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Bar News - April 18, 2008


US District Court Decision Listing: March 2008

* Published

ATTORNEY’S FEES

3/26/08 King v. Rivas, et al.
Case No. 04-cv-356-SM, Opinion No. 2008 DNH 057

Antonio King, a former pre-trial detainee at the Hillsborough Department of Corrections, brought this civil rights suit seeking compensation for alleged violations of his constitutional rights. After prevailing against one of three remaining defendants at trial (for $5,500), King sought an award of attorney’s fees. See 42 U.S.C. § 1988. Defendants objected, pointing out that King rejected a substantially more favorable offer of judgment they made early in the litigation ($10,000). Accordingly, said defendants, not only was King ineligible for an award of attorney’s fees, but he was liable for those defendants’ costs incurred after they extended the Rule 68 offer. The court rejected defendants’ position, reasoning that the joint but unapportioned $10,000 offer of judgment by seven defendants could not be compared to the $5,500 verdict King obtained against one defendant. In order to properly invoke the provisions of Rule 68, a defendant must be able to demonstrate that the verdict obtained at trial against him or her was less favorable than the Rule 68 offer of judgment made by him or her. Here, because defendants’ offered a joint, unapportioned sum under Rule 68, it was not possible to determine what part of the joint offer should be compared to the judgment obtained against a single defendant (e.g., if one arbitrarily apportioned it in seven equal amounts, plaintiff’s judgment was more favorable). 25 pages. Chief Judge Steven J. McAuliffe.

3/28/08 Goss International v. MAN Roland, Inc., et al.
Case No. 03-cv-513-SM, Opinion No. 2008 DNH 061

The counterclaim defendant in this patent infringement suit moved for attorneys’ fees after dismissal of federal antitrust and state-law counterclaims. The court denied the motion on grounds that the case did not qualify as "exceptional" under the Patent Act attorneys’ fees provision, 35 U.S.C. § 285; an award of fees was not appropriate under 28 U.S.C. § 1967; and the facts of the case did not compel an award of fees under the court’s inherent power to impose sanctions for bad-faith and vexatious litigation. 18 pages. Chief Judge Steven J. McAuliffe.


CIVIL RIGHTS; PRISONER

3/11/08 Knowles v. N.H. Department of Corrections, Commissioner, et al.
Case No. 05-cv-363-JL, Opinion No. 2008 NH 052*

New Hampshire Department of Corrections’ motion to dismiss based on prisoner/petitioner’s failure to exhaust administrative remedies granted over petitioner’s objection that the prison’s three-level grievance procedure was invalid because it had not been promulgated in accordance with requirements of New Hampshire Administrative Procedure Act. After a hearing, construing the plain language of the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act and persuasive authority from the Third and Fifth Circuits, the court found and ruled that even if the grievance procedure was technically invalid as a matter of New Hampshire administrative law, it was nonetheless an "administrative remedy . . . available to the petitioner." 21 pages. Judge Joseph N. Laplante.


COMMUNICATIONS DECENCY ACT; INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

3/27/08 Doe v. Friendfinder, Inc. et al.
Case No. 07-cv-286-JL, Opinion No. 2008 DNH 058*

The plaintiff brought a number of state-law claims, including invasion of privacy, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, as well as claims of false designation and false advertising under the Lanham Act, against the operators of on-line dating sites, alleging that they had published a false and defamatory profile of her on their sites and unaffiliated sites without her permission. Because the profile had been created by a third person, the defendants moved to dismiss under the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which generally bars state-law claims against interactive computer services for publishing content obtained from another information content provider. After a hearing, the court ruled that the CDA barred most of the claims arising out of the appearance or continued appearance of the profile on the defendants’ sites, as well as its use as an advertisement on unaffiliated sites, because those claims depended on treating the defendants as the speaker or publisher of the information in the profile, which originated with a third party. The court also ruled, however, that the CDA did not reach the plaintiff’s state-law claim for infringement of her right to publicity or her federal-law Lanham Act claims, which arose from "law pertaining to intellectual property" and were therefore specifically exempted from the reach of the CDA. The court rejected the defendants’ arguments that (1) this exception reached claims under federal intellectual property law only and (2) the plaintiff had not stated any intellectual property claims because she was not a celebrity, so her profile lacked any commercial value. 41 pages. Judge Joseph N. Laplante.



CONSTITUTIONAL LAW; RES JUDICATA; COLLATERAL ESTOPPEL

4/4/08 Sutliffe et al v. Town of Epping et al
Case No. 06-cv-474-JL, Opinion No. 2008 NH 076*

The plaintiffs, who included a local anti-spending organization and affiliated and unaffiliated individuals, sued the Town of Epping and a number of its boards, officials, and employees for alleged First and Fourteenth Amendment violations arising from the defendants’ use of mailings and other publicly funded communications to advocate their positions on spending issues while excluding the plaintiffs’ views from those fora. The defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that the claims were barred by either res judicata or collateral estoppel due to the state courts’ prior rejection of the plaintiff organization’s similar claim. After a hearing, the court dismissed all but one claim, ruling that (1) while res judicata did not apply to claims by individuals unaffiliated, and therefore not in privity, with the organization, those individuals lacked standing, because they had alleged only a "desire" to participate in the fora at issue, (2) even though the state courts had limited the scope of their decision to particular statements in one of the town’s annual reports, the claims in that action arose out of the same transaction or series of related transactions as their claims in the instant action, which challenged different actions on the same grounds, so res judicata applied, and (3) collateral estoppel barred the claim arising out of an annual report issued subsequent to the state-court decision, because it did not differ in any significant way from the annual report considered by the state courts. 41 pages. Judge Joseph N. Laplante.


CRIMINAL CASES

3/28/08 United States v. Ellison
Case No. 07-cr-144-01-SM, Opinion No. 2008 DNH 059

Defendant, who was being held in jail on unrelated charges, was interviewed by two police officers and gave inculpatory statements, which he moved the court to suppress. The court denied that motion, noting that although defendant was in jail at the time of his interview, that fact alone did not render the questioning "custodial interrogation" for Miranda purposes. Rather, a court must consider the "totality of circumstances" to determine whether a person who is already incarcerated is "in custody," within the meaning of Miranda. Here, defendant was not "in custody." Accordingly, the officers were not legally obligated to advise defendant of his Miranda rights, nor were defendant’s statements subject to suppression on grounds of presumptive involuntariness due to a breach of Miranda’s prophylactic rule. Finally, the statements were not otherwise involuntary. 10 pages. Chief Judge Steven J. McAuliffe.


HABEAS CORPUS

4/2/08 Belton v. Larry Blaisdell, Warden
Case No. 04-cv-270-JL, Opinion No. 2008 DNH 070*

The petitioner sought habeas corpus relief from his state-law conviction for bank robbery, alleging a number of constitutional errors in those proceedings. The respondent moved for summary judgment, arguing that the petitioner had procedurally defaulted all of his claims besides ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to raise them in the direct appeal from his conviction and that, in any event, the claims were without merit. The petitioner had raised all of the claims in a series of post-conviction motions to the superior court, which had denied nearly all of them as a "rehashing" of the claims presented on direct appeal. The habeas court ruled that, because this determination rested on a rule against re-litigating claims on collateral review, rather than raising claims for the first time on collateral review, the superior court had not imposed a procedural default. The habeas court rejected the respondent’s argument that, because the petitioner had not in fact raised those claims on direct appeal, the habeas court should construe the superior court’s order as actually denying the claims on that basis, which would have imposed a procedural default. The habeas court agreed with the respondent that the claims lacked merit, ruling, among other things, that (1) the police had not engaged in an illegal "two-step interrogation" under Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600 (2004), by conducting an unwarned interrogation of the suspect before releasing him, then continuing the interrogation at the suspect’s request the following day, with the benefit of Miranda warnings, and (2) a report from a witness immediately following the robbery that he had just seen a man matching the petitioner’s description run past him was to enable police assistance to meet an ongoing emergency, i.e., to catch a fleeing and reportedly armed suspect, and therefore not testimonial under the Confrontation Clause. 67 pages. Judge Joseph N. Laplante.

3/4/08 Gray v. NHSP Warden
Case No. 07-cv-77-SM, Opinion No. 2008 DNH 049

Petitioner, a state inmate, sought habeas corpus relief, asserting that, during the course of his criminal trial, he had been denied both due process and effective assistance of counsel. After reviewing petitioner’s submissions, the court granted the State’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that petitioner failed to carry his substantial burden of proving that the state court’s resolution of his constitutional claims was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law. 15 pages. Chief Judge Steven J. McAuliffe.


INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

3/28/08 T-Peg, Inc. v. Vermont Timber Works, Inc., et al.
Case No. 03-cv-462-SM, Opinion No. 2008 DNH 060

Defendants moved for summary judgment in this copyright infringement action, contending that plaintiffs – two affiliated companies – lacked standing because they neither created the copyrighted work nor owned a copyright on it. Summary judgment was denied, based upon genuine factual disputes over the meaning of a document purporting to grant ownership in the copyrights to one of the plaintiffs. But, plaintiffs were put on notice that the question of copyright ownership, a necessary element of an infringement action, remains questionable. 17 pages. Chief Judge Steven J. McAuliffe.

3/28/08 Goss International v. MAN Roland, Inc., et al.
Case No. 03-cv-513-SM, Opinion No. 2008 DNH 062

The defendant in this patent infringement case moved for partial summary judgment limiting the effective filing date of the patents-in-suit. Because one of the applications in the chain leading back to the application from which the patents-in-suit claimed priority did not disclose the same invention as the application that followed it, the continuous chain of applications was broken, thus depriving the plaintiff/patent holder of the earlier priority date. 20 pages. Chief Judge Steven J. McAuliffe.

3/28/08 Goss International v. MAN Roland, Inc., et al.
Case No. 03-cv-513-SM, Opinion No. 2008 DNH 063

In this patent case, where the court had previously ruled that the defendant infringed various independent claims of the patents-in-suit, the plaintiff moved for summary judgment that various dependent claims were also infringed. Because the defense to the infringement claims, based upon prosecution history, was unavailing, summary judgment was awarded to the plaintiff. 8 pages. Chief Judge Steven J. McAuliffe.

3/28/08 Goss International v. MAN Roland, Inc., et al.
Case No. 03-cv-513-SM, Opinion No. 2008 DNH 064

Both sides in patent-infringement case moved for summary judgment on the question of invalidity due to obviousness, and neither side prevailed, given the existence of genuine issues of material fact. 5 pages. Chief Judge Steven J. McAuliffe.


JURISDICTION; CORPORATIONS

2/22/08 Neary et al. v. Miltronics Manufacturing Services, Inc., et al.
Case No. 07-cv-273-JL, Opinion No. 2008 DNH 043*

The plaintiffs, minority shareholders in the defendant Vermont corporation, sought its judicial dissolution or, in the alternative, an injunction against their ouster as its directors by the corporation’s majority shareholder. After a hearing, citing related but distinct abstention doctrines under Burford v. Sun Oil Co., 319 U.S. 315 (1943) and Pennsylvania v. Williams, 294 U.S. 176 (1935), the court declined jurisdiction over the equitable claim to dissolve the corporation, deferring to the Vermont state court, and stayed the plaintiffs’ claims for damages pending the final adjudication of the equitable claims in state court. 12 pages. Judge Joseph N. Laplante.


JURISDICTION; REMOVAL

3/4/08 Lowe v. Sears Holding Corporation
Case No. 07-cv-13-JL, Opinion No. 2008 DNH 050

Defendant Sears Holding Corporation removed the plaintiff’s wrongful termination suit to federal court, and the plaintiff moved to remand to state court, arguing that his claim failed to satisfy the "amount in controversy" requirement for diversity jurisdiction ($75,000), and further agreed to limit its state court damages to a figure below $75,000. Sears presented credible evidence that the plaintiff’s annual salary exceeded $75,000, in addition to insurance benefits. After a hearing, relying on Supreme Court authority that events occurring subsequent to removal which reduce the amount recoverable, including agreements to cap damages claims, do not oust the district court’s jurisdiction, the court denied the motion to remand. 5 pages. Judge Joseph N. Laplante.


SECURITIES

3/24/08 SEC v. Patel, et al.
Case No. 07-cv-39-SM, Opinion No. 2008 DNH 053

In this eight-count, ten-defendant securities fraud case, defendant Lawrence Collins’ motion to dismiss was granted, without prejudice, principally because the complaint contained inadequate allegations linking Collins to the false statements at issue. 37 pages. Chief Judge Steven J. McAuliffe.

3/24/08 SEC v. Patel, et al.
Case No. 07-cv-39-SM, Opinion No. 2008 DNH 054

In this eight-count, ten-defendant securities fraud case, defendant David Kirkpatrick’s motion to dismiss was granted without prejudice as to six counts and denied as to two counts. The principal ground for dismissal was the SEC’s failure to allege false statements that met the requisite materiality standard. The two counts that were not dismissed involved claims that the defendant made false statements to auditors or aided and abetted others in making such statements. 49 pages. Chief Judge Steven J. McAuliffe.

3/24/08 SEC v. Patel, et al.
Case No. 07-cv-39-SM, Opinion No. 2008 DNH 055

In this eight-count, ten-defendant securities fraud case, defendant Piyush Patel’s motion to dismiss was granted without prejudice, principally due to the SEC’s failure to allege false statements that met the requisite materiality standard. 51 pages. Chief Judge Steven J. McAuliffe.

3/24/08 SEC v. Patel, et al.
Case No. 07-cv-39-SM, Opinion No. 2008 DNH 056

In this eight-count, ten-defendant securities fraud case, defendant Eric Jaeger’s motion to dismiss was granted without prejudice, principally due to the SEC’s failure to allege false statements that met the requisite materiality standard. 51 pages. Chief Judge Steven J. McAuliffe.

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