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Subject: Nov. 20 -- U.S. Law Week's Case Alert
THE U.S. LAW WEEK'S CASE ALERT
Highlights & Table of Contents
November 20, 2001
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NINTH CIRCUIT USES EIGHTH AMENDMENT PROPORTIONALITY TEST TO
VOID NONCAPITAL SENTENCE IMPOSED UNDER CALIFORNIA'S THREE
Prison terms, imposed under California's "Three Strikes"
law, that will ensure at least 50 years of incarceration for
a nonviolent recidivist convicted of petty theft violate the
Eighth Amendment, the Ninth Circuit declares. The court
finds the sentence grossly disproportionate to the gravity
of the defendant's property crimes and to comparable
sentences in other jurisdictions.
The Three Strikes law imposes a minimum 25-year sentence
without parole for any third felony offense by a defendant
with at least two prior convictions for "serious" or
"violent" felonies. The court cites several problems with
the statute, including that the triggering felony need not
be serious or violent, the prior strikes need not be violent
offenses, and there is no time period after which prior
convictions will no longer be counted as strikes. . . . Page
FRAUD ON COURT, AS OPPOSED TO FRAUD ON PTO, MAY NOT SERVE AS
GROUND FOR HOLDING PATENT UNENFORCEABLE, FEDERAL CIRCUIT
Litigation misconduct by a patentee may be the basis for
dismissing a particular patent infringement suit but not for
finding the patent unenforceable, the Federal Circuit holds.
"Litigation misconduct, while serving as a basis to dismiss
the wrongful litigant, does not infect, or even affect, the
original grant of the property right," the court reasons.
The court distinguishes fraud on the court from inequitable
conduct before the Patent and Trademark Office in obtaining
the patent, which taints the patent itself and renders it
unenforceable by any party. The court disavows broad dicta
in a 1990 decision indicating that patents may be held
"unenforceable due to unclean hands." . . . Page 1298
PUNITIVE DAMAGES MEGA-AWARD IN EXXON VALDEZ CASE REVERSED BY
NINTH CIRCUIT AS UNCONSTITUTIONALLY EXCESSIVE
The $5 billion punitive damages award to commercial
fishermen injured by the "Exxon Valdez" oil spill is
unconstitutionally excessive, the Ninth Circuit rules. The
award is disproportionate to the $287 million compensatory
damages incurred by the plaintiffs, to potential criminal
and civil penalties, and to the $125 million restitution and
penalty settlement with federal and state authorities, the
The unprecedented 1995 award was entered before the U.S.
Supreme Court spelled out the due process constraints on the
magnitude of punitive damages in "BMW v. Gore". Applying the
"Gore" standards, the Ninth Circuit concludes that the
district court did not properly take into account the purely
economic nature of the harm incurred by the plaintiffs, the
unintentional character of the accident, or the mitigating
actions undertaken by Exxon. . . . Page 1301
IN THIS ISSUE
A complete topical index of Case Alert.
ATTORNEYS: A lawyer sued for negligently supervising a
lawyer-employee who bilked clients is not protected by state
statutes shielding lawyers from liability to those not in
privity of contract with them, the Arkansas Supreme Court
holds. . . . Page 1291
BANKING: A National Credit Union Administration rule
allowing family members of a group member to join multiple
common bond credit unions without counting against the
statutory 3,000-member limit for such credit unions is
consistent with the recent changes to the Federal Credit
Union Act, the D.C. Circuit holds. . . . Page 1292
BANKRUPTCY: A bankruptcy debtor whose interest in his
ex-spouse's individual retirement account arose through a
marriage dissolution decree, not from his own employment,
cannot make use of Minnesota's exemption for IRA funds, the
Eighth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel decides. . . .
CRIMINAL LAW: A Virginia statute that bars the burning of a
cross with the intent of intimidating any person or group
selectively prohibits speech on the basis of content and is
overbroad in violation of the First Amendment, the Virginia
Supreme Court declares. . . . Page 1293
CRIMINAL LAW: The imposition of two consecutive
25-years-to-life sentences under California's "Three
Strikes" law upon a nonviolent recidivist convicted of petty
theft violates the Eighth Amendment's protection against
disproportionate sentences, the Ninth Circuit determines. .
. . Page 1294
ENVIRONMENT: CERCLA generally does not preempt a local
ordinance authorizing a California city to investigate and
remediate hazardous waste contamination of its soil and
ground water, the Ninth Circuit finds. . . . Page 1295
FAMILY LAW: A parent's use of deception to establish "home
state" jurisdiction in a child custody dispute is
"reprehensible conduct" for which the court may decline
jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction
Act, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals holds in a case
of first impression. . . . Page 1296
MASS MEDIA: Arizona restrictions on the sale of material
"harmful to minors" from vending machines withstand First
Amendment strict scrutiny, the Arizona Court of Appeals
rules. . . . Page 1297
PATENTS: A federal court exceeded its authority in ruling a
patent unenforceable due to the patentee's litigation
misconduct, the Federal Circuit concludes. . . . Page 1298
PUBLIC CONTRACTS: An executive order restricting project
labor agreements on federal or federally assisted
construction projects is not supported by constitutional or
statutory authority and is preempted by the National Labor
Relations Act, a federal court in the District of Columbia
holds, permanently enjoining enforcement of the order. . . .
TAXATION: The Federal Circuit upholds 1993 federal estate
tax legislation that retroactively increased the estate tax
rate on taxable estates over $3 million from 50 to 55
percent. . . . Page 1300
TORTS: The Ninth Circuit reverses the $5 billion punitive
damages award levied in the "Exxon Valdez" oil spill tort
suit as excessive in violation of due process. . . . Page
TRADE REGULATION: A Vermont statute that requires labeling
of mercury-containing consumer products does not likely
violate the commerce clause or the First Amendment as
applied to light bulbs, the Second Circuit decides. . . .
CASES IN BRIEF : . . . Page 1303
TABLE OF CASES
American Bankers Association v. National Credit Union
Administration (D.C. Cir.) . . . Page 1292
Anderson v. Seaver (In re Anderson) (B.A.P. 8th Cir.) . . .
Andrade v. Attorney General of California (9th Cir.) . . .
Aptix Corp. v. Quickturn Design Systems Inc. (Fed. Cir.) . .
. Page 1298
Baker v. Hazelwood (In re Exxon Valdez) (9th Cir.) . . .
BankAmerica Corp. Securities Litigation, In re (8th Cir.) .
. . Page 1303
Black v. Commonwealth (Va.) . . . Page 1293
Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO v.
Allbaugh (D.D.C.) . . . Page 1299
Chavez v. Whirlpool Corp. (Cal. Ct. App.) . . . Page 1303
Doe v. Department of Public Safety (2d Cir.) . . . Page 1303
Ferrell v. Harvard Industries Inc. (E.D. Pa.) . . . Page
Fireman's Fund Insurance Co. v. Lodi, Calif. (9th Cir.) . .
. Page 1295
Gruber v. Gruber (Md. Ct. Spec. App.) . . . Page 1296
Madden v. Aldrich (Ark.) . . . Page 1291
Mattice v. Memorial Hospital of South Bend (N.D. Ind.) . . .
National Electrical Manufacturers Association v. Sorrell (2d
Cir.) . . . Page 1302
NationsBank of Texas NA v. United States (Fed. Cir.) . . .
Schiff v. Prados (Calif. Ct. App.) . . . Page 1304
Special Devices Inc. v. OEA Inc. (Fed. Cir.) . . . Page 1304
State v. Evenson (Ariz. Ct. App.) . . . Page 1297
United States v. DeLuca (10th Cir.) . . . Page 1304
United States v. Scott (1st Cir.) . . . Page 1304
United States v. Taylor (D. Minn.) . . . Page 1304
Wright v. Hanna Steel Corp. (11th Cir.) . . . Page 1304
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