The state legislature adjourned last week having abandoned a threat to seize the hit TV show “House of Cards” through the use of eminent domain, with negotiations over the extent of tax subsidies to the show still hanging in part. I’ve got an update at Cato, with specific attention to the use of eminent domain to confiscate moveable and intangible assets, as opposed to land; in earlier episodes, Maryland has gone after the Baltimore Colts football team (which escaped) and the Preakness horse race (which agreed to stay).

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“It’s Doctors’ Duty to Promote Gun Safety With Patients” [Art Caplan, Medscape via Bill of Health] Next step: giving patients a hard time about kitchen or camping knives? [A. Barton Hinkle]

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If you imagine that Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy is some sort of constitutional conservative, Josh Blackman wants to direct your attention to the Property Clause as well as the Supremacy Clause of the (actually existing) U.S. Constitution. He also has some thoughts on the Equal Footing Doctrine (states come into the union on an equal footing to the original 13), and on the rule of law in the context of the alleged right to flout court orders. Earlier here, with many reader comments, and more from Charles C. W. Cooke.

P.S.: Yet more views from Coyote and from Brian Doherty.

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Medical roundup

by Walter Olson on April 17, 2014

  • Academics have underestimated sensitivity of medical system to liability pressures [Michael Frakes, SSRN via TortsProf]
  • “Nobody has gone out and bought a new home” — Mark Lanier talks down his verdict knocking $9 billion out of Takeda and Lilly after two hours of deliberation by a Lafayette, La. jury [Reuters] Japanese drugmaker says it had won three previous trials [ABA Journal]
  • Nursing home in living-up-to-its-name town of West Babylon sued over hiring male strippers to entertain residents [NYP, more (wife of complainant attended display), ABA Journal]
  • “Reining in FDA regulation of mobile health apps” [Nita Farahany, Volokh/WaPo]
  • Another setback for plaintiffs as Arkansas tosses $1.2 billion Risperdal marketing case against Johnson & Johnson [AP/Scottsbluff Star-Herald, Eric Alexander/Drug and Device Law, earlier here and here]
  • “Spacecraft collision injuring occupant”: docs scratch their heads at new revamp to billing codes [Steven Syre, Boston Globe via Future of Capitalism]
  • FDA preclearance, drug litigation: “Most [patients] never know they were harmed, because we never know what we might have had.” [John Stossel]

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Sorry, say the feds: a drone ban is a drone ban [Steve Chapman]

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Nick Gillespie reviews the new book by the author of The Death of Common Sense:

The Rule of Nobody updates and expands Howard’s original brief, and it helps to explain why government at all levels not only is on autopilot but on a flight path that can only end in disaster.

Every Philip Howard book is notable for its horror stories of regulation and systemic dysfunction, and reviewer Kyle Smith in the New York Post relates one I hadn’t heard, about the mammoth Deepwater Horizon spill:

When the oil rig started leaking mud and gas, the crew should have simply directed the flow over the side. Dumped it in the gulf. That would have been a small oil spill, of course, and no oil spill is a good thing. But in trying to avoid that, the crew caused a gigantic oil spill. Eleven lives were lost.

Safety protocol called for the men to aim the flow into a safety gizmo called an oil and gas separator, but that became backed up and made matters worse. Explosive gas filled the air around the rig, which finally exploded.

Then some workers who escaped in a raft almost died. Why? They were tied to the burning rig, and regulations forbade them to carry knives so they couldn’t cut themselves free.

More on the book here. Another review: Jesse Singal, Boston Globe.

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  • “Will ‘Microaggressions’ Make Their Way Into Employment Discrimination Cases? Have They Already?” [Daniel Schwartz]
  • More phone and pen: Obama executive orders will forbid federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss pay with colleagues, direct DoL to require compensation data from contractors based on sex, race [AP, White House]
  • List of best and worst states for employee lawsuits (from employer’s perspective) includes some surprises, although California’s status as worst isn’t one of them [Insurance Journal] $20K to fend off suit “for harassment and intimidation by her manager — when the manager was her sister” [Coyote; sequel to "Ventura County blues," on which earlier here and here]
  • Wage/hour activists step up pressure for federal enforcement, more detailed pay stubs to combat off-clock work, alleged misclassification [ABA Journal]
  • “A National Minimum Wage Is a Bad Fit for Low-Cost Communities” [Andrew Biggs and Mark Perry, The American] “Immigration, Eugenics, and the Minimum Wage” [Matt Zwolinski, Bleeding Heart Libertarians]
  • Court decision may amount to end run enactment of something like ENDA minus the legislative compromises and exceptions [Tamara Tabo, and thanks for link to "good reasons" for opposition; a second view from Jon Hyman]
  • “DOL (Department of Labor) Persuader Rule Undermines Attorney-Client Privilege, Attorney Generals Say” [Howard Bloom and Philip Rosen (Jackson Lewis), National Law Review, earlier]

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“How Breast Implant Size is Relevant to Tax Policy” [Alan Cole, Tax Foundation]

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My knowledge of baccarat never got beyond James Bond novels, but this is quite a story of the Borgata casino’s suing a world-leading player over his having taken advantage of a defect in playing card manufacture, to the tune of nearly $10 million. There are some echoes of the perennial controversy over blackjack card counters (see here and here) [Kyle Wagner, DeadSpin].

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Huge win for justice and good sense: facing a mounting public furor, “The Social Security Administration announced Monday that it will immediately cease efforts to collect on taxpayers’ debts to the government that are more than 10 years old.” [WaPo] Credit goes above all to the Washington Post and its reporter Marc Fisher for exposing the most outrageous features of the IRS’s refund-interception program last week, as recounted in this space; I like to think I helped as well by beating the drum early and repeatedly since then with Cato’s help. Overlawyered’s Facebook post on the subject has been seen by more than 60,000 people and shared more than 700 times in the past few days. (Have you liked us yet?)

The next step should be to establish for the public record how the provision in question got slipped into the farm bill, and at whose behest. Congress’s refusal to be forthcoming on this topic speaks volumes about its lack of a felt sense of responsibility toward the people it represents.

And a theme I’ve been repeating for almost as long as I’ve been writing about law: statutes of limitations developed in civilized legal systems for a reason. They protect us not only from cost, uncertainty, and the misery of legal process, but from injustice of a hundred other kinds, and they protect society itself from spiraling into a legal war of all against all. Stop trying to abolish them!

More: Ed Morrissey, Megan McArdle. And here’s a Cato podcast just out on the subject in which Caleb Brown interviews me on the topic:

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April 15 roundup

by Walter Olson on April 15, 2014

  • “Nullification” a non-starter, but states do have ways to resist federal encroachment [Amy Pomeroy, Libertas Utah, with podcast] Passport to Baraboo? State GOP resolutions committee backs “Wisconsin’s right, under extreme circumstances, to secede.” [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel]
  • Flawed forensics: “DUI expert pleads no contest to perjury charges, gets house arrest and probation” [PennLive]
  • “Insurance: The Musical” turned out to be an April Fool’s, a pity since I was looking forward to the actuary production number [Insurance Journal, but see (David Skurnick, "Cut My Rate," set in California Insurance Department) and more ("The Sting")]
  • Executive power grab? New F.H. Buckley book on “The Rise of Crown Government in America” [Tyler Cowen, with Canada comparison]
  • My appearance on Anne Santos’s radio show discussing lawsuit culture [KNTH]
  • If General Motors objects to direct consumer sales freedom for Tesla, perhaps the answer is to set GM free too [Dan Crane, Truth on the Market; James Surowiecki/New Yorker, Adam Hartung via Stephen Bainbridge]
  • James Maxeiner on the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure after 75 years [Common Good]

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PeakGuardian

“The cup­cake has al­ways been a gentri­fying force … you could get a huge mass of people to par­ti­cipate in a re­ac­tionary endeavour if you dressed it up in nice, twee, cup­cakey im­agery, and per­suaded everyone that the bru­tality of your ideo­logy was in fact a form of nice­ness.” — Tom Whyman for Critical Legal Thinking, Guardian “Comment Is Free”, my Tweet h/t @Ben_McGinnis.

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Ted Frank, who formerly blogged in this space, wrote this which I thought worth passing on:

I hate to see how many on my side who are upset at Obama’s violation of the Rule of Law cheer the Bundys’ criminal contempt of a court order. The Bundys are claiming a right to graze upon federal lands without paying or consent of the landowner on the grounds that the federal government has no sovereignty over Nevada. The US BLM has taken twenty years and multiple court proceedings to kick them out, winning twice in the Ninth Circuit. In response, armed militias showed up this week to defend the Bundys, who have threatened range war. The government has temporarily caved to avoid the possibility of armed confrontation. This really isn’t a close question, and threatens to tar all small-government and Second Amendment supporters.

It has been objected that ownership of vast tracts of the American West by the federal Bureau of Land Management is a very bad idea, might have appalled many Framers and early legislators, and has been advanced into our own era through aggressive policies to curtail the participation of private users. I’m having trouble seeing the relevance of all this, however, to Bundy’s supposed right to defy multiple court orders. The federal government should not be in many different lines of business that it currently is in, but that doesn’t create a right of individual citizens to occupy federal installations for personal economic benefit despite court orders directed against them to the contrary.

Ted also calls our attention to this article by Logan Churchwell and Brandon Darby on the 20-year history of the controversy and the positions advanced by rancher Cliven Bundy to justify contempt of the court orders:

“I believe this is a sovereign state of Nevada,” Bundy recently told a radio reporter. “…I abide by all of Nevada state laws. But, I don’t recognize the United States Government as even existing.”

More: A different emphasis from John Hinderaker (arguing for sympathy with Bundy while conceding the meritlessness of his legal position) and Kevin Williamson.

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on April 14, 2014

  • “Money spent trying to spread a political message is speech, whether you like the message or not.” [Michael Kinsley on McCutcheon v. FEC, earlier]
  • “Letter: Ken Avidor on Being Silenced By a Defamation Suit” [Romenesko]
  • “Canada’s first Twitter harassment trial has taken a strange twist.” [Christie Blatchford, National Post]
  • In union leader’s defamation suit, Philadelphia court orders anonymous commenter unmasked [CBS Philly]
  • New Jersey ruling letting parents be sued over kids’ Facebook posts will chill speech [Hans Bader/CEI, earlier]
  • More dispatches from Michael Mann-Mark Steyn litigation showdown [Steyn, Charles Cooke] Bonus: Steyn on Andrew Bolt case in Australia and on Nevada protests’ “First Amendment Area” (“The ‘First Amendment Area’ is supposed to be something called ‘the United States’.”)
  • “True-crime author Ann Rule’s suit against Seattle Weekly tossed” [KING]

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Labor and left-wing advocates are staging a concerted push for this measure, which opponents say is particularly burdensome to small business. “Supporters cite their success in gaining the enactment of paid sick day laws in Connecticut and six U.S. cities — the District of Columbia, Jersey City, N.J., New York City, Portland, Ore., San Francisco and Seattle–as proof that the campaign is gaining momentum.” Opponents are fighting back with, among other steps, legislation passed in at least ten states specifying that municipal home rule does not include the authority to enact ordinances of this sort. [Rhonda Smith, Bloomberg BNA]

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Court order muzzles gun advocate after his arrest [ACLU of Missouri]:

To express his opinion that Officer [Jerry] Bledsoe was using his position to harass him for exercising his Second Amendment rights, [Jordan] Klaffer posted recordings of the May 1 encounter on YouTube and Facebook. And, on Instagram, he posted a picture of Bledsoe alongside a photo of Saddam Hussein, with the caption “Striking Resemblance.”

Officer Bledsoe retaliated by obtaining a court order that prevented Mr. Klaffer from posting videos, pictures, and text data criticizing Officer Bledsoe on the Internet. “A government order prohibiting criticism of government is the worst kind of censorship,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri.

Meanwhile: Virginia state trooper sues police activist in small claims court over his actions and statements following a traffic stop of his car in which she participated, the videos of which wound up on YouTube.

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Maryland roundup

by Walter Olson on April 12, 2014

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Marc Fisher reporting in the Washington Post:

Across the nation, hundreds of thousands of taxpayers who are expecting refunds this month are instead getting letters like the one [Mary] Grice [of Takoma Park, Md.] got, informing them that because of a debt they never knew about — often a debt incurred by their parents — the government has confiscated their check.

The Treasury Department has intercepted $1.9 billion in tax refunds already this year — $75 million of that on debts delinquent for more than 10 years, said Jeffrey Schramek, assistant commissioner of the department’s debt management service. The aggressive effort to collect old debts started three years ago — the result of a single sentence tucked into the farm bill lifting the 10-year statute of limitations on old debts to Uncle Sam.

No one seems eager to take credit for [the provision]…

While a variety of stale disputes are involved, some of the most controversial involve alleged Social Security overpayments to long-deceased parents that the government says it has a right to reclaim because they contributed or might have contributed to the support of now-grown children. Targets say they are helpless to contest the seizures in many cases because financial records have long since been thrown out, in line with the IRS’s own guidelines which do not encourage the keeping of financial records for decades. State as well as federal refunds can be intercepted, and the taxpayer who wants to argue must sue to get the money back.

A spokeswoman says the feds attempt to contact targets about the claims before attaching refunds, but the Washington Post’s report cites examples in which notice was sent to decades-old post office boxes or addresses, even though both tax and Social Security authorities held current correct addresses for the taxpayer.

Need it be added that many of the methods the government is using would be deemed unlawful if asserted by creditors trying to collect private debts? To name only the most egregious of the problems, children cannot ordinarily be made to pay parents’ debts, even when there is a writing by the parent acknowledging the debt as valid (which will ordinarily be lacking in after-the-fact assertions of overpayment).

It is at most a minor ironic consolation that taxpayers are likely to react to these outrageous tactic by scaling back hard on the widespread practice of voluntary over-withholding, reasoning that it is unsafe to build up a big refund if authorities can snatch it away for unpredictable reasons with little hope of recourse.

P.S. More from J.D. Tuccille, Reason.

Update: Victory! Social Security Administration announces Apr. 14 that it’s suspending collection of debts older than 10 years (& welcome Andrew Sullivan readers).

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