The Indian Scrabulous Decision

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Thanks to reader Apar Gupta, I have the text of the decision by the High Court of Delhi in Mattel, Inc. v. Agarwalla, a copyright and trademark action by Mattel against the Agarwalla brothers, the makers of Scrabulous. I posted a brief news item about the case earlier, and posted a four-part series on the American lawsuit against Scrabulous over on Prawfsblawg in August. (See Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.)

As the Agarwalla brothers reported a few weeks ago, the Indian decision held that Scrabulous did not likely infringe on Scrabble’s copyrights, but that the name “Scrabulous” does likely infringe on Scrabble’s trademarks. The court therefore issued an “ad interim injunction,” which I assume is the same as a preliminary injunction, against further use of the Scrabulous name. But my primary interest is copyright law, and the court’s copyright analysis, although very brief, is fascinating. Essentially, the court held that because the board and rules are necessary for game play, and game play is not copyrightable, therefore the board and rules are not copyrightable either. I think this probably goes too far, but it’s an interesting example of a court grappling with the nature of copyright in games.

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Priorities for the Next President: Make Way for Faith-Based Alternatives

Posted on Categories Religion & Law3 Comments on Priorities for the Next President: Make Way for Faith-Based Alternatives

I tend to be supportive of faith-based alternatives in state funded social programs and education for a variety of reasons. For better or worse, we live in a time and place in which most such services are going to be publicly funded. To exclude faith based approaches is to eliminate a set of approaches that might be quite effective and sends a message about the propriety of faith-based perspectives in the public square.

Such approaches must be carefully designed to avoid compulsion and to ensure the availability of secular alternatives. But government should also avoid the temptation to remake faith-based approaches in its own image. I am opposed, therefore, to the expansion of federal and local civil rights laws to the extent it interferes with the ability of faith-based organizations to hire for mission, i.e., to prefer hires who share the group’s religious presuppositions. Continue reading “Priorities for the Next President: Make Way for Faith-Based Alternatives”

Priorities for the Next President: Stay Out of the Way of Local Government

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My scholarship focuses on local government law, so you might assume that the next President would have little to do with my area of the law. Quite the contrary. In this era of shrinking government budgets and greater national debt, it is certainly conceivable that our next President will be faced with cutting spending on the federal level. It’s also plausible that Congress and the new President may make cuts in federal aid to state and local governments. I am somewhat agnostic on this issue. I have argued that decentralized decisionmaking leads to the more efficient and effective provision of goods and services, as well as policy outputs. I have also noted that much progressive policymaking occurs on the local level–more so than at the state and federal level. For these reasons, I might be inclined to encourage the new President to continue to fund local governments with block grants for various programs and services. But I also understand the need to get federal spending under control. What I am resolute on, however, is that any such cuts in funding should not be replaced with unfunded mandates for local governments from the federal government.

Federal policymakers, including the President, seem to like to influence matters on the local level. It is one thing to do this through conditions attached to federal funding (I don’t love this approach, either, but I can accept it given that localities can choose to reject the money if they decide the conditions are unacceptable). But it is entirely another thing to attempt to dictate policy on the local level from the federal level without proper funding. Such unfunded mandates run afoul of federalism principles. Moreover, cities (and even states) face drastically different challenges where macro-level policymaking–the “one size fits all” approach–does not make much sense. Localities must have the resources and the autonomy to craft individualized solutions to their unique problems. Hopefully this will include continued aid from the federal (and state) government. But it certainly should not be impeded by unfunded mandates from the federal government. This should be the priority of the new President with regard to local government: Stay out of the way.

What Do Reasonable Jurors Get to Decide After Scott v. Harris?

Posted on Categories Legal Scholarship, Speakers at Marquette, U.S. Supreme CourtLeave a comment» on What Do Reasonable Jurors Get to Decide After Scott v. Harris?

This is my second post commenting on Dan Kahan’s talk last week about his paper, co-authored with David Hoffman and Donald Braman, entitled “Whose Eyes are You Going to Believe? Scott v. Harris and the Perils of Cognitive Illiberalism.” (It was originally one post but got long.) Scott v. Harris is the case involving the video of the police chase, a video the Supreme Court found so compelling that it ruled the denial of summary judgement to the defendant police officer was error. Kahan and his co-authors argue that Scott harmed the legitimacy of the justice system when it concluded that all reasonable people would view the video tape the same way. In fact, Kahan et al. demonstrate that a significant number of potential jurors disagree with the majority’s view.

On Friday, I tangled with the article’s proposed solution to the problem of denying those jurors their day in court. Today, I want to examine the decision itself–did the majority really rule that no reasonable juror could conclude that the force used in the case was excessive? That’s actually not the way it looks to me. Rather, it looks to me like, after a preliminary finding about dangerousness, the Scott majority pretty much threw the whole fact vs. law distinction out the window. Scott doesn’t just insult “unreasonable” jurors; even reasonable jurors get short shrift.

Continue reading “What Do Reasonable Jurors Get to Decide After Scott v. Harris?”

To Shave or Not to Shave: That is the Question in This Workplace RFRA Case

Posted on Categories Labor & Employment Law, Religion & LawLeave a comment» on To Shave or Not to Shave: That is the Question in This Workplace RFRA Case

Beard In the last two weeks or so, my employment discrimination law class has been studying disparate impact litigation.  One of the more challenging cases that we study is the Fitzpatrick case from the 11th Circuit concerning the no-beard policy of a fire department.

The policy is supported by the need to have a good seal between a firefighter’s respirator and his face.  The policy was claimed to have a disparate impact on black firefighters with a skin condition making in difficult for them to shave.  The 11th Circuit, in 1993, found that although there might be a disparate impact, the fire department was able to show that the practice was consistent with business necessity because of safety concerns the fire department had regarding use of these respirators by firefighters even with so-called shadow beards.

Fast-forward fifteen years and now comes a similar case in the D.C. Circuit concerning the no-beard policy of the fire department. Instead of race discrimination, this suit alleges that a clean-shaven face for safety personnel violates some employees’ religious freedoms under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA).  As such, the Title VII framework does not apply and instead the court must balance the exercise of religious liberties with competing government interests. This type of balancing test reminds me much more of a public employee case involving free speech rights.

In any event, the BLT blog has the details: Continue reading “To Shave or Not to Shave: That is the Question in This Workplace RFRA Case”

Priorities for the Next President: Labor and Employment Law

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In responding to the question, “What should be the highest priorities of the next President in the areas of law that you teach,” the answers in labor and employment law are many and clear.

The next President should first focus on the following three areas in the labor and employment law context: labor rights, workplace anti-discrimination and civil rights, and employee benefit rights.

Labor Rights: The percentage of American workers covered by union contracts is now below 8%, as opposed to 16% as recently as 1985. Without unions to fight for them, workers fall behind in wages, benefits, and standard of living.  Additionally, companies like Wal-Mart are calling meetings to tell employees not to vote for the Democrats in this year’s election.  Unionized workers earn more and are more likely to have pensions and health insurance than non-unionized workers.  Workers should have the freedom to choose whether to join a union without harassment or intimidation.  The next President should therefore sign the Employee Free Choice Act, a bipartisan effort to assure that workers can exercise their right to organize and secure initial agreements with their employers.  The next President should also act to restore collective bargaining rights to nurses and other workers excluded as “supervisors,” and to ban employers’ practices of permanently replacing striking workers. The next President should sign into law the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act to assure public safety workers who put their lives on the line every day their right to bargain collectively.  Finally, the next President should work to appoint members of the National Labor Relations Board who will work to protect employee choice by outlawing employer captive audience meetings during election campaigns. Continue reading “Priorities for the Next President: Labor and Employment Law”

When the Lawyer Messes Up, Should the Defendant Suffer the Consequences?

Posted on Categories Criminal Law & Process, U.S. Supreme Court2 Comments on When the Lawyer Messes Up, Should the Defendant Suffer the Consequences?

This is the question posed by a criminal procedure case the Supreme Court recently agreed to hear.  In Puckett v. United States (lower court decision at 505 F.3d 377), the prosecutor and defendant entered into a plea agreement: in return for Puckett’s guilty plea, the prosecutor agreed to support Puckett’s request for a sentence reduction based on acceptance of responsibility.  When sentencing occurred, however, the prosecutor actually argued against acceptance, and the district court judge denied the requested reduction.  On appeal, both sides agreed the prosecutor had breached the plea deal, but did not agree on whether Puckett was entitled to withdraw his guilty plea (the typical remedy for a breach).  The problem was that Puckett’s lawyer neglected to argue at sentencing that there had been a breach.  As a result of this forfeiture, the Fifth Circuit reviewed Puckett’s breach claim using the “plain error” standard, which required Puckett to show that the breach actually affected the sentence he received–a difficult burden in most cases because it is hard to know for sure the extent to which a sentencing judge is influenced by a prosecutor’s argument.  Absent the lawyer’s neglect, Puckett would have been entitled to relief without showing prejudice under Santobello v. New York, 404 U.S. 257 (1971).

In the Supreme Court, the parties will argue about whether Puckett and others like him should be penalized through plain error review when their lawyers fail to object at sentencing to the breach of a plea agreement.  As a general matter, I do not care for the “gotcha” games that appellate courts play through forfeiture and plain error doctrines.  I appreciate the judicial economy concerns that are used to justify the requirement that lawyers make all objections to trial court proceedings in a timely fashion, but the stakes are too high in criminal cases to hold clients strictly accountable for their lawyers’ mistakes–especially considering that most criminal defendants cannot afford to pick their own lawyers and are stuck with whomever is appointed to represent them.  I might feel differently in cases in which there is some good reason to think the lawyer intentionally held back on an objection or argument for tactical reasons.  But such cases are rare.  I hope, then, that the Supreme Court make clear in Puckett that breach-of-plea-agreement claims are not subject to plain error review.

Imagining the Reasonable Jury

Posted on Categories Legal Scholarship, Speakers at Marquette, U.S. Supreme Court1 Comment on Imagining the Reasonable Jury

As has already been noted here, Dan Kahan dropped by the law school earlier this week and gave three fascinating presentations to the law school community. One, which Michael commented on earlier, was on his paper (co-authored with David Hoffman and Donald Braman) criticizing the Supreme Court’s decision in Scott v. Harris, entitled “Whose Eyes are You Going to Believe? Scott v. Harris and the Perils of Cognitive Illiberalism.”

In brief, Kahan and his co-authors argue that the Supreme Court went awry in Scott by refusing to credit the views of “an identifiable subcommunity” as being within the realm of those held by “reasonable jurors.” This refusal to credit such beliefs with reasonableness, they argue, is potentially destructive of the legitimacy of the justice system.

It’s a fascinating argument, backed by a novel empirical approach to assessing the views of “reasonable jurors” in a use of force case like Scott. But I’m left with a question about the theory, and a question about Scott: Today, I want to focus on the theory: How are judges to tell when the views of “an identifiable subcommunity” are at issue, making summary judgement less appropriate? Monday, I’ll focus on Scott: I’m not certain that the Scott holding is as Kahan et al. describe it, which way may mute their concern. Continue reading “Imagining the Reasonable Jury”

Happy Columbus Day?

Posted on Categories Legal History2 Comments on Happy Columbus Day?

We have put aside naive notions of Christopher Columbus as the heroic discoverer of the New World, but on Columbus Day and in general we should continue to contemplate the troubling bases and ramifications of Columbus’ voyages.

Columbus’ voyage in 1492 rested on his contractual agreement with the King and Queen of Spain. In return for spices and especially the gold he anticipated finding, Columbus received financing for three small ships and a combined crew of 40 and also promises of ten percent of all profits, the lucrative governorship of any new-found lands, and the title “Admiral of the Ocean Sea.” Columbus returned from his first voyages with a few spices, gold he had plucked from native peoples’ ear lobes, and 350 newly enslaved men and women. (An additional 250 had died on the sail back to Spain.) The King and Queen were impressed enough to finance a second expedition in 1493 of seventeen ships with 1200 men–including a full cavalry troop and a half-dozen priests. The fleet raided and plundered the Caribbean islands and was followed by subsequent large expeditions under Columbus’ command in 1498 and 1502.

The indigenous peoples of the Caribbean paid the heaviest price for these ventures. Continue reading “Happy Columbus Day?”

Lessons from Nebraska’s Struggle With an Abandoned Baby Law

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In the past few years, many states have passed legislation allowing parents of newborns to drop their infants off at a designated safe place, no questions asked. These laws are intended to prevent the tragedy of unwanted newborns that have been literally left to die in dumpsters, public toilets, and similar places, usually by panicked teenage parents. Nebraska is the most recent state to pass such a law, but whether by negligence or design, the Nebraska statute did not specify a maximum age of a child who could be left at a safe place without legal repercussions to the parents. In a turn of events that would be comical if it weren’t so sad, Nebraska has seen a parade of 17 different children dropped off at designated hospitals: none of them have been infants, and most have been adolescents. Since Nebraska’s legislature is part-time and does not resume session until January, there may be more drop-offs before the law can be amended.

What’s going on here, and what can we learn from it? Continue reading “Lessons from Nebraska’s Struggle With an Abandoned Baby Law”

Baseball Metaphors and Judicial Opinions

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A long time ago–so long ago, in fact, that the editing process was conducted entirely via Fed Ex and (gasp) telephone* –I published an article on the use of baseball metaphors in judicial opinions. It is one of 19 hits in the Westlaw JLR database for “Kirby Puckett,” one of four for “Kent Hrbek,” and the only law review article ever written that mentions Puckett, Hrbek, and Ron Gant. Though I missed out on all the fun that might have ensued had it been more readily available when Chief Justice Roberts was describing his role in umpireal terms, and even the more recent discussions here, I have just now posted it on SSRN for your procrastinating enjoyment.

* It’s interesting to me that the telephone seems to have disappeared from the editing process. Not once since I started teaching have I spoken to a law review editor other than the one who made the publication offer. Maybe it’s not that surprising, though. I remember some of those conversations from the editor side as being a little intimidating. That might have been partly a product of how my first conversation with an author on the phone unfolded. He (who was kind of big-namish) came across as a little grouchy, and not all that pleased with some of the edits proposed by my predecessor. Somehow or other–I guess I was trying to find a source or something as I fumbled for an explanation of whatever my predecessor had done–I pulled the phone off my desk. From his side perhaps the line just went dead. On my side there was a loud crash and a cascade of papers onto the floor. In retrospect, not that big of a deal. At the time, a little bit mortifying.

Cross posted at PrawfsBlawg.

Priorities for the Next President: Securities Regulation

Posted on Categories Corporate Law, Federal Civil Litigation1 Comment on Priorities for the Next President: Securities Regulation

The current crisis our nation faces on Wall Street and in the broader economy will be the primary focus of the next President. The crisis is complex, with many facets, and any solution will be equally complex. Issues such as the effectiveness of regulatory oversight versus deregulation, the transparency of specific types of financial transactions and market actors under current law, and the proper accounting rules to ensure an accurate depiction of a banking institution’s financial health will all be part of the debate over how to resolve the present crisis and how to prevent a future recurrence. However, my advice to the next President is that he should not overlook the beneficial role that private civil lawsuits under the securities laws can play in deterring risky market behavior.

Much has been made of the greed and speculative fervor that gripped the investment professionals on Wall Street. Clearly bets were being made with borrowed money that risked the very existence of institutions that are necessary to preserve the liquidity of capital in our markets. Expanding the oversight of the Treasury Department, increasing the transparency of transactions that involve derivatives and hedge funds, and re-examining accounting rules may all be necessary components of a plan to avoid such risk-taking in the future, but they will not be sufficient in and of themselves. From personal experience in the boardroom, I can vouch that nothing deters executive approval of speculative investment strategies as much as the prospect of a potential civil lawsuit if the deal goes sour.

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