ACLU Doubles Down Against Pennington County Sheriff

TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline has been a controversial undertaking. A number of citizens in the United States and Canada have protested this pipeline’s construction. One of the widest publicized protests occurred in South Dakota, attracting international attention to this issue.

South Dakota’s Republican Governor Kristi Noem and Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg signed a pipeline protest bill package in March. This occurred before TransCanada’s anticipated start date for Keystone XL pipeline construction. One controversial facet of this bill package is the application of civil penalties for ‘riot boosting.’

Riot boosting is broadly defined as encouraging protesters to engage in violent acts as part of the protest. However, on March 28 the ACLU filed suit arguing that this bill package, as well as two preexisting riot statutes, are too broad and vaguely defined. The union alleges that it is unconstitutional and in violation of First Amendment rights to free speech including protests.

At the center of this argument stands Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom. He is a defendant of the case who has filed a motion on April 23 to be dismissed from the proceedings. According to Sheriff Thom, the anti-riot and pipeline protest laws are applied at the state and not at the county level. As sheriff of Pennington County, he argues that this legal question is outside of his jurisdiction and that he should not be involved in this case.

The ACLU has responded that Sheriff Thom is responsible for enforcement of the laws at his discretion. Multiple Keystone XL protests are expected to occur during construction. Since most of these protests are anticipated in Pennington County, it is likely that Sheriff Thom will be involved in enforcing the riot boosting bill. Therefore, the ACLU argues that the Sheriff is an appropriate defense of the suit.

Sheriff Kevin Thom is not the only one who objects to the ACLU’s lawsuit. Both Governor Kristi Noem and Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg have requested a dismissal of the suit. They argue that the laws that they have passed are, in fact, fully constitutional.

Pension Claims Filed Against Newark’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese manages a number of local hospitals in Newark, New Jersey through their Cathedral Healthcare System. On May 7, 2019, class claims were filed against the Archdiocese. These claims were made by former employees of several Newark hospitals. Chief among the claims is an allegation that the Archdiocese has deprived payment of over $2.7 million dollars in employee pension plans. This payment would have applied to approximately 135 employees of the hospital.

The three plaintiffs filing this complaint are Richard Salvia, Alveira Dillard, and Virginia Coleman. According to the plaintiffs, the Archdiocese was supposed to sponsor pension plans to employees of their healthcare system. These plans include the St. James Hospital of Newark Retirement Income Plan, also known as the “SJH Plan.”

The plaintiffs allege that the fund was mismanaged. Due to poor planning on the Archdiocese’s part, the SJH Plan was depleted by November of 2017.

In earlier years, SJH Plan fell under the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). In 1990 the Archdiocese petitioned to have ERISA requirements removed. The defendant claimed that the SJH Plan was a “Church Plan.” The IRS responded with a private-ruling letter granting the request to release the Church from ERISA requirements. However, hospital employees were not informed of this change.

In their suit, the plaintiffs allege that the fund was mismanaged. They argued that the Archdiocese was aware that the SJH Plan did not have enough money in it to pay for pensions over the lifetimes of the class members.

Named plaintiffs seek to represent a class that includes all employees of the Archdiocese who participated in or were beneficiaries of the SJH Plan but have not received monthly pension payments. The suit’s official claims include breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and promissory estoppel.

The Archdioceses reported $565 million in total assets, $263 million in net assets, and $51 million in revenue in 2017.

Further details of the case can be found by looking at the case which is titled Richard Salvia et al. v. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, Case No.: L-3418-19, in the Superior Court of New Jersey, County of Essex.

Washington state resort owner investigated second time by EEOC for sexual harassment

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) opened a second investigation into resort owner Perfil “Pete” Cam on May 20, 2019, according to an article in The Columbian.

According to legal documents, Cam subjected female employees of Bonneville Hot Springs Inc. and Carson Hot Springs Resort LLC to numerous types of sexual advances, including unwanted kisses, hugs, rubbing, touching their breasts and pressing against them, in some cases with his erect penis. He also made lewd sexual comments, propositioned them sexually and made remarks about their bodies and clothes.

The complaint filed in the US District Court in Tacoma specifically names female employee Holly Nelson but was filed on behalf of all female employees at the two resorts. Nelson left her position as a massage therapist at Bonneville Hot Springs Resort in 2016 to escape the unwanted sexual harassment, she states in a lawsuit she filed in January in Skamania County Circuit Court. The descriptions of treatment detailed in Nelson’s lawsuit dovetail with those described in the EEOC complaint filed this year.

The EEOC previously investigated the two resorts and Cam in 2008. In EEOC vs. Bonneville Hot Springs, Inc. six female employees filed complaints of sex discrimination against the company and its owner, Cam, and the Food and Beverage manager, Kenneth Favela. Three of the six women filed complaints against Favela – Christine Sibbert, Heather Gibbons and Kista Larson.

That case resulted in a $470,000 award to the plaintiffs in the sexual harassment and retaliation case. That case uncovered rampant sexual harassment in the resorts that extended beyond Cam and Favela, including the executive chef of Bonneville.

Even EEOC officials referred to the level of sexual misconduct in the 2008 case as “shocking.”

In an interview after the court decision, Mike Baldonado, acting director of the EEOC’s San Francisco District Office called the Bonneville behavior “inexcusable,” but felt sure that the findings and punishment of the EEOC case would end the problems.

“The treatment that these women experienced by the owner was inexcusable. I am glad the EEOC was able to ensure that the company has protections in place so this will not happen in the future,” Baldonado said in a 2008 interview.

The 2019 case alleges that Cam continues the same practices. He regularly grabs “female employees’ hands, arms, and/or wrists and did not let go,” the women said in the complaint. In one woman’s experience he “pressed his erect penis up against” her. He caresses and pulls female employees’ hair. According to the court filing, Cam avoids having the behavior caught on the resorts’ video surveillance cameras by requiring its female employees to meet him in areas of the resort not covered by the surveillance system.

One employee interviewed by The Columbian, the housekeeping manager for the Carson Hot Springs resort, Katarina Molodih said she had not observed Cam behaving in such a way. She has worked at the resort for two years.

“It’s not true. Pete’s a nice guy. He’s just a good guy. I don’t believe it. I’ve worked here for more than two years and I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Some employees of the resort knew of the original complaint and had expected it to provide a safer set of working conditions. The current, second EEOC complaint seeks a jury trial. The current plaintiffs want a verdict that forces the resort to enforce EEOC policies to provide a workplace free of sexual harassment and that provides equal opportunity. Nelson’s lawsuit seeks monetary compensation for the female employees of the two resorts for “emotional pain, suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life.” It also asks for back pay with interest.

Overland Park hospital doctors sexually harassed multiple employees, lawsuit says

An individual who used to work at an Overland Park sports medicine clinic is suing the company responsible for managing it. The former employee claims that she was sexually harassed repeatedly by a surgeon, according to court documents.

According to the lawsuit, a Kansas City Spine and Sports Medicine Center former medical assistant complained to management that Glenn Amundson sexually harassed her and made sexual comments in front of employees and in the office. Glenn Amundson is the defendant in the case and a surgeon at the practice.

Amundson was contacted by The Star Saturday. He declined to comment. The Kansas City Spine and Sports Medicine Center recently reported that Amundson is no longer working with the company.

The lawsuit was filed on April 23. The lawsuit says that Amundson pulled the hair of the medical assistant, picked her up, and touched her hips, waist, and buttocks while she was working. Even though multiple complaints were made, no action was taken. The Star usually does not identify the victims of sexual abuse without their consent.

The woman later reported that Amundson pressed his groin into her buttocks and grabbed her hips. After this incident was reported, a management employee later witnessed a similar incident and reported the incident to human resources, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims that other women in the office have made similar complaints about touching by Amundson and sexually offensive comments.

However, the human resources department decided that the medical assistant should transfer out of the office. The woman who filed the lawsuit suggested that Amundson should be made to transfer or leave instead.

Human resources started the process to transfer the medical assistant out of the office despite her protesting that she loved her job and got along well with the other doctors, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says that the human resources department made working conditions for the medical assistant “so intolerable that no reasonable person … would have continued working in the center.”

Due to this, the medical assistant was “constructively discharged” and no longer works for the company. Based on the lawsuit, it is uncertain what “discharged” refers to and it is uncertain whether the woman chose to leave voluntarily.

HIPAA Violation Sparks Administrative Leave

A recent suit filed against Atchison Hospital alleges that a rape victim was subject to a second assault and harassment as a result of an employee’s violation of HIPAA protocol. In May of 2017, a woman was hospitalized as a result of “violent sexual assault”. In the process of describing the incident that led her to the hospital, she named the alleged rapist and described the actions that forced her to be hospitalized. The victim was absolutely adamant that the information remains confidential. In accordance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, commonly shortened to HIPAA, this request should have been mandated and enforced.

The suit further alleges that an X-Ray technician found the file for the victim unsecured in the administrative office. Recognizing the man that was the alleged rapist, she contacted him to inform him of the victim’s accusations. What followed, the victim alleges, is a flood of harassment stemming from both the hospital employee and the alleged rapist. The harassment continued through phone calls, text, and social media. The victim complained the man even stalked her, both publicly and around her home.

Eventually, the X-Ray technician was fired from her position at Atchison Hospital, but the suit further claims that Atchison Hospital indirectly helped the woman get hired at another hospital, Saint Luke’s Cushing Hospital. This was accomplished through either not disclosing the events that occurred while employed at Atchison, or not giving a negative review of the employee when called for a reference. When Saint Luke’s Cushing Hospital caught wind of the accusation and pending lawsuit, the X-Ray technician was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. Saint Luke’s Cushing Hospital is doing a full investigation in order to address the security concerns and to determine the appropriate course of action for the technician.

Atchison Hospital has followed up with the victim in a letter apologizing for the experience she endured while seeking treatment at the hospital. To prevent future instances of this happening, and to better protect the privacy of patients, Atchison Hospital is doing a full examination of current procedures to better understand how to improve security. Immediate changes were made to better protect the internal administration procedures, and they are continually looking to grow and change the way they do things for the better.

Jury Finds Roundup Caused Cancer of California Couple; Awards $2 Billion in Damages

Bayer AG suffered a resounding legal defeat when a California jury slammed the company with more than $2 billion in punitive damages following a Roundup cancer trial.

The Alameda County Superior Court jury found that Alva and Alberta Pilliod’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) diagnosis was caused by Roundup weed killer, manufactured by Monsanto, a subsidiary of Bayer.

The punitive damages are the largest award to date in a Roundup cancer trial. Punitive damages are awarded to punish a defendant for its actions and deter others from committing similar actions.

The jury also awarded $55 million in compensatory damages to Alva Pilliod, 76, and his 74-year-old wife, Alberta. The couple said they had regularly used Roundup weed killer on their property for 30 years.

In a statement released after the trial, Bayer called the May 13 verdict “disappointing” and said the company would appeal the jury’s decision.

Roundup Complaints Focus on Glyphosate

Roundup lawsuits claim the glyphosate herbicide in the weed killer causes cancer. Plaintiffs contend that the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic.” Plaintiffs also accuse Bayer and Monsanto of failing to warn consumers about the health hazards associated with Roundup.

Bayer, however, maintains that glyphosate is safe. The company points to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s conclusion that glyphosate is not a carcinogen and does not pose a public health risk when used as directed.

More Roundup Cancer Trials to Follow

Four more Roundup cancer trials are scheduled later this year in Missouri and Montana. The most recent trial in California is the third Roundup cancer trial that Bayer lost.

In the first trial held in August 2018, a San Francisco County Superior Court jury awarded a California man $289 million in damages. The judge reduced the $250 million in punitive damages to $39 million. DeWayne Johnson, 46, said he was diagnosed with NHL in August 2014 after repeatedly using Ranger Pro while working as a school groundskeeper. Ranger Pro is Monsanto’s generic version of Roundup.

In March, a Sonoma County, California man was awarded $80 million in the first Roundup cancer trial held in federal court. Edwin Hardeman, 70, said he had used Roundup on his property for years before receiving an NHL diagnosis in 2015.

A Good Case Is Not Enough Without A Good Lawyer

Sometimes even outrageous medical misconduct requires expert legal representation to meet the court’s standards for awarding punitive damages. Consider the case of Tammy Cleveland, suing a doctor and a hospital for the death of her husband, Michael.

Michael Cleveland, age 46, collapsed after suffering a heart attack in Tops Friendly Market in Tonawanda, New York on a Friday night in October 2014. He was put into an ambulance and rushed to the emergency room at DeGraff Memorial Hospital in Buffalo, where a doctor pronounced him dead 25 minutes later. 

Tammy couldn’t accept the pronouncement of her husband’s death — because she could see he was still breathing. She could see his moving arm. Four times she insisted that doctors or nurses come in to confirm Michael’s death, and four times they refused. 

The coroner was called. What the coroner saw on his arrival was Mr. Cleveland struggling to stay on a gurney as he was being taken to another ambulance to be treated at another hospital. The coroner declined to issue a death certificate on the grounds that dead people don’t move.

The attending physician had eventually been persuaded to check Michael’s vital signs nearly three hours after pronouncing him dead, exclaiming “My God, he’s got a pulse,” according to Tammy. Only then was Michael rushed to a hospital that could give him the treatment he needed.

Michael finally got the care he needed for a 100 percent blockage of a coronary artery at another hospital, but he got it too late. He died at the second hospital the next day. His grieving widow later sued the doctor and the hospital for damages for intentional infliction of extreme emotional distress. That part of her case was thrown out of court.

How could a claim for such obvious injury be rejected by a court? The judge accepted the argument of the doctor’s lawyer that the alleged malpractice had to be not just negligent but evil and malicious. Furthermore, the judge ruled that since Tammy Cleveland hadn’t chosen to seek psychiatric care to deal with her grief, her emotional distress could not have been very severe.

The ruling would have been the end of Tammy’s case if she had not had legal representation who firmly believed in her cause. Look at the courtroom dialog reported in The Buffalo News and paraphrased below:

“There is no doubt that Mrs. Cleveland endured enormous grief,” the appellate judge said. “But to establish emotional distress, medical treatment is required, unless there is evidence greater than that.”

“In cases where grief is clearly evident, it can be presumed,” Tammy’s attorney said.

“You’re saying this is one of those cases?” the judge asked.

“This is one of those cases,” Tammy’s lawyer replied.

Tammy Cleveland’s case was sent back to the lower court to continue.

To win in court, it’s not enough to be obviously injured. To be a successful plaintiff, you need a skilled attorney who recognizes the justice of your case.

Rideshare App Lyft Being Sued for Collision that Injured 9

A pedestrian, Sara Polanco, is claiming negligence on the part of rideshare app Lyft after a truck collided with two of Lyft’s vehicles and then veered onto the sidewalk. The collisions involved multiple vehicles and injured a total of 11 different people, 9 of which are included in the lawsuit. Polanco’s lawsuit has the truck driver, Lyft, and two of Lyft’s drivers at fault for the damages that resulted from the series of collisions.

The collision has so far resulted in criminal charges against the truck driver, Christopher Jose Solis. Solis was driving his Toyota Tacoma when his vehicle collided with the first Lyft driver who was picking up passengers, then collided into a second Lyft vehicle across the street that was full of patrons leaving a local bar. Solis then careened onto the sidewalk where Polanco was struck. Solis was allegedly under the influence of marijuana at the time of the collisions. Solis is facing multiple felony charges including driving under the influence, hit and run, and a misdemeanor charge for property damages. There is a change he faces sentencing enhancement for the bodily injury done to a total of 11 individuals involved in the accident.

Polanco’s attorney has claimed that she suffered a shattered pelvis and a lacerated liver from the crash. Polanco was hospitalized in critical condition after the crash and spent several weeks recovering in the hospital. As of this writing, she is still recovering at her home and is only able to get around with the use of a wheelchair. Her medical bills have totaled nearly $1 million dollars.

Solis, the driver of the truck that started the collisions, was pulled over by local police just before the accident. Solis claimed that he was speeding to avoid robbers that had attempted to steal a laptop he had in his vehicle.

Polanco’s attorney is auguring that Lyft intentionally trains its drivers to prioritize picking up and dropping off the users of its rideshare app over the safety of others. Her attorney has also claimed that by having no dedicated loading and unloading zones in major metropolitan areas, Lyft is risking the safety of pedestrians and other drivers.

Lyft representatives have declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Clinics and Hospitals in Iowa Join Lawsuit Against Liver Allocation Process

The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics has entered into a lawsuit with thirteen other parties over new federal legislation that would change how liver transplants are allocated nationwide.

The new legislation has many changes, but the most contentious one changes how donor’s livers are distributed over geographic regions. Prior to this new law, donor’s livers were distributed by proximity. That is to say, compatible livers were first given to the closest available patient. The law changes this to a need-based system. So now instead of looking for the closest patient, they are now instructed to look for the patient in the most need within specific geographical ranges.

A representative from the United Network for Organ Sharing, one of the organizations who supported the drafting of this bill, states that this new law is more equitable and will save lives. The UNOS rep cited the fact that approximately 3 people die every day waiting for an organ transplant and that this new legislation is designed to prevent those deaths. By switching to a need-based system, UNOS claimed, 100 more lives per year will be saved. An official from the Iowa Donor Network has stated that under current legislation, they are unable to either give or receive livers across the Mississippi river, but this new policy will allow them to both aid and be aided by their neighboring state of Nebraska.

Opponents of the bill have claimed that despite the well-intentioned nature of the legislation, it will come at the cost of liver transplants for underserved and rural communities. The lawsuit claims that this negative effect will amount to these communities receiving 20% fewer liver transplants per year—a massive drop in a life-saving procedure. Experts have claimed that this will most harshly impact rural communities and states in the south.

Organ transplants are still a hot issue. In 2018 there were approximately 16,000 individuals on the waitlist for an organ. Of that 16,000, only 11,000 ever received one. The Director of the UIHC has claimed that no matter how this legislation comes down, more work is needed to fix the root of the problem.

Popular Toy Maker Embroiled In Class-Action Suit Over Infant Deaths

Fisher-Price Infant Sleeper Allegedly Causes Over 30 Infant Deaths

Fisher-Price, one of the biggest toy makers in the world, is currently tied up in class-action lawsuits related to their Rock’n’Play infant sleeper. The lawsuits allege that this product is responsible for more than 30 infant deaths. Fisher-Price has recalled 4.7 million infant sleepers as the company strives to deal with the issue. The recall notice was posted on the company’s website on April 12th and calls for parents to return the sleepers immediately for a refund or voucher. Both of the lawsuits filed recently allege that Fisher-Price was long aware of the potential dangers of its product, but refused to announce a recall.

2 Recent Class-Action Suits

There have been 2 class-action suits filed recently in regard to Fisher-Price’s infant sleepers. The first was filed in the U.S. District Court in Buffalo by Samantha Drover-Mundy and Zachary Mundy. The second was filed by Cassandra Mulvey, also in Buffalo’s U.S. District Court. Both lawsuits seek unspecified damages and both suits attempt to create 2 different classes of claimants – one for New York plaintiffs, and the other for plaintiffs elsewhere in the country.

The Drover-Mundy suit in particular claims that Fisher-Price and Mattel put out a dangerous product that was flawed from the initial design phase. According to the suit, the manufacturer did not adhere to established safety standards when designing the Rock’n’Play sleeper. Allegedly, Fisher-Price then continued to market and sell the product, even as reports of infant injuries and deaths came pouring in. The sort of injuries that infants allegedly suffered from the Rock’n’Play product include asphyxiation, flat head syndrome and twisted neck syndrome. As previously mentioned, the Fisher-Price sleeper is also implicated in over 30 infant deaths since 2009.

Different Classes Of Claimants

In addition to the different classes of claimants based on location, the Drover-Mundy suit seeks to establish 2 further classes of claimants. The suit looks to create separate classes for infants that were allegedly injured by the Fisher-Price product and for families that purchased these products. The Drover-Mundy suit and the Mulvey suit will both be heard in the U.S. District Court in Buffalo, where a judge will rule on the attempts to establish different classes of claimants.