President's weekly report — July 11, 2014

July 11, 2014 | By ROB RIVETT

Government Overreach and Overcharging — Fishing for Prison Time

PLF, on behalf of itself and several commercial fishing organizations across the United States, filed this amicus brief at the United States Supreme Court this week in Yates v. United States.  This is the case where a fisherman is said to have destroyed evidence in violation of the financial crimes statute known as Sarbanes-Oxley or “Sarbox.”  You may recall that Sarbanes-Oxley was adopted in the wake of the Enron scandal.  So what, you might be thinking, does fishing for grouper have to do with Enron-style crimes?  It seems that after a federal inspector boarded Yates’s fishing boat the inspector allegedly found some undersized fish.  (Whether they were or were not undersized is not that obvious and may depend on whether you measure them with their mouths opened or closed.)  The inspector ordered Yates to put the fish into a special crate for evidence, to be examined in more detail back on land.  When Yates returned to shore, there were three fish missing.  Now, if Yates had indeed violated the fishing regulations, there could be plenty of reason to penalize him for those violations, which might even include some jail time.  But because he was alleged to have ordered the three missing fish to be tossed overboard, he is now being charged with a violation of Sarbox — for shredding evidence.  He could face 25 years in federal prison for allegedly scuttling the fish.  Now we don’t happen to think the Sarbox net should be cast this wide, nor do we believe that Congress intended to snag such non-financial activities.  Yates might have been fishing for grouper, but he wasn’t banking them in an offshore account.  This sort of “overcharging” by the Feds is simply wrong.  Yates should be charged for the crimes that relate to what he actually might have done, and not for crimes that are completely disproportionate and unrelated to his actual behavior.  For more information, see our blog

Tort Reform — Causation

The Texas Supreme Court issued this excellent decision in Bostic v. Georgia-Pacific.  In a nutshell, the Court ruled that a fleeting exposure to asbestos was not enough to cause liability.  As explained in more detail in our blog, the plaintiff here was exposed to asbestos fibers as a youth when helping his father on weekend drywall projects, allegedly with Georgia-Pacific drywall.  But he was later exposed to much more asbestos when he worked as a young adult in a company where the exposure was constant.  The court held the plaintiff had to prove an exposure to a product must be a “substantial factor” in a later injury. We had filed this amicus brief urging that liability must be based on proof of causation.

Property Rights — Koontz at the Florida Supreme Court

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of our clients in Koontz v. St. John’s Water Management District, it sent the case back to the Florida court.  Once there, the Florida Court of Appeals again ruled in favor of Koontz.  Now St. John’s Water Management District is seeking further review in the Florida Supreme Court.  We filed this brief this week, urging the Court to let the Court of Appeals ruling stand.  We sort of think that 20 years of litigation in this case is enough.