Showing posts with label Boston. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Boston. Show all posts

Friday, October 1, 2021

Boston flag scrap heads to Washington

Three flagpoles at Boston City Hall (photo by Daderot CC0 1.0)
A Boston First Amendment flag-flying case is Supreme Court bound.

The case centers on three flagpoles at Boston City Hall.  The city flies the U.S. flag and POW/MIA flag on one pole, the Massachusetts flag on the second, and usually, the city flag on the third.  However, the city occasionally replaces its own flag with another.  The city refused a request by Camp Constitution, a religiously oriented civic organization, to fly the Christian ecumenical flag.

The First Circuit, affirming the district court, ruled for the city.  The court applied the government speech doctrine, holding that the third flagpole was reserved for the government's own speech, not opened as any kind of public forum for private speech.

The decision was supported by the testimony of city commissioner George Rooney, who said that he reviewed applications for flag raising for "consisten[cy] with the City's message, policies, and practices." The city moreover relied on its own First Amendment obligation not to establish religion.

Camp Constitution maintains that the application process expressly dedicates the flagpole as a public forum, so the First Amendment public forum doctrine should pertain.  In a public forum approach, the appellant reasons, exclusion of the ecumenical flag would be an impermissible discrimination against a religious viewpoint.

As the parties' positions demonstrate, the line between government speech doctrine and public forum doctrine is not always bright.  The government has the power to utter its own messages; think of Nancy Reagan saying, "Just Say No," or President Biden telling people to get vaccinated.

But when government opens a forum for public participation, its ability to censor within the forum is limited to setting the parameters of the forum.  Censorship of messages based on content must satisfy heightened First Amendment scrutiny, and censorship based on viewpoint is generally disallowed.  The paradigm is a bulletin board in a city park where the public is invited to post flyers.

Forums can be metaphysical, too.  Public forum doctrine was employed to limit President Trump's ability to excommunicate Twitter followers.  Tumultuous litigation over vanity license plates in the states have tugged back and forth across the government speech-public forum line, depending on how the government sets up the program.

The problem here is in large part of the city's own making, because, the First Circuit told us, "the City had no written policy for handling flag-raising applications. What is more, Rooney had never before denied a flag-raising application."  So Rooney was processing "applications," when "applications" were not really a thing.

Three months after Camp Constitution initiated litigation, the city adopted a written policy.  The first rule of the policy, on which the city now relies, "forbids the 'display [of] flags deemed to be inappropriate or offensive in nature or those supporting discrimination, prejudice, or religious movements.'"

The city's position is not helped by its history of flying a lot of flags.  The court recounted:

In a twelve-year period (from June 2005 through June 2017), the City approved 284 flag-raising events that implicated its third flagpole. These events were in connection with ethnic and other cultural celebrations, the arrival of dignitaries from other countries, the commemoration of historic events in other countries, and the celebration of certain causes (such as "gay pride"). The City also has raised on its third flagpole the flags of other countries, including Albania, Brazil, Ethiopia, Italy, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Mexico, as well as China, Cuba, and Turkey. So, too, it has raised the flags of Puerto Rico and private organizations, such as the Chinese Progressive Association, National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, Bunker Hill Association, and Boston Pride.

The city balked, it said, when faced with a first request to fly a religious flag.  The city believes that distinction bolsters its position in consistent policy and anti-establishment.  The same fact supports Camp Constitution's position, that the city is impermissibly hostile toward religion.

Flag controversies have been raging across the country.  My own hometown of Barrington, R.I., was rent in factions when, after a racially charged confrontation between residents, the town manager flew the Black Lives Matter flag at the town hall.  The United Veterans Council objected to what it perceived as diminution of the U.S. flag.  Like in Boston, the controversy was fueled by the town's lack of a policy.

The Supreme Court granted cert. in the Boston case yesterday.  Track Shurtleff v. Boston, No. 20-1800, at the Supreme Court and at SCOTUSblog.  HT @ The Volokh Conspiracy.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Collateral to drug-testing race discrimination suit, Boston wins chance to demand indemnity by lab

National Archives
Is hair-follicle drug testing racially discriminatory?

That was not the question before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Friday, but the Court's decision ancillary to that disparate-impact civil rights question is instructive on indemnity.

The civil rights claim in this case was filed in 2005 and still is in litigation in federal court.  Plaintiffs in that suit are eight police officers, a police cadet, and an applicant for a 911-operator job who suffered adverse action after testing positive in hair-follicle drug tests administered by the City of Boston.  Seven of the officers were fired for cocaine-positive results.

The plaintiffs, all African American, deny drug use.  They assert that the test is inaccurate and "disproportionately yielded false positives for people of color, resulting in disparate impact by race," the SJC wrote Friday.  "During the eight years for which the plaintiffs present data, black officers and cadets tested positive for cocaine approximately 1.3% of the time, while white officers and cadets tested positive just under 0.3% of the time," the First Circuit wrote in 2014.

The city won summary judgment twice in the trial court, yet the First Circuit twice found error, in 2014 and in 2016, and remanded for further proceedings.  The case, Jones v. City of Boston, remains in the district court, though the docket shows no activity on the merits since the latter remand, suggesting a resolution might have been reached.

The instant case is a dispute in state court between the city and the test provider, Psychemedics Corp.  In the city's contract with Psychemedics, the company promised "to 'assume the defense of' the city, and to 'hold [it] harmless' from all suits and claims arising from 'wrongful or negligent' acts by Psychemedics."  After suit was filed against the city, it went to Psychemedics to talk defense.  It's not clear that the two ever got on the same page.  Psychemedics seemed to regard the suit as outside the scope of the indemnity and regarded its obligations fulfilled by offering the city technical assistance on the science.

Then, as the SJC recounted flatly, "Ten years passed."  In 2017, the city started looking around for help with its long mounting legal expenses and set its sights on Psychemedics.  "What?!" Psychemedics said.  I paraphrase.  Psychemedics sued for declaratory relief, and the city counterclaimed for breach of contract and related theories.

The case boils down to an indemnitee's duty to notify an indemnitor of the need to defend.  An indemnitee, the Court held, "must give the indemnitor 'notice and an opportunity to defend.'  The indemnitee then must allow the indemnitor to take over the defense (if it attempts to do so), and must not later block the indemnitor from doing so."  Parties are free to contract specifics, but in the absence of other specification, "'no particular form of words is necessary' to present notice and the opportunity to assume the defense."  (Citations omitted throughout.)

Justice Lenk
The SJC vacated the trial court summary judgment for Psychemedics and remanded.  The trial judge had improperly decided questions of fact, inadvertently burdening the city with having to refute the company's assertions of fact.  The SJC rejected as unproved, as yet, a number of Psychemedics theories, such as that the city had declined the company's defense or had not litigated Jones in good faith as to protect Psychemedics from liability.

To my novice reading—I am no expert on insurance or indemnity—the city fairly invoked the company's duty to defend many times, and Psychemedics tried to weasel out.  Anyway, the SJC concluded that that was how the trial court should have looked at the case on summary judgment motion, because that was the position of the city, which was the non-moving party.

The case is Psychemedics Corp. v. City of Boston, No. SJC-12903 (Mass. Jan. 29, 2021).  Justice Barbara A. Lenk, since retired, authored the opinion of the unanimous Court.

Monday, September 14, 2020

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.

Friday, May 3, 2019

SCOTUS, climate change, drug addiction, immigration highlight law and policy issues at UMass colloquium


Today at the Fifth UMass Interdisciplinary Legal Studies Colloquium in Boston, scholars talked about a range of intriguing work, from politics to climate change to drug legalization, being done across the University of Massachusetts campuses—Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth, and Lowell, and Law (at Dartmouth) and Medical (at Worcester).  Here’s a taste.

View of Boston from One Beacon Street today.  "Back Bay is called 'Back Bay' for a reason," UMass Dartmouth Professor  
Chad McGuire said, referring to reclaimed land that is threatened by rising sea levels.
Law and Policy Inside the Beltway
Panel 1—Moderated by yours truly

Queer Sacrifice in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Jeremiah Ho, UMass Law.  Professor Ho explicated his theory of “interest convergence,” and how a lack thereof explains the result in the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in the LGBTQ-rights cakeshop case.  His research shows how images—sometimes literally—of gay identity have informed public and judicial perception of LGBTQ rights cases.  Three more cases lie on the horizon, in the Court’s next term, Ho said, so stay tuned.   Meanwhile preview his "Queer Sacrifice" work, just out in the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism, at SSRN.

Can Presidents Influence Public Attitudes Toward the Supreme Court? Evidence from a Survey Experiment, Paul M. Collins, Jr. (blog), Department of Political Science, UMass Amherst.  Collins’s long-term research digs deep into how statements and action by the President of the United States exert influence over public perception of the U.S. Supreme Court and its decisions.  What the President says matters; consider, Collins proffers, the White House has a whole office dedicated to SCOTUS spin.  Collins also notes that low public knowledge of the Court is a factor in allowing public opinion to be influenced by forces external to the Court.  I can’t help but think about the Court’s intransigence on cameras and public access.  Anyway, Collins has discovered that the public is more easily influenced on “low salience” issues, but less so on “high salience” (I’d say “hot button”) issues, such as immigration.

On the Supreme Court of the United States of America (and Congruent Agencies and Ministries in the Term of President Donald Trump), Judge Francis Larkin, UMass Law.  Judge Larkin shared observations of recent events in President-Court interaction.  He recalled FDR’s Court-packing plan, relative to its recent resurgence in politics (e.g., WaPo).

Forcing Disclosure, Justine Dunlap, UMass Law.  Professor Dunlap is looking at mandatory disclosures under Title IX, especially faculty duties.  She observes that the evolution of Title IX over recent decades, under administrations from both sides of the aisle, have fairly sought to respond to a real problem of unredressed sexual harassment and assault on college campuses.  But the responses have not always been well tuned.  And mandatory reporting, however well intentioned, can put faculty in the impossible bind of having to betray student trust.  (Professor Julie Baker in Q&A aptly noted also that the consequences of ill-tuned reporting schemes for accused perpetrators are not always conducive to dispute resolution or justice.)  Dunlap talked about a system being implemented at the University of Oregon that contemplates a third class of potential “reporter”—rather than all or nothing, a “student-directed reporter.”

Recovery, Resiliency, and Equality in Economic Development
Panel 2—Moderated by Professor Justine Dunlap, UMass Law

Opening for Business: Tax-Haven Economy and the State of Exception in Puerto Rico, Jose Atiles, Department of Political Science, UMass Amherst.  Professor Atiles is working on Puerto Rico and U.S. development strategies.  He explained that there are two prevalent approaches to development policy concerning the island, one the “blank canvas” approach, which encourages recovery investment on the selling point that, more or less, my words: there’s nothing there at present; two the “PR is open for business” approach, which seeks to exploit the island’s legal status as a tax haven.  Both of these representations are animated by a “neoliberal-colonial rationality,” and that troubling mindset is reflected in the law that facilitates these strategies.

I’m reminded of the colonial terra nullius doctrine with respect to the blank canvas, and the local-policy-characteristic Everett casino debate with respect to “open for business.”  Puerto Rico and its people are not our offshore plaything.  In Q&A, I asked Atiles what it would take for us to start thinking about PR more like we do Missouri.  Statehood and independence each have advantages and drawbacks, which he explained summarily; what won’t save PR, he said, is the status quo.

A “Least Regrets” Framework for Coastal Climate Change Resiliency Through Economic Development, Chad McGuire and Michael Goodman, College of Arts and Sciences, UMass Dartmouth.  Professor McGuire continues his renowned work on environmental conservation and climate change, and now he’s brought public policy numbers wizard Professor Goodman (also president of the UMass Dartmouth Faculty Senate) onto the team to look at the economics.  They’re attacking the problem of aligning shorter-term economic incentives with the longer-term public interest in saving the human race from extinction.

I just saw Dan Gardner on The Daily Show talking to Roy Wood Jr. (video embedded below) (let me remind everyone that I shook Roy’s hand in East Providence) talking about how our “caveman” brains don’t well process the threat of climate change because it’s too abstract, that we need more urgent messaging.  McGuire and Goodman have it.  As I’m wearing a sweater in May, McGuire observed: “Spring has become less of a thing, and winter moving into summer is becoming more of a thing.”  We’ve lost 15-30 days of winter in New England, he shows with data, and seasonal transitions are becoming more abrupt.  Then he directs us toward the view of Boston from our huge glass windows here in the 32nd floor of One Beacon Street.  “Back Bay is called ‘Back Bay’ for a reason,” McGuire said.  Boston sits on filled-in bay.

At lunch, McGuire told me about rubber buffers that run through Boston streets to absorb shifts in the aqueous earth beneath.  And he told me about the latest alarming findings from the Ross Ice Shelf.  Our society has invested a great deal in developing low-lying land, and we’re going to have reconcile that policy with our climate game.



Human Rights Responses to Economic and Social Inequalities—A Book Proposal, Gillian MacNaughton, School for Global Inclusion and Social Development, UMass Boston.  For my money—both figuratively and literally—Professor MacNaughton’s work is what we need to save humanity from catastrophe—after and assuming we figure out how to survive climate change.  MacNaughton takes what we know and bemoan about inequality of wealth and opportunity in the United States and runs writ large with the problem.  As she wrote in her abstract: “The Global Wealth Report 2017 reveals that the wealthiest 1% of the global population owns 50% of global assets, while the poorest 50% owns less than 1%.”  Building on the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, she plans to propose putting some punch behind international treaty guarantees of social and economic equality, such as we might start to address this problem on the global level.  I’ve often lamented that our increasingly disparate economic stratification will be our undoing in the United States if we don’t address it.  It’s worth being reminded how much more desperate the situation already is worldwide.  See also Professor MacNaughton's recent co-edited book, Economic and Social Rights in a Neoliberal World (Cambridge University Press 2019).

Drug Use and Abuse, and the Criminal Justice System
Panel 3—Moderated by Professor Julie Baker, UMass Law

Is Marijuana the Gateway Drug? Maybe Not, But Its Legalization Could Be, Nikolay Anguelov, College of Arts and Science, UMass Dartmouth.  Professor Anguelov is known to many of my readers and former students as the author of the 2015 book, The Dirty Side of the Garment Industry: Fast Fashion and Its Negative Impact on Environment and Society (CRC Press) (Amazon).  I have heard him speak many times to awestruck and sometimes squirming audiences about the connection between their affordable clothing and Bangladesh waterways poisoned with dye and arsenic.  Anguelov is more recently author of From Criminalizing to Decriminalizing Marijuana: The Politics of Social Control (Lexington Books 2018) (Amazon).  Anguelov is now fine-tuning his formidable research into marijuana use.  His early data invite the conclusion that legalization—which I as a libertarian have favored—might be contributing to the opioid epidemic at least by “contributing to the cultural normalization of drug use and experimentation.”  Ruh-roh, Shaggy.  This is going to require further research, and I’m anticipatorily squirming in my H&Ms.

Recovery Coaches in Opioid Use Disorder Care, Matthew Maughan, UMass Medical.  When opioid addiction turns to recovery, attorney Matthew Maughan is the policy guru to turn to.  Informed by his multifaceted experience and research, he explained the role and peculiar success of the “recovery coach.”  It might be awkwardly unorthodox in terms of developing a large-scale model, but sometimes a block grant for an activity tailored to a person’s specific needs offers the best hope for recovery and might as well be cost effective.  Maughan recounted the story of a recovery accomplished through mental clarity achieved on the water on a kayak, under the guidance of a recovery coach.  That’s got to cost less than any bill I’ve ever gotten from a medical clinic.

Locating Cannabis Equity: Defining Areas Impacted by Drug Criminalization, Michael Johnson, Professor and Chair, McCormack Graduate School, UMass Boston, and Jeffrey Moyer, doctoral candidate in public policy, UMass Boston.  Moyer is working with Professor Johnson to study the intersection of enforcement and anti-discrimination.  Specifically, he asks whether the Massachusetts “Cannabis Control Commission’s use of a race-neutral variable is effective in selecting areas disproportionately impacted by criminalization.”  Part of the work has entailed mapping all drug arrests, which generates some compelling graphics when overlaid with demographic data.  I am reminded of being a journalism intern at WJZ-TV in Baltimore in the early 1990s, when we made an analog map—this was when we were still working on DOS-based computers—literally putting color pushpins in a map of Baltimore to look at the coincidence of murders with factual and demographic elements.  That was a time when we were first talking about the problem of race and policing “where the crime is.”  We also walked five miles to school, uphill both ways.

Moyer shows analysis of geographic data on police enforcement, obtained in part through a public record request.
To Plea or Not to Plea: A Virtual Simulation of Plea-Bargain Scenarios, Miko M. Wilford, Psychology Department, UMass Lowell; Annabelle Frazier, doctoral candidate in applied psychology, UMass Lowell; Kelly Sutherland, doctoral candidate in applied psychology and prevention science, UMass Lowell.  With doctoral candidates on a new applied psychology track at UMass Lowell, Professor Wilford is taking a behavioral look at plea bargaining, that irksome feature of the criminal justice system that we don’t like to talk about, even while we know it results in some guilty pleas calculated to avert draconian outcomes (my take).  Really they’re looking at the research of plea bargain research, trying to refine how we learn about people's decision-making processes in these high-stakes circumstances.  Perhaps no surprise once you think about it, it is difficult to simulate having so much at stake with volunteers in psychology-lab experiments.  The team is working on new, high-tech models using animations to engender empathy and generate better results.  See more at the project website, Pleajustice.org.

Personal Rights at the Borders
Panel 4—Moderator: Misty Peltz-Steele, UMass Law

Controlling Asylum: A Genealogical Analysis of Gender and Race Intersectionality, Phil Kretsedemas, College of Liberal Arts, UMass Boston.  Professor Kretsedemas is studying the status of domestic violence survivors and Latin American asylum seekers relative to Matter of A-B, an AG-Sessions opinion “that dramatically curtails asylum protections for survivors of domestic violence, and for many other people who have been persecuted by non-state actors.”  A U.S. District Court has lately pushed back on Sessions’s conclusions, Kretsedemas said, as he investigates the problem from critical dimensions of gender and racial equality.  Kretsedemas’s approach is further informed by comparative law, as he draws on parallel legal perspectives from foreign tribunals, including the U.K. House of Lords, and from parallel cultural perspectives, such as Guatemalan views on gender roles within families.  Present policies, focusing for example unduly on familial cohesion, have gravely injurious impact, for example failing to protect women from female genital mutilation.  Kretsedemas locates these policies in a context that includes family separation, though the latter issue has garnered greater public attention.

Troubling Bodies: The Office of Refugee Resettlement and the Unaccompanied Pregnant Teen, Shoshanna Ehrlich, College of Liberal Arts, UMass Boston.  Also examining a perhaps under-recognized issue within our vast immigration policy debate, Professor Ehrlich is studying the federal government’s “literal refusal to release [young women] from . . . custody so they may access abortion care,” plainly violating their civil rights, Ehrlich asserts.  Even the U.S. Government waived argument in the courts as to whether the teens involved here enjoy U.S. constitutional rights.  Yet in government memos discovered in ACLU litigation, Ehrlich shared in her presentation, Scott Lloyd, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), opined that abortions desired even by teens impregnated by rape are not in the young women’s best interests.  Lloyd was removed from his post and “transferred to HHS’s Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives,” Rolling Stone reported in November 2018.  He was later summoned to testify in Congress about family separations, Politico reported in February 2019.  Ehrlich told of interviewing parents the government separated from their children, and the trauma that resulted, wondering how the government could at the same time justify refusing abortions on the rationale that mothers should not be separated from their unborn children, despite their personal circumstances and decisions.