Tag Archives: Nebraska

ConAgra must pay $108.9 million in lawsuit over fatal 2009 blast; verdict likely a Nebraska record

The Slim Jim plant in Garner, North Carolina, after the explosion on June 9, 2009. Four people died as a result of the explosion, which was caused by a natural gas leak during water heater installation.

POSTED: FRIDAY, MARCH 25, 2016 1:50 PM | UPDATED: 12:13 AM, SUN MAR 27, 2016.

ConAgra Foods, the Fortune 500 company that is moving its headquarters from Omaha to Chicago, has been found liable for $108.9 million in a civil lawsuit that looks to be the largest of its kind in Nebraska history.

The case is related to damages and injuries stemming from a fatal explosion at a Slim Jim plant in North Carolina in 2009. ConAgra told The World-Herald that it plans to appeal.

The company was found Friday to be “negligent” in the explosion and the resulting injuries by a civil lawsuit jury in Douglas County District Court.

Nebraska courts don’t keep formal records of the jury verdicts leading to the largest monetary damages. Recent large ones have included the $43.8 million verdict last year in Douglas County Court in a dispute between rival software firms. The Fraser Stryker law firm of Omaha said at the time that it believed the total to be the largest in state history.

Lawyers in the courtroom moments after the ConAgra verdict said they thought it was the largest, but none wished to say so formally.

The ConAgra lawsuit had its genesis in payments made to the injured after the 2009 explosion, which happened during a water heater installation at the giant food-processing plant in Garner, North Carolina. Four people died, and many were injured. California-based Jacobs Engineering, which had a contract to perform services at the plant, in later years paid about $108 million to settle lawsuits that said it was at fault.

Later, Jacobs decided to sue ConAgra to recoup the money, saying it had no role in the explosion. The Douglas County jury agreed Friday, finding Jacobs not negligent.

“We are grateful for the court’s and the jury’s time and dedication to this case, and that our client Jacobs Engineering was vindicated after seven years,” said Gil Keteltas, Jacobs’ lead trial lawyer with the Baker Hostetler firm of Washington, D.C.

While sizable, the $108.9 million is a fraction of ConAgra’s $16 billion in revenue last year from sales of products such as Slim Jims, Chef Boyardee pasta and Alexia frozen side dishes.

The jury award comes amid rough sledding in Omaha for ConAgra. The company said last year that it plans to move the headquarters, in Omaha since the 1920s, to Chicago sometime this year. The company also eliminated 1,500 U.S. jobs and has embarked on a plan to save $300 million annually via a cost-cutting plan.

ConAgra spokesman Dan Hare said Friday that, “While we respect the jury’s decision, we have several strong grounds for appeal, which we plan to pursue.”

Assisting in securing the verdict were Baker Hostetler’s Bob Abrams, and Ed Tricker and others with the Lincoln firm Woods & Aitken.

“It was a Herculean task,” Douglas County District Judge Gary Randall said from the bench, describing of the work of the 12-person jury, whom he thanked for sitting through weeks of detailed and sometimes tedious arguments about the fine points of contract law.

The dispute emerged after the explosion, caused by a natural gas leak during water heater installation. The jury found that it was 70 percent ConAgra’s fault and 30 percent the fault of another contractor that will not have to pay any of the $108.9 million because the jury found that ConAgra controlled the actions of that contractor.

Jacobs was another contractor on the Slim Jim site, performing a variety of services for ConAgra. Because of that, it became the target of lawsuits by the injured, lawsuits that Jacobs wound up settling for about $108 million. Companies sometimes pay settlements to avoid the expense of defending lawsuits in court, whether they engaged in disputed conduct or not.

In the Douglas County case, Jacobs, a engineering firm with about $12 billion in annual revenue, said it deserved its money back. Jacobs said it had no role in the explosion.

After the explosion, ConAgra shut the Slim Jim plant and donated the land to the North Carolina town, along with $3 million for a community center.

Contact the writer: 402-444-3197, russell.hubbard@owh.com

Complete coverage: ConAgra moving headquarters to Chicago

Correction: ConAgra is liable for $108 million in damages sought by Jacobs Engineering; an earlier version of this story misstated the amount for which the jury found ConAgra liable.

Sourced From – http://www.omaha.com/money/conagra-liable-for-million-after-fatal-explosion-likely-the-largest/article_81f336ce-f2ba-11e5-840e-f3bca4f3f045.html

What today’s Supreme Court decision means for the future of legal weed

March 21 at 1:50 PM

The Supreme Court’s decision today to toss out a lawsuit that could have brought Colorado’s legal marijuana boom to a screeching halt hasn’t deterred opponents of the national legalization effort.

Already, the plaintiffs and their supporters are looking to regroup. “The Court’s decision does not bar additional challenges to Colorado’s scheme in federal district court,” said Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson in a statement.

Oklahoma and Nebraska asked the Supreme Court to hear a challenge to Colorado’s marijuana legalization framework, saying that the state’s legalization regime was causing marijuana to flow across the borders into their own states, creating law enforcement headaches.

But by a 6-2 majority, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, without comment.

In a statement, Peterson’s office said it would work with Oklahoma and other states “to determine the best next steps toward vindicating the rule of law.”

Other opponents are remaining optimistic, as well. “It’s obviously a disappointment,” said Kevin Sabet of Smart Approaches to Marijuana in an email. “But we think legalization will be defeated on its own policy merits,” he added.

They’re facing an increasingly steep uphill battle.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argued that since marijuana is illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), it can’t be regulated at the state level. But numerous legal experts have pointed out that assumption is incorrect.

“Congress has no power to compel states to prohibit the cultivation, possession and transfer of marijuana,” according to Randy Barnett, an attorney who litigated a Supreme Court case exploring the limits of the CSA. “In the absence of such state prohibition, all such activities are completely legal under state law, notwithstanding that they are illegal under federal law,” he wrote last year.

In short, Congress can say that marijuana is illegal at the federal level. But if a state doesn’t want to enforce that prohibition itself, it doesn’t have to do so. And if it wants to go one step further and set up a market to regulate the trade in the drug, it’s free to do that as well.

“This is the result that most of us were expecting,” legal professor Sam Kamin, who was part of the task force implementing Colorado’s marijuana laws, said in an email. “This never seemed like the right case to test the power of the states to tax and regulate marijuana (everyone seems to agree that they have the right to legalize marijuana).”

The U.S. Justice Department filed a brief last December urging the Supreme Court to throw the lawsuit out. “With the federal government uninterested in bringing such a suit at the moment, this seems to take things out of the courts and into the political process for the near term,” Kamen said.

Legalization advocates say that while the decision likely won’t have any big practical effects in the near-term, it does send a signal to other states mulling their own marijuana policy in the coming years. “The Supreme Court’s rejection of this misguided effort to undo cautious and effective state-level regulation of marijuana is excellent news for the many other states looking to adopt similar reforms in 2016 and beyond,” said Tamar Todd, director of the office of legal affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, in a statement.

Observers on both sides of the issue point out that the court’s majority did not issue any explanation of their dismissal, which is standard practice in cases like this. The justices may have objected to the lawsuit on its merits, or they may have simply felt that it wasn’t proper for them to take up the case at this time, preferring instead to let the state-level legalization experiments play out.

“Of course, everything may change with a new administration in 2017,” law professor Sam Kamin said in an email. “But with marijuana on the ballot in another big handful of states this fall, the genie may be out of the bottle by the time the next president is sworn into office.”


Full Article Sourced From – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/03/21/what-todays-supreme-court-decision-means-for-the-future-of-legal-weed/

New state voting laws face first presidential election test

, USA TODAY10:22 p.m. EST January 29, 2016

WASHINGTON — Battles are being waged across the country over new voter ID laws and other election changes that have never before been tested in a presidential election.

National and local civil rights groups also have launched grass-roots efforts to fight state laws that they say could suppress voting by minorities and the elderly.

President Obama joined the cause in pledging during his Jan. 12 State of the Union Address to travel the country lobbying for steps to make voting easier.

“You’re going to see some ramping up of activism,’’ said the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP. “The president is right, but everybody should be joining in that (effort).’’ Barber’s group will lead a voting rights rally Feb. 13 in Raleigh.

Some of the new state election laws require would-be voters to show specific forms of identification. Others cut back on the time period that voters can cast ballots early, or make it more difficult to register to vote.

Supporters of the laws say they protect against voter fraud. They say Obama and voting rights groups should leave the issue to states.

“It seems that the president is moving to … federalizing the way we handle elections,’’ said Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Fifteen states have enacted more restrictive election laws never before tested in a presidential election, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

Those states — Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin — account for 162 electoral votes of the 270 necessary to win the presidency.

Myrna Pérez, director of the Brennan Center’s Voting Rights and Election Project, said voters in some of those states, “are going to be voting in a presidential election with fewer federal protections than they’ve had in the last 50 years.”

In some states, new voting laws took effect soon after a 2013 U.S. Supreme Courtdecision nullifying a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Under that provision, states and other jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination — mostly in the South — had to obtain advance permission, or “pre-clearance,” from federal officials before making any changes to their election systems.

The new laws attracting the most attention were adopted by Republican-run state legislatures and focus on voter ID requirements. Thirty-three states have voter ID laws — some enacted many years ago — that will be in place on Election Day in November, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Mississippi’s 2012 voter ID law didn’t hamper participation in last year’s governor’s race, according to Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.

The law requires would-be voters to show one of 10 forms of photo ID. Eligible IDs include a driver’s license, a firearms license, a passport, and any state or federal government ID bearing a photo.

​Hosemann said Mississippi is the only state that wasn’t sued by the Justice Department over its voter ID law, “because we did it right.’’

“President Obama doesn’t have to come here to talk about voter ID because that’s in our rearview mirror … We’re moving on,’’  he said.

Last week, Hosemann proposed an election law package that includes allowing people to register to vote online, a 21-day early voting period, tougher penalties for election-law crimes, and moving the state’s presidential primary up by a week to the first Tuesday in March. The package is expected to be part of legislation introduced next week.

“I’m just real pleased about where we’re going in Mississippi,’’ Hosemann said. “Right now it’s such a difference from where we were half a century ago.’’

Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi NAACP, which opposed the voter ID law, said the group continues to review complaints and monitor its implementation.

Read Full Article – http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2016/01/29/new-state-voting-laws-face-first-presidential-election-test/79534420/