Increasing the Scope of Legal Responsibility: Can Words Kill?

Written by: Emily Keable

In a rare legal ruling, a Massachusetts judge found Michelle Carter, 20, guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Carter was accused of encouraging her boyfriend, Conrad Roy, to commit suicide. Unlike many other states, Massachusetts has no law against encouraging someone to commit suicide. However, the Court still found Carter guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Carter now faces up to 20 years in prison.

At the time, the two were teenagers who both struggled with mental illnesses. Earlier on in their relationship, Carter encouraged Roy to seek help for his troubles. Eventually, however, the conversations turned to Carter’s persistent pressuring of Roy to commit suicide. Leading up to Roy’s death, text messages from Carter to Roy show her urging him to act upon his suicidal thoughts.

Beyond a conviction of involuntary manslaughter, this case carries questions of free speech. It is undisputed that Carter’s speech was “morally reprehensible.” Nevertheless, the First Amendment protects speech that is reckless, hateful, and ill-willed. Consequently, it can be argued that the First Amendment protects Carter’s speech, especially as it fails to meet the narrow exception of unprotected speech for literal threats of violence and the incitement of lawless action. ACLU attorney Matthew Segal stated this decision “is saying that what [Carter] did is killing him, that her words literally killed him, that the murder weapon was her words.”

Many people are also questioning how this decision expands the very definition of manslaughter, raising questions of what this could mean for the future. One law professor told the New York Times, “Will the next case be a Facebook posting in which someone is encouraged to commit a crime? This puts all the things that you say in the mix of criminal responsibility.”

All in all, one burning question looms: whether this case will be die out as a rare decision, or whether it will set off a path of precedents that expand the boundaries of criminal laws at the expense — or question — of constitutional protections.

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Sources Cited

Katharnie Q. Seelye & Jess Bidgood, Guilty Verdict for Young Woman who Urged Friend to Kill Himself, N.Y. Times (June 16, 2017)

Denise Lavoie, What’s Next for Michelle Carter after Conviction in Texting Suicide Trial, Boston (June 19, 2017)

Robby Soave, Michelle Carter Didn’t Kill with a Text, N.Y. Times (June 16, 2017)

 

Common Sense Prevails: SEC Disgorgement Damages are Deemed a Penalty

Written by: Mike Corelli

Facts & Procedural History

In 2009, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) commenced an action against Charles Kokesh for violating federal securities laws by misappropriating funds. After a jury found Kokesh had violated the federal securities laws, the District Court addressed the damages the SEC demanded. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2462, there is a five-year statute of limitations that precludes civil monetary damages from being enforced. Holding that SEC disgorgement damages were not subject to 28 U.S.C. § 2462, the District Court entered a disgorgement judgment of $34.9 million against Kokesh. The Tenth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether 28 U.S.C. § 2462 applies to SEC disgorgement damages.

Supreme Court Decision

The Supreme Court reversed the Tenth Circuit’s decision holding that SEC disgorgement damages are subject to 28 U.S.C. § 2462. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2462, “an action, suit[,] or proceeding for the enforcement of any civil fine, penalty, or forfeiture, pecuniary or otherwise, shall not be entertained unless commenced within five years.” Thus, the Court turned to whether SEC disgorgement damages constitute a “civil fine, penalty, or forfeiture.”

In resolving whether SEC disgorgement damages are subject to 28 U.S.C. § 2462, the Court considered the definition of “penalty.” The Court defined a penalty as a punishment imposed and enforced by the State, for a crime or offense against its laws. Accordingly, this definition establishes two factors that are determinative as to what constitutes a penalty. The first factor as to whether a pecuniary damage is a penalty is whether the wrong being addressed is a wrong against the public, as opposed to a wrong against a private citizen. The second factor is whether the pecuniary damages are sought to penalize and serve as a deterrent, as opposed to compensating a victim.

With these factors guiding its analysis, the Court addressed whether the $34.9 million disgorgement judgment against Kokesh was a penalty and subject to 28 U.S.C. § 2462. First, the Court noted that the lower court’s judgment was imposed for violating public laws. Essentially, disgorgement judgments provide a remedy to the United States, not aggrieved individuals. Moreover, after these judgments are paid, the courts have discretion in how these funds are distributed. Second, the Court noted that disgorgement judgments are intended to put others on notice by serving as a deterrent. Accordingly, the Court held that SEC disgorgement damages are a penalty and are subject to 28 U.S.C. § 2462. Thus, SEC disgorgement judgments must comply with the five-year statute of limitations. The $34.9 million disgorgement judgment against Kokesh was reduced to comply with the five-year statute of limitations enumerated in 28 U.S.C. § 2462.

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Sources Cited

Kokesh v. SEC, 580 U. S. ____ (2017).

Trump’s Travel Ban: What comes next?

Written by: Conor Tallet

On January 27, 2017, President Donald J. Trump issued Executive Order No. 13769, commonly known as the “travel ban.” When the Ninth Circuit blocked it, President Trump issued a “revised travel ban”on March 6, 2017 via Executive Order No. 13780. The Department of Justice has appealed the blocking of the orders to the Supreme Court, and the question as to whether or not the Court will act remains.

The revised order reworked provisions of the first travel ban that were at issue in the Ninth Circuit. Specifically, Section 2(c) of the order temporarily suspends new visas for citizens of six countries: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. The ban’s stated purpose was to decrease the risk of terrorist organizations from entering into the United States. Consequently, the order explained that the six listed countries had been “significantly compromised by terrorist organizations, or contain active conflict zones.” While such a purpose may appear clear on its face, a key question in evaluating this ban has been whether it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution.

The Establishment Clause prohibits the government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” Essentially, this means that the government cannot establish an official religion of the United States or pass any laws that favor or inhibit a particular religion.

The primary Establishment Clause test utilized by courts today is derived from Lemon v. Kurtzman, and the rest requires that courts analyze a government action’s purpose, effect, and entanglement with religion. If a court finds the government acted with a primary religious purpose, had the effect of advancing or inhibiting religion, or was sufficiently entangled with religion, it will strike the law down as unconstitutional in violation of the Establishment Clause. Under this Lemon test, a challenger needs to show only one of the three prongs to succeed.

Here, six Muslim individuals, and three organizations that represented Muslim clients, asserted that they would be harmed by the implementation of the revised travel ban. In turn, they filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court of Maryland seeking a preliminary injunction. The District Court granted the injunction and determined that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of an Establishment Clause claim.

After the ruling was appealed, the Fourth Circuit upheld the Maryland District Court’s decision to block the revised travel ban on May 25, 2017, finding the ban to be in violation of the Establishment Clause. In its analysis, the Fourth Circuit employed the Lemon test and viewed extrinsic evidence on the record from the viewpoint of a reasonable observer to determine that the revised travel ban had a primary religious purpose.

One question that arose revolved around whether or not courts should be permitted to consider extrinsic evidence when assessing the purpose. In the Lemon test analysis, a court determines not only the government’s stated purpose, but also the purpose from a reasonable observer’s standpoint. Thus, in analyzing the purpose from the standpoint of a reasonable observer, it is proper for a court to take extrinsic evidence surrounding the implementation of a government action into account, just as the Fourth Circuit did in this case. However, in an age where society is constantly bombarded with information through countless avenues of communication, it is worth asking how much extrinsic evidence a court should take into consideration when attempting to determine the primary purpose of a governmental action.

In this case, the District Court of Maryland looked to President Trump’s campaign statements, rallies, interviews, and tweets in order to assess the various discussions surrounding the travel ban. More specifically, the court assessed the choice of language such as banning “Muslims” as opposed to banning “terrorists.” Thus, the Fourth Circuit determined that the abundance of extrinsic evidence on the record, “viewed from the standpoint of the reasonable observer, creates a compelling case that [the revised travel ban’s] primary purpose is religious.”

Furthermore, in this case, the Fourth Circuit held that the District Court’s use of such extrinsic evidence, in holding that the order was a violation, was proper to show a primary religious purpose disguised in terms of national security to circumvent Establishment Clause scrutiny. Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit concluded that President Trump’s statements revealed his “desire to exclude Muslims from the United States” in violation of the Establishment Clause.

On June 1, 2017, the Department of Justice filed a petition with the Supreme Court, seeking review of the Fourth Circuit’s decision.

Whether or not the Supreme Court will hear the case remains to be seen. Some experts argue that the court will likely grant certiorari and hear the appeal, saying that “[w]hen a major presidential initiative is ruled unconstitutional by a federal appeals court, a review by the Supreme Court almost always follows.” On the other hand, rulings in the Hawaii District Court, Maryland District Court, Washington District Court, Fourth Circuit, and Ninth Circuit have remained consistent, blocking both the travel ban and the revised travel ban. With consistent interpretation and no circuit splits, some experts argue that there is no reason for the Supreme Court to hear the case. Only time will tell.

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Sources Cited      

Adam Liptak, The Supreme Court’s Options in the Travel Ban Case, NY Times (Jun. 2, 2017).

Int’l Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump, 2017 WL 2273306 (4th Cir. 2017).

Ryan Lovelace, Will the Supreme Court Take up Trump’s Travel Ban?, Washington Examiner (Jun. 3, 2017).

Int’l Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump, 2017 WL 1018235 (D. Md. 2017).

Mississippi Man First to be Prosecuted and Sentenced Under Federal Hate-Crime Statute

Written by: Brianne Szopinski

On Monday, May 15, 2017, Joshua Vallum became the first individual to be prosecuted and sentenced for a federal hate crime after the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Mercedes Williamson. Vallum pled guilty to Williamson’s murder on December 21, 2015. In his plea, he stated that, despite earlier statements to the police indicating his unawareness of Williamson’s gender identity, he ultimately killed Williamson because she identified as transgender.

Typically, prosecutions for hate crimes are handled by individual states, as opposed to the federal government. However, the state of Mississippi, where the crime took place, does not have a statute protecting individuals from hate crimes based on their gender identity. Therefore, the government brought federal charges against Vallum under a federal hate crime statute: the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. Section (a)(2) of the statute criminalizes behavior in which an individual commits or attempts to commit violent acts against another when motivated by certain characteristics of the victim (i.e., actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability). Because Congress passed section (a)(2) of the Act under its Commerce Clause power, the government must establish that the alleged hate crime occurred in or affected interstate or foreign commerce.

Here, the government alleged that Vallum murdered Williamson based on her actual or perceived gender identity. Although previously in a relationship, Vallum and Williamson broke up in 2014. Prosecutors in the case alleged that Vallum knew that Williamson identified as a transgender female during the course of their relationship. On May 28, 2015, Vallum allegedly murdered Williamson after his friend discovered that Williamson identified as transgender. The government alleged that Vallum persuaded Williamson to enter his car at her home in Alabama, drove her to Mississippi, assaulted, and ultimately stabbed her. Prosecutors believe that, despite already knowing Williamson’s gender identity, Vallum murdered Williamson due to fear of retribution from other members of his gang, the Almighty Latin Kings and Queens Nation. Vallum allegedly believed that his own life was in danger because other gang members knew about his sexual relationship with a transgender individual.

Vallum was sentenced to 49 years in prison and a $20,000 fine in the Southern District of Mississippi. The charges against Vallum and the sentence imposed drew mixed reactions from various civil rights groups across the country. Some groups approved of the government’s commitment to protect individuals against discrimination based on gender identity. Others acknowledged the problems associated with enhanced-sentencing statutes, stating that these laws do not protect against or prevent hate crimes, as they only punish perpetrators after the crimes are committed. Nevertheless, as hate crimes continue to be committed across the country, it is likely that this will not be the last invocation of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

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Sources Cited

Emanuella Grinberg, Transgender Hate Crime Guilty Plea in Federal Court is a First, CNN (Dec. 23, 2016, 6:24 AM), http://www.cnn.com/2016/12/22/politics/mississippi-transgender-hate-crime/index.html.

Ralph Ellis, Emanuella Grinberg, & Janet DiGiacomo, Mississippi Man Sentenced for Hate Crime Killing of Transgender Woman, CNN (May 16, 2017, 6:39 AM), http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/15/us/transgender-hate-crime-murder-sentence-mississippi/.

Anti-Defamation League, Hate Crime Laws – The ADL Approach 4 (2012), https://www.adl.org/sites/default/files/documents/assets/pdf/combating-hate/Hate-Crimes-Law-The-ADL-Approach.pdf.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, U.S. Dep’t of Just., https://www.justice.gov/crt/matthew-shepard-and-james-byrd-jr-hate-crimes-prevention-act-2009-0 (last updated Aug. 6, 2015).

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, 18 U.S.C. § 249 (2012).

Autumn Callan, Mississippi Man Sentenced in First US Transgender Hate Crime Conviction, Jurist (May 16, 2017, 3:38 PM), http://www.jurist.org/paperchase/2017/05/mississipi-man-sentenced-in-first-us-transgender-hate-crime-conviction.php.

NSA Axes “About” Collection: Win for Privacy Advocates, Loss for Us All?

–by Taylor Henry

Abstract:

This article discusses the NSA’s recent policy change to its electronic surveillance program, under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act (FAA), to stop collecting electronic communications that are “about” its targets. This policy change should result in the collection of fewer communications that are purely between American citizens, but it also may have a detrimental effect on Section 702’s use as a counterterrorism tool.

Citations:

FISA Amendments Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-261, 122 Stat. 2436 (codified in scattered sections of 50 U.S.C.); Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, Report on the Surveillance Program Operated Pursuant to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act 10 (2014), https://www.pclob.gov/library/702-Report.pdf; Tim Cushing, NSA Makes Pitch for Section 702 Approval While its 702 Requests Aren’t Being Approved by the Court, techdirt (Apr. 27, 2017, 10:45 AM), https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20170424/16521837225/nsa-makes-pitch-section-702-approval-while-702-requests-arent-being-approved-court.shtml; Report of the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts on Activities of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts for 2016, U.S. Courts (2016), http://www.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/ao_foreign_int_surveillance_court_annual_report_2016_final_0.pdf; Robert Chesney, Can NSA Drop “About” Collection Without Gutting “To/From” Collection?, Lawfare (Apr. 28, 2017), https://lawfareblog.com/can-nsa-drop-about-collection-without-gutting-tofrom-collection; Charlie Savage, N.S.A. Halts Collection of Americans’ Emails About Foreign Targets, N.Y. Times (Apr. 28, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/28/us/politics/nsa-surveillance-terrorism-privacy.html?_r=0; Press Release, NSA, NSA Stops Certain Foreign Intelligence Collection Activities Under Section 702 (Apr. 28, 2017), https://www.nsa.gov/news-features/press-room/press-releases/2017/nsa-stops-certain-702-activites.shtml; Statement of Elizabeth Goitein, U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary (Mar. 1, 2017), https://judiciary.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Goitein-Testimony.pdf.

***

Although most Americans recognize the name Edward Snowden, few are likely to recognize the name of a government program that is responsible for the collection of hundreds of millions of electronic communications per year. This program, Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act (FAA), has recently undergone an abrupt and dramatic policy change that has significant consequences for the reauthorization of the FAA, which is set to expire in December 2017.

Section 702 is a complicated but crucial intelligence-gathering tool, as it authorizes electronic surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA). Essentially, the NSA collects the contents of electronic communications, including emails and text messages, where the “target” is reasonably believed to be a non-U.S. person located outside the United States. “U.S. persons” include U.S. citizens, U.S. permanent residents, and virtually all U.S. corporations. Therefore, the government cannot use Section 702 to intentionally spy on American citizens located in the U.S., or anyone located within the U.S., and the targeting must be done with the purpose of acquiring foreign intelligence information.

This statutory limitation has not shielded Section 702 from criticism by privacy advocates and national security experts. In reality, countless Americans’ communications are swept up in 702 collection, stored by the government, and can be “queried” by government agencies. This phenomenon is called incidental U.S. person collection. It can occur when a U.S. person is communicating with a non-U.S. person who has been targeted, or when two non-U.S. persons are discussing a U.S. person. Because a U.S. person was not intentionally targeted by the NSA, this collection is lawful under 702, and the information may be utilized by the government.

Another important aspect of the Section 702 program is querying. “Querying” occurs when a government analyst searches 702 collected data with identifiers, such as an email address. The most problematic aspect of 702 collection is arguably the FBI’s ability to query 702 data to find evidence of domestic crimes, which many privacy advocates have criticized as being a “backdoor loophole” around the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement. This is because a probable cause warrant is not required for electronic surveillance under Section 702.

Each year, the government provides the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) with its targeting and minimization procedures, which FISC then approves. Unlike the warrants used by domestic law enforcement, 702 certifications are not individualized and are not required to meet any probable cause standard. FISC is only required to approve the targeting and minimization procedures.

The FISC releases the amount of certifications it grants each year. This year’s annual report disclosed that the FISC had not approved any 702 certifications yet, even though the current 702 certification had expired.  It wasn’t until a few days later that the New York Times reported that the FISC had been dragging its feet because the NSA had self-reported several inadvertent “compliance incidents.” In response to the FISC’s reluctance, the NSA announced that it would end a particularly controversial part of the 702 program: “about” collection.

“About” collection occurs when the NSA obtains communications where neither the sender nor receipt is a target of collection. “About” collection is controversial because of the relatively high risk that such collection will result in acquiring purely domestic communications. Neither the individual involved, nor the conversation held is required to be a target in order for the collection to be lawfully acquired by the NSA, so long as some part of the content of the communication mentions a target identifier. When put in context within the broad scope of Section 702–that it is not technically limited to counterterrorism efforts–“about collection” means that emails could be lawfully collected when they concern the “merits of [NAFTA] or whether the United States should build a wall along the border with Mexico,” simply because such conversations “relate[] to the conduct of foreign affairs.”

While this policy change sounds like a win for everyone, there is reason to be concerned by this change. Section 702 is a counterterrorism tool that is frequently used by the government. The NSA estimates that over 25% of its reports concerning international terrorism include information based on Section 702 collection. However, until this recent elimination of the “about collection,” the NSA had maintained that it was impossible to stop collecting “about” communications without eliminating a substantial amount of the “to/from” communications it seeks.

In its press release, the NSA noted that this limitation still exists, but that it is outweighed by privacy concerns. While some national security experts are concerned about how this change might lessen the effectiveness of Section 702 as a counterterrorism tool, this policy will certainly be a topic of discussion in Congress’ up

New York’s Highest Court Requires Hearings for Final Child Custody Determinations

–by Shannon Mumaw

Sources:

S.L. v. J.R., 56 N.E.3d 193 (2016); Daniel Leddy, Major Custody Ruling by New York’s Highest Court, silive.com (June 20, 2016, 12:17 PM), http://www.silive.com/opinion/danielleddy/index.ssf/2016/06/major_custody_ruling_by_new_yo.html.

Abstract:

The New York Court of Appeals held that in general, final custody determinations should only be made after a full and complete evidentiary hearing.

***

Summary:

The mother and father, who were both attorneys, had been married for nearly fifteen years before the mother commenced divorce proceedings against the father and sought full custody of their two minor children. The father, who had left the marital home months before, returned to find that the mother had broken the windows and burned his clothes. The father filed an order to show cause seeking temporary sole legal custody of the children. In addition to incidents of harassment, the father alleged he feared for the children’s safety because the mother engaged in extramarital affairs and abused prescription medication and alcohol.

The trial level court granted the father temporary sole interim legal and physical custody with supervised visitation for the mother, which was later continued by the issuance of a second order. After a court-appointed forensic evaluator concluded that the father was the more “psychologically stable” parent, the court granted full custody to the father without a hearing. Additionally, the court suspended visitation for more than five months, noting that the mother “acknowledged her involvement in many incidents of disturbing behavior.”

In unanimously affirming the lower court’s decision, the Appellate Division, Second Department, held that although custody determinations “generally may only be made following a full and comprehensive evidentiary hearing . . . no hearing is necessary where, as here, ‘the court possesses adequate relevant information to enable it to make an informed and provident determination as to the child’s best interest.’”

On June 9, 2016, the New York Court of Appeals overturned the Appellate Division and held that final custody determinations should only be made after a full hearing is conducted. However, the court declined to fashion a catchall rule mandating a hearing in every case. In its opinion, the court stated that by applying the “undefined and imprecise ‘adequate relevant information’ standard,” the lower courts effectively relied on hearsay statements and the conclusion of a court-appointed forensic evaluator whose opinions and credibility were untested. The court went on to say that such a standard does not adequately protect a parent’s fundamental right to control the upbringing of his or her child.

Further, the court held that taking into consideration the governing principle in all custody determinations­­—the best interest of the child—there are no absolutes; rather custody determinations must be entrusted to the discretion of the trial court.

Does Charging Bull Artist Arturo Di Modica have a Claim Under VARA?

–by Veronica Ramirez

Sources: Phillips v. Pembroke Real Estate, Inc., 459 F.3d 128, 129 (1st Cir. 2006); 17 U.S.C. § 106A (2012); Leonard D. DuBoff, Christy A. King, Michael D. Murray, and James A.R. Nafziger, Art Law Deskbook: Vol. 1 Artists’ Rights in Intellectual Property, Moral Rights, and Freedom of Expression, Part 7 (Matthew Bender); Kriston Capps, Why Wall Street’s Charging Bull Sculptor Has No Real Case Against Fearless Girl, The Atlantic (Apr. 14, 2017), https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/04/wall-streets-charging-bull-sculptor-has-no-case-against-fearless-girl/523086/; History, Charging Bull,  http://chargingbull.com/chargingbull.html (last visited Apr. 29, 2017); Jamiles Lartey, ‘Charging Bull’ Sculptor Calls for New York to Remove ‘Fearless Girl’ Statue, The Guardian (Apr. 12, 2017, 3:00 PM) https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/apr/12/charging-bull-artist-remove-fearless-girl-arturo-di-modica.

Abstract: On April 12, 2017, artist Arturo Di Modica stated that the “Fearless Girl” statue infringes on his artistic rights. Under the Visual Artists Rights Act (“VARA”), he may have a viable claim; however, because the “Fearless Girl” alters the message, and not the physical structure of the “Charging Bull,” it is unlikely that he would prevail.

***

After the stock market crash of 1987, artist Arturo Di Modica spent two years creating a sculpture that symbolized the resilience of American people and the promise of a booming economy. On December 15, 1989, Di Modica erected the iconic “Charging Bull” sculpture outside of the Stock Market Exchange without a permit, at the foot of a then-installed Christmas tree, which quickly became a tourist attraction. The New York Stock Exchange removed the sculpture the next day.

Shortly after its removal, the “Charging Bull” was installed in a different Bowling Green location, where it still stands today. As of March 7, 2017, however, the “Charging Bull” shares the traffic island with a recently installed sculpture, the “Fearless Girl” by Kristen Visbal. Visbal, unlike Di Modica, was commissioned by State Street Global Advisors to spotlight the need for gender diversity at the leadership level on Wall Street. Like Di Modica, however, she erected “Fearless Girl” overnight on March 7, 2017, the day before International Women’s Day, as a temporary installation. The statue stands defiantly in front of the “Charging Bull,” and it is set to remain there until February 2018.

Taken together, both sculptures convey a different message than originally conceptualized. The meaning of the “Charging Bull,” a symbol of resilience, has been modified by the addition of the “Fearless Girl” and should be removed, according to Di Modica. Seeing as the statues share a traffic island in Bowling Green, the “Fearless Girl” represents the obstacles presented in a male-dominated field via the young girl confidently confronting the symbolic obstacle of the “Charging Bull.” Given this sudden shift in what the “Charging Bull” originally represented, Di Modica voiced that the “Fearless Girl” statue violates his copyright rights.

The legal basis for a claim like Di Modica’s falls under the Visual Artists Rights Act (“VARA”) of 1990, which, among other things, allows artists like Di Modica “to prevent any intentional distortion, mutilation, or other modification of that work which would be prejudicial to [the artist’s] reputation.” Works protected under this statute include works created after the statute’s enactment as well as works created before it that an artist still owns the copyrights to. Although Di Modica’s sculpture was created and installed in 1989, before VARA’s enactment, if Di Modica still owns the copyright or has not waived his rights, he could invoke VARA as a legal basis for his claim of copyright infringement.

Even if Di Modica does satisfy one of the requirements mentioned above, Di Modica is unlikely to prevail on the substance of his claim. In a press conference held on April 12, 2017, Di Modica’s attorney mentioned that the “Fearless Girl” was “incomplete without Mr. Di Modica’s Charging Bull, and as such it constitutes a derivative work.” Di Modica’s attorney also mentioned that the “Fearless Girl” statue was fearless because she stood in front of Di Modica’s “Charging Bull.” Thus, in Di Modica’s view, the “Fearless Girl” modifies his work.

Modification typically involves altering the work itself, such as partially covering a work of art. To date, federal courts have not considered whether a modification includes alterations external to a protected work’s surroundings, such as the installment of another statue in the same area. Since the “Fearless Girl” alters the message of the “Charging Bull,” but not the physical sculpture of the “Charging Bull,” it is unlikely that Di Modica could prevail on his claim.

Additionally, Di Modica’s claim raises an issue concerning site-specific art. Under VARA, site-specific art claims assert that the removal of a work of art from a particular place violates an artist’s rights. “In a work of ‘site-specific art,’ one of the component physical objects is the location of the art. To remove a work of site-specific art from its original site is to destroy it.”

Applying this to Di Modica’s situation, it is unlikely that Di Modica could prevail on his claim simply because his “Charging Bull” is being modified by another object in its vicinity, rather than being removed from its physical location. Since the “Charging Bull” is not being removed, the “Charging Bull” is not necessarily destroyed by the addition of the “Fearless Girl.” Additionally, if the Second Circuit adopts a similar view of indifference to that of the First Circuit in Phillips, then the site-specific argument may prove futile.

Ultimately, Di Modica’s attorneys have not filed suit, but they have requested information regarding the permits of the “Fearless Girl,” in addition to asking New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to move the statue elsewhere. Di Modica and his attorneys are hoping to resolve this amicably, but they have not removed litigation from the table.

Paid Family Leave Without Worries?

–by Nicole Macris

Citations: Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq. (2017); FAMILY Act, S.337, 115th Cong. (2017), https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/337; Wendy McElroy, The FAMILY Act is Smart Politics, but Bad for Business, The Hill (Oct. 14, 2014, 6:00 AM), http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/healthcare/219766-the-family-act-is-smart-politics-but-bad-for-the-economy; Claire Zillman, Kirsten Gillibrand is Giving Her Paid Family Leave Proposal its First Trump-Era Test, Fortune (Feb. 7, 2017), http://fortune.com/2017/02/07/trump-paid-family-leave-gillibrand/.

Abstract: United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced a bill that would revise the paid-leave system developed under the Family Medical Leave Act. It establishes an insurance-based program for paid-leave. There are concerns regarding how this legislation, if enacted, would affect employees, employers, and the federal government.

***

Enacting the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) in 1993 provided up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to those in need of an excused leave of absence. However, under FMLA, many employees were unable to afford leave without pay, and unable to take the full leave. The FAMILY Act will work in conjunction with FMLA to construct an affordable safety net for employees who need to care for themselves or family members.

United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced multiple bills to revise the FMLA. Her latest attempt began by introducing the FAMILY Act, her first try during the Trump Administration and 115th Congress in Senate Bill 337, on February 7, 2017. The FAMILY Act is modeled after the paid family leave statutes in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, which increased the number of people in the workforce who were eligible for paid leave insurance based on a particular set of standards. Senator Gillibrand’s bill sets forth eight objectives:

  1. centralize the policies within FMLA to the federal government and, subsequently, establish a new division within the Social Security Administration (“SSA”): Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave, to oversee the entirety of the insurance program;
  2. set forth the criteria by which individuals are eligible for benefits of the program, prohibitions, and violations;
  3. entitle individuals to the insurance if the person (a) is insured for disability insurance under SSA when the application is filed, (b) earned twelve (12) months of income from employment, (c) filed an insurance application pursuant to the bill, and (d) is engaged in either caring for or anticipates to be engaged during a 90-day period, either before filing the application or within 30 days of filing;
  4. create a formulaic determination of the benefit which the individual will receive monthly, including the maximum and minimum amounts per month;
  5. coordinate the Family and Medical Leave Insurance benefits with any benefits received from other insurance programs via state law, local government, or disability insurance or family leave insurance programs;
  6. create a fund, from which the payments will be made;
  7. protect SSA from the insurance being paid from other programs within the agency; and
  8. amend the Internal Revenue Code to finance the program by imposing taxes on individuals, employers, the self-employed, and all railroad employees, railroad representatives, and railroad employers.

Thus, the FAMILY Act develops a system similar to an unemployment insurance program, but on a federal level, which gives employees a fallback plan when they need to take on the role of caregiver.

There are concerns as to how this legislation will affect individuals, employers, and the government. Individuals will have to pay into the system; the amendments to the Internal Revenue Code will impose taxes on individuals in order to fund the program. This safeguard has both negative and positive effects. The amount taken from paychecks will increase, but, on the other hand, there is a safeguard set in place for those eligible for the program, and in need of assistance. Employers will also incur a tax expenditure, but will be held to minimum FMLA standards, and may actually benefit from the insurance program established by the FAMILY Act. However, the effects facing the government could be substantial. The FAMILY Act will require the federal government to allocate resources to the program, which, in turn, removes resources from other federally funded programs or agencies. Programs such as this also place further obligations on the federal government to protect the American people.

The objectives of the bill, and insurance program, are wonderful in theory. Having a safety net is comforting, especially for those with aging parents, sickly family members, etc., especially when financial security is of concern when determining how to care for family members. Previous bills, with little to no amendments between introductions, have been killed in Congress several times already. Furthermore, it is unlikely that a new office within the SSA will be established while there is a hiring freeze. There must be revisions to the bill in order to facilitate a smooth transition from the current to proposed programs, along with provisions as to how resources will be properly allocated.

“Total Amount Due” Means the Total Amount Due

–by Andriy Troyanovych

Source: Carlin v. Davidson Fink L.L.P., No. 15-3105-cv, 2017 WL 1160887 (2d Cir. Mar. 29, 2017)

Abstract: On March 29, 2017, the Second Circuit held that a letter to a consumer debtor providing a “Total Amount Due” and then following that with small print that states that the amount may include other fees was improper under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

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Facts and Procedural History

Davidson Fink, a debt collection and foreclosure firm, instituted collection proceedings against Andrew Carlin, who had allegedly defaulted on a 2005 mortgage. Davidson Fink filed a Foreclosure Complaint against Carlin. Davidson Fink sent a copy of the letter to Carlin, along with a “Notice Required by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act,” which essentially told Carlin that the debt is assumed valid, unless he disputes it within 30 days. However, the complaint did not state a total amount owed.

Carlin promptly notified Davidson Fink and disputed the validity of the debt by requesting a verification of the total dollar amount owed. Thereafter, in August 2013, Davidson Fink sent Carlin a letter containing a payoff statement including a “Total Amount Due” of $205,261.79. But, just below the payoff statement was small print that read “Total Amount Due may include estimated fees, costs, additional payments and/or escrow disbursements that will become due prior to the ‘Statement Void After’ date, but which are not yet due as of the date this Payment Statement is issued.” Carlin then initiated proceedings against Davidson Fink alleging that the firm violated the FDCPA, particularly the section that requires a debt collector to send the debtor a written notice containing “the amount of the debt.” After reconsideration by the district court led to a dismissal of Carlin’s complaint for failure to state a claim, he appealed that decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Second Circuit Decision

The Second Circuit vacated and remanded. The court applied the “least sophisticated consumer” standard to find that “[b]ecause Carlin ha[d] adequately alleged that the August letter [was] an initial communication sent by a debt collector . . .  and that it does not clearly state the amount of the debt,” the lower court decision was vacated and remanded.

In assessing Carlin’s claim, the court looked to whether (1) any of his communications with Davidson Fink were “initial communications” within the meaning of 15 U.S.C. § 1692g(a); (2) any of the communications were “in connection with the collection of any debt”; and (3) whether Davidson Fink provided the amount of debt within five days of such communication.

The court found quite convincingly that the August letter was the initial communication, and also that it was in connection with the collection of a debt as shown by the letter’s unambiguous communication. The court then found that Davidson Fink did not adequately state the amount of the debt Carlin owed in the August letter. Because of the small print after the “Total Amount Due,” the “least sophisticated consumer” would not be likely to determine whether those amounts were properly part of the amount of the debt. The court went on to further reason that “[a]bsent fuller disclosure, an unsophisticated consumer may not understand how these fees are calculated, whether they may be disputed, or what provision of the note gives rise to them.”

The court did point out that it was not forbidding debt collectors to include such fees in their payment statements, however, in order to do so, a debt collector should take special care to include a separate “Total Amount Due” that would “clarify the actual amount due, the basis of the fees, or simply some information that would allow the least sophisticated consumer to deduce the amount she actually owes.” This would satisfy the requirements of the FDCPA, and also provide more clarity to the debtor.

United States Supreme Court Reverses and Remands Case of Alleged Racial Bias

–by Taylor J. Hoy

Citation: Pena Rodriguez v. Colorado, 580 U.S. ____ (2017); Pena-Rodriguez v. People, 350 P.3d 287 (Colo. 2015).

Abstract: Pena-Rodriguez examines Colorado’s interpretation of Colorado Rule of Evidence (“CRE”) 606(b) as it applies to affidavits that claim jurors made racially biased statements during deliberations.

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During trial, the jury found petitioner, Miguel Angel Pena-Rodriguez guilty on one count of sexual contact without consent and two counts of harassment. Two weeks following the conviction, two jurors informed petitioner’s counsel that “some of the other jurors expressed a bias towards [Petitioner] and the alibi witness because they were Hispanic.” In a motion for a new trial, Petitioner submitted affidavits from two jurors, M.M. and L.T., alleging that juror H.C. made several racially biased statements during deliberations. Ultimately, the trial court denied petitioner’s motion based on the contention that CRE 606(b) barred further inquiry into juror members’ bias during deliberations.

After receiving affirmation from both the Colorado State Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Colorado, the Supreme Court of the United States granted a petition for writ of certiorari in the matter.

In its decision on March 6, 2017, the Court focused on whether CRE 606(b) may bar evidence of racial bias to prove a violation of the Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury. The majority held that “where a juror makes a clear statement that indicates he or she relied on racial stereotypes or animus to convict a criminal defendant, the Sixth Amendment requires that the no-impeachment rule give way in order to permit the trial court to consider the evidence of the juror’s statement and any resulting denial of the jury trial guarantee.” The no-impeachment rule assures “jurors that, once their verdict has been entered, it will not later be called into question based on the comments or conclusions they expressed during deliberations.” The Court said that trial courts must find a “showing that one or more jurors made statements exhibiting overt racial bias that cast serious doubt on the fairness and impartiality of the jury’s deliberations and resulting verdict.” Furthermore, to succeed, statements must show that the “racial animus was a significant motivating factor in the juror’s vote to convict.” Here, the statements made by juror H.C. were “egregious and unmistakable in their reliance on racial bias.”

Justice Kennedy, writing on behalf of the majority, focused the opinion on the importance of the jury as the central foundation of our justice system and democracy and the right to a fair and impartial jury. In ordering the decision, he highlighted the importance of confronting egregious cases, amplifying the need to make strides to overcome race-based discrimination as a nation and mature as a legal system, and understanding and implementing lessons of history.

Justice Thomas and Justice Alito wrote separate dissents. Justice Thomas dissented because the Court’s decision is incompatible with the text of the Amendment and the decision to curtail or abandon the no-impeachment rule should be left to the political process. Justice Alito’s dissent, also signed by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas, argued that the Court’s decision is well-intentioned, but feared that it would be difficult to limit the Court’s ruling. “Although the Court tries to limit the degree of intrusion, it is doubtful that there are principled grounds for preventing the expansion of today’s holding.”