Roundup: 1st, 4th, 5th and 6th Circuits

Companies must remain vigilant in registering copyrights; Torture victims can't sue chemical manufacturer; Plaintiff can pursue age-based hostile work environment claim; Case reversed due to lack of substantial cause.

1st Circuit: Companies must remain vigilant in registering copyrights

It’s not enough for companies to simply register their copyrights in source code for the original version of software products. According to a 1st Circuit decision rendered Sept. 14 in Airframe Systems, Inc. v. L-3 Communications Corp., software companies must register complete copies of each software version in both source and object codes in order to protect their copyrights.

In 1986, Airframe began licensing its aircraft maintenance tracking software (called ARMS) to L-3, which was limited to use ARMS only in object code format. Years later, an Airframe employee allegedly acted without the company’s knowledge and copied an unspecified version of ARMS source code onto L-3’s computers. Airframe discovered this in 2003 and initiated a series of copyright infringement actions against L-3.

A trial court argued that Airframe failed to show evidence of infringement and awarded summary judgment to L-3. The 1st Circuit upheld the decision. Because Airframe only noted similarities between L-3’s software and an unregistered version of ARMS, the court held Airframe never proved the content of its registered software and, therefore, couldn’t establish factual copying of the registered work.

4th Circuit: Torture victims can’t sue chemical manufacturer

On Sept. 19, Kurdish families failed to find vindication for wartime abuses under the Torture Victim Protection Act and Alien Tort Statute. In Aziz v. Alcolac, Inc., the 4th Circuit upheld a district court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claims based on their failure to plead facts supporting an inference of intentional aiding and abetting.

In the late 1980s, Alcolac allegedly sold the chemical thiodiglycol (TDG) to Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime, which used the it to create mustard gas that the Iraqis deployed on Kurdish enclaves. The U.S. government allegedly warned Alcolac that TDG was subject to export restrictions, but the company sold the chemical anyway with the purported knowledge that it could be used to create mustard gas. The Kurdish plaintiffs filed their complaint on behalf of two putative classes, which a district court eventually dismissed.

On appeal, the 4th Circuit agreed with the district court ruling that a corporation is not an individual and, therefore, not subject to liability under the Torture Victim Protection Act.

5th Circuit: Plaintiff can pursue age-based hostile work environment claim

The 5th Circuit may have opened the door for more age-based hostile work environment claims. On Sept. 12, the court reversed summary judgment in Dediol v. Best Chevrolet, Inc., and ruled that the plaintiff can go to trial based on religion-based hostile work environment claims.

Sixty-five-year-old Milan Dediol was employed by Best Chevrolet for about three months in 2007. Dediol alleged that he drew the ire and a string of profanity from the sales manager when he requested time off from work to volunteer at a church event. After the tirade, Dediol alleged that the manager would only call him by derogatory, age-related names, openly mocked his religion and threatened him with physical violence. After a final altercation, Dediol refused to report to work and was terminated.

A district court granted summary judgment to Best Chevrolet. But on appeal, the 5th Circuit followed the reasoning of a 6th Circuit case, Crawford v. Medina Hospital, which held that a hostile work environment claim is cognizable under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Dediol met all requirements under the ADEA to establish employer liability.

6th Circuit: Case reversed due to lack of substantial cause

The 6th Circuit ruled Sept. 28 in Moeller v. Garlock Sealing Technologies LLC that a plaintiff must fully establish a burden of proof when it comes to demonstrating cause of a decedent’s mesothelioma.

Robert Moeller, a pipefitter by trade, allegedly sustained asbestos exposure by working with asbestos-containing gaskets manufactured by Garlock. However, he also was exposed to asbestos insulation from other sources. Moeller eventually contracted mesothelioma and, together with his wife, filed suit against Garlock, claiming exposure to its gaskets was the substantial factor for his infirmity. Moeller succumbed to the disease in 2008.

Garlock didn’t dispute that asbestos likely caused Moeller’s condition, but said that its gaskets were not necessarily a substantial factor in causing the condition. The case went to a civil trial in 2009 in which the jury ruled in Moeller’s favor. On appeal, the 6th Circuit ruled Moeller failed to prove Garlock’s gaskets were the substantial factor in causing his condition. Moeller’s witnesses provided no evidence quantifying asbestos exposure from Garlock’s products. Due to insufficient evidence, the court reversed the ruling.

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