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Federal judge dismisses Katrina fraud claim
Topics | 2008/04/22 15:01
A federal judge on Monday dismissed claims of fraud against State Farm Insurance by a Mississippi couple who claimed that the company denied their insurance claim for damage from Hurricane Katrina based on bad faith and fraud. US District Judge L.T. Senter, Jr. rejected the claim, writing:

Plaintiffs allege that State Farm committed actionable fraud in the handling of the plaintiffs' claim. Plaintiffs primarily rely on their contention that State Farm ordered two engineering reports from Forensic in an effort to dishonestly minimize its liability to the plaintiffs rather than for any legitimate reason. ...

Plaintiffs contend that State Farm, acting through Renfroe and Forensic, deliberately underestimated the amount of wind damage the insured property sustained in order to minimize its liability under the plaintiffs' homeowners policy. While this allegation, if sustained, would support a finding of bad faith, it is not sufficient to support an allegation of fraud. Fraud requires reasonable reliance on a misrepresentation, and the plaintiffs have not relied upon State Farm's evaluation of their claim. Indeed plaintiffs have brought this lawsuit in an effort to establish that State Farm has underestimated the wind damage to the insured property. Although plaintiffs may prevail on the merits of their claims for additional policy benefits and other extracontractual damages, including punitive damages if they establish bad faith on the part of State Farm or its agents, in the absence of any evidence that the plaintiffs relied upon State Farm's damage assessment I can see no basis for a claim of fraud.

Thomas and Pamela McIntosh filed the lawsuit against State Farm after the company refused to pay for most of the damage to their home, which State Farm concluded was caused mostly by flood damage from the storm surge.

State Farm used E.A. Renfroe & Co. to inspect the McIntosh's home, and the couple also alleged that Renfroe aided and abetted State Farm's fraudulent misconduct and that the company breached its duty of loyalty to the plaintiffs. Senter dismissed the aiding and abetting claim as he concluded there was no underlying fraud, and also dismissed the breach of duty claim.


Paper Wins Dismissal Of Libel Suit
Court Issues | 2008/04/21 14:35
     A circuit judge has dismissed with prejudice a defamation lawsuit against the Madison County Record. Amiel Cueto, whose brother, Lloyd Cueto, was running for judge in St. Clair County, claimed the Record defamed Amiel by reporting that Amiel was a power broker who controlled judges in the county.

    G. Michael Prall, of the 11th Circuit in Bloomington, was assigned the case after the Illinois Supreme Court granted the Record's request that the case be removed from the 20th circuit, where it was filed.

    Amiel Cueto, who served six years in prison for obstruction of justice, claimed the Record defamed him by calling him a power broker and stating that he owned 15 of 17 St. Clair County judges in the mid-1990s.

    The Record sought dismissal, based on the alleged truth of the statements.
    Judge Prall stated in his 5-page decision that while the article did not use the words power broker as a flattering term, it did not suggest criminal activity.

    As to Cueto's controlling St. Clair judges in the 1990s, Prall wrote, "There is no question that witnesses made statements in official court proceedings to the effect that the plaintiff controlled judges in the mid 1990s. Plaintiff's contention that these statements were untrue would not affect the right of the defendant to report these statements."


Judge blocks Philadelphia from enforcing new gun laws
Press Release | 2008/04/18 14:51

A judge on Thursday temporarily blocked the city from enforcing five gun-control ordinances pending a challenge from the National Rifle Association.

The NRA argues that state law prevents Pennsylvania municipalities from regulating guns, a view that even the city's crime-weary district attorney shares.

"The city has no basis to pass any of these gun-control ordinances and they know it," lawyer C. Scott Shields argued on the NRA's behalf.

City lawyers contend that Philadelphia can pass gun-control ordinances if the laws are outside the scope of state measures. As an example, lawyer Mark Zecca told the judge that one Pennsylvania county had banned guns at its courthouse.

Among other things, the five city ordinances passed April 10 ban the sale of assault weapons; require owners to report a lost or stolen gun within 24 hours; and limit firearms purchases to one a month.

They came in response to the city's one-a-day murder rate and its reputation for being a weapons source for criminals in New York and other states with strict gun laws.

The judge scheduled arguments for April 28. She said she would rule very quickly, although her decision is sure to be appealed by the losing side.

Mayor Michael Nutter, who declared a "crime emergency" shortly after taking office in January, quickly signed the City Council bills into law - despite still-pending litigation over earlier gun-control efforts.



Fed. judge declares 2nd mistrial in terror case
Law Firm News | 2008/04/17 15:12

US District Judge Joan A. Lenard Wednesday declared a second mistrial in a terrorism prosecution of six men charged with conspiring to bomb the Sears Tower in Chicago and the FBI headquarters in Miami after the jury was unable to reach a verdict after 13 days of deliberations. In December 2007 Lenard declared an initial mistrial when the jury was deadlocked after nine days of deliberations. A seventh man was acquitted in that proceeding.

The seven were indicted last year on charges of conspiring to provide material support to al Qaeda; conspiring to provide material support, training, and resources to terrorists; conspiring to maliciously damage and destroy by means of an explosive; and conspiring to levy war against the government of the United States. The indictment alleged that ringleader Narseal Batiste recruited the six other defendants to "organize and train for a mission to wage war against the United States government," and that they pledged an oath to al Qaeda in an attempt to secure financial and logistical backing. Lawyers for some of the men said that their clients were entrapped by an FBI informant posing as an al Qaeda operative. If the men had been convicted, they would have faced up to 70 years in prison.



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