Court Roundup

Court: same-sex marriage doesn’t void agreement

BOSTON (Daily Record Newswire) — A man’s same-sex marriage did not automatically invalidate his waiver of spousal property rights under a prior domestic partnership agreement, the California Court of Appeal has ruled in affirming judgment.
In 2006, the plaintiff and his partner registered as domestic partners in the state. Under the terms of a domestic partnership agreement entered at that time, the plaintiff waived any rights in his partner’s property or estate. The plaintiff subsequently married his partner in 2008 during the brief period that same-sex marriages were legal in California.
When his partner later died, the plaintiff claimed a spousal share in his partner’s estate.
But the court decided that the terms of the domestic partnership agreement remained valid after the marriage.
“We hold that domestic partnership agreements that are enforceable under the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act, and made after statutes were enacted providing domestic partners with essentially the same California State property rights as spouses, are not automatically invalidated by a marriage license. Since [the plaintiff] expressly waived his rights to any interest in [his partner’s] estate in the domestic partnership agreement and the validity of this agreement under the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act is not an issue, he cannot claim any interest as a pretermitted spouse in [his partner’s] estate,” the court said.

New Jersey
Court: warrant didn’t purge taint of illegal stop

BOSTON (Daily Record Newswire) — Drug evidence obtained from an illegal investigative stop must be suppressed, even though it turned out that police had an outstanding arrest warrant for the subject of the stop, the New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled in reversing judgment.
Police arrived at an apartment building to execute an arrest warrant for a fugitive, just as the defendant and another man emerged from the building. The officers detained the defendant when he refused to give his name. Within a short time, police determined that, even though the defendant was not the target of their arrest warrant, he was wanted for parole violations. Police arrested the defendant for the outstanding parole warrant and a search revealed he had illegal drugs in his possession.
The trial court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress, concluding that, even though there was no reasonable suspicion for the investigative stop, the parole warrant served as an intervening circumstance that broke the chain between the improper stop and the discovery of the drugs.
But the state supreme court concluded that the evidence should have been suppressed.
“[W]e conclude that, in the specific circumstances of this case, the parole warrant was not an intervening circumstance that sufficiently purged the taint from or attenuated the effect of the unlawful detention. [The defendant] was detained to determine if he was named in an arrest warrant and ultimately arrested because he was the subject of a warrant — albeit a different one than the warrant that triggered the stop. We do not suggest that the discovery of an arrest warrant in other scenarios — as incident to an unrelated unlawful motor vehicle or investigatory stop — would not constitute a determinative intervening circumstance,” the court said.

First file-sharing defendant seeks reversal from U.S. Supreme Court

BOSTON (Daily Record Newswire) — After three separate verdicts and more than five years of litigation, file-sharing defendant Jammie Thomas-Rasset has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Thomas-Rasset was the first target of the Recording Industry Association of America’s campaign against illegal downloaders to go to trial.
The RIAA alleged that Thomas-Rasset used file-sharing site Kazaa to download 24 songs at no charge.
A jury found her liable for infringement and awarded the RIAA $220,000, or $9,500 per song.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael Davis set that verdict aside based on an improper jury instruction.
The second trial resulted in a $1.92 million verdict against Thomas-Rasset.
Accepting Thomas-Rasset’s argument for remittitur, Judge Davis lowered the award to $54,000.
But the RIAA objected and the case returned to the courtroom for a third trial just on the issue of damages.
In the third go-around, jurors awarded the RIAA $1.5 million.
But Judge Davis again reduced the total to $54,000.
On appeal to the 8th Circuit, the panel reinstated the original $220,000 verdict.
Thomas-Rasset now seeks to continue her day in court.
In her petition for certiorari, she argues that the verdict — based on the statutory damages available under the Copyright Act — violates due process because it does not reflect the actual damages suffered by the recording industry.
“Even if [the defendant] had never used Kazaa, the 24 popular songs at issue would nonetheless have been available, for free, from other Kazaa users,” according to her petition. “The verdicts are unpredictable and, in a deeper sense, arbitrary: they are not tied to any fact or rationale that justifies them, that explains why the law imposes this particular penalty on this particular defendant.”
The justices have previously declined to hear a similar appeal from the second file-sharing defendant who lost to the RIAA at trial.
In that case, a Boston University physics student was ordered to pay $675,000, amounting to $22,500 for each of the 30 songs he downloaded.
Although a federal court judge lowered the award to $67,500, the 1st Circuit reinstated the original verdict.
That verdict remained standing after the Court declined to accept the defendant’s petition for certiorari.