Showing posts with label climate change. Show all posts
Showing posts with label climate change. Show all posts

Friday, June 25, 2021

Drought grips western U.S., induces ag angst in Utah

Salt Lake City—I’ve been traveling in Utah, so have witnessed the drought gripping the West.  I’m no climate scientist, so I can’t say how far off normal conditions are.  Here is what I've seen and been told.

This was my first time in Salt Lake City (SLC), at least beyond the airport.  It’s a remarkable place.  Having visited the cedars of Lebanon and driven the Dead Sea highway in Jordan, I understand now why the Mormon pioneers of 1847 thought there was something divinely ordained about the cedar break at the Great Salt Lake.

Salt Lake City overlook from Desolation Trail in Millcreek Canyon
I've wanted to see the Great Salt Lake as long as I can remember, but especially since reading Terry Tempest Williams's natural history-classic Refuge in the 1990s.  The Great Salt Lake's salinity tops out at about 27%.  That's shy of the roughly 34% of the Dead Sea, but still enough to preclude any waterborne animal life bigger than a brine shrimp.

Great Salt Lake from Great Salt Lake State Park
 

Bison on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake; Salt Lake City in the distance
At the same time, from a contemporary, climate-wary perspective, one can’t help but look at SLC and think, “Maybe this shouldn’t be here” (a sentiment admittedly more apt with regard to desert cities to the west, such as Las Vegas).

Salt Lake City from atop the Utah Capitol Steps

I have seen warnings all around Utah not to park cars on dry grass, for fear of fire.  The rotatable Smoky-the-Bear fire danger signs are dialed up to “Extreme.”  Radio ads ask me to “slow the flow,” limiting my use of water.  Yesterday morning, June 24, it rained in SLC for the first time since May 23.  The local weather announcer gleefully reported 0.02” accumulation by 9:30 a.m. 

At Lake Powell, water levels are too low for the ferry to operate between Halls Crossing and Bullfrog.  Near Hite, Utah, in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, a dusty red campground sits eerily vacant astride a dry riverbed where the Colorado River falls shy of Lake Powell’s north end.

In wetter times, a waterfront campsite at the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
 

Dry riverbed between the Colorado River (at left) and Lake Powell
A signboard with tips to “Play It Safe in the Water,” picturing jubilant boaters, gives the campground a “Planet of the Apes” feel of abandoned human infrastructure.  We often think about climate change in terms of rising sea levels, but the opposite happens, too.

"Play It Safe in the Water"
The chatty clerk at the Hollow Mountain convenience store in Hanksville told me with a pained face that she has never seen it so dry, and, she added, her memory goes back to 1964.  She didn’t strike me as much older than 60, so I’m assuming she’s been in Utah all her life.

Hollow Mountain, Hanksville
An innkeeper in Escalante was less concerned.  He said that the drought is affecting agriculture, and that might be a welcome wake-up call to abate the cultivation of water-intensive crops that should not have been planted where they are anyway.  “Culinary water” has not been affected, he said; the area provides ample water for human settlement and tourism.
Settlers planted orchards at what is today Capitol Reef National Park.
The place that most stoked my concern and compassion was the Navajo Nation on Utah’s southeastern border.  At a Navajo-family-run inn and café in Mexican Hat, just above the border, a server told me that the area hasn’t seen a torrential rain for 10 years.  She seemed to me maybe 19, so I wonder whether she remembers.

The San Juan Inn overlooks the San Juan River, which also feeds Lake Powell.
Meanwhile, the local economy is reeling, as it seems Navajo Parks and Recreation will not be reopening touristic sites, such as Monument Valley Tribal Park, for another summer.  It’s been hard, the young server told me.  But we’ve always survived here, she said of the Navajo, so we’ll adapt.  I found the sentiment rousing, but couldn’t decide if it was wise or naïve.

Anyway, her 84-year-old grandmother makes a mean salsa verde enchilada with a Navajo-chili-style filling.

Salsa verde enchilada at The Juan Cafe, Mexican Hat
(All photos by RJ Peltz-Steele, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.)

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

'Super tort' might represent failure of public policymaking, but is only tip of melting iceberg

First Circuit remands R.I. suit against Big Oil for public nuisance

Super Tort
(pxhere.com CC0)
A "super tort" sounds delicious.  Indeed, the term refers more often to food than to a theory of civil liability.  Maybe that's why the term animated headlines recently when the defense-friendly American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) used it in an amicus brief to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

In October, ATRA filed its brief on the side of Johnson & Johnson's appeal of a $465m trial verdict of public nuisance liability in the opioid epidemic.  In the brief, ATRA warned that the award represented a "new species of public nuisance [that] will devour all of Oklahoma tort law and, with it, who knows how many businesses."  ATRA explained (my bold):

Since its inception, public nuisance has played a circumscribed role in Oklahoman—indeed, American—jurisprudence. It originated as a property-based tort used to remedy invasions of public lands or shared resources like highways and waterways. The trial court ignored that history, transforming public nuisance into a super tort that exposes Oklahoma businesses to unlimited liability for a broad array of public issues that are far removed from traditional public nuisances.

ATRA further argued its position in terms of the separation of powers, or, classically stated, Aristotelian justice:

The decision will also chill business activity throughout the state for fear that any product linked to a perceived social problem may lead to astronomical and disproportionate liability. It is not the judiciary's role to create a new tort to address social problems. That job belongs to the legislature, which can weigh competing policy factors and study the possible consequences of expanding traditional nuisance law.

Lead paint can
(Thester11 CC BY 3.0)
This isn't the first time ATRA has bemoaned the emergence of a public nuisance "super tort."  Among other tort-reform advocates, defense attorney Phil Goldberg used the term in 2008 and in 2018 to describe lead paint liability.  On the former occasion, echoed in an industry legal brief and in legal scholarship, the Supreme Court of Rhode Island had just rejected industry liability for lead paint on grounds that the defendants had no control over the product at the time it caused harm to children.  An ATRA leader warned of "super tort" in the climate change context as early as 2011 (States News Serv., Apr. 18, 2011 (quoting Tiger Joyce)). (Inapposite here, Patrick O'Callaghan, University College Cork, used the term "super tort" in the Irish Law Times in 2006 to describe potential excess in invasion-of-privacy liability.)

Nevertheless, public nuisance is the leading theory with which the State of Rhode Island now demands that oil companies pay for the past and future consequences of climate change.  Rhode Island alleges theories of product liability and public trust, in addition to public nuisance.  The state's suit is just one of many filed by state and local governments against Big Oil.  The Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, at Columbia Law School, tracks all U.S. litigation on climate change, including the Rhode Island suit

Just last week, the First Circuit remanded the Rhode Island suit to state court, rejecting industry claims of federal preemption.  Meanwhile, the case in state court is on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court ponders the outer constitutional limits of personal jurisdiction.  The Court's ruling in an otherwise unrelated case, which I wrote about in April and the Court heard this fall, has ramifications for Rhode Island's thin assertion of jurisdiction over transnational oil defendants.

Over the summer, I spoke about the expansive approach to public nuisance that resulted in the colossal Oklahoma award against Johnson & Johnson and that leads government claims against Big Oil over climate change.  Corporate objections voiced by ATRA, based in Aristotelian justice, are legitimate.  Ironically, as I discussed briefly in my lecture, I see this resort to the courts as an understandable expression of public frustration with corporate capture of our political branches of government.

The Rhode Island complaint images industry-sponsored public service announcements that sewed doubt about climate change and the role of fossil fuel.

Yet despite my skepticism, as a Rhode Islander and a taxpayer, I find the allegations in the state's 2018 complaint awfully persuasive.  The climate science is neatly summarized with color charts, and I'm a sucker for a color chart.  More dispassionately persuasive of moral responsibility on the part of industry, though, are excerpts of trade association advertising that downplayed, if not mocked, climate change science at a time when the industry must have known better.  The ads are eerily reminiscent of Big Tobacco efforts to downplay the risks of smoking for decades through the selectively scientific work of the Tobacco Institute.  That makes me wonder that product liability and consumer protection might be the states' and localities' best approach, not to mention a more doctrinally conservative strategy, and therefore judicially appealing approach, compared with a no-holds-barred theory of public nuisance—if we must rely on the courts alone, after all.

We might ought worry that "super tort" will devour our rational framework of civil liability.  But rather than reject industry responsibility and liability outright, we should add "super tort" to our lately exploded catalog of reasons to examine how and why our political institutions have failed to protect the environment, public health, and human life.

The case in Rhode Island state court is Rhode Island v. Chevron Corp., No. PC-2018-4716 (Bristol County, R.I. Super. Ct. filed July 2, 2018).  The case in the First Circuit was Rhode Island v. Shell Oil Prod. Co., No. 19-1818 (1st Cir. Oct. 29, 2020).

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Talk traces 'nuisance' from King Henry I to COVID-19


Yesterday I had the privilege to present in a lecture series (virtually) at Jagiellonian University (UJ) on the tort of nuisance in American common law.  I sketched out the historical background of nuisance relative to the recent lawsuit by the State of Missouri, against the People's Republic of China, alleging public nuisance, among other theories, and seeking to establish responsibility and liability for the coronavirus pandemic.  Here is a video (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) of the presentation, also available from Facebook, where the lecture streamed live.  A narrative abstract is below the video.
The Tort of 'Nuisance' in American Common Law:
From Hedge Trimming to Coronavirus in 900 Years
Nuisance is one of the oldest civil actions in Anglo-American law, dating to the earliest written common law of the late middle ages.  Nuisance for centuries referred to an offense against property rights, like trespass, interfering with a neighbor’s enjoyment of land.  But a nuisance need not be physical, and colorful cases have addressed nuisance achieved by forces such as sound, light, and smell.  In recent decades, nuisance has undergone a radical transformation and generated a new theory of civil liability that has become untethered from private property.  State and local officials have litigated a broad new theory of “public nuisance” to attack problems on which the federal government has been apathetic, if not willfully resistant to resolution, such as climate change and the opioid epidemic.  Just last month, the State of Missouri sued the People’s Republic of China, asserting that COVID-19 constitutes a public nuisance.  Emerging from understandable frustration, public nuisance nevertheless threatens to destabilize the fragile equilibrium of state and federal power that holds the United States together.

Here are some links to read more, as referenced in the presentation:

Here is a two-minute video (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) of only my PowerPoint (no audio), if you want an idea about the course of the talk:



The four-part lecture series, "American Law in Difficult Times," comprises:
Paul Kurth: The American Low-Income Taxpayer: Legal Framework and Roles Law Students Play
May 12, 18:00
Event - Video

May 19, 18:00
Richard Peltz-Steele: “Nuisance” in American Common Law Tort: COVID-19 as a Public Nuisance?
Event - Video

May 26, 18:00
Susanna Fischer: Art Museums in Financial Crisis: Legal and Ethical Issues Related to Deaccessioning
Event - Video

June 2, 18:00
Cecily Baskir: American Criminal Justice Reform in the Time of COVID-19
Event - Video


Here is the lecture series invitation (Polish) from the American Law Students' Society (ALSS) at UJ, via Facebook:



Here is an "about" from ALSS and partners:
❖ ABOUT AMERICAN LAW IN DIFFICULT TIMES:

The American Law Program (Szkoła Prawa Amerykańskiego) run by the Columbus School of Law, The Catholic University of American [CUA], Washington D.C., and the Faculty of Law and Administration, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, as well as the American Law Students’ Society (Koło Naukowe Prawa Amerykańskiego) at the Jagiellonian University, Kraków, sincerely invite you to participate in a series of four one-hour online open lectures and discussion sessions delivered by professors from the American Law Program.

The lectures will be devoted to a variety of legal issues mainly relating to COVID-19 difficulties facing people and institutions, for which legal solutions may be useful.

The lectures will be available through Microsoft Teams as well as a live-stream via Facebook. Participants willing to participate through Microsoft Teams are kindly asked to provide the organizers with their e-mails no later than 6 hours before the commencement of the lecture, by e-mail to kn.prawaamerykanskiego@gmail.com.

Your participation in all four lectures will be certified by the American Law Students’ Society. Only those participants who provide the organisers with their name, surname and e-mail will be granted such certificates.
I am grateful to Jagoda Szpak and Agnieszka Zając of ALSS at UJ; Wojciech Bańczyk, Piotr Szwedo, Julianna Karaszkiewicz-Kobierzyńska, and Gaspar Kot at UJ; and Leah Wortham at CUA.  The lecture series is sponsored by, and I am further grateful to, the Koło Naukowe Prawa Amerykańskiego (ALSS), Szkoła Prawa Amerykańskiego (School of American Law), and the Ośrodek Koordynacyjny Szkół Praw Obcych (Coordination Center for Foreign Law Schools) at the Uniwersytet Jagielloński w Krakowie (UJ in Kraków), and to CUA.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Report from a Social Distance: Week 3

Tort Anomalies, Other Worlds, and Fox Tales

Ready for shopping
My quarantine since returning to the United States ended last weekend, and we made a bold trip to the grocery store to refuel.  Whole Foods effectively stopped delivery here since the strike, and our nearest locally owned delivering grocer is on the opposite side of Narragansett Bay.  So we suited up with gloves and, as Rhode Island Governor Raimondo instructed, bandana masks to leave the house.  Otherwise, life isn't much different in or out of official self-quarantine.

What I'm Reading

My sabbatical plans prematurely aborted, this week involved catching up on some professional reading.  For those into legal arcana, here are the most interesting reads that crossed my virtual desk.  Other readers, feel welcome to scroll down to TV.  I'm also continuing with my church's Bible reading, which has us into the David saga of 2 Samuel, with excellent accompanying video as usual by the BibleProject.  For those who celebrate, respectively, happy Passover, and happy Easter!

Steve Hedley, Tort: The Long Good-Bye (Apr. 8, 2020).  Posted to SSRN, this paper is a fascinating survey of tort law through history, culminating in and replete with contemporary observations ripe for the unpacking.  Prof. Steve Hedley, University College Cork School of Law and Private Law Theory, sees tort law as on its way out, but not without leaving tort lawyers and scholars with plenty of work to do in the process.  As his abstract explains, "Discouraging harmful behaviour is a fundamentally different project from supporting the sick and penniless.... [W]e cannot finally say farewell to tort until all of its vital functions are replaced with better provision, which requires both political will and a fair degree of optimism – both currently rare commodities."  Consider this observation: "From the 1980s onwards in the US, ‘tort reform’ began to be code for restricting tort without replacing it with any other system – in other words, putting tort’s hitherto steady expansion into reverse."  As someone committed to tort's social value and also someone who suffers anxiety over corporatocracy, I found compelling Hedley's broader thesis that the tort system has been honed over centuries to work its aims on people, and the system is dysfunctional vis-à-vis corporations, which today account for the vast majority of tort defendants.

James Macleod, Ordinary Causation: A Study in Experimental Statutory Interpretation, 94 Ind. L.J. 957 (2019).  Causation has been a central obsession of philosophers for millennia, and it's something lawyers worry a lot about too.  I am liable for battery if I punch a compatriot at the bar.  But that conclusion assumes that the plaintiff-victim is complaining of injury that sits along a causal flow downstream from my ill intention.  What if the plaintiff suffered from a pre-existing injury, and I complicated it?  What if, subsequent to our encounter, the plaintiff's injuries were worsened by medical malpractice?  Things get more complicated when physical injury is removed from the problem.  When is an employer's discriminatory intent a legal cause of wrongful termination if the employee would have been fired anyway for misfeasance?  In tort law, contemporary American courts struggle to approximate the "ordinary" meaning and understanding of causation.  See, e.g., Comcast Corp. v. Nat'l Ass'n of Afr. Am.-Owned Media, No. 18-1171 (U.S. Mar. 23, 2020) (SCOTUSblog).  In an ambitious project of empirical survey research, Prof. James Macleod, Brooklyn Law School, has demonstrated that despite this effort, our understanding in tort law may have diverged from ordinary understanding in important respects.

Daniel J. Solove, The Myth of the Privacy Paradox (last rev. Mar. 13, 2020).  Years ago, when privacy law was barely a thing, those of us working in freedom-of-information-advocacy circles counter-argued to personal-privacy proponents that the public's desire for privacy was belied by how readily a person would surrender name, address, and telephone number for an extremely unlikely "chance to win" ripped from a cereal-box top.  The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press named an influential publication after this "privacy paradox" in 1998, and my friend and colleague Charles N. Davis, now dean of journalism at Georgia, ushered the concept into the digital age.  More recently, see WNYC Note to Self's "Privacy Paradox" project (logo pictured).  Now privacy law guru Prof. Daniel Solove, George Washington Law, has turned his attention to the problem.  In a new paper, posted to SSRN in February and forthcoming in the GW Law Review, 2021, Solove explains that the paradox emerges from an error in level of abstraction.  A person's disregard for privacy in the narrow and specific context of filling out a raffle entry cannot be equated to a person's rational and more holistic notion of personal integrity.

Alien tort: Nevsun Resources Ltd. v. Araya, 2020 S.C.C. 5, [Feb. 28, 2020] (Canada).  Amid recent decades of globalization, comparatists and internationalists in U.S. tort law have been rapt with waxing and waning trends in the extraterritorial application of American law, especially under the enigmatic Alien Tort Statute (e.g., Radiolab).  The same trends are evident around the world, as national courts struggle to demarcate limits to their own power, balancing classical principles of comity and judicial restraint against burgeoning challenges to human rights coming from both public and private sectors.  In a 5-4 decision in February, the Canada Supreme Court dismissed a claim under customary international law upon compelling allegations: "Three Eritrean workers claim that they were indefinitely conscripted through Eritrea’s military service into a forced labour regime where they were required to work at a mine in Eritrea. They claim they were subjected to violent, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The mine is owned by a Canadian company, Nevsun Resources Ltd."  The court dismissed under "act of state doctrine," an extra-constitutional principle of judicial restraint comparable in function (see, e.g., Achebe, Cooper, Hill), to foreign sovereign immunity.  HT @ Prof. Simon Baughen, Swansea University, Wales.

Climate change: Smith v. Fronterra Co-op. Grp. Ltd., [Mar. 6, 2020] N.Z.H.C. 419 (New Zealand).  In a legal era of legislative abdication, interest groups have resorted to courts around the world to combat climate change.  A victory upon an unusual statutory basis in a Dutch appellate court in 2018 (The Savory Tort, Oct. 12, 2018), upheld by the Dutch Supreme Court in 2019, lent perhaps undue optimism to the global movement, which is ongoing.  Courts in many nations have fairly determined that the judiciary is ill suited to tackle the profound policy crisis of climate change.  Accordingly, in January, the U.S. Ninth Circuit dismissed a youth class action in Oregon that had gained some traction after an indulgent district court ruling (The Savory Tort, Oct. 12, 2018).  Juliana v. United States, No. 18-36082 (9th Cir. Jan. 17, 2020).  Unremarkably, then, the New Zealand High Court decided likewise, in part, in a climate case in Auckland in March.  A plaintiff coastal land owner sued greenhouse-gas-emitting energy and dairy interests on three tort theories, "public nuisance, negligence, and breach of an inchoate duty."  The court dismissed the first two counts for reasons of, respectively, failure of injury different in kind and degree as between plaintiff and public, and failure of foreseeability.  What's interesting is what the court wrote briefly about the plaintiff's surviving "inchoate" theory:
I am reluctant to conclude that the recognition of a new tortious duty which makes corporates responsible to the public for their emissions, is untenable. As noted by [three justices on the N.Z. Supreme Court in a paper at a 2019 climate change conference in Singapore] it may be that a novel claim such as that filed by Mr Smith could result in the further evolution of the law of tort. It may, for example, be that the special damage rule in public nuisance could be modified; it may be that climate change science will lead to an increased ability to model the possible effects of emissions. These are issues which can only properly be explored at trial. I am not prepared to strike out the third cause of action and foreclose on the possibility of the law of tort recognising a new duty which might assist [plaintiff] Mr Smith.
HT @ Prof. Barry Allan, University of Otago, Dunedin, N.Z., who predicts, via the Obligations Discussion Group, "that the defendants will appeal the decision that the inchoate tort is tenable, although they may act strategically and demand that this first be properly pleaded."

What I'm Watching

Goliath s3 (Amazon trailer) was so much better than s2.  Season 2 kind of sold out on the concept of Billy McBride as a civil lawyer and got drawn nearly into the realm of trite criminal procedural.  Plenty of crimes definitely happen in s3, but the legal drama centers on a class action lawsuit to save a small California town that's had its water supply stolen by a ruthless family of almond farmers.  Billy McBride (Billy Bob Thornton) and partner Patty Solis-Papagianis (Nina Arianda) are in top form, and legal TV trivium: Patty's biological mother is played by Monica Potter, who was Crane, Pool & Schmidt associate Lori Colson in Boston Legal s1 (2004-05).


Ragnarok s1 (Netflix trailer).  This six-episode Norwegian supernatural mystery is thoroughly entertaining, with top-flight dubbing into English.  It's proved a smashing success as a Netflix original—Netflix has 750,000 subscribers in Norway and 4m in Scandinavia, according to What's On Netflix—produced by Copenhagen-based SAM, and already has been green-lighted for a second season.  The show takes place in the fictional Norwegian town of Edda, which is the real southwestern, fjord-side town of Odda, where a ruthless family of manufacturing magnates have poisoned the local water supply and accelerated the melting of the glaciers (recurrent theme). Our hero, Magne (David Stakston), is a Billy Batson-like teen who gradually realizes that he's a kind of incarnation of the Norse god Thor, destined to battle evil to save his town and the environment. The story plays loosely with Norse myth, giving Magne a trickster brother, Laurits, played with Loki-worthy aplomb by Jonas Strand Gravli.

The New Pope (HBO).  Academy Award-winner John Malkovich proves his iconic status yet again in this brilliant portrayal of a weirdly enigmatic and intellectual Pope John Paul III, who ascends to the papacy upon the unusual circumstance of a comatose predecessor.  This is really a second season, a worthy sequel series to The Young Pope, in which Jude Law starred as a megalomaniacal yet magnetic and possibly truly divine Pope Pius XIII.  Negligible spoiler, mostly tease: Pius does come out of his coma, and the two great actors take the screen together before the season ends.

Altered Carbon s2 (Netflix trailer).  Dystopian science fiction at its small-screen best, this Emmy-nominated winner is back to tell more of the story of "the last Envoy" soldier Takeshi Kovacs, based on the cyberpunk novels of Richard K. Morgan.  Thanks to the plot device of human immortality through changing bodies ("resleeving"), New Orleans-born Anthony Mackie, the Avengers' Falcon, is able to take over, from s1's Joel Kinnaman, House of Cards' Will Conway, the lead role of Kovacs in s2, and muscular Mackie shines, or broods, as the case may be.  Ironically, the delightful yet ephemerally holographic character of Poe is carried over from s1 in the capable craft of Chris Conner.  Netflix also has premiered a 74-minute animated feature film in the Altered Carbon universe, Resleeved; Conner has a voice role.
Curb Your Enthusiasm s10 (HBO).  Comedy break.  Every episode is instant-classic LD. The familiar cast returns, including Jeff Garlin, who never misses an improvised punchline.


A new category this week, "I Watched, But Can't Recommend":

First, a lot of folks are talking about Kingdom, a two-season-and-counting Korean Netflix horror to sate your unhealthy bloodthirst for zombies when you've run out of Walking Dead and Z Nation.  I got through half of s1, and it couldn't hold my interest.  The zombies are secondary to a drama about entitlement to the royal throne; I had trouble following the story or caring.  If you need a zombie fix, I suggest Daybreak s1 on Netflix, though it will not get a second season.

Second, I caught up on Riverdale s4 over at CW TV, coming soon to Netflix.  It was a decent backdrop for multi-tasking, but couldn't hold my attention full-time.  It was fun for the first couple of seasons, but the characters and story have played out.  If you're missing K.J. Apa, watch The Hate U Give again while hoping his agent gets him another worthy TV vehicle.

Third, Westworld s3To be fair, I'm probably going to watch the whole thing, because I love the visuals and the addition of Aaron Paul.  But what the heck is going on?  Who are all these people?  Maybe the pieces will come together, but as of now, I'm not even sure what the show is about.

What I'm Eating

As we made it to the grocery store this week, my wife acquired the necessaries for her famous Louisiana gumbo with chicken and andouille.  The filé powder we had already, not easy to come by in New England.

Remember, as your resources permit, to #SaveOurRestaurants.  We had goat cheese burgers from Billy's last week, and this week we have our eye on Brickyard Pizza Co.

What I'm Drinking

We're very fond of Gevalia's single-origin line, and Costa Rica Special Reserve is our favorite.  Tico ag, Swedish craftsmanship.

The Foxtale Dry Gin, from Portugal, is inspired by the fox of The Little Prince (Amazon; in The New Yorker): "the ideal digestive for a night with friends"—at a proper social distance, of course.  A solid choice, though I'm hard pressed to detect any particular botanical beyond the citrus and a hint of malt.

What I'm Doing to Stay Sane


Photo by JJBers CC BY-SA 4.0
East Bay Bike Path.  I haven't been able to run with the sprained ankle I dragged home from Africa, but biking has been OK.  And luckily, as yet, Rhode Island has not closed the bike paths with the state parks.  There was a rumor of bike path closure on Nextdoor.com, and I hope that doesn't come to be.  I admit that there have been some troubling concentrations of people at bike path choke points, as in the center of East Providence.  But if the paths close, there will only be more people squeezed along busy, sidewalk-less streets, such as mine, where cars compound the corona risk.  Hear me, o Honorable Governor.

Our long national nightmare lumbers on.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Falmouth takings case affords opportunity to plan for sea-level rise, if officials take notice, scholars write

In September, I wrote about a Massachusetts takings case pending petition for review to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court denied review, so the Massachusetts Appeals Court decision that vacated a jury award to the takings claimant stands. My colleagues Professors Chad McGuire and Michael Goodman have written for CommonWealth Magazine about the case's potential implications for climate change in combating sea-level rise.

McGuire and Goodman described the case:

In December the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition for review by Janice Smyth of Falmouth on the question of whether the Falmouth Conservation Commission, when denying a permit to develop her coastal property in Falmouth, exacted a de facto “taking” (often referred to as a regulatory taking, or inverse condemnation). Smyth inherited the coastal property from her parents but, by the time she took action to exercise her right to develop that land in 2012, she ran afoul of the no-development zone enacted locally to mitigate erosion and coastal land loss experienced over recent decades.

They conclude that government leaders should use the latitude afforded them by this precedent to plan for the coastline impact of climate change while "manag[ing] the consequences for coastal land values, local real estate markets, and the tax base of our coastal municipalities."  Read more.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Planet Money tackles litigation financing, champerty

One of my long-term favorite podcasts, Planet Money, last week tackled litigation financing.  We talk a lot in Torts in law school about America's runaway transaction costs and how they affect, or impede, civil justice.  Litigation financing can seem like manna from heaven when one thinks of tragedy-of-the-commons problems such as climate change.  But then there are the problems of corporatocracy, secrecy, and the distastefulness of commodification. Planet Money traces our distaste to champerty in British common law.  Here's the introduction:
Litigation financing allows third-party funders like Burford Capital to invest in other people's lawsuits, but it's long been considered unethical, and is illegal in many places.  But justice can often hinge more on how much money each side has than on what's actually right or wrong. So Burford argues that allowing investments in lawsuits will give more people access to better justice. And it's been a good business for them. But others worry it might warp the justice system.
Listen to "Capitalism in the Courtoom," episode 942, at NPR, here, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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.