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Walter Olson

Nigel Sykes, currently serving a 15-year sentence, is suing employees of Seasons Pizza in Newport, Del. who allegedly tackled him as he was robbing the pizzeria at gunpoint. His suit, filed without a lawyer, asks in excess of $260,000, saying employees of the dining establishment beat him up and poured hot soup on him. “While U.S. District Judge Sue L. Robinson tossed out several of Sykes’ claims, she allowed the case to move forward against the pizza employees, two arresting officers and Seasons.” Sykes, whom police linked to a series of robberies at a bank and various retail establishments, had filed an earlier suit with different factual allegations which was dismissed on procedural grounds. He has also claimed that he should be allowed to take back his plea in the criminal case, arguing in a motion, “I’m not good at making good choices.” [Sean O'Sullivan, Wilmington News Journal]

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If you last saw it in the small town of Hamlet, N.C., it might have been impounded by the police on low-level charges and then sold for scrap to junkyards in a series of what appear to be irregular and under-monitored transactions. “In police files were two court orders, signed by a state district court judge, but otherwise left mostly blank. Those pre-signed court orders, which judicial experts say are extremely unusual and do not seem appropriate, appear to have been copied and then used to dispose of at least seven vehicles.” [News and Observer last November via Balko]

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Food roundup

by Walter Olson on July 24, 2014

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“On the same day the state approved mandatory outdoor watering restrictions with the threat of $500 fines, the Southern California couple received a letter from their city threatening a $500 penalty for not watering their brown lawn.” [AP]

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“Who is protected by patient privacy laws? Hint: not patients.” [Stewart Baker, Volokh]

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It happened on AirBnB, the lodging-sharing service: “A woman rented her 600-square-foot Palm Springs, California, condo to someone for a little over a month, and now she says the guy won’t leave and is threatening to sue her.” [Business Insider, ABA Journal] For the case of the nanny who declined to leave her in-home living quarters after a falling out with the family that hired her, see this post last month. A February post raised the question of whether AirBnB visitors staying in units in San Francisco, a city with notably pro-tenant housing laws, might be able to dig in after a period much shorter than 30 days, the span that triggers tenancy status under general California law.

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  • Cop caught on camera stealing dying motorist’s $3700 and gold crucifix “walked out of courtroom with big smile on face” [Bridgeport; Connecticut Post]
  • Durham, N.C. police officer testifies department would illegally gain access to homes for purposes of search by lying about getting 911 calls [IndyWeek]
  • “California Highway Patrol Seizes Medical Records Of Woman An Officer Was Caught On Tape Beating” [Tim Cushing, TechDirt]
  • Drivers routinely expected to give up otherwise-basic civil liberties in exchange for right to use the roads [Michael Tracey, Vice]
  • Teen sexting prosecutions in Virginia and elsewhere: “We must destroy the children in order to save them” [Radley Balko]
  • Narcotics officers get training credit at tax-funded seminars in how to argue in favor of drug laws [Missouri pro-legalization site via Balko]
  • Back from the ashes: advances in fire and arson forensics cast doubt on earlier convictions [Texas Monthly]

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A panel of the D.C. Circuit ruled today that the IRS is not free to rewrite the ObamaCare statute to extend tax credits from users of state-run health exchanges, as per the law’s language, to users of the federal exchange as well, because the federal government is not a “State.” [Halbig v. Burwell; Ilya Shapiro, Cato] Later today, a panel of the Fourth Circuit ruled that yes, it’s free to do so. [King v. Burwell] Given the instant one-day circuit split and the importance of the issue, further court consideration is inevitable, and the Obama administration has already indicated that it will seek en banc consideration by the full D.C. Circuit, packed with its own recent appointees. More: The work of my Cato colleague Michael Cannon and Case Western lawprof Jonathan Adler helped undergird the suit; Cannon has commentary here and here and Adler here and here.

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And if so, could/should it be fixed by extending its accommodation requirement to deeply held secular convictions? [Sasha Volokh] Earlier on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 here.

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“Former Panama dictator Manuel Noriega, 80, filed a lawsuit in California yesterday against video game publisher Activision Blizzard Inc., alleging that Call of Duty: Black Ops II portrays him as ‘a kidnapper, murderer and enemy of the state.’” [Adrianne Jeffries/The Verge, New York Post, L.A. Times] Citing the mess that is California “right of publicity” law, Eugene Volokh writes that such a suit is “crazy, but unfortunately possible.”

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July 22 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 22, 2014

  • Facebook fought dragnet-with-gag-order subpoena in NY police/fire disability-fraud case [Mike Masnick, TechDirt]
  • Two lawyers charged in alleged plot to extort millions from wealthy sheik [ABA Journal]
  • Judge declares mistrial, plans new trial date in case of allegedly faulty guardrails [Bloomberg, more, background]
  • Last year Overlawyered made the “Hall of Fame” and from now through Aug. 8 you can nominate other sites for the ABA’s annual Blawg 100 honor;
  • Supreme Court, which seldom grants cases raising non-delegation doctrine, agrees to hear Dept. of Transportation v. Assn. of American Railroads [Roger Pilon/Cato, Gerard Magliocca] And Prof. Philip Hamburger, author of bracing new book Is Administrative Law Unlawful (earlier), has just guest-blogged about it for a week at Volokh Conspiracy, and has a related podcast at Law and Liberty;
  • David Henderson writes rave review of new Peter Schuck book Why Government Fails So Often [Regulation, PDF; excerpts also at Econlib and more, earlier on Schuck book]
  • Legal academia stunned, in grief after highly regarded criminal law specialist Dan Markel is murdered in his Tallahassee home [PrawfsBlawg, Dave Hoffman, Marc DeGirolami]

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KC Johnson is closing his definitive blog on the Duke lacrosse case and its aftermath, and reflects on it all in this final essay.

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“A Texas law firm has sued a former client over a negative Yelp review, posted after the firm sued the client for attorney fees.” Joseph Browning of Austin had comprehensively denounced the firm as “disorganized, deceptive, manipulative and largely disrespected,” “selfish and incapable of showing empathy towards their clients,” and one that “will take everything you’ve got,” in a review that the law firm described as defamatory and “blatantly false.” [ABA Journal]:

The new suit, [attorney Kirk] Fulk said, “is not about the money. I would be shocked and amazed if [the firm’s name partners] even got their filing fees back from Mr. Browning. It’s purely a matter of principle and personality. They don’t want their names slandered.”

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“If we don’t get a dime, that’s OK, if we can make a difference and save some lives,” said longtime Overlawyered favorite Willie Gary, one of the lawyers representing a woman awarded $23 billion-with-a-b in punitive damages by a Florida jury for the lung cancer death of her husband, a longtime smoker. [USA Today] I’ve covered earlier stages in the long-running Florida Engel tobacco litigation, which included a $145 billion punitive damage verdict later thrown out, in articles here, here, and here, as well as Overlawyered coverage; more on Willie Gary.

More: Jacob Sullum on the illogical basis of the jury’s decision.

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Politics roundup

by Walter Olson on July 21, 2014

  • Bruce Braley’s “farmer” gaffe might hurt long-term because it fits into a wider pattern about the would-be Iowa senator [John Tabin/Rare, earlier]
  • Disbarred ex-D.A. and longtime Overlawyered favorite Andrew Thomas running for GOP Arizona governor nomination [Phoenix New Times]
  • Did Wisconsin John Doe probe include email dragnet? Yahoo billed DA for “costs associated with subpoena compliance” [M.D. Kittle/Wisconsin Reporter, more]
  • “We need a Democratic sweep. Stay focused.” — work-hours tweet by former Federal Election Commission enforcement lawyer whose hard drive, like that of her former FEC boss Lois Lerner, now tragically missing [House Oversight report, Daily Caller]
  • Texas hurricane claims: megadonor Steve Mostyn “successfully drags state senator into TWIA lawsuit” [Legal NewsLine, TLR]
  • No more pay to play? Two Ohio lawmakers seek to curb campaign giving by law firms hired by state’s attorney general [Aurora Advocate]
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s research on medical bankruptcy may be shaky, but it’s hard to fault her taste in English sports cars [Ira Stoll, American Spectator]

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The federal government has prevailed on a grand jury to indict Federal Express for servicing what it should have known were illicit online pharmacy operations. FedEx says it repeatedly asked the government to supply a list of shippers it considered illicit so that it could cut off service, but that the government refused; the Department of Justice contends that circumstantial evidence should have been enough to alert the package shipment company. Writes Mike Masnick at TechDirt: “we don’t want shipping companies to be liable for what’s in packages, because then they have not just the incentive, but the mandate to snoop through all our packages.” Amy Alkon has more on reactions. Earlier, UPS paid the government $40 million to resolve similar allegations, and Google agreed to pay a fine of $500 million for (as we put it at the time) “matching willing buyers with sellers through Canadian pharmacy ads… a forfeiture geared to the revenue the pharmacies (not it) took in from the ads.”

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A theme we’ve touched on before in this space. [The Economist]

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A step too far for the surveillance state? And has it even been authorized by Texas law? [Dave Lieber, Dallas Morning News and more via Jon Cassidy, Watchdog.org]

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