Thursday, August 01, 2019

Works for hire

Stanley Kaufman contributed numerous film reviews to The New Republic ("TNR").  Kaufman was not an employee of TNR and there was evidence going both ways as to whether he or TNR owned the copyrights on his pieces.  There was no written agreement until in 2004, the literary editor sent Kaufman a letter saying it had always been their understanding that the works were works for hire.  Kaufman checked "Agreed" on the letter above his counter-signature.  After Kaufman's death, the Rochester Institute of Technology ("RIT") published an anthology of Kaufman's reviews, including the TNR reviews.  Kaufman's executor sued, claiming copyright infringement.  RIT moved for summary judgment based on the letter and the executor cross-appealed for summary judgment against RIT as to liability.  The district court, based on the letter, granted summary judgment to RIT.

The Second Circuit reversed, holding that because the letter was not signed until years after the works were published, it did not transform the reviews into works for hire.  The case was remanded to the district court for further proceedings (presumably a trial as to damages).

The decision in Kaufman v. Rochester Institute of Technology can be found here.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Jurisdiction Divested under CAFA when class action allegations are removed

An attorney sued a group of title insurance companies for violating a Connecticut statute, which requires that  real estate title agents be attorneys licensed to practice in Connecticut.  After 12 years of litigation, the plaintiff-attorney amended his complaint to remove all class-action allegations.  The district court dismissed the action without prejudice because, by removing the class-action allegations,  the plaintiff had divested the court of jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act.

On appeal, the Second Circuit affirmed, rejecting the plaintiff's assertion that the time-of-filing rule would allow it to continue to have jurisdiction.  That rule allows a court to retain jurisdiction if it had jurisdiction when the complaint was commenced. The Court held that the rule did not apply.  The Court had to look at the new amended complaint to ascertain what the facts were at the time of filing, but taking out the class action allegations, the complaint showed no basis for jurisdiction at the time of the commencement of the action. 

The decision in Gale v. Chicago Title Insurance Co. can be found here.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Trump Can't Block on Twitter

It's pretty well known that Trump does not like to be criticized.  And it's also well known that he really loves Twitter.  So to get the best of both worlds, he decided to block certain people from his Twitter feed -- people who criticized him, of course -- allowing him to tweet to his heart's content without these critics being able to respond.

And this being 21st Century America, he was sued for doing this.  The plaintiffs alleged that blocking them from his Twitter feed constituted a violation of their First Amendment rights.  The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs and entered a declaratory judgment to the effect that Trump's actions had violated the First Amendment.

Trump appealed claims that he blocked the plaintiffs from a private, personal account.  The government did not argue that the account was independent of Trump's presidency, but that the act of blocking was not state action.  Trump contended that his Twitter account is exclusively a vehicle for his own speech to which the plaintiffs had no right of access, and, accordingly, the First Amendment did not apply.

The Second Circuit held that the Twitter account was not just personal, but official and concluded  that once Trump had chosen a platform and opened up its interactive space to millions of users and participants, he could not selectively exclude those whose views he disagrees with.

The decision in Dnight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University v. Trump can be found here.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Landlord can be liable under the Fair Housing Act for harassment on a tenant by another tenant.

A tenant was being racially harassed by another tenant.  The harassed tenant complained to his landlord who did nothing.  The landlord told its managing company not to get involved and refused to address the tenant's letters.  The harassing tenant was allowed to stay in the building until his lease expired.  The harassed tenant sued the landlord under the Fair Housing Act, but the district court dismissed the complaint.  On appeal, the Second Circuit reversed.

The Court, agreeing with the Seventh Circuit, held that "the FHA’s use of the terms 'privileges' and 'conditions' refers not just to the sale or rental itself, but to certain benefits or protections flowing from and following the sale or rental."  And, agreeing with the Ninth Circuit, the Court noted "that '[t]he inclusion of the word ‘privileges’ implicates continuing rights,' indicating that the 'natural reading' of the statute 'encompasses claims regarding services or facilities perceived to be wanting after the owner or tenant has acquired possession of the dwelling.'"  Based on this, the Court held that the post-acquisition claims (claims not related to discrimination in deciding whether to rent premises to an individual and which take place after the individual has acquired a lease for the premises) were actionable under the FHA.

The Second Circuit, agreeing with the Seventh Circuit, held that a landlord who knows of ongoing harassment and is in a position to take action against it, but does nothing can be found liable under the FHA.

Judge Raymond J. Lohier, Jr.  authored the decision and was joined by Judge Rosemary S. Pooler.  Judge Debra Ann Livingston dissented.

The decision (and the dissent) in Francis v. Kings Park Manor, Inc. can be found here.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Inculpatory testimony by police officer as to the statement of a third party is not admissible

The Second Circuit, in Orlando v. Nassau County District Attorney’s Office, a habeas action, the Second Circuit held that the state trial court had erred in allowing a police officer to testify that the defendant in a related case had told him that Orlando had hired him to kill Bobby Calabrese.  The defendant in the related case had not testified in Orlando’s case.  Orlando had argued that allowing the police officer to testify violated his rights under the Confrontation Clause.  The district court had held that because the testimony was not offered for the truth, but for a collateral reason (to explain a change in Orlando’s story), allowing the police officer did not violate Orlando’s Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment right.  (The district court had issued an instruction to the jury that the testimony should not be considered to show that Orlando had hired the other defendant to kill Calabrese.)  The district court issued a certificate of appealability.  The Second Circuit held that the limiting instruction was not sufficient when testimony directing incriminating Orlando was given.

The Second Circuit's decision can be found here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Rooker-Feldman Doctrine.

In Cho v. City of New York, the plaintiffs had been charged with violating New York City's Nuisance Abatement Law.  They entered into settlement agreements with the City rather than defend themselves in court.  Each of the agreements were "so-ordered" by the state court.  The New York law allowed ex parte orders, requiring a premises on which an alleged public nuisance was being conducted to be closed.

Bringing a federal action against the City, the plaintiffs asserted that the City used the state court actions to compel property owners and leaseholders to enter into settlement agreements waiving their constitutional rights and that the so-ordered so-ordered settlement agreements violated the Fourteenth Amendment.  They asked the district court to enjoin the City from enforcing the agreements and declare them to be unconstitutional, invalid and unenforceable.  The City moved to dismiss and the district court granted the motion, claiming that it had no jurisdiction over the matter under the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine.  The Rooker-Feldman doctrine provides that federal district courts lack jurisdiction over suits that are, in substance, appeals form state court judgments.

For a district court to be without jurisdiction under this doctrine, four requirements must be met.  First, the plaintiff in the federal action must have lost in state court.  Second, the plaintiff must complain of injuries caused by a state court judgment.  Third, the plaintiff must invite district court review and rejection of that judgment.  Fourth, the state court judgment must have been rendered before the district court proceedings had been commenced.

The Second Circuit reversed, holding that where the state court action did not cause the injury but was a mere ratification of it, the second requirement of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine had not been met and the district court was not deprived of jurisdiction.  The injury that the plaintiffs sought to remedy was an injury caused when, prior to any judicial action, they were coerced to settle, not an injury that flows from a state court judgment.  Accordingly, the judgment was vacated and the case remanded to the district for further proceedings.

The decision in this case can be found here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Whole grain

The Kellogg Company advertised on the labels that its Cheez-It crackers were made with whole grain.  In fact, the primary ingredient in the crackers was enriched white flour.  The plaintiffs filed a class action against Kellogg, alleging that the labels were false and misleading.  The district court held that the whole grain labels would not mislead a reasonable consumer and dismissed the action.  The plaintiffs appealed.

The Second Circuit reversed the decision of the district court and remanded the case for further proceedings.  The Court rejected the contention that information on the side of the box, relating to the nutritional content of the crackers cured the misstatement.  It held that the plaintiffs had alleged a plausible claim and that the district's dismissal had been improper.

The decision in Mantikas v. Kellogg Co. can be found here.

Qualified Immunity for Tasing Student

The parents of a 12-year old profoundly-deaf boy got into a confrontation over a takeout order with a teacher at his school.  He became angry, ran from the dorm and entered onto a nearby fenced-off construction site.  The teacher followed him and the boy hit him with a stick and threw rocks at him.  The dean of the school called the police.  When the police arrived the boy was holding a large rock.  Officer Gionfriddo, of the police, instructed the boy to drop the rock, which instruction was translated by the dean into American Sign Language.  The boy did not drop the rock.  Officer Gionfriddo then told him that he would be tased if he did not drop the rock, which was also translated to ASL.  When the boy did not drop the rock the police tased him twice and put him in handcuffs.

The boy denies that he actually received or understood any of the instructions or warnings given to him or even knew that the police officers were at the school until he was tased.  He (or actually his parents who commenced suit on his behalf) claimed that Officer Gionfriddo's belief that the instructions and warnings were translated and being understood by the boy were unreasonable.

Officer Gionfriddo moved for summary judgment on the ground of qualified immunity.  The district court denied the motion, asserting that such immunity depends on factual disputes that hinge on credibility determinations, which must be made by the jury.  Officer Gionfriddo appealed.

The Second Circuit reversed, holding that it was objectively reasonable for Officer Gionfriddo to believe that his conduct was lawful.  In other cases, the Court had held that it was not unreasonable for an officer to use a taser in similar circumstances.  Accordingly, Officer Officer Giorfriddo was entitled to qualified immunity.

The decision in Muschette v. Gionfriddo can be found here.