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The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) affords private parties the opportunity to bring suit against the United States for certain types of tortious harm caused by government employees. An FTCA claim generally accrues at the time of injury, but in circumstances where either the injury or its cause is not immediately apparent, federal courts employ a discovery rule that delays accrual until the plaintiff knows or reasonably should know the factual basis of his claim. In Donahue v. United States, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit considered whether publicity regarding the government’s role in causing the plaintiffs’ injuries was sufficient to start the running of the FTCA claim-accrual period. The court held that the two-year statute of limitations time barred the plaintiffs’ FTCA claims because widespread media coverage should have made them aware of the causal link between the government’s actions and the deaths of their loved ones. . .
The United States judiciary will defer to the executive branch on matters of foreign policy and national security when evaluating the need for secrecy. The state secrets doctrine, a common-law evidentiary privilege, permits the government to bar the disclosure of information that poses a reasonable danger of exposing military matters that should not be divulged in the interest of national security. In Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc., the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit considered the government’s motions to intervene in and dismiss—on state secrets grounds—an action brought by foreign nationals against a company that purportedly assisted in the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) “extraordinary rendition” program. On rehearing en banc, the court of appeals affirmed the district court’s judgment and held that the plaintiffs’ action must be dismissed at the pleadings stage, in the interest of national security. . .
The Fourth Amendment’s proscription against unreasonable searches and seizures effectively limits the federal government’s power to invade an individual’s privacy. Under certain circumstances, however, courts have deemed searches that protect a police officer or other government agent from danger to be reasonable. In United States v. Green, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit considered whether an officer exceeded the permissible scope of a protective sweep incident to arrest where the officer, in searching for confederates, seized incriminating evidence that came into plain view after the officer climbed onto a chair to examine the top of a large dresser. The court held that the officer acted reasonably in protecting himself from danger, and therefore did not contravene the Fourth Amendment. . .
Massachusetts grants judges broad discretion when determining the relevancy of evidence. The Massachusetts Guide to Evidence Section 403 (Section 403) states that relevant evidence is admissible unless the trial judge believes the probative value of the evidence is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice to the defendant. Massachusetts judges apply a case-by-case approach in weighing the prejudicial effect of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) test results presented to a jury absent supporting testimony regarding the statistical accuracy of such results. In Commonwealth v. Mattei, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) addressed whether DNA test results that failed to exclude an individual as a possible contributor to the DNA sample were admissible without an accompanying probability analysis. Although the SJC held that the nonexclusion test results were improperly admitted, it failed to require that supporting statistical testimony is always necessary to admit such results. . .
The Ex Post Facto Clause of the United States Constitution prohibits retroactive laws that alter the definition of or increase the penalty for a criminal offense. Accordingly, the use of amended sentencing guidelines at the time of sentencing, which call for a harsher penalty than that which existed at the time the offense was committed, has raised varying ex post facto concerns among the circuits. In United States v. Lewis, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit considered whether the application of newly revised sentencing guidelines, not in effect at the time of the crime’s commission, violated the Ex Post Facto Clause. The Fourth Circuit held that application of the more severe guideline amendments would violate the Ex Post Facto Clause, for although the guidelines are merely advisory in nature, their use created a “significant risk” of the defendant receiving an increased sentence. . .
The United States Constitution and the Montana Constitution protect a natural parent’s fundamental right to parent his or her children. Courts have, however, differed in defining the extent of that right and the protection it affords the natural parent in relation to a third party seeking to establish contact with a child. In Kulstad v. Maniaci, the Montana Supreme Court considered whether the constitutional rights of a natural parent required a showing that the natural parent was unfit as a prerequisite to awarding a third party a parental interest. In upholding the constitutionality of sections 40-4-211 and 40-4-228 of the Montana Code, the court held that the absence of a requirement that a court first determine the fitness of the parent before granting a parental interest to a third party does not violate a natural parent’s fundamental rights. . .
To properly exercise specific jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant, due process requires that the defendant have certain minimum contacts with the forum, such that it would be fair to hale him into court there to defend against a claim related to those contacts. The First Circuit has refined its minimum contacts analysis by requiring that a plaintiff’s claim relate to or arise out of the defendant’s contacts, that the defendant have purposely availed himself of the forum, and that the exercise of jurisdiction be reasonable. When a defendant, although not physically present in the relevant forum, intentionally engages in tortious conduct that injures a plaintiff located there, courts will evaluate the injuries or “effects” when analyzing whether a sufficient connection exists between the plaintiff’s claim and the defendant’s contacts. Traditionally, courts only considered in-forum effects under the purposeful availment prong of minimum contacts analysis, but in Astro-Med, Inc. v. Nihon Kohden America, Inc., the First Circuit strayed from its precedent by considering such effects under the relatedness prong and holding that specific jurisdiction over the defendant was proper. . .
When analyzing a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that a law enforcement officer used excessive force during the course of a seizure, courts typically use the objective reasonableness standard of the Fourth Amendment. In Bryan v. MacPherson, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit considered whether a police officer’s use of an electronic control device (ECD)—commonly known as a Taser—during a traffic stop for failure to use a seatbelt violated the plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights. Because of the significant level of force delivered through Tasers like the one the officer used in this case, the court determined that ECDs may only be used when justified by a strong governmental interest. As the officer had no reason to suspect the plaintiff was a dangerous felon or presented an immediate threat to the officer or others, the Ninth Circuit held that the use of an ECD violated the plaintiff’s right to be free from excessive force. . .
Originality stands as both a constitutional and statutory prerequisite for copyright protection. Nevertheless, the absence of a clear definition of copyright originality in the Copyright Act and in judicial application has lead to uncertainty regarding the meaning of the term “originality” in copyright law. Despite the ambiguity, originality endures as the very premise of copyright law and requires thorough articulation in order to establish the boundary between a truly original work and a work exhibiting only a marginal contribution by the alleged author. In Schrock v. Learning Curve International, Inc., the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals examined whether inherently accurate product photographs contained the requisite amount of originality to be entitled to copyright protection as derivative works. By concluding that derivative works are not held to a higher standard of originality than other works, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals declared that the combination of the photographer’s technical and artistic choices produced a sufficient degree of creative distance to warrant a finding of originality. . .
Article VI of the Constitution establishes the supremacy of federal law over the states, while the Eleventh Amendment grants the states immunity from suit without their consent. The incompatibility of these provisions becomes apparent, however, when a defendant state asserts its immunity in response to an attempt to enforce a valid federal law in federal court. This constitutional contradiction recently divided two circuit courts ruling on suits brought under the same state-managed federal program: the Fourth Circuit held the Eleventh Amendment barred a state agency from enforcing the program’s requirements against state officials in federal court, while the Seventh Circuit held the amendment posed no bar. This Case Comment analyzes the Seventh Circuit’s decision in Indiana Protection & Advocacy Services v. Indiana Family & Social Services Administration and concludes that the court was correct in holding an independent state agency’s suit against named state officials can be heard in federal court under the Supreme Court’s Eleventh Amendment exception, the doctrine of Ex parte Young. . .