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• Maryland appeals court says dog owners can be held strictly liable for pit bull attacks. "Because of its aggressive and vicious nature and its capability to inflict serious and sometimes fatal injuries, pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls are inherently dangerous." Tracey v. Solesky
• Woman who has been diagnosed as a sex addict sues a school district for failing to prevent her from having sex with male students on the school bus when she was in 11th grade.
Barksdale v. Egg Harbor Township Bd. of Ed.
• Civil rights activist challenges Georgia's "stand your ground law." "By not defining what actions create a reasonable perception justifying the use of deadly force, the Act potentially deprives all Georgia[n]s of the right to life without due process of law." Hutchins v. Deal
• Former patient of a Rhode Island doctor sues him for featuring her in a book about drug addiction. "Plaintiff had expected, as any reasonable patient would, that her private conversations during her treatment sessions with the Defendant would remain private and confidential."
Lisnoff v. Stein
• Class action alleges the YMCA deceives consumers by representing that it practices "Christian" values while allowing its gyms to be used for gay sex trysts. "YMCAs around the country ... are currently being used as brothels for cruising, with the YMCA's knowledge and implicit consent."
Keister v. YMCA
• Social workers are not liable for a sexual assault on a 5-year-old boy by a 16-year-old male placed in an adoptive home. "To rule against the individual defendants in this case would definitely break new ground."
Doe v. Braddy
• Student sues college for refusing to grant her the "reasonable accommodation" of a single room after she complained about her roommate's exhibitionist behavior.
Blankmeyer v. Stonehill College
• School district can be sued over a guidance counselor's sexual relationship with a student who was over the age of consent. "The inherent imbalance of power between a guidance counselor in a public school and a student may render opportunistic sexual predation sufficiently shocking, even with a 'consenting' student over sixteen, to form the basis of a substantive due process claim."
Doe v. Fournier
• Utah judge finds a "credible threat" that Utah County officials will prosecute a polygamist and his wives for bigamy. The officials' acts "suggest that an actual prosecution of Plaintiffs is forthcoming."
Brown v. Herbert
• Louisville, Ky., strip club sues a competitor for displaying an electronic sign outside a convention center that said "Don't go to Godfathers, their girls are ugly and have crabs."
The Godfather v. Trixie's Lounge
• A lawyer cannot sue two women he dated for posting derogatory comments about him on liarscheatersrus.com. "[W]hen viewed within the larger context of the website on which they were posted, there can be no doubt that a reasonable reader would understand the comments to be opinion." Coulotte v. Ryncarz
• Oglala Sioux tribe sues beer makers and Whiteclay, Neb., bars for enabling alcohol abuse on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The illegal trade in alcohol has "caused devastating injuries to the Lakota people and massive financial damages to the [tribe]."
Oglala Sioux Tribe v. Schwarting
Staring at Breasts Not Harassment, Says Jury
The former administrator of Grafton, Mass., did not sexually harass his secretary by staring at her breasts, a jury has ruled, apparently agreeing with the defense that his eye movements were “normal mannerisms” caused by a medical condition.
Russell Connor saw an opthalmologist after Nancy Billings complained about his staring -– which had made her so uncomfortable she held a piece of paper in front of her chest while walking through the office. The doctor diagnosed him with “alternating intermittent exotropia,” a condition that causes the eyes to wander and not maintain focus.
Reversing the summary dismissal of Billings' discrimination case, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it could not “reasonably accept” that “a man's repeated staring at a woman's breasts is to be ordinarily understood as anything other than sexual.”
“[T]he defendants' innocent explanation for Connor's behavior is certainly not the only reasonable view of the evidence,” it ruled in a February 2008 decision.
But the exotropia diagnosis was convincing enough for a federal jury in Worcester to return a defense verdict last week, concluding a six-year litigation that cost the Town of Grafton about $400,000.
“No evidence has been presented that Mr. Connor's alleged conduct was sexual in nature or anything other than his normal mannerisms relative to his difficulty with eye contact,” the town argued in a court brief. “The observations and testimony of virtually all the witnesses called by the plaintiff ..., as well as Mr. Connor, all support the undisputed fact that Mr. Connor's eye movements were involuntary and without intent or focus.”
The jury also rejected Billings' claim that the town retaliated against her because she filed a complaint against Connor, transferring her to a secretarial job in the recreation department. “This sends the wrong message to employees of Grafton, and to women,” her attorney told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
Billings alleged that soon after she began working for Connor in September 1999, she noticed he was looking at her chest during their conversations. He would “make eye contact, and then his eyes would shift down to [her] chest,” she testified. “It was always the same.”
During one workday, Connor stared at Billings so much that she went home to change out of the sweater she was wearing before returning to the office. She alleged at least three dozen staring incidents over the three-year period she worked for Connor.
U.S. District Judge F. Dennis Saylor summarily dismissed the case in July 2006. But the 1st Circuit found he had put “undue weight on the fact -- undisputed though it was -- that Connor's alleged behavior did not include touching, sexual advances, or 'overtly sexual comments to or about her.'”
"[H]arassing conduct need not be motivated by sexual desire to support an inference of discrimination on the basis of sex,” the court said, quoting Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, 523 U.S. 75 (1998).
By Matthew Heller 11/6/08
The misconduct of former Creek County District Judge Donald Thompson, who masturbated with a penis pump while presiding over trials, has ended up costing Oklahoma taxpayers $340,000 in settlements of lawsuits filed by two of his employees.
Zelma Hindman, who was Thompson's secretary, and Lisa Foster, his court reporter, sued the state for hostile work environment discrimination and retaliation. They each got settlements of $170,000 because Thompson fired them for testifying before the Council on Judicial Complaints.
Foster alleged among other things that her termination violated her free-speech rights. The settlement of her case immediately followed a judge's decision last month denying a motion for summary judgment in which Thompson argued her testimony did not involve a matter of public concern.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Terence Kern includes this priceless quote:
If Plaintiff’s testimony of Defendant Thompson’s outrageous behavior on the bench -- including the fact that Defendant Thompson used a penis pump, shaved his scrotum, and urinated in a trash can –- does not amount to speech that “disclose[s] wrongdoing ... or other malfeasance on the part of [a] governmental official in the conduct of [his] official duties,” then it is difficult to imagine speech that would fall into this category.
On the hostile work environment claims, Kern found that both Hindman and Foster were “unable to demonstrate that Thompson’s allegedly harassing behavior ... was due to [their] gender.”
Thompson was convicted of four felony indecent exposure charges and, after serving 20 months in prison, recently lost his license to practice law.
By Matthew Heller
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Hotel Sued Over Slaying of Escort by 'Craigslist Killer'
The mother of a prostitute slain by the “Craigslist killer” at a Marriott hotel in Boston has alleged in a first-of-its-kind lawsuit that the hotel's operator is liable for her daughter's death because it failed to prevent prostitution from occurring on its premises.
Court Extends Doctors' Liability for Prescription Gaffes
The Utah Supreme Court has given a boost to the battle against prescription drug abuse by ruling that medical professionals can be sued over injuries to a nonpatient that were allegedly caused by drugs they carelessly prescribed to patients.
Girl's Slaying Tests Cruise Line Liability
The family of a 15-year-old girl who was killed in the crossfire of a gang shootout on a Caribbean island has asked an appeals court to reinstate a lawsuit that tests the liability of cruise ship operators for onshore injuries to passengers.
Bystander Claims "Swoon and Fall" Injuries at Church
In yet another “swoon and fall” case against a church, an Illinois woman claims she was injured during a church service when a parishioner who was receiving the “spirit” fell backward, knocking several other worshippers into her.
Jurors' Comments Fuel New Trial Bid in Bullying Case
Jurors may have opened the door to a new trial in a Maryland school bullying case by saying they returned a verdict for the defense because they were afraid of setting a bad precedent for school systems throughout the country.
Abuse Victim Can Sue Ex-DA Over 'Sexting' Messages
A Wisconsin judge has protected a domestic violence victim from a rogue prosecutor, finding that she can sue him for sending her text messages in which he pressured her to have sex with him.
Four Loko Maker Says Users Knew of Health Dangers
The maker of Four Loko has previewed its defense of a slew of product liability lawsuits, arguing that the physical effects of the energy drink's mixture of alcohol and caffeine — far from being an undisclosed risk to consumers — are precisely what made it so popular.
U.S. v. Arpaio
Subject: Civil rights
Schultz v. Medina Valley
Subject: School prayer
Document: Non-Kumbaya order
Chopourian v. Catholic Healthcare
Subject: Sexual harassment
Jackson v. Paula Deen
Subject: Sexual harassment
Marsh v. Air Tran Airways
Subject: Roaches on a plane
Peterson/Pryde v. Thyden
Court: Montgomery (Va.) Circuit
Subject: Virginia Tech shootings
Verdict: $8 million
Sheridan v. Cherry
Court: L.A. Superior
Subject: Wrongful termination
Brown v. Herbert
Court: USDC, Utah
Hearing: Motion to dismiss polygamy case