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Faculty Impact: four Widener Law Commonwealth faculty members recently cited by courts

Since March 2019 five courts, including the highest courts of Iowa, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, have cited the work of four Widener Law Commonwealth faculty members: Professors James Diehm, Michael Dimino, Juliet Moringiello, and Christopher Robinette. Two opinions addressed criminal procedure issues, one addressed tort damages, and two dealt with electronic contract formation issues.

In State v. Christensen, 2019 Iowa Sup. LEXIS 74 (June 7, 2019) the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed the denial of a motion for a new trial filed by a defendant convicted of murder. One of the grounds for the motion was the trial court’s failure to disqualify a juror who allegedly made out of court statements regarding the defendant’s guilt. In evaluating whether reversible jury misconduct was present in the case, the court relied on Professor Diehm’s article, Impeachment of Jury Verdicts: Tanner v. United States and Beyond, 65 St. John’s Law Review 389 (1991).

The Utah Court of Appeals, in State v. Smith, 2019 UT App. 75 (May 2, 2019), addressed the Fourth Amendment's community caretaking doctrine, which recognizes that sometimes police take actions, such as welfare checks, that are unrelated to a criminal investigation. In State v. Smith, the court applied the community-caretaking doctrine in upholding a police seizure of a motorist who had fallen asleep in his vehicle while the vehicle was parked (but running) in a McDonald's parking lot. The dissenting opinion relied on Professor Dimino’s article, Police Paternalism: Community Caretaking, Assistance Searches, and Fourth Amendment Reasonableness, 66 Washington & Lee Law Review 1485 (2009) in recognizing that while it is desirable for the police to check on the safety of individuals, such checks should not be used as as a ruse to evade the Fourth Amendment's requirement that police obtain search warrants based on probable cause before engaging in searches or seizures.

In Scotti v. Tough Mudder Inc., 2019 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1525 (March 29, 2019) the Supreme Court of New York, Kings County, determined that two participants who had been injured in a Tough Mudder competition were not bound by the arbitration clause in the online Tough Mudder Participant Waiver and Course Rules. In holding that the arbitration clause was unenforceable against the plaintiffs because they did not have adequate notice of the clause, the court relied on Professor Moringiello’s article, From Lord Coke to Internet Privacy: The Past, Present, and Future of Electronic Contracting, 72 Maryland Law Review 452 (2013) (co-authored with William L. Reynolds). On June 3, 2019, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia cited the same article in Employee Resource Group LLC v. Collins, 2019 W. Va. LEXIS 262.

On April 23, 2019, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held in Beason v. I.E. Miller Services, 2019 OK 28, that a $350,000 cap on non-economic damages in most tort cases was unconstitutional. The dissent relied on Professor Robinette’s article, The Role of Compensation in Personal Injury Tort Law: A Response to the Opposite Concerns of Gary Schwartz and Patrick Atiyah, 32 Connecticut Law Review 137 (1999) (co-authored with Jeffrey O’Connell) in which he described the merits of an early offer tort reform that would arguably compensate plaintiffs more swiftly and with fewer transaction costs.  The court cited the article for the proposition that, in general, legislatures have control over state tort law and how injury victims are compensated.