Category Archives: civil rights

X-Men: Days of Future Past and Thoughts on Due Process

This guest post was written by Joe Suhre, of Suhre & Associates, LLC, a firm with offices in Chicago, Illinois, Dayton, Ohio, and Columbus, Ohio. Joe previously wrote guest posts on Defending Loki and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

The Most Important Movie of the Year?

Recently, US-authorized drone strikes killed several American citizens accused of being a threat to the country based on their terrorist affiliations and unapologetic rhetoric opposing US policy.

Oh, wait . . . that was the beginning of X-Men: Days of Future Past.

You probably already know that this article will have multiple spoilers, so if you haven’t yet seen the latest iteration of Marvel’s X-Men, you should go see it soon. Then come back and tell me in the comments whether you believe in my assessment of this film or not.

What’s the Big Deal?

If you have seen Days of Future Past already, did you see what I saw? I will admit it is somewhat hidden, but only because we are trained to ignore it, since it just gets in the way.

I am talking about due process—due process, as in the opposite of capricious verdicts and judgments based on prejudice, fear, and political expediency; as in that little right we inherited from our Founding Fathers, who had experienced the lack of due process first hand and decided the Constitution wasn’t complete until we included it in the Bill of Rights.

You might disagree with me when I say the framers of the Constitution had the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past in mind when they insisted that due process be inviolate, so let’s review the instances in the movie and then see if we face the same issues today.

First Class 

Everything really started at the end of X-Men: First Class when, in a mercurial moment, mutants went from heroes to goats on the beach in Cuba, incurring the wrath of the instantly allied US and Soviet fleets. The Soviets would obviously have no problem firing on a small contingent of Americans, but why did the generals calling the shots in Washington order the execution of US citizens without due process? And why were the American Sailors, so soon after World War II, willing to “just follow orders,” especially after hearing Agent MacTaggert screaming over the com that the situation was contained?

I guess their justification for such an attack was fear; fear based on ignorance and concern for safety. Which, by the way, is the same tactic currently exercised by law enforcement across the country. In fact, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, police kill 400 – 500 innocent people each year out of fear for their own safety, significantly more than the 33 officers killed by firearms each year in the line of duty.

A 2012 example of irrational fear in Cleveland, not unlike the attack levied against the mutants on the beach, involved a man and woman whose car backfired. The retaliation by police to the possible gunfire from the car resulted in a force of 60 police cars pursuing the now frightened couple and ended with 115 officers firing 140 bullets into the car in less than 30 seconds. The unarmed couple was pronounced dead on the scene.

Kennedy Assassination

Speaking of no due process, although the details were sketchy on how the US government accused Magneto of complicity in the JFK assassination, it is clear that government suspicion that Magneto manipulated the “magic bullet” was justification for his incarceration.

Of course, in 1963 Erik Lehnsherr’s incarceration was illegal, but now after several rounds in congress and many court challenges, the President on December 26, 2013 signed into law that the government can arrest anyone on suspicion only and detain them indefinitely without trial. Welcome to Magneto’s world.

Not that I subscribe to the rhetoric of Magneto, but you have to admit that being thrown in solitary without due process, tends to sap any loyalty one might have for King and country; whether you are a German Jew or a US Citizen of the wrong color, species, or ideology.

Vigilante Justice

One element of vigilante justice that makes it not only illegal but immoral as well is that the vigilante, lynch mob, or angry villagers with torches and pitch forks don’t feel bound by due process. Their aim is to dispense justice, quickly—right or wrong. What drives the vigilante is fear that justice won’t happen without them taking over.

Vigilante justice in Detroit occurred in April of this year when a man hit a 10-year old boy with his truck. The driver stopped to help but was immediately beaten into a coma in retaliation even though surveillance cameras would later show the boy ran in front of the oncoming truck leaving no time to stop. Concern for due process would have allowed the mob to see that the man was not at fault after a thorough investigation.

But in another universe, maybe the boy was a mutant, and his fellow mutants felt that there would be no justice unless they acted on their own. Thus was the mindset of Mystique as she set about finding and executing Trask. It all seemed clear what she had to do since nobody else was willing to stop Trask from continuing with his plans against mutants. Due process wasn’t on her mind, and as it usually does, her vigilante justice backfired.

Due Process and Personhood

Without getting into a history lesson on civil rights in America, one doctrine that kept slaves and minority races under the boot of the majority was the belief that they didn’t fully qualify as human. The majority claimed belief in rule of law, due process, and justice, yet denied an equal share of this philosophy to those deemed as “less human.” This belief also fueled the Holocaust in Germany, where enslavement and execution of “untermenschen” or “subhumans” was ok, to the tune of eleven million dead.

Trask was quick to play on this flaw in humanity when he was able to convince the powers that were, that mutants, by virtue of their differences also didn’t deserve consideration as humans and should be targeted as enemies. His deep seated prejudice was made plain when, suspecting a Vietnamese general to be a mutant, he said to others in the room driven to panic, “Don’t shoot it.”

Denying Due Process 

I dare say, in a classroom most students would see the injustice and immorality of denying human rights to any individual based on race. Maybe racist attitudes are fading away in our culture. Let’s hope so. But my discussion has not been about the obvious ethnic lessons of X-Men: Days of Future Past. I have been talking about due process and why we should be aware of its importance.

To whom are we willing to deny due process today? Do you think we should afford all people the right of presumed innocence? Or are some crimes so heinous that it is hard to restrain us from rushing to judgment and bypassing due process? Unfortunately, I have seen instances where many people feel that for some crimes due process isn’t important and should be suspended. Let me toss around a few words. Let’s see what your emotional response is to arresting:

  • Drunk drivers;
  • Terrorists;
  • Child molesters;
  • Rapists;
  • Drug dealers

A police officer arrests and handcuffs a man.

You have the right to . . . oh never mind, just get in the car @$&hole.

The question is, are we willing to trust our system of justice when it comes to these types of crimes? Or do we treat these individuals as “mutants . . .” to be feared and condemned as guilty before they are even tried? In the case of a drunk driving arrest, you are presumed guilty. Your license is suspended and you are given a notice of suspension. Police officers in these cases are judge, jury, and executioner. It is a very efficient system.

However, putting justice in the hands of the people can be slow. It was a risky move by the founding fathers. Many feel that people show too much mercy and not enough justice. They fight for mandatory sentences, new laws, and regulations that take authority away from the judge and jury. They allow exceptions to every right we have in an attempt to control our “unruly” system.

I like what Charles Xavier said to Raven at the end of X-Men, “I have been trying to control you since the day we met and look where that’s got us . . . I have faith in you Raven.” Perhaps we should have faith in each other as well.

Due process isn’t perfect, but it is fair. It is foundational to our freedom. In light of the alternative, it is a pretty big deal. Is it significant enough to suggest that X-Men: Days of Future Past is the most important movie of the year?

Ask me again in ten years.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

This guest post was written by Joe Suhre, of Suhre & Associates, LLC, a firm with offices in Chicago, Illinois, Dayton, Ohio, and Columbus, Ohio. Joe previously wrote a post on Defending Loki.

Introduction by James Daily: This post contains significant spoilers for Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  It’s a very good movie, and if you haven’t seen it you should definitely check it out!

Continue reading

Mutant Discrimination: GINA, Genetics and How Professor Xavier is Breaking the Law

This guest column was contributed by Dan Vorhaus, an attorney at Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson, P.A. and Editor of the Genomics Law Report.

Previous posts here at Law and the Multiverse have discussed the status of mutants under several of our nation’s anti-discrimination laws, including the applicability of constitutional protections afforded by the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the 14th amendment and statutory protections afforded by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

There remains, however, one key piece of important anti-discrimination legislation that has yet to be considered in evaluating the legal protections afforded mutants under the law: the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, or GINA.

I. GINA and Mutant Genetics: A Primer.

GINA represents a historic achievement. Enacted in 2008 after 13 years of debate, many have called it the “first civil rights bill of the 21st century.” Five years later it remains the first and only piece of federal legislation to specifically address the use and effects of genetic information.

Broadly speaking, GINA is divided into two parts. Title I of GINA prohibits health insurers from using genetic information to deny coverage or to set premiums or payment rates. Title II prohibits employers from requesting genetic information or using genetic information in hiring, firing and other employment-related decisions.

GINA’s unique focus on genetic information makes the law of particular relevance to mutants. “Mutants,” as we now know thanks to decades of research by devoted and largely off-panel comic book scientists, are individuals who possess at least one mutated copy of the so-called “X-Gene.” The gene appears to promote the development of superhuman powers and abilities, typically post-puberty.

While much remains unknown about the X-Gene’s structure and function, scientists specializing in mutant genetics have isolated its protein product(s) as evidenced by the deployment of mutant suppression drugs in X-Men: The Last Stand (the drug in question is derived from the mutant Leech). From this we can extrapolate that the location of the X-Gene in the Homo sapiens genome is known and, importantly, that mutations within the gene can be identified through genotyping or even targeted sequencing of the X-Gene itself.

With the identification of the X-Gene and the subsequent decline in cost of genomic sequencing technology, there are a number of scenarios in which a genetic test to “diagnose” a mutant at an early stage, particularly before he or she has developed any superhuman (and frequently super-destructive) abilities, might be desirable. But in light of GINA’s passage, are such genetic tests legal?

II. Mutant Discrimination in a Post-GINA World.

We start with a pair of scenarios in which genetic testing for the X-Gene might be of interest.

First, a health insurer could require applicants to submit to testing in an attempt to screen in individuals with beneficial mutations (e.g., those resulting in unique healing abilities) or screen out individuals with X-Gene mutations capable of generating catastrophic levels of claims exposure (e.g., as a result of an at-times-uncontrollable ability to rearrange matter), thereby helping to more accurately project the insurer’s exposure.

Second, an employer might use the X-Gene test to gain valuable insight about a prospective hire. For instance, a research laboratory might use the X-Gene diagnostic test to double-check that the reserved but well-qualified physicist it is considering for an open position won’t demolish the lab – and everyone and everything within it – if an experiment goes awry.

Prior to GINA’s passage, testing in either scenario would have at least been arguably permissible, although various other anti-discrimination laws, including those discussed in previous posts, might have served as the basis for an effective challenge. Post-GINA, however, the analysis is crystal clear: both of the above examples of X-Gene screening are illegal.

The text of the statute itself offers no ambiguity:

  • A health insurer “...shall not request, require, or purchase genetic information for underwriting purposes.” (§ 101)
  • It is unlawful for an employer “to fail or refuse to hire, or to discharge, any employee, or otherwise to discriminate against any employee with respect to the compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment of the employee, because of genetic information with respect to the employee.” (§ 202)

 Although Congress did provide limited exceptions to the general prohibition on requesting and using genetic information in the insurance and employment contexts, none of the exceptions are targeted at mutants, tests specifically designed to test for X-Gene mutations or are otherwise applicable to the scenarios discussed above.

III. Professor Xavier and Pro-Mutant Genetic Discrimination

While GINA may operate to protect mutants from certain forms of genetic discrimination, we should not forget that the statute is crafted broadly and protects against the misuse of any individual’s genetic information. In other words, just as mutants are protected by GINA, so too are they bound by it.

Consider the case of Professor Xavier’s world-renowned school, variously referred to as “Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters” and the “Xavier Institute for Higher Learning.”

While little is known of Xavier’s closely-guarded school, it appears to satisfy the definition of an employer subject to Title II of GINA. (GINA applies to all private employers with 15 or more employees. With roughly a dozen identified faculty members, and likely additional faculty members and administrative and support staff on the payroll, Xavier’s school likely crosses the 15-person threshold.)

Xavier’s school also has an unbroken track record of employing mutants as faculty. While it may seem logical and even desirable to employ mutants in a school dedicated to the education and training of mutants, GINA prohibits the use of genetic information in hiring and other job-related decisions without exception. Even in situations where genetic information might appear to be a legitimate criterion for assessing fitness to perform a particular job, GINA forbids its use by an employer.

Of course, it is highly unlikely that Xavier requires prospective faculty members to submit to a traditional genetic test as a condition of their application and/or hiring. In addition to his well-known psionic powers which allow him to identify mutants using only his mind, many or all of the individuals applying to work at the school have manifest mutant powers. Nevertheless, GINA is clear that genetic information, however acquired, may not be used “in regard to hiring, discharge, compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.” 29 CFR § 1635.4. No matter how he comes by the information, if Xavier is indeed using genetic information in employment-related decisions, this would be a clear violation of GINA.

Since none of Xavier’s existing faculty members are likely to bring a discrimination claim, how might one arise? The most likely scenario: a gifted but non-mutant individual, perhaps one even possessed of other superpowers derived from, for example, an alien genesis or technological enhancements, seeks a position at Xavier’s school as an instructor but is turned away. Such an individual would be well-positioned to bring a successful genetic discrimination claim under GINA against Professor Xavier and his school. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency responsible for enforcing Title II of GINA, provides detailed instructions for filing just such a charge.

As with any new piece of legislation, it will take some time before GINA’s full implications for both mutants and humans become clear. Final regulations for Title II of GINA were published in 2010, but public examples of GINA-in-action remain few and far between, and illustrate the many uncertainties and difficulties of enforcement.  For example, given the EEOC’s difficulty subpoenaing documents from Nestle in a recent enforcement action, one can only imagine the considerable challenges that would await the Commission in attempting to gather the evidence needed to successfully establish a claim of discrimination under GINA.

Nonetheless, the law of GINA is clear, and the coming years may require the Commission and other regulatory bodies to overcome those challenges in order to appropriately enforce GINA both for and against the mutant population. Count on Law and the Multiverse and the Genomics Law Report to continue to keep you apprised of all the latest in GINA, mutants and genetic discrimination law.

Silence & Co.: Money Is Power

Earlier this month, I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy of Silence & Co.: Money Is Power from its author, Gur Benschemesh. This is his first graphic novel, but the artist (Ron Randall) and letterer (John Workman) both have a long list of titles to their name, many with DC and Marvel. Silence is the story of Alexander Maranzano, the illegitimate but acknowledged youngest son of a major New York crime boss. After getting out of the Marines (for reasons which turn out to be important), he starts working as a hit man for the family. It’s a complete work in three acts, it avoids many of the common pitfalls in crime graphic novels, and it’s got one of the most realistic takes on the process of surveillance I’ve seen so far. Silence is scheduled to hit stores this May, but we’re taking an advance look at its handling of legal issues now. Continue reading

Lincoln

Lincoln is the 2012 Steven Spielburg biopic starring Daniel Day-Lewis, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the titular President. The film is excellent, but as always, we’re not really reviewing it on its merits, but on its handling of the legal issues it touches. The movie is a dramatization of the 2006 book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, which centers at least as much on Lincoln’s Cabinet, especially William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates, all of whom were candidates for the Presidency in 1860, all of whom were recruited by Lincoln to serve in his administration. The movie focuses mostly on William H. Seward (David Strathairn, apparently on break from Alphas).

Here, we’re going to look at three particular issues. First, the procedural requirements for the passage of a constitutional amendment. Second, the procedure regarding contested congressional elections. And third, the use of patronage to accomplish Lincoln’s political goals. Continue reading

Manos: The Hands of Fate

No, really. We’re going to talk about Manos: The Hands of Fate, one of the worst movies ever made, with a rare 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. Even the title (“Hands: The Hands of Fate”) is terrible. The movie isn’t just bad, it’s downright incompetent. It might not even be possible to make a movie this bad anymore; two guys with an iPhone would have infinitely better production values.

The immediate reason for talking about this is that the guys from Rifftrax, i.e., the ones responsible for the absolutely classic MST3K episode featuring the movie, just did a live riffing of the movie on August 16, 2012. You should have been there. They’re doing Birdemic in October, just in time for Halloween. The way it works is that the three of them show up live in a theater—this time it was in Nashville—and the show is broadcast live to theaters around the country. It’s an enormously good time.

Anyway, believe it nor not, there is a very, very important legal issue to be discussed here. A legitimate one, one which has been the subject of some of the most significant U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the last fifty years. Remember the two teenagers making out in the convertible that kept getting busted by the movie’s Barney Fife equivalent? They represent a perfect opportunity to discuss loitering and its enforcement. There aren’t any spoilers here to speak of—it’s not like it’s possible to spoil this movie anyway—so here we go. Continue reading

Batman: Dark Victory I: Violations and Remedies

Batman: Dark Victory is the 1999-2000 fourteen-issue limited series which picks up where Batman: The Long Halloween left off, which is in turn a continuation of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One story. It deals with the aftermath of the Holiday murders. Specifically, some of the legal aftermath of the Holiday murders. We’re going to take a look at one of the major legal plot points here—spoilers within, regarding both The Long Halloween and Dark Victory—and one of the tangential issues that comes up in that setting. Specifically, we’re going to look at allegations of the violation of the civil rights of a criminal defendant and potential remedies for such violations.

I. Violations

The new District Attorney, Janice Porter, says that she’s going to reopen the Holiday file. Alberto Falcone, son of the crime lord Carmine Falcone, was arrested, tried, and convicted for the Holiday killings. But during the arrest, Batman severely beats him, to the point that his right hand becomes essentially useless, permanently. Porter suggests that this is a violation of Falcone’s civil rights.

She’s almost certainly correct. The Supreme Court discussed excessive force by police officers in Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989). It held that the determination as to whether an officer’s use of force is “reasonable” is a Fourth Amendment question—not a Fourteenth or Eighth Amendment one, as had been suggested—and that the analysis is objective. First of all, for us even to get to this question, there has to have been some kind of state action. There are two possible routes here. One could argue that Batman was a state actor. He was working very closely with Commissioner Gordon at the time, so this is plausible. One could also argue that Gordon standing by and letting Batman hand out the beating amounts to tacit police approval of Batman’s actions, making that a state action regardless of any prior relationship.

Assuming state action and given the severity of the beating, saying that Falcone’s civil rights have been violated seems patently obvious. But what happens next is… not.

II. Remedies

So Falcone’s civil rights have been violated. In real life, most of the time what happens in these cases is that the criminal defendant gets to sue for damages. The Civil Rights Act of 1871 contains a provision, now codified as 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which creates a private cause of action for violations of one’s civil rights by state or local officials.  This means a suit against both the officials and potentially also the state or local government.  Monell v. Dept. of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978).  Notably, the suit can be both for damages and for an injunction designed to prevent future harm of the same type.  One wonders whether Falcone could have sued to prevent the Gotham City Police Department from working with Batman in the future.

But damages and possibly an injunction to prevent future harm are pretty much it. Unless the beating lead to the discovery of evidence which was critical in procuring the conviction (e.g. a forced confession), the conviction itself will stand. And in the absence of any change about the defendant’s guilt, any modification or reduction in a convict’s sentence is unlikely. Or rather not just unlikely, but pretty much unheard of. In the story, Porter reopens the Holiday file and somehow gets a Gotham City judge to modify Falcone’s sentence from incarceration in Arkham Asylum to house arrest in the custody of his brother. In real life, it’s difficult to see how something like this might work. Falcone is guilty. There were no irregularities with his prosecution. He got the snot beat out of him during his arrest, but as far as criminal procedure goes, there isn’t anything all that interesting going on.

So this part of the story just doesn’t work. DAs rarely reopen cases, and usually only when there’s new evidence suggesting the defendant’s innocence. But we’re not sure there’s even a mechanism whereby a DA could seek a reduction in a convict’s sentence just because he was maltreated prior to prosecution. If the prosecution wants a lighter sentence, they can ask for that during sentencing. But later prosecutors don’t get to go back and muck about with prior prosecutors’ convictions.  It is possible that a prosecutor could request that the governor commute the prisoner’s sentence, but there’s no sign of that here.

III. Immigration

As an aside, the judge, Judge Harkness of Gotham City, says that if there is any funny business with Alberto Falcone after he is released to house arrest that “I will make it my personal business to see that immigration takes another look at you, sir,” meaning Mario Falcone, who is trying to take his family legitimate. Are there any teeth to this threat?

One is reminded of the ongoing controversy in Arizona and elsewhere about state efforts to get involved in immigration activities. The federal government is, to put it mildly, not amused. The Supreme Court recently struck down parts of Arizona’s SB 1070 law as unconstitutional encroachments on an area of law reserved for Congress. The outcome, while disappointing to some, wasn’t all that surprising to anyone, as immigration is an explicitly federal subject under Art. I, sec. 8, cl. 4.

But that isn’t really what’s going on here. This isn’t an example of a state government making explicit and systematic moves to affect immigration policy. Rather, it’s an example of a state official saying he’s going to use what influence is his to wield to affect the outcome of a particular case for what are arguably legitimate reasons. If a state court judge in a state and community not really known for its immigration problems were to call up his local U.S. Attorney or regional ICE office, he might well be able to get some attention. Not as a matter of law, mind you, but as the sort of consideration that governmental agencies frequently show each other. So while the judge doesn’t have the authority to deport Mario, the story doesn’t suggest that he does, merely that he might be able to make a few phone calls. And he just might.

IV. Conclusion

Dark Victory is absolutely right that Alberto Falcone’s civil rights have been violated. But how that’s supposed to add up to him being released from Arkham Asylum—where he was sent after a successful insanity plea—into his family’s custody is far from clear. And Judge Harkness’ little threat to Mario, while not necessarily describing a formal legal process, may actually have teeth. Informal teeth, but not necessarily any less real.

World War Hulk: Front Line I

World War Hulk is a five-issue limited series from 2007 telling the story of the Hulk’s return to Earth after the events of Planet Hulk in 2006. The basic story is that in Planet Hulk, a majority of the Illuminati, consisting of Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Black Bolt, and Dr. Strange, decide to deal with the “Hulk problem” by sending him into space. The Hulk is tricked onto a starship set for another planet, but the Hulk winds up on the planet Sakaar instead of the peaceful world he was intended for. He winds up fighting a bunch of people, getting married to the local princess, only to have the better part of the city—and princess—blown up when the starship he arrived on explodes.

Hulk is pissed. About the trickery, about the exile, and now about the death of his wife. He plots revenge and returns to Earth. World War Hulk picks up there.

World War Hulk: Frontline is a parallel story about Ben Urich and Sally Floyd, as they continue reporting for Front Line, the newspaper they started back in the Marvel Civil War.. Like in the Civil War, the writers use the Front Line story to talk about the effects of the super-powered conflict on everyday people. So, for instance, we see the effects of the evacuation of Manhattan on the poor and indigent. As the more mundane side of the story, this is where some of the more interesting legal questions arise, and we’ll take a look at those here. Continue reading

Mayor Jameson’s Eminent Domain Problem

We’ve picked on Spider-Man a bit recently, so in interests of fairness we’re going to pick on J. Jonah Jameson, who is currently the mayor of New York in the Marvel Universe.  Recently, Jameson has focused his ire on Horizon Labs, a research and development company that happens to employ Peter Parker in his capacity as a scientist.

The particular issue in today’s post comes from a question from Christopher, who writes:

[In Amazing Spider-Man #682] Parker and other Horizon Labs employees witness a confrontation between HL owner Max Modell and Mayor Jameson in which the Mayor says “As Mayor of this city, I am ordering all of you to vacate these premises immediately!” He has arrived to bully HL into shutting down and gives various reasons [, listed below]. Later in issue 683 he comes back with “Chief Pratchett” presumably some ranking officer in the NYPD and shuts off the company’s power supply: “You’re not getting a single amp out of Con Ed!” He then orders “Chief Pratchett, have your men clear the building, after that, no one gets in or out, understood?” Chief Pratchett accedes to the request but we cut away from the confrontation and don’t return this issue.

This is obviously an ongoing storyline which will play out over another 4/5 issues but surely Jameson is overstepping his authority to clear out a private building without any kind of court order. And isn’t Pratchett wrong to comply?

At various points in #682 and #683 Jameson gives some reasons for wanting Horizon Labs shut down, including:

1. “This man has access to spider-jammers that could control Spider-man! Yet he refuses to turn them over to the city!” (see Spider-Island 667-673)
2. “One of your people built a time machine that did destroy the city.” (678-679)
3. “And now I hear you have a monster holed up here?!” (679.1 The “monster” is Dr. Morbius)
4. “Two days ago, you almost got my son killed.” (680-681)

So, is any of this sufficient to justify cutting power and ordering the police to clear the building?

As Horizon’s lawyer, who was present for the first confrontation with Jameson, argues, probably not.  The spider-jammers have been destroyed, the EPA cleared Horizon regarding the alternate universe incident (who knew that the EPA had jurisdiction over time travel and alternate futures?), and Dr. Morbius isn’t a monster but rather suffers from a poorly-understood medical condition.  Jameson isn’t satisfied and vows to return, which leads to the second confrontation (the one with the power-cutting and the police).

But suppose Jameson’s allegations were correct.  Could the mayor really do that?  And if not, what is the potential liability for Pratchett and the other police officers?

I. Eminent Domain

The most likely source of Jameson’s power to order Horizon shut down is eminent domain, which allows the taking of private property for public use in exchange for just compensation.  New York has a statute, the New York Eminent Domain Procedure Law, that is just what it sounds like.  It sets out “the exclusive procedure by which property shall be acquired by exercise of the power of eminent domain in New York state.”  N.Y. Eminent Domain Proc. Law § 101.  Unfortunately for Jameson, it doesn’t look like he has complied with the procedures.

A. Public Hearing

Ordinarily the eminent domain process begins with a public hearing.  § 201.  However, there are some exemptions, one of which is when “because of an emergency situation the public interest will be endangered by any delay caused by the public hearing requirement in this article.” § 206(D).  I suppose it’s arguable that Horizon presents such an extreme danger to the city that a public hearing can be avoided.

However, Horizon labs could file suit to challenge the City’s determination that it is exempt under § 206(D).  “Where, however, a condemnor proceeds under one of the exemptions provided in EDPL 206, and therefore claims that it is not required to comply with the foregoing notice, hearing, and determination requirements, a condemnee may, unless otherwise provided by statute, challenge the applicability of the claimed exemption in the Supreme Court … .” Steel Los III, LP v. Power Authority of N.Y., 33 A.D.3d 990, 990-91 (2006).  The reviewing court would almost certainly issue a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction preventing the City from shutting down Horizon until it had reviewed the case.  Given that Horizon appears to be represented by competent legal counsel, I think it’s likely Horizon would go to court once Jameson threatened to take the building.

B. Negotiations

The eminent domain law also requires the condemnor (i.e. the City) to “make every reasonable and expeditious effort to justly compensate persons for such real property by negotiation and agreement” “at all stages prior to or subsequent to an acquisition by eminent domain.” § 301.  This includes making at least one written offer representing the just compensation for the property.  § 303.

In this case, we don’t see any discussion of compensation, much less negotiation or a written offer.  Instead, Jameson seems to think he can simply take the building outright.  There is a lot more to eminent domain, but I think that’s enough to establish that Jameson wasn’t doing it right.

II. Consequences

Assuming the City can’t legally take the building through eminent domain, what are the possible consequences for cutting power and forcibly evacuating the building?  The most likely result is a § 1983 suit alleging a violation of Horizon’s constitutional rights, specifically their rights under the Fourth Amendment.  If successful, this could result in an award of actual damages, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees.  Given the expensive equipment and experiments that may have been lost or damaged by the sudden loss of power, that could be a pretty significant bill for the city.

Importantly, the City and officers could claim qualified immunity under § 1983.  “The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”  Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009).  “The protection of qualified immunity applies regardless of whether the government official’s error is a mistake of law, a mistake of fact, or a mistake based on mixed questions of law and fact.”  Id.

So, for example, if the officers were told that the City had a court order to shut down Horizon, then the officers might not be liable because they were operating under a mistake of fact.  Jameson, however, clearly knew what was up, and I think it would be hard for him to claim qualified immunity, at least if he thought he was exercising the power of eminent domain, since a reasonable person would have known about the proper procedure for doing so.

III. Conclusion

There are other possible ways that the City could try to shut down Horizon (e.g. alleging violations of the law and arresting everyone or suing the company), but the way it’s depicted in the comics really suggests eminent domain to me.  I think it’s reasonable to assume that if the City had a good claim to criminal or illegal activity then it would have simply called in the cops or sent in the lawyers.  Jameson’s approach is so vague that eminent domain is the only thing that I can think of that fits the bill.  Alas, his failure to follow proper procedures is likely to get him (and the City) sued.

Ultimate Comics: X-Men #1, Part 2

This post continues our series on the first issue of Ultimate Comics: X-Men, in which we discussed (spoiler alert!) government tort liability for the creation of mutants through genetic experiments gone awry.  This time around we’ll be talking about civil rights and the limits of government power.

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