Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules security officer can not sue client for injury www.privateofficer.com
Pennsylvania May 2 2013 A security guard hurt during a job assignment cannot sue her employer’s client for negligence since she signed a workers compensation disclaimer waiving her right to do so, a divided Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled.
In Sabrina Bowman v. Sunoco Inc., Ms. Bowman suffered an injury in January 2005 when she fell on ice or snow while working as a security guard for Allied Barton Security Services L.L.C. The security company had assigned her to provide security at a Sunoco refinery in Philadelphia, court records show.
She received workers comp benefits related to the fall through Allied Barton, but Ms. Bowman still filed a negligence claim against Sunoco, alleging its failure to maintain safe conditions caused her injury.
When Allied Barton hired Ms. Bowman in 2004, however, she signed a disclaimer waiving her right to file a claim against any Allied Barton customer.
The Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County granted Sunoco’s motion to dismiss Ms. Bowman’s negligence claim and a Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the decision in 2009. The courts found that the disclaimer did not violate public policy because Ms. Bowman waived only her right to sue a third party and she was not deprived of her right to workers compensation benefits.
In a 4-1 ruling Thursday, Pennsylvania’s high court agreed. It found that Ms. Bowman was not forced to sign the release and chose to bargain away her rights to sue a third party.
However, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Max Baer disagreed. In his dissent, he argued that Pennsylvania workers compensation law prohibits agreements such as the disclaimer Ms. Bowman signed.
Washington DC May 2 2013 On April 17, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Missouri v. McNeely, ruling that obtaining involuntary specimens for blood alcohol testing without a search warrant is an unreasonable seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
This case has substantial impact on the procedure many police officers follow in investigating drunk driving cases.
The case began in October 2010, when Missouri State Highway Patrol Trooper Mark Winder stopped Tyler McNeely for speeding in Cape Girardeau County. Trooper Winder noticed that McNeely displayed symptoms of alcohol intoxication, asked McNeely to step out of his truck, and administered a series of standard field sobriety tests. McNeely performed the tests poorly, and Trooper Winder placed him under arrest for driving while intoxicated.
After handcuffing McNeely and placing him in his patrol car, Trooper Winder asked McNeely to submit to a breath test.
During the 17 years that Trooper Winder had been in law enforcement, he had many times obtained search warrants to secure blood specimens for testing when DUI suspects refused to provide a breath or blood test willingly.
However, shortly before this arrest, Trooper Winder had read an article in Traffic Safety News titled ,”Warrantless Blood Draws: Are They Now Authorized in Missouri?”
The article was written by a traffic safety resource prosecutor, and indicated that search warrants were no longer necessary in these cases, because Missouri had modified its implied consent law.
The old law specified that when a person refused both a breath analyzer and a blood test, then “none shall be given.” In 2010, that section was amended to remove the phrase “none shall be given,” and the author of the article opined that this enabled Missouri law enforcement officers to obtain forcible blood specimens when DUI suspects refused to provide them voluntarily.
Acting on this information, Trooper Winder drove McNeely to a hospital and directed a staff phlebotomist to draw his blood over McNeely’s objections. When tested, McNeely’s blood alcohol content was well over the 0.08% statutory limit.
At trial, McNeely sought to suppress the blood test results as an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment. The trial court granted McNeely’s motion, and the state appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court. That court affirmed the ruling of the trial court, as did the U.S. Supreme Court most recently.
Cops have been obtaining compelled blood alcohol specimens since at least the 1980s, when activist organizations like MADD raised awareness of the impact of drunk drivers.
Most states elevated driving while intoxicated from an expensive traffic ticket to a criminal offense with mandatory jail time. They allowed or required prosecution of repeat offenders as a felony, and many have warrantless nonconsensual blood draws written into their statutes when a suspect refuses a blood or breath test.
Some require special circumstances, such as prior convictions for DUI or involvement in an injury accident. Some jurisdictions in Texas have “no refusal weekends” when everyone arrested for drunk driving provides a blood or breath sample whether they want to or not.
Missouri’s amended statute only implied that officers could obtain blood specimens without a search warrant or consent, where laws in other states explicitly allow it. Nevada Revised Statutes 484C.160-7b states:
If a person to be tested fails to submit to a required test as directed by a police officer pursuant to this section and the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the person to be tested was [driving under the influence], the officer may direct that reasonable force be used to the extent necessary to obtain samples of blood from the person to be tested.
Quite a number of drunk drivers I arrested told me I couldn’t do that. They are all believers now.
The McNeely decision may, and probably does, make all of those compulsory blood draw statutes unconstitutional. Drunk drivers and their lawyers across the country are likely very happy with this development. Law enforcement agencies and prosecutors’ offices are going to have to move fast to change their procedures.
Most states provide for telephonic or electronic applications for search warrants, and this process will have to be streamlined for DUI cases. The blood specimens have to be obtained quickly, as the evidence dissipates with the metabolization of alcohol in the body.
Some states and counties will have to establish a system of on-call magistrates, as the typical judge is not going to like being called out of bed several times every night.
This ruling potentially impacts every drunk driving arrest after April 17, 2013. If your agency has not developed new procedures and training to comply with the new ruling, it’s imperative you do it quickly.
The judge threw out breath test results because the police officer told the suspect to blow hard into the Datamaster breath analyzer machine.
Springfield IL Jan 28 2013 The homeowners associations responsible for managing subdivisions across the state have the power to enforce their own traffic rules through a private security force, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled Friday, overturning a lower-court ruling that found they could be unlawful.
Former DuPage County prosecutor Ken Poris sued LaSalle County’s Lake Holiday Property Owners Association after he was pulled over for speeding in 2008 by a vehicle with flashing lights
A uniformed officer wearing a badge and duty belt took his driver’s license and Lake Holiday membership card back to his squad car and wrote him a $50 speeding ticket. The man wasn’t a police officer but a homeowners association employee with little police training and no state certification.
Last year, an appeals court found that the association could not stop and detain drivers for violating homeowners association rules. The court found that Lake Holiday could be found liable for Poris’ false imprisonment claim and that the association’s use of amber-colored flashing lights on its squad cars was unlawful.
But the Illinois Supreme Court on Friday reversed each of those findings, ruling that Lake Holiday was allowed to enforce its bylaws against residents and that courts “generally do not interfere with the internal affairs of a voluntary association.”
“We can discern no logic in allowing a private homeowners association to construct and maintain roadways but not allowing the association to implement and enforce traffic laws on those roadways,” Judge Robert Thomas wrote.
Poris, who asserted that only sworn officers had the authority to pull over drivers and that the association police were also stopping and ticketing drivers who did not belong to the Lake Holiday association, said he was disappointed with the opinion.
“I think it’s going to have possibly some real serious consequences,” Poris said.
Poris said he believed the ruling expanded the definition of probable cause, making it easier to stop someone on private property. “Now every homeowners association can basically set up their own enforcement group and those people are allowed to make stops,” he said.
Lake Holiday’s attorney Bruce Lyon said the association, which encompasses 2,000 single-family lots, was pleased with the ruling.
“They’re happy that the court has agreed that they do have the ability to allow them to keep the area safe for all of the families and kids who live there and not allow people to speed with impunity,” he said.
He said the association has not enforced the speed limit for about a year as the appeals process worked its way through the courts. While the case was a first for the Supreme Court, Lyon disagreed that it would make it easier for drivers to be pulled over on private property.
“I believe what this ruling really does is reiterate the rights of a private association to contract with its members when those members agree to those rules,” he said.
Des Moines IA Dec 22 2012 The Iowa Supreme Court ruled on Friday that employers in the state can legally fire workers they find too attractive.
In a unanimous decision, the court held that a dentist did not violate the state’s civil rights act when he terminated a female dental assistant whom his wife considered a threat to their marriage.
The dental assistant, Melissa Nelson, who worked for dentist James Knight for more than 10 years and had never flirted with him, according to the testimony of both parties, sued, saying she would not have been fired if she were a man.
At trial, Knight testified he had complained to Nelson on several occasions that her clothing was too tight, revealing and “distracting.”
But sometime in 2009, he also began exchanging text messages with Nelson. Most of these were work-related and harmless, according to testimony. But others were more suggestive, including one in which Knight asked Nelson how often she had an orgasm. She never answered the text.
In late 2009, Knight’s wife found out about the text exchanges and demanded her husband terminate the dental assistant because “she was a big threat to our marriage.”
In early 2010, he fired her, saying their relationship had become a detriment to his family.
Nelson sued, saying that she had done nothing wrong, that she considered Knight a friend and father figure, and that she would not have been terminated but for her gender.
Knight argued that Nelson was terminated not because of her gender – all the employees of his practice are women — but because of the way their relationship had developed and the threat it posed to his marriage.
The seven justices, all men, said the basic question presented by the case was “whether an employee who has not engaged in flirtatious conduct may be lawfully terminated simply because the boss views the employee as an irresistible attraction.”
The high court ruled that bosses can fire workers they find too attractive and that such actions do not amount to unlawful discrimination.
The case was Melissa Nelson v. James H. Knight DDS, PC and James Knight.
Tennessee Court of Appeals rules Metro had “no duty to summon aid outside of its jurisdiction,” www.privateofficer.com
It was a victory for activists who had feared that using smartphones or video cameras to record police responding to demonstrations during this month’s NATO summit in Chicago could land protesters and bloggers behind bars for years. It’s also the most serious legal challenge to the measure — one of the strictest in the nation — and adds momentum to efforts by some state lawmakers to overhaul the legislation, whose constitutionality has been questioned.
The law, enacted in 1961, makes it a felony for someone to produce an audio recording of a conversation unless all parties agree. It sets a maximum punishment of 15 years in prison if a law enforcement officer is recorded.
In a separate decision late last month, the city of Chicago’s chief legal officer said police did not intend to enforce the law during the May 20-21 summit, but Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez had not given similar assurances. Tuesday’s temporary injunction put summit protesters in the clear.
“The Illinois eavesdropping statute restricts far more speech than necessary to protect legitimate privacy interests,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit said in its opinion. “As applied to the facts alleged here, it likely violates the First Amendment’s free speech and free-press guarantees.”
The ruling stemmed from a 2010 lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union seeking to block Alvarez from prosecuting ACLU staff for recording police officers performing their duties in public places, one of the group’s long-standing monitoring missions.
“To make the rights of free expression … effective, individuals and organizations must be able to freely gather and record information about the conduct of government and their agents — especially the police,” Harvey Grossman of the ACLU of Illinois said Tuesday in reaction to the ruling.
He noted that with new technology, it is easier than ever to record and disseminate images and audio recordings.
“Empowering individuals and organizations in this fashion will ensure additional transparency and oversight of police across the state,” Grossman said.
Alvarez’s office said it was preparing a statement, but had no immediate response to the ruling. The court described her position as “extreme.”
“She contends that openly recording what police officers say while performing their duties in traditional public fora — streets, sidewalks, plazas, and parks — is wholly unprotected by the First Amendment. This is an extraordinary argument,” the ruling read.
Protest organizers praised the court action.
“We have had this just ridiculously long fight with the city around the right to protest here,” said Joe Isobaker, of the Coalition Against NATO/G-8 War & Poverty Agenda. “And this just serves to confirm the correctness of our stance, which is that we have the right to speak out against war and greed and the other evils of our society.”
In the state capital, a Senate bill that would rewrite the law to formally include an exception for people recording police officers at work in public places is awaiting a vote in the House. An earlier bill failed in a House vote, but the measure has been revised to reflect some of the concerns of law enforcement officials.
One of its sponsors, Rep. Elaine Nekritz, said the right to record police was vital to guard against abuses.
“I think citizens have First Amendment rights to protect themselves against an overreaching government and this is one way they can do that,” she said.