Riedweg v. Rothschild Bank AG, 95 Mass. App. Ct. 471, 128 N.E.3d 96 (2019) (Casetext).

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Report from Quarantine Week 2: Me and the Violet Fog

Another week in quarantine.  Technically, my latter and last.  But until there's an antibody test, who can go anywhere?  Here's my self-serving report from week 2.


What I'm Reading
(besides Dr. Grillo's blog)

John O'Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us (2008) (Amazon).  This beautiful little book with blessings for all occasions was a gift of our dear friend Sister Catherine, who missions to children on the Navajo and Zuni Reservations in New Mexico. I perused it when she gave it to us. But picking it up again now amid the present crisis, its texts (and no less its title) have a new layer of meaning. Consider these verses from the poem, "For the Interim Time":
You are in the time of the interim
Where everything seems withheld.
. . .
What is being transfigured here is your mind,
And it is difficult and slow to become new.
The more faithfully you can endure here,
The more refined your heart will become
For your arrival in the new dawn.
There are poems about travel that are especially poignant to me in present circumstances.

First Book of Samuel (BibleGateway).  My church's yearlong Bible-reading study continues telling the ancient story of Israel.  This book, which chronicles King Saul's fall and David's rise, includes David and Goliath (ch. 17) (and Samuel on the whole reminds me of the Kings TV show, not so scriptural, but a beautifully portrayed drama, with Ian McShane as the Saul character).  I should have mentioned last week that we're accompanying the reading with videos from the nonprofit animation studio, BibleProject (1 Samuel). The studio's outstanding quick-draws are a joy to watch and learn from (también disponible en español y otros idiomas).


What I'm Watching

Doctor Who s12 (2020) (season 38 overall) (BBC trailer).  Whenever there's a new doctor, you're not sure whether it's you or the actor who isn't hitting stride.  Excited as we were about the debut of Jodie Whittaker as the first female Doctor, in 2018 (eat dust, James Bond), series 11 was further complicated by the departure of storyline mastermind Stephen Moffat (still waiting on Sherlock s5, Stephen!). Whatever the reason, series 11 felt like a string of unconnected afterthoughts, despite heroic efforts by the cast to make us care.  Finally series 12 reintroduces the concept of arc, and I feel like we're back on track, story-wise.  The scripts still need work, as they condescendingly tell us rather than show us the writers' social agenda.  But looking past that, we quite enjoyed e7's devilish villains, and we're looking forward to the concluding Cyberman saga.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina s3 (2020) (Netflix trailer).  Guilty pleasure, I admit, but this Archie Comics reimagining is too clever to resist.  Where Doctor Who lately clubs you over the head with social allegory, Sabrina catches you unawares like a Maine lobster.  If Riverdale is an artificially flavored orange pop for the brain, Sabrina is a delicate hazelnut gelato.  Amid exquisite sets, the narratives are intricate, the characters are surprisingly multilayered for a live-action comic book, and the actors perform whimsically.  Lucy Davis as Aunt Hilda Spellman walks away with best supporting actress.  We're only getting started in s3, but we're already absorbed and delighted.

Young Sheldon s3 (2019-20) (CBS promo).  Comedy break.  This show remains as strong as it premiered.  I am one of that odd contingent that doesn't like Big Bang Theory but adores Iain Armitage's young Sheldon.  That said, even I was moved by the closing scene of e16 in the Caltech cafeteria—after my wife explained it.

Late night.  All our favorites are back, reinventing themselves in this time of crisis, and, as John Oliver put it to Stephen Colbert, "committing union infractions out the wazoo" to keep us laughing.  For HBO's Last Week Tonight, Oliver just posted his third viral installment.  Production of the CBS Late Show has been a family affair in Colbert's Connecticut home; when did his kids all grow up?  His tech snafu with Daniel Radcliffe was an instant classic, and I enjoyed his gin-infused dialog with Ryan Reynolds.  We're looking forward to Tooning Out the News, premiering officially on CBS All Access on April 7.  Producing Comedy Central's "Daily Social Distancing Show" from his New York City sofa, Trevor Noah has been killing it.  His correspondents haven't missed a beat—see "What Day Is It?," Video Chat with Roy Wood Jr. and Jaboukie Young-White, and Ronnie Chieng with Andrew Yang on universal-basic-income-come-lately—and the Daily Show graphics team rallied in force this week.  Finally, a mellow highlight of the week was Monday night's musical "Homefest" on James Corden's Late Late Show (CBS).  Who needs a studio?


What I'm Eating

Garlic.  A lot of garlic.  Now's the time.  In quarantine, you don't have to worry about any close-talking strangers.  Vampires beware.  Thanks, by the way, to whoever gave us this great gift pack of Terra Delyssa organic infused olive oils, which we rediscovered in the cupboard when we feared our olive oil stock had run dry.

King cake.  And everything else in the freezer.  My culinarily gifted Louisianan wife made this for Mardi Gras, when I was in Bissau, and froze some for me.  I've been told that if we're ever allowed to return to the grocery store, I might get gumbo.  Damn you, quarantine!


Billy’s Bistro.  We’re ordering for curbside pickup this weekend.  Remember, if you can, support your local businesses!



What I'm Drinking

Peet's Major Dickason's Blend.  Peet's bestseller.  We're grinding the beans.  It gets the job done.  It's dark, which I like; my wife likes that less.  We also tried this week Community's Private Reserve Holiday Jazz, which I gave to my wife for Christmas as part of a haul of Community coffees to tide her over while I was (or would be, but am not now) in Africa.  We both love Community coffees.  But there was something off about this one's florals that I couldn't get over.  I'd give you the rest of it, but I breathed all over it, so now it's a biohazard.

McQueen and the Violet Fog (Vimeo).  This is a truly special gin, bearing the unique flavor of a 100% neutral cane spirit from Jundiaí, Brazil, which is just north and inland from São Paulo.  Among 21 botanicals, its six "signature" ingredients are basil, rosemary, fennel seed, calamansi, star anise and açai.  It's small-batch distilled from maceration and vapor infusion in a single copper pot still.  Wine Enthusiast's Kara Newman gave it a 93: "This gin is clear, with a distinctly sweet candied lemon peel fragrance. The soft palate finishes with mild violet jazzed up by white pepper and a hint of coriander. Tailor-made for an Aviation."  The name of the gin comes from a darkly quirky poem by Atticus; the last two stanzas are printed on the back of the bottle.


What I'm Wearing

This was a gift from my mom-in-law.  She gets me.


What I'm Doing to Stay Sane

That's my weight bench from high school in the 1980s, today in my garage.  It's lived with me in five states.  "Do we really need to move that?," my wife asked in Arkansas in 2011. "They have gyms in Rhode Island."  "Why, yes," I said presciently, "in case the gym closes because of a pandemic."



Happy weekend!  

Yeah, it's actually the weekend.  Like I can tell the difference....

Friday, April 3, 2020

Quarantine works. Stay home!

Art by Grace Harrington
At last check, Australia has only 28 deaths from coronavirus. A friend down under told me that on WhatsApp today, and I had to check it before I believed it. The United States topped 7,000 deaths today. There are geographic, cultural, and quantitative-relative explanations for this differential, but they cannot account for it fully without considering differences in social and legal policy responses.

And then I read this, about the 1918 flu, from my friend Dan Harrington in the March 28 Providence Journal: "Australia enacted strict quarantine measures early on in the crises. It ... was spared."

Dan's op-ed is well worth reading.  It draws on the 1918 experience to conclude, "The lessons are all too simple. If governments had adopted quarantine measures and communicated them effectively, the reduction in death would have been significant."

Observe quarantine and, to the extent possible, stay home!

Commonwealth wins two in tort: one, bad presentment; two, no duty to juvenile assaulted in contractor custody

The Commonwealth prevailed in two tort suits under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act at the end of February.  One case, a slip-and-fall, was decided by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on the procedural ground of untimely presentment.  The other case, involving a physical assault on a juvenile with tragic consequences, was decided by the Massachusetts Appeals Court on the merits of attenuated duty and causation in civil rights liability.

Leicester Town Hall, 2006.
Photo by Pvmoutside CC BY-SA 3.0.
In the first case, "plaintiff, Katherine Drake, slipped and fell at Leicester High School while picking up her grandson during school hours. She suffered multiple injuries, including a fractured knee and wrist."  Drake mailed her presentment (notice, or demand) letter to the Town of Leicester precisely on the two-year anniversary of the accident.  The Massachusetts Tort Claims Act requires presentment within two years, and the Commonwealth moved to dismiss on grounds of untimeliness.

The Supreme Judicial Court declined to construe the statute liberally.  "Drake does not contend that her mailed letter could have arrived on that same day, nor does she contest that the office of the proper executive officer received the presentment letter ... a full two years and three days after she was injured," the court observed.  "Given our conclusion that presentment occurs upon delivery to the office of the proper executive officer," the court affirmed dismissal.

Long Island in Boston Harbor, 2008.  Photo by Doc Searles CC BY-SA 2.0.
The second case described horrific injury inflicted on a juvenile in state custody.  A "youthful offender," Williams was in Casa Isla, "a program for juvenile males located in a facility (now closed) on Long Island in Boston Harbor. Casa Isla was operated by Volunteers of America of Massachusetts, Inc. (VOA), a nonprofit entity under contract with [the Department of Youth Services (DYS)] to operate youth residential programs." (There were other problems at Casa Isla, e.g., MassLive, WBUR.)  During a flag football game, Williams was randomly attacked by a 17-year-old resident of another VOA-operated treatment program on the island, Project Rebound, who "said he wanted to get 'kicked out.'"  After the attack, Williams experienced worsening headaches and bodily pain, but initially was given only ibuprofen.  After later emergency medical intervention, Williams was diagnosed as having "suffered ... a middle cerebral artery stroke, seizures, and cerebral edema. As a result, he now has severe and permanent brain damage. Williams currently resides in a residential program and requires twenty-four hour care."

The last bridge to Long Island was demolished in 2015.
Photo by Eric Kilby CC BY-SA 2.0 (2017).
Upon suit under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, the courts rejected state liability upon various theories of DYS responsibility for the conduct of contractor VOA.  DYS and the Commonwealth had no direct involvement with the management of Casa Isla or Project Rebound, so had not even the predicate knowledge that might support liability on a civil rights theory.  Accordingly, the Appeals Court affirmed in rejecting theories of Eighth Amendment, supervisory, and vicarious liability.  Similarly, absent any affirmative act by state officials, the Commonwealth, conversely, remained within the protection of state sovereign immunity.

Associate Justice William J. Meade
Drake's case reinforces the importance of legal educators continuing to teach the 19th-century "mailbox rule," however much Generations Y and Z might not intuitively apprehend its logic.  Williams's case, however sorrowful the outcome, reinforces basic (no affirmative) duty doctrine in "constitutional tort."  As a policy matter, Williams's case also might raise questions about the wisdom of outsourcing juvenile custody without providing for public accountability.  Oh, and let's make a new rule: Anytime you're going to imprison people on a harbor island with a grisly history, that raises a red flag.

The cases are Drake v. Town of Leicester, No. SJC-12781 (Mass. Feb. 28, 2020) (Court Listener, Suffolk Law, Mass. Lawyers Weekly), and Baptiste v. Executive Office of Health and Human Services, No. 18-P-1353 (Mass. App. Ct. Feb. 28, 2020) (Justia).  Justice David A. Lowy wrote for a unanimous court in Drake.  Justice Meade wrote for a unanimous panel with Shin and Singh, JJ., in Baptiste.

Waiver of negligence precludes later suit by family, high court holds in nursing home, diving death cases

Image by edar from Pixabay
In two cases at the end of February, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court made clear that a person's express disposal of a negligence claim can preclude a later wrongful death suit by family.  In other words, Massachusetts wrongful death claims are derivative, not independent, of a decedent's rights.

"Wrongful death" and "survival" actions are creatures of 19th-century statute in Anglo-American law, the historic common law having extinguished all causes of action upon death—for curious historical reasons that I won't explicate here.  Formally, "wrongful death" is an action by surviving family for their losses, upon the occasion of the decedent's passing.  "Survival" is an action by the estate on behalf of the decedent, as if the decedent had lived.  However, this distinction is often blurred in law, as the actions are brought together as "wrongful death" under Massachusetts statute, and is often blurred in fact, as a single person may stand as a family member and estate representative at the same time.  However the actions are characterized in court, wrongful death and survival have become so universally entrenched in Anglo-American tort law, often upon sparsely worded and rarely amended statutes, that they function in the courts very much like common law causes of action, subject to interpretation in deep bodies of case law.

Image by whitfieldink from Pixabay
In one of the February cases, Jackalyn Schrader, acting with power of attorney for her mother, Emma, signed a "voluntary and clearly labeled" commitment to arbitrate disputes upon admitting Emma to residence at the Golden Living Center-Heathwood, in Chestnut Hill, Mass., in February 2013.  After Emma died in December 2013, Schrader brought a wrongful death claim under Massachusetts statute, in federal court, alleging that nursing home negligence caused bedsores, leading to Emma's death.  Schrader sought to evade the effect of the arbitration agreement by pointing out that she had not signed it in her personal capacity, and state law vests a wrongful death claim in family.

Image by skeeze from Pixabay
In the second of the February cases, Margaret C. Doherty, as representative of the estate and the decedent's statutory beneficiaries, sued in wrongful death upon a 2014 diving accident that took the life of her son-in-law, 37-year-old Gregg C. O'Brien.  O'Brien "was a certified open-water scuba diver [and] drowned while participating in a promotional diving equipment event that was sponsored by [defendants] and held in Gloucester," Mass.  Before participating in the event, O'Brien had signed:
a release from liability which had several subsections that were set forth in all capital letters and underlined, including "effect of agreement," "assumption of risk," "full release," "covenant not to sue," "indemnity agreement," and "arbitration."  In capital letters under the subsection titled "effect of agreement," it said, "Diver gives up valuable rights, including the right to sue for injuries or death." It also told the decedent to read the agreement carefully and not to sign it "unless or until you understand." ... [T]he subsection titled "covenant not to sue" stated that the decedent agreed "not to sue ... for personal injury arising from scuba diving or its associated activities," and that the decedent's "heirs or executors may not sue."
Asserting defendants' negligence, Doherty sought to evade the effect of the release by pointing out that the statutory beneficiaries were not party to any agreement.

Associate Justice David A. Lowy
In Schrader's case, the First Circuit certified a question to the Supreme Judicial Court to determine whether a wrongful death action in Massachusetts is independent of a decedent's action, so Schrader would be free of the arbitration agreement, or bound by the decedent's action, so Schrader would be bound by the arbitration agreement, even though she signed it only on behalf of her mother.  Schrader might have understood that her theory under statute was weak, because she sought to play up the court's power to evolve wrongful death law beyond the text of statute.  The court agreed that it had considerable power to evolve wrongful death as a function of common law.  At the same time, though, the court insisted that its job begins with statutory interpretation.  Resorting to the text of Massachusetts's first-in-the-nation, 1840 wrongful death statute, and in accordance with the weight of authority in other states, the court found the derivative nature of a wrongful death claim inescapable.  Schrader must therefore seek relief under the arbitration agreement.

In Doherty's case, the Supreme Judicial Court cited its decision in Schrader and likewise concluded, affirming, that the claims on behalf of the decedent's statutory beneficiaries were derivative and not independent of the decedent's rights.  "Therefore ... the valid waivers signed by the decedent preclude the plaintiff, as [O'Brien's] 'executor or personal representative,' from bringing a lawsuit ... for the benefit of the statutory beneficiaries."

The cases are GGNSC Admin. Servs., LLC v. Schrader, No. SJC-12714 (Mass. Feb. 27, 2020) (Justia; Suffolk Law), and Doherty v. Diving Unlimited Int'l, Inc., No. SJC-12707 (Mass. Feb. 27, 2020) (Justia).  Justice David A. Lowy wrote both decisions for a unanimous court.

'Game changer,' $2.5m punitive affirmance elucidates 'gross negligence' in medmal

The Massachusetts Appeals Court in late February affirmed an award of $2.5m in punitive damages in a case of death from botched laparoscopic surgery for a hiatal hernia.  In affirming, the Court reiterated terms and circumstances that allow a jury to differentiate "gross negligence" from mere negligence in the medical context.

According to the court opinion, Laura Parsons died after laparoscopic surgery to repair her hiatal hernia resulted in surgical tacks penetrating her pericardium, the membrane surrounding the heart.  The jury laid blame squarely on defendants surgeon, nurse, and employer for tacks having been inserted in the diaphragm too close to heart tissue.  Parsons died of cardiac arrest two days after surgery, and an autopsy observed "puncture marks on the posterior aspect of the heart."

In addition to $2.6m in compensatory damages, the jury charged the surgeon with $2.5m in punitive damages for "gross negligence," the threshold for punitive damages in medical malpractice in Massachusetts.  The Appeals Court affirmed.  Mass. Lawyers Weekly called the decision a "game changer" in favor of punitive damages for medmal plaintiffs (Mar. 5, 2020, pay wall).

An issue on appeal was the jury instruction on "gross negligence."  More than negligence and less than recklessness, "gross negligence" is a familiar yet elusive norm in Anglo-American common law.  The Appeals Court in part faulted the surgeon's counsel for failing to state objection to the usual jury instruction on the standard, though the court seemed content with the instruction on its merits.  The court observed, "While drawing the line between ordinary negligence and gross negligence can be difficult, 'the distinction [between them] is well established and must be observed, lest all negligence be gradually absorbed into the classification of gross negligence [citations omitted]."

The court concluded, "The evidence as a whole permitted the jury to find that [Dr.] Ameri's use of the tacker in Parsons's surgery manifested many of the common indicia of gross negligence. See Rosario v. Vasconcellos ... ([Mass.] 1953), quoting Lynch ... [Mass. 1936] ("some of the more common indicia of gross negligence are set forth as 'deliberate inattention,' 'voluntary incurring of obvious risk,' 'impatience of reasonable restraint,' or 'persistence in a palpably negligent course of conduct over an appreciable period of time'").

The case is Parsons v. Ameri, No. 18-P-1373 (Mass. App. Ct. Feb. 26, 2020) (Justia).  Justice Massing wrote for a unanimous panel with Sacks and Hand, JJ.

Battery, IIED in play if medical staff ignore patient's 'stop,' court rules

Medical professionals may be liable for battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress for failing to heed a patient's withdrawal of consent, a Massachusetts Appeals Court reversal warned in February.

Brigham and Women's Hospital is a teaching hospital
of Harvard Medical School in Boston.
Photo by trepulu CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (2010).
According to the appellate court opinion, evidence in the case supported the plaintiffs' disputed claim that terminally ill cancer patient Donna Zaleskas begged staff at Brigham and Women's Hospital to stop X-rays of her leg because of her physical discomfort, but that X-ray technicians proceeded anyway.  On behalf of Zaleskas, who succumbed to cancer, survivors are suing the hospital for battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, upon the theory that Zaleskas withdrew consent.  The Superior Court awarded summary judgment to the defense, and the Appeals Court reversed and remanded.

Thirty-seven-year-old decedent Zaleskas was a personal injury and product liability attorney in New York and alumna of Boston College Law School.

A finer line than one might expect separates theories of negligence and battery in many medical malpractice cases.  When a medical professional touches or otherwise physically treats a patient without, or beyond the scope of, the patient's consent, the action can simultaneously satisfy the test for intentional battery—defendant intentionally effecting physical contact that is unwanted by the complainant—and negligence—defendant's failure to comport with the standard of care of a reasonable professional under the circumstances.  Consent is an affirmative defense to intentional torts, like assumption of risk is a defense to negligence, but scope of consent often presents a thorny question of controverted fact.  Of course, patients with the benefit of hindsight are ill inclined to suppose that they consented to physical contact that caused harm, so intentional tort claims are often rationally articulable alongside accident claims in medmal lawsuits.

In the interest of doctrinal clarity, courts often, and in some jurisdictions, upon some facts, must, channel cases into a distinct rubric for "medical malpractice" that sits under or alongside the negligence umbrella, regardless of whether the case might be characterized as intent or accident.  That's a modern trend.  Massachusetts is more permissive in preserving conventional claims in intentional torts in medmal when the facts fit the bill.  The difference can be important in different dimensions.  A defendant's insurer might deny coverage, under policy terms, for intentional torts.  At the same time, intentional torts may give a plaintiff access to greater, even punitive, damage awards.

The Appeals Court ruled Zaleskas's claim fit for hearing in the intentional tort framework.  The court wrote plainly, "We now hold that if a patient unambiguously withdraws consent after medical treatment has begun, and if it is medically feasible to discontinue treatment, continued treatment following such a withdrawal may give rise to a medical battery claim."  In the instant case, "a reasonable jury could find that saying stop or words to that effect, in the particular factual context at issue, was sufficient to withdraw consent."

The court ruled furthermore, to the plaintiffs' advantage, "that consent to have one's body touched or positioned for an X-ray is not a matter beyond the common knowledge or experience of a layperson and does not require expert medical testimony."

The case is Zaleskas v. Brigham & Women's Hosp., No. 18-P-1076 (Mass. App. Ct. Feb. 11, 2020) (Justia). Justice Henry wrote for a unanimous panel with Rubin and Wendlandt, JJ.

Boston Globe wins access to booking photos, incident reports involving arrests of police officers

In the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on March 12, the Boston Globe won access to booking photographs and incidents reports related to arrests of police officers under the state open records law.

The case arose from the denial of multiple public record requests, including two following State Police arrests of local law enforcement officers for operating motor vehicles while under the influence in 2012 and 2014.  State police resisted disclosure, claiming the records were not public as part of the state's "criminal record offender information" (CORI) database, which is exempt from disclosure by statute.

The exemption of criminal record information systems is the rule rather than the exception in the United States, in theory, to protect personal privacy.  Sometimes persons are never charged, or even arrested, or are exonerated prior to court proceedings, and public policy disfavors sullying reputation by association with police action.  On the opposite end of the criminal justice process, there is concern that even a person who is convicted of a crime will never escape the reputational impact of police involvement, especially in the age of an internet that never forgets.  Critics of non-disclosure policy claim that secrecy undermines accountability, which is especially important for law enforcement; and treats the public paternalistically, as if people cannot understand the relative significance of different stages of involvement with the police and criminal justice system, including the significance of having done one's time.  This tension of competing policy aims, especially as it plays out in the electronic age, and especially as it relates to visual media, implicates "practical obscurity," a conundrum that has dogged access policy for more than four decades and also marks a flashpoint in the trans-Atlantic privacy debate.

Examining the open records law, even as amended by the Massachusetts legislature while appeal was pending, aiming to bolster the state's position on the privacy-access seesaw, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled the records not shielded by the CORI statute's exemption for criminal record information. Employing the rule of narrow construction of access exemptions, the court concluded, "[W]e cannot read exemption (a) so broadly as to shield all investigatory materials created by police from disclosure. We therefore conclude that the booking photographs and incident reports sought here are not absolutely exempt from disclosure as public records under exemption (a) 'by necessary implication' of the CORI act."

Moreover, though police had not argued the point, the court ruled the records not exempt as an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, at least in the particular context of police as arrestees.  The privacy exemption calls for a balance.  The court explained, "On the privacy side of the scale, we generally 'have looked to three factors to assess the weight of the privacy interest at stake: (1) whether disclosure would result in personal embarrassment to an individual of normal sensibilities; (2) whether the materials sought contain intimate details of a highly personal nature; and (3) whether the same information is available from other sources'" (citations omitted).  Also, "privacy factors include the risk of adverse collateral consequences to the individual that might arise from the disclosure of this criminal justice information. 'On the other side of the scale, we have said that the public has a recognized interest in knowing whether public servants are carrying out their duties in a law-abiding and efficient manner'" (citation omitted).

When police are themselves accused of crimes, the balance that might otherwise favor the ordinary citizen swings in favor of public accountability, the court reasoned. "There is a substantial public interest in the disclosure of police incident reports regarding alleged offenses by police officers and public officials that do not result in arraignment. And disclosure of the booking photographs will eliminate confusion as to the identity of those arrested where they may have common names that may be shared by others."

The court's conclusions accord with norms in state access law in the United States.  Though criminal information systems on the whole usually are exempt from disclosure, individual incident reports related to arrest usually are not—notwithstanding the fact that an exempt criminal record database may comprise records that are not exempt individually.  (Booking photos, or mug shots, also, traditionally have not been exempt from disclosure as a class of record, though that has been changing in recent years, because of a cottage industry in privacy invasion, and even extortion, that's cropped up online.)  Personal privacy exemptions are sometimes held to protect personal identity ad hoc, within police records as a class, and incident reports without resulting arrest may be exempt from disclosure.  But personal privacy exemptions typically implicate a balance, and courts tend to favor access when public officials are under scrutiny, especially when law enforcement officers are suspected of violating the law.

The case is Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC v. Department of Criminal Justice Information Services, No. SJC-12690 (Mar. 12, 2020) (Justia, Suffolk Law).  Chief Justice Gants wrote the opinion for a unanimous court.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Doctor's blog briefs COVID-19, medmal, learned intermediary doctrine, and addiction in legal profession

Like you, likely, I am at home.  And one thing I can tell you about home:  This ain't Rwanda.  Where I was supposed to be.  Apologies in advance to students for the classes I will have to reschedule in upcoming semesters to make up some of my sabbatical research.  Or maybe the university will afford me some bonus away time, compassionately understanding the impact of the crisis.  ROTFL.

So here I sit with some time to catch up on reading, and I want to share some worthwhile items here on the blog.

For starters, I'm terribly excited about what my friend and former student Joseph Grillo, M.D., J.D.-nearly-complete, has been writing over at his eponymous blog.  Here are recent headlines, links, and snippets in reverse chronological order.  Did I mention that Dr. Joe (LinkedIn) is an infectious disease specialist?

You have a look-see, below, while I go refresh my Whole Foods delivery window window.

Or not.



Image by Prawny from Pixabay
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) – The Available Evidence
March 19, 2020

There is currently a large amount of information being circulated on the COVID-19 viral pandemic. Much of it is inaccurate and some is hysteria – often fostered by the mainstream media. In my view, the best way to combat this virus is by having evidence-based information and acting accordingly. There is a significant amount of accurate information currently known, but there is also considerable information that remains unknown at this time. Presented below is a discussion of both. Please feel free to contact me with questions at jfgrillo1@gmail.comRead more.

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay
The Effects of the Affordable Care Act on Medical Malpractice Claims
March 17, 2020

The seemingly interminable debates about the ACA and health care reform in the last few years have focused mainly on health care access, quality, and cost. Debates on the medical malpractice component of the issue have focused almost entirely on cost. The familiar arguments in favor of limiting liability include the financial and health costs of defensive medicine; decreased physician supply in certain specialties and geographic areas; excessive awards; and high transaction costs, including attorney and expert witness fees. The equally familiar arguments in favor of maintaining tort liability include the need to promote civil justice, deter substandard care, identify incompetent practitioners, and encourage systemic quality improvement. There is a complicated and nonlinear relationship between medical malpractice events, medical malpractice claims, and medical malpractice costs. [Footnotes omitted.]  Read more.

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay
Editorial: The Edges of Physician Liability and The Learned Intermediary Doctrine
March 12, 2020

The Learned Intermediary doctrine paints an idyllic picture of patients’ total reliance on their physicians to choose drugs and of physicians choosing drugs that best promote patient welfare. These images, however, are increasingly out of sync with the present-day healthcare system. For instance, managed care and other cost control measures employed by insurance companies have altered the doctor-patient relationship.  Read more.

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay
Suffering in Silence – The Addiction Epidemic in The Legal Profession
March 10, 2020

A recent course required an oral presentation on a topic of our choosing. Unknowingly, I chose to research and present my findings on addiction in the legal profession. What I found is worth expounding. Also worth noting is that these findings were presented to the university administration. Their response was chilling. In short, they claimed to “have this.” I am certain of a few things – they don’t “have this,” that being stagnant is at the heart of the crisis, and the status quo continues – drugs continue to be sold and consumed, and law students are suffering in silence. Therein lies a microcosm of a crisis within the legal profession.  Read more.

Image by Alina Kuptsova from Pixabay
Urgent Care – an Emerging Source of Clients for Medical Malpractice Attorneys
March 4, 2020

Urgent care centers are increasingly becoming Americans’ go-to option for certain health problems according to a study in JAMA Intern Med. 2018. Visits to urgent care clinics increased by 119% among commercially insured Americans between 2008 and 2015During the same time period, emergency room visits for low-severity conditions — like those treated at urgent care centers — decreased by 36%. The reasons for these trends are numerous, including the high costs and long wait times associated with ER visits. While there are certainly benefits to such clinics, there are potential pitfalls for patients.  Read more.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

CFP: Law Against Pandemic


Calling contributors!


Scholars, students, practitioners, all disciplines, all nations, are invited to contribute articles, commentary, and other work to the new website and blog, Law Against PandemicStudent work is especially desired, so professors, please spread the word (at an appropriate social distance) in your schools.

Law Against Pandemic is a "[s]pace for debate on the legal aspects of pandemics as a tool of development and popularisation of the achievements of social sciences." The project states as its main goal, "Creation of a publishing platform for high quality articles on legal aspects of pandemics, in order to contribute to the discourse and the analysis of possible solutions."

"We will publish articles and commentaries on the interrelations between law and pandemics.  There is no character limit. We accept texts in English, French, German, and Polish."

Read more in Law Against Pandemic guidelines.

 

Follow Law Against Pandemic on Facebook and on Twitter.

 

 Email submissions.


Currently available from Law Against Pandemic:



Mikołaj Sołtysiak, SARS-CoV-2 a stosunki zobowiązaniowe [SARS-CoV-2 and contractual relations].  Mikołaj Sołtysiak is a third-year student in civil law at Jagiellonian University in Poland.  The article is in Polish; here is the abstract, my translation:
The epidemic state means a period of extraordinary circumstances affecting many contractual relationships. Civil law provides for certain constructs that will enhance the content of contracts in exceptional circumstances, but only to a limited extent. Many situations caused by SARS-CoV-2 do not qualify for the use of mechanisms such as rebus sic stantibus, or lack of liability due to force majeure, and yet, it seems axiologically inappropriate to be indifferent to such cases. Here the key role of the legislator is revealed.
While Sołtysiak contemplates a need for the exercise of legislative power, I contributed a piece to Law Against Pandemic on the need in the United States for the federal executive authority to step up to the challenges of the coronavirus crisis.

Springer 'Law and Development' book: Introduction is now free for download

Recently I announced the publication of Law and Development, a new collection of research articles from multi-national and multi-disciplinary perspectives, as well as my own contribution, with Gaspar Kot, on comparative access to private-sector information in South Africa and Poland.  Publisher Springer has now authorized free public download, via SSRN, of the book's Introduction, from the co-editors, Piotr Szwedo, Jagiellonian University, Poland; Dai Tamada, Kobe University, Japan, and me.

Please enjoy our Introduction to Law and Development: Balancing Principles and Values.

Scharf laments executive disrespect for courts in immigration enforcement

My friend and colleague Irene Scharf has written for the Human Rights At Home blog on "mid-case deportations" by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  Professor Scharf is expert in immigration law, which I know next to nothing about.  But Professor Scharf raises the alarm about worrisome incidents of executive defiance of the courts, implicating the separation of powers and raising questions about the very rule of law in America today.

Responding to a Boston Globe editorial (pay wall) at the end of February, Professor Scharf wrote on March 20:

While I of course deplore the acts these crimes involved [subject of charges against immigration detainees], as an immigration lawyer and advocate I am deeply disturbed by ICE’s systematic and ongoing attacks on the Massachusetts judicial system.  The Globe editors referred to their hope that the federal courts will address and contain these actions. However, given what we’ve seen recently, it is unclear whether the federal government, acting through ICE, would even abide by a federal ruling. To me, that is the most alarming issue behind these ICE moves.

She quoted respected Seventh Circuit Judge Easterbrook in a recent opinion (Justia), "We have never before encountered defiance of a remand order, and we hope never to see it again.... [I]t should not be necessary to remind the Board [of Immigration Appeals], all of whose members are lawyers, that the 'judicial Power' under Article III of the Constitution is one to make conclusive decisions, not subject to disapproval or revision by another branch of government."

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

COVID-19 stresses United States on domestic borders; war analog might foster state solidarity upon federal power

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo was recently
threatened with a lawsuit by New York Governor Andrew
Cuomo.  U.S. Air National Guard Photo
by Master Sgt Janeen Miller (2016).
I have just published at the new blog, Law Against Pandemic. Here is the abstract:

The coronavirus pandemic is stressing not only our healthcare systems, but our political and legal systems.  The pandemic has challenged our sense of identity in humankind, pitching us back and forth between a spirit of global solidarity and a competition of human tribes for resources and survival.  That tension plays out in our political and legal responses to the pandemic, manifesting the natural human temptation to tribalism in both international and intranational dimensions.

As policymakers struggle to respond to the pandemic and to curb the outbreak of COVID-19, I have been struck by the emergence of interstate tensions in the United States.  The pressure of the pandemic, aggravated by a slow and uncertain governmental response at the federal level, has been a brusque reminder that the United States are a plural: a federation of states that famously endeavored “to form a more perfect Union,” but that, like human governance itself, remains a work in progress.


Read more at the new blog, Law Against Pandemic

 

Friday, March 27, 2020

Report from Quarantine: Week 1

Since (and because) I returned from Africa via Jo'burg and Heathrow, my wife and I have been in self-quarantine.  Here is my self-absorbed, self-quarantine report, week 1.

What I'm Reading


Moshin Hamid, Exit West (2017) (Amazon).  Hamid is best known for his 2007 novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Amazon), basis of the 2012 film.  This book offers an intimate character study of a couple who flees civil war in an anonymous homeland, as they experience displacement amid western cultures. I care for neither romances nor narrative demagoguery, but this book, colored with a shade of magic realism, is more complex than the former and more crafty than the latter. Thoroughly compelling recommendation from Dean Peltz-Steele.
Charles Serio, The Legend of the Blue Cloud (2019) (Amazon).  Shout out to my uncle, who authored this book.  London based, Charles Serio is an accomplished playwright and communication consultant.  His debut novel was the quasi-autobiographical The Lies I've Told (Amazon).  In this book, he fully embraces fiction, spinning the yarn of young adults in the American West who must combat an evil force that seeks to unleash itself on our earthly realm. The book might best be billed as a YA thriller, though its portrayal of the antagonist has a mature edge. Better than I could write, it's sometimes rough around the edges, but I was engaged to the end to find out what would happen to my heroes.
James D. Zirin, Plaintiff in Chief: A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3,500 Lawsuits (2019) (Amazon).  I started planning my Trump Litigation Seminar for fall 2020 before I knew this book was coming out.  My goal was to use Trump case stories as a vehicle to teach tort law and litigation skills.  Now I plan to assign this book, too, which adds a rich policy dimension to the subject.  What Zirin illustrates is frightening:  You be the judge of the President; what I find frightening is the sorry state of our justice system, for its vulnerability to exploitation by the ruthless.
Book of Judges (Bible Study Tools).  In my on-again-off-again flight from Africa, I admit, I lost the thread of my church's yearlong Bible-reading study.  But let's be honest, who hasn't lost the thread in Numbers?  I was back in the saddle for Joshua, and now, in Judges, Deborah has summoned Barak to the Palm.  No spoilers!

What I'm Watching


Toy Story 4 (2019) (IMDb).  It would have been hard to top Toy Story 3, and 4 does not.  That said, 4 is a well worthwhile frolic and welcome opportunity to see what became of our beloved characters after Andy.  Key and Peele are delightful additions to the cast as Ducky and Bunny, and Keanu Reeves is downright brilliant as Duke Caboom.  Yes, we Can-ada!
Star Trek: Picard s1 (2020) (CBS trailer, IMDb).  This worthy new entry in the history of the franchise shows Star Trek to be in good hands at CBS.  Patrick Stewart said he would not appear again as Jean-Luc Picard after Nemesis.  But even he could not resist the siren call of the pen of Akiva Goldsman and Michael Chabon, whose writing is inspired.  Make it so.

Avenue 5 s1 (2020) (HBO trailer, IMDb).  Not every joke lands, but those that do more than make up the difference.  Hugh Laurie is characteristically fabulous.  And I adore Nikki Amuka-Bird, who, as Rav Mulcair, steals every short scene she's in.  Fly safe, fly true.

Letterkenny s6 (2018) (IMDb).  I had tickets to the live show in Portland, Maine, in March: postponed indefinitely for coronavirus.  So I slowed my viewing to savor seasons 6 and 7.  Pitter-patter.

What I'm Eating


Crepelicious, Barrington, RI, USA.  A scrumptious ham, egg, and cheese crepe like this one could be yours for curbside pickup from locally owned Crepelicious.  Please, if you are in a position to do so, support your local restaurants and retail!
Whole Foods Market.  Guilty as charged.  In my defense, we're not breaking quarantine to go to the grocery store, which seems to me the weak link in the whole flatten-the-curve effort.

What I'm Drinking


Jamestown Coffee (Facebook).  Made in Ghana, fruit of my recent travels.  Smooth and tasty.
Highclere Castle Gin.  You watched the TV show and the movie; now try the gin.  A smooth London dry with a hint of lavender, it's made with botanicals from Highclere Garden and the imprimatur of real-life Lord and Lady Carnarvon.

What I'm Hoarding


We just received an aid package from my sister- and brother-in-law in Atlanta, where, apparently, this stuff grows on trees.  Before you get any ideas: My house is protected by Smith & Wesson.