Thursday, August 29, 2013

NFL Settles Concussion Claims

Just before the start of the regular season, thousands of former players settled today with the National Football League (NFL) over concussion-related suits. The league will reportedly pay $765 million for medical benefits and injury compensation to retired players, as well as funding medical exams, research and litigation expenses. Former U.S. District Judge, Layn Phillips, mediated the settlement and stated,"Rather than litigate literally thousands of complex individual claims over many years, the parties have reached an agreement that, if approved, will provide relief and support where it is needed at a time when it is most needed." NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners gave the legal team direction to "do the right thing" for former players with neurological conditions who believe their problems stem from on-field concussions. The lawsuits accused the league of hiding known risks of concussions for decades to return players to games and protect its image. See story here-- and NFL press release

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

ADR Bars Fees in Auto Defect Suits

Congress in 1975 set forth a policy to encourage warrantors to establish procedures whereby consumer disputes could be fairly and expeditiously settled through informal dispute settlement mechanisms under the Magnuson-Moss Act. Apparently, this was not successful enough in resolving consumer disputes regarding chronically defective automobiles. Consequently, many states enacted Lemon Law legislation to address perceived problems. Use of Better Business Bureau's (BBB) Auto Line is required prior to filing suit under the Magnuson-Moss Act, but is not a prerequisite to an action under the Lemon Law. A three-judge panel of the Superior Court of New Jersey’s Appellate Division recently ruled in Nissan’s favor, stating consumer claimants were not eligible for attorneys’ fees as a matter of law because they were bound to an alternative dispute resolution process as a term of their warranties. Claimants signed away their rights to pursue civil actions by accepting arbitration decisions. BBB Auto Line requires aggrieved consumers to mediate the claim first, then proceed to arbitration if the mediation process proves unsuccessful, with the consumer given a choice between an impartial arbitrator or a three-person panel. Plaintiffs were sent to Auto Line after first trying to circumvent that forum with civil suits. While successful in getting Nissan to repurchase the defective vehicles, the arbitrator did not award attorneys’ fees-- prompting new suits and an appeal when trial judges dismissed those suits. The appellate panel found that Plaintiffs were not entitled to attorneys’ fees because of their participation in the ADR process and signatures on settlements that waived legal action related to the same claim. Plaintiffs were not bound to accept the informal dispute settlement decision, but neither rejected the award of repurchase in favor of initiating legal action with the hope of collecting attorneys' fees. It was found the absence of an attorneys' fees award neither violates statutes nor offends public policy. See story here and opinion

Friday, August 23, 2013

Deen Deal

A discrimination and harassment lawsuit against celebrity cook Paula Deen was dismissed today pursuant to a settlement. Deen lost lucrative endorsements and her Food Network cooking show due to the allegations, while the publication of a highly anticipated cookbook was canceled after she said under oath that she had used racial slurs in the past. Filings in U.S. District Court in Savannah, Georgia revealed dismissal of the lawsuit with prejudice, without any award of costs or fees. The dismissal deal came just after Judge William T. Moore threw out the race discrimination claims by a white plaintiff that had no standing to sue over what she said was poor treatment of black workers. Deen’s own words that ended up causing serious damage to her public image and income. The lawsuit was paid little attention for over a year, until the Plaintiffs' lawyer questioned Deen under oath in, asking if she has ever used the N-word. “Yes, of course,” Deen replied, though she added: “It’s been a very long time.” Within a few days, the Food Network didn’t renew Deen’s contract and yanked her shows off the air. Smithfield Foods, the pork producer that paid Deen as a celebrity endorser, dropped her. Retailers, including Wal-Mart and Target, would no longer sell Deen’s products. Judge Moore issued an order stating he still plans to hear whether the lead Plaintiff attorney should be sanctioned for what Deen’s lawyers called unprofessional conduct in the case designed for embarrassing media exposure. However, a filing by Deen’s attorneys asked the judge to drop their motion for sanctions. Forbes magazine last year ranked Deen as the fourth-highest-earning celebrity cook last year, figuring she had hauled in $17 million. Her company Paula Deen Enterprises generates total annual revenue of nearly $100 million. See stories here-- and

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Dem Bones, Dem Royal Bones

A British high court has allowed judicial review of a decision to reinter the remains of King Richard III, unearthed in a parking lot after 527 years. However, a second so-called Wars of the Roses may be underway. Leicester Cathedral is one site that has the support of the government, but the British public want their say as well. Almost 30,000 people signed a petition to get a formal hearing on where the final resting place should be. The King's descendants say the he should be in York and now challenge Leicester’s plans through the Plantagenet Alliance, formed soon after the Ministry of Justice made the call on what would become of the remains. The Judge encouraged an out of court settlement be achieved, warning the parties against an “unseemly, undignified and unedifying” legal recurrence of the Wars of the Roses-- a civil battle between the families of Lancaster and York (named after their respective heraldic symbols of the red and the white rose). The court's reason for granting a review: “The archaeological discovery of the mortal remains of a former King of England after 500 years is without precedent.” The judge also noted economic implications in terms of prestige and tourism which could benefit the city or place or institution where King Richard III’s skeleton rests. England's most reviled monarch, depicted by Shakespeare in the play that bears his name as the wicked, hunchback murderer of his nephews in the Tower of London, may just have his reign re-examined as the litigation over where his bones should be, takes place. See stories here: and

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Oldest Synagogue Suit

In dueling suits over ceremonial bells that adorn the handles of the Torah scroll when not in use in the nation's oldest synagogue, a mediation has resulted in impasse. Jewish leaders participated in a mediation overseen by U.S. District Judge William Smith in Providence regarding a set of valuable Colonial-era Torah finial bells and about who owns and controls the 250-year-old Touro Synagogue. Touro is a National Historic Site with tens of thousands of visitors every year. Both sides have sued in federal courts; the synagogue's current congregation, Jeshuat Israel, in Rhode Island, and Congregation Shearith Israel (established in 1654), in New York. The dispute started after present leaders at Touro agreed to sell the bells, called rimonim, for $7.4 million to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Leaders of the New York congregation say it owns Touro, its cemetery, Torahs, rimonim and other religious objects. The nation's second Jewish congregation was established in Newport four years after the New York congregation, but in 1822, the city's last Jewish resident left and Touro fell into disrepair. Sacred items, including Torah scrolls and possibly the finial bells, were transferred to the New York congregation. Touro reopened in the late 1800s, and in 1903, the Newport congregation signed a $1-per-year lease to rent Touro from Congregation Shearith Israel. Congregation Shearith Israel opposes the sale of the bells, saying it violates religious practice and will remove ownership of the bells from the Jewish community. The New York congregation is also seeking to remove the Newport congregation from practicing at Touro, saying it is violating the terms of the lease. Touro's leaders say Congregation Shearith Israel is only a trustee for the Newport synagogue and can't dictate what is done there. Touro has two sets of finial bells made in the 1760s or 1770s by Colonial silversmith Myer Myers, a Jewish contemporary of Paul Revere's from New York. Its congregation seeks to sell one set to establish a trust that will pay to maintain the synagogue and to ensure there is always a rabbi in residence. Congregation Jeshuat Israel maintains displaying the bells at the Museum of Fine Arts would allow more people to see them. The museum's offer has been rescinded until the ownership dispute is resolved. U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell Jr., has lifted a stay and a decision on transferring venue remains pending. Touro is celebrating its 250th anniversary and will hold its annual reading of the famous 1790 letter George Washington wrote to the Jewish community in Newport affirming the new nation's dedication to religious tolerance, saying it "gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance." U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan will be the keynote speaker at an event this weekend. See stories here-- and and synagogue website--

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Microsoft SkyDrive Settlement

Microsoft's cloud storage brand, SkyDrive, will undergo a name change following defeat in a trademark case brought by the British Sky Broadcasting Group or BSkyB. In U.K. legal proceedings against Microsoft alleging the name infringed on its British Sky trademarks, a ruling by the England and Wales High Court went in BSkyB's favor. Consumer confusion was cited as a factor in the decision. Because the use of SkyDrive brand is invalidated in Europe, rather than develop an alternative label for Europe, Microsoft entered into a settlement deal with BSkyB that will allow the software company to use the SkyDrive name as it prepares to launch a global re-branding effort. Microsoft reportedly had planned to appeal the decision, but then reconsidered. The companies announced that Microsoft will continue using the SkyDrive name for a reasonable period of time to allow for an orderly transition to a new brand. BSkyB vowed to remain vigilant in protecting the Sky brand, saying it would take appropriate action against companies using the Sky trademark without consent. Interestingly, the litigants actually partnered to bring Sky programming to the Xbox 360, an agreement they plan to extend to the upcoming Xbox One console. See story here--