Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Court: 'Hyperbole,' not slander, in Fox News monolog about Cohen 'catch and kill' payment to protect Trump

McDougal in 2007
(Sam Posten III CC BY-SA 2.0)
A defamation lawsuit by Karen McDougal, former Playboy model and alleged extra-marital consort of President Donald Trump, against Fox News was dismissed last week in federal court in the Southern District of New York.

The case arose in connection with allegations that Trump and lawyer Michael Cohen cooperated with the National Enquirer to "catch and kill," that is pay for and suppress, potentially damaging stories about Trump's personal life.  Relying on allegations in the complaint (citations and notes here omitted), the court summarized the background as favorable to the plaintiff:

Ms. McDougal ... became the subject of front-page stories following the 2016 United States Presidential Election based on allegations that she had engaged in a year-long affair (from 2006-2007) with now-President Trump.

The allegations of an affair arose during the 2018 investigation and guilty plea of Mr. Trump’s lawyer and aide Michael Cohen on charges that he violated federal campaign finance laws. Specifically, law enforcement investigators and the media revealed that in the months leading up to the 2016 election, American Media, Inc. (“AMI”)—the company behind National Enquirer and whose CEO, David Pecker, allegedly is close with the President—had paid Ms. McDougal $150,000 in exchange for the rights to her story about the affair with Mr. Trump. AMI then assigned the rights to the story to a corporate shell entity formed by Mr. Cohen allegedly at Mr. Trump’s direction, and in exchange for the assignment Mr. Cohen paid AMI $125,000.

During the Government’s investigation of these payments, Mr. Cohen and Mr. Pecker both revealed that Mr. Trump had directed the AMI payment to Ms. McDougal in the first place, and then personally reimbursed the payments himself, all as part of an effort to avoid having the allegations affect the 2016 election. Mr. Trump initially had denied knowledge of any payments to McDougal, but by December 2018, had admitted to the payments, arguing that they were made on the advice of Mr. Cohen and that any illegality was Cohen’s fault. Mr. Cohen ultimately was charged with and pleaded guilty to violations of campaign finance laws.

Carlson in 2018 (Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0)
On Tucker Carlson Tonight, on Fox News, December 10, 2018, Carlson said, as quoted in the court opinion:

"Remember the facts of the story. These are undisputed. Two women approached Donald Trump and threatened to ruin his career and humiliate his family if he doesn’t give them money. Now, that sounds like a classic case of extortion.

"Yet, for whatever reason, Trump caves to it, and he directs Michael Cohen to pay the ransom. Now, more than two years later, Trump is a felon for doing this. It doesn’t seem to make any sense.

"Oh, but you're not a federal prosecutor on a political mission. If you were a federal prosecutor on a political mission, you would construe those extortion payments as campaign contributions."
McDougal sued for slander per se over the accusation of extortion.  The court dismissed the case on Thursday on two grounds.  First, the court ruled that Carlson's statements were protected by the First Amendment as hyperbolic comment on politics.  Second, the court ruled that McDougal had failed to plead a case that could meet the high bar of actual malice, i.e., that Carlson knew the assertions to be false or spoke in reckless disregard of truth or falsity.

The case seems soundly decided, though has curious implications for what passes as journalism today.  As Slate observed, the former holding accepts the argument of Fox News that reasonable viewers of Carlson's show are "in on the gag[:] ... [that] Carlson is not 'stating actual facts' but simply engaging in 'non-literal commentary'[;] ... that given Mr. Carlson’s reputation, any reasonable viewer 'arrive[s] with an appropriate amount of skepticism' about the statements he makes."  The court concluded, "Whether the Court frames Mr. Carlson’s statements as 'exaggeration,' 'non-literal commentary,' or simply bloviating for his audience, the conclusion remains the same—the statements are not actionable."

The case is McDougal v. Fox News Network, LLC, No. 1:19-cv-11161 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 24, 2020).  The case was decided by U.S. District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil, a New York City corporate litigator whom President Trump appointed to the bench.  For the related subject of "catch and kill," I added links to McDougal under the Clifford cases at the Trump Litigation SeminarRead more about Tucker Carlson in the Columbia Journalism Review (Sept. 5, 2018).

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Court greats both cautioned us on NYT v. Sullivan

I'm indebted to Trump Litigation Seminar student Kevin Burchill, who timely unearthed this interview with the late Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia by journalist and journalism professor Marvin Kalb.  From the cue linked below (at 21:42, for six or so minutes), they discuss New York Times v. Sullivan (U.S. 1964).

 

Nonetheless a First Amendment advocate, I have long shared Justice Scalia's unpopular position that Sullivan was incorrectly decided.  I don't contend that the newspaper should have lost.  In the civil rights context in which the case arose, Sullivan played a critical role in relieving segregationists of state tort law as a weapon.  However, there were many paths to that outcome that did not require the wholesale federalization and constitutionalization of state defamation torts.

The consequences, as suggested even by chapter 19 ("Back to the Drawing Board?") of Anthony Lewis's classic 1991 panegyric and case biography, Make No Law, have been disastrous, because Sullivan undermined the laboratory of common law experimentation in the states.  Today, for example, the "public interest" approach to public-figure defamation in the UK Defamation Act shows great promise as a model to balance the rights of reputation and free speech.  And other countries, such as Australia, seem to be getting along well with much more limited Sullivan-like protection for free speech on public affairs, without the big sky of democracy collapsing across the outback.  Yet we in the United States remain tethered to a near-immunity doctrine born of a bygone era.

RBG (Kalb Report)
In this interview with Kalb, Justices Ginsburg and Scalia characteristically state their opposing positions on the correctness of Sullivan, for and against, respectively.  What I find compelling, though, is that Justice Ginsburg acknowledged Sullivan's unintended problematic consequences.  Sullivan was a product of civil rights exigency, she reiterated.  But, she recognized, its doctrine was tailor-made for a press on the same page of mighty ideals in the mission and ethics of journalism.

What if, say, new technology caused mass media entry barriers to fall?  And then we had a proliferation of partisan pundits, or even disinformation, pouring through our information flows?  If Sullivan were then not up to the job, we might find our hands tied by unyielding constitutional cable.  We might flail, helpless, in trying to restore integrity to the democratic space.

Perish the thought.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Abolition of police qualified immunity in Colorado, accountable development lead in FOI Summit topics

Transparency and accountability in contexts including police reform and economic development were on the agenda at the (virtual) annual summit (#FOIsummit) of the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) late last week.  The conference continues on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.

Rep. Herod
The most provocative panel was on police reform, focusing on California, Colorado, and New York.  Colorado State Rep. Leslie Herod spoke with conviction about the raft of reforms signed into law in Colorado on Juneteenth 2020.  Included was the state's landmark elimination of qualified immunity for police.  Herod explained that the 2020 protest movement sparked an opportunity in bipartisan alignment.  The libertarian Cato Institute, she said, would like to have seen qualified immunity for public officials abolished across the board.  Police were a start.  Read more about the Colorado law from Jay Schweikert at Cato and from Russell Berman in The Atlantic.  The session is available on YouTube.

 

The conference's first general session focused on economic development and offered up another compelling colloquy.  Nothing was settled, but advocates on both sides of the transparency problem pressed their best arguments and pulled no punches.  

Greg LeRoy, executive director of D.C.-based NGO Good Jobs First, emphasized the public money at stake in economic development projects and lamented localities' complicity in the empowerment of unaccountable corporate powers over public services.  He had data from one representative development project showing public investment that could not possibly generate a justifiable return.  Such a transaction is none other than a transfer of public wealth to corporate shareholders, he said.  Good Jobs First has model legislation.  

Bryant (RLB)
Meanwhile Ronnie L. Bryant, principal of consulting firm Ronnie L. Bryant, LLC, pleaded passionately that troubled urban centers throughout America, and the people living in them, don't stand a chance at economic opportunity without offering incentives to private investors.  As moderator Dalia Thornton wrangled the pair to common ground, Bryant proved willing to guarantee transparency before and after negotiation on a deal, but not during.

Caught in the crossfire, Albuquerque, N.M., chief administrative officer Sarita Nair has worked previously on both sides of the divide, and now, she said, is the policymaker having to balance priorities.  I agreed with her sentiment recognizing that, at least, we've come a long way from the bad ol' days of heck-no, everything's-a-trade-secret FOIA exemption.


Other conference topics include access to protected health information during the pandemic and virtual public meetings.  Look for more video replays on the NFOIC YouTube channel.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

UMass Dartmouth settles Title IX suit to tune of $70k; tax liability momentarily muddles settlement

In a case that wrapped up in July, UMass Dartmouth (my employer) settled a pro se lawsuit by a former male student who challenged disciplinary action as improperly gender-motivated under Title IX.  UMass Dartmouth agreed to pay the plaintiff $70,000, but the settlement record was muddled by plaintiff's concern over tax liability.

This case intersects with academic freedom and the First Amendment.  Notwithstanding partisan politics, Department of Education Title IX regulations revised in May were meant to rein in universities running roughshod over the civil rights of accused persons, even if with the laudable purpose of protecting the civil rights of complainants.  The issue was brought to the fore recently with the suspension of a Yale law professor (disclosure: a well liked professor of mine in law school, when he was a visitor at Duke) amid a Title IX investigation.  Skeptical observers have wondered whether the professor's long-held position championing respondent rights under Title IX is an irony or impetus in the case.  We'll likely hear more about Title IX due process, or the lack thereof, in connection with the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Marine science school at UMass Dartmouth
(Ogandzyuk CC BY-SA 4.0)
I have potential conflicts going both ways in the UMass case.  I believe that the university's Title IX office has seriously abused the rights of accused persons on our campus (me included; I was cleared); the superseded regulations are to blame in part.  At the same time, at least one administrator named in this matter is someone with whom I have worked productively before, and I think well of her based on that unrelated experience.

So I'm going to step aside and let Connecticut law firm Pullman & Comley, via JD Supra, offer facts and commentary on this case.  I've reduced to initials the names of the plaintiff and one administrator here, as not to exacerbate any adverse reputational impact on either of them.  Appropriately in my opinion, the plaintiff lost a bid in trial court to proceed pseudonymously.  These names, and more names and details, including other implicated administrators at UMass Dartmouth, are readily available to the interested reader through links, court records, and news coverage.

One would be hard-pressed to find more egregious allegations than those in [JH]. The plaintiff, [JH], is a disabled veteran who enrolled at the University to pursue a doctorate in Oceanography. [JH] had a prior criminal conviction, which he disclosed, but he was assured that it would be kept confidential. [JH] maintained a 4.0 GPA during his first year of graduate studies and was recruited by Duke University’s Marine Lab for a summer internship. In May 2016, however, near the end of [JH's] first year, Assistant Vice Chancellor [CC] summoned him to a meeting, accused him of “‘fraudulently disclosing his [criminal] history in his application’” and claimed “that several individuals ‘had recently filed formal complaints regarding [his] misconduct, which created a hostile learning environment.’”

[CC] allegedly declined to provide specifics of these complaints other than that they had been received as early as December 2015—which, if true, would suggest a certain lack of investigatory alacrity on the University’s part—but told [JH] that if he withdrew from the school, he would not be subjected to a Title IX investigation and his criminal history would be kept confidential. [JH] declined to withdraw and, in what would prove a pivotal, albeit alleged, statement, [CC] “threated [sic] to ‘get his kind.’” He was immediately suspended, and [CC] subsequently ordered the Dean of [JH's] degree program “‘to hold an unprecedented all hands meeting with compulsory attendance” [end-quote, sic] regarding [JH]. Within a week, every faculty and staff member and student in his program was aware of his criminal record and the pending Title IX investigation. Furthermore, during the course of that inquiry, the University’s Title IX office allegedly approached two female students and asked them to file complaints against [JH], both of whom declined.

On August 30, 2016, the University informed [JH] that it could not substantiate any violations of either school policies or Title IX. Nonetheless, it issued him a written sanction, limited his interactions with other students, confined him to “a remote, supervised workspace,” removed his faculty thesis advisor, and changed his matriculation status to a non-thesis degree candidate, an outcome that would seem analogous to a criminal defendant being found not guilty but still being sentenced.

As Pullman & Comley further observed, courts "routinely dismiss[] claims that the challenged discipline was driven by the student’s gender in violation of Title IX," so the court's refusal to do so in fall 2019 was remarkable.  JH's case appeared bound for trial, but the parties exchanged emails in settlement negotiation in the winter and spring.

That's where the case took an odd turn, worth note for the litigation student.  In an email exchange on February 3 and 4, 2020, the university accepted the plaintiff's offer to settle for $70,000.  Apparently, the plaintiff learned subsequently that the settlement sum would be taxable.  On March 4, 2020, he emailed university counsel to counteroffer a higher sum, $100,000, to help cover his tax liability, which he calculated at $33,250.

The university declined and moved the court to enforce the $70,000 agreement.  Finding no fraud, duress, or mistake, the court refused to cut the plaintiff a break for being pro se (docket no. 92, electronic order; I suspect the fellow might be or have been a lawyer, but can't confirm that).  The court entered judgment accordingly, but the final settlement agreement, exhibit 1 to the judgment, was not entered into the case file.

Even had JH been represented, I have heard many a story of clients not advised of the tax consequences of settlement.  I emphasize the point, and what should be the lawyer's obligation, every year to my 1L students in Torts.  There's no tax break, moreover, for attorneys' fees.  A plaintiff who has to pay a hefty contingency fee, and then costs, and then taxes, can end up winning a lawsuit and owing money.  Further complicating matters, the taxability of lawsuit winnings is not always clear and might require a tax lawyer to sort out.  Ain't America great?

Anyway, the settlement in JH v. UMass Dartmouth does not look good for the university, especially in a time when faculty and staff are being burdened with pay cuts to keep the university solvent.

The case is [JH] v. University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, No. 1:19-cv-10705 (D. Mass. July 23, 2020), Judge Richard G. Stearns presiding.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Mary Trump sues President, family, alleges three decades' fraud in oversight of her father's estate

Author of Too Much and Never Enough (2020), Mary L. Trump on Thursday sued her uncle, the President, and her aunt, retired federal judge Maryanne Trump Barry, for ongoing fraud and breach of fiduciary duty in oversight of the estate of Mary's father, Fred Trump, Jr., since his death in 1981.

The case comes just two months after a failed bid by presidential brother Robert S. Trump to enjoin publication of Mary's book, and one month after Mary's release of audio recordings in which her aunt condemned the President. Considering the First Amendment and the futility of last-minute injunction, the court in the earlier case refused to enforce the confidentiality provisions of a family agreement that settled litigation arising from the deaths of Robert, Maryanne, and the President's parents, Mary's grandparents, Fred and Mary Anne, in 1999 and 2000. Robert S. Trump died on August 15, 2020. Try to keep up.

To navigate the statute of limitations, Mary Trump alleges that she only became aware of the fraud upon the publication of investigative journalism by The New York Times in 2018 (pay wall; about).  Links to the dockets, the complaint in the latest Mary L. Trump case, and the court decision denying injunction in the Robert S. Trump case are now posted at the Trump Litigation Seminar blogsite, a project of The Savory Tort. HT @ TLS students Spencer K. Schneider and Richard Grace

Friday, September 25, 2020

Boston Bar panel surveys landscape of privacy law, data protection policy, class action litigation

Attorneys Melanie Conroy, Marjan Hajibandeh, and Matthew M.K. Stein
We had great fun yesterday, as lawyer fun goes, talking about privacy law in the United States, from the impact of the Privacy Shield collapse to the latest litigation under California's groundbreaking consumer privacy protection law.  I was privileged to appear in a Boston Bar Association program on privacy class action litigation, led by attorney Melanie A. Conroy, CIPP/US, of Pierce Atwood LLP, alongside practicing-attorney panelists Matthew M.K. Stein, of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, and Marjan Hajibandeh of CarGurus, Inc. 

Our topical reach was a breathless sprint across a dramatic landscape.  We opened with our respective thoughts on developments in privacy law, Conroy observing that the fast-paced field has undergone seismic shifts again and again in recent years, from the implementation of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) to the $18m Equifax data breach settlement in Massachusetts.

I spoke to the impact of the European Court of Justice decision ("Schrems II" (ECJ July 16, 2020)) invalidating the U.S.-EU Privacy Shield as a motivator for U.S. reform.  Besides the significance of the case in Europe and our foreign relations, the decision signals that a quarter century after adoption of the first European Data Protection Directive, Europe's patience with American recalcitrance has finally run out.

Julie Brill (MS CC) and William Kovacic
Former Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill told the Senate Commerce Committee this week that in two years, 65% of the world will be living under data protection laws, most of them modeled after the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).  As former Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman William Kovacic put it, if we don't pass legislation in the United States, "we will get a national privacy policy: the GDPR."  As I tweeted this week, hearing testimony drove the usually cool and collected Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) to exclaim, "My God, this is clear, we need a strong privacy law." And Americans are ready; Brill said that nine out of ten Americans now believe that privacy is a human right.

Sen. Cantwell
Our panel ran down the latest developments in class action privacy litigation, loosely divided on the fronts of biometric data class actions, mostly arising under Illinois's pioneering Biometric Information Privacy Act; CCPA-related class actions in California; and data breach litigation.  I ran down cases in the latter vein and talked some about the present circuit split over Article III standing.  Federal courts have divided over whether "theft alone" can constitute concrete injury for constitutionally minimal standing, or plaintiffs must show some subsequent misuse of their data.  This issue is not limited to the data breach area, but has implications across a wide range of statutory enforcement systems, including the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

For my part, I predict that our dawning, if belated, understanding of the monetary value of personally identifiable information (PII) will lead us to the inevitable conclusion that theft alone suffices.  This is evidenced, for example, in Hogan v. NBCUniversal (D.R.I. filed Aug. 27, 2020), over the sale of Golf Channel subscriber identities, which subsequently were associated with other PII and resold.  Though for the time being, my favored conclusion is arguably not the inclination evidenced in the U.S. Supreme Court in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, in 2016.  Senator Dick Blumenthal (D.-Conn.) mentioned this week, apropos of current events, that Justice Ginbsburg, joined by Justice Sotomayor, dissented in Spokeo on just this point.

The late Justice Ginsburg; Sen. Blumenthal
Our next panel focus was developments in the First Circuit and Massachusetts.  In Massachusetts Superior Court in Boston, data breach litigation, filed in May 2019, against Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham & Women's Hospital, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, over online patient-service communications occurring outside secure portals, raises the very question of concrete harm, which may be resolved differently at the state level than under the federal Constitution.  Meanwhile in federal court, the same issue in data breach litigation, filed in March 2020, in Hartigan v. Macy's, highlights the lack of First Circuit precedent on the question since Spokeo, while citing strong pre-Spokeo indications that the First Circuit would favor the misuse-required position.

In parting observations, I offered that we have a long road ahead.  Of all the bills pending in Congress (see EPIC's excellent April report), only some propose a private cause of action and none attacks the problem of government surveillance, both purported prerequisites to European restoration of authorized trans-Atlantic data flow.  Within the U.S Congress, there appears to be bipartisan support for some kind of nationwide privacy legislation.  But the questions of private or FTC enforcement, and whether preemption would mean a legislative floor or ceiling remain sticking points that could derail the process.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Ryan, '18, joins government practice at R.I./Mass. firm

Mike Ryan
The law firm of Pannone Lopes Devereaux & O'Gara LLC, with offices in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Florida, has hired Michael F. Ryan, Jr., J.D. '18, to practice in government and legislative affairs.  Mike is an alum of my Torts classes and was a TA for me in 2015-16.  He worked through law school part-time while already making a name for himself in Rhode Island state political circles.  Here is his biography from the firm's press release:

Attorney Ryan’s previous experience includes government relations, legislative affairs and business law matters. He has significant experience negotiating with municipal and state government agencies regarding economic incentives for Opportunity Zone real estate development and worked as Manager of Public Affairs and Government Relations for a lobbying and communications firm. Attorney Ryan earned his J.D. from the University of Massachusetts School of Law, summa cum laude, where he was Executive Notes Editor of the Law Review. He graduated from the University of Rhode Island, summa cum laude, with a B.A. in Political Science and is a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society. Attorney Ryan is admitted to practice in Rhode Island and is a member of the Rhode Island Bar Association Business Organizations Committee.

Head to Pannone Lopes for all your government practice needs!

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Court rejects deep-brain-stimulation patient's contract, IIED claims against Boston nonprofit hospital

A patient dissatisfied with deep-brain stimulation (DBS) to treat her depression could not prevail against her nonprofit hospital, the Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled yesterday, in part because she sued in contract rather than medical malpractice.

The plaintiff-patient sued Brigham & Women's Hospital, Inc. (BWH), in Boston over her DBS treatment, which is experimental with respect to depression, but is approved to treat Parkinson's.  BWH paid for the $150,000+ treatment, which the plaintiff's insurance would not cover, with the design of expanding a program in psychosurgery.

CT scan of DBS implants
(Dr. Craig Hacking, A. Prof Frank Gaillard CC BY-SA 4.0)
The plaintiff initially reported favorable results.  But the relationship between patient and hospital "sour[ed]," the court explained.  The plaintiff became dissatisfied with the repeated interventions required to replace batteries and refine the DBS.  She believed that the hospital was short-changing her treatment because the psychosurgery program was not taking off as hoped.  The hospital pledged to do what was needed to support plaintiff's continued treatment, but the fulfillment of that pledge incorporated some cost-benefit analysis.  And the hospital would not accede to the plaintiff's demand that BWH pay for her treatment elsewhere.

The plaintiff sued BWH for breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED).  The trial court entered summary judgment for the hospital, and the Appeals Court affirmed.

BWH (Jim McIntosh)
The court's opinion spends most of its pages establishing that there was no broken promise to support the breach of contract and promissory estoppel claims.  The hospital promised to treat the plaintiff for free, and it never charged her.

Of salience here, the court also concluded that the plaintiff had misstated a medical malpractice claim as a breach of contract claim, possibly to get around the $100,000 state cap on medmal liability for charitable organizations (not to mention the claims-vetting process of the commonwealth's medical malpractice tribunal).  The plaintiff asserted medmal would not be the appropriate cause of action for an experimental treatment and a dispute over cost.  But the court pointed to the plaintiff's repeated claims of the defendant's failure to comply with "scientific and ethical standards."

Finally, the court's treatment of IIED was instructive, if routine:

To prevail on this claim, [plaintiff] must prove "(1) that the actor intended to inflict emotional distress or that he knew or should have known that emotional distress was the likely result of his conduct; (2) that the conduct was 'extreme and outrageous,' was 'beyond all possible bounds of decency' and was 'utterly intolerable in a civilized community'; (3) that the actions of the defendant were the cause of the plaintiff's distress; and (4) that the emotional distress sustained by the plaintiff was 'severe' and of a nature 'that no reasonable man could be expected to endure it'" (citations omitted) [gendered references in original] ....

BWH's actions do not constitute the sort of extreme and outrageous conduct that would allow [plaintiff] to recover for intentional infliction of emotional distress. BWH's alleged wrongdoing arose in the context of its oral agreement to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars in free care to a patient who otherwise could not afford treatment. Even putting "as harsh a face on [BWH's] actions ... as the basic facts would reasonably allow" [citation omitted], no jury could find it utterly intolerable in a civilized society for BWH to discuss alternative treatment options with [plaintiff], to take cost into account in determining what treatment to provide, or to refuse to pay for her treatment at another hospital (without interfering with her ability to transfer her care at her own expense).

Thus, the court rejected IIED as a matter of law.

The case is Vacca v. The Brigham & Women's Hospital, Inc., No. 19-P-962 (Mass. App. Ct. Sept. 21, 2020) (oral argument).  Justice Eric Neyman wrote the unanimous opinion for a panel that also comprised Justices Englander and Hand.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Man may sue police in tort, civil rights for violent beating, despite his conviction for resisting arrest

"Defund the police" has been a rallying cry in recent protests. (Photo at BLM
encampment, New York City, June 26, 2020, by Felton Davis CC BY 2.0.)
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court last week vacated and remanded the trial court's judgment for police in a civil suit with racial overtones.

Authoring the unanimous opinion, Justice David A. Lowy characterized the case as "disturbing."  The court recited the facts as most favorable to the plaintiff, Mark S. Tinsley, the non-moving party.  According to that recitation, Tinsley, who is African American, was stopped by Framingham, Massachusetts, police for speeding in 2012.  Suspecting Tinsley of hiding something, police ordered Tinsley from the car, and he refused.  The traffic stop by two police officers became a physical struggle with five to pull Tinsley from the car.  Once he was out of the car, on the ground,

several police officers began beating him.  Tinsley did not resist. He tried to put his hands behind his back so that the police officers would handcuff him and thus, he thought, stop hitting him. The police officers did not stop. [One officer] struck Tinsley's collarbone and upper shoulder, and stomped on Tinsley's left hand. [A second officer] sprayed Tinsley with pepper spray. [A third officer] called Tinsley a "fucking n[word]" [footnote: "At trial, [the third officer] denied that he or any other police officer swore at Tinsley or called him 'any names.'"] and kicked Tinsley in the head. While Tinsley was on the ground, an officer handcuffed him [footnote omitted quoting Tinsley's trial testimony]. Tinsley suffered a broken nose, a broken finger, and a wound on the side of his head that required stitches.

Tinsley was convicted on counts including assault and battery (criminal), carrying a dangerous weapon ("a spring assisted knife"), and resisting arrest.  While criminal charges were pending, Tinsley sued for civil rights violation and tort claims including assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and false arrest.  Upon two motions, the latter decided after the conclusion of the criminal proceeding, the trial court entered judgment for defendants police and town on all counts.

The question on appeal was whether the trial court properly recognized in the civil proceeding the collateral estoppel effect of Tinsley's criminal conviction.  The doctrine of collateral estoppel precludes a later civil court from re-trying facts and conclusions of law that were determined by jury and court in an earlier criminal proceeding.  Thus, after conviction, a defendant may not argue his innocence in a later case.

However, the facts deemed determined in the earlier criminal proceeding are limited to the facts that supported conviction.  Tinsley argued, and the Court agreed, that the jury's conviction was not inconsistent with Tinsley's claim of excessive force for the beating he endured on the ground, outside the car, after his arrest.  The Court reasoned that Tinsley was placed under arrest when he was seized inside the car.  Insofar as Tinsley was resisting arrest inside the car, then, collateral estoppel pertains, precluding suit on the tort of false arrest.  But the jury may have based its conviction on a fact pattern that ended before Tinsley was on the ground. So the facts of the beating, occurring after arrest, remain arguable in the civil case.

The Court explained,

Even where the use of force to effect an arrest is reasonable in response to an individual's resistance, the continued use of force may well be unreasonable, as an individual's conduct prior to arrest or during an arrest does not authorize a violation of his or her constitutional rights....  To hold differently would implicitly permit police officers, in response to a resisting individual, to exert as much force as they so choose "and be shielded from accountability under civil law," so long as the prosecutor could successfully convict the individual of resisting arrest.

Accordingly, the Court vacated judgment for defendants on the civil rights claim and the assault, battery, and IIED counts, and remanded the civil case to proceed.  The false arrest claim was properly barred.

The case is Tinsley v. Town of Framingham, No. SJC-12826 (Mass. Sept. 17, 2020).  Chief Justice Gants participated in deliberations before his death.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Communication education makes people better

Preparing for my Trump Litigation Seminar next week, I just re-read the final chapter of James Zirin's Plaintiff in Chief.  Variously attributed, Zirin catalogs the vocabulary of our truth-challenged culture, discussing "post-truth" (Oxford Word of the Year 2016), "truth [that] isn't truth," (Rudy Giuliani), "truth decay" (RAND), and "alternative facts" (Kellyanne Conway).  And, of course, who could forget the great Stephen Colbert's groundbreaking "truthiness" (The Wørd, and a real word).  Along with Trevor Noah, I've wondered at the breakdown in distinction between fact and opinion.  More than once, my wife, in slack-jawed witness of the news on TV, has declared the need for media literacy education in our K12 schools (and perhaps, I add, in our senior centers). 

Dr. Sherry Morreale (UCCS)
It turns out that media literacy is just one piece in the puzzle of what might be missing in our society today. Communication Professor Sherwyn P. Morreale has co-authored a series of scholarly articles on Why Communication Education Is Important.  Her third installment, co-authored with Joseph M. Valenzano and Janessa A. Bauer, has just won the 2020 Distinguished Article Award in the Basic Course Division of the National Communication Association (NCA).  The abstract speaks to the range of life skills that are bolstered by communication education (my highlighting).

The results of this study argue that communication, and specifically oral communication education, is critical to students’ future personal and professional success. Similar to two earlier studies, thematic analysis of 679 documents in academic and popular press publications, published from 2008 to 2015, provide support for the centrality of the communication discipline’s content and pedagogy. These results reinforce the importance of communication to enhancing organizational processes and organizational life; promoting health communication; enriching the educational enterprise; understanding crisis, safety, risk, and security; improving interpersonal communication and relationships; influencing diplomacy and government relations; being a responsible participant in the world, socially and culturally; developing as a whole person; and succeeding as an individual in one’s career and in business. The kinds of communication addressed as important in each of these nine general themes are outlined, and the results are compared with those in the first two iterations of the study.

This conclusion might seem self-evident to the academic outsider (technical term, "real people") but it readily escapes the grasp of the bean counters who run today's STEM-obsessed universities, where faculty in the social sciences (law included) are tormented with demands that their departments generate revenue to justify their existence.  Because that's why we educate people, for the money.

The current study is titled, Why communication education is important: a third study on the centrality of the discipline’s content and pedagogy, and appears at 66:4 J. Communication Educ. 402 (2017).  Dr. Morreale previously published, with co-author Judy C. Pearson, Why Communication Education is Important: The Centrality of the Discipline in the 21st Century, 57:2 J. Communication Educ. 224 (2008); and, with co-authors Pearson and Michael M. Osborn, Why communication is important: A rationale for the centrality of the study of communication, 29:1 J. Ass'n Communication Admin. 1 (2000).

Full disclosure: Dr. Morreale is my aunt.  She always was the cool aunt.  So her parents are probably to blame for my academic nature, and she, in part, for the nurture.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

'Miss Juneteenth' speaks both to problems of our times and to timeless problems

Thanks to the Duke (University) Screen/Society, yesterday, I virtually attended a screening and discussion of the 2020 film from Vertical Entertainment, Miss Juneteenth.  It is an insightful and gratifying film, so I want to make this note of it.  In our covid era, it's easy to miss new releases.

Written and directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples, Miss Juneteenth is the story of Fort Worth, Texas, teen Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) and her mom, Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie), as Kai prepares to participate in the Miss Juneteenth beauty pageant, a pageant that her mother happens to have won, back in the day.

Yet that description unfairly oversimplifies the film, as would any description that confined the story by race or class.  The film richly portrays Turquoise and Kai's lives.  It explores mother-daughter conflict, romantic entanglements, and socioeconomic struggles. Simultaneously, the film comments softly, not heavy-handedly, on pageant culture, civil rights, the American dream, and, of course, never trumpeted yet omnipresent, the glorious but unfulfilled promise of freedom marked by Juneteenth.

In a striking scene set in a Juneteenth museum, the young contestants are being oriented on Juneteenth history by a passionate docent when the schoolmarmish pageant wrangler directs the kids' attention to framed pictures of past Juneteenth queens.  The docent was speaking to the legacy of slavery, driven out of the American South, while the pageant director educates the girls on such etiquette nuances as table manners imported with the Pilgrims.  The girls' gazes drift to the latter display, which, I contend, speaks subtly but powerfully to how African-American communities have long wrestled with the fine line between cultural subjugation and assimilation that courses through American history from Reconstruction to Civil Rights to present day.  I'm reminded at once of Mike Pence's oddly third-person reference from Fort McHenry in August to "American people ... standing with ... our African-American neighbors" and Dulce Sloan's missive this week on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, "The Messed Up History of Black Hair in America."

A character in the film once comments, "Ain’t no American dream for black folks.”  As we wondered at the latest news of government ineptitude yesterday morning, contemplating how our salaries are going down while our workloads are going up, my wife speculated that the anger and resentment that people both black and white feel toward the lack of opportunity for upward mobility in this country is really much the same.  The difference, she suggested, is that black people have always known that meritocracy is an American myth, while white people are just figuring it out.  (She cited Michael Sandel on WBUR talking about his Tyranny of Merit.)

Miss Juneteenth has given me a lot to chew over.  I haven't even mentioned my own daughter's foray into the pageant world when she was a teen: Miss Rhode Island High School 2016!  In Miss Juneteenth, as Turquoise is working herself to death to scrape together the money to support Kai's pageant bid, Kai's father, Ronnie (Kendrick Sampson), shakes his head: "An $800 dress just don’t make no sense to me."

Word for word, I swear, Peoples stole that line from me.

Here is the trailer from Vertical Entertainment.


Happy Constitution Day.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Mass. Chief Justice Ralph Gants dies


Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants has died.

Read more:
NECN
Boston Globe
Boston Herald

Also:
Ralph Gants on this blog

Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants was a graduate of Harvard undergrad and law, one-time AUSA, and recipient of an honorary law degree from UMass Law at 2016 Commencement (pictured and below).

Also:
On criminal justice reform with Jim Braude at WGBH News
On access to justice at Harvard Law School

HT @ Prof. Cleary.

Boston Bar webinar will probe privacy law latest

Coming soon, the Boston Bar Association will host a webinar on data privacy class action litigation (and related privacy stuff too).  I'm trying to get up to speed on all of the latest developments so that I will not disappoint moderator Melanie A. Conroy, attorney and CIPP/US, of Pierce Atwood LLP, who graciously if foolhardily invited me to participate.  For The National Law Review in April, Conroy wrote the authoritative rundown on the Mount Ida student class action, which treatment inspired me to write about the case for The Savory Tort.

My task is daunting; a lot happened while I was in Africa early in the year and out of the office over the summer.  Our subject matter includes the new regulations under the California Consumer Privacy Act, burgeoning lawsuits under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, and the shock waves just now hitting the United States from the "Schrems II" decision in the European Court of Justice.  (Brush-with-greatness note: Max Schrems has been in my car.  Long story.)  That's just to get the ball rolling.

Co-panelists are Matthew M.K. Stein, of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, and Marjan Hajibandeh, of CarGurus, Inc.  Here are the program details from the BBA:

BBA Webinar: Roundtable on Recent Developments in Data Privacy Class Action Litigation
Thursday, September 24, 2020, 10:00 to 11:00 a.m.
This webinar will explore the growing prevalence of data privacy class actions through recent developments in data privacy legislation, expanded private rights of action, biometric privacy claims, consumer data suits, post-breach and cybersecurity litigation, and the increasingly complex landscape of rulings by federal courts of appeals. The presenters will discuss national trends and developments within the First Circuit and in Massachusetts. The discussion will look ahead to areas to watch and trends that may shape the development of data privacy class actions in the coming months and years.

The program is free for BBA members and $100 for non-members. Registration at least two hours before the program-start is essential to receive the Zoom link.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Animal champion Barr, J.D. '21, wins scholarship

Abbey and Toby
An alum of my torts class and president of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund at UMass Law (I'm a faculty adviser), Abbey Barr is one of three first-place national winners of the 2020 Advancement of Animal Scholarships.  The scholarships are awarded by the national Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) for supporting the organization’s mission “to advance the interests and protect the lives of animals through the legal system.”

Here's coverage of Abbey at ALDF; read more at UMass Law.  From hometown Falmouth, Mass., and a graduate of sociology from Keene State College in New Hampshire, Abbey is passionate about animal protection, besides being an energetic collaborator and valuable counsel to her peers.  I look forward to her vibrant advocacy as a member of the bar, and to the difference she's going to make in the lives of many of God's creatures.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Defamation case against Trump fits woeful pattern, while DOJ defense is defensible, if disconcerting

Notice of Removal in Carroll v. Trump
The recent news (e.g., N.Y. Times) that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will defend the President in the defamation suit arising from sexual-assault allegations by E. Jean Carroll has caught the interest of both my Torts I class and my Trump Litigation Seminar (TLS).  The DOJ's announcement manifests on the docket in removal of the case from the New York Supreme Court to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.  Links and key court documents are now posted atop The Savory Tort's TLS blogsite.

The strategy of using a sexual-assault denial and accompanying charge that the accuser is a "liar" as the basis for a defamation suit against the alleged perpetrator, i.e., Carroll v. Trump, is now, unfortunately, a familiar feature of our high-profile tort-litigation landscape.  It might have been Bill Cosby who committed the pattern to popular culture's long-term memory.  The Cosby case came complete with counterclaims, making the defamation dispute the dueling ground for truth and falsity.

It's unfortunate, because the tort of defamation was not designed to be a truth-finding mechanism.  Historically, truth wasn't even a defense; that's a modern artifact inferred by the freedom of speech.  The flaws in our defamation law are legion and one of my favorite subjects; one that matters here is that defamation is rarely capable of delivering exoneration, much less satisfying any of a plaintiff's legitimate aims.

Among reforms of defamation that have been proposed over the years are mechanisms to ferret out and publicize truth, rather than focusing on the plaintiff's alleged injury or the defendant's asserted rights.  Though not always well crafted, laws that incentivize correction or settlement over protracted litigation at least aim in the right direction.  Regrettably, reform of defamation has been hamstrung for decades by the Supreme Court's well intentioned but ultimately improvident constitutionalization of defamation in the 1960s and 1970s.  I hope one day, we'll wade our way out of that morass.

Anyway, on the question of the DOJ's intervention, there's a curious conundrum about Carroll v. Trump.  The DOJ position is that Trump was acting in the scope of the office of the President when he denied Carroll's sexual-assault allegations.  We would, after all, hope that any President would deny such allegations, and we would have to admit that the truth of the allegations bears on his fitness for office.  Thus, the DOJ reasons, it must represent the position of the President.  The bitter pill for Trump opponents to swallow is that that's probably right.

The kicker comes in that Trump's denial is only presidential if he's telling the truth.  If he did what Carroll alleged, then the operative facts of the case occurred before Trump was elected.  His later denial then feels more like the mere pleading of a private defendant in an ordinary civil suit.  You know, one in which we might debate what the meaning of is is.  So the rationale for defense by DOJ is predicated on the very question at issue in the litigation.  For DOJ to take the President's denial as true, for now, is a fair, if uncomfortable, choice.  If one day the court rules in Carroll's favor, though, maybe we can send the legal bill to the former President.

Thanks to TLS student Ricardo Serrano and Torts student Paul McAlarney for helping me think about this one.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Union, university collude to cut Mass. higher ed pay

UMass Dartmouth (LGagnon CC BY-SA 3.0)
The faculty union and university here at UMass Dartmouth, which includes UMass Law School, are busy about the business of colluding to cut faculty (and staff and admin and everyone's) pay in response to financial (mis)management of the covid crisis.  The draft Memorandum of Agreement came out today; temporarily, I am parking a copy here.  In salient part:

The salary reduction shall be calculated as follows[:]

a. There shall be no reduction on the first $30,000 of regular salary and any regular contractual or other stipend for any faculty or staff member.

b. For each $5000 in excess of this threshold there shall be a salary reduction calculated as a percentage of the faculty or staff member’s marginal salary. This percentage reduction shall start at 5% (0.05) and shall increase by 1 percentage point (0.01) for each step up to a maximum of 10% (0.10).

In the law school, we were already hit with a $7,500-each cut in summer research support, which is a little under 5% for me, much more for others. With two generations of educational debt and current college bills looming over our heads in my family, this cut, just more than 12% in sum, hurts.  In a meeting of faculty yesterday, I got a sense of the impact on the lower ranks and less job-secure, and I was left livid.

The progressive structure was the union's idea, not the university's.  The university only asked for 5% across the board.  On Friday, union president Grant O'Rielly gleefully boasted to members that that wasn't good enough, so the union proposed a progressive plan to ensure that higher paid faculty would pay even more money and suffer a higher rate.  Victory!  The university was so impressed that it accepted and gave the union a pat on the head.  Maybe a cookie, too.  Though there was no mention of a cookie.  

The saddest thing here is the aforementioned collusion between union and university to make this all happen.  They entered into a pact by which no jobs would be lost on either side.  But on the admin/management side, there might ought be some jobs shed, and I scarcely see there would be impact on our educational mission.  You can't spit on main campus (not that you should spit in public, especially now) without hitting a handsomely compensated assistant vice chancellor of something-something.  I'm sure students will take solace in knowing that those jobs are all safe, while their newly virtual and long beleaguered legal skills instructors will now make less money than when they were hired.

The union entertained no other alternatives, either, besides admin cuts.  A reserve fund sits at UMass HQ in Boston, untapped.  As a colleague said yesterday, "it's for a rainy day, and it's raining."  The union didn't proffer a faculty furlough for December/January or May, which we could accomplish without cutting into the class schedule, and then faculty would be eligible for unemployment compensation.  Staff furloughs work that way.  The union didn't negotiate for a better separation-incentive program, or reduced workloads, or summer research support, or even a guarantee that the university can't come back to the well again next year.  The union just rolled over in self-effacing obedience to their management masters.

The greatest insult comes to those of us not in the union.  Thanks to Massachusetts's purported system of exclusive representation, we are compelled to accept the pay cut upon a union negotiation and vote in which we have no say.  And the university, to date and despite my demand, refuses to negotiate with us separately.  If that sounds, well, unconstitutional, yes, I think it is, especially since Janus.  That case said we couldn't be compelled to pay for union speech with which we disagree.  It hardly makes sense, then, that we are compelled to speak with union speech with which we disagree.  I am presently seeking counsel, and there's more than just me, so get in touch, #RightToWork advocates.  Exclusive representation is being challenged meanwhile in other states.

Massachusetts's bargain-basement approach to public education—a real shock to us when we moved here in 2011—was already criminal, especially for a blue state boasting a Kennedy legacy.  Now the state's proud blue labor tradition is belied by the reality that unions are co-conspirators in the crime.  Together the university and union make a mockery of UMass Law's "social justice" mission.

[UPDATE, Sept. 12, 2020:] 

In a case involving the University of Maine, the First Circuit upheld exclusive representation in state law.  The complainant is Jon Reisman, an economics professor at the University of Maine at Machias, and the case is now pending cert. review in the U.S. Supreme Court.  (Hat tip to a D.C. colleague.)

The First Circuit's reasoning is succinct and somewhat baffling.  The court held simply that state law requires the union to bargain for everyone, members and non-members, as a bargaining unit, but not as individuals; thus, Reisman is not "personally represented" and may be subject to whatever terms are struck for the bargaining unit.

Aside from the illogical and constitutionally unknown distinction between speaking for a "unit" and speaking for people, I fear Reisman's case was premature. At UMass Dartmouth, we see the damage wrought by exclusive representation, and the First Amendment problem is laid bare. The First Circuit pointed to Reisman's ability, under Maine law, to communicate grievances directly to the university, without going through the bargaining unit (though a union representative is then brought in to resolve the matter). At UMass Dartmouth, the university has expressly refused to hear grievances outside the union (specifically, mine).  Reisman also did not well articulate any concrete injury, rather, only the intangible harm of compelled association. At UMass Dartmouth, union non-members are about to suffer a big pay cut.  

Moreover, UMass Dartmouth non-members have been kept completely in the dark about the pay cut and excluded from informational meetings, debate, and voting on the measure.  So it can hardly be said that the union at UMass Dartmouth is acting on behalf of a bargaining unit of the whole, members and non-members alike.  The First Circuit's reliance on how things are supposed to work in the idyllic vision set out in statute in Maine bears no relation to the plain First Amendment affront playing out in practice in Massachusetts.

_________________

A reminder that this is my blog, not edited or controlled by UMass Law/Dartmouth.  At the same time, I write in furtherance of public service, which is part of my job, and in which capacity I am protected by custom, contract, law, and the First Amendment.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Immunity shields tweeting legislators from libel suits, Elizabeth Warren from high school plaintiffs

High schoolers from Kentucky will not get their day in court against Elizabeth Warren.

The students' lawsuit, high profile in the political sphere, was resolved in the Sixth Circuit yesterday on mundane grounds that offer a reminder to torts students of a simple immunity rule.

Remember the fuss in January 2019 over that video of Catholic high school students on a field trip said to be taunting a Native American elder demonstrating at the Lincoln Memorial?

Remember when people used to stand really close together like that?

There were two dramatically different sides to the story about what was really happening there, and they were as far apart as young people joining in celebration of Native American heritage, on the one side, and "MAGA" has inspired privileged youth to racism, on the other side.  For a breakdown that gets closer to the truth, see, e.g., Vox, Jan. 24, 2019; Reason, Jan. 21, 2020.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Deb Haaland (D-NM) tweeted about the affair from the perspective that cast the students in the wrong.  Haaland wrote, "The students’ display of blatant hate, disrespect, and intolerance is a signal of how common decency has decayed under this administration. Heartbreaking."  And Warren: "Omaha elder and Vietnam War veteran Nathan Phillips endured hateful taunts with dignity and strength, then urged us all to do better."

The students sued the legislators for defamation, asserting that the darker interpretation of events was false.  On Thursday last week, the Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the lawsuit—which is not to opine one way or the other on the students' claim of falsity.

As the court observed, the Speech and Debate Clause has no application on Twitter.  But a much simpler analysis pertained.  Whilst tweeting, Haaland and Warren were acting within the scope of their employment with the U.S. Government.  And the Federal Tort Claims Act (para. (h)) does not waive federal sovereign immunity for defamation committed by its employees—even the elected kind.

The case is Does 1 through 10 v. Haaland, No. 2:19-cv-00117 (6th Cir. Sept. 3, 2020).  Circuit Judge Eric Clay authored the opinion for a panel that also comprised Judges White and Readler.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Seeking right-to-work labor counsel for 'Janus' redux

I have exercised my right under Janus v. AFSCME to separate from my public-employee union. The union plans, without my approval, yet purporting to act on my behalf, to consent to a workforce-wide pay cut that will affect me, and affect me disproportionately adversely. It seems to me that Janus is meaningless if my pay can be cut, against contract, upon the consent of a union with which I have a First Amendment right not to affiliate. Pay cut looming, I am in no position to pay for counsel. Does Janus mean anything, or is it just words on a page? Contact me.

[Read more: Sept. 11, 2020.]

Thursday, September 3, 2020

My Summer Book Report (2020)

Coronavirus propelled UMass into financial crisis in the spring, and, as a result, law faculty summer research stipends evaporated.  With that change in incentives to compound coronavirus travel restrictions, I found myself with more than the usual time to catch up on reading this summer.  I'm going to try to keep my observations here brief; drop me a line if you want to talk more detail.  (All links are to Amazon.)

Books About Soccer


When I signed off from the blog in May, I wrote about starting two books from Australia, Whatever It Takes: The Inside Story of the FIFA Way and The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe.  The former remains for me the definitive story of the fall of FIFA and corruption of global soccer.  Whatever It Takes was written by whistleblower Bonita Mersiades, once an Australian football executive.  I met her at Play the Game and immediately became a big fan.  I filled out the FIFA story with David Conn's Fall of the House of FIFA: The Multi-Million Dollar Corruption at the Heart of Global Soccer and Ken Besinger's Red Card: How the U.S. Blew the Whistle on the World's Biggest Sports Scandal.  Conn's book gave a thorough global picture, but I didn't enjoy its journalistic perspective as much as Mersiades's animated firsthand account.  Red Card was a compelling take on the story from the U.S. law enforcement perspective; it's a good read for students of U.S. criminal justice.  I especially appreciated it in coincidental tandem with the thoroughly enjoyable TV series El Presidente on Amazon.

By John Maynard, The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe is a tribute to the best players of Indigenous Australian ancestry and their experiences and undersung impact on soccer in Australia.  Joshua Nadel's Fútbol: Why Soccer Matters in Latin America does similar work for that continent, colored with somewhat more attention paid to the interaction of soccer and Latin America's tumultuous independence movements and subsequent political upheavals in the twentieth century.  In African Soccerscapes: How a Continent Changed the World Game, Peter Alegi also takes a continental approach, but thoughtfully traces players through the post-colonial interdependencies of African socioeconomic development and big-business European sport.

Simon Critchley in What We Think About When We Think About Soccer and Tamir Bar-On in The World Through Soccer: The Cultural Impact of a Global Sport both endeavor to make the social sciences of sport palatable for average people such as me.  Perhaps neither rises to the gold standard of David Goldblatt or Franklin Foer, but both books are rewarding, congenial reads and make worthy contributions to the literature.  Bar-On's is the more academically rigorous, but Critchley made philosophy fun for my freshman fluency.

My unexpected favorite of these books in the cultural studies vein was The Away Game: The Epic Search for Soccer's Next Superstars.  Sebastian Abbot takes the reader inside the world of the football talent scout and training camps, especially the lives of young African players thrust against the high stakes of the sport business in Europe and the Middle East.  I didn't know how much I didn't know, and the reality of this under-acknowledged netherworld is unsettling.  The painful truth is that the contemporary colonialist harvest of African talent is hideous, and, yet, it can't so wholly and easily be written off as exploitation.  It's complicated.

Books About Free Speech

I read many books about free speech, and I've loosely divided them into three categories here.  The broadest ranging works in this "general" set are Timothy Garton Ash's Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World, Lee Bollinger and Geoffrey Stone's The Free Speech Century, and Floyd Abrams's The Soul of the First Amendment.  Ash's book is described by a reviewer as "encyclopedic."  It is; it's otherwise difficult to categorize and difficult for me to grasp the scope of his knowledge and insight.  With a trans-Atlantic perspective, he grapples with the adaptation of free speech norms to our globalized world.  The Bollinger-Stone collection is at times interesting.  One might ought pick and choose from the contents; it would serve best as a course-supplement reader.  The Abrams book is a paean to free speech, not terribly original but eminently quotable.

Samantha Barbas's Newsworthy, Eric Robinson's Reckless Disregard, and Jeff Kosseff's Twenty-Six Words are legal biographies, respectively of Time, Inc. v. Hill (U.S. 1967) (false light privacy tort), St. Amant v. Thompson (U.S. 1968) ("actual malice" as recklessness "plus"), and Communications Decency Act section 230 (1996) (ISP immunity).  Each is a solid legal history with important contemporary implications.  Robert McWhirter offers a well organized and beautifully illustrated history of the First Amendment, appropriate to scholars of all ages, in The First Amendment: An Illustrated History.

The unexpected best of this set was Mark Tushnet, Alan Chen, and Joseph Blocher's Free Speech Beyond Words: The Surprising Reach of the First Amendment.  I had not expected to be so captivated by this work that dares to investigate a question typically glossed over: why, and to what extent, should non-speech, such as art and conduct, be protected by the legal freedom of speech.  This interdisciplinary analysis unpacks a problem that runs as deep as the very nature of the human being as a social animal.

Books About Hate Speech and Free Speech on Campus


This second set of free speech books I classify as about campus speech, though the books about hate speech plainly have broader application.  A range of perspectives is to be found here.  I am persuaded to the more absolutist view of Nadine Strossen, who has capably maintained and defended a consistent position over decades, even as academia and neo-liberal thought have left her increasingly out in the cold.  She sticks to her guns in Hate: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship.  Anthony Lewis's book in the same vein is disappointing.  I'm a big fan of Lewis's insightful Make No Law (1991), the seminal biography of New York Times v. Sullivan (U.S. 1964).  Unlike that book, this rather facile treatment, Freedom from the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment, could have been written by a research assistant.  

In Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free Speech, Keith Whittington builds the best possible case for universities to care about free speech.  I fear, however, that he gives today's university too much credit for not already being overrun and ruled by bean counters.  Sigal Ben-Porath has the most academic offering of these with her Free Speech on Campus.  But I was frustrated by her refusal to take a firm position consistent with the title of the book, free speech, as if she were afraid of tarnishing left-wing bona fides for failure of sufficient sensitivity.  Finally, the entertaining Mick Hume, a hardened alum of the U.K. newsroom, thinks about trigger warnings what Lou Grant would have thought about them, and he isn't afraid to tell you about it in Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech?  Spoiler alert: yes.

Other Speech Reads


This last set of free speech books I'm calling "free speech-related."  David Rieff's In Praise of Forgetting: Historical Memories and Its Ironies is one of the most memorable books of my summer.  I read it because I am endlessly intrigued by the right-to-be-forgotten issue and the problem of cultural memory emphasized by institutions such as the stunning Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago, Chile.  Rieff turned upside down and shook an interrogation out of everything I thought I knew about the subject, leaving me with a highly uncomfortable uncertainty about what we should remember as a global human society, and whether we're anyway invariably doomed to forget all the right stuff.  I also picked up (used) Carol Fichtelman's Right to be Forgotten: Legal Research Guide.  It's essentially a bibliography and good for its 2018 publication date, but already in 2020, at about $15, I overpaid.  I'm not sure why WS Hein decided to bind and sell what should be a free online resource.

Adcreep: The Case Against Modern Marketing is a book I picked up at a Law and Society conference a couple of years back.  I'm interested in the implications for commercial speech, and Mark Bartholomew amply demonstrates the how and why of something we're all instinctively aware of: that we as individual consumers are hopelessly outmatched in today's sophisticated commercial marketplace of ideas.  Finally, I read through an unusual item that's been on my to-do list for a while: John Greenewald Jr.'s Beyond UFO Secrecy.  Wait wait, before you come to confiscate my tin foil hat: I read this book because of its acclaim in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) community.  Much of the book's leaves are dedicated to the reproduction of produced government documents blackened with redactions, which is fun and interesting for the FOIA enthusiast.  You will get your ink's worth and your conspiracy suspicions stoked.

Other Reads

Tom Wolfe achieves his usual excellence in The Kingdom of Speech, which compelled me to break my blog hiatus in late summer.  The Curve: A Novel, about life at the "Manhattan Law School," by Jeremy Blackman and Cameron Stracher, was a delightful self-indulgence in fiction, though if you've ever worked in academics, it'll have you recollecting the truths that are stranger than....  In contrast, Kent Newmyer, The Treason Trial of Aaron Burr is hardcore nonfiction, if excellent supplemental reading for the Hamilton devotee: a biography of one of the most important legal cases in U.S. history that somehow usually manages only the scarcest mention in constitutional legal studies.  Equally serious about its social science, Dancing Bears: True Stories of People Nostalgic for Life Under Tyranny tells both the nonfiction history of said bears and the story of their masters, the latter amid a psychoanalysis of dark reaches in the collective human mental condition.  More than once a Polish friend has recommended Witold Szabłowski's book when I struggled to understand something about eastern European thinking.  And ... yeah, I see it now.  Con Job: How Democrats Gave Us Crime ... I know will seem an odd pick for those who know me; I don't usually take my partisanship without at least a teaspoon of Splenda.  I admit to interest in how Crystal Wright, self-described "Conservative Black Chick" came to be who she is.  As I suspected, disillusionment is not a partisan affliction in America, and we ignore it at our peril.

Most memorable of this set was Mikey Walsh's haunting Gypsy Boy: My Secret Life in the World of the Romany Gypsies.  It had been on my to-do list for years, and I never quite felt up to the heartrending drama.  It's not unlike Hillbilly Elegy.  Walsh evinces a grudging appreciation of his Romany heritage and teaches the reader a great deal about its proud traditions, alongside its shames.  The journey was at times painful, but overall enriching.

I only got about halfway through my summer reading to-do list, so more books await.  For now, though, I need to get back to figuring out how to teach 1L Torts online.  Happy reading.