Category Archive: Uncategorized

Georgia Supreme Court Caseload Increases While Court of Appeals Caseload Decreases Despite Changes in the Law

In 2016, Georgia legislators expanded the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. In doing so, the new legislation shifted a large amount of cases from the Supreme Court to the Court of Appeals. Nonetheless, neither court’s caseload has changed, and the reason for this lack of difference is complicated, according to the Daily Report.

Changes in Georgia Law

Nearly three years ago, legislation was signed into law in Georgia adding two new justices to its Supreme Court  and three new judges to the Court of Appeals. The law also moved a sizable amount of the Georgia Supreme Court’s  caseload to the Georgia Court of Appeals. Ironically, while the number of Supreme Court opinions issued was reduced slightly, the court’s actual caseload increased. Moreover, despite the expansion in the Court of Appeals to handle cases shifted from the high court, such as property title, alimony, wills, divorce, equity and some extraordinary remedy cases, the lower court saw a slight reduction in caseload.

The reasons behind this lack of change despite new legislation is complicated. The Daily Report notes that representatives from each court list several factors including the availability of court resources, the types of cases counted, and statutory deadlines governing how fast an appeal must be decided.

By the Numbers

According to figures provided to the Daily Report, the Georgia Supreme Court justices heard 151 oral arguments in 2017, while they heard 109 in 2018. The number of direct appeals to the high court dropped to 426 in 2018 as compared to 539 in 2017. Petitions for certiorari, however, increased to 523 in 2018 as compared to 466 in 2017. According to the court’s chief information officer, the 2016 Georgia legislation shifted about 25% of the cases under the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to the Court of Appeals. The Georgia Court of Appeals, on the other hand, reported handling 2,187 direct appeals in 2018. This number was just one less than 2017. The number of cases had been decreasing steadily since its peak in 2013 of 2,569 cases.

Jurisdiction of Courts

The Georgia Supreme Court is the highest court in the state and its decisions are typically the last word on a case unless petitioned for appeal to the United States Supreme Court if they involve an issue relating to federal constitutional law. The Georgia Supreme Court reviews decisions made by the lower court in both civil and criminal matters. The Court addresses questions involving criminal cases in which the death sentence was, or could have been, imposed; the constitutionality of state laws; petitions of decisions from the Court of Appeals; and election contests.

The Georgia Court of Appeals, on the other hand, is the intermediate appellate court in the state. Established in 1906, the court has 15 judges who serve in its five divisions. The Court has jurisdiction statewide in all cases except for those that involve murder, constitutional questions, and habeas corpus, when original appellate jurisdiction falls with the Supreme Court. Additionally, the Court of Appeals may certify legal questions to the Supreme Court for decision.

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11th Circuit Court of Appeals Reconsiders Prior Wage Dispute Decision

Alabama’s Minimum Wage Law Dispute

At the beginning of this year, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals withdrew a July decision  regarding a lawsuit alleging that Alabama’s 2016 minimum-wage law is racially discriminatory. The lawsuit was filed by civil rights groups, minority legislators, and fast-food workers. According to a Times Daily News report, the court plans to hold a rehearing on the matter.

The Alabama law in question blocked cities from raising the minimum wage after Birmingham tried to raise the base to $10 per hour. Alabama’s law mandates a uniform minimum wage across the state. Critics of the state law claim that it is just the latest example of a majority-white legislature exerting its control over majority-black cities.Those who support the state law point to concerns about the wage hike’s impact on businesses and argue a uniform minimum wage is critical for economic development.

In 2017, a U.S. district judge dismissed the lawsuit holding that the plaintiffs had not proven the claims of discrimination and civil rights violations. The appeals court, however, found that the plaintiffs stated a plausible claim that the act had the purpose and effect of discriminating against Birmingham’s black citizens on the basis of race.

Minimum Wage Hikes Across the Nation

 Legislative efforts, as well as adjustments for inflation and ballot measures across the nation are giving workers in U.S. states an increase in the minimum wage in 2019. According to a U.S. News Report, he increases range from $0.05 to $2.00 and is due to impact 5.2 million workers. A recent Economic Policy Institute (EPI) report predicts that the minimum wage increase will raise the annual salaries of year-round workers by $90 to $1,3000. 24 cities and counties across the country will also raise their minimum wages at the start of 2019.

While the federal minimum wage has stayed stagnant at $7.25 per hour for the past decade, movements have spread across the country to increase this number at both the state and local levels. The country’s federal minimum wage standards are found in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Although many states have their own minimum wage laws, when an employee is subject to both state and federal laws, the worker is entitled to the higher of the two established minimum wages.

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Florida’s Supreme Court Rejects Daubert Evidence Standard

The state of Florida’s highest court rejected a 2013 law meant to bring the expert witness standard used in the state more in line with other states, according to the Daily Business Review. The Supreme Court of Florida (SCFL) found that the law overreached into court territory.

Daubert versus Frye

The Frye standard is commonly referred to as the “general acceptance test.” In short, scientific methods that are generally accepted are admissible in court; scientific methods that are not – i.e., on the fringe or not sufficiently established – are not admissible in court. It is named after a 1923 decision Frye v. United States.

Under Daubert, when scientific testimony is offered, the court is required to determine whether or not the testimony is based on scientifically valid reasoning or methodologies. It must also assess whether or not the testimony may be properly applied to the issue in question. Daubert uses a five-part test as a guide for courts to determine admissibility, including:

● Whether a theory or technique can be and has been tested;
● Whether the theory or technique has been subject to both peer review and publication;
● The known or potential error rate of the method;
● The existence and maintenance of standards controlling its operation; and
● Whether it has attracted widespread acceptance within the relevant scientific community.
Daubert is a more flexible standard than Frye, allowing for cross examination, introduction of contrary evidence, and the court’s instruction regarding the burden of proof. Daubert is named after a 1993 court decision, Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals.
The Florida Supreme Court’s Decision

The 4-3 decision overturned a ruling by the Fourth District Court of Appeal and ordered reinstatement of a multi-million dollar verdict. The SCFL reinstated a $8 million verdict for a plaintiff, Richard DeLisle, who claimed his mesothelioma was due to exposure to asbestos in cigarette filters as well as workplaces. Justice Peggy Quince, who wrote the decision for the majority, noted the state’s adherence to the Frye standard was set in a 1923 United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decision.

The legislature attempted to impose the Daubert standard came shortly thereafter in 41 states and federal courts. The change in the standard was opposed by plaintiff’s attorneys but backed by business groups and the Republican-controlled legislature.

According to the SCFL, the question of what expert witness standard applies is for the court alone to decide. Under separation of powers, the Court reasoned, the legislature has authority over substantive law while the judiciary is responsible for procedural standards. Justice Quince was joined by Justices Pariente, Labarga, and Lewis.

Chief Justice Charles Canady, joined by Justices Polston and Lawson, found the court lacked the legal jurisdiction to decide the matter because there was no conflict among the district courts.

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11th Circuit Holds Outdoor Food Sharing Expressive Conduct

The Atlanta-based 11th Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that sharing food with the homeless in a public park by a group with a political message is considered expressive conduct and, therefore, protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The decision is the first by an appellate court on this particular issue, according to a press release issued by the attorneys for the winning litigant, the local group called Fort Lauderdale Food Not Bombs.

 

Food Not Bombs

The organization Food Not Bombs shares free vegetarian food on a weekly basis at events in Stranahan Park in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The group uses the service of food to communicate the message that society could end poverty as well as hunger if money and resources spent on the military were redirected elsewhere. According to the group, food is a human right. The organization sets up tables and banners during its meal distribution. It also hands out literature at its events. The logo for Food Not Bombs is a clenched fist holding a carrot.

Expressive Language

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects Americans’ rights to freedom of speech, press, petition, and assembly. Several types of speech are protected including core political speech, expressive speech, and most types of commercial speech. The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has held that freedom of expression by non-speech means is also protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In United States v. O’Brien, however, the SCOTUS noted regulating non-speech can justify limitations on speech.

 

The Appellate Decision

The appellate decision reverses the lower court’s ruling, which held that the shared meal was not expressive conduct and, therefore, not protected speech. On remand, the trial court now will have to determine whether or not the City of Fort Lauderdale’s ordinance restricting food-sharing in parks is a violation of the First Amendment. According to the appellate opinion written by Judge Adalberto Jordan, the treatment of the homeless population in the City of Fort Lauderdale is an issue for the local community. Judge Adalberto noted the food-sharing events “are more than a picnic in the park.” A reasonable observer, he continued, would infer a message about community and caring for all citizens.

 

The case is Fort Lauderdale Food Not Bombs v. City of Fort Lauderdale.

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