National Round Up

Virginia: Judge says policy did not cover Chinese drywall damage
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — An insurance company doesn’t have to pay for damages at a Virginia man’s home ruined by Chinese-made, sulfur-emitting drywall, according to a decision by a federal judge last week that could affect how lawsuits by thousands of U.S. homeowners are settled.

Judge Robert G. Doumar in U.S. District Court in Norfolk said in the ruling that no coverage was owed under a homeowner’s policy issued by Travco Insurance Co. to Larry Ward of Virginia Beach.

The judge said the policy does not cover removing or replacing the drywall, or any damages stemming from the material. That’s because the policy excluded damage caused by latent defect, faulty materials, corrosion and pollution.

The ruling does not preclude further claims that could be covered under the policy.

According to court documents, Ward made claims under his homeowner’s policy after the drywall in his home began to release sulfuric gases into the home and damaged his air conditioning, garage door and flat-screen televisions.

Attorneys representing both parties did not immediately return messages seeking comment. Ward also filed a lawsuit against several development and supply companies.

Randy Maniloff, a Philadelphia-based lawyer who has closely followed Chinese drywall insurance litigation, said attorneys for insurance companies and homeowners will carefully examine this case, as it is one of the first comprehensive decisions.

“This is one case out of many, many Chinese drywall cases,” said Maniloff. “This is the first one that’s going to get everybody’s attention. This will become sort of the benchmark — rightly or wrongly.”

Thousands of homeowners, mostly in Florida, Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, have reported problems with the drywall, which was imported in large quantities during the housing boom and after a string of Gulf Coast hurricanes.

The drywall has been linked to corrosion of wiring, air conditioning units, computers, doorknobs and jewelry, along with possible health effects.

New York: ACLU sues U.S. government for more ‘spying’ info
NEW YORK (AP) — Civil rights groups sued the U.S. government last week to try to force it to reveal more about the surveillance of Americans’ international e-mails and telephone calls.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union said in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan that the public has been kept “almost entirely in the dark” about implementation of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008.

Among other things, the law shielded telecom companies from lawsuits under the warrantless wiretapping efforts initiated after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The suit seeks a court order requiring the government to immediately process requests for information made by the civil rights groups about six months ago.

According to the complaint, the 2008 law gave the government “virtually limitless power to collect Americans’ international e-mails and telephone calls en masse, without a warrant, without suspicion of any kind, and with only very limited judicial oversight.”

The suit said the public deserves to know how broadly the government has interpreted the law, how the surveillance powers granted by the law have been used, whether those powers have been abused and how many U.S. citizens’ and residents’ communications have been collected.

Janice Oh, a spokeswoman for government lawyers, declined to comment.

The suit said news reports suggest that the government has been collecting international communications by the millions and have used the law to improperly collect domestic communications as well.

It said the law’s scheduled expiration at the end of 2012 makes it necessary to provide the public with as much information as possible as the merits of the law continue to be debated.

“Congress intentionally made this controversial law temporary so that it — and the public — could evaluate whether the radical changes the FAA wrought to the government’s electronic spying regime were wise, necessary, working effectively in practice, and sufficiently protective of U.S. citizens’ and residents’ privacy rights,” the lawsuit said.

Minnesota: Judge says victims of Petters’ scam not to be made whole 
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A federal judge in Minneapolis says he won’t order restitution for victims of Minnesota businessman Tom Petters because the victims can try to recover their losses through other means.

Petters was convicted in December of running a $3.7 billion Ponzi scheme that counted hedge funds, pastors, missionaries and retirees among its victims. He is appealing while serving a 50-year prison sentence.

U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle wrote Thursday that Petters has only $10 million to $20 million in assets while victims have an estimated $2 billion in losses. He says at best, they would recover only pennies on the dollar.

Kyle says Petters’ victims can still recover some money through other channels, including bankruptcy court, where many have already filed claims.

Washington, D.C.: DC court says teen found with drugs was illegally searched

WASHINGTON (AP) — The D.C. Court of Appeals has ruled that a teenager found with 24 baggies of crack cocaine in 2005 was improperly searched.

According to court documents, the teen called out to a police officer when he saw him. The officer asked if he had any drugs or guns on him and the teen answered no, inviting the officer to search him. When the officer did he found $974 in the teen’s coat and pants pocket. The officer took the cash, saying that the teen was in a high drug-trafficking area and that it was a large amount of money for a person to have on him.

The teen then started yelling and was arrested for disorderly conduct. A search followed, revealing the cocaine.

The court said the teen’s arrest was improper and therefore the search that followed was illegal.

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