Supreme Court rules against oil drilling platform workers
Court News | 2019/06/08 04:03
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday against workers on oil drilling platforms off California who argued they should be paid for the off-work time they spend on the platform, including sleeping.

The high court said that federal law applies to the workers and doesn’t require them to be paid for nonworking time spent at their work location on the Outer Continental Shelf. The workers had argued that California law, which would require them to be compensated for that time, should apply.

Justice Clarence Thomas said in an opinion that “federal law is the only law” that applies on the Outer Continental Shelf and “there has never been any overlapping state and federal jurisdiction there.” The question, he said, was whether federal law addressed the question of off-work time spent on the oil rig. He said it did and didn’t require the workers to be paid.

The case before the Supreme Court involved Brian Newton, who worked on drilling platforms off California’s coast near Santa Barbara from 2013 to 2015. Like others living and working on the platform, he worked 14-day shifts, spending 12 hours working and 12 hours off work but on standby, where he could not leave the platform.

In 2015, Newton filed a class action lawsuit arguing that his former employer, Parker Drilling, was violating California law by, among other things, failing to pay workers for the time they spent on standby, including the time they spent sleeping.

In making their ruling, the justices had to grapple with a 1953 law called the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. It says federal law applies on the Outer Continental Shelf. But the law also says the laws of the adjacent state are federal law to the extent they are “applicable and not inconsistent” with other federal law. If “federal law applies to a particular issue, state law is inapplicable,” Thomas wrote.


US court weighs if climate change violates children’s rights
Legal Topics | 2019/06/05 16:39
In a courtroom packed with environmental activists, federal judges wrestled Tuesday with whether climate change violates the constitutional rights of young people who have sued the U.S. government over the use of fossil fuels.

A Justice Department attorney warned three judges from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that allowing the case to go to trial would be unprecedented and open the doors to more lawsuits.

“This case would have earth-shattering consequences,” Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark said.

He called the lawsuit “a direct attack on the separation of powers” and said the 21 young people who filed it want the courts to direct U.S. energy policy, instead of government officials.

The young people are pressing the government to stop promoting the use of fossil fuels, saying sources like coal and oil cause climate change and violate their Fifth Amendment rights to life, liberty and property.

The judges seemed to feel the enormity of the case, which the plaintiffs’ lawyer compared in scope to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling that mandated desegregation of schools in the 1950s.

If the case moves forward, the judiciary would be “dealing with different branches of government and telling them what to do,” said Judge Andrew Hurwitz, instead of issuing court orders telling officials to stop doing something deemed unconstitutional.

The dire threat to people, particularly the young, demands such action, said Julia Olson, chief legal counsel for Our Children’s Trust, which is representing the plaintiffs.


Carnival will pay $20m over pollution from its cruise ships
Court News | 2019/06/02 23:40
Carnival Corp. reached a settlement Monday with federal prosecutors in which the world’s largest cruise line agreed to pay a $20 million penalty because its ships continued to pollute the oceans despite a previous criminal conviction aimed at curbing similar conduct.

Senior U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz approved the agreement after Carnival CEO Arnold Donald stood up in open court and admitted the company’s responsibility for probation violations stemming from the previous environmental case.

“The company pleads guilty,” Arnold said six times in a packed courtroom that include other senior Carnival executives, including company chairman and Miami Heat owner Micky Arison.

“We acknowledge the shortcomings. I am here today to formulate a plan to fix them,” Arnold added

“The proof will be in the pudding, won’t it?” the judge replied. “If you all did not have the environment, you would have nothing to sell.”

Carnival admitted violating terms of probation from a 2016 criminal conviction for discharging oily waste from its Princess Cruise Lines ships and covering it up. Carnival paid a $40 million fine and was put on five years’ probation in that case, which affected all nine of its cruise brands that boast more than 100 ships.

Now Carnival has acknowledged that in the years since its ships have committed environmental crimes such as dumping “gray water” in prohibited places such Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park and knowingly allowing plastic to be discharged along with food waste in the Bahamas, which poses a severe threat to marine life.

The company also admitted falsifying compliance documents and other administrative violations such as having cleanup teams visit its ships just before scheduled inspections.

Seitz at an earlier hearing threatened to bar Carnival from docking at U.S. ports because of the violations and said she might hold executives individually liable for the probation violations.

“The concern I have is that senior management has no skin in the game,” Seitz said, adding that future violations might be met with prison time and criminal fines for individuals. “My goal is to have the defendant change its behavior.”

Under the settlement, Carnival promised there will be additional audits to check for violations, a restructuring of the company’s compliance and training programs, a better system for reporting environmental violations to state and federal agencies and improved waste management practices.


Court: NFL's Bucs not entitled to damages from BP spill
Attorney News | 2019/05/27 01:26
A federal appeals court has ruled that the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers is not entitled to damages from BP for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

At issue were the accounting practices the team used to argue that the 2010 spill caused the team's revenues to fall. The Bucs had sought $19.5 million in damages.

On Friday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court's decision against the team.

The court found that the Bucs' revenue in May-June 2010 was not significantly lower than its revenue during that same span a year later. In order to qualify for damages, it had needed to show that its revenues rebounded by at least 10% in 2011.

The team's stadium is about 360 miles (580 kilometers) southeast of the site of the spill.



Utah judge suspended for making anti-Trump comments
Court News | 2019/05/26 08:26
A longtime Utah judge has been suspended without pay for six months after making critical comments online and in court about President Donald Trump, including a post bashing his “inability to govern and political incompetence.”

Judge Michael Kwan’s posts on Facebook and LinkedIn in 2016-2017 violated the judicial code of conduct and diminished “the reputation of our entire judiciary,” wrote Utah State Supreme Court Justice John A. Pearce in an opinion posted Wednesday.

Kwan’s Facebook account was private but could have been shared by friends, Pearce wrote.

“Judge Kwan’s behavior denigrates his reputation as an impartial, independent, dignified, and courteous jurist who takes no advantage of the office in which he serves,” Pearce said.


DeVaney sworn in to South Dakota Supreme Court
Headline Legal News | 2019/05/24 21:41
Patricia DeVaney has been sworn in as South Dakota's newest Supreme Court justice.

DeVaney took her oath of office in the state's Capitol Rotunda in Pierre Thursday, steps away from the Attorney General's Office where she spent much of her career.

Republican Gov. Kristi Noem highlighted DeVaney's work as an assistant attorney general prosecuting one of South Dakota's serial killers, Robert Leroy Anderson. The Rapid City Journal says Noem also highlighted DeVaney's work defending the constitutionality of South Dakota's laws requiring "informed consent" prior to an abortion.

DeVaney remained with the Attorney General's Office until 2012, when former-Gov. Dennis Daugaard appointed her to South Dakota's 6th Judicial Circuit. She fills the seat vacated by Justice Steven Zinter, who died unexpectedly last October.


Brazil's supreme court votes to make homophobia a crime
Court News | 2019/05/24 04:41
A majority in Brazil's supreme court has voted to make homophobia and transphobia crimes like racism, a decision coming amid fears the country's far-right president will roll back LGBT social gains.

Six of the Supreme Federal Tribunal's 11 judges have voted in favor of the measure. The five other judges will vote in a court session on June 5, but the result will not be modified. The measure will take effect after all the justices have voted.

Racism was made a crime in Brazil in 1989 with prison sentences of up to five years. The court's judges ruled that homophobia should be framed within the racism law until the country's congress approves legislation specifically dealing with LGBT discrimination.

Brazil's Senate is dealing with a bill to criminalize discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender with sentences of up to five years.

"Racism is a crime against flesh and blood, whether it is a member of the LGBT community, a Jew or an Afro-descendant," justice Luiz Fux said Thursday.


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