April 22, 2018

Archives for February 2014

Surveying Intellectual Property: Predictions for the Supreme Court’s Rulings in 10 IP Cases

HarrisDoughertyBy Ray K. Harris and Thomas Dougherty

There are now ten IP cases under review in the Supreme Court. Why so many? And what will the Court do?

Why So Many IP Cases?

The Supreme Court docket demonstrates the accelerating importance of intellectual property. In the decade of the 1990s the Supreme Court wrote seven patent opinions.[1] The prior two decades saw a similar volume of patent cases. In the same decade, copyright cases decided in the Supreme Court (six)[2] and trademark cases decided in the Supreme Court (three, including two trade dress cases)[3] were about equally rare.

In the decade from 2000 to 2009, the Supreme Court increased the volume to 10 patent related opinions.[4] Total copyright cases (three)[5] and trademark cases (five, including two trade dress cases)[6] decided in the Supreme Court remained about the same.

In 2010 to 2012 the Supreme Court increased the pace to issue four patent opinions in three years.[7] The pace of Supreme Court copyright decisions (two)[8] remained about the same as over the last 20 years. The increase in patent litigation appears not to be aberrational.

Last year the Supreme Court again more than doubled the volume of patent cases handled and issued four patent-related opinions in one year.[9] The Supreme Court also decided one copyright case[10] and one trademark case.[11]

This year the Supreme Court has again increased the volume of patent cases and already has accepted for review six patent cases – more than half the volume it handled in the entire first decade of the 21st Century. The Court has also accepted for review two copyright and two trademark cases.

Why has the Supreme Court accepted review in so many IP cases? Because IP rights have grown in economic importance and clarity is required to maintain that economic value. The Federal Circuit was given exclusive jurisdiction over patent cases to avoid conflicts in treatment among the different Circuit Courts, but clarity (for example, on treatment of software-related inventions) has not uniformly emerged. Also, abusive assertion of IP rights imposes a substantial cost on the economy. Guidance for the Federal Circuit requires either Supreme Court review or Congressional action.

What Will The Court Do?

Here summaries of the issues raised and our humble PREDICTIONS of how these 10 current IP cases may be decided.

Patent. Two patent cases focus on the scope of what a patent may claim.

Alice Corp. Pty Ltd. v. CLS Bank Int’l, 717 F.3d 1269 (Fed. Cir. 2013), cert. granted, 134 S. Ct. 734 (2013) (the test for patentable subject-matter for software inventions). An equally divided court affirmed the District Court holding that the claims were not patent eligible. The Federal Circuit generated seven opinions and could not agree on the appropriate test. NEITHER CAN WE, BUT THE COURT CONTINUES TO DECIDE CASES DEFINING THE LINE BETWEEN INVENTION AND ABSTRACT IDEAS. The court will limit the scope of software patentability, but not eliminate it. SOFTWARE CAN BE PATENTED BUT NOT THESE CLAIMS. AFFIRMED. Watch for oral argument March 31.

Nautilus Inc. v. Biosig Instruments, Inc., 715 F.3d 891 (Fed. Cir. 2013), cert. granted, 134 S. Ct. 896 (2014) (determining when a claim term is indefinite — therefore invalidating the claim) There were multiple reasonable interpretations of the claim language “spaced relationship.” The Federal Circuit concluded the term was not insolubly ambiguous because “inherent parameters” would allow a person of ordinary skill to understand the term. Particular and distinct patent claiming is required by statute. 35 U.S.C. 112. REVERSED. THE COURT WILL REQUIRE TIGHTER CLAIM DRAFTING SO WHAT IS CLAIMED IS DISTINCT FROM WHAT IS NOT CLAIMED AND INFRINGEMENT LIABILITY IS MORE PREDICTABLE. Watch for oral argument April 28.

The remaining 4 patent cases focus on enforcement issues:

Medtronic Inc. v. Boston Scientific Corp., 571 U.S. ___ (Jan. 22, 2014). In a declaratory relief suit by a patent licensee the licensor/patentee always has the burden to prove infringement. REVERSED. WE ARE CERTAIN WE GOT THIS “PREDICTION” CORRECT.

Highmark Inc. v. Allcare Management Systems, Inc., 687 F.3d 1300 (Fed. Cir. 2012), cert. granted, 134 S. Ct. 48 (2013), and Octane Fitness, LLC v. ICON Health & Fitness, Inc., 496 Fed Appx. 57 (Fed. Cir. 2012), cert. granted, 134 S. Ct. 49 (2013) (the standard for awarding attorneys’ fees to the prevailing party). The infringement defendant prevailed in both cases. The Federal Circuit found no deference is owed to a district court’s finding regarding whether allegations of infringement were objectively unreasonable and neither case was “exceptional” under 35 U.S.C. § 285. The prevailing defendants assert (1) the District Court is entitled to deference, and (2) a showing that the litigation is objectively baseless and brought in subjective bad faith sets too high a standard for prevailing defendants (accused infringers) and conflicts with the lower bar set for prevailing plaintiffs (patent owners) — a showing “that the infringer acted despite an objectively high likelihood that its actions constituted infringement of a valid patent.”). THE COURT WILL ELIMINATE THE SUBJECTIVE ELEMENT OF THE REASONABLENESS TEST AND OTHERWISE AFFIRM THE APPELLATE DECISIONS ON THE OBJECTIVE ELEMENT WITHOUT DEFERENCE TO THE TRIAL COURT. This case was argued Feb. 26.

Limelight Networks, Inc. v. Akamai Technologies, Inc., 692 F.3d 1301 (Fed. Cir. 2012), cert. granted, 134 S. Ct. 895 (2014) (inducing infringement where separate elements of the method claim were carried out by different persons, hence there is no one person who directly infringed). The Federal Circuit held there can be inducement liability with no single direct infringer or agency relationship. AFFIRMED. INDUCING MULTIPLE ACTORS TO INFRINGE COLLECTIVELY IS WRONG (ONCE THE ADVERSE PRECEDENT IS NOT CONTROLLING). Watch for oral argument April 30.

Copyright. Both cases deal with defenses to enforcement of copyright protection.

Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., 695 F.3d 946 (9th Cir. 2012), cert. granted, 134 S. Ct 50 (2013) (laches as a defense to damages incurred for the three-year period before suit is filed). The Copyright Act has a three-year statute of limitations, 17 U.S.C. 507(b). The Ninth Circuit found claims based on the 1980 film “Raging Bull” barred by laches. The other circuits are less receptive to this defense. AFFIRMED. DAMAGES AND INJUNCTIVE RELIEF ARE BOTH UNAVAILABLE FOR THE CONTINUING TORT ON THE FACTS PRESENTED. This case was argued Jan. 21.

American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc., 712 F.3d 676 (2nd Cir. 2013), cert. granted, 134 S. Ct. 896 (2014) (streaming a broadcasted video over the Internet so paid subscribers each subscriber receive transmission of a separate copy). The Second Circuit found no infringement of the public performance right. Both parties asked for review. Even the winner below wants to avoid the possibility of inconsistent decisions in other circuits. REVERSED. THE COURT WILL CONCLUDE CONGRESS DID NOT INTEND TO PERMIT THE “RUBE GOLDBERG” DESIGN ADOPTED TO AVOID INFRINGEMENT. STREAMING AND RECORDING ON DEMAND IS A PUBLIC PERFORMANCE. CONGRESS COULD AMEND THE STATUTE IF IT DISAGREES WITH THE COURT (WE ARE NOT ARROGANT ENOUGH TO TRY TO PREDICT CONGRESS — BE SERIOUS). Watch for oral argument April 22.

Trademark. Both cases involve false advertising under the Lanham Act.

POM Wonderful LLC v. Coca-Cola Co., 679 F.3d 1170 (9th Cir. 2012), cert. granted, 134 S. Ct. 895 (2014) (false advertising claims involving the labeling requirements of the Food Drug and Cosmetics Act). The Ninth Circuit found preemption. AFFIRMED. Watch for oral argument April 21.

Lexmark Int’l Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc., 697 F.3d 387 (6th Cir. 2012), cert. granted, 133 S. Ct. 2766 (2013) (the test for standing to maintain a false advertising claim). The Ninth Circuit requires the plaintiff to be an actual competitor. Other circuits require antitrust standing. The Sixth Circuit and Second Circuit allow the plaintiff to sue if it has a “reasonable interest” in the case. AFFIRMED. THE COURT WILL ADOPT THE REASONABLE INTEREST STANDARD. This case was argued Dec. 3.

Only two of the nine remaining cases reversed. Not a smart bet? “Never tell me the odds.”[12]

Ray K. Harris practices in the area of commercial litigation, including trade secret, trademark, trade dress, computer software copyright, and other intellectual property protection matters. His representation of aerospace clients has included enforcement of patent and trade secret rights and licensing provisions related to IP. Reach Mr. Harris at rharris@fclaw.com.

Thomas A. Dougherty is a registered patent attorney who practices in all areas of intellectual property, and federal appeals. His practice includes international and domestic patent and trademark prosecution; inter partes reexaminations; portfolio management; freedom to operate, medical devices, general counsel services, M&A, and counseling for various clients and technologies. Reach Mr. Dougherty at tdougherty@fclaw.com

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

 


[1] Eli Lilly & Co. v. Medtronic Inc., 496 U.S. 661 (1990); Cardinal Chemical Co. v. Morton, 508 U.S. 150 (1993); Asgrow Seed Co. v. Winterboer, 513 U.S. 179 (1995); Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370 (1996); Warner-Jenkinson Co, Inc. v. Hilton Davis Chemical Co., 520 U.S. 17 (1997); Pfaff v. Wells Electronics Inc., 525 U.S. 55 (1998); and Florida Prepaid Postsecondary Education Expense Board v. College Savings Bank, 527 U.S. 627 (1999). See also Dickinson v. Zurko, 527 U.S. 150 (1999) (administrative burden of proof).

[2] Stewart v. Abend, 495 U.S. 207 (1990), Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991); Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc., 510 U.S. 517 (1994); Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music Inc., 510 U.S. 569 (1994); Feltner v. Columbia Pictures, 523 U.S. 340 (1998); and Quality King Distributors Inc. v. L’anza Research Int’l Inc., 532 U.S. 135 (1998). See also Lotus Dev. Corp. v. Borland Int’l Inc., 116 S. Ct 804 (1996) (aff’d by an equally divided court); Professional Real Estate Investors, Inc. v. Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., 508 U.S. 49 (1993) (copyright claim was immune from antitrust liability).

[3] Two Pesos v. Taco Cabana, Inc., 505 U.S. 763 (1992); Qualitex v. Jacobson Products Co., Inc., 514 U.S. 159 (1995) and College Savings Bank v. Florida Prepaid Postsecondary Education Expense Board, 527 U.S. 666 (1999).

[4] JEM Ag. Supply Inc. v. Pioneer Hi-Bred Int’l, Inc., 534 U.S. 124 (2001) (patent alternative to plant variety protection act); Festo Corp. v. Shoketsu Kinzoku Kogyo Kubushiki Co., Ltd., 535 U.S. 722 (2002); Holmes Group, Inc. v. Vornado Air Circulation Systems, Inc., 535 U.S. 826 (2002); Merck KGaA v. Integra Lifesciences I, Ltd., 545 U.S. 193 (2005); Illinois Tool Works Inc. v. Independent Ink, Inc., 547 U.S. 28 (2006) (rule of reason antitrust analysis); eBay Inc. v. Merc-Exchange, LLC, 547 U.S. 388 (2006); MedImmune, Inc. v. Genentech, Inc., 549 U.S. 118 (2007); KSR v. Teleflex, Inc., 550 U.S. 398 (2007); Microsoft Corp. v. AT&T Corp, Int’l Co., 550 U.S. 437 (2007); and Quanta Computer Inc. v. LG Electronics, Inc., 553 U.S. 617 (2008).

[5] New York Times Co, Inc. v. Tasini, 533 U.S.483 (2001); Eldred v. Ashcroft, 537 U.S. 186 (2003); and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd., 545 U.S. 913 (2005).

[6] Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Samara Bros., Inc. Co., 529 U.S. 205 (2000); TrafFix Devices, Inc. v. Marketing Displays, Inc., 532 U.S. 23 (2001); Moseley v. V Secret Catalogue, Inc., 537 U.S. 418 (2003); Dastar Corp. v. 20th Century Fox Film Corp., 539 U.S. 23 (2003); and KP Permanent Make-Up Inc. v. Lasting Impression I, Inc., 543 U.S. 111 (2004).

[7] Bilski v. Kappos, 130 S. Ct. 3218 (2010); Global-Tech Appliances, Inc. v. SEB S.A., 131 S. Ct. 2060 (2011); Bd of Trustees of Leland Stanford Jr. Univ. v. Roche Molecular Systems, Inc., 131 S. Ct. 2186 (2011); Microsoft Corp. v. i4i Ltd. Partnership., 131 S. Ct. 2238 (2011); and Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc., 132 S. Ct. 1289 (2012). See also Kappos v. Hyatt, 132 U.S. 1690 (2012) (admissible evidence in administrative proceedings).

[8] Reed Elsevier, Inc. v. Muchnick, 559 U.S. 154 (2010), and Golan v. Holder, 132 S. Ct. 873 (2012). See also Costco Wholesale Corp. v. Omega S.A., 131 S. Ct. 565 (2010) (aff’d by an equally divided court).

[9] Bowman v. Monsanto Co., 133 S. Ct. 1761 (2013); Gunn v. Minton, 133 S. Ct. 1059 (2013) (patent-related jurisdiction); Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, 133 S. Ct. 2107 (2013); and FTC v. Actavis, Inc., 133 S. Ct. 2223 (2013) (reverse payment patent license antitrust analysis).

[10] Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, 133 S. Ct. 1351 (2013).

[11] Already LLC v. Nike Inc., 133 S. Ct. 721 (2013).

[12] Han Solo to C-3PO, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980).

Colorado Court of Appeals: Announcement Sheet, 2/27/2014

On Thursday, February 27, 2014, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued six published opinions and 32 unpublished opinions.

People v. Shifrin

People v. Bassford

Shigo, LLC v. Hocker

Colorado Airport Parking,LLC v. Department of Aviation of the City & County of Denver

Foster v. Board of Governors of Colorado State University System

In re Marriage of Dorsey

Summaries for these cases are forthcoming, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Neither State Judicial nor the Colorado Bar Association provides case summaries for unpublished appellate opinions. The case announcement sheet is available here.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 2/26/2014

On Wednesday, February 26, 2014, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued no published opinions and three unpublished opinions.

Martinez v. Holder

United States v. Myers

United States v. Lake

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.

HB 14-1162: Allowing Victims of Sexual Assault Who Conceive Children as a Result of the Assault to Terminate Perpetrator’s Parent-Child Legal Relationship

On January 17, 2014, Rep. Lois Landgraf introduced HB 14-1162 – Concerning Protection of the Victim of a Sexual Assault in Cases where a Child was Conceived as a Result of the Sexual Assault, and, in Connection Therewith, Making Legislative Changes in Response to the Study by and the Report of the Recommendations from the Task Force on Children Conceived Through RapeThis summary is published here courtesy of the Colorado Bar Association’s e-Legislative Report.

Last session, the general assembly passed a bill that allows the victim of a sexual assault in which a child was conceived and in which the person who committed the sexual assault was convicted to file for the termination of the parent-child legal relationship of the person who committed the sexual assault. In that same bill, the general assembly created a task force on children conceived by rape to study whether changes should be made to that statute and to study issues associated with parental rights in cases where a child was conceived as a result of the sexual assault but a conviction did not occur. This bill makes legislative changes in response to the study and report prepared by the task force.

The bill makes the following changes to provisions passed last year for cases involving convictions:

  • Adding more due process protections, such as specifying the notice to the respondent, setting a date for hearing the petition, and notifying the Indian tribe if the child is an Indian child in accordance with the federal “Indian Child Welfare Act,”
  • Adding more protections for the victim and the child, including protecting the identity of the victim and the child in the summons, ordering protective measures for the victim in the courtroom, and treating child support payments as confidential;
  • Providing legal counsel and waiving filing fees for indigent victims;
  • Providing for admission of parentage and for genetic testing to confirm paternity and allowing the court to order the parent against whom the petition has been filed to pay for genetic testing;
  • Stating that the court shall not presume that having only one remaining parent is contrary to the child’s best interests;
  • Creating a process for the parent whose parent-child legal relationship is terminated to provide medical and family information to be shared with the child and the victim in a way that protects the child from knowing the name of the person;
  • Clarifying what happens if the court denies the petition to terminate the parent-child legal relationship, including that the juvenile court has continuing jurisdiction of the matter and has the authority to enter an order allocating parental responsibilities between the parties, including an order to not allocate parental responsibilities to the parent against whom the petition was filed.

The bill repeals the statutes enacted last year that provided for a stay of a civil domestic relations proceeding or a paternity action while criminal charges of sexual assault brought against the alleged perpetrator are resolved.

The bill creates a process to allow the victim of a sexual assault in cases where a child was conceived and in which a conviction did not occur to file a petition in juvenile court to prevent future contact with and to terminate the parent-child legal relationship of the parent who allegedly committed the sexual assault. This process is similar to the process for petitions involving convictions but does not include a rebuttable presumption that it is in best interests of the child to terminate the parent-child legal relationship. If the court denies the petition to terminate the parent-child legal relationship, the juvenile court has continuing jurisdiction and the authority to enter orders on allocation of parental rights, including an order to not allocate parental rights to the other parent. The juvenile court may order the parent to submit to a sex offense-specific evaluation and parental risk assessment that may factor in the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities and parenting time. The court shall order the parent who is found to have committed the sexual assault to pay for the costs of the evaluation and the assessment. All of the changes made in this bill to the process for petitions involving convictions are also included in the process for petitions for nonconvictions.

Since some issues involving the child conceived by a sexual assault might start in the domestic relations arena instead of in a juvenile proceeding, the bill gives the domestic relations courts the authority to allocate parental rights and responsibilities, to address decision-making between the victim and the other parent in these cases, and to issue protective orders. The provisions are similar to the considerations that the court uses to address cases involving domestic violence. If the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that one of the parties has committed sexual assault and the child was conceived as a result of the sexual assault, then it shall not be in the best interests of the child to allocate sole or split decision-making to the person who was found to have committed sexual assault or to allocate mutual decision-making with respect to any issue over the objection of the other party or the guardian ad litem. If the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that one of the parties has committed sexual assault and the child was conceived as a result of the sexual assault, the court shall consider whether it is in the best interests of the child to prohibit or limit the parenting time of that party with the child. Prior to entering an order relating to parenting time or parental contact, the court may order that party to submit to a sex offense-specific evaluation and a parental risk assessment in Colorado. The court shall order the parent who is found to have committed the sexual assault to pay the costs of the evaluation and parental risk assessment.

In addition, in cases where the court has found that the child was conceived as a result of sexual assault, a domestic relations court may not modify a prior order regarding allocation of decision-making or modify a prior order regarding parenting time, unless it finds that the child’s present environment endangers the child’s physical health or significantly impairs the child’s emotional development.

Under existing law, when a parent voluntarily relinquishes a child so that the child may be adopted, there is a private action filed to terminate the parent-child legal relationship of the other parent. A victim of sexual assault might want to voluntarily relinquish the child conceived from the sexual assault for adoption and terminate the other parent’s rights. This bill amends the statute on termination in voluntary relinquishment cases so that the court may order the termination based on a finding that the other parent is unfit due to a history of violent behavior, which may include an incidence of sexual assault that resulted in the conception of the child.

The CBA LPC has voted to oppose the bill. The bill has been assigned to the Judiciary and Appropriations Committees.

HB 14-1165: Limiting the Amount of Payment Property Owners Can Withhold from Construction Professionals

On January 21, 2014, Rep. Randy Fischer and Sen. Lois Tochtrop introduced HB 14-1165 – Concerning a Limit on the Retainage Allowed under a Private Construction Contract. This summary is published here courtesy of the Colorado Bar Association’s e-Legislative Report.

The bill requires property owners who contract for improvements to real property to:

  • Pay 95 percent of the amount due, which limits the amount retained to ensure the quality of work to 5 percent; and
  • Pay subcontractors the retainage after the work is finally accepted.

If a person fails to make required payments, the person must pay interest and is liable for attorney fees. These requirements are enforceable in court. Contractual provisions that do not comply with the requirements are unenforceable. A statute of limitations to enforce the bill is set for one year.

The bill is assigned to the Business, Labor, Economic, & Workforce Development Committee; the bill is scheduled for committee review on Thursday, Feb. 27 at 1:30 p.m.

HB 14-1183: Requiring Director of Registrations to Reinstate Expired Professional Licenses for Returning Service Members

On January 29, 2014, Rep. Rhonda Fields and Sen. Matt Jones introduced HB 14-1183 – Concerning the Reinstatement of the Authority for Active Military Personnel to Practice Professionally. This summary is published here courtesy of the Colorado Bar Association’s e-Legislative Report.

The bill requires the director of the division of registrations in the department of regulatory agencies to reinstate the expired license, certificate, or registration of any active military personnel pursuant to specific requirements.

The bill was given final approval by the House on Feb. 17; the bill is assigned to the Senate Business, Labor, & Technology Committee.

HB 14-1159: Exempting Biogas Components from State Sales and Use Tax

On January 17, 2014, Rep. Dave Young and Sen. Gail Schwartz introduced HB 14-1159 – Concerning a State Sales and Use Tax Exemption for Components used in Biogas Production SystemsThis summary is published here courtesy of the Colorado Bar Association’s e-Legislative Report.

As introduced, the bill exempts from state sales and use tax components used in biogas production systems. Local governments that currently impose sales or use tax on such components may either continue to do so or may exempt them from their sales or use taxes. On Jan. 27, the Agriculture, Livestock, & Natural Resources Committee amended the bill and sent it the Finance Committee. On Feb. 13, the Finance Committee also amended the bill and sent it to the Appropriations for consideration of the Fiscal Impact.

Winds of Change (Part 3)

rhodesMy wife is used to the kinds of research I do for these articles, but even she raised an eyebrow when I brought home James Hillman’s book Suicide and the Soul. “Is there something I should know?” she asked. Yeah, I think so. I think there’s something we all should know, not just about individual lawyer suicides, but also about how they mirror the collective, transformational death occurring in our profession.

Hillman called suicide “the urge for hasty transformation” – referring to the death of an individual psyche under the stress of personal transformation. In a postscript written 40 years later, Hillman added insights about the communal nature of suicide:

Once we have grasped that involvement [in relationships with others] is fundamental to the soul, we would be inescapably connected by definition, turning and twisting the threads of our fate with the souls of others. Others are entangled in your death as you are in theirs. Suicide becomes a community matter.

No suicide dies or takes his life alone; the rest of the community dies and takes his life with him. We don’t want to hear that. We quickly deny any personal responsibility, avoid the topic, turn away when it comes up. Hillman explains our response this way:

This [community aspect] helps account for the common reaction against those who attempt suicide. They are not welcomed with sympathy by family, friends or clinic, but rather are met with anger and disgust. Before we sympathize with a person’s plight or pain that may have occasioned the attempt, we blame; we find ourselves spontaneously annoyed, outraged, condemnatory. I do believe this all too common response points to the enduring strata of the psyche that we all share, call it our archetypal humanity. We are societal animals, as well as having individual destinies. Something insists we belong to a wider soul and not to ourselves alone.

This is why lawyer suicide stories are so disturbing to those left behind – such as the CNN story that prompted this series, or this one about a prominent Washington, D.C. lawyer who shot himself in his office after changing his voice mail greeting to say, “As of April 30, 2009, I can no longer be reached. If your message relates to a firm matter, please contact my secretary. If it concerns a personal matter, please contact my wife.”

Can’t you just see yourself doing that? I can. Change the voice mail message, set up an out-of-office email reply, write a memo about the status of pending cases… be the consummate professional to the end. A comment in that story is illustrative of Hillman’s individual/community insight:

To some his final act was a rebuke to what his beloved profession had become—a statement made in the very office he had been told to vacate.

The legal profession is a controlled access community, and once we’re in the club we have a lifetime membership. (“Once a lawyer always a lawyer.”) When one of our members is lost, we all lose. We can gloss over the statistics and get back to work, but we cannot remain unaffected.

Concerned bar leaders have written monographs such as this one, detailing the causes and signs of individual psychological distress and exhorting us to notice who’s not bearing up so well. They have their place in promoting help for the afflicted individual, but they do not reach the terminally fearful dynamics of communal transformation. For that, we need to also examine the systemic context which allowed – or maybe even promoted – that level of individual distress in the first place.

To be continued.

Kevin Rhodes is a lawyer in private practice and a registered mentor with the Colorado Supreme Court’s CAMP program. He offers career coaching for lawyers and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section and the Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Colorado Rule of Evidence 803(10) Amended to Conform to Changes to FRE 803(10)

On Wednesday, February 26, 2014, the Colorado State Judicial Branch announced Rule Change 2014(03), amending subsection 10 of Colorado Rule of Evidence 803.

CRE 803 lists hearsay exceptions where the availability of the declarant is immaterial. Subsection 10 addresses the absence of a public record. The changes to Subsection 10 are substantial (see redline of changes below) and the committee comment was also revised to reflect that the changes were made to conform CRE 803 to FRE 803, which was amended in December 2013.

(10) Absence of a Ppublic Rrecordor entryTestimony or a certification under Rule 902 that a diligent search failed to disclose a public record or statement if:

(A) the testimony or certification is admitted to prove that

(i)     the record or statement does not exist; or

(ii)     a matter did not occur or exist, if a public office regularly kept a record or statement for a matter of that kind; and

(B) in a criminal case, a prosecutor who intends to offer a certification provides written notice of that intent at least 14 days before trial, and the defendant does not object in writing within 7 days of receiving the notice unless the court sets a different time for the notice or the objection.

To prove the absence of a record, report, statement, or data compilation, in any form, or the non-occurrence or non-existence of a matter of which a record, report, statement, or data compilation, in any form, was regularly made and preserved by a public office or agency, evidence in the form of a certification in accordance with Rule 902, or testimony, that diligent search failed to disclose the record, report, statement, or data compilation, or entry.

(Federal Rule Identical.)  

The changes to CRE 803(10) are effective February 18, 2014.

For a complete list of the Colorado Supreme Court’s rules changes, click here.

Tenth Circuit: Defendant’s Sentence Vacated Because Amount of Methamphetamine in PSR Not Supported by Trial Testimony

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in United States v. Harrison on Tuesday, February 25, 2014.

Defendant Leslie Susan Harrison was convicted by a jury of conspiring to manufacture and distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine. The United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma sentenced her to 360 months in prison. On appeal, she challenged the sentence on five grounds. She argued first that the court improperly adopted the calculation in the probation office’s presentence report (PSR) that Defendant was responsible for more than 1.5 kilograms of methamphetamine, leading to a base offense level of 34, see USSG § 2D1.1(c)(3).

The Tenth Circuit agreed with Harrison’s first argument. When she challenged the drug-quantity calculation in the PSR, the district court did not require the government to put on evidence supporting the calculation, which stated that the PSR was based on trial testimony. This statement was inaccurate, and the error was not harmless because the trial evidence would not compel a finding of at least 1.5 kilograms of methamphetamine.

The government argued that Defendant’s challenge to the drug-quantity calculation was not preserved below. The only objection raised at the hearing was raised by Defendant herself, not her counsel. And a district court does not need to consider pro se objections made by defendants represented by counsel. The government also argued that Defendant’s objection was not specific enough. Again, the government was correct that an insufficiently specific objection does not preserve a claim of error. However, the Tenth Circuit held that Harrison’s objection was specific enough to indicate to the district court the precise ground for her complaint.

At sentencing, the district court may rely on facts stated in the presentence report unless the defendant has objected to them. When a defendant objects to a fact in a presentence report, the government must prove that fact at a sentencing hearing by a preponderance of the evidence. The government can meet its burden by pointing to trial evidence. But the PSR’s calculation was not derived from trial testimony. The government conceded at oral at argument that nothing at trial supported the amount of methamphetamine in the PSR. The district court erred in saying that the PSR calculation came from trial testimony. The government argued the district court’s error was harmless.

The Tenth Circuit disagreed. The court vacated the sentencing because it was not sufficiently confident that the district court, had it considered the matter, would have found at least 1.5 kilograms of methamphetamine based on the trial testimony, and the Defendant’s sentence may have been different.

The court VACATED Defendant’s sentence and REMANDED for resentencing.

Tenth Circuit: In Sex Discrimination Case, Genuine Issues of Fact Existed as to Plaintiff’s Title VII Claims

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Kramer v. Wasatch County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday, February 25, 2014.

Camille Kramer worked for the Wasatch County Sheriff’s Department from 2005 to 2007. During that time, she was the victim of repeated sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape at the hands of Sergeant Rick Benson.

Ms. Kramer sued Wasatch County, alleging that the sexual harassment she experienced at the hands of Sergeant Benson constituted sex discrimination prohibited by both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1), and the Constitution, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The district court granted summary judgment to Wasatch County. The court held that Sergeant Benson was not Ms. Kramer’s supervisor for Title VII purposes because he did not have the actual authority to unilaterally fire her. It further held that supervisor status could not be premised on apparent authority because no reasonable juror could find Ms. Kramer reasonable in believing Sergeant Benson had the power to fire her. Even assuming Sergeant Benson was Ms. Kramer’s supervisor, the court concluded that Wasatch County was not vicariously liable for his conduct because Ms. Kramer suffered no tangible employment action and, alternatively, because Wasatch County was entitled to prevail on its Faragher/Ellerth affirmative  defense as a matter of law.

Finally, the district court held that Wasatch County was not negligent and thus could not be liable for Sergeant Benson’s harassment under co-worker harassment standards. As to Ms. Kramer’s § 1983 claims, the court determined that Sheriff Van Wagoner was entitled to qualified immunity, and that the County was not liable because it had no pattern, practice, or custom of illegal sex discrimination. Ms. Kramer appealed on all claims.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII. In general, an employer is directly liable for an employee’s unlawful harassment if the employer was negligent with respect to the offensive behavior. If the harasser is a supervisor rather than merely a co-worker, however, the employer may be vicariously liable for the conduct, depending on the circumstances.  If the supervisor’s harassment culminates in a “tangible employment action,” the employer is strictly liable for sex discrimination, with no defense. If no tangible employment action occurs, the employer may still be vicariously liable for the supervisor’s harassment if the plaintiff proves the harassment was severe or pervasive, and the employer is unable to establish the affirmative defense announced in Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 807 (1998), and Burlington Indus., Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742 (1998). For these reasons, whether the harasser was a “supervisor” within the meaning of Title VII is a critical threshold question in determining whether the employer can be held vicariously liable for the harassment.

The United States Supreme Court has held that a “supervisor” under Title VII is an employee whom the employer has empowered to take tangible employment actions against the victim, i.e., to effect a significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits. Importantly, however, an employee need not be empowered to take such tangible employment actions directly to qualify as a supervisor. A manager who works closely with his or her subordinates and who has the power to recommend or otherwise substantially influence tangible employment actions, and who can thus indirectly effectuate them, also qualifies as a “supervisor” under Title VII.

Sergeant Benson was Ms. Kramer’s direct supervisor. He completed her performance evaluations and made recommendations regarding her employment status. The record established that Ms. Kramer raised a genuine issue of fact as to whether the Wasatch County Sheriff’s Department effectively delegated to Sergeant Benson the power to cause tangible employment actions regarding Ms. Kramer by providing for reliance on recommendations from sergeants such as Benson when making decisions regarding firing, promotion, demotion, and reassignment.

Even if it was determined that Sergeant Benson lacked the actual supervisory authority described above, he could still qualify as a supervisor under apparent authority principles. In the usual case, a supervisor’s harassment involves misuse of actual power, not the false impression of its existence. But in the unusual case, apparent authority can suffice to make the harasser a supervisor for Title VII purposes, so long as the victim’s mistaken conclusion is a reasonable one. Under the circumstances here, given the County’s and the Sheriff’s manuals, there was a genuine issue of fact as to whether Ms. Kramer was reasonable in believing that Sergeant Benson had additional powers – such as the power to transfer, discipline, demote, or fire her. A jury was especially likely to conclude such beliefs were reasonable because Sergeant Benson repeatedly told Ms. Kramer he did in fact possess such powers.

If Sergeant Benson was a supervisor, Wasatch County would be strictly liable for his harassment of Ms. Kramer if it culminated in a tangible employment action. However, the Tenth Circuit held that none of the following actions constituted tangible employment actions: (1) the rape; (2) the bad performance evaluation that was never submitted; (3) Sergeant Benson denying her vacation days; and (4) Sergeant Benson refusing to give her road training and assigning her to the magnetometer full-time. The Tenth Circuit held that no tangible employment action occurred. Because these actions did not constitute “tangible employment action,” the County could not be held strictly liable for sex discrimination.

Even absent a tangible employment action, if Sergeant Benson qualified as a supervisor, the County could be vicariously liable for his severe or pervasive sexual harassment unless it could establish the affirmative defense announced in Faragher and Ellerth. This defense has two elements: (a) that the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexually harassing behavior, and (b) that the plaintiff employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise.

The Tenth Circuit held that Wasatch County did not support its summary judgment motion with evidence that entitled it to judgment as a matter of law under either of the affirmative defense’s two prongs. Wasatch County’s evidence did not establish as a matter of law that the County took reasonable means to prevent and promptly correct sexual harassment. The County did not provide any evidence that the Sheriff Department’s interventions were reasonably calculated to end the harassment, deter future harassers, or protect Ms. Kramer. Not only did the investigation here fail to demonstrate that the County employed reasonable means to discharge its Title VII obligations, the Sheriff’s response to Ms. Kramer’s allegations suggested that he did not understand he had a Title VII compliance matter on his hands. There was no evidence the Department sought to improve its sexual harassment prevention program or otherwise reduce the risk of future harassment. On this record, there remained a genuine issue of fact as to whether the County’s response to Ms. Kramer’s sexual harassment complaint fell short of demonstrating that the County took reasonable efforts to discharge its duty under Title VII, as required to establish the affirmative defense.

Under prong two of the affirmative defense, Wasatch County’s evidence did not compel the conclusion that Ms. Kramer was unreasonable. Ms. Kramer did not lodge a formal complaint. However, she testified that on numerous occasions Sergeant Benson sexually assaulted her and subsequently told her to “be quiet” and “not say anything” or it would be “a career ender.” Sergeant Benson also threatened Ms. Kramer with a poor evaluation unless she would keep her mouth shut and not say anything. The court concluded that the record demonstrated a persistent theme: Sergeant Benson was an intimidating person with job-related power over Ms. Kramer who would sexually harass her and then threaten that she would lose her job if she complained.

Ms. Kramer’s fear that Sergeant Benson would make good on his threats was not per se unreasonable given that he did in fact take adverse job actions against her at work – denying her leave time, threatening her with a bad performance evaluation, and giving her long shifts on the magnetometer. Even if these actions did not rise to the level of a tangible employment action, a reasonable employee could well find a combination of threats and actions taken with the design of imposing both economic and psychological harm sufficient to dissuade him or her from making or supporting a charge of discrimination. This evidence raised a genuine issue of fact as to whether Ms. Kramer’s fears of Sergeant Benson were credible and reasonable because they were grounded in concrete reasons to apprehend that complaint would result in affirmative harm to the complainant.

Taken together, the evidence was also sufficient to raise a genuine issue of fact as to whether Ms. Kramer was reasonable in believing it would be futile and potentially detrimental to herself to complain. Accepting Ms. Kramer’s version of the facts, a picture emerged in which Sergeant Benson used his job-related power over Ms. Kramer to compel, pressure, or coerce her to do his bidding. While Ms. Kramer technically could have avoided some of the encounters, the record did not establish that she could have done so without incurring some form of adverse employment action.

Accordingly, the Tenth Circuit reversed summary judgment for Wasatch County on both prongs of the Faragher/Ellerth defense.

However, the court affirmed the district court’s holding that the County’s liability could not be premised on negligence. The record evidence viewed in the light most favorable to Ms. Kramer failed to support an inference that the County had actual or constructive knowledge of Sergeant Benson’s sexual harassment before Ms. Kramer’s car accident.

Finally, the County was not liable for sex discrimination under § 1983. As to institutional liability under § 1983, the County could only be liable for the actions of Sergeant Benson if it had a custom, practice, or policy that encouraged or condoned the unconstitutional behavior – here, workplace sexual harassment. Kramer had to demonstrate a direct causal link between the municipal action and the deprivation of federal rights, and she had to show that the municipal action was taken with deliberate indifference to its known or obvious consequences. Ms. Kramer had to establish that the County failed to prevent sexual harassment with deliberate indifference, that the need for more or different action was so obvious, and the inadequacy so likely to result in the violation of constitutional rights, that the policymakers of the city can reasonably be said to have been deliberately indifferent to the need. The court held that, on the record in this case, no reasonable jury could find that the risk of sergeants sexually assaulting their subordinates was “so obvious” the County’s policymakers should have known about it.

The Tenth Circuit therefore AFFIRMED summary judgment as to the § 1983 claim, but REVERSED on the Title VII claim, which the court REMANDED for trial.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 2/25/2014

On Tuesday, February 25, 2014, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued two published opinions and two unpublished opinions.

Standard Bank v. Runge, Inc.

Hamstein Cumberland Music Group v. Williams

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.