Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sugar Monopilies, Railroad Scams, & Lottery Tickets


Two weeks ago I introduced the Commerce Clause, which grants Congress the power to regulate trade. Today we'll look at three attempts to apply this power. We can view each case as a referendum on exactly how much discretion Congress has.

United States v. E.C. Knight Co. 156 U.S. 1 (1895)

Facts
American Sugar Refining Company purchased a controlling share in four Philadelphia refineries. With this purchase, American Sugar obtained almost complete control of refined sugar in America. This is recognized as a monopoly, and is illegal. Congress has the power to disintegrate monopolies. However, this lawsuit did not seek to break up American Sugar. The plaintiff only requested that the purchases of the Philadelphia refineries be voided.

Questions
1. Can Congress use this direct action to suppress a monopoly?

Holding
1. No

Reasoning
1. Technically, manufacturing is not commerce. Voiding the refinery purchases may uphold the spirit of the commerce clause, but is not congruent with the letter of the law.

Houston, East & West Texas Railway Co. v. United States 234 U.S. 342 (1914)

Facts
Louisiana made it extremely expensive to ship via railway into Texas. This had a negative affect on commerce in Texas. The Interstate Commerce Commission established a maximum rate for railway shipping across the state line.

Questions
1. Does Congress have the power to overrule the Louisiana state legislature.

Holding
1. Yes

Reasoning
1. When an intrastate legislative action has significant interstate consequences, it becomes a federal issue. Congress can and should step in.

Champion v. Ames 188 U.S. 321 (1903)

Facts
In 1895 Congress passed a law prohibiting the shipment of lottery tickets across state lines. Charles Champion was indicted for buying lottery tickets in Paraguay and shipping them to California and Texas. He appealed that the law was unconstitutional.

Questions
1. Congress has the power to regulate commerce, but can Congress prohibit commerce?

Holding
1. Yes

Reasoning
1. Congressional power to regulate includes the power to prohibit.

Notes
The first case is an example of Congress being restrained. The other two cases show SCOTUS expanding the legislative power. Dissenting opinions in these cases argued that if SCOTUS keeps granting Congress a longer leash, lawmakers will eventually run wild.

This point was rebuffed by one of the justices. He argued that SCOTUS would remain vigilant. Furthermore, if a senator or representative starting passing bad laws, the people would vote them out of office.

Word o' the Week

Magnanimous is my word o' the week. Michael Reghi said it about Lebron this morning and I thought, "Why does Michael Reghi know words that I don't?"

[mag-nan-uh-muhs]

1. generous in forgiving an insult or injury; free from petty resentfulness or vindictiveness: to be magnanimous toward one's enemies.
2. high-minded; noble: a just and magnanimous ruler.
3. proceeding from or revealing generosity or nobility of mind, character, etc.: a magnanimous gesture of forgiveness.

Think magnanimous is lame? Post your word of the week to comments.

Monday, January 26, 2009

I'm Batman

I was confused after the Vaughan v. Menlove post. People with disabilities wouldn't be held to the standard of ordinary prudence, would they?

Of course not. Today we'll look at two cases involving physical and mental disability in tort law.

Roberts v. State of Louisiana 396 So.2d 566 (1981)

Facts
Mike Burson worked at a concession stand located within a Louisiana post office. Burson was totally blind. He had attended special mobility training and sometimes walked without a cane. While walking to the post office bathroom without his cane, Burson literally bumped into William Roberts. Roberts fell and injured his hip. Under respondeat superior, Roberts filed a lawsuit against the State of Louisiana.

Questions
1. Was Robert's injury the result of negligent behavior by Burson?

Holding
1. No

Reasoning
1. Prudence is contextual, and physical disabilities are taken into account. Instead of being judged against the fictional ordinary man of reasonable prudence, Burson must exercise the care of an ordinary man of reasonable prudence who cannot see. Experts testified that it is not uncommon for the blind to walk without a cane in familiar settings. Using a cane in a crowded place can be more dangerous than walking without it. Further, Burson was not walking too fast or in an otherwise reckless manner.

Breunig v. American Family Insurance Co. 173 N.W.2d 619 (1970)

Facts
Erma Veith believed that she had a special relationship with god, and was the chosen one to survive the end of the world. While Veith was driving home, God took control of the steering wheel and sent the car into oncoming traffic. Veith expected to escape the car by flying out, because Batman could do it. Her car hit a truck, jumped a ditch, and ended up in a field. Her insurance company was sued based on her negligence. Experts concluded that Veith had paranoid schizophrenia of the acute type, and she plead insanity.

Questions
1. Is insanity a valid defense in negligence cases?
2. Does the insanity defense free Veith from liability?

Holding
1. Yes
2. No

Reasoning
1. Insanity is a valid defense in negligence suits if two conditions are met. First, “the person has no reasonable forewarning that an existing condition could cause such an incident.” Second, “the condition acts suddenly and prevents the person from conforming conduct to the standard of the reasonable person.”
2. It was determined in court that Veith’s symptoms prior to the accident were intermittent. Prosecution argued that Veith should therefore have realized she was not a safe driver. The jury affirmed and the appeals court agreed as well.

Notes
I didn't dig too deeply into this case file, but I'm skeptical of the whole she should have realized she had mental illness conclusion.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Personal Jurisdiction and Minimum Contact

Blogger is acting quite weird today. If my summary of minimum contact ultimately ends up in italicized Korean Pig Latin, blame technology and not me.

If a non-resident individual or corporation establishes minimum contact within a state, that state has personal jurisdiction. Like the man of ordinary prudence, minimum contact is a standard. The court is supposed to objectively decide exactly how much "contact" warrants jurisdiction. I'm guessing there are loads of appeals.

International Shoe v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310 (1945)

Facts
International Shoe maintains its headquarters in Delaware. The company employs salesmen in the state of Washington. These men receive sample shoes, and solicit residents of Washington to order from International Shoe. The salesmen do not enter into contracts. They send the orders to Missouri, where the shoes are manufactured and the orders approved. The shoes are then shipped to the purchaser back in Washington. The state of Washington maintains that International Shoe should be bound to contribute to the state's unemployment fund. International Shoe argues that they technically do not conduct business in the state.

Questions
1. Is International Shoe liable for unemployment contributions in the state of Washington?
2. Does the state of Washington have personal jurisdiction over International Shoe?

Holding
1. Yes
2. Yes

Reasoning
1. International Shoe has benefited from laws and services provided by the state and state funding.
2. International Shoe's business dealings in Washington were "systematic and continuous", and therefore sufficient to establish minimum contact with the state.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Whoops!

What the heck are you planning to do with all those dead bodies in the trunk of your car?

Well, I'm no attorney, but I'll do my best to educate you on the concept of wrongful death. The following is my summary of the info in the wiki, and also the podcast (Life of a Law Student).

When a wrongful death lawsuit is filed, the plaintiff is alleging that the victim died as a result of the defendant's actions. Negligence is a common issue in wrongful death cases, and therefore we must remember the reasonably prudent man standard. On a personal note, I have to admit I never get tired of saying "man standard". Miller Lite definitely should have gone with Man Standards instead of Man Laws.

Wrongful death is a purely civil action. It is not the same as murder, manslaughter, or any of the other criminal actions. However, there is often overlap. See O.J. Simpson for a great example. He was found innocent on murder charges, but in civil court he was found liable for wrongful death. Criminal courts require the defendant to be assumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Civil courts require only a preponderance of evidence.

In terms of compensation, wrongful death is one of the most serious torts on the books. That's because there are so many injuries that can be attached. Wrongful death can result in loss of companionship, loss of provision, emotional pain, etc.

Eleason v. Western Casualty & Surety Co. (1948)

Facts

A man named Luer had epilepsy and obtained a driver's license in Wisconsin. People diagnosed with epilepsy were not legally allowed to drive in the state, but Luer had never been diagnosed. He admitted that he was aware he had "spells." Luer got a job as a truck driver, had a "spell", and killed a pedestrian. The executor of the victim's estate sued the employer's insurance company directly, which was completely acceptable under Wisconsin state law.

Question
1. Is Luer, and thus Western Casualty, liable for the man's death?

Holding
1. Yes

Reasoning
1. A person of reasonable prudence would have considered that his "spells" might make him an unsafe driver.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Don't mess with Massachusetts

Today we look at an example of implied consent, which in this case provides an alternate path for a state to gain jurisdiction over a non-resident.

Hess v. Pawloski, 274 U.S. 352 (1927)

Facts
A resident of Pennsylvania named Pawloski was driving on a public road in Massachusetts. He hit and injured Hess, who sued for damages. Concordant to Massachusetts state law the suit was served to a state registrar. When a non-resident uses public roads within the state they implicitly grant consent for state officials to act as their agents in legal proceedings. The registrar mailed the suit to Pawloski, and he did not appear in court. The court ruled in favor of Hess. Pawloski appealed, arguing that his right to due process was violated. The court overruled and found him liable for damages.

Question
1. Does this statute of implied consent offer a valid path for a state to obtain personal jurisdiction?

Holding
1. Yes

Reasoning
1. Automobiles are dangerous and states have the right to regulate their use. Both residents and non-residents fall within state jurisdiction when they choose to use public roads. This statute only violates the right to due process if it discriminates against non-residents, which it does not.

Notes
Don't forget that this case is 80 years old and only applies to Massachusetts state law.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Commerce Clause

I think Constitutional Law is about to get really interesting. Today we'll start digging into the Commerce Clause, which will lead us to the New Deal. If this picture is any indication, understanding the New Deal will help us understand Obama. Perfect timing.

The Commerce Clause within the Constitution "states that Congress has the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, among the states, and with the Indian tribes." Gibbons v. Ogden provides an example of federal regulation of interstate commerce.

I'm quoting from Audio Case Files below.

Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. 1, (1824)

Facts
"Defendant had a New York granted monopoly on steamboat operations between New York and New Jersey. Plaintiff began operating like routes, under a license based on a federal Congressional statute. Defendant got a New York injunction forcing plaintiff to stop."

Outcome
"Congress may regulate commerce that has INTERSTATE effects even if the commerce occurs within one state. So, in this case, Congress has the exclusive power, pursuant to the commerce clause, to regulate navigation between the waters of two states."

Congress on a leash

As I noted after Ex Parte McCardle the Necessary and Proper Clause cuts Congress quite a bit of slack, but SCOTUS still holds the leash. In U.S. v. Klein, we see an example of the Supreme Court keeping Congress in check.

U.S. v. Klein, 80 U.S. 128 (1871)

Facts
Following the Civil War, citizens who could prove they did not aid the Confederates were allowed to reclaim any seized property. The Supreme Court ruled that the general Presidential pardon provided all citizens the opportunity to automatically reclaim their property. Congress then passed legislation stating that presidential pardon was insufficient.

Outcome
SCOTUS decided that this time, Congress went to far.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Sissy Hankshaw Files

Thumbs UP - World War Z
Best book I've read in a long time.

Thumbs DOWN - Jake Delhomme
Excuse me, I have to go stick my face in a pot of boiling water.

Thumbs UP - La Crema Chardonnay, 2007
Usually I can't drink chard because it's like being hit over the head with a bottle of perfume. This one was awesome. Thanks Lauren

Thumbs DOWN - Me
A real man can get a fire going. Apparently I'm not a real man.

Thumbs UP - Top Chef, double-elimination
The right people went home. I liked Eugene but he was more overwhelmed than Michael Cera in the seduction scene from Superbad.

Thumbs UP - Wal-Mart
Knee high rubber boots, snow shovel, and 2 ice scrapers for under $40.

Thumbs DOWN - The Karate Kid
Can't believe I'm saying this, but it's not aging well.

Thumbs UP - Marley & Me
I realize I'm not splitting the atom here, but your enjoyment of this movie will be directly proportional to how much you like dogs.

Thumbs UP - This Anagram Generator
You can use it to figure out your superhero name. Jason C Hudson makes me Chanson Judo. Emily becomes Dunes Homily. We live in Elk Sweat. I could do this all day.

Don't tort and drive

Let me give you some free legal advice. If you need to avoid a speeding ticket, employ the Killer Bees defense from Tommy Boy. As Cordas v. Peerless will show, this ridiculous little stunt actually has some legal precedent. Specifically, the normal standard of care does not apply in the event of an emergency.

I'm kidding. Please do not go Killer Bees on a police officer. If you really must avoid a ticket, try my Safari Defense. That's where you pretend you are on safari and the police are hungry lions. Shut off your engine, roll up the windows, lock the doors, and DON'T MAKE EYE CONTACT! Eventually, the cop will get bored and just wander away.

A few quick items before we look at Cordas v. Peerless Transportation Co.

Consortium
We've already established that when a person is injured, they can sue for damages under tort law. It turns out that their partners (spouse, relatives, business partners, etc) may also seek to recover damages under the idea of consortium. For example, let's pretend I'm a victim of libel and as a result lose my job. Among other things, I can sue for lost wages. My wife can sue in consortium because I've been an awful husband ever since I got laid off (verbally abusive, lazy, whatever). The more injuries we have, the more money we get.

Vicarious Liability
As opposed to direct liability, vicarious liability is "the responsibility of the superior for the acts of the subordinate."

There are at least two advantages to suing a company instead of it's employee. First, a low-level employee doing their job is a sympathetic figure. An evil corporation is not. Second, the company should have more money than it's employee.

Cordas v. Peerless Transportation Co., 27 N.Y.S.2d 198 (1941)

Facts
A cab driver was held at gunpoint by a criminal, who was fleeing from a robbery. The robber commanded the cabbie to drive. The driver proceeded, and at the first opportunity jumped from the cab. After the robber jumped from the cab, it ran onto the sidewalk and struck a mother and her two children. They survived with some injuries. The family (including the husband) sued Peerless Transportation in consortium, on the grounds of vicarious liability.

Question
1. Is the driver (and thus the cab company) liable for injuries?

Holding
1. No

Reasoning
1. Under normal circumstances, the driver's actions would fail to meet the required standard of care. However, the ordinary standard of care does not apply when an individual is faced with an emergency that is not of their own doing. Under the circumstances, the driver's actions were congruent with those of the fictional "ordinary man of reasonable prudence."

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Snowdog

video

Mitchell got SERVED!

How can a state court assert jurisdiction over a non-resident?

Pennoyer v. Neff , 95 U.S. 714 (1877)

Facts
Marcus Neff, a resident of California, wanted to obtain land in Oregon under a land grant. Neff needed the help of an attorney, so he hired John Mitchell to assist him. Mitchell later sued Neff in Oregon for unpaid legal fees. Mitchell told the court that he could not find Neff because he didn't know his address in California. He was instructed to place notice of the suit in an Oregon newspaper every Sunday for six weeks. Of course Neff never heard about the suit and lost becuase he did not show up for the proceedings. Oregon seized Neff's land and sold it to Mitchell, who then sold it to Pennoyer.

Question
1. Can a state court seize and sell property of an out-of-state resident without serving them notice of legal proceedings?

Holding
1. No

Reasoning
1. There are two ways a state can assert jurisdiction over a non-resident. The individual must be personally served notice, or their property must be seized prior to legal proceedings.

Notes
This case began as an in personam dispute, which means that one individual makes a claim against another.

Another type of case is in rem, when two individuals have a dispute over who owns a piece of property.

Finally we have quasi in rem cases, which is where Mitchell v. Neff ended up. In quasi in rem a court seizes a non-resident's property and rules on it. The court does this because it doesn't have jurisdiction over the non-resident.

It appears Mitchell was trying to pull a fast one. But since Neff was never served notice, Mitchell himself got SERVED!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

McCardle take 2, making an omelet

I went slightly overboard when I scored Ex Parte McCardle a massive victory for Congress. Let's keep some big picture perspective and remember checks and balances. Yes, Congress can regulate the judiciary. But we shouldn't forget that it is actually SCOTUS who decides whether the regulations are necessary and proper. On the podcast, Weheneman offers an excellent image. In McCardle, SCOTUS is basically saying to Congress, "We'll cut you some slack, but don't forget that we're still the ones holding the leash."

Also, his summary of the case is much better than mine. McCardle will make more sense with some historical perspective. Let revisit it.

The period immediately after the civil war is known as Reconstruction. During this time the military became the temporary acting government in some (all?) of the former Confederate states. President Lincoln suspended habeus corpus (which protects citizens from imprisonment without due process) to ease the transition.

Later habeus corpus was reinstated, and shortly thereafter McCardle (a former Confederate soldier) began speaking out against the military government in his newspaper. When his appeal reached SCOTUS, Congress had a very strong interest in seeing him lose. If McCardle and others were allowed to speak freely against the military government/tribunal, reconstruction would be threatened. Congress took the opportunity to revoke habeus corpus, and it was up to SCOTUS to decide whether that action was unconstitutional. And SCOTUS let it happen!

Why would the Supreme Court allow a citizen to be detained without due process? Why would it tacitly allow a citizen's freedom of speech to be denied? Doesn't this decision sort of violate the spirit of the Constitution?

Actually, no.

Let's keep the necessary and proper clause in mind. SCOTUS must have felt that reconstruction of the country warranted denying a citizen his basic rights. If you want to make an omelet, you have to force an egg to be tried in front of a military tribunal, on penalty of death by hanging. Ouch.

For the history buffs out there, habeus corpus was suspended or limited 3 more times in U.S. history. In the aftermath of WWII and the Oklahoma City bombings, and currently. The current exceptions to habeus corpus (for suspected terrorists) are being pretty hotly contested in the courts.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Ex Parte McCardle...

...is latin for I'm sorry I burned down your frozen banana stand.

Either we've lost something in translation or my latin is rusty.

Ex Parte McCardle, 74 U.S. 506 (Wall.) (1868)

Facts
McCardle was alleged to have published articles about the military that were both incendiary and libellous. He was detained by the military and requested a writ of habeus corpus, which would grant him freedom from their custody pending his trial. The writ was granted but the military detained him anyway. He appealed to SCOTUS to declare his detainment unlawful. When the case began SCOTUS had jurisdiction to grant the writ. Just before the ruling Congress passed legislation that repealed that jurisdiction.

Questions
1. Does SCOTUS have jurisdiction?
2. If so, was McCardle's detainment unconstitutional?

Holding
1. No
2. N/A

Reasoning
1. The Constitution provides Congress the power to regulate the judiciary. Remember McCulloch v. Maryland? Congress can do whatever it needs to, as long as it is necessary and proper.
2. N/A

Notes
-That is an impressive victory for Congress. The legislative body is truly the alpha-branch of our government. Even the president is pretty impotent without the Senate and House behind him. That's one of the subplots of Obama's first year that I find intriguing. Eventually he's going to butt heads with the DNC, and it's going to be like my senior prom all over again. Will Congressional Democrats dance with the girl that brought them (Pelosi), or the super-hot sophomore who looks awesome in her dress (Obama).

-I feel very confident putting The Cable Guy in my list of Top 5 underrated movies. I laugh every time I read about a writ of habeus corpus. "I'll put the SYSTEM on trial!"

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Pennoyer primer

Later this week we'll take a look at out first Civil Procedure case, Pennoyer v. Neff. This case deals with the issue of personal jurisdiction. Let's take a quick look at subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction as explained by wikipedia.

Subject matter jurisdiction is "the authority of a court to hear cases relating to a specific subject matter." Civil courts hear civil cases. Family courts hear custody cases. SCOTUS hears constitutional cases. Judge Judy hears "I gave my mistress a key to my apartment and now all my Iron Eagle DVDs are gone" cases.

Personal jurisdiction is "the power of a court to render a judgment against a particular defendant." State courts do not have jurisdiction over nonresidents. The exception to this rule occurs when the individual is shown to have substantial dealings within the state.

Vaughan v. Menlove, bad news for morons

Last week I described negligence torts by saying, "Of course you didn't mean to, but you should have known better." That explanation opens the door for morons to say, "Dude. No way. I didn't know better. Seriously. You should get high with me some time. I don't know better. I don't know shit. You'll see."

Today I want you to do a fist pump for Vaughan v. Menlove. This case shot down the moron defense with the concept of reasonable prudence.

Vaughan v. Menlove, 132 Eng. Rep. 490 (1837)

Facts
The defendant made a pile of hay on his property, which he rented from the plaintiff. Over a period of 5 weeks the defendant was warned multiple times that the hay could catch fire. The defendant responded that he would "chance it." The hay caught fire and burned down multiple buildings on the property. Plaintiff sued for damages. The judge instructed the jury to examine the actions of the defendant, and decide whether his behavior was that of a "reasonably prudent man." The defendant was found liable, and appealed on the grounds that he acted to the best of his own judgment.

Questions
1. Should a general standard of reasonable prudence determine whether a defendant is negligent?
2. Was the decision correct?

Holding
1. Yes
2. Yes

Reasoning
1. Every individual does not afford their own standard of reasonable behavior. Since prudence is the issue in negligence cases, juries should determine what behavior is prudent.
2. Prior law holds that individuals must enjoy their property in a way that does not injure others. The individual should be held liable for injuries, unless they resulted from unexpected events. The defendant in this case was repeatedly warned about the danger of the hay. The judge's instructions had legal precedent and correctly identified the issues before the jury.

My monthly jog



Lazy Sunday



The Summer of E


Saturday, January 3, 2009

Just start at the beginning

The thing I love about Legal Writing in Plain English is that it makes me feel less stupid. The author argues that writing is a difficult craft, and most lawyers are amateurs. When you take a bunch of amateurs and shove them into a text-rich environment with no real guidance, you get a lot of schlock. Legal documents are poorly organized and long-winded. What's worse is that they're littered with big BS words to hide the fact that they are schlock.

So when I try to read a case file and get nowhere, I have a handy excuse ready: "This guy sucks at writing."

Exercise 3 - Basic
Today I did an exercise in sequencing ideas. Garner's advice is to put items in chronological order. You might think starting at the beginning and moving forward is obvious, but many attorneys haven't figured it out yet. Why should a legal document summarize facts backwards (Memento), one concept at a time (Pulp Fiction), or Abrams-style (Lost)? Combining poor sequencing with the schlock-effect makes some of this stuff unreadable.

Anyway, I'll post my assignment to comments. Feel free to skip it since it will be totally out of context without the Legal Writing book. Or, give it a gander and point out all my grammatical errors.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

What is Civil Procedure?

Laws can be generally divided into two groups, criminal and civil. Criminal law is fairly self explanatory. Civil law is everything else, including contracts, torts, domestic issues, and civil rights.

According to wisegeek.com, civil procedure is "an intricate and complex set of rules and regulations that apply to the filing, pursuance, and trial of civil lawsuits." Civil procedure does not apply to criminal court.

Brown v. Kendall

Brown v. Kendall, 60 Mass. 292 (1850)

Facts
George Brown and George Kendall both had dogs. The dogs got into a fight. Kendall tried to separate the dogs with a stick and hit Brown in the eye. Both men agreed the blow was unintentional.

Questions
1. Can a defendant, who is acting lawfully, be found liable for damages inflicted unintentionally?
2. Is Mr. Kendall liable for Mr. Brown's injury?

Holding
1. Yes
2. No

Reasoning
1. Tort law requires citizens to exercise a certain standard of care in their actions, even if their actions are lawful. When damages are unintentional, the burden of proof falls on the plaintiff to show that the defendant was acting carelessly. If the defendant was sufficiently careless, they are negligent.

2. Kendall acted within a reasonable standard of care. Although he had no duty to separate the dogs, it was the prudent thing to do. In his attempt to separate the dogs, he was not careless.