Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sushi Law, and What It Teaches Us

Over the weekend, the news media reported on a sushi-related discrimination lawsuit currently working its way through the Los Angeles County trial court system. David Martin visited a southern California sushi house and ordered its all-you-can-eat buffet for $28. But when restaurateur Jay Oh noticed leftover nuggets of rice on Martin’s plate, he argued that Martin should be charged the higher price for sashimi (raw fish without rice) than for nigiri (raw fish served atop a hand-packed wad of vinegared rice). Since sashimi is traditionally priced higher than nigiri, the restaurant’s policy for the sushi buffet requires diners to clean their plates completely in order to receive the next round of food. Martin responded with a lawsuit, alleging that A Ca-Shi Restaurant’s requirement that patrons consume the sushi rice along with the fish in order to qualify for the all-you-can-eat price constituted discrimination against diabetics like him.

Though several news sources picked up this story (including the ABA Journal), virtually all quoted their sources as an L.A. Times op-ed rather than the lawsuit filing itself. While it’s common for the popular media to omit key details like case names, docket numbers, and sometimes even the court where suit was filed, this can be a frustrating situation for legal eagles who want to use their research skills to track down and read the original documents. If you’re curious to see Martin’s complaint, or obtain other information about the case, where do you go from here?

In times like this, our Court Records & Briefs research guide can help you get started. The “Specific Document Types” section points to sources for tracking down lawsuit information in both federal and state courts. You’ll need to pinpoint the correct jurisdiction based on information provided in the article, which can be tricky at the state level if you’re unfamiliar with the county boundaries in that state. Fortunately, the news articles in this case specifically named the Los Angeles County Court, saving you a painstaking step of searching county boundary maps online.

Using the tips in the research guide, you’ll discover that California trial-level civil court filings are available to the Law School community through LexisNexis ( Legal > States Legal - U.S. > California > Search Court Records, Briefs and Filings > Find Filings > Civil & Criminal Court Filings and Regulatory Actions > Civil & Criminal Filings - Selected States > California > CA Superior Court Civil Case Index - Los Angeles County) and Westlaw (CA-FILINGS database). Unfortunately, the Martin documents do not appear in any search result. The Lexis and Westlaw court filing databases often have gaps in coverage (for state-level databases, entire counties may be missing; for county-level databases, the update schedule might be irregular); you should always check the “Information” button (an icon containing the letter “i” next to the database name) to determine the contents of a particular database.

If Lexis and/or Westlaw can’t help you, your next stop should be the website of the court itself, to look for online document search systems or the court clerk’s office contact information. Los Angeles County Court offers an online service to search party names across its civil courts; unfortunately, it is fee-based and requires registration. Some detective work in the free online Civil Calendar, based on the information provided by the news articles, does provide the docket number in the case, and also tells us that a hearing in the case of Martin v. A Ca-Shi Sushi, No. 10E06168, is scheduled for the Los Angeles County Van Nuys East courthouse on Friday, February 25 at 1:30 p.m. Pacific time. (Interestingly, the calendar data also tells us that this case was filed nearly a year ago, on May 20, 2010 – though it didn’t seem to make a splash in the news until the L.A. Times picked up the story last Thursday.)

While you still don’t have Martin’s complaint in hand, you now have enough information to obtain it from the court clerk for a modest fee. The Court Records & Briefs research guide can help you track down documents from any newsworthy case you may be interested in reading. If you need assistance with navigating the various options for obtaining court filings, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

FYI on TOAs and TOCs

Some things never change. In spring 2009, the Goodson Blogson came to the rescue of frustrated Duke Law 1Ls with a post about formatting tables of contents and tables of authorities, just in time to turn in their LARW appellate briefs. And while those lucky students are now set to graduate in May (hopefully expert in the art of table-generation), the same questions have recurred every subsequent spring with each new crop of 1Ls. Since new versions of popular word-processing programs have debuted since our last post (some dramatically changing the instructions for generating these tables), it's high time for an update.

Tables of contents and tables of authorities were most likely not required in undergraduate writing projects, so they can be entirely new ground for many first-year law students. Don’t fall into the trap of creating these tables from scratch— most word-processing programs can generate them automatically. Since instructions will vary depending on what product you are using (and in some cases, what version of the product), here are updated "how-to" links from some of the most popular word-processing programs: Microsoft Word (both PC and Mac versions), OpenOffice, and WordPerfect.

ProgramTable of ContentsTable of Authorities
Word 2011
(for Mac)
Word 2010TOCTOA
Word 2007TOCTOA
Word 2003TOCTOA
OpenOfficeTOCTOA (unofficial user tip)

Do you have a favorite formatting tip for new legal writers? Or do you use a word-processing program that we didn’t cover? Let us know in the comments section.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Time for Taxes? Not Just Yet...

If you’re like most people, you probably have your W-2s and other financial paperwork in a stack at home, but that’s as far as you’ve gotten on your income tax preparation. In fact, the Internal Revenue Service has even requested that some people not file their 2010 returns until mid-February, so its processors have time to prepare for changes made by 2010’s tax law overhaul. It looks like 2011 will be an especially good year for tax procrastinators: the little-known Washington, D.C. holiday of Emancipation Day (CNN story) will be observed on the usual tax deadline of April 15, pushing back the dreaded day an extra weekend to Monday, April 18 instead.

However, most taxpayers can file 2010 returns as soon as they are ready, and just need to find the time and energy to tackle their taxes. Although the Goodson Law Library staff is not able to answer substantive tax-related questions (such as “what forms do I need to file?” or help with interpreting the form instructions), the Goodson Blogson is happy to point you to some starting places.

Before you pay for a professional tax preparation service, consider whether you qualify for the IRS FreeFile program. This service links qualifying taxpayers to free electronic federal tax preparation service (state tax preparation may also be available in some cases). Note that your adjusted gross income must be $58,000 or less in order to take advantage of the FreeFile program.

You might also qualify for assistance from VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance), a program in which trained volunteers assist with preparation for low- to moderate-income taxpayers, as well as senior citizens. Duke Law’s VITA chapter has posted their schedule for spring 2011; please note that advance appointments are required at some sites. For readers outside the Durham area, the IRS maintains a list of VITA sites around the country.

If you don’t qualify for free assistance, or would prefer to tackle your own taxes, you might consider trying a software program or online filing service like TurboTax or H&R Block at Home. Earlier this month, Consumer Reports provided some helpful tips to help evaluate which option is right for you.

If your taxes turn out to be too complicated, you might need to hire a professional. The IRS has tips for choosing a tax professional as well as instructions for filing complaints against any bad apples out there.

Good luck—and for the perpetual procrastinators, there’s always an automatic extension (but don’t get too excited – it’s an extension to file, not an extension to pay what you are estimated to owe!).

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Food Fight: Area Food Trucks v. City Hall

Duke Law and food trucks go together like radishes on a taco (and if that simile is puzzling, you’ve never had a real taco). After all, the Law School’s Epicurean Society founded Carpe Durham, the local food blog which frequently reviews new trucks and recently released a beta map tracking current truck locations via Twitter. In 2009, two students enrolled in Entertainment Law used our Student Media Workshop to assist in the preparation of their class project: a short film called Tacomentary: The Durham Taco Story, which featured interviews with local truck vendors. And though they’ve mostly shifted to late-night hours parking on West Campus, the OnlyBurger truck used to be a common lunchtime choice for Law School students and staff.

So it’s no surprise that the Goodson Blogson was interested to read yesterday’s Bull City Rising article, discussing current food truck legal controversies in the Triangle. Food truck vendors are subject to a dizzying number of local ordinances, administrative regulations, and permit restrictions, many of which were written before the recent spike in truck popularity (in just the last few years, our local options for “truck fare” have expanded from tacos and ice cream to burgers, hot dogs, pizza, Indian food, Korean BBQ, crepes, cupcakes, and even sausage). Staying on the right side of local laws can be so difficult that even JD holders might have trouble, as one law school grad who operates a Philadelphia cupcake truck learned last year.

Many local vendors are requesting that government officials review and revise their current rules to create a more level playing field for food trucks. As the article notes, Durham is considered to have more permissive food truck regulations than elsewhere in the Triangle (the Independent Weekly reported last November on the legal battles faced in Raleigh by the operator of a pizza truck). But even within Durham, food truck operators can easily run afoul of regulations, like when a local hot dog truck owner was informed of a clash between his temporary-use permit and his planned parking space.

So what’s a friendly neighborhood food vendor (or food truck aficionado) to do? The Goodson Blogson covered researching local ordinances last June, and many of the tips there will turn up zoning ordinances and possibly permit information which are relevant to mobile food businesses. Just like brick & mortar restaurants, food trucks are subject to health inspections by county health departments; Durham County provides a link to an online search form (you can limit "type" to "3 - Mobile Food" to review all food truck inspections); other county departments can be accessed on this statewide list). The local news sources which are cited in the June 2010 blog post are also a great source to track current developments on City Councils, as the vendors’ appeals are considered and ordinances are revised. If you’re interested to learn more about sources for local ordinances and local news, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

When Law Meets Medicine

Encouraging news continues to be published about U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, the intended target of the January 8 assassination attempt at a Safeway supermarket in Tuscon, Arizona. Giffords was critically injured in the attack, along with thirteen bystanders. Six other victims were killed, including U.S. District Court Judge John Roll (FJC biography) and nine-year-old Christina Green, who had come to the Representative’s “Congress on Your Corner” event to learn more about the political process. (Read NY Times profiles of the victims here). The alleged shooter, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, faces several federal charges related to the attempted murder of Rep. Giffords and the murders of a Giffords staffer and Judge Roll (read the federal filing); state charges are in the works for the deaths and injuries of the other victims.

Amazingly, Rep. Giffords survived the shooting, despite receiving a gunshot wound to the head at point-blank range. Barely a week after the attack, one of her neurosurgeons expressed “100 percent” certainty that the Congresswoman will recover, an astonishing confidence given the nature of her injuries. Her condition was recently upgraded to “good,” and she was transferred to a rehabilitation center in Houston last week to begin several weeks of physical therapy.

Thanks to the frequent news conferences and articles about the Representative’s progress, many have learned a great deal about neurosurgery and brain injuries over the last few weeks. The Giffords case is a reminder that while most legal researchers don’t typically have formal training in medicine, they sometimes have a need to learn more about diagnoses, injuries, and medical terminology. A number of resources are available to help legal researchers understand complex medical issues.

The Goodson Law Library’s reference collection includes a few medical texts, like Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, the DSM-IV-TR (the current handbook of psychiatric disorders), and the Physicians’ Desk Reference (PDR) (a handbook of prescription drug labeling information, including details about side effects). Duke researchers also have access to a number of books, e-books, and journals through the Medical Center Library, whose “Resources by Topic” page includes subject guides which should probably be consulted early in the research process.

However, Law School researchers have access to a few other sources, which are intended specifically for use by legal professionals. LexisNexis offers The Attorney’s Dictionary of Medicine, a dictionary for lawyers which defines nearly 60,000 medical terms. This title and other basic medical texts (like the DSM-IV and the PDR) can be found under the Legal tab by following the path: Reference > Medical. Another major medical work for attorneys, Lawyers’ Medical Cyclopedia, can be found under the path: Area of Law - By Topic > Health Care > Find Health Care Analytical Sources > Matthew Bender(R). This sprawling multi-volume set is searchable and browseable, and includes practical guidance by doctors on basic anatomy (with detailed charts), specific types of injuries and diseases, and topics like “Medicolegal Aspects of Sports” (chapter 9) or “Trial of a Personal Injury Case” (chapter 13).

Westlaw also contains a number of medical reference works, which can be found in the Directory under the path: Directories, Reference > Medical References. Titles include Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, the PDR, numerous physician and expert witness directories, and Attorneys Medical Deskbook 4th (MEDDESK), a handy reference for attorneys with thoughtful advice on topics like calculating damages, understanding certain injuries or diseases, and reading an autopsy report. Author Dan J. Tennenhouse holds a JD and an MD, which allows him to “bridge the gap” between legal research and medical knowledge.

For help finding more sources at the intersection of medicine and law, be sure to Ask a Librarian.