Menu Close

Washington and Lee Law Review - Vol. 72

Roundtable

by Sharon K. Sandeen

Civil litigation is expensive, both for the party bringing suit and the party that must defend against such claims. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which are the usual requests for preliminary relief and protective orders, trade secret litigation is particularly expensive. These costs can have a crippling effect on small businesses and start-up companies that are accused of trade secret misappropriation, often resulting in litigation expenses that exceed the alleged harm to the plaintiff. Such litigation is particularly costly and unjust in cases where the plaintiff asserts rights that, due to common misunderstandings about the limited scope of trade secret rights, they do not have.

While no body of law can perfectly distinguish right from wrong, and, thus, there are bound to be civil judgments that are both under- and over-inclusive, due to the possible anticompetitive effects of trade secret claims, the predominate law that currently governs trade secret law in the United States, the Uniform Trade Secret Act, includes numerous provisions that are designed to strike a balance between the putative trade secret owner and the alleged misappropriator, frequently erring on the side of competition, information diffusion, and employee mobility. Unfortunately, the proposed legislation to create a civil cause of action for trade secret misappropriation, the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA), threatens to upset this balance by, among other things, significantly increasing the costs of trade secret litigation.

This Essay details how various provisions of the DTSA are bound to be highly litigated and, as a result, will greatly increase costs for litigants and the federal judiciary, making the DTSA not worth its costs.

Roundtable

by Eric Goldman

Congress is considering the Defend Trade Secrets Act, which would create a new federal trade secret civil cause of action. The Act includes a quirky and unprecedented ex parte procedure for trade secret owners to obtain a seizure order. The seizure provision applies in, at best, a narrow set of circumstances, and it oddly attempts to protect intangible trade secrets by seizing chattels. Despite procedural safeguards, the seizure provision also enables anti-competitive misuse.

More generally, the fact-based disputes that inevitably must be resolved in trade secret litigation make trade secrets an especially poor basis for ex parte actions. As a result, we should be nervous about the proposed seizure provision in the Defend Trade Secret Act—and all other ex parte seizure procedures in trade secret cases.

Development

by Ryan H. Nelson

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Baldwin v. Foxx opined—for the first time—that employment discrimination based on sexual orientation violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This Article tackles the two administrative law questions that Baldwin poses: what level of deference should a court afford Baldwin, and should such deference force that court to overturn precedent holding that sexual orientation discrimination lies beyond the purview of Title VII?

First, after the Supreme Court’s opinion in Barnhart, lower courts have split on whether Chevron Step Zero should be governed by the rule-of-law test announced in Christensen and Mead, or whether Barnhart’s five-factor test provides a new standard for this inquiry. This Article explains why the Christensen/Mead rule-of-law test should govern Chevron Step Zero; why that test dictates that courts should analyze Baldwin under the deference test announced in Skidmore, not Chevron; and why Baldwin consequently deserves de minimis deference.

Second, the Supreme Court’s opinion in Brand X held that judicial interpretations of ambiguous statutes must be overturned in the face of subsequent, contrary agency interpretations that would have earned Chevron deference but for stare decisis. Yet, no exception to stare decisis exists when an agency interpretation of an ambiguous statute earns mere Skidmore deference. This Article examines such a potential exception, concluding that stare decisis should trump agency interpretations of ambiguous statutes, Skidmore deference notwithstanding.

This Article concludes that Baldwin is far from a watershed moment for LGBT workplace equality. Rather, the courts—which have almost uniformly held that employment discrimination based on sexual orientation does not violate Title VII—should uphold such decisions despite Baldwin and the meager Skidmore deference it earns. Indeed, congressional action remains the only way to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation on a national scale.

 

Development

by David H. Kaye

For over 130 years, scientific sleuths have inspected hairs under microscopes. Late in 2012, the FBI, the Innocence Project, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers joined forces to review thousands of microscopic hair comparisons performed by FBI examiners over several of those decades. The results have been astounding. Based on the first few hundred cases in which hairs were said to match, it appears that examiners exceeded the limits of science in over 90% of their reports or testimony. The disclosure of this statistic has led to charges that the FBI faked an entire field of forensic science, placed pseudoscience in the witness box, and palmed off virtually worthless and scientifically indefensible evidence as scientific truth.

This essay disputes these interpretations of the 90+% figure. Based on some of the scientific literature on hair comparisons, the public descriptions of the hair review project that have emerged, and some of the confessions of scientific error that the FBI has issued, it reaches three conclusions: (1) associating two hairs by their physical features can be slightly probative of whether they originated from the same source; (2) the hair review project does not bear on the validity of these associations or the quality of the examinations; rather, it is supposed to flag cases in which examiners have overstated the power of a match to identify the source of the trace evidence; (3) some questionable determination have been issued, and the 90+% figure may not be a valid and reliable measure of overclaiming.

To promote a more complete understanding of the nature and extent of overclaiming, the review process should be made more transparent, and the materials it produces should be readily available for researchers and the public to study. New state or local evidence reviews should be designed with these concerns in mind. Finally, in all areas of forensic science, clear standards for presenting identification evidence without overclaiming should be devised, and training and monitoring programs should be implemented to ensure that laboratory personnel and prosecutors adhere to them.

Response

by Marc Edelman

In recent years, two law review articles have proposed that the United States regulate commercial sports through a direct federal commission, rather than through traditional antitrust remedies. Nevertheless, the practical realities of commercial sports’ power to influence government policy offset the many theoretical advantages to creating a specialized regulatory body to oversee commercial sports. The commercial sports industry already possesses an extraordinarily strong lobbying arm that has successfully lobbied for special legislation, such as the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961 and the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992. If commercial sports ever were to become administratively regulated, sports leagues would likely be able to use their lobbying power to obtain even greater concessions under U.S. law. Consequently, this Article argues that, albeit imperfect, antitrust law remains the most practical way to regulate commercial sports leagues.

Response

by Geoffrey Rapp

Professor Nathaniel Grow has produced a creative, thoroughly researched piece arguing that antitrust has failed in the context of professional sports and calling for the creation of a national-level federal regulatory agency to address anticompetitive conduct by the major leagues. I respond to his diagnosis of antitrust’s failings and to his prescription.

Response

by Darien Shanske

Local governments have long used special financing districts to build infrastructure. If a local project, say building a pocket park, is likely to increase the values of properties very close to the park, then why should those properties not pay for the park in the first place? Though efficient and fair in many cases, the use of these districts can also be problematic. For instance, it seems likely that wealthier residents, with higher property values to leverage, are especially likely to use these districts effectively. It has also been the case that developers have used these districts speculatively, which had serious repercussions during the last recession. Christopher Odinet develops an additional, and important, critique of these districts. Odinet observes that these districts obtain a lien on benefiting properties, and that this lien takes priority over the liens of conventional lenders. Odinet then argues that this super-priority should only be honored if the district has served some substantial public purpose.

In this short Response, I agree with Odinet that these districts are problematic, but wonder whether his solution is the best one. This is because traditional lenders will generally know about these districts before lending. Furthermore, his solution only kicks in if there is an event of default, which is unusual, and thus, this solution does not do much to counter the run of the mill socioeconomic stratification that these districts often enable. I argue that an ex ante approach limiting the use of these districts therefore seems preferable. I conclude with the argument that, despite all their flaws, these districts should not be abolished outright. Local government finance is a dynamic system and the absence of any tool, even one prone to abuse, can have severe consequences, as illustrated by the recent history of California.

css.php