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Australian man loses bullying-by-breaking wind court case
Legal Focuses | 2019/03/29 18:05

An Australian appeals court on Friday dismissed a bullying case brought by an engineer who accused his former supervisor of repeatedly breaking wind toward him.

The Victoria state Court of Appeal upheld a Supreme Court judge's ruling that even if engineer David Hingst's allegations were true, flatulence did not necessarily constitute bullying.

Hingst said he would take his case to the High Court, Australia's final court of appeal. The 56-year-old is seeking 1.8 million Australian dollars ($1.3 million) damages from his former Melbourne employer, Construction Engineering.

Hingst testified that he had moved out of a communal office space to avoid supervisor Greg Short's flatulence.

Hingst told the court that Short would then enter Hingst's small, windowless office several times a day and break wind.

Hingst "alleged that Mr. Short would regularly break wind on him or at him, Mr. Short thinking this to be funny," the two appeal court judges wrote in their ruling.

Hingst said he would spray Short with deodorant and called his supervisor "Mr. Stinky."

"He would fart behind me and walk away. He would do this five or six times a day," Hingst said outside court.

Short told the court he did not recall breaking wind in Hingst's office, "but I may have done it once or twice."

Hingst also accused Short of being abusive over the phone, using profane language and taunting him.

The appeal judges found Hingst "put the issue of Mr. Short's flatulence to the forefront" of his bullying case, arguing that "flatulence constituted assaults."

The court found that Short did not bully or harass Hingst. Hingst had failed to establish that Construction Engineering had been negligent.


Dominion to ask Supreme Court to hear pipeline appeal
Legal Focuses | 2019/02/28 02:13

Dominion Energy said Tuesday it will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its appeal after a lower court refused to reconsider a ruling tossing out a permit that would have allowed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross two national forests, including parts of the Appalachian Trail.

Lead pipeline developer Dominion said it expects the filing of an appeal in the next 90 days. On Monday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a request for a full-court rehearing from Dominion and the U.S. Forest Service.

A three-judge panel ruled in December that the Forest Service lacks the authority to authorize the trail crossing and had "abdicated its responsibility to preserve national forest resources" when it approved the pipeline crossing the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests, as well as a right-of-way across the Appalachian Trial.

The 605-mile (974-kilometer) natural gas pipeline would originate in West Virginia and run through North Carolina and Virginia.

The appellate ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Sierra Club, Virginia Wilderness Committee and other environmental groups. The denial "sends the Atlantic Coast Pipeline back to the drawing board," the law center and Sierra Club said in a joint statement on Monday.


Court upholds car rental tax imposed in Maricopa County
Legal Focuses | 2019/02/26 10:02

The Arizona Supreme Court on Monday upheld a car rental tax surcharge that’s imposed in Maricopa County to pay for building a professional football stadium and other sports and recreational facilities, marking the second time an appeals court has ruled the tax is legal.

Car rental companies had challenged the surcharge on the grounds that it violated a section of the Arizona Constitution that requires revenues relating to the operation of vehicles to be spent on public highways.

A lower-court judge had ruled in favor of the rental companies four years, saying the surcharge violated the constitutional provision and ordering a refund of the tax estimated at about $150 million to the companies.

But the Arizona Court of Appeals reversed the decision last spring. The Arizona Supreme Court on Monday echoed the Court of Appeals’ ruling.

The surcharge partially funds the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, an agency that uses the money to help pay off bonds for the stadium in Glendale where the Arizona Cardinals play, along with baseball spring training venues and youth sports facilities. The rest of the authority’s revenue comes from a hotel bed tax and payments for facilities usage.

The surcharge is charged on car rental companies, but the costs are passed along to customers.

Attorney Shawn Aiken, who represented Saban Rent-A-Car Inc. in the case, said in a statement that the challengers will evaluate in the coming weeks whether to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case.


High court upholds texting suicide manslaughter conviction
Legal Focuses | 2019/02/06 18:53

The involuntary manslaughter conviction of a young woman who encouraged her boyfriend through dozens of text messages to kill himself was upheld Wednesday by Massachusetts' highest court.

The Supreme Judicial Court agreed with a lower court judge who found that Michelle Carter caused Conrad Roy III's death when she told him to "get back in" his truck that was filling with toxic gas after he told her he was scared. The judge said Carter had a duty to call the police or Roy's family when she knew he was killing himself.

"And then after she convinced him to get back into the carbon monoxide filled truck, she did absolutely nothing to help him: she did not call for help or tell him to get out of the truck as she listened to him choke and die," Justice Scott Kafker wrote in the Supreme Judicial Court's ruling.

Carter's lawyers noted the only evidence she instructed Roy to get back in the truck was a long, rambling text she sent to a friend two months later in which she called Roy's death her fault.

Carter was 17 when Roy, 18, was found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning in July 2014. Carter, now 22, was sentenced to 15 months in jail, but has remained free while she pursues her appeals.

Prosecutors had argued Carter could have stopped Roy from killing himself, but instead bullied him into going through with his plan through text messages that became more insistent as he delayed.



Mixed rulings for Republicans from Kentucky Supreme Court
Legal Focuses | 2018/11/16 05:02

In a pair of mixed rulings for Kentucky Republicans, the state Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a law requiring a panel of doctors to review medical malpractice cases before they go to court while upholding the state's law banning mandatory union dues for most employees.

Republicans celebrated when Gov. Matt Bevin signed both laws, made possible only after the GOP won control of the state House of Representatives in 2016 for the first time in nearly 100 years. Bevin has credited the union dues law, known as right-to-work, with boosting record levels of business investment in Kentucky. But the medical review panel law has been criticized for clogging the state's court system.

The medical review law gives a panel of doctors nine months to review medical malpractice lawsuits and issue an opinion about whether they are frivolous. A review of court records in August of this year by the Courier Journal found that in the first year the law was in effect, 11 percent of the 531 malpractice lawsuits filed had been assigned to a panel. Of those, findings had been issued in 3 percent.

The state legislature passed the law in 2017. Tonya Claycomb sued on behalf of her child, Ezra, who was born with severe brain damage and cerebral palsy she says was caused by medical malpractice. She argued the bill delayed her access to the courts, citing section 14 of the Kentucky Constitution. It says all courts shall be open and every person will have access "without ... delay."

Lawyers for Gov. Bevin argued the law is helpful because it gets the two sides talking before a lawsuit is filed, which could lead to an agreement to settle the case outside of court. They also pointed out the state has other laws that limit access to the courts, including requiring heirs to wait at least six months before suing the executor of an estate.



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