Learn more about Peltz-Steele v. UMass Faculty Federation at Court Listener (complaint) and the Liberty Justice Center. The case is now on appeal in the First Circuit as no. 22-1466 (PACER paywall). Please direct media inquiries to Kristen Williamson.

Monday, February 28, 2022

R.I. Capitol, 'SNL' signal stand with Ukraine

My state capitol in azure and gold:

On a less softhearted note, I was not happy with some of the sentiments from Uprise RI in the state-capital rally. To my eye, too many demonstrators were more interested in evidencing apathy by demanding U.S. non-intervention than in expressing any empathy or support for Ukraine.  This selfishness, no less a nationalism on the left than on the right, reminds me why I have long refused to register with the Libertarian Party, even if I am a small-l libertarian.  Libertarianism should not mean isolationism; even objectivism does not utterly eschew the common defense.  I wish we lived in a world of peace and daisies, but that's delusional.  There is such a thing as jus ad bellum.

Anyway, hats off to Saturday Night Live, which hit a right chord with a classy cold open this past weekend.

The situation at the Polish border is both a growing humanitarian crisis and a burgeoning source of stirring stories of compassion.  I hope to write more on that soon as I hear from friends there.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

War forces news underground; Poles rally for refugees

Broadcast news continues from an underground parking garage, where Ukrainians take refuge from Russian attack, Western media have reported widely.

A worship leader at my church today highlighted a line from the Newsboys' "He Reigns" (2003):

It's all God's children singin'
"Glory, glory, hallelujah"
"He reigns, he reigns"

Let it rise above the four winds
Caught up in the heavenly sound
Let praises echo from the towers of cathedrals
To the faithful gathered underground

I cited the other day a link to fundraising for The Kyiv IndependentGQ two days ago wrote about other ways to give.  "Send Relief" is a Christian mission organization with a Ukraine crisis fund.

For anyone wanting a primer on Ukraine-Russian history, the multi-talented Mo Rocca published a superb piece this morning on CBS Sunday Morning, informed by an interview with Anne Applebaum, whose November Atlantic cover story has proven to be the gold standard of prescience in the present crisis.

Flight from Ukraine is creating a refugee crisis in Poland.  Men age 18-60 are not permitted to leave Ukraine, so families are separating with the hope of sparing children from the war.  With their usual quiet relentlessness, Poles are stepping up in big numbers. My friends there report taking in families. Poland will need our support, too.

Calling for prayer, my pastor this week quoted Jesus in John 16:33: "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Judge Jackson Media Law, Torts Tour: From Big Meat 'COOL' to 'A Love of Food' and 'Everlasting Life'

[A revised version of this post is available to download as a paper on SSRN.]
The Hon. KBJ (Wikicago CC BY-SA 4.0)

Profiles of U.S. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson have proliferated since her announcement as a leading contender for the U.S. Supreme Court seat vacated by Justice Breyer, and President Biden announced her nomination yesterday.

Judge Jackson has practiced in both criminal and civil environments, and in public and private sectors.  She focused in different practice roles on criminal law and appellate litigation, and she served on the federal bench at the trial and appellate levels.  So much of her work, and that which has garnered the most attention, for example in the excellent SCOTUSblog profile by Amy Howe, interests me as a citizen in general more than as an academic and media-law-and-torts aficionado.

Nevertheless, I compiled here cases of interest to me, which I found whilst poking around in her trial-court record on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (D.D.C.).  You might not see these discussed elsewhere, but they might be of interest to comparative-bent, media-law types like me, if that's even a thing.  In my ordinary-joe capacity, I am not in step with Judge Jackson's inclinations in some other areas of law.  But any Supreme Court Justice, just like any political candidate, is going to be a mixed bag, especially in a compulsorily two-party system.

In the cases below, a decidedly unscientific sample, I like some of what I see, especially skeptical diligence in access-to-information cases, sound reasoning in intellectual property law, careful application of preemption doctrine in medical-product liability, and a couple of thought-provoking First Amendment entanglements.  I see a mixed record on venue for transnational cases, something I've been worrying about lately, but the outcomes are defensible as consistent with lousy U.S. law.


Main topics:
● Civil procedure/statute of limitations:
WMATA v. Ark Union Sta., Inc. (2017)
Copyright/music royalties: Alliance of Artists & Recording Cos. v. Gen. Motors Co. (2018)
Defamation, false light/actual malice: Zimmerman v. Al Jazeera Am., LLC (2017)
First Amendment/child pornography: United States v. Hillie (2018)
First Amendment/commercial speech, compelled speech: Am. Meat Inst. v. U.S. Dept. Agric. (2013)
FOIA/national security, law enforcement: Elec. Privacy Info. Ctr. v. U.S. Dept. Justice (2017)
FOIA/Vaughn index, trade secrets, deliberative process: McKinley v. FDIC (2017)
FOIA/deliberative process/personal privacy: Conservation Force v. Jewell (2014)
FSIA/CCFA, forum non conveniens: Azima v. RAK Invest. Auth. (2018)
FSIA/torture: Azadeh v. Iran (2018)
Insurance/settlement: Blackstone v. Brink (2014)
Product liability/causation, preemption, learned intermediary: Kubicki v. Medtronic (2018)
Trademark/infringement: Yah Kai World Wide Enter. v. Napper (2016)
Wrongful death/sovereign immunity, contributory negligence: Whiteru v. WMATA (2017)
Wrongful death, product liability/forum non conveniens: In re Air Crash ... So. Indian Ocean (2018)

Quirky pro se claims:
Defamation/litigation privilege/statute of limitations: Ray v. Olender (2013)
Copyright/infringement: Buchanan v. Sony Music Ent. (2020)
Copyright/pleading: Butler v. Cal. St. Disbursement Unit (2013)
Copyright/subject-matter jurisdiction: Miller v. Library of Congress (2018)
FTCA/FOIA, civil rights: Cofield v. United States (2014)
Legal profession/sovereign immunity, absolute immunity: Smith v. Scalia (2014)

And the case with the best name:
A Love of Food I v. Maoz Vegetarian USA (2014)


WMATA (D.C. Metro) (Max Pixel CC0)
Civil procedure/statute of limitations.  WMATA v. Ark Union Sta., Inc., 269 F. Supp. 3d 196 (D.D.C. 2017).  The transit authority of the District of Columbia alleged that negligent maintenance by the Union Station America Restaurant, defendants' enterprise, resulted in a burst sewer pipe that severely damaged the Metro Red Line in 2011.  Judge Jackson opened the opinion cleverly, with what could almost be a dad joke: "This is a case about whose interests the [WMATA] serves when it spends money to repair damaged transit infrastructure in the Metrorail system—a proverbial third rail of this region's politics."  (My emphasis.  How could I not?)

D.C. has a generous five-year statute of limitations, but even that time had run.  Determining that the corporate-body WMATA remained a creature of government for relevant purposes, evidenced by its operational subsidies—cf. WMATA, infra, in negligence/sovereign immunity—Judge Jackson applied "the common law nullum tempus doctrine, which dates back to the thirteenth century," to exempt WMATA, as sovereign, from the statute of limitations.  The court explained: "Although the nullum tempus doctrine originated as a 'prerogative of the Crown[,]' the doctrine's 'survival in the United States has been generally accounted for and justified on grounds of policy rather than upon any inherited notions of the personal privilege of the king.' .... Specifically, 'the source of its continuing vitality ... is to be found in the great public policy of preserving the public rights, revenues, and property from injury and loss, by the negligence of public officers'" (citations omitted).

Pixabay
Copyright/music royalties.  Alliance of Artists & Recording Cos. v. Gen. Motors Co., 306 F. Supp. 3d 422 (D.D.C. 2018).  Judge Jackson dismissed a trade-group-plaintiff claim against automakers that their in-car CD hard drives created digital music recordings (DMRs) within the meaning of the federal statute, the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992 (AHRA), entitling copyright holders to royalties.  The AHRA was intended by Congress to protect the music industry against the alarming ease of creating high-fidelity copies of digital music by requiring manufacturers, importers, and distributors to employ copy-control technology.  Though having earlier allowed the claim to proceed against other technical challenges under the AHRA, the court decided, with the benefit of the first phase of discovery, that the defendant automakers' devices were not digital audio recording devices within the meaning of the statute.  In a methodical analysis, Judge Jackson explained that the content of the hard drives was excluded from the statutory definition of a DMR because of the coordinate presence of play software and other data.  The court rejected industry's theory that the appropriate frame of analysis was a particular partition of the drive, where music code might be located more readily.  The D.C. Circuit affirmed, 947 F.3d 849 (2020).

Zimmerman
(All Pro Reels CC BY-SA 2.0)
Defamation, false light/actual malice.  Zimmerman v. Al Jazeera Am., LLC, 246 F. Supp. 3d 257 (D.D.C. 2017).  Two professional baseball players, both called Ryan (a Zimmerman and a Howard), sued Al Jazeera America over a documentary, The Dark Side: Secrets of the Sports Dopers (2015), in which an interviewee linked the pair to performance-enhancing drugs.  The plaintiffs were clearly public figures, so actual malice was at issue.  In a thorough explication of the making of the film followed by a straightforward recitation of the media torts, Judge Jackson narrowed the plaintiffs' claims to allegations stated in the film, excluding liability for promotional content.  The court found it plausible, upon "contextual clues," that a reasonable viewer could attribute the interviewee's statements to the filmmakers: "The film weaves [the source's] statements into a broader narrative about doping in sports that the producers themselves have purportedly confirmed through their own investigation."  Judge Jackson then explicated the actual malice standard and its amped up, St. Amant, iteration of recklessness.  Critically, the plaintiffs alleged that the source had recanted his claims about the Ryans during a subsequent, yet pre-publication, interview, giving Al Jazeera serious cause to doubt the source's veracity, if not actual knowledge of falsity.

Naturally, this case might be of interest to Court watchers, given the present hubbub over the Sullivan actual malice standard.  I'm no fan, and I'll have more to say about that in the future.  Zimmerman hardly depicts a Judge Jackson ready to pitch in with Justices Thomas and Gorsuch to upend the status quo.  But she understands the standard and at least might be amenable to a semantically sincere construction of "reckless disregard."

First Amendment/child pornography.  United States v. Hillie, 289 F. Supp. 3d 188 (D.D.C. 2018).  Criminal cases are not usually my jam, but this one had a First Amendment angle.  Judge Jackson allowed conviction of a defendant for sexual exploitation of a minor and possession of images of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct.  On the facts as explicated by the court, that sure seems like it was the defendant's intent: "carefully placing and positioning the camera in hidden locations in J.A.A.'s bedroom and bathroom" and "succeed[ing] in capturing several extended images of J.A.A.'s exposed genitals."  Missing, though, was the express "lasciviousness" required by federal statutes, a fatal flaw for the prosecution, the D.C. Circuit ruled.  14 F.4th 677 (2021).  The defendant relied on statutes, not the First Amendment, but the D.C. Circuit referenced First Amendment case law extensively to support its interpretation of what Congress required.  Despite the substantial latitude to which the government is entitled to prosecute child pornography, beyond the legal constraints of outlawing obscenity as to adults, the appellate court concluded that Judge Jackson erred in permitting the jury to infer the defendant's lascivious objective.  One might expect that social conservatives would side with Judge Jackson on this case. 

Labeled French beef
(by Yuka for Open Food Facts CC BY-SA 3.0)
First Amendment/commercial speech, compelled speech.  Am. Meat Inst. v. U.S. Dept. Agric., 968 F. Supp. 2d 38 (D.D.C. 2013).  This must have been a grilling initiation to the federal bench for Judge Jackson.  A meat industry trade association challenged "country of origin labeling" regulations (truly, "the COOL Rule") promulgated by the Department of Agriculture, on, as one might expect from Big Meat, any legal theory that might stick to the cast iron: namely, the statutory authority of the Agricultural Marketing Act, promulgation under the Administrative Procedure Act, and the First Amendment.  The first two make my eyes glaze over; it's the First Amendment that grabbed me.  Meat and the First Amendment are, of course, long-time frenemies, going back to the heyday of The Jungle, and on through the secret grocery workers of journalism ethics fame.  Then there was the whole pink slime era, and animal-welfare activists came trespassing through to take pictures.  Oh how we laughed until we cried.

Anyway, in this case, Judge Jackson capably explicated the niche case law of compelled commercial speech and charted the fine if squiggly line separating free speech and business regulation.  The risk of deception was more than merely speculative here, she opined, and consumers were demonstrably confused.  Industry mistakenly claimed a burden on its pocketbook, rather than its speech rights, Judge Jackson admonished.  The COOL Rule was reasonable and hardly burdensome for its expectation of truthful and uncontroversial disclosure.  Preliminary injunction was denied.

Big Meat was not easily deterred; the case went for a rodeo ride the following year.  The D.C. Circuit affirmed, 746 F.3d 1065 (Mar. 28, 2014), vacated upon granting rehearing en banc, No. 13-5281 (Apr. 4, 2014), and then reinstated affirmance (July 29, 2014).

U.S. Defense Department image (C)
FOIA/national security, law enforcement.  Elec. Privacy Info. Ctr. v. U.S. DOJ, 296 F. Supp. 3d 109 (2017).  Privacy advocate EPIC sued DOJ under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to learn more about past wiretap spying under the post-9/11 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.  EPIC was especially keen to see how the government had justified surveillance requests it set before the famously amenable Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).  Namely, EPIC sought: "(1) Westlaw printouts that were attached to a certain brief that the government submitted to the [FISC], and (2) portions of certain reports that DOJ issued to Congress, consisting of summaries of FISC legal opinions, descriptions of the scope of the FISC's jurisdiction, and discussions of process improvements."  DOJ produced a Vaughn index.  Ex parte and in camera, Judge Jackson reviewed the materials and adjudged them properly withheld under exemptions 1 (national security as to the congressional reports), and 3 and 7(E) (national security statutes and law enforcement techniques, as to everything else), with some nitpicks as to redactions and notations.  I'm sure EPIC did not care for the result, but the transparency problem seems to be a statutory one.  Judge Jackson did a pretty deep dive on the docs.

FOIA/Vaughn index, trade secrets, deliberative process.  McKinley v. FDIC, 268 F. Supp. 3d 234 (D.D.C. 2017), then No. 1:15-cv-1764 (D.D.C. Sept. 30, 2018).  Judicial Watch, per experienced FOIA-requester attorney Michael Bekesha, represented a plaintiff against the FDIC.  In the reported opinion in 2017, the court compelled the FDIC to produce a Vaughn index. The Judicial Watch plaintiff was investigating FDIC placement of Citibank into receivership in 2008 and 2009.  The FDIC sought to protect 12 documents as trade secrets and eight documents as deliberative process.  The court faulted the FDIC for failing to support either claim of exemption with any contextual explanation, including the nature of its decision-making authority on the latter claim.

I note that Judge Jackson's reasoning on the trade-secret analysis might have been undermined subsequently by the Supreme Court's industry-deferential ruling on exemption 4 in Food Marketing Inst. v. Argus Leader Media (U.S. 2019).  (I signed on to an amicus on the losing side in FMI.)  In an earlier FOIA case, Government Accountability Project v. FDA, 206 F. Supp. 3d 420 (D.D.C. 2016), Judge Jackson similarly relied on pre-FMI doctrine to reject, as unduly conclusory, FDA resistance, at the behest of a pharma trade association, to production of records on antimicrobial medications.

Vaughn index in hand on remand, plaintiff persisted in challenging the adequacy of the FDIC search and "whether withheld information 'has already been made public through an official and documented disclosure.'"  Judge Jackson rejected both claims in a short opinion in 2018.  She found the first merely speculative.  As to the second, the plaintiff "argued that the FDIC's withholdings were improper because the requested information was 'officially' acknowledged by Former FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair in the book Bull by the Horns—a book that Bair published after leaving office."  Judge Jackson held that "that contention, too, must be rejected. A book or other material that a former government official publishes in her personal capacity does not qualify as an 'official acknowledgment' of the information contained therein for the purpose of FOIA."

Bison trophy at Beaty Biodiversity Museum, Vancouver, B.C.
(by Nikkimaria CC BY-SA 3.0)
FOIA/deliberative process, personal privacy.  Conservation Force v. Jewell, 66 F. Supp. 3d 46 (D.D.C. 2014).   A nonprofit foundation that promotes big-game hunting sued U.S. Fish and Wildlife, in the Department of Interior, under the FOIA to obtain records related to denials of permits that would allow the import into the United States of hunting trophies of Canadian bison.  For the record, I'm fine with denying those permits, and I could be persuaded to block importation of the hunters, too.  Nevertheless, transparency....  

Judge Jackson authored a workmanlike exploration of various exemption theories asserted by Interior: accepting attorney-client privilege (exemption 5) and personal-information exemption (6); rejecting deliberative-process exemption, crime-fraud exception to attorney-client privilege, and work product privilege (all exemption 5).  She cited House reports to bolster her interpretations of what exemptions 5 and 6 require.  In a pattern that became familiar, or maybe just speaks to agency neglect, she faulted Interior for a conclusory ("woefully short") Vaughn index that failed to support exemption.  As to exemption 6, which has been aggressively enlarged by federal courts in furtherance of the privacy rage, Judge Jackson accepted Interior's redaction of employee personal information as more or less immaterial to the sought-after accountability.  The D.C. Circuit affirmed summarily in No. 15-5131 (Dec. 4, 2015).

FSIA/CFAA; forum non conveniens.  Azima v. RAK Invest. Auth., 305 F. Supp. 3d 149 (D.D.C. 2018).  Judge Jackson was reversed in this one, 926 F.3d 870 (D.C. Cir. 2019), but I prefer her analysis.  Under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and for common law conversion and unfair competition, plaintiff, a Kansas City, Mo., businessman, sued a business partner, a public investment authority (RAKIA) of the United Arab Emirates (UAE, specifically the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah), after their business relationship soured, alleging that RAKIA "commissioned the repeated surreptitious hacking of his personal and business laptops ... and then published disparaging material that was illicitly gleaned from Azima's computers...."  RAKIA sought dismissal under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) on grounds of sovereign immunity, under a contractual forum selection clause, and, relatedly, under the common law venue doctrine of forum non conveniens.

Judge Jackson rejected all three grounds.  The plaintiff plausibly portrayed RAKIA, an investor rather than governing entity, as a commercial actor and alleged tortfeasor, bringing into play the FSIA commercial and tort exceptions.  As alleged, the hacking would have inserted malware into the plaintiff's computer systems, even if the insertion occurred abroad, so the locus of alleged tortious injury was Kansas City, bolstering the FSIA analysis.  The forum selection clause did not pertain, Judge Jackson reasoned, because it was articulated in the parties' contract for a prior commercial venture; the contract hardly covered subsequent hacking.

As to venue, Judge Jackson faulted RAKIA for failing to meet its "heavy burden" to show that Azima would get a fair shake in RAKIA's preferred venue of London, where RAKIA might have hoped for a more favorable outcome on immunity.  I like that analysis—but cf. infra, re wrongful death/forum non conveniens.  My comparative law class just read Professor Vivian Curran's masterful recent work on foreign law in U.S. courts, in which she convincingly demonstrated U.S. federal judges' penchant to over-employ forum non conveniens and thus shirk their responsibility to adjudicate.  

Perhaps proving Prof. Curran's thesis, the D.C. Circuit disagreed, holding that the forum selection clause burdened the plaintiff with having to show why London would not work as an appropriate venue, else face dismissal for forum non conveniens.  I would be remiss not to mention also: Prof. Curran further faulted the courts for lazy reliance on partisan evidence (my words) when foreign law is concerned, and both Judge Jackson and the D.C. Circuit declared a lack of any responsibility to investigate themselves the adequacy of London as a forum.

FSIA/torture.  Azadeh v. Iran, 318 F. Supp. 3d 90 (D.D.C. 2018).  Plaintiff was an inmate of an Iranian jail and alleged torture and intentional torts at the hands of the republic.  A U.S. court ruling in such a matter is principally symbolic.  Iran will not respond; a plaintiff might hope to recover against a U.S. government claim on frozen assets.  Accordingly, in this case, a magistrate judge recommended entering default judgment in favor of the plaintiff.  I have here omitted cases in which Judge Jackson adopted in toto a magistrate's report; in this case, she did not.

Relying on a manual of the U.S. district courts, the plaintiff had effected service on the state of Iran erroneously, under the wrong order of process under the FSIA.  Judge Jackson wrote: "Judges are sometimes called upon to set aside heart-wrenching and terrible facts about a claimant's treatment at the hands of a defendant and enforce seemingly draconian, technical mandates of law. This is an especially difficult duty when the machinery of the judicial system itself appears to have played a role in the claimant's mistaken view of the applicable legal requirements. The somber circumstances of the instant case present one such scenario...."  The court put the default judgment on hold and gave the plaintiff a second crack at proper service.  Judge Jackson subsequently entered default judgment against Iran, in the sum of $36,411,244, in No. 1:16-cv-1467 (D.D.C. Sept. 5, 2018).  Reproduced therein, the magistrate's report detailed the plaintiff's ordeal.

Insurance/settlement.  Blackstone v. Brink, 63 F. Supp. 3d 68 (D.D.C. 2014) (D.C. law).  In an insurance dispute arising from the alleged wrongful death of a pedestrian, plaintiffs and their attorney apparently changed position on whether to settle with defendant-driver's insurer, State Farm, for the defendant's $100,000 policy limit.  After a telephone conversation, State Farm sent a check and a release form to the plaintiffs' attorney.  The check crossed in the mail with a letter from the attorney rejecting the offer.  Applying D.C. law, Judge Jackson determined that the parties had reached an enforceable agreement on the telephone, evidenced by the specificity of the attorney's instructions on how and where to send the check.  The court wrote of the parties' competing narratives: "On this record, it is far more plausible that [plaintiff counsel] accepted [State Farm's] offer on behalf of his clients [plaintiffs], intended that it be final and binding, and later had misgivings about his earlier decision to accept. Unfortunately for Plaintiffs, courts have long held that such buyer's remorse does not vitiate a demonstrated initial intent to be bound by the settlement agreement" (original emphasis).

A Medtronic product (Alan Levine CC BY 2.0)
Product liability/causation, preemption, learned intermediary.  Kubicki v. Medtronic, 293 F. Supp. 3d 129 (D.D.C. 2018) (D.C. law).  Parents of a diabetic consumer who suffered traumatic brain injury as a result of low blood-sugar levels sued the manufacturers of an insulin pump, alleging various theories of product liability.  Judge Jackson threw out some claims, against one manufacturer and upon one theory, as time barred, because plaintiffs had added them to the complaint too late for the District's three-year statute of limitations.  Judge Jackson navigated the tricky shoals of preemption doctrine to find some but not all liability theories expressly preempted, and the remainder not impliedly preempted, by FDA medical-device approval.  A sliver of remaining plaintiff theories survived summary judgment for presenting triable questions of fact on causation and on the learned intermediary doctrine relative to alleged failure to warn.

Trademark/infringement.  Yah Kai World Wide Enter. v. Napper, 195 F. Supp. 3d 287 (D.D.C. 2016).  The defendant ran the Everlasting Life Restaurant & Lounge as an enterprise of the African Hebrew Israelite community, "who claim to be descendants of biblical Israelites and who follow a strict vegan diet," until their relationship soured.  The plaintiff-community sued when the defendant persisted in doing business as "Everlasting Life," which a community leader had registered as a service mark (pictured).  Trial did not go well for the defense; Judge Jackson wrote that the defendant "displayed some signs of dissembling, such as the evasive nature of his answers with respect to the existence of a purportedly independent and unincorporated food business that he claimed to have created by himself in his home garage prior to the Community's formation of its restaurant businesses."  The court found likelihood of confusion and, accordingly, infringement.  If only defendant had partnered with Big Meat to serve litigious hungry hunters returning from Canada.

Wrongful death/sovereign immunity, contributory negligence.  Whiteru v. WMATA, 258 F. Supp. 3d 175 (2017).  This time the WMATA, the D.C. transit authority, was a negligent defendant rather than plaintiff—cf. WMATA, supra, in civil procedure/statute of limitations—and this time, the authority was ruled not sovereign for purposes of immunity.  In what was essentially a slip-and-fall, the plaintiff-decedent's estate and parents blamed the WMATA for not discovering the decedent—a lawyer, by the way—injured on a train platform, in time to provide life-saving medical treatment.  A creature of state compact and D.C. statute, the WMATA enjoys an immunity analogous to that of federal defendants under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).  Borrowing the FTCA rule of immunity for discretionary governmental functions, which often presents a frame-of-reference problem in its granular application, Judge Jackson rejected the WMATA theory that officials' conduct was discretionary.  Rather, properly, I think, the court accepted the plaintiff's framing of the case as alleging unreasonable comportment with the WMATA standard operating procedures for platform inspection.

At that time in 2017, factual questions in the case precluded summary judgment.  However, in 2020, Judge Jackson awarded the WMATA summary judgment upon the plaintiff's contributory negligence.  480 F. Supp. 3d 185.  The District is not a comparative fault jurisdiction.  The plaintiff's heavy intoxication when he fell was undisputed, and, Judge Jackson opined, video evidence plainly showed that the plaintiff fell because he over-relied on a low wall for support.  Just this month, the D.C. Circuit reversed and remanded,  ___ F.4th ___ (Feb. 11, 2022), holding that under D.C. law for common-carrier liability, contributory negligence is not the complete defense that it usually is in negligence in the District.

Suggested search area for MH370 debris
(Andrew Heneen CC BY 4.0)
Wrongful death, product liability/forum non conveniens.  In re Air Crash Over the Southern Indian Ocean, 352 F. Supp. 3d 19 (D.D.C. 2018) (multi-district litigation).  This case marks a tragic disappointment.  Judge Jackson dismissed for improper venue, forum non conveniens, the claims of families of passengers of missing airliner MH370 against defendants including Malaysia Airlines and Boeing.  The claims arose under the Montreal Convention on international air carriage, common law wrongful death, and product liability.  The thrust of the problem is that what happened to MH370, including the final resting place of the fuselage and an understanding of what went wrong, remains a mystery, and even less was known in 2018.  My money is on pilot hijacking, by the way; read more in the definitive account to date by the incomparable William Langewiesche for The Atlantic. 

Judge Jackson opined:

All told, the Montreal Convention cases in this MDL involve only six U.S. citizens with a direct connection to the Flight MH370 tragedy, as either plaintiffs or decedents. Among the hundreds of passengers on that flight, only three were citizens of the United States, and while the United States undoubtedly has a strong public interest in the claims involving their deaths, its interest pales in comparison to Malaysia's interest in litigating these claims. Malaysia's public interest includes not only an interest in the untimely deaths of the Malaysian pilot and crew, but also an interest in determining precisely what happened to Flight MH370, given that a Malaysian airline owned, operated, and maintained the aircraft; the flight took off from an airport in Malaysia for a destination outside the United States; and it disappeared from radar when Malaysian air traffic controllers were handing off the flight. And Malaysian authorities made substantial investments of time and resources in the wake of this disaster: Malaysia conducted extensive civil and criminal investigations, and changes in Malaysian law led to the creation of a new national Malaysian airline. It is Malaysia's strong interest in the events that give rise to the claims at issue here that makes this a distinctly Malaysian tragedy, notwithstanding the presence of the few Americans onboard Flight MH370. 

I really want to lash out against this reasoning.  But probably it would be like when I was a little kid fed up with allergy-testing shots and kicked my doctor.  Despite my reservations about forum non conveniens, see Prof. Curran, supra, I admit that my frustration stems from doubt that the case could be fairly prosecuted in Malaysia, even if the plane is found, rather than a confidence that the United States is a logical venue.  It might not even matter, as the Montreal Convention probably would curb recovery even in U.S. courts.  Insofar as I have any legitimate gripe, it's in part that forum non conveniens is just a witless rule out of step with a globalized world, and in part that Judge Jackson should have done some independent investigation of the adequacy of Malaysia as a forum.

The aftermath of the MH370 disappearance revealed concerning deficits in transparency, and, thus, potentially in accountability, in the Malaysian investigative process.  And while I don't think Boeing is to blame, having watched Downfall: The Case Against Boeing (2022) on Netflix just last weekend—Langewiesche wrote about the 737 MAX for The New York Times—leaves me distrustful.  Indeed, however relying upon precedent, Judge Jackson declined MH370 plaintiffs' last-ditch demand that, at least, Boeing be compelled to promise to abide by U.S. discovery in connection with any subsequent litigation abroad.

The D.C. Circuit affirmed, 946 F.3d 607, and the Supreme Court denied cert., 141 S. Ct. 451, in 2020.

⚖️

Here are some quirky pro se claims, just to stimulate the noggin.

Defamation/litigation privilege/statute of limitations.  Ray v. Olender, No. 13-1834 (D.D.C. Nov. 21, 2013).  Judge Jackson dismissed an odd $5m pro se defamation claim against an attorney, apparently based on a 1965 suit for copyright infringement and counter-suit.  She held the claim barred by the one-year D.C. statute of limitations and, anyway, based on statements in pleadings, protected by the litigation privilege.

Copyright/infringement.  Buchanan v. Sony Music Ent., No. 18-cv-3028 (D.D.C. May 26, 2020).  In a wide-ranging complaint, pro se plaintiff accused defendant music producers of stealing from songs he submitted for consideration.  Dismissed, because three of four songs were not registered; plaintiff could not show that any producer actually received a copy of the fourth song demo tape; and plaintiff anyway failed to allege substantial similarity, beyond allegation of "steal[ing]," between defendants' hits and the plaintiff's "I Gos Ta Roll." 

Copyright/pleading.  Butler v. Cal. St. Disbursement Unit, No. 13-1684 (D.D.C. Oct. 23, 2013).  Pro se plaintiff accused the state of copyright infringement for using his name in all capital letters.  Dismissed for failure to plead adequately.  BUTLER.

Copyright/subject-matter jurisdiction.  Miller v. Library of Congress, No. 1:18-cv-02144 (D.D.C. Nov. 5, 2018).  Judge Jackson dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction a $100m pro se copyright infringement claim by an author of "a book of songs" who alleged that the Library of Congress stole the book and allowed it to be used by others.  Held, he should have filed in the Federal Claims Court.  I'd return the book, but the fines....

FTCA/FOIA, civil rights.  Cofield v. United States, 64 F. Supp. 3d 206 (D.D.C. 2014).  A Maryland prisoner, pro se plaintiff sought billions in damages against ICANN and the Obama Administration for improper FOIA denials and race discrimination.  On the latter count, the plaintiff essentially accused the government of establishing a business monopoly in ICANN that leaves African-American persons "intentionally omitted, to be left behind when it comes to technology ... by design[.]"  An intriguing idea, but not the best spokesperson.  The court dismissed for sovereign immunity, as the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) authorizes neither FOIA complaints, which do not entitle a plaintiff to tort damages, nor constitutional claims.

Defendant-Justice Scalia (Shawn CC BY-NC 2.0)
Legal profession/sovereign immunity, absolute immunity.  Smith v. Scalia, 44 F. Supp. 3d 28 (D.D.C. 2014).  Yup, that Scalia.  The pro se plaintiff was denied admission to the Colorado Bar after "refus[ing] to submit to a mental status examination," and then sued officials, including judges who denied his appeals.  Even the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which rated among plaintiff's theories, cannot overcome federal sovereign and judicial absolute immunities, Judge Jackson held.  She declined to order Rule 11 sanctions, but did hit the frequent-filing plaintiff with a pre-filing injunction, going forward.
Maoz Falafel, Paris
(Björn Söderqvist CC BY-SA 2.0)

⚖️


Finally, I don't really care what happened in this case; I just love its name: A Love of Food I v. Maoz Vegetarian USA (D.D.C. 2014).  Plaintiff Love of Food was "a franchise of Maoz's vegetarian quick service restaurant" in D.C.  When the business failed, Love of Food blamed Maoz.  Maoz had failed to register its offering prospectus properly with the state of Maryland, but, Judge Jackson held, that omission did not give Love of Food standing.  The court issued mixed results on the, uh, meatier claims of misrepresentation, finding a material dispute of fact over the veracity of startup estimates.

Just wait 'til Big Meat hears about this.

I gos ta roll.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Support journalism in Kyiv

Maidan Nezalezhnosti in 2013.  RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.
Via Lonely Planet and The Points Guy, a way for the free expression-minded among us to support Ukraine:  The Kyiv Independent (Twitter) is doing English-language journalism from Kyiv, where it is a leading source of information for Europeans and Americans.  The paper was formed by The Kyiv Post editorial staff that covered the Maidan revolution in 2014.  Support can be offered through Patreon and GoFundMe.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

West fails democracy, reembraces appeasement

The Eternal Love monument in Mariinsky Park in Kyiv commemorates an Italian POW and Ukrainian forced laborer who fell in love amid World War II, and then were separated by the Iron Curtain for 60 years.  The Guardian and DW have more.  I took this photo on a grand walkabout during my first visit to Kyiv in 2013. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.)

I've been away from blog duty for some weeks because of a busy presentation agenda this month.  But I have a list of items pending, and I look forward to returning to writing and sharing what I've learned. Meanwhile, I am distraught by events in Ukraine.  I have family from Kamianets-Podilskyi.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Ukrainian west comprises ethnic groups scarred by Soviet hostility; historian will lecture on Lemkos

Carpathian Range
(map by Ikonact CC BY-SA 4.0)
The Jagiellonian Law Society and the Kosciuszko Foundation are sponsoring a lecture on February 24 on Ukraine, Poland, and the Lemkos ethnic group.

The Beijing Olympics opened Friday, and conventional wisdom suggests that the chess game playing out in Eastern Europe will not heat up until the Olympics ends on Sunday, February 20. Nervous speculation abounds on what the following week might bring. Meanwhile, 3,000 American troops are deploying to Poland, Romania, and Germany.

February 24 thus seems an opportune time to learn something more about the complicated history of the region that is the focus of the world's attention.  The Lemkos ethnic group, at home in the Carpathian mountain range, sits at a curious crossroads.  With communities spanning Poland, Ukraine, and Slovakia, the Lemkos are an important piece of the region's multicultural story.  Oppressed by the Soviet Union, they are something of a mirror image of the intercultural wedge that Vladimir Putin is now driving to fragment Ukraine in the east.

Carpatho-Rusyns, including Lemkos at left, celebrate a cultural day in 2007.
(Photo by Silar CC BY-SA 3.0)
Professor Jan Pisuliński, a historian at the University of Rzeszów, will deliver the lecture, "Lemkos and Ukrainians," the fourth in a series on "Ethnic Minorities in Polish Lands."  Pisuliński is author of the book Special Operation "Vistula" (Akcja Specjalna 'Wisła') (2017) (Amazon), the definitive account of the forced resettlement by the Soviet Union in 1947 of 140,000 to 200,000 persons, mostly ethnic minorities including Lemkos, from the Carpathians to western Poland.  With the resettlement, the Soviets dismantled post-war guerilla resistance in the region.  On the northern edge of the Carpathians and in the southeast of Poland, Rzeszów is about 100km by highway form Ukraine's western border.

Registration for the Zoom lecture is free.  New members are always invited to join the Jagiellonian Law Society and Kosciuszko Foundation.  (I'm a member of the former.)  The Kosciuszko Foundation sponsors student scholarships and exchanges, among many other programs.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Global summit in business leadership moves online, examines US-India ties in aftermath of pandemic


The annual world summit "INBUSH ERA 2022" will be virtual this year, February 23 to 25, and host Amity University is maximizing the advantage of the digital platform with a truly global program.

This year marks the 22nd installment of the International Business Summit & Research Conference (INBUSH ERA). The year's theme is "Nurturing People, Purpose, Partnerships, Planet & Performances for Creating Sustainable World Class Organizations." Host Amity University is a prominent network of private universities in India, and the conference will be online and hybrid, based at the university's flagship campus at Noida, Uttar Pradesh, near Delhi.

Yesterday I had an organizational call with my colleague Professor Marut Bisht, who is elbow deep in planning academic components of the conference.  I look forward to offering a perspective on transnational communication regulation on a U.S.-focused panel beginning on Thursday, February 24, at 1330 GMT.  The same panel will recognize and welcome remarks from:

  • Prof. Srikant Datar, Dean of the Faculty, Harvard Business School
  • Dr. Sam Pitroda, Indian engineer, business executive and policymaker, and ex-chairman of the National Knowledge Commission
  • Prof. Pradeep K. Khosla, Chancellor of University of California
  • Prof. Andrew D. Hamilton, President of New York University
  • Mr. Sabeer Bhatia, Co-Founder at ShowReel
  • Dr. Punam Anand Keller, Senior Associate Dean Innovation and Growth at Dartmouth College
  • Dr. Jagdish Sheth, Charles H. Kellstadt Professor of Business, Goizueta Business School, Emory University
  • Prof. Supriya Chakrabarti, Director of the Lowell Centre for Space Science and Technology, University of Massachusetts, Lowell
  • Prof. Gurpreet Dhillon, Farrington Professor of IT and Decision Sciences at University of North Texas
  • Prof. Raj Mehta, Vice Provost for International Affairs, Director University Honours Program, Professor of Marketing, Carl H. Lindner College of Business, University of Cincinnati
  • Prof. Yahya R. Kamalipour, Professor of Media and Communication, Department of Journalism & Mass Communication, North Carolina A&T State University
  • Dr. Shailesh Upreti, Chairman iM3NY, New York

INBUSH ERA 2022 also incorporates a "Happiness Conference" with speakers including Ben Smith, head of research and innovation for the Chelsea Football Club.


Friday, February 4, 2022

Verma, Goodwin take new jobs in higher ed leadership

Two friends and colleagues, Professor Manish Verma and attorney Kristine C. Goodwin, are moving into exciting new positions in higher education.

Dr. Verma has joined the University College of Bahrain as Vice President for Academic Affairs.  The university is a non-profit, English-language institution in the Kingdom of Bahrain, modeled after U.S. and Canadian higher education in the liberal arts tradition.  The university's leading programs are in business administration, information technology, and communications and multimedia.

Prof. Manish Verma
(LinkedIn photo)

An accomplished scholar himself in mass communication, Dr. Verma has been a friend and stellar colleague of mine for many years.  His enthusiasm and determination to collaborate across borders is almost singularly responsible for sparking my enduring interest in communication law and policy on the Indian subcontinent and in the Middle East.  I've been privileged firsthand to witness Manish's intense devotion to his students, and they respond with adoration in kind.  I expect that that teacher's spirit will animate his service in administration, where such spirit is so often sorely needed.
Bahrain, in the Persian Gulf
(map by TUBS CC BY-SA 3.0)

Closer to home, for me, attorney Kristine Goodwin has been named Vice President of Student Affairs at Western New England University.  Located in Springfield, Massachusetts, Western New England is a vital provider of access to higher education in its region.  In addition to the WNE School of Law, led by the talented Dean Sudha N. Setty, the university boasts colleges in arts and sciences, business, engineering, and pharmacy and health sciences.

Kristine Goodwin
(WNE photo)
Attorney Goodwin has more than three decades' experience in higher education.  That career was already well underway when she went to law school, so I cannot quite claim that my Torts I and II classes made all the difference.  It was rather my privilege to have around her magna cum laude appetite for learning.  She was a university administrator in my home state of Rhode Island while she went to law school.  She generously provided me with guidance and resources when I served on a university committee formulating personnel policy.

I hope leaders at University College of Bahrain and Western New England University, and students in Bahrain and Massachusetts, know how lucky they are.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

As America, France share Enlightenment roots, why have worker rights so diverged? Or have they?

Thomas D. Aaron Wazlavek, Esq. has published an article in comparative labor law: The Pond Separates Cultures but Not Values: A Comparative Look at the French Codification of Right to Withdrawal of Labor and the American Concept of At-Will Employment.  The article appears in the Florida Journal of International Law at the University of Florida Levin College of Law.  Here is the abstract:

The differences and similarities between the United States common law concept of “right to work” and the modern development in France of the right to withdraw labor following the “Yellow Vest” movement in 2018 demonstrate a parallel diminution of workers’ rights. These changes are motivated by the same values inherent within capitalism that are superimposed through the law. This Article analyzes the social and legal contexts in both countries that demonstrate that the superimposition of these values through law is a continuing modern western trend. The key difference is that while the French model is designed to decrease the pressure for strike actions by workers, it also serves as a protection to workers as compared with the American model which exists as a tool to remove workplace protections by substantially altering the terms and conditions of employment. Further, this Article demonstrates that these concepts are both divergent and convergent in terms of core shared values and the peripheral aspect of laws setting cultural norms. This Article then concludes through comparative analysis that while the French right to withdraw labor is a product of legislative supremacy, and the American view within the common law is that at-will employment is the standard, the French model is a product of generations of social negotiations. The American model is a product of the easily swayed influences within the common law that allow a new legal theory with little to no precedential value at the time of its proposal to be adopted in sweeping fashion with very little civil discourse.

An attorney living and working in Rhode Island, Wazlavek (blog, LinkedIn, Twitter) presently serves as a contract coordinator for Teamsters Local 251.  It's not uncommon to see him on a Rhode Island street corner alongside sign-wielding workers.  He had already a wealth of experience in the labor movement before he went to law school.  He taught me a great deal about organized labor—its value when it works the way it's supposed to—and I was able to contribute torts and comparatism to his impressive repertoire.

The Pond started as a paper in Comparative Law, co-taught by an embedded librarian, the esteemed Dean Peltz-Steele, and me and tracks one of many remarkable parallels in the cultural evolution of the United States and the French Republic.  Just yesterday I read Rachel Donadio's fascinating treatment of secularism, or laïcité, in The Atlantic.  Observing the shared roots of the French principle with American anti-establishment doctrine, Donadio observed:

The histories of few countries are as deeply intertwined as those of France and the United States. Both nations are products of the Enlightenment, and each sees itself as a beacon among nations. Both embody a clear separation of Church and state. In the United States, the separation is defined by the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from making any law "respecting an establishment of religion" or obstructing the free exercise of religion. The First Amendment was inspired by the earlier Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, adopted in 1786, the work of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was ambassador to France when the French Revolution began, and the Marquis de Lafayette consulted him when drafting the revolutionary Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, passed in 1789. Article 10 of that document states, "No one may be disquieted for his opinions, even religious ones, provided that their manifestation does not trouble the public order."

A shared legacy on labor regulation might not be traced so easily to the 18th century, but I would contend that American and French thinking about work and life is plenty in common.  Wazlavek maps that common cultural territory, and the article examines the social and economic forces that have prompted divergence, largely to the hazard of the American worker, and yet some recent convergence that prompted the Yellow Vest movement.

The article is Thomas D. Aaron Wazlavek, The Pond Separates Cultures But Not Values: A Comparative Look at the French Codification of Right to Withdrawal of Labor and the American Concept of At-Will Employment, 33 Fla. J. Int'l L. 75 (2021).

[UPDATE, Feb. 3, 2022:] Only two days after posting this item, I happened upon this compelling article as well: Stéphanie Hennette-Vauchez, Religious Neutrality, Laïcité and Colorblindness: A Comparative Analysis, 42 Cardozo L. Rev. 539 (2021).