Tag Archive for 'lawsuit'

Man Held in Jail for 5 Days Without Food or Water Sues Feds

Share on TwitterSubmit to StumbleUpon

Well, this is embarrassing. A few weeks ago, a young man was arrested by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and held in a jail cell for five days, with no human contact, food, water, or even a toilet. And this was after he was told that he would be released without being charged, just as soon as the authorities finished up some paperwork on his case.

But when 23-year-old UC San Diego engineering student Daniel Chong sat alone for several hours, he started to get annoyed. As the hours turned into days, he began to fear for his life. After all, going just a few days without water can cause severe health problems, which could quickly become life-threatening.

When he was finally found in his cell, Chong was delirious and weak. He was taken to the hospital, where doctors said he was close to suffering kidney failure, and was so dehydrated that he was having trouble breathing. He had to spend 3 days in intensive care, and was hospitalized for a total of 5 days. I’m no doctor (obviously), but it sounds like he wouldn’t have survived another day or two in that cell.

Indeed, the article linked above indicates that, after a few days, the solitude, hunger, thirst, and fear truly got to him, and he began to lose his mind. He even tried to take his own life by breaking his glasses and cutting his wrist with the broken glass. Thankfully, he did not succeed in this attempt.

Well, he is now suing the federal government for $20 million, to compensate him for this ordeal.

While some people may argue that this is excessive (and if the federal government is smart, it will end up settling with him), and goes well beyond simply compensating the victim for his injuries. However, it’s impossible to put an exact dollar amount on the amount of mental and physical anguish that Mr. Chong must have suffered in his ordeal. What he went through is something I would never wish on my worst enemy.

And if this lawsuit ensures that such blunders never happen again, I’d say it would be worth every penny that the government has to pay out. Because, frankly, the fact that this happened is an absolute disgrace to the federal government, and an embarrassment to all of us.

Think about it: a person (who was ultimately never charged with a crime) almost died of thirst in federal custody, because everyone involved in his arrest and detention apparently just forgot about his existence. Some might say that he was a criminal, and we shouldn’t be shedding any tears for him.

To that I have two responses: first, he was never actually charged with a crime, let alone convicted of one. Second, even if he had been convicted of a major drug-related crime, it would in no way excuse what was done to this man. After all, in this country we generally pride ourselves on the fact that we don’t engage in cruel and unusual punishment. And if starving/dehydrating somebody half to death doesn’t constitute “cruel and unusual” punishment, I’d love to know what does.

Incidents like this harm the legitimacy of law enforcement in the public’s eyes, as well as the legitimacy of government in general. And we seem to be going through a phase where the public’s faith in the government’s ability to (or interest in) doing its job is at a historic low. And these types of incidents certainly don’t help matters.

Now, I don’t think the individual DEA agents involved in this incident left the victim in the jail cell on purpose. It probably was an honest (albeit very serious) mistake. Chances are, they were overworked, and lacked some of the administrative and logistical support they needed in order to keep track of the people in their custody. Such a scenario, in this era of government austerity and across-the-board budget cuts, is easy to imagine.

I think this incident, and similar ones, are partially a symptom of our broken drug laws. The United States imprisons more people than any other country on Earth. A large plurality of the people in federal and state custody in the U.S. were convicted of drug charges – casualties of the “war on drugs” that the government initiated in the 1980s. The fact is, American drug policy has resulted in the incarceration of more people than the system was designed to handle, leading to overcrowding of prisons, skyrocketing costs, and, occasionally, tragic incidents like the one discussed in this article.

While I don’t pretend to have a perfect solution to the overlapping problems of drug abuse and over-incarceration, I think a few simple reforms could reduce these problems significantly. For example, it’s glaringly obvious that our mass-incarceration approach to the drug problem has failed. It has overcrowded the prisons, led to skyrocketing law enforcement costs, and it does not appear to have done much to curb illegal drug use.

A good first step would be to stop relying on prisons as the primary method for dealing with the illegal drug problem, and focusing instead on treatment and rehabilitation programs, which can cost far less than prison, and be far more effective in reducing drug use. Furthermore, I’d like to see possession of small amounts of recreational drugs such as marijuana decriminalized.

Of course, I’m not saying that reforming our drug laws would solve the very separate problem of government incompetence, but by arresting fewer people, the burden on a large number of government employees (such as DEA agents, for example) would be reduced, which would almost certainly reduce the occurrence of incidents like this one.

Incoming search terms for the article:

Border Patrol Sued Over Traffic Stops

Share on TwitterSubmit to StumbleUpon

With arguments over Arizona’s controversial immigration law wrapping up in the Supreme Court last week, the debate over immigration (both legal and illegal) into the United States seems to get more heated every day, and more states considering immigration laws similar to Arizona’s, a recentlawsuit (also reported here) may have flown below your radar.

The ACLU is suing the U.S. border patrol agency Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) over traffic stops that they allege are racially biased and overly-aggressive.

While the basis for many states passing their own immigration laws is the claim that the federal government is not doing enough to stem illegal immigration, the numbers show that during the Obama administration, deportations of illegal immigrants have reached an all-time high, and staffing of border patrol agencies has increased. Furthermore, immigration authorities have placed a heavy priority on deporting illegal immigrants who have committed violent crimes while in the U.S. Anyone who prefers a “get tough” strategy for dealing with illegal immigration should be thrilled at this information, but, for some reason, it largely goes unreported in the media.

While anti-immigrant forces may not have noticed that the Obama administration is being more aggressive against illegal immigration than any other president in decades, people who advocate for the rights of immigrants, particularly the basic civil liberties of undocumented immigrants, certainly have noticed this trend, and, as one might imagine, are not happy about it.

The issue in this lawsuit mostly has to do with racial profiling – the practice of law enforcement agencies targeting members of a particular racial or ethnic group based on the belief that they’re more likely to have committed a crime.

This practice is unlawful in almost any context. The lawsuit asks the court to issue an injunction against the border patrol barring them from engaging in any traffic stops until they have undergone special training on how to avoid racial profiling.

The law governing civil liberties and immigration is a little different from the privacy and civil rights laws that apply in almost any other context, and it can be confusing, both for ordinary individuals, and for the officers charged with enforcing it. When at or near a border crossing, border patrol agents have significant latitude in stopping and searching vehicles when they have any suspicion that violations of immigration laws are occurring.

However, when far away from the border, their power is more or less the same as any other police officer. If they want to stop a vehicle, they have to have a reasonable suspicion that unlawful activity is afoot.

This case was filed in Washington State, and it’s not clear from the articles I’ve found where the traffic stops took place. It’s possible that they occurred near the border with Canada, which is a major entry point for illegal immigrants, which receives much less attention than the U.S.-Mexico border.

In its lawsuit, the ACLU is alleging that such racially-motivated traffic stops are becoming increasingly common, as the U.S. tries to improve security along the northern border, which is much longer than the U.S./Mexico border, and, compared to that border, has been ignored by immigration authorities in the past.

While I am fine with enforcing our current immigration laws (including the deportation of illegal immigrants, with a particular focus on those who have committed crimes in the U.S.), I believe that the constitution, including the protections in the Bill of Rights, should apply to everybody who is in the United States, or otherwise under its jurisdiction.

And I think that basic notions of due process and equal protection should apply when enforcing immigration laws. Call me crazy, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the legal protections we would readily extend to a serial killer to also apply to a person who is physically present in this country without the correct paperwork, because they want to make a better life for themselves and their family. But I guess that’s a radical position in this day and age.

Reading the comments on some of the articles covering this story is kind of upsetting. There are a lot of people saying things to the effect of “hey, ACLU, just let the officers do their jobs!” or “who cares about the ‘rights’ of a bunch of illegals?” etc., etc.

Putting aside the fact that the people filing this lawsuit are American citizens, I think the best test of our commitment to the rule of law and the Bill of Rights is how consistently we apply it to everybody, especially the least popular and most vulnerable groups of people.

And action through the judicial branch of government (i.e., lawsuits) is often the only way to ensure that the other two branches of government live up to the promise of the constitution and Bill of Rights.

Incoming search terms for the article:

Telling Your Employees to “Look Younger” Is Probably Age Discrimination

Share on TwitterSubmit to StumbleUpon

Under U.S. law, and the laws of most states, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against employees on the basis of age. These laws are meant to protect older workers, applying only to workers over the age of 40.

It’s pretty rare these days for employers to deliberately engage in unlawful discrimination. However, there are still employers who implement policies that have a discriminatory effect on some groups. In some cases, this can also be grounds for a discrimination lawsuit.

One interesting case (also seen here) has appeared out of Texas: a woman is suing her former employer because she claims that she was fired after she refused to dye her gray hair a darker color, and wear “younger fancy suits.”

Her argument is that this effectively amounts to age discrimination. And if her allegations are true (and she’s able to prove it), she probably has a good case. In general, employers are allowed to regulate the appearance of their employees: obviously, requiring employees to be presentable on the job is a perfectly reasonable policy. Likewise, if the employer requires employees to wear some kind of uniform, that’s generally fine, and does not run afoul of any discrimination laws.

However, there are times when requirements related to appearance can have a disproportionate effect on certain groups of people, and may unduly exclude them from their jobs. For example, suppose a company prohibits its employees from wearing any type of hats on the job. On its face, this rule doesn’t appear to discriminate against anyone. However, some religions (e.g. Sikhism and some denominations of Judaism) require adherents to don certain types of headwear, for religious purposes.

So, such a rule, although it does not appear to target any particular protected class, would have the practical effect of excluding some qualified employees solely because of their religion. This would be grounds for a lawsuit against the employer for religious discrimination, and it’s also why the vast majority of employers that have “no hats” policies also have an exception to the policy for religious headwear.

If the allegations in this case are true, the reasoning for finding that unlawful discrimination has occurred would be similar, though if an employer actually had a policy against gray hair and “old-looking” clothes, the fact that this could result in an age discrimination lawsuit is far more obvious than the example above.

And that’s why I have to wonder what an employer would have to be thinking in order to come to the conclusion that having such a policy is a good idea. After all, it’s plainly obvious how such a rule could disproportionately exclude employees based on their age.

The employee also alleges that, after she was fired, she was replaced by another female employee who was 10 years younger. While none of this is proof-positive that the employer intended to discriminate against older employees, none of it exactly bodes well for them. On top of that, the employer had not given her any warnings about her performance, and it did not contest her application for unemployment benefits. But again, it all depends on whether or not these allegations are actually true.

After all, it’s not exactly unheard of for a disgruntled employee to file a discrimination lawsuit against their employer, simply for the purpose of making the employer’s life more difficult. However, these cases are pretty rare, since an unsuccessful lawsuit might also be very costly and time consuming for the plaintiff.

Age discrimination in employment tends to get far less public attention than race, gender, and religious discrimination. Because of this, cases of age discrimination often fly under the radar.

However, age discrimination remains an issue. And while new college graduates who are strapped for jobs may be a little irked that older employees who don’t want to (or can’t afford to) retire appear to have their positions protected by law, the aims of laws against age discrimination are noble ones, and, in general, I think that they should be vigorously enforced.

Incoming search terms for the article:

No, You Can’t Sue a Movie Theater for Overpriced Popcorn

Share on TwitterSubmit to StumbleUpon

In a lawsuit that I’m sure “tort reformers” will point to as being yet another example of how broken our legal system is, and why we desperately need to immunize wealthy defendants from compensating the victims of their wrongdoing save the economy from frivolous lawsuits, a moviegoer has decided to sue the owner of a movie theater for charging what he believes to be an unfair price for concessions. Yes, really.

This is an example of a lawsuit filed by someone who obviously has no idea how the American legal system (or economy) works. I’ll just get this out of the way: you don’t have a legal right to cheap popcorn, soda, Milk-Duds or Junior Mints at a movie theater. Are the prices on these items at movie theaters ridiculous? Yes, you could make that argument. But are you being forced at gunpoint to buy a $5 box of Sno-Caps? If your answer is “yes,” I suggest you leave that theater and call the police. Maybe there’s only one movie theater in your town, so you don’t have any basis for comparison; but I can assure you that the employees of normal theaters don’t behave that way.

But since this man’s lawsuit doesn’t allege that he was in any way forced to pay those high prices for candy, I’m going to go ahead and assume that that’s not the case. This lawsuit betrays a basic misunderstanding of both the law and simple economics. First, he claims that the high price of concessions at movie theaters violates the Michigan Consumer Protection Act, which is similar to the unfair competition laws that exist in the majority of U.S. states. These laws are meant to prohibit legitimately unfair business practices, such as false advertising, defamation of one’s business competitors, price fixing, and the like.

Most Michigan lawyers would probably say that the law in question doesn’t apply to this case, as the movie theater does not provide a vital service, does not misrepresent its prices, and many other reasons. What’s most surprising to me is the fact that this guy actually found a lawyer to take his case, and he isn’t just some crackpot representing himself (with the complaint hopefully written in crayon). According to this article, the plaintiff’s lawyer has publicly stated that the lawsuit is at least in part based on the fact that movie theaters charge far more for their food items than other stores charge for the same items. Last I checked, that’s not a legal wrong that warrants compensation.

But I’m most surprised by the fact that this guy actually found a lawyer to take his case. There’s really no question that the case is a loser. I hope for his sake that he’s not working on contingency.

But more importantly, cases like these, and the lawyers who take them, call the entire legal profession into question by cheapening and delegitimizing it.

This is because there are certain interests, most of them connected to business, who have a strong interest in changing tort law to their advantage. Because large corporations engage in the largest number of transactions with the general public, they’re subjected to the largest number of lawsuits. This is not a criticism of large corporations, mind you. It’s just an illustration of the simple fact that, in day-to-day life, a certain percentage of things go wrong.

And, sometimes, when a transaction goes wrong, whether one party breaches a contract, or a customer slips and falls in a grocery store on some oil that was spilled hours before and never got cleaned up, one party is clearly at fault. To deal with those cases, we have a legal system that compels culpable parties to compensate the victims for any harm directly caused by whatever culpable conduct they engaged in.

There are some plaintiffs who have abused this system, either by fabricating injuries or suing over injuries that were obviously nobody’s fault. And, occasionally, one of these lawsuits will fall through the cracks and a plaintiff will end up walking away with a significant judgment. Or, more often, the facts of a lawsuit will be misreported by the media, making the plaintiff’s case look ridiculous when it’s actually valid.

This has led to a movement that’s broadly referred to as “tort reform.” Tort reform largely involves making it more difficult for plaintiffs to recover for injuries they’ve sustained, through heightened burdens of proof, shorter statutes of limitations, damage caps, and other measures. The stated goal is always to protect the economy from being drained by nonsense lawsuits. And I don’t doubt that many people who advocate for tort reform are sincere in this goal and in their beliefs. But the simple fact is that many tort reform organizations are backed by large corporations, and engaged in significant political lobbying.

And one of the most powerful pieces of ammunition is lawsuits like this. I have no doubt that this lawsuit will be thrown out in its very early stages. However, it will almost certainly be used as “proof” that, in order to prevent absurd lawsuits like this one from happening is to prevent victims of medical malpractice from collecting more than $250,000 in damages, or something similar.

I hope the public, and our state legislatures, resist these calls. Cases like this are amusing, and can be dismissed with a laugh. But more importantly, they test our commitment to one of our society’s core values: access to the courts. Let’s hope that that value isn’t compromised any time soon.

Incoming search terms for the article:

Facebook Involved in an Unusual Lawsuit between Uncle and Nephew

Share on TwitterSubmit to StumbleUpon

Family feuds have been a common form of entertainment on television.  Many of us have tuned in to watch shows like Family Feud, Modern Family, Growing Pains, etc.  In the legal realm, family feuds have comprised of a practice termed family law.  Attorneys who practice family law are considered to have a “tough heart” by many because it is not easy watching families endure events such as divorces and custody battles.  Speaking of families and lawsuits, a recent lawsuit of a nephew sewing his uncle for harassment over Facebook pictures gives new meaning to the term “family feud.”

A man from Minnesota named Aaron Olson sued his uncle because his uncle had posted childhood pictures of him, in front of a Christmas tree, in a rabbit costume.  Rather than untagging himself from the picture, or calling his uncle and politely asking him to remove the picture, Aaron sued his uncle for harassment in a Minnesota district court.

Olson’s claim was based on the fact that the pictures were “innocuous family photographs.”  Posting such photographs on Facebook establishes a platform for mean comments to be directed towards Olson.  The court dismissed this case, and the Court of Appeals of Minnesota denied Olson’s complaint.

The Judge in the Court of Appeals of Minnesota stated that harassment occurs when words have some sort of adverse effect on the safety, security, or privacy of another person.  Therefore, mean or disrespectful comments do not constitute harm to one’s safety, privacy or security. The court ruled that the district court was correct in stating that the evidence submitted by Olson (the Facebook pictures of him in a rabbit costume, in front of a Christmas tree) did not satisfy the requirements to prove harassment.

This lawsuit is probably the most ridiculous one I have heard of to date.  The obvious lesson to take away is that if you have a minor issue with a relative, talk to them.  The power of effective communication can do wonders, keep people out of court, and put the money spent on potential litigation back into your pocket!

More importantly, when frivolous suits are brought into court, it is a misuse of the judicial system and a waste of judicial resources.  People should realize that the judicial system is there to tend to complex matters that cannot be solved in the home or office environment, not minor family feuds over embarrassing photos.

So, a few tips to people out there.  Before thinking about going to court, evaluate the basis of your lawsuit.  If your lawyer explains things to you, you will be hit with a hefty legal bill.  Rather than depending on your lawyer, think about how much merit you have in your claim.  Next, think about solutions that do not involve litigation.  Often, litigation complicates matters before reaching a resolution.  If there is a quicker way to achieve some closure out of court, go for it.  Lastly, confide in a close confidant to see if your potential claim passes the “straight face test.”  Specifically, after conveying your claim to your confidant, examine their expression.  If it is not of a straight face, and rather is one of disgust, surprise, or awkwardness, it is likely that your lawsuit is frivolous.  Avoid filing it and resolve matters in the comfort of your own home!

Incoming search terms for the article: