Tales from the US of A... July 2017 July 2017

By Patrick Bracher, Published in International

Transgender teen can use boys' restroom

A Chicago-based US court of appeals has granted a temporary injunction allowing a 17-year old school pupil to use the boys restroom pending the outcome of the main proceedings. The court said he has a probability of success because the school district has likely violated the equal protection clause in the Education Amendments Act which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. The child began identifying as a boy and was diagnosed with gender dysphoria. He began hormone replacement therapy. He used the boys' restroom without incident for six months until a teacher spotted him in there and reported it to the administration. He was told to use the girls' restroom or a gender-neutral bathroom. He continued to use the boys' restroom but was removed from class several times for doing so. He complained of sex-stereotyping prohibited under the Civil Rights Act. - Debra Cassens Weiss

Wrong lawyer suspended on mistaken identity

There are at least two lawyers in the US named Christopher P. Sullivan. The one practises as a partner in a law firm and the other is disbarred after being convicted of drunken driving in a fatal accident. The Supreme Court wrongly suspended the innocent lawyer and gave him 40-days to show cause why he shouldn't be debarred from Supreme Court practise. The Supreme Court routinely checks its roster of lawyers against state discipline records which led to the mistake, which it rapidly corrected. - Debra Cassens Weiss May 31

Resale of used ink cartridges allowed despite patent

A patent holder that contractually restricts the reuse or resale of its printer ink cartridges may not invoke patent law against a remanufacturing company that violates the restriction, according to the US Supreme Court. The court ruled that the patent holder's rights are exhausted with its first sale of the cartridges despite the restrictions it tried to impose on others. The court ruled in favour of a company which refurbishes and resells the cartridges. The manufacturer's contract with customers may have been enforceable under contract law but did not survive the first contract. - Debra Cassens Weiss May 30

Sex bias case unresolved after 27 years

An ex-employee who sued the Washington prisons department for sexual discrimination is still awaiting the final resolution of her lawsuit 27 years after it was filed. Over the years the case has come before nine judges. The claim is that she was denied a promotion because she refused the advances of her former supervisor. The first court held in her favour and the department appealed. The appeal lasted 11-years and a dispute over whether she was entitled to interest on her back wages lasted nine years. She was awarded interest in 2012 but claimed the department miscalculated the amount and the fight continues. - Debra Cassens Weiss May 30

Google retains trademark though its name used as a verb

The federal appeals court has ruled that Google has not lost trademark protection for its name even though some people use "google" in a generic sense as a verb for the act of searching the internet. A Circuit Court of Appeals held that Google could still be trademarked because consumers don't use the word as a generic term for search engines. One of the plaintiff's had acquired 763 domain names that included the word "google". Google objected that the registrations amounted to cybersquatting. The plaintiff tried to cancel the Google trademark. The court acknowledged that, over time, the holder of a trademark may fall victim to "genericide" because the public appropriates the trademark as a generic name for a type of goods. The use of google as a verb does not automatically constitute generic use. There is no competing search engine which calls itself a "google" and consumers do not lump all search engines together as "googles". - Debra Cassens Weiss May 17

Pictures rejected as evidence because of unlawful search

A federal judge in California has tossed pictures collected in a search of a physician's home that was conducted after a Geek Squad discovered an image of a nude child on the doctor's computer. The accused said his Fourth Amendment rights were violated by the Geek Squad's computer search. The evidence found as a result of the search was therefore suppressed. - Debra Cassens Weiss May 17

Lawsuit rejected claiming Facebook liable for aiding terrorism

A federal judge in New York has dismissed two lawsuits that claimed Facebook should be liable for allowing terrorists to use its platform to advance violence. One of the suits was brought by about 20 000 Israeli citizens who feared terrorist violence. The other was brought by victims and family members of past terrorist attacks by Hamas. The plaintiffs claimed that Palestinian terrorism organisations used the social media platform to incite and organise attacks. The court ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing because they couldn't point to an injury traceable to Facebook or a risk that was different from that faced by the public at large. Their claimed harm relied on "multiple conjectural leaps" including that they will be the victims of an as-yet unknown terrorist attack. - Debra Cassens Weiss May 18

$2 million judgment against alleged creators of fraudulent imitation website

AVVO won its lawsuit against hackers and phishers accused of creating a rip-off site designed to trick lawyers and customers into disclosing their personal information. A district court in Arizona granted a default motion in favour of the company for $2 million plus attorneys' fees. The named defendants were not represented. AVVO had found the imitation site and had taken it down before it became usable. To the company's knowledge no users had revealed any information through the bogus site. The chances of recovering the money are remote but the suit was about protecting users and the general public from fraud. - Victor Li May 16

Coffee customer awarded $100K for burns from hot coffee

A jury in Florida awarded $100 000 to a woman who said she was severely burned when the lid popped off a cup of Starbucks coffee she received at a drive-through window. The jury found Starbucks was 80% at fault for the coffee spill that left the woman with first- and second-degree burns. The suit contended that the lids on Starbucks cups are prone to pop off when someone grabs the cup too high. Starbucks acknowledge that the company gets about 80 complaints a month about leaks and lids popping off. Starbucks is considering an appeal. - Debra Cassens Weiss May 22

Court strikes down voting districts as racial gerrymanders

The US Supreme Court has struck down two majority-black congressional districts created after the 2010 census in North Carolina. The court found that the officials did not have a compelling reason to pack more black voters into the two districts that were already electing preferred candidates of most black voters. They therefore violated the equal protection clause. The ruling is said to be a watershed moment in the fight to end racial gerrymandering. North Carolina's voting district maps are said to be among the worst racial gerrymanders in the nation. A state may not use race as a predominant factor in drawing district lines unless it has a compelling reason to do so, said the court. - Debra Cassens Weiss May 2

Supreme Court upholds caps on political party contributions

The US Supreme Court summarily affirmed a decision upholding limits on direct contributions to political parties. The Supreme Court previously struck down limits on independent campaign spending by corporations but this was found to be different from limits on spending that directly supports candidates and parties. - Debra Cassens Weiss May 22

Lawyer suspended for muttered obscenity to judge's ruling

A lawyer who rolled her eyes and complained that a judge's ruling was "F – bull–" has been suspended from practice in Chicago federal court for 90 days. The order said the lawyer made comments under her breath but sensitive microphones picked it up and rolled her eyes several times in a trial. The court also banned her from acting as lead lawyer in any trials before the court for a year and required her to take ethics classes. The bad behaviour occurred during her defence of a woman accused of giving a gun to a teenage relative seconds before the relative used the weapon to kill a 14-year old girl. The comment was not the only one she made. The lawyer was continuously disruptive during the trial over two weeks in the presence of the jury. - Debra Cassens Weiss May 16

Former prostitute wins $1.7M for privacy invasion

A jury in Denver has awarded a woman $1.7 million in damages in her privacy invasion suit against a lawyer who exposed her secret life as a prostitute. The suspended lawyer was found liable for revealing her work to her family members and classmates. She began working as a prostitute when her divorce and a cutback in her work hours created financial problems. The lawyer became one of her clients and they were soon romantically involved. The lawyer became angry and violent at times and she broke off the relationship. The lawyer stalked her and threatened to expose her and eventually carried through on the threat. The plaintiff suffered considerable injury, emotional, physical and reputational damage at the lawyer's hands. - Debra Cassens Weiss May 16

Lawyer sanctioned for 600 objections

A federal magistrate judge has sanctioned New York City because one of its lawyers made more than 600 objections during a deposition. They occurred so frequently during the eight-hour deposition that they appeared on 83% of the nearly 400 pages of deposition transcript. The magistrate judge ordered the city to pay the deposition costs as a result of the lawyer's conduct. The objections were made during a deposition of a New York City police officer accused of participating in a wrongful arrest. The City intends to take action against the lawyer. - Debra Cassens Weiss May 17

Mistakenly released inmate reprieved by judge but arrested by immigration agents

The future appeared bright for an inmate mistakenly released from prison in 2008 when a Colorado judge ruled that he would not have to serve the final 90-years of his sentence for participating in two robberies. But immediately after the ruling federal immigration officials arrested him. He was a Cuban immigrant who came to the United States with his parents as a toddler in 1980. During nearly six years of freedom he became a father, active in his church and secured a job installing glass windows in skyscrapers. When rearrested the judge concluded it would be a manifest injustice to require him to remain in prison and ordered his release. It is claimed his immigration status is absolutely legal. - Debra Cassens Weiss May 18

All these stories are drawn from the ABA Journal eReport

Compiled by Patrick Bracher of Norton Rose Fulbright.