February 2022

Zombie Deer: Slowing the Spread of CWD

Warren Sexson, MJLST Staffer

Minnesota is one of the premier states in the Union for chasing whitetails. In 2020, over 470,000 licenses were purchased to harvest deer. As a hunter myself, I understand the importance of protecting Minnesota’s deer herd and habitat. The most concerning threat to whitetail deer in the state is Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). CWD alters the central nervous system, similar to “mad cow disease,” causing deer to lose weight, stumble, drool, and behave similarly to an extra on The Walking Dead. It was first discovered in 1967 in Colorado mule deer and is transmissible to other ungulates such as moose, elk, red deer, black-tail deer, Sitka deer, and reindeer. It is 100% fatal in animals it infects and there is no known treatment or vaccine. While it currently poses no threat to humans, Canadian researchers have shown eating the meat from infected animals can infect hungry macaques, prompting the CDC and the World Health Organization to recommend against consumption of CWD positive animals. Luckily, in Minnesota there were only a handful of cases last season. Challenges still remain, however, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the state legislature have tools at their disposal to combat the spread.

The DNR currently has a comprehensive response plan. In order to get a deer hunting license, the hunter has to pick what “zone” he or she will be hunting in. Minnesota is divided up into zones based off of the deer population and geography. Each zone has different guidelines for how many licenses will sell to the public. Some are “limited draw,” meaning a lottery system where only a certain number of applicants are selected, others are “over-the-counter,” meaning anyone who wants a license in that unit may buy one. Within the zoning system, the DNR has three “CWD Zone” classifications that restrict harvesting deer depending on the risks of the disease—surveillance, control, and management zones. Surveillance zones are where CWD has been found in captive deer or in wild deer in an adjacent zone. Control zones border the management zones, and management zones take up most of the south-eastern portion of the state, where CWD is highly concentrated. The restrictions in each type of zone vary, with surveillance zones being the least restricted and management zones being the most. Hunters have a key role in slowing the spread of CWD. Reducing deer populations in CWD ridden areas helps to reduce contact among deer and lower infection rates. However, there are other ways to further Minnesota’s commitment to slowing the spread of CWD.

The DNR can use emergency actions; it has done so recently. In October of 2021, the DNR temporarily banned moving farmed deer into and within the state through emergency action. Farmed deer (deer raised in captivity for use in trophy hunting) are a main vector of transmission for CWD. The ban was lifted in December but could have lasted longer. The DNR has emergency authority under Minn. Stat. § 84.027 Subd. 13(b) and (g). By enacting emergency declarations, the DNR can continue to use proven measures to slow the spread: requiring testing in high risk areas, banning movement between deer farms, increasing legal limits, and requiring hunters who desire a big buck to first harvest does in so called “Earn-a-Buck” programs. But, such emergency authority can only be 18 months at the longest. While limited in time, emergency orders provide the DNR the flexibility it needs to combat the disease’s spread.

The agency could also attempt to regulate by standard rulemaking authority as laid out in Chapter 14 of Minnesota’s statutes. The agency likely has authority to regulate deer hunting rules relating to CWD and recently has gained concurrent authority over deer farms along with the Board of Animal Health. However, if the DNR attempted to ban deer farming or imposed severe regulatory requirements, industry and interest groups would likely respond with legal challenges to the rulemaking process. In previous attempts to severely restrict deer farms, the Minnesota Deer Farmers Association has filed lawsuits attempting to block restrictions.

While the DNR likely can regulate deer hunting to slow the spread, the legislature is the best option for stopping deer farming as a whole. It is not necessarily a one-sided issue; a bi-partisan coalition of hunters and environmentalistswish to see the practice banned. State Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL) who chairs the House Environment and Natural Resources Finances and Policy Committee has discussed ending the practice and buying out all existing operators. Craig Engwall, head of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association has additionally called for such a ban. State legislation would be the most comprehensive way to slow the spread of CWD.

State legislators should also consider funding more research for potential vaccines and treatments for CWD. Funding is beginning to pick up; Canadian researchers have begun working on potential vaccines. Additionally, Rep. Ron Kind’s (D-WI) bill, the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act passed the House of Representatives with Bipartisan support and awaits a vote in the Senate. While this is encouraging, more can be done to support scientific research and protect deer herds. If Minnesota wants to lead the United States in solving such a global issue, the bipartisan support exists to help tackle the largest threat to deer hunting in the U.S. and the state.

CWD threatens the state’s large and historic deer hunting tradition. The DNR and the state legislature have the tools at their disposal to impose meaningful reform to combat the spread of “zombie-deer,” so the population can thrive for generations to come.

Social Media Influencers Ask What “Intellectual Property” Means

Henry Killen, MJLST Staffer

Today, just about anyone can name their favorite social media influencer. The most popular influencers are athletes, musicians, politicians, entrepreneurs, or models. Ultra-famous influencers, such as Kylie Jenner, can charge over 1 million dollars for a single post with a company’s product. So what are the risks of being an influencer? Tik Tok star Charli D’Amelio has been on both sides of intellectual property disputes. A photo of Charli was included in media mogul Sheeraz Hasan’s video promoting his ability to “make anyone famous.” The video featured many other celebrities such as Logan Paul and Zendaya. Charli’s legal team sent a cease-and-desist letter to Sheeraz demanding that her portion of the promotional video is scrubbed. Her lawyers assert that her presence in the promo “is not approved and will not be approved.” Charli has also been on the other side of celebrity intellectual property issues. The star published her first book In December and has come under fire from photographer Jake Doolittle for allegedly using photos he took without his permission. Though no lawsuit has been filed, Jake posted a series of Instagram posts blaming Charli’s team for not compensating him for his work.

Charli’s controversies highlight a bigger question society is facing, is content shared on social media platforms considered intellectual property? A good place to begin is figuring out what exactly intellectual property is. Intellectual property “refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names, and images used in commerce.” Social media platforms make it possible to access endless displays of content – from images to ideas – creating a cultural norm of sharing many aspects of life. Legal teams at the major social media platforms already have policies in place that make it against the rules to take images from a social media feed and use them as one’s own. For example, Bloggers may not be aware what they write may already by trademarked or copyrighted or that the images they get off the internet for their posts may not be freely reposted. Influencers get reposted on sites like Instagram all the time, and not just by loyal fans. These reposts may seem harmless to many influencers, but it is actually against Instagram’s policy to repost a photo without the creator’s consent. This may seem like not a big deal because what influencer doesn’t want more attention? However, sometimes influencers’ work gets taken and then becomes a sensation. A group of BIPOC TikTok users are fighting to copyright a dance they created that eventually became one of biggest dances in TikTok history. A key fact in their case is that the dance only became wildly popular after the most famous TiKTok users began doing it.

There are few examples of social media copyright issues being litigated, but in August 2021, a Manhattan Federal judge ruled that the practice of embedding social media posts on third-party websites, without permission from the content owner, could violate the owner’s copyright. In reaching this decision, the judge rejected the “server test” from the 9th Circuit, which holds that embedding content from a third party’s social media account only violates the contents owner’s copyright if a copy is stored on the defendant’s serves. .  General copyright laws from Congress lay out four considerations when deciding if a work should be granted copyright protection: originality, fixation, idea versus expression, and functionality. These considerations notably leave a gray area in determining if dances or expressions on social media sites can be copyrighted. Congress should enact a more comprehensive law to better address intellectual property as it relates to social media.

A New Sheriff in the Wild West: How the Cryptocurrency Industry’s Failure to Neutralize Hacking Threats Has Rendered Federal Regulation a Necessity

Dan O’Dea, MJLST Staffer

In today’s financial world, few things are more captivating than the rapidly evolving cryptocurrency space. It has been a wild twelve months for the cryptocurrency industry, and specifically for Bitcoin owners. Bitcoin doubled its value in 2021 and peaked at just over $68,000/coin, only to erase nearly all of those gains when the crypto market crashed in January 2022. The crash was largely prompted by fears that the Federal Reserve would withdraw stimulus from the market by raising interest rates. In the process, the crypto market lost over $1 trillion in market value, and an asset class that many have called a “hedge opportunity” for investors against inflation crashed down with the stock market as a whole.

But extreme market volatility is not the only risk investing in cryptocurrency poses for its some 300 million investors. Hackers and thieves have been wreaking havoc on the Decentralized Finance (De-Fi) industry, with their latest exploit coming in the form of a $320 million theft of Ethereum from Wormhole, one of the most popular bridges linking the blockchains of the popular Ethereum and Solana coins. These blockchains are of great use, as they are capable of developing “smart contracts” to replace banks and lawyers in certain business transactions. Blockchain “bridges” like Wormhole are important facilitators for these contracts. Unfortunately, in the process, bridges like Wormhole have become a target for cyberattacks due to fundamental limits on their security as they house hundreds of millions of dollars of assets in escrow. This latest theft on Wormhole is not even the largest in the De-Fi crypto space’s history, where a $600 million theft from a platform called Poly Network takes the cake. Interestingly, the hacker’s goal in that theft was simply to open a dialogue with the platform about security issues on the blockchain, and ultimately all funds were returned. Attacks have not been limited to the platform level, as smaller-time thieves have turned to phishing scams and SIM Swap schemes (in which an individual misrepresents their identity to your cell phone provider in an effort to intercept dual-factor authentication messages and gain access to your crypto accounts) to steal from individual investors. Unfortunately, victims of the vast majority of cryptocurrency thefts are extremely unlikely to recoup their funds once they have been stolen, due to the anonymity afforded to wallet holders on the blockchain, who in some cases can reveal no identifiable details about themselves while transacting cryptocurrency.

It is important to note that when a cryptocurrency platform loses money, it is not the platform alone that incurs a loss. Rather, the clients whose accounts were pillaged by hackers bear the entire loss, or, if the platform collapses from the theft and liquidators are appointed, every user on the platform will bear the loss to some degree. So what recourse do the victims of cryptocurrency theft have? While Cryptocurrency platforms such as Coinbase attempt to educate users about the types of scams they may encounter, if a theft occurs, victims are usually on their own. While state prosecutor’s offices and federal enforcement agencies like the FBI will investigate and prosecute identifiable criminals, and individual plaintiffs can bring private civil actions against them, the largest challenge faced by victims of cryptocurrency theft is identifying the thieves in the first place. In an effort to identify perpetrators, both the FBI and private parties with deep pockets have begun to contract with private tech firms specializing in tracking down stolen crypto, such as CipherTrace. While working with a crypto-tracking firm gives an aggrieved individual the best chance of tracking down their thieves, it is still unlikely that the parties will ever be identified and funds ever recouped.

Security requirements are far from standardized across the crypto industry—true to its nickname, the “Decentralized Finance” (De-Fi) industry, operates essentially free from regulatory constraints in the United States. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has cautioned investors of the risks posed by cryptocurrency investments relating to hacking and volatility, but because the space is not subject to federal securities regulation requirements, investors often enter the world of cryptocurrency investing underinformed as to its true risks. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has begun to wade into the fray of regulating cryptocurrency platforms, most recently with the introduction of a proposal that some are calling a “trojan horse” regulatory tool to be wielded against the crypto industry. The proposal contains an expansive definition of the term “treasury platforms” that would likely allow the SEC to issue protocols for cryptocurrency and De-Fi platforms. The trojan horse notwithstanding, the SEC has been vocal about its plans to introduce formal regulatory guidelines and procedures for the cryptocurrency industry in the long term. Even the White House has waded into the crypto regulatory waters, with the Biden administration set to release an executive order designed to create a government-wide strategy to regulate the cryptocurrency industry that could release as soon as mid-February, 2022. The proposal comes on the heels of the FTC’s release of data showing cryptocurrency scams have skyrocketed, and as concern levels over crypto money laundering schemes rise.

While many have scoffed at the idea that the decentralized finance industry should be regulated, it is likely that the prospect of federal regulation actually represents a good thing for a cryptocurrency market that has been referred to as “The Wild West,” and that has drawn comparisons to the late 2000s subprime mortgage market. Federal regulation of the cryptocurrency industry will prompt new protocols for its platforms designed to enhance risk disclosures made to prospective crypto investors and strengthen the security measures protecting investments. Further, regulation is likely to prompt registration and reporting requirements that will make it easier to catch crypto thieves by providing greater information to law enforcement agencies. The crypto industry continues to prove it cannot protect itself from the threat of hacking, and investors are largely bearing the costs of these failures. Just as the SEC stepped in to protect investors from being burned by highly speculative and worthless securities in the 1930s, aiding its regulatory hand to the cryptocurrency industry in a non-burdensome manner should again provide investors with a new set of protections in 2022.

Legal Personhood and Cocaine Hippos: Animals as “Interested Persons” and Their Rights in Court

Douglas Harman, MJLST Staffer

On October 15, 2021, a federal magistrate judge ruled that a group of hippos in Colombia can be recognized as “interested persons” per federal statute for the purposes of deposing two Ohio Wildlife experts. These hippos are the descendants of hippos illegally imported to Colombia by drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. When Escobar was killed, the hippos were not relocated and were left to their own devices in Colombia. Since then, the hippos have multiplied and present significant environmental challenges. The issue in the US arose from litigation in Colombia concerning the fate of the hippos, which resulted in a request to depose the two Ohio experts. These hippos will be referred to as the “cocaine hippos” because that seems to be the term most commonly associated with them (and, quite frankly, it’s amusing).

This decision, though hailed by animal rights groups as groundbreaking, is likely more a technicality than a guiding precedent. Specifically, the ruling comes because Colombia treats animals as “sentient beings” with certain rights. Because the suit by the hippos is permitted in Colombia, US law treats the hippos as “interested persons” for the purposes of deposing US experts on ethical sterilization methods. Regardless of the breadth or technicality of the decision in question, it nonetheless represents a significant step to affix the title of “person” to a non-homosapien, and it has not happened in a US court before, despite repeated efforts by animal rights organizations. However, other countries do recognize various degrees of animal sentience.

The Legal Concept of Non-Human “Personhood”

The issue of whether animals should be considered “persons” has a variety of scientific, psychological, and philosophical elements. This blog post is not here to debate whether animals should be considered persons in terms of political theory or philosophy; plenty of ink has been spent in that pursuit elsewhere. This discussion focuses on how non-persons may receive limited rights to sue in court and perform certain legal functions as if they were persons, like the deposition of experts in the matter of the cocaine hippos.

 The implications of animal consciousness are relevant because growing understanding of animal cognition and consciousness has informed a discussion of whether animals, and other non-humans like trees or natural areas, should be allowed to have their own rights vindicated in court. That is to say, there are a number of ongoing legal discussions about obligations owed to non-humans that governments are obligated to respect, and how those rights are allowed to be vindicated in court. It is this narrower, legal version of non-human “personhood” that was granted to Colombia’s cocaine hippos in the present action.

History of Non-Human “Personhood” Debate in the US

Although the court ruling in the cocaine hippos matter is the first time a US court has attached “person” status to an animal, it is not the first time the issue has been discussed. Attempts to give animals legal status and treat them as “persons” in certain legal areas developed from the animal rights movement, which has a long history in the US and Great Britain. In the last several years, several courts have referred to animal legal rights in the context of personhood, albeit rather obliquely at times. One of the biggest ongoing debates concerns the rights of Happy the Elephant; animal rights activists are pursuing a writ of habeas corpus for Happy, arguing she deserves to be treated as a person in the eyes of the law.

Non-human personhood is not without precedent. Courts have allowed corporations to be considered “artificial persons” in limited circumstances in court since the 1600s. Jurisprudence has since developed in the United States towards increasing “personhood” of corporations, referring to a railroad as a person for the purposes of the 14th amendment in 1886. Today corporations have near-total personhood, including the right to make religious objections to laws and practice free speech.

There is also some precedent for inanimate objects holding “personhood” status under the law. Every law student (and a great many other Americans, it is to be imagined) have discussed or at least heard of the Tree that Owns Itself (while it almost certainly does not own itself as a technical matter, it certainly does in the public mind and in the official statements of the local government). Additionally, Justice William O. Douglas in his dissent in Sierra Club v. Morton argued that standing doctrine should be amended to allow organizations to sue on behalf of inanimate things, including land, rivers, trees, etc. This opinion essentially lays out an idea of legal personhood for inanimate objects, and would presumably also extend with relative ease to animals.

As a factual matter, the reality of non-human personhood, while remarkably developed for corporations in the United States, has relatively little real applications to animals today. This is one of the main reasons that the attachment of the “interested persons” label to the Colombian hippos felt significant to many in the animal rights movement.

Recognition of Non-Human “Personhood” in Other Countries

While animals have not commonly been granted legal rights in the United States, they do in many other countries. Spain recognized animals as “sentient beings” and have greater standing than inanimate objects. In doing so, it joined about 32 other countries that do the same, including France, the U.K., the Netherlands, Sweden, New Zealand, and Tanzania. South Korea is doing something similar in granting animals legal status.

South America is also moving on the front on non-human rights. In 2014, a court in Argentina recognized the basic rights of Sandra the Orangutan, and agreed that she was being detained illegally in the Buenos Aires Zoo. Additionally, Colombia, the state in which the cocaine hippos case originates, has vested portions of the Amazon Rainforest with legal rights, and, as mentioned, recognizes animal sentience and limited legal rights.

What This Means for Colombia’s Cocaine Hippos (and Other Animals)

In the immediate term, the magistrate judge’s recognition of the cocaine hippos as “interested persons” has allowed for the expert deposition sought by the Colombian lawyers advocating on the hippos’ behalf. Effort is now under way to chemically sterilize the hippos, rather than cull or surgically castrate them.

More broadly, there appears to be more references to the inherent rights of animals in American jurisprudence, rather than simply their function as property. The act of classifying the hippos as “interested persons” did not rock the legal boat (in fact, the magistrate judge remains quite well regarded by her colleagues). Those interested in animal rights will doubtless be heartened by increased use of personhood and rights language used with respect to animals. Hopefully, the treatment of Pablo Escobar’s rogue cocaine hippos in US court is indicative of progressive trend in the law’s treatment of animals.

The Mysterious Disappearance of Deference: What Is the Supreme Court’s Current Relationship to Federal Agencies?

Carly Michaud, MJLST Staffer

The Supreme Court has had no shortage of administrative law cases in the (possibly) final sessions of one of the Court’s administrative law scholars, Justice Stephen Breyer. Yet, Breyer has found himself and his ideological compatriots in the opposition on the topic in which he situates his expertise. In the recent case regarding OSHA’s ability to require COVID-19 vaccines, Breyer’s dissent repeated discusses the proper deference an agency’s determination should be given by the Supreme Court.

Notably absent from the case is any mention of the previous key to the relationship between the courts and federal agencies: Chevron deference. In fact, Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. National Resources Defense Council, was, (as of a 2014 analysis in the Yale Journal on Regulation) the “Most Cited Supreme Court Administrative Law decision”. While previously considered a niche area, administrative law is now so ubiquitous in practice that as of July 2021, 55 law schools require students take a course in administrative law or one of its mainstays: legislation or statutory interpretation.

In spite of this, Chevron appears nowhere in the discussion of OSHA’s vaccine mandate, nor in the court’s earlier revocation of the CDC’s eviction moratorium. This absence suggests that perhaps this Court has become a body of health experts, relying on their own understanding of COVID-19 to determine whether these agency-created regulations are effective in their mission. Both cases center on whether an agency action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is within the purview of their empowering statute, and, despite the broad statutory authorities of these agencies to protect the health of Americans, both actions were deemed beyond that authority.

But back to Chevron, has it been abandoned as a standard? Not yet, although there was some discussion of this proposition during the oral argument of American Hospital Association v. Becerra last November. The Court has not released an opinion yet on this case, however the Court of Appeals had previously upheld HHS’s ability to set reembursement rates, per its statutory authority.

In a final thrust of irony, the death knell for Chevron deference may come from a case challenging the very statute and the very agency whose decision-making was at issue in Chevron: the EPA and the Clean Air Act. This is particularly ironic as the EPA administrator whose decision-making was being challenged in Chevron was Anne Gorsuch, the mother of Supreme Court justice and noted antagonist of agency authority: Neil Gorsuch. Yes, in a tale mirroring Hamlet, Neil Gorsuch seems determined to destroy the administrative state that had entangled his mother in various administrative scandals. The latest edition of this showdown between the Gorsuchs and EPA is scheduled for Monday February 28, which will see the Supreme Court hearing arguments in West Virginia v. EPA and its consolidated cases.

This behavior by the Court belies a grave concern both about the continued disempowerment of federal agencies—which have been empowered directly by Congress—at the hands of the unelected judiciary. Further, the most cynical of us may see this as a direct assault on the authority of agencies that some justices may politically disagree with, further disregarding the knowledge of learned experts to push their own political agendas.