Category: Torts

Southwest Airlines and the Transportation Workers Union Hit with Over $5 Million Verdict Over the Firing of a Pro-Life Employee

There is a major verdict in a free speech case out of Texas where Charlene Carter, a former Southwest flight attendant won a verdict of more than $5 million for her wrongful termination after a posting on social media criticizing her union on its abortion stand. Both Southwest and the Transportation Workers Union of America (TWU) (Local 556) are named as defendants. Ironically, the TWU insists that it is “offering working people a voice.” However, it is accused of working with the company to terminate this worker who spoke up against the union.

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Rep. Katie Porter Hit With Ethics Complaint Over Attack on Witness

Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts has filed an ethics complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics against Rep. Katie Porter (D., Cal.) after her allegation that a witness lied under oath in opposing gun laws three years ago in a hearing. In a hearing this month, she made the allegation against Heritage Foundation legal fellow and Second Amendment expert Amy Swearer. The exchange between Swearer and Porter went viral on the Internet with many liberals praising Porter for the exchange. A closer examination shows that the attack was unfair and unfounded. It is also an increasingly common part of congressional hearings as members seek to intimidate or abuse expert witnesses who hold opposing views. While these ethical complaints are difficult to maintain under the generous rules of the House, Porter’s conduct warrants condemnation. Continue reading “Rep. Katie Porter Hit With Ethics Complaint Over Attack on Witness”

Depp-Heard Verdict Contains Relatively Rare Defamation-by-Counsel Liability

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The massive verdict in favor of actor Johnny Depp yesterday constitutes a rare victory of a public figure under the difficult New York Times v. Sullivan standard for defamation. The award of $15 million found that Amber Heard not only lied but did so with malice. Depp ran the table on all of his counts. While this case will likely be studied for years, the one verdict in favor of Heard is itself notable because it was based on defamation by counsel — a lesson for lawyers in defending their clients in public.

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Assault or Self Defense? The Arrest of Former Broncos Player Raises Tough Legal Questions

In teaching torts, we often discuss the vague line between self-defense and retaliation in cases of assault and battery. That issue will now be at the heart of a criminal charge against former Broncos cornerback Brendan Langley who was charged with assault after hitting a United Airlines employee. A partial video of the incident shows how murky the line can be in the use of self-defense. Literally a few seconds can make the difference if this charge is any indication.

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Federal Court Dismisses “Kung Flu” Lawsuit Against Trump

Former President Donald Trump achieved mixed results in courts this week. He lost efforts to prevent a $10,000 per day fine for contempt in failing to turn over evidence on his assets in the civil investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James. He also lost his lawsuit against Twitter over his being banned from the site. However, in a case that we previously discussed, Trump prevailed in Chinese Americans Civil Rights Coalition, Inc. v. TrumpI previously wrote that I considered this case to be meritless, but it took a year to see it dismissed on the grounds discussed earlier.

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“Nothing Less Than Everything”: The Depp Trial and The Litigation of Mutual Destruction

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The defamation trial of actor Johnny Depp against his former wife, Amber Heard, has all of the makings of a Hollywood hit except for the absence of a single redeeming character. The comedian Henny Youngman may have been right that “the secret to a happy marriage remains a secret,” but the Depp trial shows that it is clear how to have a miserable marriage. It includes things like mutually taping each other, throwing objects of varying sizes, and rivaling each other in the competition of conspicuous consumption. Continue reading ““Nothing Less Than Everything”: The Depp Trial and The Litigation of Mutual Destruction”

“Take What You Can, Give Nothing Back”: The Depp Defamation Trial and the Curious Legal Position of Celebrities in Litigation

 “It is pronounced ‘egregious.'” Captain Jack Sparrow’s clarification in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean could prove useful when actor Johnny Depp takes the stand in his defamation case in Fairfax, Virginia against his former wife, Amber Heard. Continue reading ““Take What You Can, Give Nothing Back”: The Depp Defamation Trial and the Curious Legal Position of Celebrities in Litigation”

Petito’s Parents File Lawsuit Against Laundrie’s Parents Over the Murder of their Daughter

North Port (FL) Police Department

A novel lawsuit in Florida has been filed by the parents of Gabby Petito against the parents of Brian Laundrie, Chris and Roberta Laundrie. The lawsuit accuses the parents of hiding their knowledge that Brian Laundrie killed their daughter. I am very skeptical over the basis of this lawsuit, which rests on the assumption that, if the parents knew, they had a legal obligation to disclose that knowledge to Gabby Petito’s parents, Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt. Continue reading “Petito’s Parents File Lawsuit Against Laundrie’s Parents Over the Murder of their Daughter”

“A Bit Unusual”: Federal Judge Rejects Palin Motion For New Trial

Senior U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff has issued a stinging rebuke to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in seeking a new trial. A new trial was unlikely given Rakoff’s ruling that he would dismiss the case regardless of the verdict of the jury. However, in my view, Rakoff made an utter mess of this case and this decision will only magnify the novel issues for appeal.

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Former St. Joseph’s University Professor Sues Over Termination After Twitter Controversy

We previously discussed the case of Greg Manco, a former St. Joseph’s University professor who was effectively terminated by the university after a controversy over his criticism of reparations demands. He has now filed a federal lawsuit alleging defamation, and other claims against the university and a variety of individuals, including five alumni and one current faculty member.

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Intoxication or Defamation or Both? Oklahoma Congressional Candidate Embroiled in Bizarre Incident at Slumber Party

Abby Broyles, a candidate for Congress, is embroiled in a bizarre controversy where she is accused of verbally abusing teenage girls at a slumber party and throwing up in a laundry basket and a girl’s shoe. That is not exactly a “chicken in every pot” type of political pitch. However, I am more interested in the legal than the political aspect of this case. My students and I often use such controversies to discuss the scope or application of torts theories. This one raises a couple of novel elements. Broyles initially called these girls and their parents liars behind a political hit job. She also allegedly threatened to sue a media outlet for running the allegations. The question is whether she could now be sued for defamation.

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Judicial Palindrome: How Sarah Palin was Left with Losing by Jury or by Judge

Below is my column in the Hill on the Palin defamation trial and why it could still present a substantial challenge to press protections in false stories. The court’s curious handling of the case backfired. Judge Jed Rakoff announced that he would dismiss the case regardless of the jury decision but that he still wanted the jury to reach a decision. As discussed below, the tactic would serve to insulate his own decision on appeal. However, the jury found out about his decision and now, in my view, the verdict should be set aside. If so, the case may now be a major challenge to the application of the “actual malice” standard to public figures. That issue would have to be decided by the Supreme Court however given the prior ruling in New York Times v. Sullivan.

Here is the column:

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Palin and Public Figures: Is it Time to Reconsider New York Times v. Sullivan and the Actual Malice Standard?

Below is my column in USA Today on the Palin defamation trial. The case, if appealed, could raise a serious challenge to the application of the “actual malice” standard to public figures. Ironically, last night, Hillary Clinton made reference to this standard in suggesting that she might be able to sue Fox News for its coverage of the Durham investigation. It is considered a sacrilege to even raise the possibility of reexamining the legacy of New York Times v. Sullivan but there are legitimate long-standing questions about the extension of the actual malice standard from public officials to public figures. It is a tough question with good arguments on both sides, but it is a debate that is long overdue.

Here is the column:

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Deliberation or Repetition? Palin Jury Knew the Judge Was Going To Dismiss the Case Before its Verdict

There is a major development in the Sarah Palin defamation case where a jury recently rejected her claims against the New York Times. The case had a curious profile because the judge sent out the jury to deliberate and then announced that, while he would let them reach a verdict, it would not matter: he would dismiss the case anyway. I wrote in the Hill that this move worked to insulate the judge’s own decision. If the jury came in with a verdict against Palin, that fact finding would be more difficult to overturn. Now, however, Judge Jed Rakoff has disclosed that the jury found out about his intended dismissal before they reached a verdict. That is a major problem and could substantially change the impact of the case on appeal. In this case, Judge Rakoff effectively supplied both the instructions and the answers for the jury.

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Res ipsa loquitur – The thing itself speaks