It’s unclear whether the District of Columbia’s $300 penalty for affixing signs in public places is per offending sign or per offending course of conduct, which means that when Roger Horowitz and friends put up thousands of fliers about his lost dog Ollie, he might have been flirting with a very substantial liability; according to Horowitz, the sum of $750,000 came up in a conversation with a police officer. [NBC Washington] For more examples of how cumulative statutory damages or fines for individually paltry offenses can multiply into seemingly disproportionate outcomes, see also junk-fax and TCPA class actions.
“One of Kim Dickens’ kidneys helped keep Marion Barry alive in 2008. But the late Ward 8 councilmember’s estate isn’t eager to return the favor, according to a new lawsuit filed against Dickens by widow Cora Masters Barry.” The suit says Dickens’ foundation continues to use the image of the late Washington mayor, sometimes nicknamed “Mayor-for-Life”, in its promotion despite demands that it stop doing so. “This looks to be the first fight over Barry’s estate, which otherwise left behind little in terms of assets.” [Washington City Paper]
Our friends at the Institute for Justice have recently gone public with a beta version of what had been an internal newsletter, called Short Circuits, providing condensed (and sometimes acidulous) summaries of cases out of the federal courts of appeals. You can subscribe here. One of recent interest:
WMATA, a transit agency that serves the greater D.C. area, fires two police officers. (One allegedly struck a passenger and lied about it. The other allegedly altercated with a companion and lied about it.) Arbitrators order the pair reinstated, but by then their Maryland certification has lapsed, and, after the transit police chief voices strenuous opposition to their recertification, Maryland commissioners refuse to recertify the two. WMATA can’t have uncertified officers, so they are fired again. 4th Circuit: Which is cool.
Lawyers Brendan and Nessa Coppinger moved into their row house in Washington, D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood last September. They have now gotten a judge to agree to a temporary restraining order prohibiting their neighbor, Edwin Gray, from smoking or allowing anyone to smoke on his property. The Coppingers say the smoke is getting onto their premises through openings between the connected structures and “is harming them and their children”; they also want cash damages. The Gray family has owned the house next door for 50 years. [AP/ABC13 via ABA Journal; Washington Post]
Benjamin Freed at Washingtonian was kind enough to quote me at length making several points about this and similar litigation: 1) it would have been thrown out over most of the course of legal history because courts insisted that nuisance and similar claims (in this case couched as “negligence, nuisance, and trespassing”) exceed a de minimis standard and, in a claim for damages, required proof of actual harm going well beyond “you hit me with a molecule and that could kill me”; 2) smoking is uniquely disapproved nowadays which means some courts are willing to entertain de minimis claims that they would not for other common neighborhood nuisances; 3) if carcinogenic smoke drifting across property lines is to be stopped, both backyard grills and barbecues and common fireplaces are in trouble, at least if courts behaved logically — a very big if, of course. (It should be noted that the lawsuit includes some claims — such as that an unrepaired chimney at the Grays’ is contributing to the smoke problem — that might fit more readily into traditional legal categories.)
The temporary court order, incidentally, also bars the Gray family from allowing any smoking of now-legal marijuana in their house, which prompts this additional thought:
“It does make you wonder why conservative opponents of marijuana would bother to fight legalization in DC when instead they can let it go through and get rich suing over it,” Olson says.
Whole thing here.
Seven-year-old accuses teacher of shoving him, teacher is jailed and fired, a big lawsuit follows. But ten years later their lives once again intersect…. [Marc Fisher, Washington Post Magazine; Josh Kaplowitz; Raynard Ware; and particularly recommended, Fisher’s 2003 story (“He began his teaching stint with idealism. And ended it in jail”)]
“And for those who had cash seized from them — one player had more than $20,000, the regular player said — the police agreed to return 60 percent of the money, and keep 40 percent. … in Virginia state courts the local police agency may keep 100 percent of what they seize.” In a Fairfax SWAT raid on unlawful private gambling nine years ago, an officer shot and killed Sal Culosi, an optometrist who “had no criminal record and no known weapons.” [Washington Post, earlier (Radley Balko: Culosi incident in 2006 “wasn’t even the first time a Virginia SWAT team had killed someone during a gambling raid”)]
I’ve got a new post at Cato about the perennial problem of poor governance at Washington, D.C.’s WMATA Metro subway system, which on Monday suffered a smoke-in-tunnel accident that cost the life of a passenger and sickened many more. Excerpt:
If the cream of the nation’s political class, living within a 50 mile radius in Virginia, Maryland, and D.C., cannot arrange to obtain competence from their elected local officials in delivering a public service that’s vital to their daily work lives, what does that tell us about their pretensions to improve through federal action the delivery of local government services – fire and police, water supply and schooling, road maintenance and, yes, transit itself – in the rest of the country?
Reactions from George Leef (“it tells us that we should ignore them”), @jasonkeisling (“If it had been Uber, the gov would ban their service. But no need to address any problems with metro.”), and Christine Sisto/National Review. The Washington Post succinctly summarizes local outrage about the service’s failure to live up to its boasts of a “culture of safety”, while Washington City Paper, Aaron Wiener reviews Metro’s sluggish response to a series of previous safety crises and breakdowns.
A lot of literature — like this recent study cited by the Regional Plan Association — tends to confirm the idea that transit operations work better when governance is arranged so as to provide clear lines of responsibility and accountability. WMATA, which has gone through many general managers over the years, suffers from a weak, too-many-cooks board structure in which two each of eight board seats are filled by Maryland, Virginia, the District, and the federal government, along with another two alternates for each of the four jurisdictions.
On Wednesday morning at 9:15 a.m. I’m scheduled to be on Fox 5 WTTG Morning News television to talk about these ideas.
More: Michael Brickman, Flypaper. @politicalmath recalls when Metro got $200 million from the stimulus program to “create a safety culture.” Another comment from @jasonkeisling: “No accountability. Imagine if a private company had an incident like this…”
- Why British pubs are in decline [new Institute of Economic Affairs report from Christopher Snowdon]
- After legal battle with chicken chain, Vermont man wins “Eat More Kale” trademark [AP, earlier here, etc.]
- “Why D.C. Breweries Say They’re Drowning In Red Tape” [Rebecca Sheir, WAMU] Pennsylvania: “Cops Seized Couple’s $160,000 Wine Collection – And Want to Destroy It All” [Baylen Linnekin]
- More on FDA calorie-labeling mandate for restaurants and food servers [Sarah Kliff, Vox (“way more aggressive than expected”); Steve Chapman, Jacob Sullum, Danny Vinik, New Republic on the lack of evidence in their favor; Jason Stverak, Providence Journal on the costs; Cass Sunstein via Althouse in favor; earlier here, etc.]
- Opponent seeks sanctions over attempt to turn “meritless snack food labeling action into the Second Peloponnesian War” [Daniel Fisher]
- “A Trademark Year in Wine and Beer: Our 2014 Holiday Buyer’s Guide to Disputed Beverages” [David Kluft, Foley Hoag]
- Roundup of reactions (including ours) to Boston professor’s fateful tussle with Chinese restaurant [National Post, earlier]
- “An Innovative Way to Title Property in Poor Countries” [Ian Vasquez on Peter Schaefer and Clay Schaefer Cato study]
- Berman v. Parker, “1954 U.S. Supreme Court case that approved large-scale modern urban renewal”, facilitated a bulldozer redevelopment of Washington, D.C.’s SW now viewed as “crushing failure” [Gideon Kanner]
- Time for a radical step: strip local government of its project-blocking powers [Edward Glaeser, Cato]
- When reporting on European anti-fracking movements, try not to think of a Bear [Jonathan Adler]
- “The EPA wants to redefine ‘the waters of the United States’ to mean virtually any wet spot in the country.” [M. Reed Hopper and Todd Gaziano, WSJ] Overcriminalization, EPA, and wetlands: the Jack Barron case [Right on Crime video]
- Exhaustion of state remedies on takings: “Supreme Court Should Remove Kafka-esque Burden to Vindicating Property Rights” [Ilya Shapiro and Trevor Burrus]
- “Proposition 65 can spell bankruptcy for many California small business owners” [Mark Snyder, Sacramento Bee]