January 16, 2018

Archives for January 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: Whether Minor Initiated Sexual Contact is Irrelevant Under Sexual Assault on a Child Statutes

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Sparks on Thursday, January 11, 2018.

Sexual Assault—Child—Prosecutorial Misconduct—Sufficiency of Evidence—Hearsay—Jury Instructions—Video Interview of Defendant.

Sparks attended a party at his wife’s cousin’s house. The cousin’s daughter, A.M., reported that while she was at the party and Skyping on her computer, Sparks touched her breast over her clothing. She also reported that as she was Skyping, her friend S.F. (the victim) and Sparks were behind her, and that through her computer’s camera she saw the victim grabbing Sparks’s groin area and making other movements. At the time, A.M. was 14 and the victim was 13. Sparks admitted to what A.M. reported and to touching the victim’s groin, breast, and bottom area. Sparks was convicted of one count of sexual assault on a child as to the victim.

On appeal, Sparks contended that the prosecutor engaged in misconduct by misstating the law and evidence during closing argument. Specifically, Sparks asserted it was error for the prosecutor to tell the jury that it did not matter that the victim initiated the sexual contact, arguing that C.R.S. § 18-3-405(1), the sexual assault on a child statute, required the prosecution to prove that he caused the victim to become subservient or subordinate or that the child victim initiated the sexual contact at his directive. Sexual contact includes the touching of the defendant’s intimate parts by the victim. The phrase “subjects another . . . to any sexual contact” in the statute does not require the People to prove that defendant caused the child-victim to become “subservient or subordinate” or that the child-victim initiated the sexual contact at defendant’s directive. There was no error in the prosecutor’s statement to the jury.

Sparks also argued that the prosecutor misstated the evidence by saying A.M. saw improper sexual contact between the victim and Sparks through a computer camera while on Skype and that Sparks knew exactly how old the victim was. As discussed below, the court did not err in admitting this evidence, and given this evidence, the prosecutor did not misstate nor draw improper inferences from it.

Sparks further contended that the prosecution failed to produce sufficient evidence to prove that he committed sexual assault on a child because the only evidence as to the victim’s age was inadmissible. He contended that the court erred in admitting the detective’s and A.M.’s testimony and Sparks’s interview statement about the victim’s age because these were hearsay. All of this evidence was admitted without objection. A.M.’s testimony may have been based on her personal knowledge or the victim’s reputed age, and thus would not have been hearsay or would have fallen within a hearsay exception. Thus, the trial court’s ruling on A.M.’s testimony was not erroneous, much less obviously so. Similarly, the basis for the detective’s testimony could not be determined, but the court of appeals could not conclude that the trial court’s admission of this testimony was obviously erroneous. And even assuming that admitting this testimony was obvious error, such error would be harmless in light of A.M.’s testimony and Sparks’s interview statement. CRE 805 does not apply to Sparks’s interview admission because as a party opponent his statement does not require firsthand knowledge to be admissible. It was not plain error to admit the evidence, and it was sufficient.

Sparks also asserted that the court abused its discretion by instructing the jury that it could assign his interview video any weight it wanted when the court provided the video to the jury during deliberations. The court did not instruct the jury to give Sparks’s statements any weight it wanted. Further, no special protections against undue emphasis as to a defendant’s out-of-court statements were required. Lastly, the court provided specific instructions for the jury to follow in viewing the evidence, and thus appropriately exercised its discretion.

Sparks further contended that the trial court denied him his constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel by providing his interview video to the jury during deliberations without notifying his counsel. The court agreed, but concluded this error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

The judgment of conviction was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Adverse Inference from Refusal to Testify Properly Applied at Administrative Hearing

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Romero v. Colorado Department of Human Services on Thursday, January 11, 2018.

Colorado State Administrative Procedure Act—Sexual Abuse—Evidentiary Facts—Adverse Inference—Fifth Amendment.

In this administrative law case, the Larimer County Department of Human Services (DHS) made a finding confirming that Romero sexually abused his grandchildren and exposed one grandchild to an injurious environment, which required Romero to be listed in the statewide child abuse registry. Romero appealed DHS’s confirmations pursuant to Colorado’s State Administrative Procedure Act (APA). An administrative law judge (ALJ) concluded in an initial decision that the preponderance of the evidence did not support DHS’s confirmation decisions. DHS appealed, and the Colorado Department of Human Services (Department) reversed the ALJ’s initial decision, concluding that the evidentiary facts, including an adverse inference based on Romero’s invocation of his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, supported a finding that Romero sexually abused his grandchildren. Romero appealed to the district court, which reversed the Department’s final decision.

On appeal, the Department argued that the district court erred by overruling the Department’s final decision and by restricting the application of the adverse inference to situations where the Department provides an “adequate explanation” of why it has applied the inference. An agency’s determination in a final agency action to apply an adverse inference to a defendant’s invocation of his right to remain silent is an ultimate conclusion of fact under the APA. Consequently, the agency is required, as a matter of law, to make its own determination regarding the adverse inference and can substitute its own judgment for that of the administrative law judge regarding the inference and the weight to give the inference in light of the other evidence presented. To apply the adverse inference for invocation of the right against self-incrimination, a party in a civil case must have been asked questions the answers to which would have been potentially incriminating in a future criminal action, and the party must have invoked his Fifth Amendment rights. There must also have been probative evidence offered against the person claiming the privilege.

It is undisputed that during discovery for the ALJ hearing, DHS deposed Romero and asked him incriminating questions, including whether he touched his grandchildren for his own sexual gratification. It is also undisputed that Romero invoked his Fifth Amendment rights for the entire deposition except for the first few questions. Further, the record is clear that had Romero been called to testify at the ALJ hearing, he would have invoked his Fifth Amendment rights because of the ongoing criminal investigation into the allegations. Here, the Department’s application of the adverse inference was not arbitrary or capricious because it was supported by the record; it considered Romero’s constitutional rights; and it was not contrary to the law on Fifth Amendment adverse inference. Further, there is no authority that supports the district court’s imposition of a duty on the Department to provide an explanation for why it was applying the inference. Accordingly, the district court erred by effectively precluding the Department from making its own determination on the adverse inference.

Romero argued that the district court’s judgment should be upheld because the facts relied on by DHS to support findings of sexual abuse are speculative and do not support the ultimate findings. The Department’s view of the evidence was not speculative or contrary to the weight of the evidence presented to the ALJ.

The district court’s judgment overturning the Department’s final decision was reversed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: CGIA Bars Father’s Claims that City Breached a Duty of Care to Prevent Son’s Death

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in L.J. v. Carracito on Thursday, January 11, 2018.

Wrongful Death—Child Protection Act of 1987—Colorado Governmental Immunity Act—Police Officer—Failure to Report Child Abuse—Public Entity—Vicarious Liability—Tort—Willful and Wanton—Exemplary Damages.

D.J.M., age 2, died after suffering a beating by his mother’s boyfriend. D.J.M.’s father brought an action against the City of Colorado Springs (City) and Officer Carricato, individually and in his capacity as an officer with the City of Colorado Springs Police Department, for failing to report child abuse that father complained about to them multiple times. The complaint alleged violation of the Child Protection Act of 1987 (CPA); negligence (wrongful death) by the City and Officer Carricato; negligence per se by the City and Officer Carricato; violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by the City and Officer Carricato; vicarious liability against the City; and an entitlement to exemplary damages under C.R.S. § 24-10-118(1)(c) against Officer Carricato. The district court determined that while the negligence claims for wrongful death and negligence per se were barred by the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (CGIA), the claim for violation of the CPA was not barred because it was not a claim based in tort. The district court allowed the claim for vicarious liability to stand insofar as it related to the violation of the CPA and found, without conducting a hearing under Trinity Broadcasting of Denver, Inc. v. City of Westminster, that the complaint alleged a sufficient factual basis to support a claim of willful and wanton behavior.

On appeal, the City and Officer Carricato argued that the district court erred because the CGIA bars the claim for violation of the CPA and father’s complaint does not allege specific facts sufficient to support a finding that Officer Carricato’s conduct was willful and wanton. The City is undisputedly a “public entity.” The exceptions to sovereign immunity are not applicable here because (1) the enumerated statutory exceptions are not at issue; (2) the CPA does not fit within any of the statutory exceptions; and (3) father is not requesting equitable, remedial, or non-compensatory remedies. Here, the essence of father’s claim is that the City breached a duty of care owed to D.J.M., which caused his death. Because father’s claim lies or could lie in tort, the CGIA bars the claim against the City for alleged violation of the CPA. Thus, the district court improperly denied that part of the motion to dismiss. Similarly, the vicarious liability claims are claims that lie in tort or could lie in tort and are thus barred by the CGIA.

Furthermore, public employees are immune from liability for tort claims unless their act or omission was willful and wanton. The district court must determine whether the conduct was in fact willful or wanton. Here, the district court failed to hold a Trinity hearing on this issue.

Finally, Officer Carricato argued that the claim for exemplary damages cannot stand because it was improperly pleaded and that exemplary damages cannot be awarded against a police officer. The CGIA allows a claim for exemplary damages against public employees only if their conduct was willful and wanton. The claim for exemplary damages against the police officer was prematurely pled.

The portions of the judgment on the claims against the City, the vicarious liability claim, and the exemplary damages claim were reversed. The portion of the judgment relating to the claims against Officer Carricato was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Defendant Sentenced to Significant Jail Time After Evasion of Personal Taxes

Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision in United States v. Stegman on Friday, October 20, 2017.

Defendant Stegman owned and operated Midwest Medical Aesthetics Center (Midwest), which provided a wide range of medical aesthetic services. Clients were permitted to pay with a credit card, cash, or check made out to Stegman personally, who encouraged cash or checks. Stegman would personally collect the cash and checks at the end of each business day.

Stegman then established several limited liability companies (LLCs), which were effectively used to launder Midwest client payments. Stegman would use the LLCs to purchase money orders that she then used to purchase items for personal use. Stegman reported zero cash income on her federal income tax returns in 2007, 2008, and 2009.

Stegman employed two separate tax preparers for her corporate and personal tax returns. Stegman provided Jones, the corporate tax preparer, with Midwest bank account information, but did not provide Jones with bank records for the other accounts into which she deposited Midwest income. Similarly, Stegman did not provide Lake, the personal tax preparer, with accurate records of the Midwest client payments that she used to purchase personal property.

When Stegman was audited for the 2007 and 2008 tax returns, Stegman said Midwest never accepted cash payments, stated that the source of her money came from relatives or savings, and gave conflicting information for the purpose of one of her LLCs. The case was then referred to the IRS’s criminal investigation division. The investigation that followed revealed that Stegman used her LLCs to create false business expenses, that Stegman altered Midwest’s ledgers and directed other employees to destroy business records, and that Stegman encouraged a former Midwest client, Clark, to tell the IRS that she, Clark, didn’t remember anything about her dealings with Midwest. Stegman raises five issues on appeal.

1. The Amendment of the Indictment During Trial

Stegman argued that the district court erred by granting the government’s motion to amend the indictment during trial. The indictment in this case alleged that Stegman was the owner and operator of “Midwest Medical Aesthetics Center” and not “Midwest Medical Aesthetics Center, Inc.” The Tenth Circuit distinguished between a district court’s amending an indictment as to form, which is permissible, and as to substance, which is impermissible. An amendment as to form is a change that does not mislead the defendant in any sense, does not subject the defendant to any added burdens, and does not otherwise prejudice the defendant.

Stegman argued that the amendment, which substituted the name of one business entity for another, was substantive. The Tenth Circuit disagreed. Contrary to Stegman’s assertion, and consistent with what the district court concluded, the amendment was merely a matter of form, and dropping the “Inc.” accurately reflected the change that Stegman made to the structure of her business. Because the amendment was one of form only, the district court did not err in granting the government’s motion to amend the indictment.

Stegman further argued that the jury was never told there was an amendment or that she was entitled to rely on the indictment and, as a result, the jury may have been left with the impression that she misled them. The Tenth Circuit disagreed for several reasons. First, Stegman’s counsel conceded that Stegman never asked for such an instruction. Second, she failed to properly alert the district court to her constitutional challenge. Third, the argument lacked merit given the conclusion that the amendment was one of form only. Finally, the evidence of Stegman’s guilt was overwhelming and thus the district court’s decision did not deprive her of the right to a fair trial.

2. The Purported Braswell Violation

Stegman next contended that the government violated the Supreme Court’s decision in Braswell v. United States, 487 U.S. 99 (1988), by using corporate records against her as an individual. The company ledgers were obtained by compulsory summons issued to her. The Court in Braswell noted that it had long recognized that, for purposes of the Fifth Amendment, corporations and other collective entities are treated differently from individuals.

Prior to trial, Stegman moved to exclude from evidence handwritten ledgers of Midwest that were produced to the IRS pursuant to a Corporate Summons. Stegman argued, in pertinent part, that under Braswell, the Government could not introduce into evidence the fact that Stegman produced the documents in response to a subpoena, and thus could not attribute the documents to Stegman as an individual. Contrary to Stegman’s assertions, however, the Tenth Circuit found no violation of Braswell.

3. The Alleged Destruction of Exculpatory Evidence

Stegman also argued that the district court erred in denying her motion to dismiss the indictment due to destruction of exculpatory evidence.

After Stegman’s audit was referred to the IRS’s criminal investigation division in 2009, the IRS’s civil division forwarded to the criminal division a referral package of documents that included the file from an earlier audit that the IRS had conducted for the 2000 and 2001 tax season. The file was ultimately destroyed at the National Archives and Record Administration facility without the IRS’s knowledge.

Stegman moved to dismiss the indictment due to destruction of exculpatory evidence, namely the old civil audit file relating to her tax returns for 2000 and 2001. Stegman argued that these returns contained positions that were similar, if not identical, to the positions the government claimed were criminal in this case, and that the IRS found the 2000 and 2001 tax returns were accurate and did not assess any additional tax.

Where, as here, a defendant made the necessary request, but the evidence was no longer available at that time, the failure to preserve the evidence violates due process if the evidence was exculpatory and its exculpatory value was apparent before its loss. If, however, the evidence was not apparently exculpatory but merely potentially useful, the failure to preserve the evidence does not violate due process unless the criminal defendant can show bad faith on the part of the police.

The Tenth Circuit concluded that the district court did not clearly err in finding that the exculpatory value of the civil audit file was not apparent, as Stegman failed to challenge the district court’s finding that many of the documents could be obtained from other sources. Further, Stegman failed to establish that she relied in good faith on the IRS’s determination that her tax positions in 2000 and 2001 were valid. Lastly, Stegman failed to produce any evidence that the IRS itself played a role in the file’s destruction or any authority supporting a per se bad faith rule.

4. The Admission of Testimonial Statements from Don Lake

In her fourth issue on appeal, Stegman argued that the district court erred by allowing the government to introduce testimonial statements from her now-deceased personal tax preparer, Don Lake, in violation of the Confrontation Clause.

In her appeal, Stegman focused on the district court’s admission of Exhibit 85, a fax cover sheet and faxed records that Lake sent to an IRS Revenue Agent during the course of the IRS’s investigation. Mrs. Lake identified Don Lake’s handwriting on the fax cover sheet and on some of the accompanying records. Stegman objected to Exhibit 85, arguing that the language on the fax cover sheet violated her confrontation rights.

The Tenth Circuit remarked that Stegman made no attempt to challenge the district court’s finding that the papers contained in Exhibit 85 were actually her own financial documents rather than Lake’s work papers. She also failed to make a showing that the documents were testimonial in nature, which is a requirement for a challenge under the Confrontation Clause. As for the fax cover sheet that contained Lake’s handwriting, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that it was also not testimonial in nature.

5. Stegman’s Advisory Sentencing Range

Finally, Stegman argued that the district court erred by miscalculating her advisory sentencing range under the Sentencing Guidelines. More specifically, Stegman asserted that the district court improperly calculated the intended tax loss and improperly applied the sophisticated means and obstruction of justice enhancements in calculating her advisory Guidelines sentencing range.

The Sentencing Guidelines apply to tax-related crimes, such as those of which Stegman was convicted. It directs a district court to apply a base offense level from the Tax Table corresponding to the tax loss. If the offense involved both individual and corporate tax returns, the tax loss is the aggregate tax loss from the offenses added together. The district court in this case found that the corporate tax loss and the individual tax loss were inextricably intertwined, and Tenth Circuit agreed.

One section of the Sentencing Guidelines states that if a tax-related offense involved sophisticated means, the base offense increases. “Sophisticated means” includes especially complex or especially intricate offense conduct pertaining to the execution or concealment of an offense, and includes conduct such as hiding assets or transactions through the use of fictitious entities, corporate shells, or offshore financial accounts. The district court in this case concluded that the “sophisticated means” enhancement applied to Stegman, and the Tenth Circuit found no error.

The Sentencing Guidelines further direct a district court to increase a defendant’s offense level if the defendant willfully obstructed or impeded, or attempted to obstruct or impede, the administration of justice with respect to the investigation, prosecution, or sentencing of the instant offense of conviction and the obstructive conduct related to (A) the defendant’s offense of conviction and any relevant conduct, or (B) a closely related offense. The district court in this case found that Stegman obstructed the IRS’s investigation in three ways: directing employees to shred receipts that documented cash that she received from her business, altering Midwest ledger entries to change the characterization of the way certain expenses were entered so that they appeared to be legitimate business expenses, and directing a witness, Clark, to testify that she did not remember her business relationship with Midwest.

Stegman argued that any attempt she made to tamper with Clark’s testimony was unsuccessful because Clark told investigators that she couldn’t recall what happened when she was a client of Midwest. Notably, the district court found that even if Stegman’s attempt to influence Clark’s testimony was unsuccessful, it nevertheless was an attempt to obstruct justice. The Tenth Circuit, therefore, concluded that the district court did not err in applying the obstruction of justice enhancement.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals AFFIRMED the judgment of the district court.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 1/12/2018

On Friday, January 12, 2018, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and two unpublished opinions.

United States v. Dace

Widman v. Keene

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

Rule 41 of Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure Amended in First Rule Change of 2018

The Colorado Supreme Court issued Rule Change 2018(01), amended and adopted by the court effective Thursday, January 11, 2018. The rule change affects Rule 41 of the Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure, which deals with search, seizure, and confession. The amendments to the rule affect subsections (d)(5)(VI) and (VII). Subsection (d)(5)(VI) was amended to add information about the seizure of electronic media or electronically stored information:

(VI) A search warrant shall be executed within 14 days after its date. The officer taking property under the warrant shall give to the person from whom or from whose premises the property was taken a copy of the warrant and a receipt for the property or shall leave the copy and receipt at the place from which the property was taken. The return shall be made promptly and shall be accompanied by a written inventory of any property taken. The inventory shall be made in the presence of the applicant for the warrant and the person from whose possession or premises the property was taken, if they are present, or in the presence of at least one credible person other than the applicant for the warrant or the person from whose possession or premises the property was taken, and shall be verified by the officer. In a case involving the seizure of electronic storage media or the seizure or copying of electronically stored information, the inventory may be limited to describing the physical storage media that were seized or copied. The officer may retain a copy of the electronically stored information that was seized or copied. The judge upon request shall deliver a copy of the inventory to the person from whom or from whose premises the property was taken and to the applicant for the warrant.

Subsection (d)(5)(VII) is new and also addresses electronic media or electronically stored information:

(VII) A warrant under Rule 41(b) may authorize the seizure of electronic storage media or the seizure or copying of electronically stored information. Unless otherwise specified, the warrant authorizes a later review of the media or information consistent with the warrant. The time for executing the warrant in Rule 41(d)(5)(VI) refers to the seizure or on-site copying of the media or information, and not to any later off-site copying or review.

The rest of the rule is unchanged. For a redline and clean copy of the rule change, click here. For all of the Colorado Supreme Court’s adopted and proposed rule changes, click here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Announcement Sheet, 1/11/2018

On Thursday, January 11, 2018, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued three published opinions and 15 unpublished opinions.

People v. Sparks

Romero v. Colorado Department of Human Services

L.J. v. Carracito

Summaries of these cases are forthcoming.

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, 1/11/2018

On Thursday, January 11, 2018, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and three unpublished opinions.

Bruce v. Clementi

Rhodes v. Wyoming Department of Corrections

James v. Heimgartner

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

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 1/10/2018

On Wednesday, January 10, 2018, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and three unpublished opinions.

United States v. Orduno-Ramirez

United States v. Couchman

United States v. Suazo

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

Capitalism on the Fritz

Capitalism on the Fritz[1]

In November 2008, as the global financial crash was gathering pace, the 82-year-old British monarch Queen Elizabeth visited the London School of Economics. She was there to open a new building, but she was more interested in the assembled academics. She asked them an innocent but pointed question. Given its extraordinary scale, how as it possible that no one saw it coming?

The Queen’s question went to the heart of two huge failures. Western capitalism came close to collapsing in 2007-2008 and has still not recovered. And the vast majority of economists had not understood what was happening.

That’s from the Introduction to Rethinking Capitalism (2016), edited by Michael Jacobs and Mariana Mazzucato.[2] The editors and authors review a catalogue of chronic economic “dysfunction” that they trace to policy-makers’ continued allegiance to neoliberal economic orthodoxy even as it has been breaking down over the past four decades.

Before we get to their dysfunction list, let’s give the other side equal time. First, consider an open letter from Warren Buffett published in Time last week. It begins this way:

“I have good news. First, most American children are going to live far better than their parents did. Second, large gains in the living standards of Americans will continue for many generations to come.”

Mr. Buffett acknowledges that “The market system . . . has also left many people hopelessly behind,” but assures us that “These devastating side effects can be ameliorated,” observing that “a rich family takes care of all its children, not just those with talents valued by the marketplace.” With this compassionate caveat, he is definitely bullish on America’s economy:

In the years of growth that certainly lie ahead, I have no doubt that America can both deliver riches to many and a decent life to all. We must not settle for less.

So, apparently, is our Congress. The new tax law is a virtual pledge of allegiance to the neoliberal economic model. Barring a significant pullback of the law (which seems unlikely), we now have eight years to watch how its assumptions play out.

And now, back to Rethinking Capitalism’s dysfunction’s list (which I’ve seen restated over and over in my research):

  • Production and wages no longer move in tandem — the latter lag behind the former.
  • This has been going on now for several decades,[3] during which living standards (adjusted) for the majority of households have been flat.
  • This is a problem because consumer spending accounts for over 70% of U.S. GDP. What hurts consumers hurts the whole economy.
  • What economic growth there has been is mostly the result of spending fueled by consumer and corporate debt. This is especially true of the post-Great Recession “recovery.”
  • Meanwhile, companies have been increasing production through increased automation — most recently through intelligent machines — which means getting more done with fewer employees.
  • That means the portion of marginal output attributable to human (wage-earner) effort is less, which causes consumer incomes to fall.
  • The job marketplace has responded with new dynamics, featuring a worldwide rise of “non-standard’ work (temporary, part-time, and self-employed).[4]
  • Overall, there has been an increase in the number of lower-paid workers and a rise in intransigent unemployment — especially among young people.
  • Adjusting to these new realities has left traditional wage-earners with feelings of meaninglessness and disempowerment, fueling populist backlash political movements.
  • In the meantime, economic inequality (both wealth and income) has grown to levels not seen since pre-revolution France, the days of the Robber Barons, and the Roaring 20s.
  • Economic inequality means that the shrinking share of compensation paid out in wages, salaries, bonuses, and benefits has been dramatically skewed toward the top of the earnings scale, with much less (both proportionately and absolutely) going to those at the middle and bottom. [5]
  • Increased wealth doesn’t mean increased consumer spending by the top 20% sufficient to offset lost demand (spending) by the lower 80% of income earners, other than as reflected by consumer debt.
  • Instead, increased wealth at the top end is turned into “rentable” assets — e.g., real estate. intellectual property, and privatized holdings in what used to be the “commons” — which both drives up their value (cost) and the rent derived from them. This creates a “rentier” culture in which lower income earners are increasingly stressed to meet rental rates, and ultimately are driven out of certain markets.
  • Inequality has also created a new working class system, in which a large share of workers are in precarious/uncertain/unsustainable employment and earning circumstances.
  • Inequality has also resulted in limitations on economic opportunity and social mobility — e.g., there is a new kind of “glass floor/glass ceiling” below which the top 20% are unlikely to fall and the bottom 80% are unlikely to rise.
  • In the meantime, the social safety nets that developed during the post-WWII boom (as Buffett’s “rich family” took care of “all its children”) have been largely torn down since the advent of “workfare” in the 80’s and 90’s, leaving those at the bottom and middle more exposed than ever.

The editors of Rethinking Capitalism believe that “These failings are not temporary, they are structural.” That conclusion has led some to believe that people like Warren Buffett are seriously misguided in their continued faith in Western capitalism as a reliable societal institution.

More on that next time.


[1] I wondered where the expression “on the fritz” came from, and tried to find out. Surprisingly, no one seems to know.

[2] Michael Jacobs is an environmental economist and political theorist; at the time the book was published, he was a visiting professor at University College of London. Mariana Mazzucato is an economics professor at the University of Sussex.

[3] “In the US, real median household income was barely higher in 2014 than it had been in 1990, though GDP had increased by 78 percent over the same period. Though beginning earlier in the US, this divergence of average incomes from overall economic growth has not become a feature of most advanced economies.”  Rethinking Capitalism.

[4] These have accounted for “half the jobs created since the 1990s and 60 per cent since the 2008 crisis.” Rethinking Capitalism.

[5] Meanwhile, those at the very top of the income distribution have done exceedingly well… In the US, the incomes of the richest 1 percent rose by 142 per cent between 1980 and 2013 (from an average of $461,910, adjusted for inflation, to $1,119,315) and their share of national income doubled, from 10 to 20 per cent. In the first three years of the recovery after the 2008 crash, an extraordinary 91 per cent of the gains in income went to the richest one-hundredth of the population.” Rethinking Capitalism.

 

Kevin Rhodes left a successful long-term law practice to scratch a creative itch and lived to tell about it… barely. Since then, he has been on a mission to bring professional excellence and personal wellbeing to the people who learn, teach, and practice the law. He has also blogged extensively and written several books about his unique journey to wellness, including how he deals with primary progressive MS through an aggressive regime of exercise, diet, and mental conditioning.

Tenth Circuit: Case Properly Remanded to State Court Under the Class Action Fairness Act

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Speed v. JMA Energy Company, LLC on Monday, October 2, 2017.

Plaintiff Speed filed a petition in the District Court of Hughes County, Oklahoma, asserting a class action against JMA Energy Company, alleging that JMA had willfully violated an Oklahoma statute that requires interest payments of revenue from oil and gas production. Speed further asserted that JMA fraudulently concealed from mineral-interest owners that JMA owed interest to the owners, intending to pay only those who requested the interest.

JMA removed the case to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, asserting that the district court had jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). Speed then filed an amended motion to remand the case to state court. The district court granted this motion, relying on an exception to CAFA that permits a district court to decline to exercise jurisdiction over a class action meeting certain prerequisites based on consideration of certain factors.

JMA appealed, challenging the district court’s remand order. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found the district court properly considered the statutory factors and did not abuse its discretion by remanding to state court.

CAFA permits a class action to be brought in or removed to federal court if: (1) the proposed class includes at least 100 persons with claims; (2) the aggregate amount in controversy on all claims exceeds $5 million; (3) at least one proposed plaintiff and one defendant have diverse citizenship; and (4) the primary defendants are not governmental entities or officials against whom a federal court cannot order relief.

CAFA also recognizes three statutory exceptions. The exception at issue in this case is the discretionary exception. This exception allows a federal court to decline to exercise jurisdiction over a class action that is otherwise covered by CAFA based on six enumerated factors. The Tenth Circuit considered each factor in turn to determine if there was a legal error or other abuse of discretion by the district court.

The first factor is whether the claims asserted involve a matter of national or interstate interest. The Tenth Circuit found that JMA failed to explain how there could be a significant national interest in the mere allocation of interest between producers and royalty owners. The only thing national or interstate about this case is that some of the owners of Oklahoma property, who are basing their claims on alleged violations of an Oklahoma statute, happen to live in other states and receive their royalty checks there. The Tenth Circuit determined that was not enough to reverse the district court’s finding.

The second factor was whether the claims asserted would be governed by Oklahoma law or the laws of other states. The district court found JMA’s argument that a fraud claim against Oklahoma may be governed by the law of a different state unpersuasive and concluded that this factor weighed in favor of Speed’s motion to remand. The Tenth Circuit concluded that Oklahoma law controlled.

The third factor was whether the class action had been pleaded in order to avoid federal jurisdiction. JMA asserted that Speed attempted to avoid federal jurisdiction by excluding from the class any publicly traded companies and affiliated entities that produced, gathered, processed, or marketed oil and gas. The district court found this argument unpersuasive, reasoning that Speed had proposed a class that encompassed all the people and claims that one would expect to include in a class action. The Tenth Circuit agreed.

The fourth factor was whether the action was brought in a forum with a distinct nexus with the class members, the alleged harm, or the defendants. The Tenth Circuit found no abuse of discretion by the district court, as the factors of this case demonstrated the required nexus between Oklahoma and the class members, the alleged harms, and the defendant, including that the action was related to real-property interests in Oklahoma, the class members owned royalty interests in Oklahoma property, JMA is a citizen of Oklahoma, and the underlying alleged actions that gave rise to this suit took place in Oklahoma.

The fifth factor was whether the number of citizens of the state in which the action was originally filed is substantially larger than the number of citizens from any other state for plaintiffs in the class, and whether the citizenship of the other members of the proposed class was dispersed among a substantial number of states. The Tenth Circuit found the district court correctly determined that this factor weighed in favor of remand, as the number of Oklahoma citizens was about 2.5 times the number of citizens from any other state.

The sixth, and last, factor was whether, during the three-year period preceding the filing of the class action, one or more other class actions asserting the same or similar claims on behalf of the same or other persons had been filed. No other actions have been filed; therefore, this factor favors remand.

The Tenth Circuit determined that the district court did not abuse its discretion in ruling that each factor supported remand.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals AFFIRMED the decision remanding the case to state court.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 1/9/2018

On Tuesday, January 9, 2018, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and six unpublished opinions.

United States v. Demers

Marin-Gonzales v. Sessions

Greene v. Direct TV, Inc.

Glasser v. King

United States v. Thompson

United States v. Robinson

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