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Court: FAA must reconsider regulating airline seat size
Attorney News | 2017/07/31 16:10
An appeals court panel said Friday that federal officials must reconsider their decision not to regulate the size of airline seats as a safety issue.

One of the judges called it “the Case of the Incredible Shrinking Airline Seat.”

The Flyers Rights passenger group challenged the Federal Aviation Administration in court after the agency rejected its request to write rules governing seat size and the distance between rows of seats.

On Friday, a three-judge panel for the federal appeals court in Washington said the FAA had relied on outdated or irrelevant tests and studies before deciding that seat spacing was a matter of comfort, not safety.

The judges sent the issue back to the FAA. They said the agency must come up with a better-reasoned response to the group’s safety concerns.

“We applaud the court’s decision, and the path to larger seats has suddenly become a bit wider,” said Kendall Creighton, a spokeswoman for Flyers Rights.

The passenger group says small seats that are bunched too close together slow down emergency evacuations and raise the danger of travelers developing vein clots.

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said the agency was considering the ruling and its next steps. He said the FAA considers the spacing between seat rows when testing to make sure that airliners can be evacuated safely.

The airline industry has long opposed the regulation of seat size. Its main U.S. trade group, Airlines for America, declined to comment on the ruling.


Australian court debates release of Queen's secret letters
Legal Business | 2017/07/29 16:09
A legal battle over secret letters revealing what Queen Elizabeth II knew of her Australian representative's stunning plan to dismiss Australia's government in 1975 opened in federal court Monday, in a case that could finally solve a mystery behind the country's most dramatic political crisis.

Historian Jenny Hocking is asking the Federal Court to force the National Archives of Australia to release the letters between the British monarch, who is also Australia's constitutional head of state, and her former Australian representative, Governor-General Sir John Kerr. The Archives have classified the letters as "personal," meaning they might never be made public.

The letters would reveal what, if anything, the queen knew about Kerr's plan to dismiss Prime Minister Gough Whitlam's government in 1975 to resolve a deadlock in Parliament. It is the only time in Australian history that a democratically elected federal government was dismissed on the British monarch's authority. The dismissal stunned Australians and bolstered calls for the country to sever its colonial ties to Britain and become a republic.

Whitlam's own son, lawyer Antony Whitlam, is arguing the case on behalf of Hocking, and took on the case free of charge.

Hocking, a Whitlam biographer, argues that Australians have a right to know the details of their history, and that the letters written in the months leading up to the unprecedented dismissal are key to unraveling the truth.



Court: Indiana layoffs of older workers not discrimination
Attorney News | 2017/07/29 16:09
A federal appeals court has ruled against 20 former Lake County employees who claimed their layoffs were driven by age discrimination.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled Wednesday that the plaintiffs, many of whom are now in their 70s and 80s, weren't victims of deliberate discrimination.

The Northwest Indiana Times reports  falling tax revenues prompted county officials to terminate or send into early retirement employees older than 65 with promises that included a Medicare supplemental insurance plan.

But they later learned that insurance plan was only for retirees and opted to terminate the older workers in 2013 rather than buy another plan.

The court found the county wasn't practicing unlawful age discrimination because it retained a larger group of older employees not covered by that insurance.


Court: Violence law unfair to gay South Carolina couples
Lawyer Blog Post | 2017/07/27 16:08
People in same-sex relationships in South Carolina should get the same legal protections against domestic violence as heterosexual couples, the state's highest court ruled Wednesday, deeming a portion of the state's domestic violence law unconstitutional.

The court was asked to weigh in after a woman tried to get a protective order against her former fiancée, also a woman, and was denied.

Current law defines "household members" as a spouse, former spouse, people with a child in common, or men and women who are or have lived together. It does not include unmarried same-sex couples.

Acting Justice Costa Pleicones, who wrote the majority opinion, said during oral arguments in March 2016 that he felt the law was "pretty clearly unconstitutional in its discriminatory impact upon same-sex couples."

In his opinion, Pleicones pointed out lawmakers have over the years addressed the definition of "household members" as covered under domestic violence protections in 1994, amending the language from "persons" living together to "male and female." In 2015, during a massive overhaul of South Carolina's criminal domestic violence law, legislators made changes including increasing penalties for offenders but left the gender-based definition intact.

The U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection Clause, the court wrote, states, "No state shall ... deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws," such as a benefit offered to one class of person but not others.

"In this case, we cannot find a reasonable basis for providing protection to one set of domestic violence victims - unmarried, cohabiting or formerly cohabiting, opposite-sex couples - while denying it to others," the court wrote.

Other states have addressed this issue since the U.S. Supreme Court's 2015 decision legalizing gay marriage nationwide. The Ohio Supreme Court in 2016 adopted the use of gender-neutral references in family court cases. California and Massachusetts proactively changed language in their laws.


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