Chicago Isn't Liable For Club Tragedy, Court Says
Legal Topics | 2008/05/27 22:13
The city of Chicago is not liable for the deaths and injuries of E2 Nightclub patrons trampled in a stairwell trying to flee the club after security guards used pepper spray to quell a disturbance, an Illinois appellate court ruled.

The estates of 20 decedents and more than 30 injured patrons filed suit against the club owners and the city, claiming Chicago failed to enforce court orders barring the use of the club's second floor. They also alleged that police failed to protect or help victims at the scene, and that one officer even closed and locked an exit door, contributing to the fatal pileup on Feb. 17, 2003.

Chicago moved to dismiss the complaint, citing unqualified immunity under the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act, which shields public entities from liability for injuries "caused by adopting or failing to adopt an enactment or by failing to enforce any law."

Plaintiffs countered that the city's actions fell under an exception to the immunity law for "willful and wanton conduct."

However, the appellate court ruled that the exemption does not apply, because the city was not in control of the situation. It added that the plain language of the exception refers to public employees, not public entities.


Woman Profited From Disabled Children
Legal Topics | 2008/05/21 17:23
A Florida woman pleaded guilty Tuesday to bilking New York state and city of $1.7 million intended to support 11 adopted, disabled children. But Judith Leekin kept many of them restrained in her basement, did not let them go to school, and spent the money on herself.

Leekin, 63, of Port St. Lucie, used four aliases to adopt the children from 1988 to 1996, lied about how many kids were living with her and lied about their disabilities, according to the criminal information to which she pleaded. She got $1.68 million in adoption subsidies from 1988 through July 2007, "and used the money to support a lavish lifestyle for herself," the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

She also had custody of a 12th disabled child. In 1997, when she lived in Queens, N.Y., 11 of the kids lived in the basement of her home "and did not go to school or outside," prosecutors said. "In addition, several of the adopted children 1-11 were restrained in order to prevent them from getting out of their beds."

In 1998, she moved to Florida, where she treated the children in the same way.

"Between 2004 and July 2007, in Florida, adopted children 1-1o slept on the floor of a storage room abutting the garage and typically only entered the house to use the bathroom or the kitchen," prosecutors said. "In addition, adopted children 1-10 did not attend school, and several of the adopted children were restrained using plastic ties."

She kept collecting money for child 11 after booting it from her home.Leekin pleaded guilty to wire fraud and mail fraud. She faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of twice the gross gains from her offenses. She will be sentenced on July 23.


Court Sides With MySpace In Suit Over Sex Assault
Legal Topics | 2008/05/19 17:20
MySpace is immune from a lawsuit accusing it of failing to protect a teen girl from the alleged sexual assault of a 19-year-old man she met on the popular social-networking site, the 5th Circuit ruled.

A three-judge panel upheld a Texas judge's dismissal of a lawsuit accusing MySpace.com and parent company News Corp. of failing to protect minor users from sexual predators.

The plaintiff, identified as Julie Doe, created a MySpace profile when she was only 13, but said she was 18 to circumvent the site's minimum age requirement of 14. After she turned 14, she met Pete Solis, a 19-year-old fellow MySpace user who allegedly sexually assaulted her in a parking lot in 2006.

A federal judge threw out a lawsuit filed by the teen and her mother, ruling that their claims are barred by Texas common law and the Communications Decency Act, which shields Internet service providers from getting sued for publishing material posted by third parties.

Doe and her mother appealed dismissal of their negligence claim, arguing that MySpace is not a "publisher" under their claims, and that MySpace is not entitled to immunity for its failure to take reasonable steps to protect minors.

Judge Clement, writing for the appellate panel, remained unconvinced.

"Their allegations are merely another way of claiming that MySpace was liable for publishing the communications and they speak to MySpace's role as a publisher of online third-party-generated content."

Solis was indicted on a sexual assault charge and faces up to 20 years in prison.


Vallejo, CA Declares Itself Bankrupt
Legal Topics | 2008/05/08 15:52

The Vallejo City Council has voted unanimously to declare the city bankrupt. The council cited falling property values and tax receipts and a $16 million budget deficit for the fiscal year that begins in July. Residents of Vallejo, a town of 120,000 in Santa Clara County, have a median income of $56,505.

    Vallejo, 25 miles northeast of San Francisco, is the largest city in California to declare itself bankrupt, and the first major metropolitan area to do so since Orange County filed for bankruptcy in 1994 after a series of bungled investments.

    "With Orange County there were identifiable bad guys," John Quigley, an economics profession at UC-Berkeley, told The New York Times. "This is different. Near as one can tell, this is more of a low-level infection everywhere."

    Proposition 13 caps property taxes in California, and the Vallejo City Council was unable to wring salary concessions from its public employees, whose salaries account for 80 percent of the city budget.



Federal judge rejects Katrina damage immunity bid
Legal Topics | 2008/05/06 16:14

Judge Stanwood R. Duval Jr. of the US Eastern District of Louisiana ruled again Friday that the US Army Corps of Engineers cannot claim immunity from suit in connection with damages suffered by plaintiffs by virtue of alleged defects in the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MRGO). Duval said that the outlet was a shipping channel and not a flood control outlet in connection with which the Corps would have been properly immune in tort. He rejected the Corps' argument that the MRGO was nonetheless part of a larger flood control system in the New Orleans area.

Duval made a similar ruling in February 2007 in the context of an earlier motion to dismiss. Three months before Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, an expert at the LSU Hurricane Center predicted that the MRGO could amplify storm surges by 20-40 percent. After Katrina, the center determined through computer modeling that the presence of the MRGO also increased the speed of the surge, causing an even greater detrimental effect.



Mothers May Sue Gerber Over Sugary Fruit Snacks
Legal Topics | 2008/05/02 16:21

The 9th Circuit allowed two mothers to pursue their class action accusing Gerber Products Co. of deceptively dressing up sugar-loaded gummy treats as healthy snacks for toddlers.

The mothers claimed Gerber falsely touts its Gerber Fruit Juice Snacks as "nutritious" and "made with real fruit juice," and displays images of oranges, peaches, strawberries and cherries on the packaging. But a quick look at the label reveals the main ingredients are corn syrup and sugar, and the only fruit juice is concentrated white grape juice.

They also took issue with Gerber calling the saccharine product a "snack," saying "candy," "sweet" or "treat" was more appropriate. Gerber later changed the name to Fruit Juice Treats, but denied that the lawsuit had anything to do with the change.

A federal judge dismissed the case last year, ruling that a reasonable consumer could see through the packaging "puffery" by simply reading the ingredients.

But the appellate court found that on-the-go parents should not have to scour ingredient lists for labeling discrepancies.

"We do not ... think that a busy parent walking through the aisles of a grocery store should be expected to verify that the representations on the front of the box are confirmed in the ingredient list," Judge Pregerson wrote.

"We do not think that the FDA requires an ingredient list so that manufacturers can mislead consumers and then rely on the ingredient list to correct those misinterpretations and provide a shield for liability for the deception."



Convicted terror plotter sent to ’Supermax’
Legal Topics | 2008/04/21 15:54

Convicted terrorism plotter Jose Padilla will serve his term at a Colorado federal prison known as “Supermax” for its strict, isolated conditions and roster of infamous inmates, prison officials said Friday.

Padilla, 37, was sent from a Miami prison to the high-security facility in Florence, Colo., on Thursday, said Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Felicia Pounce. Padilla was sentenced in January to about 17 years, but counting time already served and good behavior deductions his projected release date is Feb. 9, 2021 — or about 13 years.

At Florence, Padilla joins such well-known inmates as “Unabomber” Theodore Kaczynski, Sept. 11 attacks plotter Zacarias Moussaoui and Eric Rudolph, convicted of the 1996 Olympics bombing. Other neighbors among the 485 inmates are attempted shoe-bomber Richard Reid, FBI turncoat Robert Hanssen and Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols.

Padilla attorney Michael Caruso said in an e-mail Friday that Supermax is “a living hell” where inmates spend most days in 7-foot-by-12-foot cells and have little contact with the outside world. Caruso noted that others convicted of supporting terrorism, such as the “Lackawanna Six” group in upstate New York, were not sent to the nation’s toughest prison.

Caruso called the decision “yet another example of Jose being treated differently and in a more punitive fashion than others who have been accused of similar crimes. I genuinely fear that Jose’s mental health will erode to an even greater degree.”

Padilla and two co-defendants were convicted in August of three terrorism-related charges after a three-month trial in Miami federal court. The other two men, 45-year-old Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi, 46, remained in custody Friday at Miami’s downtown detention center.

The three were part of a support cell that sent money, recruits and supplies to Islamic extremist groups around the world, prosecutors said at trial. They had faced possible life sentences, but each was given lesser terms by U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke.

All three are appealing their convictions and sentences, and federal prosecutors are also appealing the sentences as too lenient.

Padilla was arrested in May 2002 at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on suspicion of plotting with al-Qaida to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in the U.S., although those allegations were not made at his trial. Testimony showed that Hassoun recruited Padilla at a Florida mosque to attend an al-Qaida terrorist training camp in Afghanistan.

Padilla, a U.S. citizen, was held in military custody for 3 1/2 years and was the subject of numerous legal challenges to his continued detention. He also claimed he was mistreated and tortured at a Navy brig, but Bush administration officials denied that.



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