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Appeals court orders new credit card case trial
Headline News | 2008/04/28 14:41

A U.S. appeals court reinstated a class-action suit on Friday against a group of banks that force their credit card customers to use arbitration instead of the courts to settle disputes.

The credit cardholders "alleged that the banks (with other co-conspirators, including American Express (AXP.N) and Wells Fargo (WFC.N)) illegally colluded to force the cardholders to accept mandatory arbitration clauses in their cardholder agreements," according to the ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The cardholders argued that the banks had violated antitrust laws "by refusing to issue cards to individuals who did not agree to arbitration," according to the decision.

The cardholders want the court to stop the banks from compelling arbitration, prevent them from "continuing their alleged collusion" and invalidate the existing mandatory arbitration clauses.

A lower court judge sided with the banks, which include Bank of America Corp (BAC.N), Discover Financial Services (DFS.N), Capital One Bank (COF.N), JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) and Citigroup Inc (C.N), and dismissed the case, saying the cardholders lacked standing.

The panel of three appellate judges disagreed. "The cardholders have adequately alleged antitrust injuries," it said in its ruling.

Bank of America, Capital One and Discover declined to comment. The other banks did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

"We're quite happy with the decision," said Charles Goodwin, whose Philadelphia law firm represents the credit cardholders. The cardholders are a large class coming from Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and California, he added.

Other banks named in the lawsuit include units of HSBC (HSBA.L) and Washington Mutual Inc (WM.N).

Joe Ridout of the nationwide nonprofit group Consumer Action hailed the ruling, saying: "It's unfair for consumers to have to give up their legal and constitutional rights just to get a credit card."



Makers of Paxil, Zoloft Win
Court Center | 2008/04/25 14:48

In a significant victory for drug manufacturers, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the makers of Paxil and Zoloft cannot be sued for failing to warn of a risk of suicide because the Food & Drug Administration has explicitly refused to order such warnings.

Voting 2-1 in a pair of cases where the lower courts issued conflicting rulings, the 3rd Circuit found that such lawsuits must be pre-empted because they directly conflict with action already taken by the FDA.

Writing for the majority, 3rd Circuit Judge Dolores K. Sloviter said the FDA has "actively monitored" the possible risk of suicide from taking the class of antidepressant drugs known as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, for two decades, and concluded that the suicide warnings demanded by plaintiffs "are without scientific basis and would therefore be false and misleading."

But Sloviter, who was joined by visiting Judge Jane A. Restani of the U.S. Court of International Trade, emphasized that the ruling was a narrow one.

"Our holding is limited to circumstances in which the FDA has publicly rejected the need for a warning that plaintiffs argue state law requires," Sloviter wrote in Colacicco v. Apotex Inc.

In dissent, 3rd Circuit Judge Thomas L. Ambro said he would have allowed both cases to go forward.



Attorney Sues 'Washingtonienne' Author
Press Releases | 2008/04/24 15:09
Former Senate Judiciary Committee counsel Robert Steinbuch sued Jessica Cutler, author of the "Washingtonienne" blog and subsequent book, claiming she invaded his privacy by publishing "in graphic detail the intimate amorous and sexual relationship between Cutler and the Plaintiff," including his alleged predilection for spanking.

Steinbuch also sued Hyperion Books, a division of Disney Publishing Worldwide, which allegedly paid Cutler a $300,000 advance for her book, after her blog became a sensation.

n his federal complaint, Steinbuch says, "At the time of his relationship with Cutler, Plaintiff did not know that Cutler was simultaneously engaged in sexual relationships with another man, let alone with five other men, and let alone that she was prostituting herself to some of them; and Plaintiff did not know that Cutler was recording the details of her relationship with Plaintiff in her blog, and Defendant Cutler described Plaintiff as, among other things, a committee counsel who likes spanking. That blog is the subject of a separate and distinct litigaion.

Steinbuch also claims Cutler profited by "capitalizing on the publicity generated by her blog and her relationship with Plaintiff" by signing a deal with Playboy that included a nude photo spread of her, and the "thinly disguised novel, of the roman a clef genre," in which her relationship with him is "described in graphic detail."

His complaint adds: "Hyperion specifically advertised the book as being in 'a witty, unapologetic voice, the novel's narrator Jackie tells the story of ... the staff counsel whose taste for spanking she "accidentally" leaks to the office.'"

Steinbuch demands $10 million damages for invasion of privacy, false light, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He is represented by Jonathan Rosen of Clearwater, Fla.


Officers Denied Immunity For Arresting Protester
Top Legal News | 2008/04/23 14:51
The 10th Circuit denied immunity to five police officers in Albuquerque, N.M., who allegedly arrested a University of New Mexico faculty member during an antiwar protest, simply because he was part of a "large basket containing a few bad eggs."

The court ruled 2-1 that John Fogarty may proceed with a lawsuit accusing the officers of targeting him without probable cause and using excessive force to arrest him during a March 2003 demonstration against the U.S. war in Iraq.

The protest began on the UNM campus and spread to city sidewalks and streets, with between 500 and 1,000 demonstrators voicing their opposition to the war.

Fogarty and a friend joined a drum circle that was "play(ing) a really nice samba," Fogarty claimed. But police accused the drummers of inciting the crowd and making it more difficult to clear the streets.

Capt. John Gonzales told officers to "remove the drums," a statement some interpreted as a direct order to arrest the drummers, Fogarty included. The plaintiff said he was already off the street when officers pelted him with an unknown projectile and arrested him.

Officers allegedly took the handcuffed Fogarty near an area with lingering tear gas, causing Fogarty to suffer an acute asthma attack. He also claimed to have torn a tendon in his wrist during the ordeal.

The majority refused to dismiss Fogarty's claims, ruling that he had provided enough evidence to survive summary judgment at this stage.

"The Fourth Amendment plainly requires probable cause to arrest Fogarty as an individual, not a member of a large basket containing a few bad eggs," Judge Lucero wrote. "In other words, that Fogarty was a participant in an antiwar protest where some individuals may have broken the law is not enough to justify his arrest."


Federal judge dismisses Katrina fraud claim
Top Legal News | 2008/04/22 15:01
A federal judge on Monday dismissed claims of fraud against State Farm Insurance by a Mississippi couple who claimed that the company denied their insurance claim for damage from Hurricane Katrina based on bad faith and fraud. US District Judge L.T. Senter, Jr. rejected the claim, writing:

Plaintiffs allege that State Farm committed actionable fraud in the handling of the plaintiffs' claim. Plaintiffs primarily rely on their contention that State Farm ordered two engineering reports from Forensic in an effort to dishonestly minimize its liability to the plaintiffs rather than for any legitimate reason. ...

Plaintiffs contend that State Farm, acting through Renfroe and Forensic, deliberately underestimated the amount of wind damage the insured property sustained in order to minimize its liability under the plaintiffs' homeowners policy. While this allegation, if sustained, would support a finding of bad faith, it is not sufficient to support an allegation of fraud. Fraud requires reasonable reliance on a misrepresentation, and the plaintiffs have not relied upon State Farm's evaluation of their claim. Indeed plaintiffs have brought this lawsuit in an effort to establish that State Farm has underestimated the wind damage to the insured property. Although plaintiffs may prevail on the merits of their claims for additional policy benefits and other extracontractual damages, including punitive damages if they establish bad faith on the part of State Farm or its agents, in the absence of any evidence that the plaintiffs relied upon State Farm's damage assessment I can see no basis for a claim of fraud.

Thomas and Pamela McIntosh filed the lawsuit against State Farm after the company refused to pay for most of the damage to their home, which State Farm concluded was caused mostly by flood damage from the storm surge.

State Farm used E.A. Renfroe & Co. to inspect the McIntosh's home, and the couple also alleged that Renfroe aided and abetted State Farm's fraudulent misconduct and that the company breached its duty of loyalty to the plaintiffs. Senter dismissed the aiding and abetting claim as he concluded there was no underlying fraud, and also dismissed the breach of duty claim.


Paper Wins Dismissal Of Libel Suit
Court Center | 2008/04/21 14:35
     A circuit judge has dismissed with prejudice a defamation lawsuit against the Madison County Record. Amiel Cueto, whose brother, Lloyd Cueto, was running for judge in St. Clair County, claimed the Record defamed Amiel by reporting that Amiel was a power broker who controlled judges in the county.

    G. Michael Prall, of the 11th Circuit in Bloomington, was assigned the case after the Illinois Supreme Court granted the Record's request that the case be removed from the 20th circuit, where it was filed.

    Amiel Cueto, who served six years in prison for obstruction of justice, claimed the Record defamed him by calling him a power broker and stating that he owned 15 of 17 St. Clair County judges in the mid-1990s.

    The Record sought dismissal, based on the alleged truth of the statements.
    Judge Prall stated in his 5-page decision that while the article did not use the words power broker as a flattering term, it did not suggest criminal activity.

    As to Cueto's controlling St. Clair judges in the 1990s, Prall wrote, "There is no question that witnesses made statements in official court proceedings to the effect that the plaintiff controlled judges in the mid 1990s. Plaintiff's contention that these statements were untrue would not affect the right of the defendant to report these statements."


Judge blocks Philadelphia from enforcing new gun laws
Press Releases | 2008/04/18 14:51

A judge on Thursday temporarily blocked the city from enforcing five gun-control ordinances pending a challenge from the National Rifle Association.

The NRA argues that state law prevents Pennsylvania municipalities from regulating guns, a view that even the city's crime-weary district attorney shares.

"The city has no basis to pass any of these gun-control ordinances and they know it," lawyer C. Scott Shields argued on the NRA's behalf.

City lawyers contend that Philadelphia can pass gun-control ordinances if the laws are outside the scope of state measures. As an example, lawyer Mark Zecca told the judge that one Pennsylvania county had banned guns at its courthouse.

Among other things, the five city ordinances passed April 10 ban the sale of assault weapons; require owners to report a lost or stolen gun within 24 hours; and limit firearms purchases to one a month.

They came in response to the city's one-a-day murder rate and its reputation for being a weapons source for criminals in New York and other states with strict gun laws.

The judge scheduled arguments for April 28. She said she would rule very quickly, although her decision is sure to be appealed by the losing side.

Mayor Michael Nutter, who declared a "crime emergency" shortly after taking office in January, quickly signed the City Council bills into law - despite still-pending litigation over earlier gun-control efforts.



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