Litigation

DNA Testing and Death: How Decades-Long Procedural Battles Determine Who Has to Die

Alexa Johnson-Gomez, MJLST Staffer

When individuals convicted of murder claim actual innocence, crime-scene DNA testing has, many times over, been dispositive in proving such innocence. Intuitively, we assume that if someone has been wrongfully convicted, DNA will be the bringer of truth. But what happens when a defendant cannot get their requested DNA testing because the State argues their claim is procedurally defaulted or barred by the statute of limitations?

Reed v. Goertz is a case in the current U.S. Supreme Court term. Petitioner Rodney Reed argues that his due process rights were violated by a refusal to complete DNA testing after he filed post conviction petitions for relief. While the facts are fairly case-specific and relate to Texas criminal procedure, the Court’s holding in this case could have important implications for when the clock starts to run on petitions for crime-scene DNA testing, as well as for death-row claims of actual innocence more generally.

Back in 1998, a Texas court convicted Rodney Reed of the murder of Stacey Stites; the evidentiary basis for this conviction was solely the presence of his sperm.[1] Reed has maintained his innocence since trial, explaining that his sperm was present because he was having a secret, long-standing affair with Stites.[2] At trial, Reed theorized that the murderer might have been the man Stites was engaged to, who was perhaps retaliating against Stites, a white woman, for having an affair with Reed, a Black man.

In 2014, Reed sought post conviction DNA testing under Chapter 64 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. This provision allows a convicted person to obtain post conviction DNA testing of biological material if the court finds that certain conditions are met.[3] The state trial court denied this motion in November 2014, on the grounds that Reed failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he would not have been convicted but for exculpatory results. Reed appealed the denial, and the appellate court remanded for additional fact finding. Then in September 2016, after additional fact finding was done, the state trial court denied the post conviction DNA testing yet again. The appellate court affirmed the denial in April 2017 and denied rehearing in October 2017.

At this stage, Reed filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint against the prosecuting attorney, challenging the constitutionality of Chapter 64 both on its face and as applied to his case.[4] The district court dismissed all of Reed’s claims for failure to state a claim; the Fifth Circuit affirmed in April 2021, stating that Reed’s claim was untimely and that Reed knew or should have known of his injury in November 2014. Generally, time bars in post conviction follow a common principle: if a defendant did know or should have known of a claim, that is the point at which the clock starts running. Defense counsel argues that the clock began to run in October 2017, after Reed exhausted his post conviction appeals fully.

At oral argument on October 11, 2022, the state argued that the clock started prior to the rehearing date in October 2017. Justice Kagan reasoned that it would be simpler to acknowledge we do not know what the authoritative construction of a court of appeals is until appeals are concluded. Justice Jackson agreed, noting that if the federal clock starts while the state appeals process is still ongoing, then the federal courts would have to pause consideration to allow state courts to weigh in first. This would be untenable and overly chaotic. Defense counsel reminded the court of the mounting evidence that points at Reed’s innocence, evidence which is still under review.

While not the hottest topic of this Supreme Court term, this case could still have important implications. While the use of DNA testing to prove actual innocence has been a practice in the world of litigation for the past few decades, cases that have yet to get their post conviction DNA testing done, like Reed’s, often stand in such perilous status because of procedural bars.

A haunting example—the recent execution of Murray Hooper in Arizona. 76 years old at the time of his death, Hooper maintained his innocence until his day of execution.[5] There was never any forensic testing in Hooper’s case that proved he conclusively committed the murders. Hooper’s lawyers filed appeals to get newly discovered evidence considered and forensic testing completed,[6] yet these petitions were all denied.

In theory, post conviction and habeas relief are meant to be reserved for the most deserving of defendants. The courts do not want to allow convicted murderers chance after chance at getting a conviction or sentence overturned, and there is, of course, the presumption that any conviction was right the first time. Yet the high procedural barrier to bringing such claims is not in line with the reality of wrongful convictions. Since 1973, 190 death-row inmates have been exonerated.[7]Post conviction DNA testing is not merely allowing defendants to draw out their appeals process and stave off execution, but is an important scientific tool that can check if the trial court got it right. Preventing petitioners from accessing DNA testing just because of procedural barriers is an injustice, and hopefully the Supreme Court rules as such in Reed v. Goertz.

Notes

[1] Innocence Staff, 10 Facts About Rodney Reed’s Case You Need to Know, Innocence Project (Oct. 11, 2019), https://innocenceproject.org/10-facts-you-need-to-know-about-rodney-reed-who-is-scheduled-for-execution-on-november-20/.

[2] Amy Howe, Justices Wrestle with Statute of Limitations in Rodney Reed’s Effort to Revive DNA Lawsuit, SCOTUSblog (Oct. 11, 2022), https://www.scotusblog.com/2022/10/justices-wrestle-with-statute-of-limitations-in-rodney-reeds-effort-to-revive-dna-lawsuit/.

[3] See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. § 64.03.

[4] Reed v. Goertz, 995 F.3d 425, 428 (5th Cir. 2021).

[5] Liliana Segura, Out of Time, The Intercept (Nov. 15, 2022), https://theintercept.com/2022/11/15/murray-hooper-arizona-execution/.

[6] Associated Press, Lawyers for Murray Hooper File New Appeal as Execution Date Nears, Fox 10 (Nov. 1, 2022),https://www.fox10phoenix.com/news/lawyers-for-murray-hooper-file-new-appeal-as-execution-date-nears.

[7] Innocence, Death Penalty Information Center, https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/policy-issues/innocence (last visited Nov. 27, 2022).


Target Number One, the Consequences of Being the Best

Ben Lauter, MJLST Staffer

The World of Chess

Since 2013, Norwegian Magnus Carlsen has been the reigning World Champion in chess. This achievement was not shocking to many; Magnus has been an elite chess prodigy and Grandmaster since the age of thirteen (nine years before his eventual champion title). Many regard Magnus as the best chess player ever, surpassing the legend of Fischer and Kasparov[1], two former great world champions. During Kasparov’s reign, he drew, or tied, Magnus in a classical game[2] of chess when Magnus was just thirteen. With this being said, it seems impossible to quantify the talent and genius that Magnus possesses and continues to refine in chess. However, that is exactly what the ELO rating system intends to do.

An ELO rating is a calculation of a chess player’s current skill level. Magnus boasts the highest classical ELO rating ever to be retained: 2882. Along the way to receiving this all-time high was a period of time spanning nearly two and a half years where Magnus did not lose a single classical game, winning 125 straight. All of this is to say, Magnus Carlsen is an unstoppable force in chess. However, on September 4th, 2022, Magnus played a game that would snap his then current 53 game winning streak. On that date he lost to a 19-year-old American at the St. Louis based Sinquefield Cup Tournament, Hans Niemann, a San Francisco born prodigy currently ranked as the 49th best player in the world with an ELO rating of 2688.

The Match

This match had anything but a quiet result, despite the silence in the interviews afterwards. All that was said from the reigning World Champion was a tweet stating that Magnus would be withdrawing from the tournament, a measure that is near unprecedented from a World Champion at such a major world tournament. With that tweet, a clip was attached of the famous soccer (football) manager, Jose Mourinho, saying “If I speak, I will be in big trouble.” The chess world speculated that this was Magnus’s informal way of accusing the teenage Hans of cheating in an “over the board” chess match. A conjecture of which the chess world has not yet made peace, with article after article, interview after interview, and Grandmaster after Grandmaster giving their two cents.

There were many aftershocks to Magnus’s tweet, but it seems that the legal ones, namely a defamation case for slander or libel, may be the worst for Magnus. For the past several weeks Hans Niemann has been put under the magnifying glass. He has faced harassment, attacks on his character, and irreparable reputational damage. Yet, Magnus has still failed to present any evidence as to why he withdrew or sent that tweet out to the world and has not yet clarified or disclaimed any of the rumors that shadow Hans.
For a while, it looked like Hans would simply have actions and innuendos as his evidence in a slander or libel case. Then, after an online chess tournament that both Magnus and Hans were participants in, Magnus put out his official position on the matter. Magnus declared that on top of cheating in his match in St. Louis, Hans was a serial chess cheater and should be punished proportionately to the crime he committed. In Magnus’s declaration, he said that he believed his accusation whole-heartedly and would never participate in an invitational event in which Hans plays again. Throughout the rest of the statement Magnus provided zero evidence of the alleged cheating and stated he could not release his evidence without the approval of the player that he accused.

Consequences

There are two massive consequences likely to result from Magnus’s statement. The first is that Han’s professional career will likely be in ruins. Invitationals are a priority for top ranked chess professionals, allowing them to play in official matches and record status for their rating in addition to receiving prize money. If an invitational is going to have to choose between a candidate for the best player of all time, Magnus, and a rising teenager, Hans, there might not be a long discussion. The second consequence is that because no evidence has been released to validate the statements that Magnus made based on his gut feeling, Hans may have a case for slander or libel.

There are four elements to prove in a slander case. The plaintiff must show that there was a false statement made purporting to be fact, a publication of that statement to a third person, fault amounting to at least negligence, and damages incurred. Two of these elements are quite clear and likely provable; there was publication of a statement and there were damages to Han’s reputation. The other two elements require further analysis. The third element related to fault asks one to look to Magnus’s state of mind when he made his statements and find evidence that he did so to tarnish Han’s name, or was at the very least negligent in making the statements, to fulfill a prima facie case for slander. This standard is notoriously hard to prove and will undoubtedly act as a roadblock to a slander case. However, it will likely be even harder for Hans to prove the first element, that the statement was false purporting to be fact. This element causes an issue because of the difficulty in proving that something that didn’t happen, didn’t happen. Specifically, Hans would have to show that he did not cheat in order to prove that Magnus’s cheating accusation was false.

Further complicating the issue is surfacing evidence from other sources making Magnus’s claim of cheating more believable. Statistical analysis of Han’s performances show that he has been playing games with computer moves 90% of the time or more, compared to the likes of Fischer, Kasparov, or Magnus who are only around 70% during their all-time peaks, and to traditional 2700 ELO rated Grandmasters who average between 50%-60%. Reports indicate that based on Han’s last 18 months of performance the chance that he played games at the rate he had without computer assistance is one in over 60,000. Without being able to prove that Magnus’s statements are at the least unlikely true, Hans will likely fail to prove slander and his career will likely be derailed after the events of September.

Notes

[1]  Kasparov is the longest reigning World Champion to date.

[2] A “Classical Game” is a time format of chess that allows for 120 minutes of play per person for the first forty moves; it allows for the deepest level of consideration on every move. As a result, classical games of chess are an incredibly accurate and sound measure of a player’s talent. They are used to determine the World Champion every two years.


iMessedUp – Why Apple’s iOS 16 Update Is a Mistake in the Eyes of Litigators.

Carlisle Ghirardini, MJLST Staffer

Have you ever wished you could unsend a text message? Has autocorrect ever created a typo you would give anything to edit? Apple’s recent iOS 16 update makes these dreams come true. The new software allows you to edit a text message a maximum of five times for up to 15 minutes after delivery and to fully unsend a text for up to two minutes after delivery.[1] While this update might be a dream for a sloppy texter, it may become a nightmare for a victim hoping to use text messages as legal evidence. 

But I Thought my Texts Were Private?

Regardless of the passcode on your phone, or other security measures you may use to keep your correspondence private, text messages can be used as relevant evidence in litigation so long as they can be authenticated.[2] Under the Federal Rules of Evidence Rule 901(a), such authentication only requires proof sufficient to support a finding that the evidence at issue is what you claim it is.[3] Absent access to the defendant’s phone, a key way to authenticate texts includes demonstrating the personal nature of the messages, which emulate earlier communication.[4] However, for texts to be admitted as evidence beyond hearsay, proof of the messages through screenshots, printouts, or other tangible methods of authentication is vital.[5]

A perpetrator may easily abuse the iOS 16 features by crafting harmful messages and then editing or unsending them. This has several negative effects. First, the fact that this capability is available may increase perpetrator utilization of text, knowing that disappearing harassment will be easier to get away with. Further, victims will be less likely to capture the evidence in the short time before the proof is rescinded, but after the damage has already been done. Attorney Michelle Simpson Tuegal who spoke out against this software shared how “victims of trauma cannot be relied upon, in that moment, to screenshot these messages to retain them for any future legal proceedings.”[6] Finally, when the victims are without proof and the perpetrator denies sending, psychological pain may result from such “gaslighting” and undermining of the victim’s experience.[7]

Why are Text Messages so Important?

Text messages have been critical evidence in proving the guilt of the defendant in many types of cases. One highly publicized example is the trial of Michelle Carter, who sent manipulative text messages to encourage her then 22-year-old boyfriend to commit suicide.[8] Not only were these texts of value in proving reckless conduct, they also proved Carter guilty of involuntary manslaughter as her words were shown to be the cause of the victim’s death. Without evidence of this communication, the case may have turned out very differently. Who is to say that Carter would not have succeeded in her abuse by sending and then unsending or editing her messages later?

Text messaging is also a popular tool for perpetrators of sexual harassment, and it happens every day. In a Rhode Island Supreme Court case, communication via iMessage was central to the finding of 1st degree sexual assault, as the 17-year-old plaintiff felt too afraid to receive a hospital examination after her attack.[9] Fortunately, the plaintiff had saved photos of inappropriate messages the perpetrator sent after the incident, amongst other records of their texting history, which properly authenticated the texts and connected him to the crime. It is important to note, however, that the incriminating screenshots were not taken until the morning after and with the help of a family member. This demonstrates how it is not often the first instinct of a victim to immediately memorialize evidence, especially when the content may be associated with shame or trauma. The new iOS feature may take away this opportunity to help one’s case through messages which can paint a picture of the incident or the relationship between the parties.

Apple Recognized That They Messed Up

The current iOS 16 update offering two minutes to recall messages and 15 minutes to edit them is actually an amendment to Apple’s originally offered timeframe of 15 minutes to unsend. This change came in light of efforts from an advocate for survivors of sexual harassment and assault. The advocate wrote a letter to the Apple CEO warning of the dangers of this new unsending capability.[10] While the decreased timeframe that resulted leaves less room for abuse of the feature, editing is just as dangerous as unsending. With no limit to how much text you can edit, one could send full sentences of verbal abuse simply just to later edit and replace them with a one-word message. Furthermore, if someone is reading the harmful messages in real time, the shorter window only gives them less time to react – less time to save the messages for evidence. While we can hope that the newly decreased window makes perpetrators think harder before sending a text that they may not be able to delete, this is wishful thinking. The fact that almost half of young people have reported being victims to cyberbullying when there has been no option to rescind or edit one’s messages shows that the length of the iOS feature likely does not matter.[11] The abilities of the new Apple software should be disabled; their “fix” to the update is not enough. The costs of what such a feature will do to victims and their chances of success in litigation outweigh the benefits to the careless texter. 

Notes

[1] Sofia Pitt, Apple Now Lets You Edit and Unsend Imessages on Your Iphone. Here’s How to Do It, CNBC (Sep. 12, 2022, 1:12 PM), https://www.cnbc.com/2022/09/12/how-to-unsend-imessages-in-ios-16.html.

[2] FED. R. EVID. 901(a).

[3] Id.

[4] United States v. Teran, 496 Fed. Appx. 287 (4th Cir. 2012).

[5] State v. Mulcahey, 219 A.3d 735 (R.I. Sup. Ct. 2019).

[6] Jess Hollington, Latest Ios 16 Beta Addresses Rising Safety Concerns for Message Editing, DIGITALTRENDS (Jul. 27, 2022) https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/ios-16-beta-4-message-editing-unsend-safety-concerns-fix/

[7] Id.

[8] Commonwealth v. Carter, 115 N.E.3d 559 (Mass. Sup. Ct. 2018).

[9] Mulcahey, 219 A.3d at 740.

[10] Hollington, supra note 5.

[11] 45 Cyberbullying Statistics and Facts to Make Texting Safer, SLICKTEXT (Jan. 4, 2022) https://www.slicktext.com/blog/2020/05/cyberbullying-statistics-facts/.




#IsTheShipStillStuck?

Schuyler Troy, MJLST Staffer

The Ever Given, a massive four-hundred-meter-long cargo ship weighing over two hundred thousand tons and carrying over eighteen thousand cargo containers, ran aground in the Suez Canal on March 23, 2021. Wedged between the edges of the canal, the ship blocked all transport through the canal for just over six days. Trade routes were brought to a screeching halt as a backlog of hundreds of ships were left stranded in Egypt’s Great Bitter Lake waiting for passage through the canal, which serves as a conduit for about thirty percent of daily global shipping container volumes, including roughly one million barrels of oil a day. After days of round-the-clock work, the Ever Given was finally pried loose on March 29, allowing traffic to flow again through the canal. The precise cost of the trade stoppage is still unclear, but data from Lloyd’s List showed that the ship held up an estimated $9.6 billion in trade each day that it was stuck—roughly $400 million per hour. The canal itself generated $5.6 billion for Egypt in 2020.

What exactly caused the Ever Given to run aground is currently under investigation. According to an article from Business Insider, initial theories suggested that sudden strong winds caused the hull to deviate from its course and hit the bottom of the canal. Human error is also suspected to have played a part in the fiasco, with reports that the ship was traveling faster than the canal’s speed limit and that its crew opted not to utilize a tugboat escort through the canal. Investigators are also likely to scrutinize the performance of the Ever Given’s two Egyptian canal pilots, both senior chief pilots with more than thirty years of experience.

With so much money on the line, attention will surely turn to who will be left liable for the losses, and the complex structure of ownership and operation of the Ever Given has revealed a tangled web of potentially liable parties. The ship is owned by Shoei Kisen Kaisha, a Japanese subsidiary of Imabari Shipbuilding. At the time it ran aground in the Suez Canal, it was chartered and operated by Evergreen Marine, a Taiwanese container line. The Ever Given is registered in Panama, and is technically managed by the German ship management company Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement. The crew was comprised of twenty-five Indian citizens, and the ship was insured in part by the UK P&I Club, a United Kingdom based insurance group.

Aggrieved parties are likely to raise claims arising not only from delays in shipment of the goods aboard the Ever Given, but also from cargoes on other ships that were delayed due to inability to transit the canal and from ships which diverted their course around the Cape of Good Hope, a longer and costlier route. There could also be claims for damage to the canal itself, as diggers were required to remove earth and rock from the canal’s banks around the areas where the ship ran aground.

Litigation over the Ever Given’s grounding will likely take years to sort out. In the meantime, we will always have the memes that the fiasco spawned.


Robinhood Changed the Game(Stop) of Modern Day Investing but Did They Go Too Far?

Amanda Erickson, MJLST Staffer

It is likely that you have heard the video game chain, GameStop, in the news more frequently than normal. GameStop is a publicly traded company that is known for selling, trading, and purchasing gaming devices and accessories. Along with many other retailers during the COVID-19 pandemic, GameStop has been struggling. Not only did COVID-19 affect its operations, but the Internet beat the company’s outdated business model. Prior to January 2021, GameStop’s stock prices reflected the apparent new reality of gaming. In March 2015, GameStop’s closing price was around $40 a share, but at the beginning of January 2021, it was at $20 a share. With a downward trend like this, it might come as a shock to learn that on January 27, 2021, GameStop’s closing price was at $347.51 a share, with the stock briefly peaking at $483 on the following day.

This dramatic surge can be accredited to a large group of amateur traders on the Reddit forum, r/WallStreetBets, who promoted investments in the stock. This sudden surge forced large scale institutional investors, who originally bet against the stock through short positions, to buy the stock in order to hedge their positions. Short selling involves “borrowing” shares of a company, and quickly selling the borrowed shares into the market. The short seller hopes that these shares will fall in price, so that they can buy the shares back at a potentially lower price. If this happens, they can return the shares back that they “borrowed” and keep the difference as profit. The practice of short selling is controversial. Short selling can lead to stock price manipulation and can generate misinformation about a company, but it can also serve to check and balance the markets. The group on Reddit knew that short sellers had positions betting against GameStop and wanted to take advantage of these positions. This caused the stock price to soar when these short sellers had to repurchase their borrowed shares.

This historic scene intrigued many day traders to participate and place bets on GameStop, and other stocks that this Reddit group was promoting. Many chose to use Robinhood, a free online trading app, to make these trades. Robinhood introduced a radical business model in 2014 by offering consumers a platform that allowed them to trade with zero commissions, and ultimately changed the way the industry operated. That is until Robinhood issued a statement on January 28, 2021 announcing that “in light of recent volatility, we restricted transactions for certain securities,” including GameStop. Later that day, Robinhood issued another statement saying it would allow limited buying of those securities starting the next day. This came as a shock to many Robinhood users, because Robinhood’s mission is to “democratize finance for all.” These events exacerbated previous questions about the profitability model of Robinhood and ultimately left many users questioning Robinhood’s mission.

The first lawsuit was filed by a Robinhood user on January 28, 2021, alleging that Robinhood blocked its users from purchasing any of GameStop’s stock “in the midst of an unprecedented stock rise thereby depriv[ing] retail investors of the ability to invest in the open-market and manipulating the open market.” Robinhood is now facing over 30 lawsuits, with that number only rising. The chaos surrounding GameStop stock has caught lawmakers’ attention, and they are now calling for congressional action. On January 29, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued a statement informing that it is “closely monitoring and evaluating the extreme price volatility of certain stocks’ trading prices” and expressed that it will “closely review actions taken by regulated entities that may disadvantage investors.” Robinhood issued another statement on January 29, 2021, stating they did not want to stop people from buying these stocks, but that they had to take these steps to conform with their regulatory capital requirements.

The frenzy has since calmed down but left many Americans with questions surrounding the legality of Robinhood’s actions. While it may seem like Robinhood went against everything the free market has to offer, legal experts disagree, and it all boils down to the contract. The Robinhood contract states “I understand Robinhood may at any time, in its sole discretion and without prior notice to Me, prohibit or restrict My ability to trade securities.” Just how broad is that discretion, though? The issue now is if Robinhood treated some users differently than others. Columbia Law School professor, Joshua Mitts, said, “when hedge funds are going to lose from a trading suspension, they don’t face any lockup like this, any suspension, any halt at the retail level, but when retail investors find themselves locked in, they find themselves unable to exit the trade.” This protective action by Robinhood directly contradicts the language in the Robinhood contract that states that the user agrees Robinhood does not “provide investment advice in connection with this Account.” The language in this contract may seem clear separately, but when examining Robinhood’s restrictions, it leaves room to question what constitutes advice when restricting retail investors’ trades.

Robinhood’s practices are now under scrutiny by retail investors who question the priority of the company. The current lawsuits against Robinhood could potentially impact how fintech companies are able to generate profits and what federal oversight they might have moving forward. This instance of confusion between retail investors and their platform choice points to the potential weaknesses in this new form of trading. While GameStop’s stock price may have declined since January 28, the events that unfolded will likely change the guidelines of retail investing in the future.

 


Google it: Justice Department files Antitrust Case Against Google

Amanda Erickson, MJLST Staffer

Technology giants, such as Google, have the ability to influence the data and information that flows through our day to day lives by tailoring what each user sees on its platform. Big Tech companies have been under scrutiny for years, but they continue to become more powerful and have access to more user data even as the global economy tanks. As Google’s influence broadens, the concern over monopolization of the market grows. This concern peaked on October 20, 2020 when the Justice Department filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google for abusing its dominance in general search services, search advertising, and general search text advertising markets through anticompetitive and exclusionary practices.

The Department of Justice, along with eleven state attorney generals, raised three claims in their lawsuit, all of which are under Section 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act. The Department of Justice claims that, because of Google’s contracts with companies like Apple and Samsung, and its multiple products and services, such as search, video, photo, map, and email, competitors in search will not stand a chance. The complaint is rather broad, but it details the cause of action well, even including several graphs and figures for additional support. For instance, the complaint states Google has a market value of $1 trillion and annual revenue that exceeds $160 billion. This allows Google to pay “billions of dollars each year to distributors . . . to secure default status for its general search engine.” Actions like these have the potential to curb competitive action and harm consumers according to the government.

The complaint states that “between its exclusionary contracts and owned-and-operated properties, Google effectively owns or controls search distribution channels accounting for roughly 80 percent of the general search queries in the United States.” It further mentions that “Google” is not only a noun meaning the company, but a verb that is now used when talking about general searches on the internet. It has become a common practice for people to say, “Google it,” even if they complete an internet search with a different search engine. If Google is considered to be a monopoly, who is harmed by Google’s market power? The complaint addresses the harm to both advertisers and consumers. Advertisers have very little choice but to pay the fee to Google’s search advertising and general search text monopolies and consumers are forced to accept all of Google’s policies, including privacy, security and use of personal data policies. This is also a barrier to entry for new companies emerging into the market that are struggling to gain market share.

Google claims that it is not dominant in the industry, but rather just the preferred platform by users. Google argues that its competitors are simply a click away and Google users are free to switch to other search engines if they prefer. Google points out that its deals with companies such as Apple and Microsoft are completely legal deals and these deals only violate antitrust law if they exclude competition. Since switching to another search engine is only a few clicks away, Google claims it is not excluding competition. As for Google’s next steps, it is “confident that a court will conclude that this suit doesn’t square with either the facts or the law” and it will “remain focused on delivering the free services that help Americans every day.”

Antitrust laws are in place to protect the free market economy and to allow competitive practices. Attorney General William Barr stated “[t]oday, millions of Americans rely on the Internet and online platforms for their daily lives.  Competition in this industry is vitally important, which is why today’s challenge against Google—the gatekeeper of the Internet—for violating antitrust laws is a monumental case.” This is just the beginning of a potentially historic case as it aims to protect competition and innovation in the technology markets. Consumers should consider the impacts of their daily searches and the implications a monopoly could have on the future structure of internet searching.

 


Nineteen Eighty Fortnite

Valerie Eliasen, MJLST Staffer

The Sixth and Seventh Amendments affords people the right to a trial by jury. Impartiality is an essential element of a jury in both criminal and civil cases. That impartiality is lost if a juror’s decision is “likely to be influenced by self-interest, prejudice, or information obtained extrajudicially.” There are many ways by which a juror’s impartiality may become questionable. Media attention, for example, has influenced the jury’s impartiality in high-profile criminal cases.

In cases involving large companies, advertising is another way to appeal to jurors. It is easy to understand why: humans are emotional. Because both advertisement perception and jury decisions are influenced by emotions, it comes as no surprise that some parties have been “accused of launching image advertising campaigns just before jury selection began.” Others have been accused of advertising heavily in litigation “hot spots,” where many cases of a certain type, like patent law, are brought and heard.

A recent example of advertising launched by a party to a lawsuit comes from the emerging dispute between Apple Inc. and Epic Games Inc. Epic is responsible for the game Fortnite, an online “Battle-Royale” game, which some call the “biggest game in the world.” Epic sued Apple in August for violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1980 and several other laws in reference to Apple’s practice of collecting 30 percent of every App and in-App purchase made on Apple products. When Epic began allowing Fortnite users to pay Epic directly on Apple products, Apple responded by removing Fortnite from the App Store. The App Store is the only platform where users can purchase and download applications, such as Fortnite, for their Apple products. In conjunction with the lawsuit, Epic released a video titled Nineteen Eighty Fortnite – #FreeFortnite. The video portrays Apple as the all-knowing, all-controlling “Big Brother” figure from George Orwell’s 1984. The ad was a play on Apple’s nearly identical commercial introducing the Macintosh computer in 1984. This was an interesting tactic given the majority of Fortnite users were born after 1994.

Most companies that have been accused of using advertisements to influence jurors have used advertisements to help improve the company image. With Epic, the advertisement blatantly points a finger at Apple, the defendant. Should an issue arise, a court will have an easy time finding that the purpose of the ad was to bolster support for Epic’s claims. But, opponents will most likely not raise a case regarding jury impartiality because this advertisement was released so far in advance of jury selection and the trial. Problems could arise, however, if Epic Games continues its public assault on Apple.

Epic’s ad also reminds us of large tech companies’ power to influence users. The explosion of social media and the development of machine learning over the past 10 years have yielded a powerful creature: personalization. Social media and web platforms are constantly adjusting content and advertisements to account for the location and the behavior of users. These tech giants have the means to control and tailor the content that every user sees. Many of these tech giants, like Google and Facebook, have often been and currently are involved in major litigation.

The impartial jury essential to our legal system cannot exist when their decisions are influenced by outside sources. Advertisements exist for the purpose of influencing decisions. For this reason, Courts should be wary the advertising abilities and propensities of parties and must take action to prevent and control advertisements that specifically relate to or may influence a jury. A threat to the impartial jury is a threat we must take seriously.

 

 

 

 

 


Printing Pistols: Litigation Continues over the Legality of 3-D Printable Firearms

Holm Belsheim, MJLST Staffer 

3-D printing is the process of creating three dimensional objects by layering very thin layers of plastic into the desired shape. All you need is the printer, raw material, and a good blueprint. From gadgets and toys for home use to replacement organs, there are many things one can make. Some of the possibilities, however, pose significant legal concerns. At the heart of years of litigation is a group behind the designs for a working, 3-D printable firearm.

In 2013 Cody Wilson founded Defense Distributed to distribute and monetize 3-D printable gun designs. Defense Distributed’s first design, the Liberator, could fire a single shot. Plans for the Liberator were downloaded an estimated 100,000 times from the Defense Distributed website alone, and have since been hosted on several other sites. As of 9/25/2018, a search of the Defense Distributed file site DEFCAD turned up nine different designs for printable guns and gun parts. The group ultimately hopes to create a larger community of 3-D gun designers and printers.

Ignoring the national debate over firearms, 3-D printed guns pose a unique security risk. Making a gun is not illegal. Liberators are concerning because, like most 3-D printed objects, they are made of plastic. They aren’t detectable by metal detectors, and furthermore lack serial numbers or other identifying information. Per the Undetectable Firearms Act, undetectable guns have been illegal since 1988. While the Liberator design incorporates two metal pieces, one solely to set off metal detectors, the design doesn’t require them to function. Anyone with a 3-D printer can choose whether to include these pieces. Thus, these ‘ghost guns’ pose a substantial security risk.

The Liberator debuted on May 6th, 2013. Two days later, Defense Distributed took down the designs after the U.S. State Department deemed them a violation of export laws under the Arms Export Control Act. In 2015, citing 1st, 2nd and 5th Amendment arguments, Defense Distributed sued the United States in District Court (Defense Distributed v. U.S. Dept.t of State, 121 F.Supp.3d 680, (W.D.T.X. 2015)) and then, upon appeal, in the Fifth Circuit (838 F.3d 451, (5th Cir.  2016)) before being denied certiorari by the U.S. Supreme Court. Surprising some, the U.S. Government settled with Defense Distributed in 2018, giving the group license to upload the plans again as well as paying some of their legal fees. Only a few days after the plans were reuploaded however, Oregon and several states sued Defense Distributed, the U.S. State Department and others.(State of Washingtonv. U.S. Dept.of State2:18-cv-01115-RSL (W.D.W.A. 2018)). Subsequently U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik issued a restraining order against Defense Distributed’s hosting of the plans.

So far, the injunction doesn’t seem to have done much. Near the end of the order is this phrase: “Regulation under the AECA means that the files cannot be uploaded to the internet, but they can be emailed, mailed, securely transmitted, or otherwise published within the United States.” Interpreting this literally, Defense Distributed removed the option to directly access digital plans but has continued sales through other means, namely mailing copies on USB sticks. At least 400 orders have been placed. Whether this workaround remains legal will likely be brought up in the future. For now it’s anyone’s guess whether Defense Distributed read it correctly or played a little too loose with the spirit of the injunction. My prediction is that Defense Distributed won’t be penalized: the options laid out in the injunction are too specific to be accidental.

The litigation is expected to continue. As of 9/25/2018, Defense Distributed has raised $342,000 for its legal expenses while receiving assistance from the Second Amendment Foundation and others. Meanwhile, a total of 21 Attorneys General are on the opposing side. They cheered the injunction but aim for more, potentially a complete ban on 3-D printable guns. The arrest of former Defense Distributed director Cody Wilson on unrelated charges has had no effect upon the case so far.


Apple Faces Trademark Lawsuit Regarding its iPhone X Animoji Feature

Kaylee Kruschke, MJLST Staffer

 

The Japanese company, emonster k.k., sued Apple in the U.S. on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, claiming that Apple infringed emoster’s Animoji trademark with the iPhone X Animoji feature.

 

But first, what even is an Animoji? According it a Time article, an Animoji is an animal emoji that you can control with your face, and send to your friends. You simply pick an emoji, point the camera at your face, and speak. The Animoji captures your facial expression and voice. However, this technology has yet to reach consumer hands. Apple’s website says that the iPhone X, with the Animoji feature, will be available for preorder on Oct. 27, and will be available for purchase Nov. 3.

 

So why is Apple being sued over this? Well, it’s not the actual technology that’s at issue. It’s the name Animoji. emonster’s complaint states that Enrique Bonansea created the Animoji app in 2014. This app allowed users to customize moving text and images and send them in messages. The United States Patent and Trademark Office registered Animoji to Bonansea on March 31, 2015, who later assigned the trademark to emoster in Aug. 2017, according to the complaint. Bonansea also claims that he received requests from companies, that he believes were fronts for Apple, to sell the trademark in Animoji. But these requests were denied, according to the complaint.

 

The complaint also provides more information that sheds light on the fact that Apple probably knew it was infringing emonster’s trademark in Animoji. The day before Apple announced its iPhone X and the Animoji feature, Apple filed a petition with the United States Patent and Trademark Office requesting that the office cancel the Animoji trademark because emonster, Inc. didn’t exist at the time of the application for the trademark. This was a simple mistake and the paperwork should have said emonster k.k. instead of emonster, Inc.; emonster was unable to fix the error because the cancellation proceeding was already pending. To be safe, emonster applied again for registration of the trademark Animoji in Sept. 2017, but this time under the correct name, emonster k.k..

 

Additionally, Apple knew about emonster’s app because it was available on the Apple App Store. Apple also helped emonster remove apps that infringed emonster’s trademark, the complaint stated. Nevertheless, Apple still went forward with using Animoji as the name for it’s new technology.

 

The complaint also alleges that emonster did send Apple a cease-and-desist letter, but Apple continued to use name Animoji for its new technology. emonster requests that Apple be enjoined from using the name Animoji, and claims that it is also entitled to recover Apple’s profits from using the name, any ascertainable damages emonster has, and the costs emonster incurs from the suit.

 

It’s unclear what this means for Apple and the release of the iPhone X, which is in the very near future. At this time, Apple has yet to comment on the lawsuit.


What’s Shaking? Sodium Warnings Upheld in NYC Restaurants

MJLST Guest Blogger, Tommy Tobin

[Editor’s Note: This is the last in guest blogger Tommy Tobin’s latest series on Food and FDA law.  You can find the earlier posts here and here.]

New York’s intermediate appellate court recently upheld a salt shaker. In the February 10, 2017 decision, the court found that New York City could require chain restaurants to mark certain dishes with a “salt shaker” icon, warning consumers that the food contained considerable amounts of salt.

In June 2015, the City issued notice of its intent to require foodservice establishments to warn diners about high salt menu items. After considering over 90 comments and a public hearing, the city adopted its “Sodium Warning” Rule, effective December 1, 2015. In adopting the Rule, the City noted that cardiovascular disease was the leading cause of death in the City and that higher sodium intake was related to increased blood pressure. Further, New York City residents regularly consumed more than the daily recommended amount of sodium and restaurant food was a “primary source” of the salt in New Yorkers’ diets.

The Rule requires chain restaurants—defined as foodservice establishments with 15 or more locations that offered similar menu items—to note food items or meal combinations containing the daily recommended amount of sodium with a specific warning. The warning mandates that a salt shaker icon be placed next to applicable menu items. It also required the following language be displayed at the point of purchase, explaining that the icon “indicates that the sodium (salt) content of this item is higher than the total recommended limit (2300 mg). High sodium intake can increase blood pressure and risk of heart disease and stroke.” The Rule imposes a $200 penalty for non-compliance.

Writing for a unanimous five justice panel, Justice Gesmer ruled against the National Restaurant Association, which had as members more than half the chain restaurants that would be affected by the Rule. The Association challenged the Rule on three grounds, arguing that it violated the separation of powers, was preempted by federal law, and infringed upon its members’ First Amendment rights.

Regarding the separation of powers, the Association argued that City’s health department had exceeded its authority and encroached upon legislative functions in making the Rule. The court was explicit in rejecting the Association’s argument, finding that providing health-related information was the “least intrusive way” to influence citizens’ decision-making. The Rule provided further information to consumers regarding health risks and left it to the diners themselves to decide their dietary choices. The court found that the City has “always regulated” restaurants as necessary to promote public health and did not exceed its authority in adopting this Rule. The court also noted that the same chain restaurants are subject to the City’s calorie content warnings for high-calorie menu items

The Association further argued that the City’s Rule was preempted by federal law, which requires nutrition labeling on grocery store foods. The court rejected this argument as the federal law in question, the Nutritional Labeling and Education Act (NLEA), contained provisions excluding certain warnings and foods from its preemptive effects. Relying on 21 U.S.C. § 343(q) and Second Circuit’s decision in New York State Restaurant Association v. New York City Board of Health, 556 F.3d 114, 124 (2nd Cir. 2009), the court found that the NLEA permits states and localities to establish nutrition labeling for restaurant foods, provided that they are not identical to federal requirements.

The court also examined the appellant’s First Amendment arguments. The Rule would compel commercial speech by placing the salt warnings on menus. Applying the Second Circuit’s New York Restaurant Association, the court examined this compelled commercial speech requirement under a lenient rational basis test. The court found that City’s intended purpose to improve consumer knowledge of potential health risks of salty foods was reasonable. Moreover, the Rule’s applicability only to chain restaurants was not arbitrary or capricious; instead, it was based on health considerations and to facilitate compliance.

The Rule upheld by the court provides advocates new lessons on how to nudge consumers in making point-of-purchase decisions to promote public health. Given the prevalence of cardiovascular disease across the country, additional jurisdictions may consider adopting provisions similar to the “Sodium Warning” Rule. Time will tell how future salt warnings might shake out.

The case is National Restaurant Association v. New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene et al., No. 2629, — N.Y.S.3d —- (N.Y. App. Div. Feb. 10, 2017).