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Legal News for Mon 3/11 - Judge Blocks NLRB Rule Affecting Contract Workers, Judge Newman Suspension Debate, J&J Battle over Cancer Causing Chemicals in Acne Products and Tesla Trial
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Legal News for Mon 3/11 - Judge Blocks NLRB Rule Affecting Contract Workers, Judge Newman Suspension Debate, J&J Battle over Cancer Causing Chemicals in Acne Products and Tesla Trial

A judge blocking an NLRB rule affecting contract workers, a 96-year-old judge's suspension debate, J&J's legal battle over benzene in acne products, and a pivotal Tesla Autopilot trial.
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A Tesla crashing through a mall, pencil sketch

This Day in Legal History: Gorbachev at the Helm

On this day in 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev became the new leader of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics following the death of Konstantin Chernenko. At just 54 years old, Gorbachev was the youngest member of the Politburo and brought a new vision for reform to the stagnant Soviet system.

Domestically, he introduced policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) to liberalize the economy and allow greater freedom of expression. These sweeping changes upended decades of repressive Soviet policies and paved the way for democratization.

On the international front, Gorbachev pursued arms reduction negotiations with US President Reagan, easing Cold War tensions. In 1987, they signed the historic INF Treaty, eliminating an entire class of nuclear missiles from Europe.

Gorbachev's reforms proved too fast and destabilizing for the Soviet system. In 1991, hardline communists attempted a coup against him which failed, hastening the dissolution of the USSR into independent republics by year's end.

For helping end the Cold War without bloodshed, Gorbachev was awarded the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize. His legacy remains complex but he is widely credited with allowing self-determination for Eastern Europe and averting catastrophic conflict.


A federal judge in Texas has struck down a rule issued by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that would have expanded the definition of "joint employer" to include many companies that contract or franchise workers. The rule would have treated those companies as employers of the contract or franchise workers, requiring them to bargain with unions representing those workers. The judge agreed with business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that the rule was too broad and violated federal labor law. The NLRB chair said they are considering next steps, likely an appeal to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The rule was intended to ensure companies can be held liable for labor violations when they control key working conditions of contract/franchise workers. However, businesses argued it would disrupt franchising and contracting arrangements. The joint employer issue has been contentious, with shifting standards between the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations.

Judge blocks US labor board rule on contract and franchise workers | Reuters

Labor Board’s Joint Employer Rule Struck Down in Texas Court (4)


A committee of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit argued that a lower court should dismiss the remaining parts of a lawsuit filed by 96-year-old colleague Pauline Newman over her suspension. The judges claim the law governing Newman's suspension for an investigation into her fitness to serve is constitutional, despite her challenges. Newman's attorney plans to respond to the arguments made. Last month, a federal judge dismissed most of Newman's other allegations against the judicial council that suspended her. The council suspended Newman in September 2022 for at least a year amid concerns over her mental competency, which she has defended. The judges argue even if some suspension orders could violate the Fourth Amendment in certain situations, that would not make the governing law unconstitutional overall.

By way of brief background, Judge Newman contends that certain elements of what was demanded of her violate the Fourth Amendment as they are unconstitutionally vague under the Due Process Clause. Specifically, in Counts VIII and IX of the complaint, linked in the show notes, Judge Newman argues that the Act's authorization of demands for medical records or examinations without a warrant based on probable cause or constitutional reasonableness violates the Fourth Amendment. However, these claims are likely legally untenable for multiple reasons, including the failure to meet the standards of a facial challenge.

US appeals judges argue suspension of 96-year-old colleague is constitutional | Reuters


Customers have filed a proposed class action lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson's subsidiary in Los Angeles federal court. The suit alleges J&J failed to warn consumers that its acne products like Clean & Clear and Neutrogena contain benzene, a cancer-causing chemical. The customers claim they would not have purchased the products if they knew about the benzene and associated cancer risk. This comes days after an independent lab alerted the FDA about high benzene levels in popular acne product brands. The EPA has stated breathing low levels of benzene over a lifetime can increase cancer risk. The suit accuses J&J of ignoring the FDA's 2022 warning to test products for benzene contamination. It seeks to represent a national class and subclasses in several states against J&J's alleged failure to warn.

J&J Allegedly Failed to Warn Acne Cream Customers of Cancer Risk


A new trial involving a fatal 2018 crash while Tesla's Autopilot was engaged will test the company's defense that drivers must remain attentive and ready to take over at any moment. Lawyers for the plaintiff are citing internal emails and testimony suggesting Tesla knew drivers could become distracted or complacent when using Autopilot. They argue Tesla should have studied how quickly drivers can regain control if Autopilot fails. Testimony indicates Tesla did not research this issue until after the 2018 crash, and only added driver monitoring cameras in 2021. The case could pose a significant challenge to Tesla's stance that Autopilot is safe if drivers follow instructions. It highlights questions about Tesla's knowledge of likely driver behavior and obligation to design safeguards against foreseeable misuse. The outcome may influence other lawsuits Tesla faces over accidents involving its driver assistance systems.

Next Autopilot trial to test Tesla's blame-the-driver defense | Reuters

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Minimum Competence - Daily Legal News Podcast
Minimum Competence
The idea is that this podcast can accompany you on your commute home and will render you minimally competent on the major legal news stories of the day. The transcript is available in the form of a newsletter at www.minimumcomp.com.