Archive for News – Page 2

Tesla Faces Class Action Lawsuit

Disappointed drivers who paid extra to purchase Enhanced Autopilot for their Tesla vehicles say they’ve been misled.  According to the complaint, Tesla allegedly represented its technology as making the car fully self-driving in some situations and on the way to fully self-driving in all situations.  Still, say the plaintiffs, four years have passed, and Tesla has come nowhere near providing the self-driving car it promised.

Filed on September 14 in the federal district court for the Northern District of California, Matsko v. Tesla alleges that Tesla violated the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (15 USC Sec. 2301) and specific false advertising laws.  Elon Musk, involved in some relatively well-known disputes with Facebook, is not personally named in the suit.

The complaint alleges that other automakers have surpassed Tesla in delivering fully automated vehicles. Further, this failure to keep up with other manufacturers has made the Tesla vehicles less than they were represented as when advertised and sold. Moreover, plaintiffs allege that Tesla has used misleading and deceptive videos purporting to show a fully self-driving Tesla vehicle.  According to plaintiffs, this is a clear instance of false and deceptive advertising. Instead of producing the promised self-driving software, say the plaintiffs, Tesla simply rolls out new beta software to a few individuals and never provides fully operative self-driving cars to those who were promised them.

Plaintiffs further allege that from various sources, including former employees, they have learned that Tesla has known for years that its self-driving vehicle claims are deceptive and misleading.  Further, Tesla’s precise predictions about its self-driving vehicles have repeatedly failed to meet expectations.  Further, plaintiffs note, the California Department of Motor Vehicles has charged Texla with making untrue, misleading, and deceptive marketing.

In the class action, the class is defined as all US persons who have purchased or leased a new Tesla vehicle with Autopilot, Enhanced Autopilot, or Full Self-Driving Capability.  The class seeks relief for the failure of Tesla to live up to its warranties under Magnuson Moss. as well as various other warranties.  In need, plaintiffs seek injunctive release prohibiting Tesla from making the claims, an award of all damages, including punitive damages, restitution and disgorgement, and reasonable attorneys’ fees.  This could cost Tesla some serious money.

Marketing Probe: E-cigarette Company JUUL to Pay Nearly $439 Million in Settlements

In a major move to settle allegations of marketing violations, electronic cigarette company JUUL has agreed to pay nearly $439 million. The deal, which comes after a two-year investigation by more than 30 states, was announced by General William Tong, Connecticut Attorney General, who launched the probe with Puerto Rico in 2020.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires JUUL to halt all advertising aimed at minors and to make significant changes in how it markets its products. This is just the latest development in the ongoing controversy over e-cigarettes and their health risks.

General William Tong, Connecticut Attorney General, announced the deal, which JUUL will pay in six to ten years. Since its launch in 2015, JUUL has grown into a multibillion-dollar company with over 75% of the e-cigarette market share. Students’ use of e-cigarettes has increased dramatically over the years, causing public health officials to raise alarms. The FDA has called youth vaping an “epidemic.”

JUUL began its retreat in July 2019 when it stopped selling most of its flavored products in stores. The company also suspended all broadcast, print, and digital product advertising in the U.S. The company has said its mission is to “improve the lives of adult smokers by providing them with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes.”

Public schools in Polk County, Florida, are suing JUUL Labs, claiming the company’s marketing practices deliberately targeted children and led to a “vaping crisis” in schools. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and a ban on JUUL’s marketing in the county. Florida Health officials have reported that almost 22% of high school students in the state use e-cigarettes.

Several school board members and the Polk County Public Schools Superintendent said they were “pleased” with the lawsuit. The lawsuit accuses JUUL of using misleading marketing practices and violating Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.

The lawsuit alleges that JUUL’s “aggressive and pervasive” marketing campaign led to a high addiction rate among young people and created a new generation of nicotine users. The first case in the lawsuit is set for trial in November 2022. It will be interesting to see how this case plays out and if more states decide to sue JUUL.

In recent years, lawsuits have become a common way for state and local governments to pressure companies to change their marketing practices. In 2020, the state of Massachusetts sued JUUL, alleging the company used deceptive marketing practices to target minors.

Discriminatory Hiring Policy Implodes Seattle Pacific University

Seattle Pacific University (SPU) currently struggles with reduced student enrollment, and a projected $10 million deficit as six current and former trustees face a lawsuit.

Sixteen students, facility, and staff filed the lawsuit based on breach of fiduciary duty and other allegations. It names interim SPU president Pete Menjares and six current and former trustees as defendants. The plaintiffs seek a new president and board for the university.

The allegations arise from SPU’s discriminatory hiring practices, which prohibit hiring people in same-sex relationships. SPU claims removing the policy will disaffiliate them from the Free Methodist Church

A former board of trustees chair, Cedric Davis, confirms the projected deficit and reduced enrollment but claims fewer young people attend college. Davis resigned from the SPU board in May 2021, claiming he couldn’t stand by the hiring policy.

Last fall, SPU enrolled 3,400 students, which is a decrease from 4,175 in Fall 2015.

The attorney general’s office is also investigating SPU for alleged illegal discimrination. SPU filed counter-claims claiming religious discrimination.

The SPU dispute is part of a growing trend against religious schools nationwide. However, SPU is unique in its campuswide resistance to the hiring policy. Twenty-four percent of students, facility, and staff identify as LGBTQ+, and 80% of faculty believe SPU should reverse its hiring policy.

Plaintiffs fear a hostile environment for LGBTQ+ students and staff if the policy continues. Even with supportive coworkers and students, many feel the hiring policy places them in a bad light.

One of the plaintiffs, Kristi Holt, came out as gay last year. She works as a lab coordinator and adjunct professor in the chemistry department. Holt sees her involvement as a religious freedom issue:

“I’m simply afraid that the way that the defendants are choosing to enforce their sectarian beliefs on an entire campus of dissenters is no longer religious freedom. It’s just oppression.”

Holt also picks up on mixed messages of support but also judgment. “On a personal note,” she said, “It’s really tough for me to come to work each day with people who love and support me but within the context of an institution that continues to tell me that I don’t belong.”

The university will not comment on the lawsuit at this time. However, it announced cost control efforts, including reducing faculty by 25%.

Washington Counties Must Step up if They Want Funds to Combat Opioids

The Washington State Attorney General and a Skagit County Commissioner have written an editorial in which they state that Washington has the opportunity to finally do something about the opioid crisis – but all the counties in the state need to sign on to the agreement if they want all the funds they were supposed to get.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Skagit County Commissioner Lisa Janicki wrote the editorial for the Seattle Times, stating that the state might not receive the full amount of funds promised from a settlement that resulted from a lawsuit against the Big Three opioid distributors by Ferguson’s office. They note that to get all of the money, all Washington counties and every city with a population over 10,000 people have to agree to the settlement by September 23. If they do, then the state will receive hundreds of millions of dollars starting in December.

Ferguson and Janicki say that the funds will be used for more treatment, as well as more support for both those affected by the opioid epidemic and for the first responders who have to handle things like overdose cases. The money can also go toward developing new programs and developing ways to prevent youth from trying opioids. Ferguson and Janicki are quick to point out this includes combating fentanyl and the problems it’s been causing in the state.

Back in November 2021, Ferguson’s office decided to reject a national settlement offered by three opioid manufacturers and instead take the three to court. This resulted in a resolution-in-principle that gives the state not only part of the settlement but also an additional $46 million. Ferguson’s office tried a similar tactic regarding a bankruptcy plan from Purdue and also got more money for the state to use toward tackling the opioid epidemic.

In the editorial, Ferguson and Janicki acknowledge that money won’t bring back the lives lost to opioids, including that of Janicki’s own son. But the money can help prevent more lives from being lost. Washington counties and cities are urged to sign on to the resolution by the deadline.

Valuing Real Estate in Washington State Divorces

Washington State’s divorce laws require that the trial court justly and equitably distribute the spouses’ property and liabilities, whether community or separate.  That property will include real estate, which must be valued to figure into a just and equitable distribution of property.  The parties will not be likely to agree on the worth of the property.  The party that wants the asset wants it to be worth virtually nothing, while the party giving it up wants it to be worth the universe.

So, the court must determine how to reach a fair valuation.  The court must award each party an asset of roughly equal value each time it makes a distribution.  It can only do this if it can determine the value of those assets.

In Washington, the value of property is a question of fact.  This status means that the trial court’s asset valuations will be affirmed so long as they are based on the evidence presented in the case.  Generally, a challenger will review the record to determine whether substantial evidence exists to support the court’s valuation of a particular asset, reviewing it in the light most favorable to the party in whose favor the findings were entered.  Substantial evidence is sufficient to persuade a fair-minded person.

The most common valuation used in divorce is “fair market value” (FMV).  FMV, in Washington State, is the amount of money a willing but not obligated purchaser would pay an owner willing but not obligated to sell, considering all uses for the property.  In other words, FMV is the price objective persons in the marketplace would agree upon for a given asset.

However, the court is not locked into using FMV.  Deciding value is at the court’s discretion and is usually set at the price for which a spouse could sell the asset.

If the disputed asset has significant value and the parties are widely apart in their respective valuables, a joint appraisal may be obtained, with either party entitled to a second opinion if dissatisfied.  Accredited appraisers may be the best option, especially with real estate.

In the end, the valuation must be supported by evidence and, hopefully, by an appraisal.  This objectivity will be helpful in the emotional context of a divorce.

Student’s Family Alleges Negligence Against School District, Bus Driver

Richland School District faces a lawsuit filed by Trinity Enriquez’s family. The Chief Joseph Middle School Student sustained injuries on October 22, 2021, after being dropped off at a bus stop.

Trinity was hit by a pickup truck on Route 31 near Spengler Street and Hood Avenue. She crossed behind the school bus, meaning the driver did not see the accident and drove off before the impact. Seven other students also crossed the street. There is no crosswalk in that area.

The lawsuit claims the school district and bus driver had legal obligations to ensure Trinity’s safety. Washington law requires the bus driver and school district to “make every reasonable effort to ensure that they cross safely and that they pass in front of the school bus and never behind the school bus.”

Jenny Garcia, the bus driver and defendant, allegedly breached this duty when she allowed students to cross the street behind the bus.  Attorneys are investigating whether Garcia received proper training regarding drop-off and pick-up procedures at school bus stops. She remains employed as a bus driver for the school district.

The pickup driver, James Koester, is also named a defendant in the lawsuit. It alleges Koester failed to look out for pedestrians, road conditions, and traffic. After the impact, he indicated that he did not see Trinity, which attorneys argue establishes his liability.  They submitted information to the prosecutor’s office to investigate criminal charges, but the office declined to prosecute Koester.

The accident is part of significant safety concerns regarding students and bus stops. Trinity is the fifth student hit by a car in the last three years. Her family hopes the lawsuit helps more people be aware of the risk associated with school bus crossings.

The lawsuit seeks reimbursement for past and future medical bills, pain and suffering, and other costs. Trinity spent 45 days in a Spokane hospital undergoing treatment for serious injuries, including head trauma. She is expected to make a full recovery, although she still faces difficulties from head injuries. Trinity’s aunt, Zayna Kinsey, started a GoFundMe to help pay for medical costs.

 

 

Coinbase Supports Tornado Cash Users Filing Suit Against Treasury Department

The cryptocurrency service Coinbase is providing financial support for a lawsuit filed against the Treasury Department after it penalized the cryptocurrency service known as Tornado Cash. Coinbase and other crypto users claim that penalizing the service is both uncalled for and potentially dangerous, while the Treasury Department accused the service of enabling money laundering. Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the Treasury clarified its stance on when users could legally access the service.

Tornado Cash is a service that mixes crypto deposits to increase anonymity. The process that the service uses effectively separates the initial deposit from the withdrawal for those same funds, meaning one party can deposit cash in crypto, have it mixed, and then have funds sent as a withdrawal that does not appear linked to the original depositor. A benefit of this type of service is making anonymous donations.

However, it also makes money laundering easier, and that’s what the Treasury Department is accusing Tornado Cash of doing. The Department says billions of dollars were laundered for North Korean groups.

Tornado Cash uses open-source software, and the idea of sanctioning open-source software opens the door to potential abuse down the road, in the eyes of the users and employees who are suing the Treasury Department.

It should be noted that the Treasury issued more information about what exactly is penalized regarding Tornado Cash in the days after the lawsuit was filed. According to Coindesk, the Treasury has said the penalties do not refer to accessing the code itself for legal purposes or to accessing Tornado Cash on internet archives. However, Paul Grewal, who is Coinbase’s chief legal officer, told CNBC that sanctioning open-source code could create a precedent that allows any technology to be sanctioned, effectively removing access for all users from that technology. Grewal compared the situation to banning the use of a highway because some robbers once used it to get away from police.

This is not the first time the Treasury Department has penalized software and blacklisted it through the Office of Foreign Assets Control. The first was Blender.io, which was sanctioned in May 2022.

Washington State’s Child Welfare Agency Settles a Flurry of Lawsuits

Recently, it was announced that the child welfare agency of Washington state has reached a far-reaching settlement agreement with numerous advocacy groups, each of which is representing children who believe they were wronged by the state’s departments. Foster youth, identified by initials to protect their identity, filed lawsuits against the state, alleging a wide variety of violations that had a significant impact on their physical and mental health. The state has struggled to keep up with the demands of its foster system recently, and children have claimed that they were often forced to sleep in hotels, offices, and even in the cars of social workers who were supposed to be looking out for them.

As a result, children alleged that they experienced frequent moves between homes, cars, and other locations, and that the frequent change has disrupted their education, medical treatment, and familial ties. After negotiating for more than a year, attorneys representing the state and the foster children have reached a settlement agreement. Importantly, it should lead to changes in the way the child welfare agency operates, providing better services for children everywhere.

The goal is to provide increased stability for children in foster care. Children in foster care are forced to contend with a wide variety of problems that can make it difficult for them to grow and develop physically, emotionally, academically, and socially. By reorganizing the placement system for foster children, children should receive the support they need. Now, the settlement agreement moves to U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein, based in Western Seattle. The agreement also requires an independent monitor to ensure the child welfare agency complies with the terms of the agreement.

Prior to the lawsuit, a number of news reports indicated that children were spending time in emergency arrangements, including sleeping in offices and cars, which only made trauma and instability worse. Eventually, it led to a lawsuit that alleged the horrid conditions led to psychiatric, behavioral, and developmental conditions, spurring the lawsuit. Numerous child advocacy groups voiced their concerns in the lawsuit, including the National Center and Youth Law and Children’s Rights. It is hoped that this agreement will improve the quality of life of children in the foster care system.

Violent Crime On the Rise In Washington as Police Staffing Plummets

A troubling report from a Washington police association states that violent crime is on the rise in the state. Police staffing is also plummeting. Washington’s police staffing was already the lowest per capita in the country, and figures in the state’s government and law enforcement organizations are taking measures to bolster the number of law enforcement officers in the state. Read on to learn more about the law enforcement staffing situation in Washington state.

Troubling Statistics

Statistics from the Washington police association report claims that violent crimes rose by more than 12% in the state in 2021. Murders were also up to an all-time high of 325. The murder rate is not quite as high as it was during the late 1980s and early 1990s, but its mark of 4 per 100,000 is still among the highest in the state’s history.

Washington’s Police Staffing is Well Below the National Average

Washington, as with many states, saw a significant drop in the number of police officers in 2021. Washington now has 10,736 officers, which is a decrease of over 400 from the previous year. This works out to a drop of over 4.4%. Meanwhile, the state’s population rose by over 100,000.

Washington now has just 1.38 officers per 1,000 residents. The national average is 2.33 officers per 1,000 residents. The shortage of police officers has led to police departments simply not responding to calls that are considered low-priority. Also, officers often have to work a great deal of overtime.

Budget Cuts & Negative Public Perception of Police are Blamed

The decline in the number of police officers comes in the midst of budget cuts to law enforcement agencies across the nation. These budget cuts were spurred by the COVID pandemic and by the negative perception of law enforcement resulting from the murder of George Floyd. Many police officers have resigned or taken retirement in response to the negative perception of their profession. Also, fewer prospective police officers are applying for law enforcement positions. Washington also passed law enforcement reform laws in the wake of the George Floyd murder that many officers found too restrictive.