Midweek Recess: Bad Grades, Press Credentials and Greek Yogurt

Welcome to Law.com’s Midweek Recess, in which we round up some tasty tidbits from the week’s legal news cycle. We’ll be here every Wednesday, so grab a cup of coffee and take a little break. It’s all downhill to the weekend from here.

All Greek to Us – If you’ve been waiting for the latest in the battle of Mister Softee vs. Master Softee, you’re out of luck, but thankfully, we are not bereft of dairy-related litigation news. Far from it: We’ve now got the Greek yogurt skirmish of 2014 on our hands. A deceptive sales practices suit has been filed by a small New York law firm against yogurt company Chobani, which markets its product as “America’s Top Greek Yogurt.” The plaintiffs in the purported class action aren’t buying what Chobani is selling — at least not the “Greek” part. They argue in their complaint that Chobani products “are not Greek, are not manufactured in Greece, nor have anything to do with Greece or Greek manufacturing methods or art.” Chobani fired back in a statement, suggesting that the plaintiffs may be being a bit too literal: “Our fans … understand that, much like English muffins and French fries, Greek yogurt is a product description about how we authentically make our yogurt and not about where we make our yogurt in upstate New York and Idaho.”

The suit also alleges that Chobani misleads buyers about the nutritional value of its yogurt, including substituting the term “evaporated cane juice” for sugar on its ingredient list and prominently displaying “0%” on its yogurt containers. The complaint argues that consumers (presumably the same consumers who think “cane juice” is some sort of health elixir), are being tricked into thinking the yogurt contains 0% sugar or 0% calories. (And we now seem to have entered a Seinfeld episode.) The same law firm is also suing Fage over the marketing and packaging of its yogurt. So, yogurt manufacturers beware! Also anyone who makes any food named after a country.

Don’t Cut Contracts Class – Fretting about a black mark on your law school transcript? Try filing a consumer protection suit? Former Massachusetts School of Law student Martin Odemena is suing both the law school and his contracts professor, saying he received a “D” grade in his contracts class because some quizzes that were listed on the course syllabus as optional were counted toward his final grade. Odemena skipped out on some of what he thought were optional quiz sessions, ended up with a “D,” and received a suspension and letter stating that he was no longer in good standing with the school. He complained, and an investigation found that the professor had told the class on the first day that the quizzes would count, thus orally amending the written syllabus. Odemena is seeking $100,000 in damages, stating in his complaint that “his legal career is for all practical purposes over.” Is the man a drama queen, or is he just a realist about the job market? Anyway, we give him points for creativity. [The National Law Journal]

The Journalism’s In the Pudding - The grand finale of the U.S. Supreme Court’s October 2013 term is upon us, and, as usual, SCOTUSblog has a starring role in the media coverage and analysis of all things high court. But the site is also making headlines of its own this week. “Around here, THIS is the most wonderful time of the year,” SCOTUSblog’s Amy Howe posted Monday morning at the start of its live blog of high court orders and opinions — a live blog that attracted 10,000 readers. Howe may have been inclined to retract that statement later in the morning, after the U.S. Congressional Press Galleries’ Standing Committee of Correspondents released a much-anticipated ruling in which it denied SCOTUSblog’s appeal of the revocation of its press credentials.

The committee concluded that SCOTUSblog “fails the fundamental test of editorial independence” from publisher Tom Goldstein and his law firm, Goldstein & Russell. The website, the letter said, serves as a client-generating vehicle for the firm and is part of Goldstein’s “personal brand.” The committee was unconvinced by SCOTUSblog’s argument that the site is financially independent from the firm and by an editorial policy that prohibits any individual associated with Goldstein & Russell from reporting on any case in which the firm is representing a party.

In a response posted on SCOTUSblog on Monday, Goldstein said the committee’s rationale has “broad implications for whether non-traditional media is regarded as ‘journalism.’” He argues that SCOTUSblog’s writers couldn’t do the work they do without their extensive experience before the court. (Goldstein himself has served as counsel in approximately 100 cases, personally arguing 31). And, Goldstein says, he can’t really quit his day job: “The reality, of course is that none of us — and none of the people running blogs in other fields — can afford to quit our other jobs to become full-time journalists.” The committee, he predicts, “will find itself on the wrong side of history on this question.” He further suggests that old-school journalism should get on board: “This scenario — specialists reporting on their respective fields of expertise — is going to grow, not diminish.”

SCOTUSblog will appeal to the Senate Rules Committee, but in the meantime, Goldstein asked readers to “look and decide for yourself whether we are actually engaged in journalism.” The “proof is in the pudding,” he writes. For those sampling larger-than-normal helpings of SCOTUSblog in the next several days, it’s also worth looking back at Goldstein’s fascinating report on the site’s role on that morning almost two years ago when the Supreme Court handed down its landmark healthcare decisions.

A Court in Harmony? – The final Supreme Court opinions of the term tend to drive home the stark ideological split in the high court, but even if the justices aren’t seeing see eye-to-eye on the remaining major cases, they’ll end the term with more than half of the cases decided unanimously — a record for the Roberts Court. Experts commenting on the increase in unanimity cite the relative lack of controversial cases this term, an uptick in concurrences that could have ended up as dissents, and the chief justice’s continuing preference for fostering agreement through narrow verdicts. [USA Today]

If you’re curious about who’s agreeing with who, The New York Times has some interesting charts showing which justices vote together least and most often. The voting patterns of the four newest justices show that those who are appointed by the same president tend to stick together. Chief Justice Roberts has Justice Kennedy in his corner 88 percent of the time, but who’s most often on the other end of that powerful swing vote? Our apologies, Justice Ginsburg. [The New York Times]

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