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Archive for the ‘Tort and Catastrophic Loss’ Category

Eastern District of Pennsylvania Finds that School District Immunity does not Extend to Teacher’s Alleged Intentional Torts

Posted on: August 19th, 2019

By: Erin Lamb

An Eastern District of Pennsylvania judge ruled that the Philadelphia School District is immune from a lawsuit wherein a special education student was allegedly choked by his special education teacher. However, District Judge Gerald Pappert also ruled that the plaintiffs, the student and his mother, will still be able to seek punitive damages against the teacher over the allegations.

Plaintiffs allege that in March 2018, a special education teacher grabbed the fifth-grade student by his neck. The teacher was allegedly irate that the student had not put his pencil back in the right place. The Complaint alleges that the teacher choked the student and repeated pushed his head and body against the schoolroom wall, during class, and in front of other students.

The student’s mother sued and has alleged the use of excessive force against her son, deprivation of equal protection, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and assault and battery. She further alleged deliberate indifference by the School District to students’ rights to be free from excessive force because of an alleged failure to adequately train, supervise, or discipline its employees.

Judge Pappert ruled that plaintiffs failed to adequately plead their failure to train claims, and that the school was immune from the intentional infliction of emotional distress and assault and battery claims. Judge Pappert noted that the School District had a policy regarding excessive force that the teacher appeared to have disobeyed and rejected the argument that that immunity extended to the teacher. Plaintiffs’ allegations were sufficient to present a range of punitive damages claims against the teacher under both Section 1983, and the allegations of intentional tort.

Plaintiffs were granted leave to amend the Complaint to attempt “one last time” to allege facts to support her allegations of deliberate indifference against the School District,  but were not granted leave to amend any other claims against the School District.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Erin Lamb at [email protected].

Tucker v. Sch. Dist. of Phila., No. 19-889, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136591 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 13, 2019)

 

United States Supreme Court to Decide Whether Georgia Law can be Copyrighted

Posted on: July 15th, 2019

By: Jason Kamp

The United States Supreme Court recently agreed to decide whether the annotations contained in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA.) can be copyrighted by the state of Georgia, granting certiorari in State of Georgia, et al. v. Public.Resource.org, Inc., Case No. 18-1150 (S. Ct. June 24, 2019).

As explained by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, “In most states the ‘official’ code is comprised of statutory text alone, and all agree that a state’s codification cannot be copyrighted because the authorship is ultimately attributable to the People. Conversely, all agree that annotations created by a private party generally can be copyrighted because the annotations are an original work created by a private publisher. But the annotations in the OCGA are not exactly like either of these two types of works. Rather, they fall somewhere in between — their legal effect and ultimate authorship more indeterminate.” State of Georgia, et al. v. Public.Resource.org, Inc., 906 F.3d 1229, 1232 (11th Cir. 2018).

Unlike most official state codes, Georgia’s official code is annotated with non-statutory text.  This text includes summaries of judicial decisions, editor’s notes, research references, notes on law review articles, summaries of Attorney General opinions and other materials.  “The Code itself makes clear that these annotations are a part of the official Code, stating that the statutory portions of the Code ‘shall be merged with annotations… and [are] published by authority of the state …and when so published [are to] be known and may be cited as the ‘Official Code of Georgia Annotated.’ O.C.G.A. § 1-1-1.”  Id. at 1233.

The annotations are developed by a private party, LexisNexis, according to a contract with the State of Georgia. This contract specifies the type of annotations that appear with the statutory text and requires that LexisNexis present the content in a specific manner.  A state commission supervises the work LexisNexus performs and holds final editorial control. The Georgia legislature then adopts the annotations as their own, merging them with the statutory text in a process similar to passing the underlying laws. The State of Georgia holds the copyrights to the annotations LexisNexus creates.

Litigation over the copyrighted annotations began when a non-profit organization purchased and scanned all 186 printed volumes of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated and posted them to its free website.  The state sued and won in the district court.  Late last year the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding Georgia’s official code annotations are sufficiently “law-like” to be considered a work created by the state and outside the realm of copyrightable material.

The United State Supreme Court does not grant cert to affirm a lower court’s decision nearly as often as it does to reverse.  However, this case resides at the tension point between two American values: equal access to democratic institutions and private property rights.  Perhaps the Court merely wants to weigh in.

If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Jason Kamp at jk[email protected].

PG&E Reaches $1 Billion Settlement Following California Wildfires

Posted on: June 28th, 2019

By: Jenny Jin

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. recently reached a $1 billion settlement with 14 California local government agencies for the significant losses stemming from the 2015, 2017, and 2018 Northern California wildfires. The civil settlement was reached in a mediation based on allegations that PG&E’s equipment was the cause of the fires.

The 14 government agencies sought damages for destroyed municipal property, damage to infrastructure, and the overtime paid to all of the emergency personnel in response to the fires. The most recent 2018 fire destroyed Paradise, CA and killed 85 people. Paradise is expected to receive $270 million of the settlement, the largest of the 14 government agencies.

In January 2019, PG&E filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after it was facing more than $30 billion in potential liability, following the fires. At the time of its bankruptcy filing, PG&E was facing about 700 complaints, including at least five putative class actions for damages related to the fires. This $1 billion settlement payment will be incorporated into PG&E’s reorganization plan when it is filed.

If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Jenny Jin at [email protected].

Third Circuit Rules Against the City of Williamsport in Lawsuit Filed Against Insurance Companies Based on Law Enforcement Policy Coverage

Posted on: June 14th, 2019

By: Michelle Yee

In 2015, there was major news coverage that a former Williamsport police officer pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and several other charges. This case stems from a fatal automobile accident that occurred between James David Robinson and a Williamsport police officer. The officer was traveling at 101 mph with emergency lights and sirens activated on East Third Street, which has a 35-mph limit. The officer then passed three vehicles, including Robinson’s, and crashed into Robinson’s vehicle which burst into flames when it struck against a utility pole. Robinson’s mother sued the City and the police officer for the officer’s negligence and recklessness, which caused the fatal collision and death of Robinson. After the City unsuccessfully moved to dismiss the constitutional claims, this matter settled for $1,000,000.

The City filed a lawsuit against CNA Insurance and National Fire Insurance Company of Hartford, both of which has a $1 million limit, for refusing to provide more than $500,000 in total to cover for the settlement. This case, City of Williamsport v. CNA Insurance Companies and National Fire Insurance Company of Hartford, was recently heard before the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The Defendants argued that their liability under the Automobile Policy is limited to $500,000 because the policy covers the “sums [the City] legally must pay as damages” and Pennsylvania law caps the state law tort liability against local agencies at $500,000. The Court rejected this argument and ruled that Defendants cannot dismiss this matter based on the City’s Automobile Policy because the state tort law does not place a liability cap for federal claims against the officer, which must be indemnified by the City. The court agreed with the City.

The City of Williamsport then argued that the Law Enforcement Policy’s coverage for civil rights violation should apply to this settlement. On the other hand, Defendants argued that the policy’s automobile exclusion precludes coverage. The Court held for the Defendants. It reasoned that the City sought to hold the office liable for his conduct while driving and the city is responsible for its supervision and training of its officers. Further, the court interpreted the language of the Law Enforcement Policy, as excluding coverage for damages arising out of the operation of any automobiles in the course of employment. Therefore, the Court dismissed the City’s claims to seek recovery under this policy because the damages were proximately caused by an automobile.

The Court finally dismissed the City’s insurance bad faith claim holding that the City did not allege that the Defendants “knew or recklessly disregarded the lack of reasonable basis when denying the City’s claims,” as required by law. However, the Court noted that this dismissal is without prejudice and the City may amend its Complaint to cure this deficiency.

For more information, please contact Michelle Yee at [email protected].

California Court Rules That Payroll Companies Are Not Liable For Employer’s Wage And Hour Violations

Posted on: April 25th, 2019

By: Michael Shepherd

The California Supreme Court recently provided clarity to payroll companies in Goonewardene v. ADP, LLC (2019) 6 Cal.5th 817. In Goonewardene, Plaintiff alleged claims of negligence and negligent misrepresentation against a payroll company based on wages due that the plaintiff claimed were not paid. The Court refused to impose a tort duty upon payroll companies, and emphasized five reasons for its decision:

First, the Court reasoned that California law already provides employees with a full and complete remedy for any wage loss an employee sustains as a result of the payroll company’s negligent conduct; an employee is entitled to recover in a civil action against the employer the full wages and other significant remedies authorized under the labor statutes.

Second, the Court reasoned that imposing tort liability on a payroll company is not necessary to deter negligent conduct because the payroll company is already obligated under its contract with an employer to comply with labor statutes and wage orders. Consequently, a payroll company would already be subject to liability for breach of its contract with the employer and tort liability would not appreciably increase the incentive for payroll companies to refrain from negligent behavior.

Third, payroll companies have no special relationship with an employer’s employees that would warrant the imposition of a duty of care.

Fourth, the Court reasoned that imposing a duty of care on payroll companies could distort the payroll company’s performance of its contractual obligations. The Court expressed the concern that where the meaning or scope of a labor statute or wage order is ambiguous or uncertain, a tort duty of care to an employee could adversely affect the payroll company’s fulfillment of its contractual obligations to the employer. The potential of greater tort liability may induce the payroll company to place the employee’s interest above those of the employer, to whom the payroll company has a contractual obligation.

Finally, the Court reasoned that imposing a tort duty of care on payroll companies would add an unnecessary and potentially burdensome complication to California’s increasing volume of wage and hour litigation. If a tort duty were imposed, then payroll companies would likely be joined as an additional party in every wage and hour lawsuit. The Court did not find such an increased burden was justified given that an employee can obtain a full recovery for his or her economic loss in a wage and hour action against an employer alone.

Thus, while the Court made clear that payroll companies can be liable to employers if they breach their contractual obligations, they cannot be sued by employees in tort for an employer’s obligations under California’s wage and hour laws.

For any questions, please contact Michael Shepherd at [email protected].