Category: Cases

On June 19, 2017, the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s prohibition against disparaging trademarks “violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.” The case, Matal v. Tam, 582 U.S. _____ (2017), arises out of a federal lawsuit filed by Simon Tam, front man of the Asian-American rock band styled “The Slants.” Tam filed his suit after the USPTO denied his application for federal registration of the trademark “THE SLANTS” because it violated the Lanham Act’s disparagement clause (15 U.S.C. §1052(a)). Tam chose the name in order to “reclaim” the term and drain its denigrating force as a derogatory term for Asians. Continue Reading
In Gabriel v. Island Pacific Academy, Inc., the Hawai‘i Supreme Court recently refused to enforce an arbitration clause in an employment agreement, where the chosen arbitrator’s standard operating procedures would have required the employee to pay half the arbitration costs up front in order to arbitrate any dispute. Continue Reading
The Hawai`i Supreme Court recently held that laches is a defense to any civil action, legal or equitable, and can bar a legal claim for damages, even if brought within the applicable statute of limitations period.[1]  This was the unhappy position in which the Royal Aloha condominium association found itself.  See Ass’n of Apt. Owners of Royal Aloha v. Certified Mgmt., 139 Haw. 229, 386 P.3d 866 (Dec. 2016). In order to allocate electricity costs, Royal Aloha installed sub-meters to monitor and bill unit owners based on individual usage.  Between 1998 and 2010, Royal Aloha (through its managing agents) under-billed certain commercial unit owners.  In 2012, after realizing the error, Royal Aloha sued its managing agents and the commercial tenants for recovery of hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Even though the under-billing continued to occur less than 6 years prior to Royal Aloha’s suit (the applicable limitations period), the Circuit Court ruled against Royal Aloha on all claims based on the doctrine of laches, which was affirmed by the Hawai`i Supreme Court. Continue Reading
By Scott Prange[i] President Trump is on an ostensible quest to “Make America Great Again!” And, as President Trump’s chief strategist declared recently, part of the strategy to do so is to “deconstruct the administrative state” to free our nation’s businesses from “burdensome regulations.” President Trump’s hackneyed slogan might as well be “Make American Workplaces Great Again!” As President Trump proclaimed when he nominated the new Secretary of the Department of Labor, we will “save businesses from the crushing burdens of unnecessary regulations that are stunting job growth and suppressing wages.” So, what has President Trump accomplished so far, and what can be expected going forward? Here is what Hawai‘i employers need to know for strategic compliance. Continue Reading
The seemingly endless pages of the Affordable Care Act contain a short but potent section in which Congress expressed a novel commitment to nondiscrimination in the provision of healthcare. Its scope has been left largely untested, until recently. Section 1557, codified at 42 U.S.C. 18116 and entitled “Nondiscrimination,” is… Continue Reading
Last Friday, the United States Supreme Court, in Obergefell v. Hodges, affirmed that the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution requires states to apply their marriage laws equally to all couples, regardless if they are opposite-sex or same-sex. Writing for the Majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy stated, “Under the Constitution, same-sex… Continue Reading
U.S. District Court eases evidentiary burden to establish federal contractor failure-to-warn defense By Michelle Comeau and Morgan Early A recent decision involving asbestos in Navy equipment at Pearl Harbor has arguably lowered the bar for what constitutes a government discretionary act for purposes of the government contractor defense in failure-to-warn cases.  If affirmed on appeal, this decision will open the doors to federal court a little wider for would-be proponents of the defense. In Leite v. Crane Company, 868 F.Supp.2d 1023 (D. Haw. 2012), a machinist who worked at Pearl Harbor sued several suppliers of Navy equipment for negligence and strict liability for their failure to warn of the dangers of asbestos. Plaintiffs filed the suit in state court, and Defendant contractors immediately removed the case to federal court, where they sought to establish a "colorable federal defense." Continue Reading
Marisco, Ltd. v. American Samoa Government:  American Samoa bank account deemed within the jurisdiction of U.S. courts By Melissa M. Uhl In 2012, Bank of Hawaii found itself caught in a legal tug of war between the federal district court in Hawai`i and a court in American Samoa.  The issue?  Whether a Hawai`i court can order a Hawai`i bank to freeze an account in the bank’s American Samoa branch. Between July 2008 and March 2010, Marisco repaired two barges and one tugboat belonging to the American Samoa Government ("ASG"), but never got paid.  Marisco sued the ASG in the United States District Court for the District of Hawai`i.  The parties entered into binding arbitration, resulting in an $811,631.87 (plus post-judgment interest) award to Marisco. Continue Reading
At the August meeting of the HSBA Appellate Section, Paul Alston discussed some of the interesting cases – remember, we're talking appellate lawyers here – that the U.S. Supreme Court will take up in its October 2012 term.  One is Arkansas Game & Fish Commission v. United States – a takings case that promises to explore governmental decision-making at the muddy intersection of land and water.  In that respect at least, Appellate Section members learned that Hawai`i and Arkansas may have more in common than they thought. Continue Reading
by Mana Moriarty, Stewart Yerton[1] and Louise K. Y. Ing As a summer law clerk in a private Honolulu firm in the 1970's, Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing's president and managing director Paul Alston came to realize "it is the private bar that can provide the talent and resources to achieve legal equality" and that more law firms needed to commit to serving all segments of the Hawai`i community.  Consequently, a cornerstone of AHFI's litigation practice has been partnering with legal service organizations so that more high-profile, high-cost public interest cases could have their day in court.  On more than one occasion, important public interest cases have come to AHFI  from the American Civil Liberties Union or legal services organizations wanting to supplement their legal firepower. Such was the case in spring 2010, when a girls' softball team and their coach experienced discrimination.  While the boys' baseball team played in a pristine stadium complemented by two separate batting cages, pitching machines, and an inning-by-inning scoreboard, the girls were relegated to a rock-strewn field without such critical equipment.  The coach and team approached the ACLU for help, and the ACLU turned to AHFI. Continue Reading