Sunday, October 28, 2007

Do NOT mess with subject matter jurisdiction.

For those of you lucky enough not to be in law school, subject matter jurisdiction describes the authority of a court ("jurisdiction") to hear a particular kind of case ("subject matter"). Federal courts (as opposed to State courts) have very limited subject matter jurisdiction, so they can only hear certain kinds of cases - for example, controversies between citizens of different states, or cases that deal with a question of federal law. This is the interesting stuff I get to learn in Civil Procedure I. Yippee!

Anyway, subject matter jurisdiction is a peculiar jurisdictional question because it involves the court policing itself. Even if both parties in a case decide they really, really, really want to be in Federal court instead of State court, the federal court can give them the hand and kick them out of the system if the type of case doesn't give the court subject matter jurisdiction. Apparently, this is a Very Big Deal to judges - at least, to the judges I had to read for class tomorrow.

In Randazzo v. Eagle-Pitcher Industries (117 F.R.D. 557), apparently the plaintiff's lawyer didn't bother to precisely say where the defendant was incorporated. The Federal court needed this information to decide whether there was diversity of citizenship (aka, whether the plaintiff and defendant were from separate states) so it could ensure that it had subject matter jurisdiction over the case. The court gave the plaintiff's lawyer a 10-day do-over, and he apparently didn't fix his mistake. Judge Lord (don't you love these judges' names!) went a little nutso.

Plaintiff's counsel, apparently laboring under the impression that I am not dealing with a full deck and that my knowledge of diversity requirements is about equal to that of a low-grade moron, chose to disregard the directional signals posted in my memorandum. Counsel brazenly, discourteously, defiantly, arrogantly, insultingly and under the circumstances rather obtusely threw back into my face the very allegations I had held insufficient by reiterating and incorporating those same crippled paragraphs. The so-called "amended complaint" itself cheekily informs me that these paragraphs allege the states of incorporation OR (emphasis added) principal places of business of the defendant corporations. Of course, any law school student [hey, that's me! -sj] knows that both the state of incorporation and principal place of business must be diverse, but I suppose I can hardly expect any more from counsel whose familiarity with [the law] could be no more than a friendly wave from a distance visible only through a powerful telescope.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Plagiarism? Think not.

You might have heard about the plagiarism controversy surrounding Jessica Seinfeld's new cookbook, Deceptively Delicious. Basically, Missy Chase Lapine, another cookbook writer, is claiming that Seinfeld plagiarized from Lapine's book, The Sneaky Chef. Both cookbooks are based on the unoriginal idea that you can hide good-for-you foods in bad-for-you foods to fool your kids into eating vegetables and fruits when they think they're just eating chocolatey brownies. Anyway, Slate has a good piece that actually compares the recipes in the two books and concludes that the plagiarism accusation is pretty much a joke. I found Lapine's whine of "Why is Seinfeld on Oprah instead of meeeee?" particularly annoying. The article also has a nice explanation of how copyright differs from plagiarism, which is more a question of dishonesty as opposed to theft.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Even textbook writers can joke occasionally

From my criminal law textbook, defenses section:

An elderly woman completed her shopping and returned to her car. She found four men inside. She dropped her shopping bags, drew a handgun, yelled at them at the top of her lungs that she would use the gun unless they got out of the car. The men "didn't wait around for a second invitation, but got out and ran like mad." Our elderly hero loaded her shopping bags into the car, and got into the driver's seat. Oops. Her key would not fit the ignition. No wonder. It was not her car. Her car was identical looking, but parked four spaces down. She embarrassedly loaded her bags (this time, into her own car) and drove to the police station. There, a police sergeant broke into laughter after she reported what had happened. He pointed to the other end of the room where four men, pale faced, were reporting a carjacking by a mad elderly woman.

(Lisa Denton, Laugh Lines, Chattanooga Times, Feb. 25, 2000, at 23.)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Judges can be cool, too

The case I had to present in my Torts class earlier this semester was Andrews v. United Airlines [24 F.3d 39 (9th Cir. 1994)], which introduced me to the hilarious opinions of Judge Alex Kozinski. The WSJ law blog did a fun spot on Judge Kozinski recently, linking to a profile of him in the National Law Journal. I have a huge soft spot for funny guys, and he is really just an excellent writer (despite his views, which I don't always agree with). After reading half-Latin opinions from the 1800's, his works bring a very nice breath of fresh air.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Did you know porn is illegal? I didn't.

On Slate, Tim Wu has an interesting jurisprudence series on American lawbreaking, with two features up now: one on how the pharmaceutical industry can be seen as a drug legalization movement; and the other on how laws die through unenforcement. I think it's a particularly interesting read if you have 10 minutes.

I've been trying (unsuccessfully) to get to posting at least once a week, but between midterm and memo and the generally ginormous reading load, I seem not to be doing so hot. I'll keep at it, though. Don't give up on me.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

This week's must-read: Art is a poor imitation of life

In a fantastic interview from The Morning News, Sarah Hepola listens to New Orleans Police Lieutenant Brian Wininger vent about the new show K-ville, cops that deserted after the hurricane, political corruption, and other things unique to being a cop in a city still far from rebuilt.

"I think [K-Ville] would be too slow if they showed how it really is. How you gotta work in a trailer with mold in it. How, after two years, stations aren’t even done yet. Half the time the toilets don’t work. Men are paying to have port-o-lets cleaned out....

"[After the storm,] all the news showed was rampant looting. First off, we had no jail. Secondly, we never knew if officers in the next district were alive. What we had was controlled chaos, the biggest national disaster to ever hit a city in this country and there weren’t many people shot or stabbed. Looters weren’t fighting among themselves. We were more concerned with saving people. Life first, property second, always. The city leaders and chiefs should be praising the men and women who stayed to this day because we did it on our own. No help from above. I think the city gave us about 96 bottles of water. If it hadn’t been for small groups of police, fire, National Guard, and citizens there would have been 5,000 people dead. A lot of New York City cops told me 9/11 was easy compared to what we went through.

These [police] stations, I could have had them done by now. I could have gone to Lowe’s and picked up a bunch of Spanish-speaking guys and had them sheetrock the place. It’s been two years. How come nobody’s screaming?"

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

It's Up To You!

The LA Times reports (via Today's Papers) that Radiohead is letting fans choose how much to pay for an electronic version - downloaded off their website - of their new album, In Rainbows. No joke! If you go to the Radiohead website and pre-order the download of their album, you are allowed to enter the price you want to pay. You can choose to pay nothing. If you click the ? icon for help, you get a very simple and direct message: IT'S UP TO YOU.

To compare, the discbox (which contains CD, vinyl, and download versions of the album, plus eight bonus songs and a hardcover book with lyrics) will cost you 40 pounds, or about $82.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The downsides of plastic

I'm generally of the view that credit cards are good things, especially if you're young and financially responsible. They help build credit history and allow you to earn interest on your money by deferring payment until the last day of your billing cycle. Unfortunately, the little consumer is always going to be at a disadvantage when going up against the big credit card company in any conflict. Plus, credit card contracts are notoriously difficult to decipher, like when they spend four pages talking about how they will calculate your interest rate, only to end with "and we can change our minds whenever we feel like it and we don't need your permission either and by the way neener neener neener!" To top it off, most credit card agreements require the consumer to submit to arbitration, and a new report from Public Citizen details how arbiters overwhelmingly favor credit card companies over consumers. (Hat tip: Simple Justice).