Legal Research Blog


Legal Quote of the Day: Publius Syrus

The guilty dread the law, the innocent fear fortune.
~ Publius Syrus

Social Networking R.I.P.? Plus: How 140 Characters Can Get You Into a Lot of Trouble

This past week, we have devoted a number of posts to the intersection of law and social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. Were we too late? Are these familiar social networking sites already passé? According to this article from today’s Washington Post, sophisticated internet users are already looking for the next big thing.
For those who have learned that there can be a costly downside of the culture of stream-of-consciousness communication that social networks foster — this may not be bad news. Indeed, while social networking sites maybe on the decline, litigation involving the sites is just getting started.
What do you get when you combine creative lawyers with social-networking sites that allow users to instantly share their inner-most thoughts with online masses? Answer: Online defamation suits. At least two such suits have been filed and they are making headlines.
  • Music star Courtney Love learned how 140 characters can get you in trouble the hard way when she was sued by fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir over comments that Love made via Twitter and MySpace. Get the full story at ABC News.
  • When a Chicago woman who tweeted a complaint about her apartment management company, the company responded with a $50K lawsuit alleging that she damaged the company’s business reputation. Get the full story at Chicago Now.
It will certainly be interesting to see how courts receive these suits, but in the mean time — you better watch what you Tweet.

Conviction a la My Space

Last month, we blogged about the ethical pitfalls of using social networks to gather evidence. Once such evidence has been gathered (ethically), is it admissible? According to the Indiana Supreme Court, it is.
Recently, The Wall Street Journal Law Blog featured the Indiana Supreme Court’s decision in Clark v. State, No. 43Co1-0705-FA-127 (Ind. Oct. 15, 2009) in which the court held that an accused killer’s posting on his MySpace page was admissible because it was probative of his criminal, rather than reckless, state of mind.
At trial, the prosecution read the defendant’s MySpace post to him over defense counsel’s objection. Here is the relevant quote from the post in question:

Society labels me as an outlaw and criminal and sees more and more everyday how many of the people, while growing up, and those who judge me, are dishonest and dishonorable. . .

Clark, slip op. at 4. The Indiana Supreme Court rejected the defense’s argument that the post constituted inadmissible evidence of past wrong deeds under Indiana Rule of Evidence 404(b). Rule 404(b) states that evidence of other “crimes, wrongs or acts” is inadmissible when offered to prove “the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith.” Ind. R. Evid. 404(b). The court reasoned that Rule 404(b) was inapplicable because the evidence did not relate to prior acts, but to his words. The court also concluded that the defendant had opened the door to character evidence by making his character a central issue at trial.

Are "Superb" Civil Rights Lawyers Entitled to Larger Fees?

The 11th Circuit Court Appeals certainly thinks so. In Perdue v. Kenny A., the 11th Circuit upheld the district court’s $4.5 million upward adjustment of attorney’s fees based on the “superb” lawyering by the plaintiffs’ attorneys.
Perdue was a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 lawsuit in which the plaintiffs claimed that deficiencies in the Georgia’s foster care system violated various federal (and state) laws. After a long and bitterly fought battle, the parties ultimately agreed to a proposed consent decree that was designed to eliminate the greatest problems in the foster care system by implementing significant reforms.
The parties also agreed that the plaintiffs’ attorneys should recover reasonable attorney’s fees. You see, 42 U.S.C. § 1988, a federal fee-shifting statute, entitles prevailing civil rights attorneys to “reasonable attorney’s fees.” Supreme Court precedent holds that courts must calculate a base-line “reasonable” — what is called a “lodestar” figure, but multiplying the hours billed by the prevailing attorney by a reasonable hourly rate.
Accordingly, the district court first in Perdue calculated a lodestar value of $6 million. But then the court increased the fees to $10.5 million reasoning that “the superb quality of [the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ representation far exceeded what could reasonably be expected for the standard hourly rates used to calculate the lodestar.” Kenny A. ex rel. Winn v. Perdue, 454 F.Supp.2d 1260, 1289 (N.D. Ga., 2006)
Unhappy about having to pay such a large sum, Georgia appealed, but the 11th Circuit affirmed the district court. Georgia and appealed again, and Perdue v. Kenny A., 08-970, eventually made it before the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court heard oral argument in Perdue on Thursday, as the Wall Street Journal Law Blog reported. Click here for a witty and insightful report window into the Q&A at the oral argument by Slate columnist Dahlia Lithwick. You can also read the full transcript of the argument on the Supreme Court’s website.
Which way is the Court leaning? It’s almost impossible to read the oral argument tea leaves, but if I were a civil rights lawyer, even a “superb” one, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Fastcase Docket Review: A Weekly Round-up of Notable Lawsuits

TGIF! Get your weekend started with our first ever Fastcase Docket Review – a round-up of notable (and sometimes humorous) lawsuits filed around the country.

Earlier this week, NBC San Diego reported that a number of environmental groups including the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit to protect the endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, seeks the re-designation of approximately 1,320 square miles of Southern California as protected habitat for the sheep.
Speaking of NBC, The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog has the scoop on the Font Bureau Inc.’s $2 million “font infringement” lawsuit against the network. Font Bureau alleges that NBC engaged in “unlicensed distribution and distribution of [it's] type font face software.”
NBC isn’t the only company with intellectual property woes this week. According to the Washington Post, Phoenix Media/Communications sued Facebook for patent infringement in Boston, MA Wednesday. Phoenix claims that Facebook’s method of creating and sharing a personal pages infringes one or more of its patents.
Did you know that there are magazines that cater specifically to inmates? Yesterday, Virginia-based Prison Legal News filed a federal lawsuit in Charlottesville, VA alleging that Gene M. Johnson, director of the state Department of Corrections, and other prison officials and employees are responsible for denying inmates access to the publication. Get the whole story at the Seattle PI.
Finally, the AP reports that a woman who was taken off of an airplane when she refused to cover herself while breast-feeding her 1-year old daughter sued the airlines on Wednesday in federal court in Burlington, VT.