News

CCL Defends Jury Award in Products Liability Case Against Fiat Chrysler

December 12th, 2018

     As part of the team representing the plaintiffs, CCL filed a brief opposing Fiat Chrysler's motion to overturn a jury verdict against them over a vehicle that violated California's lemon law. The jury awarded the cost of the vehicle and $500,000 in punitive damages.

     The trial had centered on the failure of the car's TIPM module, which delivers electricity throughout the car. Its failure, a persistent problem that Chrysler vehicles suffered over a number of years, resulted in the car failing to start or stalling out. The record showed that, although Fiat Chrysler knew about the problem before the family bought the vehicle in question, it failed to warn consumers about the problem.

     Fiat Chrysler argued in its motion that the evidence was insufficient for a jury to find liability and support punitive damages. The brief supports the verdict by demonstrating that ample evidence to support the verdict and that the punitive damages do not violate due process.

CCL's Peck Argues Section 1983 Case

November 9th, 2018

     CCL President Robert S. Peck urged the Eleventh Circuit to reverse a decision dismissing a civil rights case brought against a Georgia state prosecutor by a person imprisoned for seven years before being exonerated by DNA evidence through the Innocence Project.

     Douglas Echols lost his military pension and family, and suffered repeated assaults in prison after being convicted of kidnapping and rape. He maintained from the beginning that he was a victim of mistaken identity. The Innocence Project obtained permission to test his DNA and brought forth evidence that supported Echols's claim. The state crime lab confirmed the results. A state court then determined that Echols could not have been convicted if the evidence and the prosecutor entered a nolle prosequi, guaranteeing that the state would not indict him again.

     The Georgia legislature, after the state claims advisory board twice unanimously recommended that he be compensated at the level of $1.6 million, took up a bill that would have provided Echols with that compensation for his wrongful conviction. However, the original prosecutor in his case wrote legislators that Echols was guilty and that he was still under indictment, which was palpably and knowingly false. The legislators dropped the bill. 

     Echols sued the prosecutor for interferring with his right to petition, retaliating against his pursuit of his First Amendment rights, and undermining the obligatory  and constitutionally protected presumption of innocence that he had won back in violation of substantive due process. After sitting on the case for nine years, and only after being ordered by a writ of mandamus to decide the matter, the U.S. District Court judge dismissed the case, finding that Echols had no rights and that the prosecutor was immune from suit.

     Before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Peck argued the District Court was wrong on all counts. Contrary to the judge's holding, the letter violated rights a prosecutor should have understood by putting forth false information intended to interfere with and burden Echols's petition right, that the presumption of innocence applies to compensatory claims as the U.S. Supreme Court held in 2017, and that the assertion that Echols was still under indictment amounted to the type of intimidation that courts universally find actionable. For those and other reasons, immunity did not apply to the prosecutor.

     The case is now submitted and under advisement.

CCL Files Writ on Behalf of Arkansas Supreme Court Justices

October 18th, 2018

    In a writ filed on behalf of five justices of the Arkansas Supreme Court, CCL asked that Court to order the dismissal of formal ethical charges filed by a panel of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission (JDDP) against all members of the Supreme Court. The writ, filed in the Supreme Court, which has supervisory responsibility over the Commission and all state courts, asserts that the Commission lacked jurisdiction over the decision by the Court to order Judge Wendell Griffen recused from all cases involving capital punishment. Because of their own conflict of interest, all members of the Supreme Court have recused themselves in this action. Temporary justices will be appointed by Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson.

    Judge Griffen filed the complaint against the justices, claiming that they violated his due process rights in issuing their recusal order and not providing him with sufficient time to respond. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit had ordered Judge Griffen's federal case against the supreme court and its justices dismissed, holding that no due process rights were violated and that Judge Griffen does not have a right to preside over any particular case or category of cases. The JDDP charges come to a different conclusion, but fail to identify a rule of judicial conduct that the justices might have violated. The JDDP's own rules indicate that, absent fraud, corrupt motive, or bad faith, the JDDP has no jurisdiction over legal decisions made by a judge -- and the recusal order was made in response to a motion in a pending case.

CCL Files Third Circuit Amicus Brief in Asbestos Litigation

September 28th, 2018

     In an amicus brief filed on behalf of the American Association for Justice, CCL argued that Honeywell and Ford Motor Company had no basis to seek reversal of a federal district court that denied them access to personal information in asbestos filings to which they were not a party.

    The case, In re ACandS, Inc., is pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and involves a challenge to a court order that denied the companies access to tens of thousands of asbestos claimant filings so that they may be examined for possible fraud, even though the companies were not parties to the claims. The companies wanted to use the information, which was not part of the public record, for lobbying purposes. Yet, the only allegations of fraud the companies used to support their claim of access were generalized self-serving statements from asbestos defendants and their lawyers, rather proffer than any objective basis for the claim. Instead, the AAJ brief showed why those statements were based on a purposely skewed understanding of claims made to asbestos trusts and the nature of asbestos litigation. 

     The AAJ brief also rebutted the companies' construction of the bankruptcy statute, which provided no right to non-public information, as well as their attempt to claim a First Amendment basis for access to the information.

CCL Opposes Interlocutory Review in 9th Circuit

September 27th, 2018

     Representing the City of Oakland, California, CCL today filed a brief in opposition to a petition for interlocutory review in the Ninth Circuit, filed by Wells Fargo & Co.

     In June, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California denied Wells Fargo's motion to dismiss Oakland Fair Housing Act lawsuit against the bank, a motion argued by CCL's Robert S. Peck, along with co-counsel Joel Liberson. Arguing that courts could differ on the issue, Wells Fargo successfully sought certification of the issue from the District Court so that it could petition the Ninth Circuit for early appellate review. Wells Fargo filed its petition September 17.

     In its brief opposing the petition, CCL argued that the case did not qualify for the extraordinary step of an early appeal because any decision by the appeals court was not likely to be determinative of the litigation. Besides, CCL said, the issue that Wells Fargo identified, the level of proximate cause required in an FHA action, is currently pending in the Eleventh Circuit and in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California in a case brought by the City of Sacramento. For that reason, CCL suggested the Ninth Circuit should allow the issue to percolate in other courts and take it up only in the normal course of litigation.

     CCL also represents Sacramento, as well as Miami, which brought the action pending in the Eleventh Circuit. 

Ninth Circuit Brief Opposes Removal

September 26th, 2018

     In Riggs v. Airbus Helicopter, Inc., a Ninth Circuit brief filed today that CCL worked on with the Robb & Robb law firm in Kansas City, Mo., argues that the U.S. District Court in Nevada correctly ordered remand of a case to state court after Airbus removed it, claiming to qualify as a federal officer. 

     The case involves the crash of an Airbus helicopter that killed a tourist passenger who was going to see the Grand Canyon. When the helicopter landed hard in an emergency, it burst into flames. The passenger later died from the burns. Airbus removed the case from Nevada state court, claiming that its designation by the Federal Aviation Administration to certify the design and airworthiness of its own aircraft rendered it a federal officer and entitled it to defend itself in federal court. The brief argues that mere certification does not entitle the aircraft manufacturer to federal-officer status, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held. 

CCL Files Opening Brief in FHA Case

September 25th, 2018

    Arguing that the trial judge misunderstood the evidence and applied the wrong legal standard, CCL filed its opening brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit on behalf of the City of Miami Gardens in its fair housing case against Wells Fargo & Co. 

    The case, filed in 2014, alleges that Wells Fargo targeted minority borrowers for more expensive or riskier loans than it offered non-minority borrowers in the municipality beginning in 2004. Several cities around the country have filed similar actions against the bank. The trial court granted the bank's motion for summary judgment, ruling that the city could not demonstrate that the bank had engaged in an FHA violation within the two years preceding the complaint, finding that the two instances identified by the city's expert was not enough. 

    Yet, U.S. Supreme Court precedent holds that a single incident during that period was sufficient to meet the statute of limitations and to apply the continuing violations doctrine. The error was compounded by the court using a summary judgment motion to weigh the evidence and the credibility of the competing experts, a task that is supposed to be performed by the jury. The judge also unreasonably limited discovery to a 31-day period of time and to a scope that violated other precedents, the CCL brief argues. 

    Wells Fargo is expected to file its responsive brief within 30 days.

Eighth Circuit Rejects Rehearing Petition, Preserves CCL Victory

August 29th, 2018

      WIthout an opinion, the EIghth Circuit denied a petition for rehearing or rehearing en banc filed by Arkaansas Judge Wendell Griffen, who sought review of a July ruling that ordered a federal district court to dismiss all claims he had made against the Arkansas Supreme Court and its justices. CCL represented the court, its chief justice and two of the associate justices in the litigation. The chief judge of the Eighth Circuit did not particpate in the decision, and one judge would have granted the petition.

      Griffen's lawsuit alleged a violation of his constitutional rights when the state supreme court ordered him recused from death penalty cases after he issued an order in one immediately after particpating in an anti-death penalty rally.  Griffen's lawsuit contended that he had a free-speech right to speak out against the death penalty and was religiously compelled to do so, but CCL argued that the due process rights of the litigants took precedence over the judge's rights so that his exercise of those rights did not require that he be allowed to preside over cases in which he had demonstrated potential bias.  The Eighth Circuit agreed and ordered the case dismissed. 

     Counsel for Judge Griffen has indeicated he will seek review of the decision in the U.S. Supreme Court.

CCL Writes Response to Wells Fargo Request for Appellate Certification

July 27th, 2018

     After a federal district court in San Francisco held that statistical evidence can satisfy the proximate cause requirement for a Federal Housing Act pleading and Wells Fargo moved to certify the question to the Ninth Circuit for immediate appellate review, CCL drafted and filed a brief in opposition to the motion.

     In City of Oakland v. Wells Fargo & Co., U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen held that the proximate cause standard mandated by the FHA could be met by statistical analysis, as Oakland put in parts of its complaint and could, with an amended complaint, attempt to meet for other claims. Wells Fargo, which insists that proximate cause can never be met, filed a motion, asking the court to certify the question for immediate appeal.

    In response, CCL argued that Wells Fargo's motion failed to meet the criteria required by statute for a case to depart from the usual course of appeal only after final judgment. The matter is now under advisement.

CCL Drafts Response to Airbus Motion for Emergency Stay

July 27th, 2018

     CCL drafted opposition to an emergency stay motion filed by Airbus Helicopter Corporation that sought to stave off remand of the case against it from federal to state court.

     The case, Riggs v. Airbus, arises from a helicopter crash that resulted in the death of a tourist on a trip to the Grand Canyon. The helicopter made an emergency landing, but lacking a crash resistant system, the aircraft burst into flames. The tourist died several days later. Suit was brought in Nevada state court, but Airbus removed the case to federal court on the allegation that Airbus was a designated federal agent. The plaintiff, administrator of the estate of the deceased passenger, moved to remand the matter to state court, challenging Airbus's claim of federal officer status. The federal district court agreed with the plaintiff. Before the remand order could take effect, however, Airbus, initiated an appeal and sought a stay of the order in district court.Perhaps fearing that the stay would be denied, Airbus then sought an emergency stay from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. CCL's opposition urged that court to deny the stay, in part, because the delay would harm the case and because Airbus's substantive argument was so thin.