Showing posts with label University of Massachusetts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label University of Massachusetts. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Law class visits Constitutional Court of Portugal

Law students and Dean Sam Panarella (left)
visit the Constitutional Court.
© RJ Peltz-Steele

Since last week, ten talented U.S. law students have been making the most of Lisbon, Portugal, in UMass Law's first class abroad.

In our maiden venture, we are studying comparative data protection law in the United States, European Union, and Portugal. We have been treated to superb lectures by law faculty of our partner institution, the Universidade Católica Portuguesa (UCP).

Today, a UCP faculty member welcomed us to the home of the Portugal Constitutional Court, where he also serves as Vice-President. Justice Gonçalo de Almeida Ribeiro spoke to us there about constitutional conflict in the EU legal system.

The justice had instructed students to prepare by reading Digital Rights Ireland, a 2014 case in the EU Court of Justice (CJEU), and the "Metadata Ruling," a 2019 decision of the Constitutional Court of Portugal. In Digital Rights, the CJEU had struck down an EU directive on data retention as inconsistent with fundamental rights under the European Charter. 

Justice Gonçalo de Almeida Ribeiro addresses law students.
RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
The case marked a recognition of the CJEU's own power of judicial review. But it also raised a confounding question. The CJEU lacks authority to review national legislation directly. So what would become of national, domestic laws that had been enacted already pursuant to the stricken EU directive? 

The Portuguese Constitutional Court in Metadata construed Portuguese constitutional law in harmony with the EU Charter to strike down as well the problematic provisions of Portuguese law that had been enacted pursuant to the directive. The responses of the Portuguese and other national constitutional courts to Digital Rights thus marked a pivotal point in the evolution of the EU's peculiar brand of "federalism" (to jam a square peg into a round word).

All of the law students in the class deserve praise for being good-natured and flexible in the face of a fluctuating itinerary for this fledgling Portugal project. They all assert, nonetheless, that they are here first and foremost for this remarkable learning opportunity, and not for myriad other benefits, for example, to see Taylor Swift at Benfica Stadium at what are by U.S. standards bargain ticket prices. That was icing.

UMass law students with me at Universidade Católica Portuguesa
© Prof. Sofia Pinto (licensed)
 

Friday, April 12, 2024

UMass Law inaugurates comparative law study abroad

UMass Law School has announced a two-week study abroad program in Lisbon, Portugal, in partnership with Universidade Católica Portuguesa (UCP), focused on U.S.-EU comparative law.

I'm quick to call out my employer when it does something bone-headed, so I should be willing to give praise when it does something right. This is the latter.

In 28 years of university teaching, I've consistently had to persuade deans that internationalism matters. Some, not always nor wholly to their discredit, have been so absorbed by the burdens of making the world better locally that they have not had the bandwidth to think about other cities and states, much less countries.

Some have just been fools. Like the one in Arkansas who told me that "our students don't care about that" to reject my proposed partnership with a Mexican school when Arkansas had the fastest growing per capita Latino population in the country, a new Mexican consulate was opening in Little Rock, and we supposedly cared about diversity.

It was a shock, then, to find that the new top dean this academic year at UMass Law, Sam Panarella, believes that international engagement is a vital component of being a good law school. Thanks to his leadership in just his first year as dean, 10 students from UMass Law will journey to Lisbon this very year to study the comparative law and policy of U.S. and EU data protection.

Rhode Island and the south coast of Massachusetts, where UMass Law is located, are home to the largest Portuguese-American population in the United States by a wide margin. So the program is a welcome and logical fit for 14-year-old UMass Law School. The program is made possible, especially for students, by generous support from the Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture at UMass Dartmouth, which does important work in its cultural niche.

We plan to repeat the Lisbon program in future years, in other areas of comparative focus, taking advantage of the varied expertise of law faculty at UMass and UCP. There are hurdles to overcome. But I'm hopeful that this is just the beginning of UMass Law's portfolio on international engagement.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Hart, legislative counsel, talks public service career

Attorney Kevin Hart speaks to students today, Feb. 20, at UMass Law School about his career path in public service in Massachusetts state government, and earlier, in the Town of Bridgewater.

Hart is now chief counsel for the Joint Committee on Transportation in the Massachusetts legislature. He graduated from UMass Law in 2015. He came to UMass Law with a BA from Stonehill College and an MPA from the Sawyer Business School at Suffolk University.

Hart was the second teaching assistant I hired at UMass Law in Torts I and Torts II. (The first is doing well too.) He wrote a characteristically excellent research paper on the modern inutility of the historical negligent-delivery-of-telecommunication cause of action.

I'm not saying that my teaching causes meteoric career success. I'm just observing correlation.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Plaintiff drops privacy suit that stretched to claim against UMass Medical in nationwide data breach

UMass Chan Medical School
Mass. Office of Travel & Tourism via Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0
Until six days ago, the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School was defending a privacy suit over a data breach, though the plaintiff liability theories looked thin.

There doesn't seem to be any dispute over the fact of the data breach. UMass Chan was just one of hundreds of organizations nationwide implicated in a breach affecting tens of millions. According to electronic security firm Emsisoft (which has a commercial interest in higher numbers), the breach affected more than 2,700 organizations and the data of more than 94 millions persons (last updated Jan. 18, 2024).

The vulnerability for all of these organizations was a file transfer platform called MOVEit, a product of publicly traded, Burlington, Mass.-based Progress Software Corp. UMass Chan used MOVEit to transfer personal information to other state agencies and programs. Hackers obtained and published the data of more than 134,000 persons, including recipients of state supplemental income and elder services.

According to state officials, WBUR reported, the "exposed data varies by person, but in each case includes the person's name and at least one other piece of information like date of birth, mailing address, protected health information like diagnosis and treatment details, Social Security number, and financial account information." The commonwealth notified affected persons and offered free credit monitoring and identity theft protection.

The complaint filed in federal court in September 2023 sought class action certification. The named plaintiff blamed UMass Chan for weak security and delayed notification resulting in a fraudulent attempt to use her debit card. Wednesday last week, the plaintiff voluntarily dismissed without prejudice, meaning the case might not yet be over.

The articulated causes of action, though, were a stretch. That's not to say that the putative plaintiffs suffered no injury. The problem rather is that the law in most states, including Massachusetts, and at the federal level still fails to define data privacy wrongs in a manner on par with the law of Europe and most of the rest of the world.

There was no statutory cause of action in the UMass Chan complaint. The diversity complaint alleged counts of negligence, breach of contract, and unjust enrichment.

Negligence has not been a productive vein for privacy plaintiffs, who lack the usually prerequisite physical injury. Massachusetts cracks open the door more than most other states to negligence actions based on lesser injury claims, such as emotional distress or economic loss. But it's not a wide opening.

Privacy actions in state law meanwhile are problematic because American common law has not yet well established the nature of the plaintiff's loss according to conventional understandings of injury. Indeed, federal courts disagree over when a statutory state privacy action supplies the "injury-in-fact" standing required by the federal Constitution. 

The named plaintiff in the UMass Chan case hastened to emphasize her contractual relationship with UMass Chan as a service provider, in an effort to anchor the negligence claim within a strong relationship of duty to get through the Massachusetts doorway. She described the identity risk of the debit-card incident to establish economic loss at least.

It's not clear that the pleading could have pushed over the hurdles to negligence recovery. I have advocated for the evolution of common law tort to close the gap in recognition of privacy violations in U.S. law, similarly to how UK courts developed the "misuse of private information" tort in common law to complement transposition of EU data protection. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court could do that; certification would be required here in a federal case. But the trend in American data privacy law rather has been for the courts to wait on legislators to move the ball forward.

The other liability theories were a stretch, too. In contract, the plaintiff alleged herself a third-party beneficiary of data sharing agreements between UMass Chan and its state partners. Third parties can claim rights in a contract, but the proof is stringent. Contract law also raises a damages problem. The plaintiff here was not seeking specific performance, and it's not clear that any recovery in contract law would exceed the remediation the commonwealth already offered.

The equitable claim of unjust enrichment theorized essentially that UMass Chan benefited financially by cheaping out on security. That's creative, but a plaintiff in equity usually wants back something she lost to the defendant. A differential in the cost of contract services is speculative, and it's an attenuated causal chain to allege detriment to UMass Chan clients.

Privacy plaintiffs in the United States have seen some success using laws that predate contemporary data breach. But those theories won't work here. Massachusetts once had a leading data regulatory system for its requirements of secure data management. But the law is now well worn and has not kept up with other states, California being the model. Critically, the Massachusetts regs don't provide for private enforcement.

Some plaintiffs have found success with the dated (1986) Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. But a federal CFAA claim would be leveled properly against the hacker. The alleged culpability of UMass Chan is more accident than abuse.

American privacy plaintiffs flailing to state wrongs in litigation unfortunately is common and will continue as long as the United States lacks a comprehensive approach to data protection. I wrote 10 years ago already that American expectations in data privacy had outpaced legal entitlements.

The pivotal factor in whether MOVEit breach victims find any relief is likely to be the state where they and their defendants are located. Perhaps the case will push commonwealth legislators at last to act on a bill such as the proposed Massachusetts Information Privacy and Security Act (see, e.g., Mass. Tech. Leadership Council).

The case is Suarez v. The University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School (D. Mass. filed Sept. 18, 2023).

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Educator, law student earns town board appointment

Sullivan in Weymouth Monday.
Used with permission.
A student in my first-year Torts class was appointed this week to the Board of Health of Weymouth, Massachusetts.

Casandra "Casey" Sullivan was voted onto the Weymouth Board of Health at the Budget and Town Council meeting Monday. Her appointment will take hold officially soon, upon swearing in by the town mayor.

Casey currently works as a school psychologist and outplacement liaison for Weymouth Schools. A proud mother of five and former English teacher, Casey also served as a counter-intelligence agent and linguist for the Massachusetts Army National Guard.

In her spare time, Casey is working toward her J.D. She exemplifies the value of non-traditional students in the law classroom, which affords me an opportunity to learn as much as teach. I look forward to what she will accomplish with a law degree added to an already impressive resume.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

OER saves students money, but printing is too pricey

Markus Büsges (leomaria design)
für Wikimedia Deutschland e. V. (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Open educational resources (OER) are all the rage in higher education, but the cost of hard copies for students remains a problem.

At a panel on OER at a UMass Dartmouth teaching and learning conference in January, I had the privilege of talking about my experience using Tortz, my own textbook for 1L Torts (chapters 1-7 online, remainder in development and coming soon). Ace librarian Emma Wood kindly invited me to co-pontificate with Professor Elisabeth Buck and Dean Shannon Jenkins on a panel, "The Price is Wrong: Lowering Textbook Costs with OER and Other Innovations." Wood is co-author, with law librarian Misty Peltz-Steele (my wife), of Open Your Casebooks Please: Identifying Alternatives to Langdell's Legacy (on this blog).

My campus is pushing for OER, and for good reason. We all know how exorbitant book costs have become for students. And academic authors are hardly beneficiaries of the proceeds. The first book I joined as a co-author in 2006, for 1L Torts, bore a sale price in the neighborhood of $100. I received $1 to $2 per book (and gave to charity the dollars generated by my own students). My students for the last two years have paid nothing for Tortz.  Besides the cost savings, I get to teach from materials I wrote, compiled, and edited, so I know the content and how to use it better than I could anyone else's.

My students' book for 1L Property this past academic year cost $313. It's an excellent book, and I'm not knocking the professor who chose it. Developing my own materials for a foundational course is a labor-intensive project that I felt I could tackle only with the freedom, afforded by tenure, to set my own agenda, and some 20 years' experience teaching torts. At that, I've benefited and borrowed heavily from the pedagogy of a treasured mentor, Professor Marshall Shapo. Without the opportunity to have invested in Tortz, I'd be using a pricey commercial book, too.

A necessary aside: Technically speaking, my book is not OER, because I retain copyright. By definition, I'm told by higher education officials, "OER" must be made available upon a Creative Commons license, or released into the public domain. That's an irrevocable commitment. I'm not willing to do that. In my experience working with higher education institutions around the world, I have found that some out there would seize on freely available intellectual property while profiting handsomely from students desperate for opportunity. In such a case, I would rather negotiate a license and decide myself what to do with any proceeds. I freely licensed Tortz to my own students for the last two years. This is an interesting problem, but for another time.

So Tortz has been working out well. But now I'm looking at a roadblock: hard copies.

For the past two years, I have taught Torts I and II only to small night classes, and I've provided them with hard copies of the text. I made the hard copies on our faculty copiers, and the numbers were small enough not to be of concern for our budget. But beginning in the fall, I'll have two sections of torts, day and night, anticipating 70 or so students. That's too many prints to fold hard copies into the office budget.

I need my students to have hard copies for many reasons. The first issue is comprehension. For me, a reader of a certain age, I still have trouble absorbing content from a screen as well as from a page. When it's important for me to get it, I print a hard copy to read. Many of my law students, of all ages, but especially non-traditional and part-time students, share my preference. When I did a peer teaching observation for my colleague in property law, I saw students using both online and hard-copy versions of the $313 book. A hard-copy user told me that she uses the online version, but still needs to highlight and "engage with the text" to process the content on the first go.

A second issue arises in the exam. I prefer to give my 1L students an open-materials but closed-universe exam. I find that a closed-book exam tests more memorization than analytical skill, while an open-universe exam tests principally resistance to distraction. Regardless, it's my pedagogical choice. The problem is that the exam software we use locks students out of all computer access besides the exam. For any materials they're allowed to have, namely, the book, they need to have an old-fashioned hard copy.

So how to put hard copies in 70 students' hands without re-introducing the cost problem?

As is typical, my university has a contract with a bookstore operator, and book sales are supposed to go through the bookstore. The bookstore uses a contractor for printing. The contractor, XanEdu, after weeks of calculation, priced my book for the fall semester only: a ready-made PDF of 619 pages with basic RGB screen (not photo-quality) color, at $238 per print. That's a non-starter.

Printing at Office Depot would cost just a bit more than that. My university no longer has a print center, but I think its prices when there was one were comparable to retail.

A print-on-demand company, Lulu, was founded by Red Hat tech entrepreneur Bob Young, who became frustrated with the traditional publishing industry when he wanted to tell his own story. Lulu priced out at just $27 per book, which definitely makes one wonder what's going on at XanEdu. Lulu charges about $12 to ship, USPS Priority, but that takes up to 11 business days, which is far too long for students to order only once school starts. Also, it's not clear to me whether I can offer print on demand consistently with the university's bookstore contract. The bookstore has not answered my query as to what the mark-up would be to pre-order copies in bulk from Lulu.

I've kicked the issue upstairs, so to speak, to the law school administration. The associate dean promised to take the question up more stairs, to the university. Budgeting is above my pay grade, after all. I'd like to see the university support OER by volunteering to eat the printing costs. If I'm pleasantly surprised, I'll let you know. It's more likely the university will offer to deduct the costs from my pay.

Anyway, I am excited about OER, or freely licensed "OER," as a game changer for me to be more effective in the classroom. I appreciate that my university supports the OER initiative at least in spirit, and I am grateful to have been included in Emma Wood's thought-provoking discussion with Professor Buck and Dean Jenkins.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Students join labor demands for living wage at RISD

(UPDATE, April 18: Labor and RISD reached a tentative agreement, Wazlavek tweeted last night.)

The Rhode Island School of Design—famous alumni include Seth MacFarlane, BFA '95 (Family Guy, The Orville)—has lately been embroiled in a labor dispute.

I saw, and heard, protestors yesterday morning when I drove to the nearby Providence Amtrak station. They made plenty of noise, yet in an artsy, celebratory way. You really don't want to mess with creative types. With faculty support, students are demonstrating alongside custodians.

An attorney-alum of my torts and comparative law classes is working on the matter from the Teamsters side. Aaron Wazlavek (SSRN) has been on site this week.  (Video NSFW: adult language. That's just how labor rolls.)

According to arts independent Hyperallergic, "[c]urrently, the average wage of a RISD custodian, groundskeeper, or mover is $16.74 per hour. The lowest wage is $15.30. Teamsters Local 251 has fought for a $20 minimum wage ...."

The living wage for one adult with no children in Providence County, Rhode Island, is $17.42/hr., according to the MIT calculator.  The minimum wage in Rhode Island is $13/hr.

In March, New York University law students made headlines demanding a choice between credit hours and an hourly wage for work on law review. 

The New York students have a point. I've long been critical of unpaid internships. Nowadays, U.S. law schools require free labor in many guises. Call it "field placement," "externship," "pro bono"—even new lawyers are expected to "volunteer" before they can get paying jobs. It's all subversion of the simple principle that one should be paid for one's work. Corporations and employers delight in pushing American work-life balance in the wrong direction. The legal education system and accrediting American Bar Association are complicit.

The set rate for student labor—when we pay in real money; I just hired a research assistant for the fall—at UMass Law in south-coast Massachusetts is $15/hr. The living wage for one adult with no children in Bristol County, Massachusetts, is $17.88, according to the MIT calculator.

Latest reports suggest that RISD and labor will find a middle ground between $15 and $20. I hope it's at least halfway.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Oh brings dispute resolution skills to UCLA

Dean Oh selfie in his virtual office
(© Hyun C. Oh, licensed exclusively)
Hyun Cheol Oh, my friend and former student, has joined the higher ed ranks as an assistant dean of students at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), I am immensely proud to report.

Dean Oh is a 2010 alumnus of UCLA, where he earned a bachelor's in international development studies, and of the law school where I work, where he was the founding president of the campus chapter of the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association (APALSA). He also holds a master's in education, culture, and society from the University of Pennsylvania. In his 2014 master's thesis, Multiculturalism in the Republic of Korea, Oh examined approaches to multiculturalism in South Korean civic education.

At UCLA, Oh is putting his legal training to work, specializing in dispute resolution within the offices of the dean of students and of student conduct. Oh lives in Los Angeles with his family, which includes his better half, the profoundly gifted pianist Inhyun Lee.

The Bruins are lucky to have Dean Oh on their team.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Lawsuit alleges excessive force against federal immigration detainees held near public law school

Warning: indecent language.

Latino detainees of the Bristol County House of Corrections, which is located just three-quarters of a mile from the University of Massachusetts Law School, sued the county sheriff and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, alleging serious physical abuses.

Filed in April, the complaint, stating Bivens and § 1983 claims for excessive force, is available from the federal district court docket at Court Listener. The factual allegations detail incidents of violence and some not so flattering quotations of officers, such as: "Shut the fuck up. You bitches are a bunch of immigrants without papers. You have no rights."

Sheriff Hodgson shakes hands with former President Trump
at a White House event recognizing sheriffs in 2019.

(Official White House photo by Joyce N. Boghosian via Flickr.)
Named in the lawsuit is Bristol County, Mass., four-term "tough on crime" Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson. This lawsuit is not his first tangle with unsavory allegations.

A 2020 report by the office of Attorney General Maura Healey determined that authorities employed excessive force in violation of the civil rights of federal immigration detainees (press release). New Bedford, Mass., tort lawyer Betty I. Ussach has written letters to local media complaining of the high cost of defending Hodgson's style of criminal justice (EastBayRI, Dartmouth Week Today).

But in past years, Hodgson's name recognition has seemed to work a no-publicity-is-bad-publicity magic in his reelection bids. Hodgson faces a slate of challengers this year.

I wonder whether the geographic juxtaposition of the Bristol prison and the Immigration Clinic at the state's only public law school is not telling of state conflict-of-interest policy, which would complicate if not prohibit clinic litigation against state and local actors. 

Clinic director Professor Emerita Irene Scharf retired just one one month ago. She exited amid some turbulence over how and even whether the law school would take responsibility for existing clients. It remains to be seen what the clinic will look like under new management. Scharf and sociology and anthropology Professor Lisa Maya Knauer have labored diligently for decades on behalf of the immigrant Latino community in south coast Massachusetts. But university personnel at Dartmouth, Mass., far from the aegis of the "flagship campus" at Amherst, must tread lightly in politically sensitive matters, lest they jeopardize the very existence of the system's less favored locations.

The present lawsuit, Morocho v. Bristol County Sheriff's Office (D. Mass. filed Apr. 29, 2022), was filed by Washington, D.C.-based NGO Rights Behind Bars and signed by its Boston-based litigation director, attorney Oren Nimni. Nimni is a graduate of Northeastern Law and an adjunct professor at Suffolk Law. So let the record reflect that monied Boston private law schools can make grief for public officials, too.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

UMass Law Federalist Society talks speech, SCOTUS

Regular blog readers will soon recognize that I am playing catch-up, sharing items that I stockpiled for the better part of the spring semester.

Indeed, I was overwhelmed this spring by a number of great opportunities to speak, teach, learn, and share, all unplanned when the calendar turned to 2022. The blog had to take a back seat.

This overdue thanks harkens back to winter, circa Valentine's Day.  A very fun thing I did was speak to my own law school's student chapter of the Federalist Society about cases with free speech implications—and some related stuff that interests me—in the 2021-2022 term of the U.S. Supreme Court. These are the cases I chose on which to focus our attention (with links here to SCOTUSblog).

  • Access: Project Veritas Action Fund v. Rollinscert. denied. (U.S. Nov. 22, 2021) (1st Cir. having struck Mass. wiretap statute as applied).
  • Voir dire: U.S. v. Tsarnaev (U.S. Mar. 4, 2022) (reversing vacatur of death sentence in re pretrial publicity).
  • Speech/retaliation: Houston Cmty. Coll. Sys. v. Wilson (U.S. Mar. 24, 2022) (allowing First Amendment claim for verbal censure of public board member by board).
  • Forum/gov't speech & establishment: Shurtleff v. City of Boston (U.S. May 2, 2022) (faulting city for refusal to fly ecumenical flag).
  • Campaign finance: FEC v. Ted Cruz for Senate (U.S. May 16, 2022) (striking limit on candidate's ability to repay himself for loan to campaign).
  • Bivens: Egbert v. Boule (U.S. June 8, 2022) (refusing to recognize implied constitutional causes of action for Fourth Amendment excessive force and First Amendment retaliation in context of immigration enforcement at border).
  • Religious exercise and establishment: Kennedy v. Bremerton Sch. Dist. (U.S. June 27, 2022) (siding with high school football coach who prayed on field).

We furthermore talked and speculated about "the actual malice question" raised by Palin v. New York Times (e.g., NPR), a pet favorite topic of mine at the intersection of tort law and free speech.

The students offered insightful questions and commentary. I am grateful to them for lending me a soapbox.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Shannon McMahon for Bristol County, Mass., DA

[UPDATE, Sept. 7, 2022.] With 90% reporting, the N.Y. Times lists Quinn prevailing with 65% of the vote to McMahon's 35%. This result is not surprising with a well known, insider incumbent. McMahon's strong showing as an out-of-the-box challenger will, I hope, keep the DA's office mindful of its accountability to the public. And I hope we'll see McMahon again in politics and public service soon.

Shannon McMahon is running for Bristol County, Mass., DA (press release) and has my wholehearted support (in my personal capacity*).

Attorney McMahon, a former assistant DA, is a colleague, friend, and former student, an alumna of UMass Law School, where I work.  She was editor-in-chief of the newly constituted UMass Law Review in the early days of the Commonwealth's public law school project, in 2011, when I joined the faculty and served as law review co-adviser.  At the same time, she worked as a bartender and raised two children.  Oh, and she finished law school at the top of her class.

I deeply valued McMahon even then more as colleague than advisee; she was, and no doubt remains, bold in tackling problems head on.  Her penchant for plain-speaking was a breath of fresh air in the stultifying environment of public higher ed, especially in staid Massachusetts.

McMahon has been accused of irreverence; what I see in her is a refusal to defer to the status quo, a flat denial that things must be what they are because that's how they always have been.  No surprise, then, that McMahon has made headlines (e.g., The Public's Radio) for stepping out as the first challenger in 16 years to give voters a choice before the dynastic incumbent DA can walk away with a third four-year term.

"Given the dynamics of the community right now, between the drug crisis and the mental health crisis and issues with the police and the community, people are angry and upset that nothing is being done to help with the people's problems, and I think right now, and it's imperative, that people have a choice," McMahon told the Herald News.

Massachusetts can be unkind to people who are willing to topple the apple cart to effect needed reform.  The state's veneer of progressivism is a thin veil for a social and political culture that demands conformity and doubles down on socioeconomic hierarchy.

For that very reason, McMahon is perfect for the job, and I hope she's only getting started.

You too can donate at McMahon for DA.  Save the date for a March 28 event.

*As always, this blog is a product of my personal creation, even if it sometimes serves also to fulfill my responsibilities as an academic in teaching, service, and research, and as an attorney in the Bar of the District of Columbia.  The Savory Tort is neither affiliated with nor within the editorial control of my employer, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.  I produced this posting, "Shannon McMahon for Bristol County, Mass., DA," on personal time and with no public resources.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Law student's diligence helps abandoned child reach win in immigration court, pathway to U.S. residency

Belatedly, but aptly for the holiday, with permission of the UMass Law Immigration Clinic and the student, I am proud to share the news that Sebastian Garcia-Holguin contributed vitally to late October court holding allowing an abandoned child to remain in the United States and petition for legal residency.


The UMass Law Immigration Clinic has been overseen for two decades by my friend and colleague, Professor Irene Scharf.  Professor Scharf plans to retire in the upcoming year.  She surely deserves that reward, but the clinic will be the poorer for her absence.  I can scarcely imagine the number of lives in which she and her students have directly effected changed for the better.  Precious few of us in the business of legal education could compete with her record.

[Text of image:]

During Sebastian Garcia-Holguin's spring semester in the clinic, he spent countless hours on a dependency case for a neglected and abandoned immigrant child. He gathered information (interviewing our client) and completed affidavits and other required documents to file with the Probate and Family Court.

Based on his work, the court ruled last week in the child's favor, that she is dependent on the court and that it is in her best interest to remain in the United States.

These findings make our client eligible to file a petition for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service of the Department of Homeland Security that will lead to her legal residence!

This semester, the Clinic continues its work for our client, thanks to Allison Jacome, who has been working with our client to prepare for the next stage of this lengthy application process.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

UMass Lowell stands with First Amendment, for now, in row over student tied to neo-Nazi hate group

Weed Hall at UMass Lowell
(photo by Ktr101 CC BY-SA 3.0)
UMass Lowell seems, so far, to be taking a principled position in a controversy over a student tied to a neo-Nazi group.

According to Patch, the University of Massachusetts Lowell sent a letter to students and faculty last week saying that it could not suspend a student tied to a neo-Nazi, hate group simply because of the association.  At the same time, the university pledged to investigate specific threats, alleged crimes, or incidents of hate speech, and to enforce the Student Code of Conduct.

The student in question appeared on a live-stream posted on Telegram, and re-posted to Twitter by a watch group, with the founder of "NSC-131," an organization founded in opposition to Black Lives Matter and identified as a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League, Patch reported earlier this month.

A Change.org petition, with more than 11,000 signatures at the time of this writing, accuses UMass Lowell of being "blatantly permissive of not only racism and hate speech (which they state is protected under Freedom of Speech) but outright criminal activity and Neo-Nazism" in protecting the student.  The petition accuses the student, by name, of having violated already the Student Code of Conduct and, through alleged participation in the January 6 Capitol riot, the state vandalism lawPatch reported the appearance of NSC-131 at the Capitol riot, but no personal involvement by the student.

I appreciate the university's principled free speech stance—so far.  I hope the university does not cave to pressure and remains cognizant of the First Amendment's vital anti-majoritarian and "safety valve" functions.  It is crucial, especially in combating hate, that we refrain from prosecuting thoughtcrime, or its mere expression, else we are no better than the haters.

The problem with instruments such as the Student Code of Conduct is that they're easily applied unconstitutionally, regardless of whether they're facially constitutional.  The code in question, for example, calls on students to show "respect and protection for persons and property," and respect is defined as "acting to enhance the safety, well-being and freedom to allow all persons to pursue their legitimate aims," including all persons, i.e., "non-community members," 

The code stops short of defining a specific offense for lack of respect.  Rather, "interpersonal misconduct" includes

creat[ion of] an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working or academic environment. A single, unusually severe incident may constitute intimidation, threats, or bullying.  Any pattern of unwelcome conduct directed specifically at another person that threatens or endangers the physical or mental safety or property of that person (or a member of that person’s family or household) or creates a reasonable fear or intimidation of such a threat or action.

The code adds, "The University has special concern for incidents in which persons are subject to such conduct because of membership or perceived membership in a racial, ethnic, religious, gender, or sexual orientation group."

That definition comports with First Amendment restriction on anti-harassment law, as long as the definition is observed in its particulars.  The terms refer appropriately and essentially to a "specific[] ... []other person" and to a "reasonable" response.  Administrators do not always parse so finely.  The Change.org petition encourages all readers to "file a report with student conduct," offering a link, regardless, it seems, of whether the filer has had any contact at all with the student of concern.

I have personal experience with administrators' loose understanding of academic freedom.  The "Principles of Employee Conduct" for the UMass System call on UMass employees "to conduct themselves in ways that accord respect to themselves and others."  That might sound merely aspirational.  But I was once adjudged guilty of violating the policy for accusing staff of misfeasance.  There was no contention that I was wrong on the facts.  But I was threatened with firing, despite my tenure.  No punishment was imposed after I pledged to sue in my defense—not a bluff.

In 2017-18, I served as a faculty delegate on an ad hoc campus committee formed at the behest of the campus chancellor to create an "anti-bullying" policy.  We faculty delegates agreed that workplace bullying was already impermissible under existing policies and state law.  The university seemed interested in having specifically an "anti-bullying" policy principally just to say that it does.  So we drafted a proposal that was substantively duplicative of existing norms, mindful of the First Amendment and academic freedom, and added a detailed procedure that would protect faculty in the event of ill founded and opportunistic accusation by administrators.

That, apparently, was not the right answer, because our proposal was buried in the bureaucratic bog.  Now I've been asked to serve on a committee again, in the next academic year, to do the work over, for a new chancellor.  Maybe we'll get it "right" this time.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

How many people suffer while state unemployment office shuffles paper, issues baseless denials?

I wrote in 2020 about the pay cuts foisted on faculty and staff at UMass Dartmouth.  We're a union shop, which is weird for university faculty in the United States, but at least is supposed to be good for workers.  So for my pay cut—about 11.6%, plus $4k in professional development budget, over one calendar year, so far—the union got me, in return—wait, let me punch the numbers into the calculator—

Nothing.

I quit my union membership once and for all, before the ink dried on the union's Memorandum of Abdication.  But thanks to the compulsory representation law in Massachusetts, I'm still bound to give away anything the union, with its refined talents at the bargaining table, decides that I should give away.

Let me interject a disclaimer that I am not complaining about having a job during the pandemic.  As will become clear momentarily, I am writing about this for the very reason that my concern extends to the many persons who are not as fortunate.  I push myself every day, literally every day, to count my blessings and be grateful, and to find a way to show compassion for those facing hardships during this crisis.  Some days I do better than other days.

With regard to my personal situation, I suggest, I hope modestly, only that in exchange for a pay cut, there might have been some benefit afforded in return: maybe a leniency in job requirements, such as research or teaching load; maybe flexibility in course scheduling; maybe an "IOU" for development budget down the road.  I might could have been bought off for the price of some reference books from my wish list.  Or a new hoodie.  I can always use a hoodie.

I suggested these bargaining chips (except the hoodie) to the union.  No response.  I understand.  It takes a lot of energy and focus to give so much away in so short a time.

But this isn't about the union.  Not today.  Today I write about another bloated bureaucracy feeding ironically at taxpayer teats: the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance, or "Mass UI."

I was given the option, which I accepted, to take part of my pay cut as furlough during the holidays in December.  There was absolutely no reduction to my workload in December, so one might question the utility of a furlough.  But the idea was, the university told us if carefully to disclaim any guarantee, we could claim unemployment insurance to recover a fraction of four days' pay.  It happens that my wife, who also works for the university as an administrator, also took a pay cut (two, actually, for staff) and furlough (also two).  I'm trying to leave her out of this, and I definitely do not speak for her, so I will tell only what I have to to get my story across.

Let me interject again: As a taxpayer, I am not a fan of one financially stressed public institution shoving its accounts payable off on another financially stressed public institution.  That doesn't seem to me to be an efficient way to solve the problem of stress on the fisc.  But I don't make the rules.  We've got a kid in college.  I'm not leaving money on the table.

So we both filed, at different times in 2020, for whatever unemployment insurance we might recoup.

My wife's online account access was immediately shut down, purportedly in response to a spate of fraudulent claims received by Mass UI.  While her access was blocked, Mass UI (claims that it) sent an electronic request for documents to confirm her identity.  She didn't know about any request, because access was blocked.  She couldn't file the docs, even if she'd known to, because access was blocked.  Meanwhile, Mass UI confirmed the validity of her claim with university HR.  

And then Mass UI denied her claim anyway for supposed failure to provide ID.  She didn't even find out about the denial until months later, because, say it with me, access was blocked.

Having witnessed that mess of an experience, I set my account for hard-copy correspondence only, by mail.  Mass UI sent to me, in hard copy, a request for documents to confirm my identity.  Promptly, I returned, in hard copy, the documents requested.  Presumably, Mass UI could confirm my identity, too, and the legitimacy of my claim, with the university.  I work for the state, after all.  But I was trying to play nice.

Twenty days later, Mass UI denied my claim anyway for supposed failure to provide ID.

We both now have appeals pending.  I expect we will have to go to Boston for hearings (50 miles and two hours each way, expensive parking, different days).  As yet, the hearings have not been scheduled.  My wife's first claim dates back to the summer, in the heyday of federal subsidies.  Good times.

As I just wrote to the Commonwealth Attorney General, at some point, misfeasance slides into malfeasance.  I don't know what's going on at Mass UI.  But it's inexcusable.

And that brings me back around to people who are really hurt by this kind of misfeasance or malfeasance by public officials.  People already are suffering for so many reasons: pandemic risk, joblessness, homelessness, systemic disadvantages of race and socioeconomics.  If my family's experience with Mass UI has resulted in two out of two legitimate, easily confirmed claims being rejected on nakedly indefensible, if not outrightly false, grounds, then how many claims are being wrongfully denied for claimants who are depending on unemployment assistance in a time of crisis?

Look, we're lucky.  I know it.  We're both lawyers.  We have the know-how to appeal, and to sue if necessary.  We have the flexibility in our work to adjust our schedules for hearings, and a car to go to Boston if we have to.  We make decent money, even after pay cuts, educational loan debt, and college tuition bills.  We'll be OK.

But today is one of those days that I feel like I'm falling short on compassionate action.  I should do something.  Something should be done.  

I don't know what.  Or how.

I do suspect that Mass UI is running the vaccine roll-out.

This blog is mine and mine alone, and not a product of my employer.  I speak as a private citizen, not a representative of the university, even if my writing sometimes also serves public interests, which is part of my job.  I reference my job and work profile on this blog for purpose of identification only.  While this disclaimer always pertains, I wish to emphasize it today.

UPDATE, Feb. 16, 2021: Our IDs were accepted and matters remanded from appeal to reprocessing thanks to heroic intervention, for which we are grateful, by an individual in the UMass Dartmouth HR office.  Of course, that doesn't alleviate our concerns about people in Massachusetts who are in serious need. WGBH reported on February 8 on "shocking[] dysfunction[]" in the system, having exactly the impact we feared.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Union, university collude to cut Mass. higher ed pay

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

The salary reduction shall be calculated as follows[:]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[UPDATE, Sept. 12, 2020:] 

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

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

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

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

_________________

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

Friday, August 21, 2020

Law students embrace bad lawyering

My colleague Amy Vaughn-Thomas gave a terrific assignment to students in her Professional Responsibility (Legal Ethics) class this summer:  Make a bad (unethical) lawyer ad, then write a paper about its faults under the rules of professional responsibility.

Students ran with the assignment, including the team that invented bad lawyer "Jeb Dundy."  From content producer Fatiga Mental (friend of the blog: Ig, Tw) and law students Noah Aurelio, Ricardo Serrano, Sebastian Garcia, and Samantha Tuthill, here is a lawyer for our times. See if you can spot the ethics issues.

Credits:

Suffice to say, the paper practically wrote itself.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Arkansas profs champion academic freedom as bipartisan cause

Most recently in June, I wrote about the faculty lawsuit against the University of Arkansas System to protect academic freedom, as the university tries to cut back on tenure protection for both past and future hires.  The case is tracked by Professor Josh Silverstein, at his blog, Jurisophia, where the most recent filing is a September reply brief in support of defendants' motion to dismiss.

I had lost track in my inbox of this short segment (click box below) from Fox News in June, below, in which Arkansas named plaintiffs, my friend and mentor Professor-Attorney Tom Sullivan among them, schooled anchors on how academic freedom and tenure should be a bipartisan cause.



The case is Palade, Borse, and Sullivan v. Board of Trustees of the University of Arkansas System, No. 4:19-cv00379-JM (E.D. Ark. complaint filed May 31, 2019).

I've freshly endured my own reminder at UMass Law of how readily academics turn on each other.  As I nurse the knife wound in my own back, I find myself re-sensitized to how American university administrators today exploit the ruthless faculty penchant for self-preservation to further the faculty's own fall and the rise of bureaucratic hegemony in its place.  Ultimately if indirectly, the most devastating impact of this dynamic is visited on the students who should be the beneficiaries of the educational mission.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Not sure how to keep guns away from the mentally unfit? This cop has a stake and a plan.
Plus: Sandy Hook Update

Rob Devine, former deputy police chief of Stoughton,
Massachusetts, and a concerned parent.
Father of two, 19-year police veteran, UMass Law J.D. candidate 2020, and a distinguished survivor of my 1L Torts class, Robert C. Devine has published some practical but scholarly policy advice "to reduce access to firearms by those mentally incapable of handling them or those with current substance addictions."  Here is the abstract:
The United States is in a state of conflict over the ability to obtain firearms as well as their use in highly publicized mass shootings. On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza obtained several firearms that were lawfully owned by his mother, but were improperly secured. Lanza killed his mother that morning and then drove a short distance to the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where he murdered twenty-six people, many of whom were small children. Lanza eventually turned a gun on himself before being confronted by responding officers. Though mass shootings are often headlines in this country, the vast majority of misused firearms by the mentally ill are tragically used in suicide. The lessons of these examples must be used to augment current firearms policy in an effort to reduce the availability of firearms to those suffering with afflictions that make them ill-equipped to have access to them. Though the Commonwealth of Massachusetts asks pointed questions in these areas regarding the fitness of the potential license holder, it collects no data whatsoever regarding other full-time household members where a firearm may be kept, nor what measures the licensee takes to ensure its security.
This Article illustrates a policy, grounded in facilitative principles, designed to reduce access to firearms by those mentally incapable of handling them or those with current substance addictions. Key components to the solution’s success should rely on increased vetting of the licensee’s environment and where lawfully owned firearms will be stored, in combination with assessing the risk factors of having been hospitalized for mental health, drug dependence, or alcohol dependence. This recommendation is merely an expansion of questions already used in the current Massachusetts firearms licensing application and would produce additional factors that a licensing official may consider when determining the suitability of an applicant. It is important to note that this would not be an outright prohibition for a licensee, which would likely be constitutionally impermissible. This Article concludes by reemphasizing the importance of giving licensing officials more information to consider in an effort to lower the risk of lawfully owned firearms ending up in the hands of the mentally ill or violent.

Mr. Devine takes due account of the Second Amendment, but recognizes that we're not doing all we can to implement regulation, even at the margins, that is hardly controversial.  The full article, Recommendations for Improving Firearms Vetting in Massachusetts, is available from the UMass Law Review and published at 14:2 U. Mass. L. Rev. 350 (Spring 2019).

Sandy Hook Update

The Connecticut Law Tribune reported last week that the Connecticut Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on September 26 in the defamation lawsuit against Alex Jones and InfoWars.  The trial court had allowed limited discovery despite the defense's anti-SLAPP motion.  The case is Lafferty v. Jones (Complaint at Scribd).

Meanwhile the Sandy Hook gun manufacturer liability suit against Remington is pending defense cert. petition in the U.S. Supreme Court, since the Connecticut Supreme Court allowed plaintiffs a narrow theory to circumnavigate Remington's federal statutory immunity under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (at The Savory Tort). That case is now Remington Arms Co. v. Soto.