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Kansas faces skeptical state Supreme Court on school funding
Legal Business | 2017/07/18 21:25
Attorneys for Kansas will try to convince an often skeptical state Supreme Court on Tuesday that the funding increase legislators approved for public schools this year is enough to provide a suitable education for kids statewide.

The high court is hearing arguments about a new law that phases in a $293 million increase in education funding over two years. The justices ruled in March that the $4 billion a year in aid the state then provided to its 286 school districts was inadequate, the latest in a string of decisions favoring four school districts that sued Kansas in 2010.

The state argues that the increase is sizable and that new dollars are targeted toward helping the under-performing students identified as a particular concern in the court's last decision.

But lawyers for the Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, school districts argue that lawmakers fell at least $600 million short of adequately funding schools over two years. They also question whether the state can sustain the spending promised by the new law, even with an income tax increase enacted this year.

The court has ruled previously that the state constitution requires legislators to finance a suitable education for every child. In past hearings, justices have aggressively questioned attorneys on both sides but have not been shy about challenging the state's arguments.

The court is expected to rule quickly. Attorneys for the districts want the justices to declare that the new law isn't adequate and order lawmakers to fix it by Sept. 1 — only a few weeks after the start of the new school year.


Supreme Court deadline nears for suit over wetland loss
Legal Business | 2017/07/11 15:46
A Louisiana flood board is nearing a deadline for asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review its lawsuit seeking to make oil and gas companies pay for decades of damage to coastal wetlands.

Federal district and appeals courts have rejected the lawsuit, which was met by fierce opposition from the energy industry and many in state government when it was filed in 2013. The suit by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East said drilling and dredging activity contributed to loss of wetlands that form a hurricane buffer for New Orleans.

Oil industry supporters have labeled the lawsuit an attack on a vital industry. Tuesday marks the deadline for the flood board attorneys to seek Supreme Court review after their last defeat in April.

A federal district judge's 2015 ruling held that federal and state law provided no avenue by which the board could bring the suit.

A three judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling in March and the full 15-member court refused a rehearing in April. Lawyers for the flood board had a 90-day window to seek Supreme Court review.

Flood authority lawyers have argued that the flood board has the right to seek compensation for levee damage under the federal Rivers and Harbors Act. They also argued that federal judges should not have allowed the case to be moved to federal court from the state court where it originally was filed.

Meanwhile, some coastal parishes are pursuing coastal damage suits in state courts on different legal grounds. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has urged the energy companies to work toward a settlement. Industry leaders have resisted, saying the suits are meritless.



More court challenges expected for Trump's new travel ban
Legal Business | 2017/07/07 23:28
A scaled-back version of President Donald Trump's travel is now in force, stripped of provisions that brought protests and chaos at airports worldwide in January yet still likely to generate a new round of court fights. The new rules, the product of months of legal wrangling, aren't so much an outright ban as a tightening of already-tough visa policies affecting citizens from six Muslim-majority countries.

Refugees are covered, too. Administration officials promised that implementation this time, which started at 8 p.m. EDT, would be orderly. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Dan Hetlage said his agency expected "business as usual at our ports of entry," with all valid visa holders still being able to travel. Still, immigration and refugee advocates are vowing to challenge the new requirements and the administration has struggled to explain how the rules will make the United States safer.

Under the temporary rules, citizens of Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen who already have visas will be allowed into the United States. But people from those countries who want new visas will now have to prove a close family relationship or an existing relationship with an entity like a school or business in the U.S. It's unclear how significantly the new rules will affect travel. In most of the countries singled out, few people have the means for leisure travel. Those that do already face intensive screenings before being issued visas. Nevertheless, human rights groups girded for new legal battles.

The American Civil Liberties Union, one of the groups challenging the ban, called the new criteria "extremely restrictive," ''arbitrary" in their exclusions and designed to "disparage and condemn Muslims." The state of Hawaii filed an emergency motion Thursday asking a federal judge to clarify that the administration cannot enforce the ban against relatives — such as grandparents, aunts or uncles — not included in the State Department's definition of "bona fide" personal relationships.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer met with customs officials and said he felt things would go smoothly. "For tonight, I'm anticipating few issues because, I think, there's better preparation," he told reporters at Los Angeles International Airport on Thursday night. "The federal government here, I think, has taken steps to avoid the havoc that occurred the last time."
Much of the confusion in January, when Trump's first ban took effect, resulted from travelers with previously approved visas being kept off flights or barred entry on arrival in the United States. Immigration officials were instructed Thursday not to block anyone with valid travel documents and otherwise eligible to visit the United States.


EU Court: Vaccines Can Be Blamed for Illnesses Without Proof
Legal Business | 2017/06/21 22:54
The highest court of the European Union ruled Wednesday that courts can consider whether a vaccination led to someone developing an illness even when there is no scientific proof.

The decision was issued on Wednesday in relation to the case of a Frenchman known as Mr. J.W., who was immunized against hepatitis B in late 1998-99. About a year later, Mr. J.W. was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In 2006, he and his family sued vaccine-maker Sanofi Pasteur in an attempt to be compensated for the damage they claim he suffered due to the vaccine. Mr. J.W. died in 2011.

France's Court of Appeal ruled there was no causal link between the hepatitis B vaccine and multiple sclerosis, and dismissed the case. Numerous studies have found no relationship between the hepatitis B shot and multiple sclerosis.

After the case went to France's Court of Cassation, it was brought to the European Union. On Wednesday, the EU's top court said that despite the lack of scientific consensus on the issue, a vaccine could be considered defective if there is "specific and consistent evidence," including the time between a vaccine's administration and the occurrence of a disease, the individual's previous state of health, the lack of any family history of the disease and a significant number of reported cases of the disease occurring following vaccination.

In a statement, the court said that such factors could lead a national court to conclude that "the administering of the vaccine is the most plausible explanation" for the disease and that "the vaccine therefore does not offer the safety that one is entitled to expect." It did not rule on the specific French case.





High Court ruling may hurt claims of talc link to cancer
Legal Business | 2017/06/21 22:54
A Supreme Court ruling this week could have a "chilling effect" on the many lawsuits filed in St. Louis claiming talcum powder causes a deadly form of cancer in women, including cases under appeal in which stricken women and their survivors have been awarded more than $300 million, experts said Tuesday.

Justices ruled 8-1 Monday that hundreds of out-state-residents can't sue Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. in California state court over adverse reactions to the blood thinner Plavix. It followed a similar ruling in May related to out-of-state injury claims against BNSF Railway Co. Both were seen as wins for companies opposed to "venue shopping," in which those filing suit seek out favorable state courts.

Almost immediately after the Supreme Court ruling, St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison declared a mistrial in a Missouri state court case in which three plaintiffs, two from out-of-state, sued Johnson & Johnson, claiming its talcum powder caused ovarian cancer.

More than 1,000 others have filed similar lawsuits in St. Louis against Johnson & Johnson, but most don't live in Missouri. Five trials have already taken place over the past 16 months. In four of those cases, jurors awarded more than $300 million combined.

Johnson & Johnson believes that the Supreme Court ruling "requires reversal of the talc cases that are currently under appeal in St. Louis," spokeswoman Carol Goodrich said in an email. She said the ruling "makes it clear that Johnson & Johnson was wrongfully forced to defend itself in multiple trials in Missouri, a state with no connection to the plaintiffs."

Jim Onder, whose suburban St. Louis-based law firm is representing many women and survivors who filed suit, said Missouri is a proper venue because Johnson & Johnson, though based in New Jersey, uses a factory in Union, Missouri, to package and label talcum products.



Groups sue seeking court oversight of Chicago police reforms
Legal Business | 2017/06/15 05:49
Several leading community groups filed a class-action lawsuit against the city of Chicago Wednesday in a bid to bypass or even scuttle a draft agreement between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice that seeks to reform the nation's second largest police force without federal court oversight.

The more than 100-page lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago argues that an overhaul of Chicago's 12,000-officer force in the wake of a damning civil rights report in January can't work without the intense scrutiny of a court-appointed monitor answerable to a judge.

"Absent federal court supervision, nothing will improve," the lawsuit says. "It is clear that federal court intervention is essential to end the historical and on-going pattern and practice of excessive force by police officers in Chicago."

While President Donald Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has expressed skepticism about court involvement, President Barack Obama's administration saw it as vital to successful reforms. Obama's Justice Department typically took a city reform plan to a judge to make it legally binding in the form of a consent decree.

Wednesday's lawsuit — which names Black Lives Matters Chicago among the plaintiffs — asks for a federal court to intervene and order sweeping reforms to end the "abusive policies and practices undergirding the alleged constitutional and state law violations."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration said earlier this month that a draft deal negotiated by the city and the Justice Department — one that foresees a monitor not selected by a court — is being reviewed in Washington. Justice Department spokesman Devin O'Malle cautioned last week that "there is no agreement at this time."

A lead attorney in the new lawsuit, Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor and outspoken advocate for far-reaching police reforms, said in a telephone interview that reports about the draft influenced the decision to sue now.


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