As of June 1, 520 Eugenics Board sterilization victims or their families have filed claims for compensation from the $10 million fund established by the state in 2012, according to the Office for Justice of Sterilization Victims.

The office has forwarded 320 of those claims on to the Industrial Commission for a determination of eligibility; the remaining claims have been logged in as valid pending further information from the victims or additional research by the office.

That’s an increase over the 442 claims by potential victims reported by the office in May, 281 of which had then been forwarded to the Commission for further consideration.

Some 7500 men and women were involuntarily sterilized from 1929 to 1974 under the guise of state law.

By the state’s own numbers nearly 1800 of those victims may still be alive, given that more than 2000 were under the age of 18 at the time of sterilization (as reported by the Winston-Salem Journal in its comprehensive series “Against Their Will”).

By early 2013, though, the state had only been able to verify 176 as still living.

Victims have until June 30, 2014 to file a claim form (found here) for recovery from the fund.

To read more about the Eugenics Board sterilization program and the state’ efforts to compensate victims, click here.

In a victory for local rule, Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, Jr. yesterday struck down a 2013 law transferring control of the Asheville water system to a newly-created regional entity as unconstitutional.

As reported by the Asheville Citizen-Times:

Manning said the law violates the state constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law because it “transfers the water system to another entity without any rational basis for doing so.”

The act would not change the use of the assets of the system, “will not result in any higher quality of water” and would give the system to “an entity that has never owned or operated a public water supply and delivery system,” Manning wrote.

The law would result in an “unlawful taking” of assets that the city runs similarly to a private corporation and that are entitled to similar protections, Manning wrote.

The state cannot require such a transfer of a private company’s assets and the water law “is not a valid exercise of the sovereign power of the legislative branch of government (or the state of North Carolina) to take or condemn property for public use.”

Even if the law were to be found valid, Asheville “is entitled to be paid just compensation” for the system, Manning wrote.

An appeal of Manning’s ruling is likely.

For more on the case, read here .

 

Check out this new report by Pro Publica on what’s happened to voting rights across the country since the U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder.

It’s the visual that gets you. Two maps, showing the movement of voting laws across the country from less restrictive to more (from light yellow to red), reveal how quickly lawmakers reacted to the court’s ruling and passed restrictive voting measures.

Here’s the country, pre-Shelby County:

before-shelby2

And here’s the country post-Shelby County:

AfterShelby

 

North Carolina’s change has been most striking, moving clear across the spectrum.

“What North Carolina did was definitely at the extreme of practices in this country,” Yale University law professor Heather Gerken said in the report. “So if anything is vulnerable to a suit, it’s likely to be the North Carolina law. 

(Image: U.S. Patent & Trademark Office)

Patent trolls are on the House calendar today as lawmakers consider a new law designed to protect North Carolina companies from abusive patent litigation.

The wrong sought to be righted by the “Abusive Patent Assertions Act” is the perceived shakedown of legitimate business by so-called “patent assertion entities” — “patent trolls,”  in the vernacular.

Defense attorneys will tell you that these companies typically do little or no patent development of their own.  Instead they buy patents from smaller inventors and then hunt down alleged infringers and extort settlements by threatening lengthy and costly litigation in the federal courts.

Because federal law largely governs patent litigation, the bill seeks only to arm state companies with the ability to collect their attorneys fees in any case in which they successfully defend against claims by trolls and establish that those claims were asserted in bad faith. It also authorizes the Attorney General to take enforcement action  and provides for a recovery of treble damages.

North Carolina is not necessarily a hot bed of patent litigation (see graphic below), and state companies have a greater likelihood of defending patent claims in federal courts elsewhere, notably in either the Eastern District in Texas or in Delaware. In those cases, the law on attorneys fees in the jurisdiction where the case is pending will govern, so if passed the North Carolina bill might not be of much use in those pending cases.

But what the Act does — modeling a law passed in Vermont in 2013 which is now also being considered in at least 13 other states — is allow the companies to file a separate action here to collect fees paid in the action filed elsewhere as well as other damages.

Following the lead of state lawmakers,  Vermont’s Attorney General is also setting the pace for law enforcement involvement iin the patent abuse area,  filing a novel lawsuit under state consumer protection law.

As summarized in a report by the National Association of Attorneys General:

This type of conduct led Vermont, in May, to file suit under state consumer protection law against an alleged patent troll. The lawsuit, Vermont v. MPHJ Technology, Inc., is the first effort by an attorney general to use state consumer protection law to stop a patent troll. The defendant in the case sent letters to scores of small businesses in Vermont (and hundreds more nationwide) claiming to have a patent on a process for scanning a document and attaching it to an email via a network. The recipients, some of which were non-profits, were asked to provide extensive paperwork to prove that they were not infringing the patents, and if they could not do so, were asked to purchase “licenses” costing approximately $1,000 per employee.

Vermont’s complaint in MPHJ alleges that the letters contained false and misleading statements about, among other things, the asserted value of the license and the response the sender had received from the business community. Vermont also alleges that the letters’ threats of imminent litigation were false. The case was filed in state court, but the defendant removed it to federal court. The defendant has also moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Vermont’s motion to remand as well as the defendant’s motion to dismiss, are both pending in federal court. Stay tuned.

So far the AG is holding his own in that case.


SmokestacksHere’s the problem with hurrying bills, especially poorly drafted ones, through passage into law — something we’re witnessing right now with major legislation being pushed at breakneck speed with little consideration and debate.

Sometimes that one word, sentence or paragraph inserted into an existing statutory framework for the benefit of a lawmaker’s constituent, client or favored industry has widespread and unintended consequences.

Exhibit A: the section of the Regulatory Reform Act, Senate Bill 734, dealing with who can contest air quality permit decisions and what proof is required.

Prior law allowed permit applicants and third parties to contest an administrative decision granting or denying an air quality permit.

As amended, citizens and other third parties would still be able to contest such a decision but would have to meet a newly defined standard of  “substantial prejudice” to proceed.

As stated in the bill, “‘substantial prejudice’ to the petitioner in a contested case filed under this subsection means the exceedance of a national ambient air quality standard.”

In other words, the only way citizens can contest the issuance of an air quality permit is to show that the company receiving the permit will be emitting pollutants exceeding the national standard.

That language actually mirrors an argument made by Carolinas Cement Company in a case pending before the Environmental Management Commission, North Carolina Coastal Federation v. N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

In a brief submitted in February 2014 the company argued that the federation and other groups could not challenge the issuance of  an air quality permit because they could not show “substantial prejudice,” which the company itself defined as emissions exceeding national standards.

“The undisputed evidence in this case is that the air emissions from this facility will not result in an exceedance of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards or the State Acceptable Ambient Levels,” the company wrote.

That argument has now morphed into a statutory definition of prejudice needed to contest an air quality permit under the proposed Regulatory Reform Act.

Here’s the problem.

According to the Southern Environmental Law Center, there are no national ambient air quality (NAAQS) for toxic mercury and other pollutants including arsenic, benzene, radioactive materials, carcinogens, asbestos, dioxins, chloroform and most of the nearly 180 pollutants listed as Hazardous Air Pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

That leaves citizens wishing to challenge mercury emissions, for example, or a host of other pollutants without recourse.

Is that the intent of the amendment?