Category Archives: Civil Litigation

California County, Others To Pay More Than $650,000 In Same-Sex Elder Abuse Case

Late last week, representatives of Sonoma County, California agreed to settle a lawsuit filed on behalf Clay Greene and the estate of Harold Scull, Greene’s deceased partner of 20 years.  According to the suit, Greene and Scull had each executed mutual powers of attorney for medical and financial decisions and wills naming each other as beneficiaries. In April 2008, County employees in the Public Guardian’s office separated the couple after Scull fell outside their shared home. In the next three months, County officials ignored the couple’s legal documentation, unlawfully auctioned their possessions, terminated their lease, and forced Greene into an assisted living facility against his will. The County did not consult Greene in Scull’s medical care and prevented the two from seeing one another.

In August, 2008, before the partners could be reunited, Scull passed away after completing a photo album of the couple’s life for Greene.

In August, 2009, Greene and the representative of Scull’s estate filed a lawsuit against County officials and others alleging elder abuse, elder financial abuse, breach of fiduciary duty, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, and other claims.  The plaintiffs were represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).

Under the terms of the settlement, Sonoma County will pay $600,000 to the plaintiffs, with a smaller payment of $53,000 coming from the remaining defendants.  In addition, as a result of the lawsuit, Sonoma County has changed or modified a number of important policies in its Public Guardian’s Office, including requiring County employees to follow protocols before seizing private property, preventing County employees from relocating elders or others against their will, and prohibiting County employees from backdating information in their guardianship database.

NCLR is to be commended for taking on this most egregious case and seeing it through to a favorable conclusion for the plaintiffs.  As a resident of Sonoma County, on a personal and professional level, I am deeply disturbed that it took a lawsuit to cajole the County into “modifying” policies requiring its employees to “follow protocols before seizing private property” of its residents, “relocating elders against their will,” and “prohibiting County employees from backdating information.”  It should not be necessary for anyone – regardless of sexual orientation – to resort to court action to prevent such abuses.  The monetary settlement notwithstanding, what this couple lost cannot be replaced by any court.

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Hulk Hogan’s Ex Celebrates Independence Day Aboard New Yacht, “Alimoney”

I came across a humorous article today at the California Family Law Paralegal blog, which I thought I’d pass along to you.  I don’t follow “celebrity gossip,” but once in a while a story comes along that, whether by actual newsworthiness or sheer morbid curiosity, I can’t seem to look away.  This story is one of those occasions.

For those of you familiar with the aging dinosaurs of the professional wrestling circuit, or stupid reality television shows, you probably already know about the multi-million dollar settlement Hulk Hogan had to pay to his ex-wife.  Apparently, the ex-Mrs. Hulk Hogan decided to spend a portion a portion of the settlement on her new yacht, which she elected to nickname “Alimoney.”  That’s not a typo, WordPress spell checker.  This classy dame did, indeed, name her yacht, “Alimoney.”  As if smashing all of Hulk’s toilet bowls wasn’t enough to tell all of the world, “Hey, I’m top drawer!”

I’m not sure what troubles me more about this story – the creature feature that is ex-Mrs. Hulk Hogan, pictured above, or the fact that I actually find myself feeling sorry for the Hulk.  That’s a new feeling, I can assure you.

You can read more about the story at the link provided.

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Yoo-Hoo Sued For False Advertising

Double Fudge flavor of Yoo-hoo drink

Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a prime example of the type of lawsuit that gives both lawyers and vexatious litigants a bad name.  The law firm of Reese, Richman and Williams of New York, NY, on behalf of Plaintiff Timothy Dahl, has sued Mott’s LLP and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, makers of Yoo-Hoo, for deceptive advertising.  According to the lawsuit, Yoo-Hoo has, since its inception several decades ago, been misleading and lying to its customers claiming that the soft drink product is ‘good for them’ when, in fact, it contains dreaded ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.’

The suit seeks class action status, an order enjoining the marketing of Yoo-Hoo has being good for its consumers, and a hefty $5,000,0000 damages request.  Are you kidding me?

I agree with Legal Blog Watch, the source of this story, that “if there’s a beverage that can instantly bring to mind happy times,” it’s Yoo-Hoo.  As a kid, I drank as much of this stuff as I could get my hands on.  At 40, I suffer no ill effects from ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.’  In my opinion, we have liquids to worry about these days other than Yoo-Hoo like, perhaps, the millions of barrels of sludge filling the Gulf of Mexico.  These lawyers ought to be ashamed of themselves, and I can only hope that the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York will send this lawsuit to the trash bin where it belongs.

In the meantime, if you want a chuckle, check out the Plaintiff’s Complaint in the Box.  And, thanks to Legal Blog Watch for the story.

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Jury Hits Pharma Giant Novartis With Sex Discrimination Verdict

Breaking News from NYC:

A NYC jury has rendered a verdict against pharmaceutical giant, Novartis, finding that the company had engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination against women.  In particular, the jury found that the company paid women less than men and treated pregnant women unfavorably.  You can link to an article from ABC News here, discussing the case.

Second Sex Discrimination Verdict Against Novartis:

This verdict is the second sex discrimination verdict the company has suffered in the last few months.  In early March, a jury in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia rendered a verdict in favor of pharmaceutical sales representative Mary Kate Breeden against Novartis, awarding her $289,669on on a claim of retaliation for taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

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Lawyer – Wait, I Mean Dentist – Orly Taitz Files Lawsuit Against New Health Care Law

Care to know who has joined the “illustrious” group of lawyers filing lawsuits against the new health care bill signed into law by President Obama?  You guessed it, Claimed Lawyer – Apparent Dentist – Birther Queen – and  All-Around Weirdo Orly Taitz.  In a barely-reasoned, badly-drafted Complaint – in which she mis-spells the title of her own court document – Taitz alleges that the new health care law is a:

“VIOLATION OF COMMERCE CLAUSE AND OF PLAINTIFF’S RIGHTS TO GAINFUL EMPLOYMENT AS A DOCTOR OF DENTAL SURGERY UPON DEFENDANT’S IMMINENT SIGHNING OF THE HEALTH BILL”  (Error in original.)

Huh?

But, wait…it gets better. Dr. Orly waxes on, eloquently pleading:

“Health bill, as being prepared and reconciled, will create an enormous machine of governmental burocracy which will intrude into Plaintiff’s practice, will affect her doctor-patient relations, will undermine her Hippocratic oath, will force her to ration medical care and de-facto deny medical care to elderly, whom some committees of burocrats will deem to be too old to receive such care, meaning too old to live.” (Multiple and inexcusable errors in original.)

Orly Taitz concerned me enough when I only knew her to be a sham lawyer, completely incapable of sound legal reasoning, and apparently absent from law school the day they discussed the “actual cases and controversies” clause from the Constitution.  But she’s also a dentist!?!  I mean, I knew she put Dr. in front of her name, but I certainly did not think she seriously meant that she provided, gulp, medical care to actual people.  With sharp instruments and everything!?!

Apparently, Orly did not get a big enough cup of hot, steaming whoop-ass from her last foray into a courtroom.  As some of you may recall, Orly was sanctioned and severely criticized by a Federal judge last year for filing a frivolous lawsuit against President Obama.  In a 30-page opinion, the Judge criticized Orly for, among other things:

  1. Using “rhetoric” that is designed to inflame the “emotions” of her followers instead of real legal arguments; (Orly:  “What are legal arguments?”)
  2. Failing to properly file and serve the defendants in the case so as to give them notice of the case; (Orly:  “That rule didn’t apply to me, did it?”)
  3. An attempt by Taitz to dump two of her clients because she did not like working with their counsel; (Orly:  “I never said I was a people person.”)
  4. Asking supporters to contact the court in an attempt to influence the decision; and (Orly:  “Is that wrong?”)
  5. Possibly asking some witnesses to perjure themselves before the court.  (Orly:  “They were just little, white lies.”)

You can link to additional articles about Orly here and here.

And, yet, no article about Orly Taitz would be complete without at least one photo of the Dr. herself – now, ask yourself, would you want her standing up for you in court?  Or, coming at you with a dentist’s drill and a pair of pliers?  If you answer yes to either of these questions, you need more than a dentist.

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Judge orders UC to repay $38 million in student fees – Inside Bay Area

Judge orders UC to repay $38 million in student fees – Inside Bay Area.

Very interesting article about the outcome of lawsuit against UC for fee hikes in certain programs.  My opinion is that the Judge is right on the mark here.  What do you think?

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2nd Circuit Upholds Constitutionality Of Post-Shooting Breathalyzers For NYPD

It has been a little while since I posted here, so I am catching up on some “semi-recent” court rulings of note from around the country.  Here is one that may have slipped by you, but is worth a look.  As recently reported in Adjunct Law Prof Blog, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a New York City policy requiring breathalyzer tests on officers immediately following a shooting death or injury caused by the use of their service pistol.  The case is entitled Lynch v. City of New York. I have placed a PDF of the case in the Box.

The NYPD breathalyzer policy requires that senior NYPD officials be notified of an officer-involved shooting with a gun, including the Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB). The policy then requires that a “portable breathalyzer test” be administered “in a private setting” to the “uniformed member(s) of the service who discharged a firearm.” If the portable breathalyzer test yields a reading of blood alcohol level of 0.08 or greater—the legal limit for driving an automobile in New York State—the officer in question must be transported to an IAB testing facility where he or she will be given a second test on a more accurate “Intoxilyzer” machine.

This particular policy arose out of a November 2006 shooting death of a suspect by undercover NYPD officers in Queens, New York.  Intense and widespread criticism from the public followed. In the wake of the Bell shooting, the Commissioner of the NYPD appointed a committee to review the Department’s undercover operations and to make recommendations for improvements. One recommendation was the breathalyzer policy.

Police unions challenged the policy on Fourth Amendment grounds, arguing that the officers’ Fourth Amendment privacy interests outweighed the NYPD’s interest in detecting and disciplining officers who use their guns while intoxicated. That argument was rejected, the court is essence holding that the police department has a substantial interest in deterring its officers from using firearms while intoxicated.

To my knowledge, the policy does not yet apply to other types of force (e.g., Tasers, batons, etc.) even if that use of force seriously injures.  Should it apply to Tasers?  I have personally handled cases where a Taser fired at the wrong part of the body can inflict serious and life-long injury.

What about some other, so-called “less lethal” weapons that still can cause substantial, possibly life-threatening injury?  See, e.g., Deorle v. Rutherford (9th Cir. 2001) 272 F.3d 1272 [Officer used “less lethal” bean bag shotgun, causing serious and substantial injury to emotionally distressed suspect, including multiple cranial fractures and dislodging one eye].  I have seen an unauthorized, military-style, “take down” maneuver cripple a suspect.

Does it matter what size police department is under analysis?  Perhaps, the NYPD has had significant problems of this sort in the past, and that history justifies the policy.  What if that history is not present?

If one lets the mind wander a bit, it is not difficult to conclude that any type of force that results in serious or substantial; or, perhaps, “life-threatening,” should be the subject of inquiry into the officer’s state of mind, including state of intoxication, if any.  Why not include a drug test, too?  It hardly makes sense to just test for alcohol, but not drugs – does it?

Having handled a dozen or so police misconduct cases, I have been critical of police officers in particular circumstances in how they use force.  I also happen to agree with the New York policy as it currently stands.  However, I think there is some danger if this kind of policy expands to include other uses of force.

On the one hand, there are officers like Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Officer Johannes Mehserle who fatally shot an unarmed and prostrate Oscar Grant in Oakland, CA early New Year’s Day 2009.  As part of his defense, Mehserle states that he believed he was firing his X26 model Taser, not his service pistol.  Even if true, the X26 is bright yellow, while service pistols are the typical gun barrel black.  Assuming for the moment that Mehserle is right, an officer who makes a mistake that confuses his black pistol with a yellow Taser (ruling out color-blindness or some other physical impairment), one might conclude that analyzing the officer’s sobriety at the time is reasonable.  For more on this case, extensive coverage can be found here and here.

On the other hand, there is the officer called out to the domestic violence scene.  Faced with a generally tense, often rapidly-evolving situation, where the officer has already been warned that this is the type of service call statistically the most dangerous to his or her person, the officer is naturally on edge.  That is simply human nature.  Then, something happens which sends the events down a tragic path, and the suspect is shot and wounded or killed. Does that mean every time such a shooting occurs, officers are subjected to alcohol testing, or possibly drug and alcohol testing, when they were exercising their discretion in the field under those incredibly tense and dangerous circumstances?

What do you think?  Is the Lynch decision a civil RIGHT or a civil WRONG?  All opinions are welcome on this important topic.


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