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.
Showing posts with label Ireland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ireland. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Courts extend European accountability laws to private actors: Italian soccer federation, Irish wind farm

Two recent court decisions in Europe construed European directives on public accountability to reach ostensibly private actors, the Italian soccer federation and an Irish wind-power producer.

Stocksnap by Michal Jarmoluk CC0
The problem of accountability for private actors performing public functions is as old as the corporate form.  Burgeoning corporatocracy in the electronic era has rendered new challenges to the classical public-private dichotomy, in recent years, especially, in the area of social media regulation (e.g., pro and con).  I have written about rethinking this problem in the context of access to information, regarding reform in both the United States and Europe, and I continue to research emerging models in the developing world.  As a general matter, Europe has been much less reticent than the United States to breach the public-private line with accountability mechanisms such as transparency laws.

In early February, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Luxembourg ruled that the Italian Football Federation, or Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC), an ostensibly private entity, is sometimes a public body for purposes of the 2014 European directive on public procurement.  The directive defines public bodies within its purview:

(a) they are established for the specific purpose of meeting needs in the general interest, not having an industrial or commercial character;

(b) they have legal personality; and

(c) they are financed, for the most part, by the State, regional or local authorities, or by other bodies governed by public law; or are subject to management supervision by those authorities or bodies; or have an administrative, managerial or supervisory board, more than half of whose members are appointed by the State, regional or local authorities, or by other bodies governed by public law.

The definition is not unlike formulations in state freedom of information acts in the United States, which tend to press harder against the public-private line than the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) does.  A classic example of disparate approaches in the states concerns access to the wealthy private foundations that lurk behind public universities.  My colleague Professor Robert Steinbuch has been bearing the transparency standard on this front in Arkansas and is supporting a bill there now.

At issue in the Italian case was a contract for porter services when foreign squads visit Italy.  A disappointed contractor challenged the process and won a round in Italy's high administrative court, and the appellate Council of State in Italy referred the interpretation question to the CJEU.  Both in the United States and globally, governing bodies in sport, often set up as private or quasi-public entities, have posed aggravating challenges in public accountability like the university-foundation problem.  Inapplicability of the FOIA to the US Olympic Committee has been cited as a contributing factor in sexual-assault cover-ups, and last summer, I took in no fewer than three books and a TV series on the intractable corruption in world soccer.

The CJEU opinion determined that the FIGC, constituted under private law, can act as a private body when it has autonomy to form private contracts.  However, the Italian National Olympic Committee (NOC) is a public body and has supervisory power, sometimes with a controlling stake, over some FIGC functions.  Insofar as the NOC is calling the shots on contracts, the FIGC is a public body, subject to public procurement rules.  The CJEU opinion now goes back to the Italian courts to parse the specifics. 

Cronelea Wind Farm in County Wicklow, 2008
Meanwhile, in late January, the High Court of Ireland ruled that electric company Raheenleagh Power DAC (RP) is a "public authority" for purposes of the Irish enactment of the European directive on public access to environmental information.  The law and directive define public authorities:

(a) government or other public administration, including public advisory bodies, at national, regional or local level;

(b) any natural or legal person performing public administrative functions under national law, including specific duties, activities or services in relation to the environment; and

(c) any natural or legal person having public responsibilities or functions, or providing public services, relating to the environment under the control of a body or person falling within (a) or (b).

Reversing the Irish Commissioner for Environmental Information, the High Court determined that RP came within the definition's latter terms.  The court explained, "RP is a joint-venture company which operates a wind farm in a forest in the Wicklow Mountains. The wind farm supplies electricity to the national grid."  Complicating the analysis, the RP venture includes a one-half stake by the national-monopoly Electricity Supply Board (ESB), which the court described as "an independent semi-State company."

Like in the Italian case, the court reasoned that ESB control and management of RP brought it within the purview of public accountability law.  The ruling is important for the example it sets amid the wide range of public-private hybrids providing critical utility and infrastructure across Europe and the world.

Even so, I would like to have seen the court hang its hat more firmly on the functional analysis of the cited paragraph (b), rather than resorting to the paradigm of state control.  The urgent communal interests at stake in environmental protection have been a salient inducement to the extension of transparency law in Europe and Africa.  Western social democracies have been keen to ameliorate the effects of climate change, and many African regimes have awakened to lasting environmental damage inflicted by colonial enterprises.

The Italian case is FIGC v. De Vellis Servizi Globali Srl, nos. C‑155/19 and C‑156/19, ECLI:EU:C:2021:88 (CJEU Feb. 3, 2021).  Cain Burdeau has coverage for Courthouse NewsSven Demeulemeester, William Timmermans, and Matthias Ballieu have commentary for Altius in Belgium.

The Irish case is Right to Know CLG v. Commissioner for Environmental Information, [2021] IEHC 46 (High Ct. Jan. 25, 2021) (Ireland).  Mr. Justice Alexander Owens delivered the judgment.  Right to Know is a transparency advocacy organization headed by activist, blogger, and entrepreneur Gavin Sheridan and former and working journalists.  Jonathan Moore and Patrick Reilly have commentary for Field Fisher in Dublin.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Court: Irish officials must justify non-disclosure under FOIA exemption for commercial information

Ireland Supreme Court chamber (Michael Foley CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
In two judgments in late September, the Supreme Court of Ireland ruled that Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) of 2014 exemption for confidential commercial information is not mandatory and that public entities relying on the exemption "must explain why the public interest does not justify release."

In both cases, public entities responding to record requests had been permitted to rely on the prima facie application of the exemption.  That approach fell short of the Irish FOIA's legislative command, the Supreme Court reasoned, because the record requesters were given no information with which to test the validity of the exemption.  The Supreme Court reversed and remanded.

Federal and state FOIAs in the United States also exempt from disclosure confidential information that private entities supply to government when disclosure would jeopardize the private entity's competitive position.  The exemptions operate also to shield public information from disclosure that would jeopardize the government's own competitive position as an actor in the private marketplace.

The U.S. FOIA does not, and state FOIAs typically do not, require that a public agency independently test confidential-information exemption against the public interest in disclosure, essentially second-guessing private owners' confidentiality designations.  To the contrary, legislative exemptions in some states are mandatory, and not, as U.S. FOIA exemptions are, committed to administrative discretion.  Current federal policy permits the disclosure of some statutorily exempt records, but the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) counsels agencies to engage in "full and deliberate" analysis of competing interests.  As to federal exemption 4, for confidential information, the DOJ has opined that such information "would not ordinarily be the subject of discretionary FOIA disclosure."

University College Cork, 2019 (Michael O'Sheil CC BY-SA 4.0)
However, unlike U.S. FOIA exemption 4 ("trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person and privileged or confidential," 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(4)), the Irish exemption for confidential information is limited by a "public interest override."  According to the Irish law, the exemption does not apply when according to the agency "head concerned, the public interest would, on balance, be better served by granting than by refusing to grant the FOI request."  Public interest overrides favoring disclosure are uncommon in U.S. access-to-information law, except in balancing analyses involving personnel records.

Journalist Gavin Sheridan, 2014 (Markus ›fin‹ Hametner CC BY 2.0)
Decided on September 25, 2020, both cases in Ireland involved journalistic investigations.  In Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources v. Information Commissioner, [2020] IESC 57, journalist, FOI advocate, and founding CEO of Vizlegal, a legal information service provider, Gavin Sheridan (recent profile at The Attic) sought access to a state contract with service wholesaler E-Nasc Éireann Teoranta (eNet) to provide public access to fibre-optic-cable infrastructure.  In University College Cork v. Information Commissioner, [2020] IESC 58, news broadcaster RTÉ sought information about a €100m loan by the European Investment Bank to the National University of Ireland, Cork.  Both court opinions were authored by Justice Marie Baker, herself a U. Cork alumna, with four other justices concurring.

More details and further analysis of the cases are available from Andrew McKeown BL at Irish Legal News (Sept. 28, 2020), and from Bébhinn Bollard, Doug McMahon, and Brendan Slattery at McCann FitzGerald (Oct. 12, 2020).

Monday, December 23, 2019

Comparative law papers span globe, round out 2019

Comparative Law is so rewarding to teach that I'm probably overcompensated to do it.*  The inherently diverse nature of the course content, co-instructor Dean Peltz-Steele and I find, inspires students to creativity in their work in a way that much of law school never manages to do. Moreover, I think, that opportunity to be creative is why students respond favorably to the class, an oasis in the monotonous sea of bar courses.  We learn so much from their projects in Comparative Law, which adds in turn to the rewards of teaching the class.

At risk of pride, I wish to share, with students' permission, the impressive range of projects generated in our class this semester in 2019.  The following excerpts are of my construction, so any roughness in the editing is my fault.  No need to call for reference checks on any of these students; every one has our informed endorsement.  Let the hiring begin!

Markus Aloyan (Instagram), Executive Powers: Rebirth of a Soviet State [Armenia and the United States]. Therefore, the current political climate and constitutional crises in Armenia contain a historically driven, Soviet-Communist basis and more modernly developed Russian influence that came to fruition in the young Republic's 2015 Constitutional Amendments. The Russian-influenced reforms will be compared to the executive powers vested by the American Constitution, and analyzed for their causes and effects on the region. [Footnotes omitted.]

Tyler Hicks, England and United States Fishing and Hunting LawsThe purpose of this paper is to compare the very different histories of England and the United States for wildlife management, and then show how even though these countries have different systems, their overall goal to protect and further wildlife is generally the same in effect. England and Massachusetts generally face the same issues when it comes to enforcement of their laws as well. Both countries value the ability to be able to hunt and fish but understand that they have a duty to hunt and fish both ethically and humanely. In particular, I will compare the fishing and hunting laws of England and the laws of the United States, including Massachusetts.

William McGuire, Prostitution and Human Trafficking [Sweden, UK, US].  Prostitution and human trafficking are two intertwined issues that have prevailed throughout the course of modern history, and an analysis of the different approaches taken by different societies articulates a quadripartite view of prostitution as a whole.  The four views are the moralizing view, normalizing view, the patheticizing view and the victimization view.   These four views have produced three categories of legal systems, the absolute or partial criminalization of prostitution, the regulation and legitimization of prostitution, and the abolition of prostitution.... In this paper, I will articulate the three different legal systems through example.  I will use the Swedish Model to show how the partial criminalization of prostitution has affected Swedish society as a whole.  I will use the United States to show the American model of abolition of prostitution, with the exception of the state of Nevada.  Finally, I will use The Netherlands to show the regulation of prostitution.  I will then discuss the social pressures that led to the adoption of the legal system used in each country, specifically, whether the impetus was to combat human trafficking or not.  Finally, I will conclude by discussing whether there is convergence or divergence on a regional and global level.

Daniel Picketts, [Civil Rights in United States and Contemporary Afghanistan].  The evolution of civil rights has been driven by changing societal sentiments and ultimately cemented in different civilizations through changes in their laws. Currently in the United States, civil rights are the buzzword of the day and the public’s changing sentiment is demanding attention from the nations law makers. The current climate and inclusion of different classes that make up the civil rights of the United States has taken a winding path that has led it away from the oppressive, segregate founding, to the arguable progressive, inclusive current day.... Comparing two vastly different countries with glaring differences becomes productive when the factors that have effected changes in civil rights, while accounting for any differences, cultural or otherwise, are similar. What this comparison sets out to accomplish is to compare two different countries: the United States, and Afghanistan. The similarities in civil rights are few and far between. Instead what will be compared are the events in the two countries that are somewhat similar and the outcomes that resulted in the respective countries....


Christine Powers, A Comparison of the Child Custody Standards in the United States, New Zealand, and Ireland.  This paper is an examination and discussion of the different child custody definitions and terminologies and the standard deployed by the judicial system when making a child custody determination. The paper will discuss the different factors that a judge may or must consider when making a child custody arrangement. Further, the article will discuss whether or not there is a trend towards a unified standard and whether unification of the standard is possible.







Kiersten Reider, I Do But I Don't Want To: A Comparative Analysis of the Criminal Marital Rape Laws of the United States and India.  The aim of this paper is to provide a comprehensive analysis of the criminal rape laws of the United States and India, with an emphasis on marital rape. I will spend time discussing each country individually before drawing a comparison between the two. First, I will discuss the United States, briefly touching on the common law history of marriage, and criminal rape laws at the state and federal level. I will then discuss India, touching on its hybrid legal system, and the history of marriage and criminal rape laws at the state and federal level. Last, I will discuss the similarities and differences between the two systems.

Christina Suh, Comparing the Law to Court-Mandated Divorce Parenting Class Between the United States and South Korea. This paper compares legislative and judicial history in implementation of court-mandated parenting classes during divorce proceedings in the United States and South Korea.  The discussion demonstrates how evolution of social movements in each country changed its customary laws in the area of family law jurisprudence.  In exploring the multiple related causes behind the development of the mandated parenting class, parts of the paper will address how Korea’s high cultural context influenced its revision in laws to focus on the protection of minor children and promote gender equality.  Although there is a lack of strong studies that speaks to the direct effectiveness of the program in each country, the related research demonstrates the importance of educating parents about managing conflict and promoting the health and safety of children.  In conclusion, findings will show why changes in law that educate and decrease adverse child experience (ACE) is an approach that benefits society as a whole, in the long term....

Brittany Wescott, Juvenile Justice Converges on Principles Leading to the International Harmonization of the Juvenile Justice System [South Africa, US].  This paper explores the similarities and differences between two countries, South Africa and the United States, specifically Massachusetts, in relation to the international principles governing each respective juvenile justice system. This paper explains how both the South African system and the U.S. system developed, illustrating the various principles each holds dear. In addition, this paper looks specifically at the value behind setting a minimum age of criminal responsibility, the crimes juveniles can be charged with, the limitations on sentencing, and the handling of juveniles in and out of the court room. Regardless of ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child, both countries have made significant progress toward embodying the principles of the international community.

Kyle Zacharewicz, Wish You Were Here: A Comparative Analysis of U.S. and Canadian Refugee Law and PolicyImmigration and refugee policy of various nations has started to move in the trend of “locking down” the border. It has been seen, both with the increase in numbers of refugees and the occurrence of several populist movements across the globe gaining real traction, that many countries have begun to implement a “Nation First” mentality toward the growing threat of “those people,” the nomadic wanderers by happenstance of displacement and inability to return home.... While the exchange of ideas on the treatment of and allowances for Refugees in the greater European community are robust and important, this paper will instead take a deep dive into the myths of how two different countries, the only two neighbors on the continent of North America, deal with and treat refugees and asylum seekers in order to discover how truly they hold up currently.... I find it effective to analyze these two countries as they are connected by their common law systems, participation in international treaty-making, similar legal structure in immigration and refugee procedure, and a border.... It is easy to see how the policy of one can affect the other, and my goal after explaining the reality of how these systems operate today is to show how the United States has clamped down on its immigration policy, and why Canada largely has the potential makings of a similar populist movement toward “locking down” the border.

Congratulations, Comparative Law students!


*Hyperbole.  I'm not overcompensated at UMass, despite an inexplicable vote by the tenured faculty to disallow anyone asking for a raise.  Compare Salary.com with MassLive database.  Nonetheless, I will remain grateful for the opportunity to have worked with and learned from my students.