EPA Launches Investigation Into Its Own Troubling Environmental Issues

The stated mission of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to “protect human health and the environment.”  However, a recent scandal is forcing the EPA to focus its mission inward.  Reportedly, the EPA Denver office recently sent an email to all employees regarding “recent incidents” including “an individual placing feces in the hallway.”  Apparently, the EPA is “taking this situation very seriously and will take whatever actions are necessary to identify and prosecute these individuals.”  Criminal charges could include “disorderly conduct” or “vandalism.” We at Abnormal Use remain confused and troubled by this news.  Is this ironic environmental scandal worse than the NSA domestic surveillance debacle?  Possibly.  We just hope that the miscreant offenders face justice so that these federal antics don’t become a trend, like Tebowing or planking.

(Hat tip: FindLaw).

Friday Links

pym

As our editor recently tweeted, we here at Abnormal Use recently stumbled across the comic book cover above, that of Avengers #228, published way, way back in 1983. “At Last! The Trial of Yellow Jacket!” the cover proclaims. If you only know The Avengers from the recent films, you may be unfamiliar with Yellow Jacket a/k/a Hank Pym a/k/a Ant Man a/k/a as Giant Man a/k/a Goliath. He’s also the creator of the villainous robot Ultron (who will apparently be the main menace in the upcoming Avengers film sequel). Anyway, the producers of the Avengers films didn’t see fit to include Pym in the films, despite his status as a founding member of the group in the comics. Let’s just say, though, that he had some issues, as you might suspect from the cover above. Visible in the courtroom are She-Hulk, Captain America, Hawkeye, Thor, and Janet Pym a/k/a The Wasp, whose troubled marriage to Hank was explored in the comics for years. Here’s a summary of the issue we located:

While both the Avengers and the general public anxiously await the outcome of Hank Pym’s trial for treason, Egghead again reforms the Masters of Evil and sends them to the courthouse to free Hank. During the resultant battle with the Avengers, the newly recruited Radioactive Man unleashes a gamma ray burst which changes the She-Hulk back to Jennifer Walters, thus turning the tide in his allies’ favor. Despite the heroes’ best efforts, their opponents succeed in spiriting Hank away, while deliberately leaving behind a brainwashed Shocker to assert that the former Avenger planned his own escape. Now believing that he can never be cleared, the captive Hank is seemingly coerced into aiding Egghead’s latest scheme.

An Avenger on trial for treason, eh? How about that? In fact, we once wrote about this trial back in early 2013. For that edition of Friday Links, please see here.

In case you missed it, South Carolina Bar President Cal Watson penned an editorial entitled “Lawyers fight for America’s founding principles” for The State newspaper. You can read it here.

You know, we write a lot about McDonald’s litigation and hot coffee, but we’ve never written about bears at McDonald’s.

“Too Fast” Bat Decision Upheld By Tenth Circuit

Not too long ago, we reported on the decision of an Oklahoma federal court to toss a $951,000 jury verdict against Hillerich and Bradsby, the manufacturer of Louisville Slugger baseball bats. As you may recall, the jury had awarded a 15-year old boy and his parents nearly $1 million after he was struck in the face by a line drive, causing severe facial injuries. In reaching its decision, the jury determined that the aluminum bat was defective and unreasonably dangerous because it could hit a ball faster than its wooden counterparts – a condition for which Louisville Slugger failed to warn. Moreover, it determined that the boy did not assume the risk of injury when electing to play baseball. The court held, however, that there was “no basis for a reasonable jury to find that the bat had ‘dangerous characteristics.’”

In an unpublished decision, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed the trial court’s decision to grant Hellerich’s motion for judgment as a matter of law. In a well-written opinion, the Court examined the plaintiff’s theory that the bat was unreasonably dangerous because it hit a ball “too fast.” In order to recover on such a theory, logically the plaintiff would need to show the the speed of a ball off of an “ordinary” bat versus the speed of the ball off of the bat at issue. Because the plaintiff produced no objective evidence of either component, the Court held that the district court judge did not err in correcting the jury’s verdict on defective design. The opinion can be found at Yeaman v. Hillerich & Bradsby Co., No. 12-6254 (10th. Cir. June 30. 2014).

While this case involves a much different set of facts and rests on a different theory of recovery, it is an interesting contrast to the recent flying hot dog opinion in which the court held that the risk of being hit by a flying dog was not inherent to baseball and, thus, a baseball team could not be shielded from liability. The risks of being injured by a ball struck by a bat are clearly inherent to the game. This Louisville Slugger case, on the other hand, attempted to establish that the bat was somehow unreasonably dangerous beyond those inherent risks. An interesting theory, to be sure. While the jury may have bought it, the court saw otherwise.

Lindsay Lohan Alleges That Grand Theft Video Game Steals More Than Autos

Lacey Jonas

Apparently, if believe the news, pro se Plaintiff Jonathan Lee Riches isn’t the only person to have fallen victim to “Batman and identity robbin.”  Troubled actress Lindsay Lohan recently filed suit against the makers of the Grand Theft Auto V video game alleging that they improperly used her likeness in a “a look-alike side mission.” The character in question is named Lacey Jonas and begs the main character for a ride so that she can avoid the flock of paparazzi chasing her. This is not Lohan’s first legal action involving an alleged theft of her likeness.  In 2010, Lohan sued E-Trade in connection with a baby’s reference to “that milkaholic Lindsay” during an E-Trade ad aired during the Super Bowl.  In 2011, Lohan sued Pitbull for a reference in one of his songs to having it “locked up like Lindsay Lohan.” It will be interesting to see how this one turns out.  We at Abnormal Use are thankful to Lindsay for the material.  Keep it coming!

(Hat tip: FindLaw).

And the 2013-2014 Judicial Hellhole Finalists Are . . .

We here at Abnormal Use love awards shows. Sure, call us saps, but we must confess our interest in such things. The Upstate of South Carolina is abuzz with talk of Lanie Hudson, Clemson student and Anderson native, taking the Miss South Carolina crown.  In similar pageant news, the American Tort Reform Foundation has released this year’s list of “judicial hellholes.”  The short list is here, and the full report can be found here.

This year’s standouts are South Florida, Madison and St. Clair Counties in Illinois, New York City, the entire state of California, all of Louisiana, and beautiful West Virginia.  This year’s notable snubs include this author’s former state of Mississippi, although Jones County, Mississippi did make the “watch list.” We welcome your thoughts on this year’s honorees as well as the concept of naming such jurisdictions hellholes in the first place.

Google Wiretapping Trial Moves Forward

We take for granted how the world of navigation has changed in the last twenty years.  Growing up, we would unfold enormous and unwieldy maps and attempt to plot the best way to travel around new cities.  Then, with the arrival of new technology, travelers then turned to MapQuest and printed their specific directions.  In fact, in the early 2000’s, I myself used eleven printed pages of MapQuest instructions to navigate across this great country of ours.  However, somewhere along the way, the printed pages also sank into the depths of history.  We now use apps on our smart phones to provide turn by turn directions; they update themselves in real time and provide a plethora of related information, like Google Street View.  In 2013, Google Street View cars had covered more than 3,000 cities and 6 million miles since the project began in 2007, reported CNN.  However, that level of technology and accessibility apparently comes with a price.

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Google’s challenge to a lawsuit which alleged that the Internet behemoth’s Street View Cars spied on individuals by collecting personal information from private Wi-Fi networks.  The information accessed included emails, passwords, web histories, and text messages.  Google does not deny that such invasions into privacy occurred.  In fact, in 2010, Sergey Brin admitted that “[Google] screwed up” and that he “would not make any excuses about it.” Google has since blamed a rogue engineer and announced that the information was stolen “mistakenly.” In 2011, Google paid $7 million dollars and agreed to destroy the data to settle a case brought by 38 states for violating federal wiretapping laws.  The settlement did not include private actions. Recently a federal appeals court upheld a ruling that Google had indeed violated the U.S. Wiretap Act.  Apparently, Google then sought refuge in the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that Wi-Fi networks fell within the radio signal exception to the Wiretap Act.  On June 30, 2014, without explanation, the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal.

It remains to be seen whether Plaintiffs’ class action suit will be granted certification or whether Google can ultimately prevail on its theory that Wi-Fi networks are radio communications, which are not encompassed under the U.S. Wiretap Act.  However, it does appear that Google may get an opportunity to view the inside of a couple more courtrooms.

Friday Links (Fourth of July Edition)

rr

Happy Fourth of July, dear readers! We assume that you, like us, are out of the office today, but we certainly felt obligated to prepare a patriotic edition of Friday Links for today! We hope that everyone has a safe and festive holiday weekend, and we encourage everyone to pause briefly to remember what happened 238 years ago today. In the spirit of the day, above, you’ll find the cover of Roger Rabbit #15, published not so long ago in 1991. We wonder if the children of today know of Roger Rabbit or still watch the classic 1980′s film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? We certainly hope so. To visit our prior Fourth of July posts (and see some other spirited comic book covers), please see here, here, here, and here.

As always, we will return to regular posting on Monday.

At Last, A Resolution To Our 2011 Challenge To Reed Morgan, The McDonald’s Hot Coffee Plaintiff’s Attorney

As you know, we here at Abnormal Use like to write about the infamous McDonald’s hot coffee case. Twenty years after it was tried, it remains an interesting piece of litigation, not just because of the facts and its effect on the litigation culture, but also because there are so few primary sources available to the general public. We have a number of secondary and tertiary sources in the form of editorial opinion columns, television documentaries, and the like. However, few commentators rely upon the actual pleadings, motions, and witness testimony in the underlying case. That is why in early, early 2011, we prepared a FAQ file based on some primary sources available to us at that time.

Back in 2011, we were scouring the Earth for a copy of the 1994 trial transcript. It was, of course, unavailable from the court itself, as trial transcripts are not typically filed with the clerk of court (and we doubt that the court reporter would have a 17 year old trial transcript available for order). The case was settled shortly after the trial, so any appellate record would be slight, if existent at all.

Accordingly, on June 28, 2011, we issued a challenge to Reed Morgan, the McDonald’s hot coffee Plaintiff’s attorney, asking him to release the trial transcript (assuming he still had it after all of these years).

You can read that post here. In it, we noted as follows:

 The only parties with access to all relevant information are the McDonald’s corporation and Liebeck’s estate. Despite the protestations of the plaintiff’s bar and Saladoff, the McDonald’s corporation has remained curiously tight-lipped about the case over the past 17 years. There’s no evidence that this major company has engaged in any public relations campaign; and if they had, it has not been very successful, as many people are unaware of the basic facts of the case.

If the plaintiff’s bar truly wishes to expose the “truth” behind the case, then they should look to one of their own: S. Reed Morgan of S. Reed Morgan & Associates (now of the Law Offices of S. Reed Morgan, P.C.) of Comfort, Texas, the lead plaintiff’s attorney who represented Liebeck during the original trial. Presumably, Morgan has a whole host of original material which could shed additional light on the case but which are not currently in the public record. By this, of course, we refer to deposition transcripts, discovery responses, and the trial transcript, none of which is readily available in any form. Allowing the general public, as well as legal scholars and researchers, to review this material would shed much light on the case and allow partisans of any persuasion to use the actual evidence from the actual trial to advance their agendas. (Saladoff had access to at least some of this material, although it’s unclear from whom she obtained it; she told IndieWire that she “was able to secure the transcript of the trial, and then went to Albuquerque where the case was tried, located the family, the lawyers, jurors, the doctor, and started talking to as many people as possible who would talk to me.”)

We never heard from Mr. Morgan in response to the post. Perhaps he never saw it, and we doubt a defense oriented law blog is atop the list of his concerns. To be honest, all these years later, the post had sunk into the deep recesses of our memory until last week when we saw that Mr. Morgan himself had commented on the post. Last Wednesday, almost three years to the day after our original blog post on the issue ran, he post a comment and remarked:

The trial transcript is on record at the court. Any competent lawyer knows this. So I question this so-called “challenge” as written to serve any purpose other than to create an image that I have the transcript. Of course, I do not have it. Reed Morgan

We were very pleased to see that he had read our post all these years later. The following day, we responded to the comment as follows:

Reed, we appreciate your comment and thank you for visiting our site. Over the years (and again, more recently), we have reviewed the documents available from the Civil Division of the Bernalillo County Courthouse where the case was tried in 1994. In fact, the Civil Division maintains a file of 1,070 pages comprised of the pleadings, motions, and other publicly filed documents. Unfortunately, the trial transcript is not one of the documents publicly on file or available for ordering from the court. I suspect that it might have been easier to locate or obtain in 1994, but not in 2011 (when the post to which you were responding was written and published).

In fact, anyone can visit the relevant New Mexico state court website and access its online docketing system. The official website of the State of New Mexico Second Judicial District Court maintains a case look-up function which one can utilize to see the full docket sheet for the Liebeck v. McDonald’s matter. The relevant entry offers a comprehensive accounting of the case, listing all of the hearings that took place in 1993 and 1994 as well as a description of the civil complaint and a register of actions activity ranging from the filing of the complaint on March 12, 1993 all the way to March 28, 2007 (reflecting the ultimate fate of certain exhibits). The bulk of the entries, however, range from 1993 to 1995.

Generally, a trial transcript is not something that one can obtain directly from the trial court by pulling the pleadings on file. Sometimes, when a case is appealed, one might be able to obtain the trial transcript from an appellate court (if the transcript has been requested from the court reporter), but an appeal was not meaningfully pursued in Liebeck because the case resolved in late 1994 just a few months after the verdict. Trust us when we say that in 2011 we looked many, many places to obtain a copy of the trial transcript before issuing our challenge to Reed Morgan. We are elated that he ultimately replied, although all these years later, we are no longer looking for a copy.

GM Unveils Ignition Defect Compensation Plan

Reportedly, GM has unveiled a compensation plan for those affected by the ignition switch defect.  As a part of said plan, GM cut checks to “any driver, passenger, pedestrian or occupant of another vehicle who can show they were hurt in a crash involving one of 2.6 million cars GM has recalled after admitting they were equipped with faulty ignition switches.”

The plan apparently does not have a limit on compensation.  The catch: claimants must be able to show that the vehicle’s airbags did not deploy in any crash at issue.

Interestingly, claimants who previously entered into settlements with GM prior to GM’s admission of the ignition defect can apply for additional compensation through the fund.  GM has reportedly collected evidence of 3,500 death and injury claims, but they have yet to be vetted to ascertain whether they meet the requirements of the compensation plan. As The Wall Street Journal Law Blog noted the other day: “The compensation program is limited to the 10 models GM has identified as being equipped with a faulty ignition switch. That includes the Chevrolet Cobalt, Saturn Ion and other older models.”

The claim period is from August 1 through December 31.

Flying Hot Dogs Not Inherent To The Game of Baseball, Says Missouri Supreme Court

If you follow Anne Coulter’s reasoning, we assume you aren’t caught up in the World Cup craziness. As such, you are left to focus on America’s pastime, baseball, in order to get your sports fix for the summer. Baseball is a fine sport, to be sure, but things often get a little boring at this point in the season. Thankfully, the Missouri Supreme Court has finally issued its opinion in the now infamous flying hotdog case, Coomer v. Kansas City Royals Baseball Corp., No. SC93214 (Mo. June 24, 2014), to spice up the mid-season doldrums. Of course, we had to review and comment upon this important piece of jurisprudence.

For those new to the case, the facts are these: Coomer is an avid baseball fan who had been to approximately 175 Kansas City Royals games. In September 2009, during game number 176, Coomer was hit in the face by a hotdog thrown by the Royals mascot, Sluggerrr. The impact of the flying dog allegedly caused Coomer to sustain a detached retina. Thereafter, as you might expect if you regularly read this blog, Coomer sued the Royals. The case proceeded to trial, and the jury charged as to whether the risk of being hit by a hot dog was inherent in attending a Royals game. After receiving this charge, the jury returned a defense verdict, allocating 100 percent of the fault to Coomer himself. In a lengthy opinion, the Missouri Supreme Court vacated the jury’s decision and remanded the case. At issue in the case was the so-called “Baseball Rule” which essentially protects teams from risks that are inherent to the game, i.e. foul balls entering the stands. According to the Court, the members of which have apparently never heard “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” the risk of being injured by Sluggerrr’s hot dog toss is not one of the inherent risks of watching a Royals home game. Because assumption of risk is a question of law, the Court held that it was an error to charge the jury on the issue and that such a charge was prejudicial.

Admittedly, when we here at Abnormal Use first heard about this case, we were skeptical. It is not uncommon to see vendors tossing food to fans at a baseball game. (Note: Sluggerr’s official website indicates that he throws hot dogs.). Plus, the thought of a flying hot dog injury sounds absurd on its face. Nonetheless, we must actually agree with the Missouri Supreme Court in this instance. As crazy as a flying hot dog might sound, we don’t believe it is necessarily a risk inherent to the game of baseball nor do we believe it is within the intended scope of the “Baseball Rule.” Unlike a foul ball, this type of harm could more easily be avoided albeit to the dismay of food tossing mascots everywhere.

If this case is tried again, the jury could always return the same result if it finds Coomer was negligent in some manner by not preparing himself to catch the dog (who knows?). The real impact of this decision may not be felt by Coomer but by sports teams nationwide. Certainly, teams will have to think twice before allowing mascots to distribute items to fans by hand toss or t-shirt gun. Which begs the question, what else do mascots actually do?