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

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

UK orders commission to study women's football; rising TV prices warn of commercial monopolization

Karen Carney in 2019
(James Smed CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
The UK has announced "an in-depth review into the future of domestic women’s football" and appointed the decorated footballer and today commentator Karen Carney MBE to chair.

In the United States, this year marked the historic equal pay settlement for the blockbuster Women's National Team (USWNT). And in the UK, England hosted and won the 13th UEFA Women's Euro 2022, delayed two years by the pandemic, in a nail-biter over Germany.

Though to say women's football is coming into its own is an assertion decades late, just as it is decades early to say that women's football has at last been afforded parity with men's in social and commercial recognition.

The UK announced three points of focus for the review:

[1] Assessing the potential audience reach and growth of the game—by considering the value and visibility of women’s and girls’ football in England, including the potential to grow the fanbase for women’s football and whether current growth still supports home-grown talent and can be achieved without overstretching infrastructure.

[2] Examining the financial health of the game and its financial sustainability for the long term. This will include exploring opportunities and ways to support the commercialisation of the women’s game, broadcast revenue opportunities and the sponsorship of women’s football.

[3] Examining the structures within women’s football. This includes the affiliation with men’s teams, prize money, the need for women’s football to adhere to the administrative requirements of the men’s game; and assessing the adequacy, quality, accessibility and prevalence of the facilities available for women’s and girls’ football for the growth and sustainability of the game.

The UK does have already a system for youth development in women's football that looks sophisticated from the U.S. vantage point. Carney is a case in point. Even in the 1990s, Carney came up through the ranks of Birmingham City since age 11. She became one of England's top capped players, scoring 32 goals for the national side from 2005 to 2019.

After three years at Arsenal, in 2009, Carney moved to the United States to play for the Chicago Red Stars, a team then affiliated with the Women's Professional Soccer league (WPS). The WPS was a short-lived installment in the fits and starts of women's pro soccer in the United States. The league collapsed after scarcely a year. Carney returned to England in 2011 to play for five years again for Birmingham City, then three years for Chelsea.

Today, Carney comments on both men's and women's football for Sky Sports and Amazon Prime. The Chicago Red Stars play today as part of the National Women's Soccer League.

Sky, like NBC in the United States, is a division of Comcast. The anti-competitive bundlings of these interrelated companies is making it unaffordable for viewers in the UK and in the United States to follow a team. I'm not sure how long UK viewers and regulators will tolerate the exploitation. Some Latin American governments have been increasingly ruffled about commercial efforts to make access to football a privilege of the elite. I've speculated that in the United States, NBC is effectively killing the goose that laid the golden egg. U.S. viewers will never commit to world-class Premier League football if they're given access only to different teams and lower priority matches week to unpredictable week.

Unfortunately, commercial development of the women's game presents the same conundrum. Commercialization in the priorities of the Carney review is presented as an undisputed good. To be sure, that's where the money is, and it will take money to bring the women's game to gender parity.

At the same time, there is evidence already in the United States that commercial success, ironically, invites audience exclusivity and, thus, narrows public appeal. USWNT television rights presently lie with ESPN and Fox Sports, both divisions of Disney. But Disney+ viewers won't find the USWNT there, nor in the Disney+/ESPN+ bundle, as "+" seems to be a number less than (ESPN)2 and (ESPN)3.

In March, US Soccer awarded USWNT and men's team rights together in an eight-year deal to HBO Max and Turner properties, all divisions of AT&T by way of WarnerMedia. An HBO subscription doesn't come cheap, and different Turner channels require subscription to different bundles.

With media empires now controlling access to football on both sides of the Atlantic, fans' budgets will be stretched thin, and appetite for allegiances to new endeavors, such as expanded women's football, might prove difficult to stir. If the women's game is to be kept from becoming a victim of its own success, the goal of commercialization should be viewed with a discerning eye, wary of monopolization.

A call for evidence in support of the Carney review is expected from the UK Football Association in the coming weeks. HT @ lawyer Paul Maalo, writing for the Wiggin digital commerce team in London.

Monday, September 19, 2022

In 'Operation L,' Polish Special Forces rescued women judges, lawyers from Afghanistan amid chaotic U.S. exit

In an operation little known until recently, Polish Special Forces evacuated female judges and lawyers from Afghanistan in the wake of the chaotic U.S. exit in 2021.

I continue to discover stories of tribulation, heroism, and heartbreak emerging from last summer's debacle. The most haunting report remains one published at the time, though I caught up to it some months later, This American Life's nail-biting Prologue and Act One of "Getting Out."

In an action only recently come to light, Polish Special Forces within the NATO mission carried out "Operation L." As the Taliban took control of Kabul, female public officials, judges, and lawyers received threats of violence and murder. Prompted by the efforts of an Afghan judge and Polish lawyer, the Polish government deployed special forces.

Besides more than 1,000 other persons who escaped Afghanistan on flights organized by Polish authorities, soldiers evacuated to Poland a group of nearly 90 persons comprising women judges, lawyers, prosecutors, and their families.

In collaboration with the Kosciuszko Foundation and the American Bar Association (ABA), the Jagiellonian Law Society (JLS) held a panel presentation and discussion in May, now published on YouTube at KosciuszkoTV, on Operation L. Remarks included those of Judge Anisa Rasooli. In 2018, she was the first woman nominated to the Afghan Supreme Court, though her candidacy was narrowly defeated in the parliament.

Within the ABA, the International Law Section (ILS), Women's Interest Network, and International Human Rights Committee co-sponsored. I'm pleased to be affiliated with the JLS and ABA ILS.


Thursday, September 15, 2022

Land dispute implicates 'second element of second path of second stage' of anti-SLAPP analysis, and we're all supposed to pretend the world's better for it

The Supreme Judicial Court studies its anti-SLAPP framework.
Argonne National Laboratory CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 via Flickr

Anti-SLAPP analysis in Massachusetts has become a Rube Goldberg machine disguising little more than an "I know it when I see it" test—

—so I contend, and I offer a Massachusetts Appeals Court case decided Tuesday as evidence.

I've written many times about anti-SLAPP, including my contention that the device can be used meritoriously, but is as often deployed to contrary ends, a sword for Goliath to strike down David; the legion dysfunctions of tort law that anti-SLAPP amplifies; and the possible better solution to be found in process torts and similar related mechanisms of accountability in law practice and procedure.

As Massachusetts courts have struggled to differentiate meritorious actions from SLAPPs under the Commonwealth's characteristically convoluted statute, I ultimately gave up trying to keep up with the ever more complicated thicket of rules and procedures leaching out from appellate decisions. So The Savory Tort should not be your first stop if you're trying to get a granular grip on the current landscape here.

Yet I can't help but write about this most recent appellate opinion. To my reading, the court poorly disguised its doubts about burgeoning and burdensome anti-SLAPP process, and whether time, money, and justice can all be saved at the same time.

The underlying dispute was a land matter. The plaintiff, seeking quiet title and adverse possession, was partially successful in a somewhat protracted litigation. Later, if before the expiry of a three-year limitations period, the respondent from the land action filed the present case, alleging abuse of process and intentional infliction of emotional distress by way of the earlier case. The land plaintiff from the earlier case, now the process and IIED defendant, raised the Massachusetts anti-SLAPP statute in defense.

First, I take the occurrence here of abuse of process as evidence in support of my position that anti-SLAPP is often really about process wrongs. Though here the anti-SLAPP movant is the one accused of abuse of process, it is typical in process tort cases for accusations of misconduct to fly simultaneously in both directions. Regardless of whether a jurisdiction recognizes abuse of process as a cause of action per se, courts have the power to manage process objections with a range of existing tools. I wrote about abuse of process appearing as a defensive mechanism, essentially a better tailored anti-SLAPP device, in South Africa. And my 1L torts class just yesterday read Lee Tat Development, a well reasoned 2018 opinion, included in my casebook, in which the Singapore Court of Appeals both rejected the abuse of process as a tort action and thoroughly discussed alternatives.

The Massachusetts Appeals court devoted a dense 10 pages to the blow by blow between the parties in the instant case. I won't retell it here. What's compelling is what the court had to say about its job in reviewing the Superior Court's anti-SLAPP ruling. Quoting the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) in the Exxon case, which I reported recently, the Appeals Court's opening line oozes disrelish:

"This case involves yet another example of the 'ever-increasing complexity of the anti-SLAPP case law,' and the 'difficult and time consuming' resolution of special motions to dismiss pursuant to the 'anti-SLAPP' statute."

The partial quotes read like the court is feigning innocent pleading to the Supremes, "These are your words. We're just repeating them."

In analyzing the instant case according to the painstaking legal framework that the SJC has eked out of case experience, the Appeals Court located the present dispute in "the second element of the second path of the second stage."

What is the second element of the second path of the second stage, you ask?

Well, it's that the "judge must 'assess the "totality of the circumstances pertinent to the nonmoving party's asserted primary purpose in bringing its claim," and ... determine whether the nonmoving party's claim constitutes a SLAPP suit.'"

Isn't that the whole game?

I humbly propose that the good ship Commonsense has already sailed when we start talking about a second element of a second path of a second stage.

The Appeals Court divulged a tone somewhere between surprise and pride when it concluded "that the [Superior Court] judge followed the augmented framework sequentially, assiduously, and judiciously." Adjectives "comprehensive" and "thoughtful" followed.

Then, around page 27, the court hints at deeper problems.

The [landowners'] arguments demonstrate some of the difficulties associated with the application of the augmented framework. On one hand, the present action presents as a typical SLAPP case in that a supposedly wealthy developer sued abutters of supposedly modest means for petitioning in court to challenge a development project.... On the other hand, the [landowners] averred that far from being wealthy and powerful developers, they were a real estate broker and part-time bookkeeper attempting to develop a single-family residential property, while the [anti-SLAPP movants] were not the "individual citizens of modest means" contemplated by the anti-SLAPP law. The parties contested each other's motivations and representations. There is an inherent difficulty and, in some cases, prematurity in requiring a judge to make credibility determinations and discern a party's primary motivation predicated on affidavits, pleadings, and proffers, and not on a more complete evidentiary record scrutinized through cross-examination.

Some pages later, the court returned more directly but cautiously to the question of anti-SLAPP efficacy:

In this regard, as we have noted, the [landowners] insist that the present action cries out for a jury trial as the only appropriate way to resolve critical credibility disputes and determine the parties' true motivations. This argument has some force in that there are obvious difficulties in ... requiring judges to be fairly assured that the challenged claim is not a SLAPP suit, absent full discovery and testimony tested through cross-examination. Yet, the special motion to dismiss remedy exists, in large part, to avoid costly litigation and trial.... In any event, it is for the Supreme Judicial Court or the Legislature to address and resolve these concerns should they so choose.

At the tail end of a 34-page appellate opinion on meta-litigation over a small land matter and a lot of bad blood, one might wonder how much "costly litigation" was avoided.

The problem is with anti-SLAPP itself. The court is being asked to adjudge the motives of a litigant in the absence of evidence for the very purpose of avoiding the cost of collecting evidence.

We don't have a SLAPP problem. We have a transaction costs problem. Slapping a bandage on it with anti-SLAPP only invites perverse results. And the harder one tries to get right a call about evidence without the evidence, the more costly and perverse the results will be.

The case is Nyberg v. Wheltle, No. 21-P-791 (Mass. App. Ct. Sept. 13, 2022) (temporary court posting). Judge Eric Neyman wrote the opinion for a unanimous panel.

UPDATE, Sept. 16: Notwithstanding the ill wisdom of anti-SLAPP, the fad flourishes. Europe and the UK continue their headlong advances toward legislation, and a new bill in the U.S. Congress seeks to bring anti-SLAPP to U.S. federal courts. Enjoy, judges! I don't expect that the extinction of the defamation cause of action will do much to remedy our problems with misinformation and vitriolic divisiveness, but that seems to be the experiment we're determined to carry out.

Saturday, September 3, 2022

FTC finally notices abuse of customers, shady business practices by car rental industry

In an omnibus resolution late last week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) green-lighted investigation of the car rental industry.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the "new lows" of our car rental oligopoly in the United States, including my own experiences with the misleading Hertz "loyalty" program and the manipulation of pickup and drop-off times to draw overage fees.

The resolution broadly compels investigation "[t]o determine whether any persons, partnerships, corporations, or others have engaged or are engaging in deceptive or unfair acts or practices in or affecting commerce in the advertising, marketing, promotion, sale, tracking, or distribution of rental cars."

For context, Frankfurt Kurnit's Jeff Greenbaum wrote in Advertising Law Updates that commissioners ordered similar investigations in July 2021 into "areas such as COVID-19, healthcare, and technology platforms," and in September 2021 into services targeting veterans and children, "algorithmic and biometric bias, deceptive and manipulative conduct online, repair restrictions, and abuse of intellectual property."

The FTC didn't detail the buzz in its bonnet, but they likely heard lawmakers in the spring frowning on Hertz's misreporting of stolen cars. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) wrote Hertz a nasty-gram in March. Forty-seven customers filed suit for false arrest in July, CNN reported (via ABC 7 L.A.), and they're not the only ones.

I documented my rental return this summer in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
(RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

I've started taking the advice of The Points Guy's Summer Hull to take pictures and videos of my rental cars when I pick them up and when I return them. One Mile at a Time advises the same

But I'm doubting the utility of it. I'm not sure you can see scratches or dents in the images, especially in dark garages. And, as Hull herself reported, she was called out for alleged damage to the roof, which she had not climbed up to photograph. I wonder whether I should crawl under the car to photograph the undercarriage.

Lately rental companies have presented me with an up-sell option for tire and window insurance, threatening that they're not covered even if a buy the CDW. And don't get me started on involuntary "upgrades" to fuel-inefficient trucks. Even the sedan pictured here, which I rented this summer in Thunder Bay, Ontario, was what I got when I reserved an SUV to tackle unpaved roads.

Meanwhile, my budding occupation as car portraitist is eating into my travel time and my hard drive space.

It seems to me that when customers start having systematically to video-record their interactions with industry to protect themselves against fraud, the problem might be with the industry and not with the customer.

Oh, FTC ... 🤙

Friday, September 2, 2022

Motel not liable for guest's suicide, court rules, despite family warning of risk, asking for room number

CC0 1.0 via Wikimedia Commons
The Massachusetts Appeals Court yesterday rejected Motel 6 liability for the suicide of a guest.

The September 1 decision broke no new ground, but reiterated the interrelationship of duty doctrines in negligence and Massachusetts repudiation of the common law "suicide rule."

Decedent Michael C. Bonafini took his own life in a room of the Motel 6 in Chicopee, Massachusetts, just north of Springfield in 2015. The mother and wife of the decedent blamed the motel because they went there in the night and morning trying to reach him, and motel staff would not reveal his room number. In the morning, the mother told the motel clerk that the decedent was at risk of suicide. The clerk called the room, but the decedent answered and immediately hung up. He was found dead when the motel manager entered the room at noon checkout time.

The case implicates potentially conflicting duty relationships in the common law of negligence. The reputed "suicide rule" of historical common law held that there can be no liability for a suicide. At the same time, common law recognizes an affirmative duty of an innkeeper to a guest, and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has recognized a duty to prevent suicide in some circumstances.

Historically, courts were loath to impose accident liability for an intentional act of self-harm on an earlier-in-time actor, especially when the intentional act was an attempt to commit suicide. The conclusion could be reached either by ruling that there was no duty to prevent another from intentional self-harm, which usually was criminalized, or by reasoning that the abrupt, violent, and intentional act of suicide dispositively interrupted the requisite chain of proximate causation.

It's arguable that there never was a "suicide rule," per se, rather a doctrine of duty and causation that was informed by social norms. Norms change. Suicide is less often today regarded as a matter for criminal justice, even if criminal laws remain on the books to justify the intervention of authorities. The trend in tort law is to employ the usual doctrines of duty and causation to analyze the facts of each case. That said, the "suicide rule" still holds sway, because the doctrines of duty and causation still disfavor the imposition of an affirmative duty to prevent injury and disfavor negligence liability for causal actors earlier in time than intentional injurers (this blog, Feb. 9, 2021).

On the question of duty, the instant case is complicated in two respects, one on the law and one on the facts. First, an innkeeper-guest relationship is one in which common law historically does impose an affirmative duty, on the innkeeper for the protection of the guest. Second, insofar as an affirmative duty might exist, it can be predicated on knowledge of risk, which the decedent's mother gave to the motel clerk.

The innkeeper-guest relationship did not get the plaintiffs to the finish line. The purpose of the common law duty is to oblige an innkeeper, like a landlord, to protect the guest from risks the innkeeper might know about, and the guest does not, in the vein of premises liability; or, at the extreme, risks of any nature that an innkeeper might be better positioned to mitigate than a guest can.

The court summarized past cases in which Massachusetts courts recognized an innkeeper-to-guest duty: failure to prevent stabbing by intruder for want of an adequate security system; failure to protect guest from fire set by arsonist; and failure to prevent battery by another guest. All three examples implicate an intermediate intentional, and tortious or criminal actor. But in the first two cases, the causal risks relate to the premises: a security system and fire response. There is no intermediately causal premises risk in the instant case.

The battery case seems more on point, and the court here did not make the distinction plain. But on the facts of that case, the plaintiff was stabbed at an event for which the defendant innkeeper had hired security guards. The case is best understood as a duty voluntarily undertaken by the defendant, and then executed negligently. In one count based on innkeeper-guest duty and one count based on ordinary negligence, the plaintiff complained that the security guards had negligently failed to restrain a drunken patron. The jury returned a generalized plaintiff's verdict that the court concluded was supported by the evidence.

So the problem for the plaintiff-representative in the instant case is that the decedent was not injured by the premises, and the defendant motel voluntarily undertook no duty to protect the decedent beyond the usual duties of an innkeeper. In fact, the innkeeper-guest duty arguably cuts against the plaintiff's position. Were a clerk to violate a guest's privacy by revealing the room number to a requester concealing ill intentions, the motel could be held liable for injury inflicted on the guest by the requester-intruder.

That said, the decedent's mother and wife were understandably frustrated with the clerk's stubbornness, under the circumstances, and their fears were vindicated tragically. The plaintiff's best strategy was to tie the alleged misconduct of the defendant to the responsibilities of an innkeeper, moving the causal focus away from the decedent's intentional act and changing the conversation from negligent failure to act to negligent action. In this vein, the plaintiff alleged not that the clerk necessarily should have revealed the room number, but that, instead of telephoning and giving up, the clerk should have summoned police to conduct a wellness check.

The court did not indulge the plaintiff's theory long enough to parse the details. But the basic problem even with the plaintiff's best gloss on the case is that the mother and wife could have called the police, too, and did not. Indeed, the court, fairly or not, faulted the family for being coy in characterizing the risk: "Indeed, all that is alleged is that [the] mother and wife informed motel employees that [decedent] was at risk of suicide, and asked for his room number so they could assist him. They did not tell the employees that [he] had stated an intention or plan to commit suicide or that he had recently attempted suicide." Perhaps the family feared negative repercussions of police intervention.

The plaintiff's case was buoyed modestly if insufficiently by Massachusetts high court holdings that a university may be held liable for a student's suicide. In 2018, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that MIT did not owe a duty to a student who committed suicide on the facts of the case (this blog, May 7, 2018). But the court left the door open to a different analysis on different facts, and, the next year, the court allowed a case to go forward against Harvard (this blog, Sept. 30, 2019).

The Appeals Court distinguished the instant case from the Harvard case because the motel did not have enough information to ground an affirmative duty. In the Harvard case, the court looked to "stated plans or intentions to commit suicide." Here, again, the mother and daughter were coy as to the severity of the risk. And, the court added, there was no evidence that anything the decedent said or did suggested suicidal intentions to motel staff. Indeed, while a university knows a lot about its students, sometimes even affirmatively providing mental healthcare, innkeepers, the court opined, "usually are unlikely to know much—if anything—about their guests."

Incidentally, criminal liability for another person's suicide is a different problem. I mention it only because Massachusetts is the state in which Michelle Carter was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the suicide death of Conrad Roy. A civil case was settled in 2019. Just a couple of weeks ago, I watched The Girl from Plainville (2022), a serial dramatization, and I don't recommend it. Maybe too soon to be reminded that the matter was a tragedy for everyone involved.

The instant case in the Appeals Court is Bonafini v. G6 Hospitality, LLC, No. 20-P-1409 (Sept. 1, 2022) (temporary court posting). Justice Gabrielle R. Wolohojian wrote the opinion of the unanimous panel.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Shoe on other foot as US claims sovereign immunity in foreign court for firing Malaysian embassy worker

The U.S. Embassy in KL commemorates flight MH17 in 2014.
(Embassy photo, public domain, via Flickr)
Malaysian courts have been wrestling with the big bear of foreign sovereign immunity in an ursa minor case arising from the dismissal of a security guard from the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

As a torts and comparative law teacher, I'm interested in how courts manage foreign sovereign immunity. But most of the cases I read are about foreign-state respondents in U.S. courts. I suppose the inverse, the United States as respondent in a foreign court, happens often. But it doesn't often make my newsfeed.

Well, this story did. The shoe is on the other foot with the United States seeking to evade the hearing of an employment grievance in Malaysian courts.

Consistently with international norms, in the United States, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) (on this blog) generally codifies sovereign immunity for foreign states in U.S. courts. But an exception pertains for "commercial activity." 

The commercial exception, also consistent with international norms, only makes sense. When a foreign country is acting like any other commercial actor, say, buying toilet paper for the mission restroom, it should not be able to claim sovereign immunity to override its obligation to pay for the toilet paper (contract), nor to escape liability for its fraud in the transaction (tort). Sovereign immunity is rather reserved for when a state acts as a state, doing things only states can do, such as signing treaties and, however unfortunately, waging war—usually.

The exception is easier understood in the abstract than in application. In a case bouncing around the Second Circuit, and reaching the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 on a related but different question, Chinese vitamin makers claim immunity from U.S. antitrust law. The respondent makers say that they are agents of the Chinese state insofar as they are compelled by Chinese economic regulations to fix prices. U.S. competitors see the cut-rate pricing as none other than anti-competitive commercial activity. The question arises under trade treaty, but the problem is analogous to the FSIA distinction.

Also regarding China, the commercial activity exception was one of the ways that state lawsuits against the People's Republic over the coronavirus pandemic tried to thread the needle on sovereign immunity. In the lawsuit filed in 2020 by the State of Missouri against the PRC filed in 2020, the Missouri Attorney General characterized the Chinese lab in Wuhan as a commercial healthcare enterprise. The district court disagreed in July, and the AG is appealing.

In the Malaysian case, according to the allegations, the U.S. Embassy gave no reason when it terminated a security guard in 2008 after about a decade's service. The security guard probably would not be owed any explanation under U.S. law. But the Malaysian Industrial Relations Act is not so permissive, authorizing complaints to the labor authority upon dismissal "without just cause or excuse."

The opinion of the Malaysian Court of Appeal in the case hints at some bad blood in the workplace and a bad taste left in the mouth of the dismissed guard: "He said he had been victimised by another staff named Rama who had tried to tarnish his good record as he had raised the matter of unreasonable management of the security post.... He said he could not believe that the US Embassy that is recognised the world over as the champion of human rights could have done this to a security guard like him."

Inexplicably, "a long languishing silence lasting some 10 years" followed the administrative complaint, the Court of Appeal observed. "Nobody involved and interested in this case heard anything from anyone. It is always difficult to interpret silence. That silence was broken with a letter from the DGIR [labor authority] calling for a conciliation meeting [in] September 2018.... There was no settlement reached.

"Unbeknown to the workman, the Embassy had [in] March 2019 sent a representation to the DGIR arguing that sovereign immunity applied and that the matter should not be referred at all to the Industrial Court." The United States thereafter succeeded in having the case removed to the Malaysian high court, a general-jurisdiction trial court.

The high court dismissed the case on grounds of U.S. foreign sovereign immunity. The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that the case should not have been removed. The Court of Appeal remanded to the Industrial Court, a specialized labor court, to take evidence on the immunity question. The Malaysian Federal Court recently affirmed the remand, lawyers of Gan Partnership in Kuala Lumpur have reported (Lexology subscription).

Like the FSIA, Malaysian law on foreign sovereign immunity distinguishes commercial activity, jure gestionis, from state action, jure imperii. The dismissed guard argues that his was a simple employment contract, so the United States was acting in a commercial capacity and is not entitled to sovereign immunity. The United States argues that the security of its embassy is a diplomatic matter entitled to the exercise of sovereign discretion.

The case in the Court of Appeal was Letchimanan v. United States (May 18, 2021). Gan Khong Aik and Lee (Ashley) Sze Ching reported the Federal Court affirmance to the International Law Section of the American Bar Association for Lexology on August 30 (subscription). Khong Aik and Sze Ching wrote about the Court of Appeal decision, United States v. Menteri Sumber Manusia (Minister of Human Resources) Malaysia, in July 2021 (Lexology subscription), and with Foo Yuen Wah, they wrote about the high court decision in August 2020 (Lexology subscription).

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Librarian Peltz-Steele joins Roger Williams Law

M. Peltz-Steele
I am overjoyed to announce that my wife, Misty Peltz-Steele, has joined the law library at Roger Williams University Law School, where she heads research services as associate law librarian for research and administration.

Before she joined RWU Law, Peltz-Steele (RWU, LinkedIn, SSRN) was assistant dean and assistant director of the UMass Law Library (where students distinguished her from her poorer half as "Dean Peltz-Steele"). Peltz-Steele holds a master's in library and information studies from the University of Rhode Island and a law degree from the University of Arkansas Little Rock. Before training for librarianship, she practiced as a legal services attorney and clerked for the public defender. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, she served as an officer of the U.S. Navy and is a veteran of the Iraq War.

At Roger Williams, Peltz-Steele works alongside an alumna of my torts classes of whom I am especially proud, Brittany Raposa. Raposa serves RWU Law as associate director and professor of bar support.

Peltz-Steele is the proud parent of a film director and the magnanimous spouse of a blogger. She also makes a mean savory torte, pictured, in fact, at the top of this page.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

'Dr. G' opens law program for Acropolis Group in India

Congratulations to my friend and colleague, Professor Geetanjali Chandra, LL.D., on her appointment to found the bachelor of laws program at the Acropolis Institute of Management Studies and Research in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, India.

"Dr. G," as her students affectionately know her, brings a track record of success to Acropolis. I met Dr. G when I was privileged to be a guest of Amity University Dubai in 2019. She was then founding head of the law school there. Before Amity, Dr. G was founding head of the law school at Chandraprabhu Jain in Delhi and chief learning officer in law for LedX.

In Dubai, Dr. G graciously invited me to join her media law class and arranged introduction of my wife, a law librarian, to her counterparts. The enthusiasm of Dr. G's students for their study under her tutelage was palpable, and it was a memorable joy to spend time with them.

Friday, August 26, 2022

McMahon debates incumbent insider in DA race

[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 and Thomas Quinn, candidates in the September 6 primary for Bristol County, Mass., district attorney, faced off August 12 in what South Coast Today described as a "bare-knuckles debate," sponsored by Dartmouth media and available on YouTube, below.

McMahon is a former student of my advisership.  I assessed the race in the spring.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

University proctor's scan of student's bedroom before online exam violates Fourth Amendment

Nicholas Todd's Bedroom Workspace (Nicholas Todd CC BY 2.0)

In a case with implications for remote testing in all public universities, Cleveland State University violated a student's constitutional rights by requiring a visual scan of his bedroom before he took an online exam, a federal court ruled Monday.

Plaintiff-student Aaron Ogletree complained about the visual scan of his bedroom before a remote exam in General Chemistry II in spring 2021.  The court described the process of the Cleveland State testing service: 

First, at the outset of a proctored online exam, whether proctored through an electronic application or an actual person, students must “show their ID next to their face so you can clearly see and read the ID and be able to tell that that person is the same person that is on the ID.” Second, either the proctoring application or the proctor prompts the student to conduct a room scan of his environment. Other students taking the remote test can see the room scans of other students.

Live exams were not permitted at the time because of the pandemic. Ogletree, who lived with his mother and two siblings, said "that he 'currently [had] confidential settlement documents in the form of late arriving 1099s scattered about [his] work area and there [was] not enough time to secure them,'" the court reported. "The proctor testified that she did not see any tax documents or medications."  A recording of the exam including the room scan was retained by a Cleveland State contractor.

Cleveland State sought to exempt the case from Fourth Amendment purview by analogizing to home visits by benefit administrators. The court rejected the analogy:

[T]he Sixth Circuit[] ... accurately reads this line of cases as applying to a fairly distinct set of circumstances materially different than those at issue here: making welfare benefits contingent, for all recipients, on a limited and consensual search to confirm expenditure of the funds for the interest of a child. In contrast, ... this case involves the privilege of college admission and attendance and does not involve a benefit made available to all citizens as of right. Additionally, the record here shows a variable policy—enforced, unevenly, in the discretion of a combination of proctors and professors—of using remote scans that make a student’s home visible, including to other students, with uncertain consequences.

In the Fourth Amendment reasonableness analysis, Cleveland State pointed to Supreme Court precedents that have been generous to K12 public school officials in searching and drug testing students and their possessions. The court agreed with the plaintiff that an adult attaining a higher education by choice is a different matter from the custodial relationship of a school to a minor child.

The room scan moreover was an ill fit with the aim of exam security. Students were able to access their cell phones and to leave the camera view during exams. And the school could have required papers instead of exam, the court suggested.

Cleveland State is hardly the only university to use room scans. Room scans have been touted as a way of ensuring the security of remote exams. Proctoring contractors might use the technique without a university realizing it. And like other remote services precipitated by the pandemic, remote exams might persist for sake of convenience.

Bar exam authorities typically are public entities, too, subject to the Fourth Amendment. The LSAC that administers the law school admission test (LSAT) is a nonprofit corporation, not a public entity, though there might be Fourth Amendment implications if a public law school requires the LSAT for admission. Either way, it's a bad look for an education gatekeeper to violate privacy.

The LSAC partly averts the privacy problem by requiring test takers to clear their environment of distracting or potentially compromising items. Proctors visually inspect only the test taker's workspace. Despite, or even with, such more limited protocols, law exam administrations in the US and UK have generated ugly headlines about students unable to urinate in privacy. Suffice to say, remote testing security is a work in progress.

The case is Ogletree v. Cleveland State University (N.D. Ohio Aug. 22, 2022), the Honorable J. Philip Calabrese presiding. HT @ Monica Chin for The Verge.