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Virginia’s Highest Court Says Yelp Doesn’t Have To ID Anonymous Reviewers

Thu, 2015-04-16 19:43

(Rich Rogala)

(Rich Rogala)

For nearly two years, we’ve been telling you about the Virginia carpet cleaner trying to compel Yelp to identify seven of anonymous users so that the business could name them in a defamation lawsuit. After Yelp lost legal battles in both the trial and appeals courts, the state’s highest court today ruled in favor of the review site, but only because the subpoena was served in the wrong state.

A quick recap of this case. In 2012, the carpet cleaner filed suit against seven anonymous Yelp reviewers, claiming they had deliberately and maliciously posted false, negative reviews. The company then subpoenaed Yelp, requesting the real identities of these John Doe defendants.

Yelp objected, claiming its users’ rights would be violated if they were identified without the plaintiff first proving that certain conditions had been met. In Nov. 2012, a trial court in Alexandria, VA, ordered Yelp to abide by the subpoena and provide the requested information to the plaintiff.

Yelp offered a compromise — it would investigate the cleaner’s claims while maintain the anonymity of the users pending the outcome of the investigation. The cleaner declined this offer and the court found Yelp in contempt.

Yelp, working with the advocates at Public Citizen, appealed in May 2013, arguing that a plaintiff must show evidence that a defamation lawsuit has merit before Yelp should be compelled to identify the users. Additionally, there should be a factual showing that the statements made by the John Doe defendants are, in fact, false and defamatory, argued the appeal. But the appeals court again sided with the plaintiff.

The legal catch-22 in this case involved whether or not the reviewers in question were actual customers of the cleaning service. The company insisted they were not, but obviously could not prove that without being able to concretely identify them. Yelp maintained that the reviews in question were materially no different than other reviews that the cleaner did not contest.

In its appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court, Yelp argued that while the carpet cleaner claims that the John Doe reviews were written by non-customers, the company has “offered no evidence to support its belief, no description of its investigation… and no explanation of how its investigation led it to that belief.”

But in the end, today’s ruling doesn’t ponder the First Amendment issues involved in the case. Instead, it looks at whether the carpet cleaner should have issued a subpoena in California — where Yelp and all its relevant files are based — rather than in Virginia.

The carpet cleaner’s lawyer could have presented a subpoena to the clerk’s office of a California circuit court (along with the proper application and fee, of course), which would have obliged the clerk to issue a California subpoena. But instead, the plaintiff presented the subpoena to a representative of Yelp in Virginia.

To the Virginia Supreme Court, this is not sufficient to compel a California company that is not a party to the lawsuit to abide by the subpoena.

“The information sought by [the Plaintiff] is stored by Yelp in the usual course of its business on administrative databases within the custody or control of only specified Yelp employees located in San Francisco, and thus, beyond the reach of the circuit court,” reads the ruling [PDF].

“Although we were hoping the court would rule on both jurisdictional and First Amendment grounds, this is still an important win,” said Paul Alan Levy, the Public Citizen attorney representing Yelp.

But this isn’t the end of the matter. While Yelp is no longer obliged to abide by the original subpoena, the carpet cleaner can now go through the process of seeking a subpoena through the California courts.

If that happens, Levy contends that “those courts will require it to show evidence to meet the well-accepted First Amendment test for identifying anonymous speakers.”

Veterinarians Warning Pet Owners In Midwest Over Canine Flu Outbreak That’s Sickened Hundreds Of Dogs

Thu, 2015-04-16 19:24

(Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie)

(Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie)

While we humans dread the arrival of flu season every year, we aren’t the only ones who can get sick by coming into close contact with the fellow members of our species. Veterinarians in the Midwest are warning pet owners over a recent canine flu outbreak, telling them to keep sick pooches away from clinic waiting rooms filled with their furry brethren.

At least 1,000 dogs in Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana have been sickened by the H3N2 strain of the flu virus, reports the Associated Press, though it’s not clear yet how effective current vaccines are against this particular strain.

Dogs can develop a persistent cough, runny nose and fever, and although the virus can’t jump to humans, cats could fall ill from it as well. A small percentage of pups will develop more severe symptoms, experts say, with some deaths associated to the H3N2 infection.

Clinical assistant professor Keith Poulsen of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Veterinary Medicine advises pet owners with sick dogs to make arrangements with their vet to schedule a test outside the veterinary clinic, to cut down on the risk of infecting other dogs.

As such, keeping your sick pets away from anywhere they’d sniff, lick or otherwise interact with their friends is a good idea.

“It’s really no different if you’re talking about dogs or toddlers, if you think they’re sick, don’t bring them to day care,” Poulsen said.

Canine flu outbreak sickens hundreds of dogs in Midwest [Associated Press]

Walmart Raises Suspicions After Closing 4 Stores In Same Day For “Plumbing” Problems

Thu, 2015-04-16 19:05

( function() { var func = function() { var iframe_form = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-form-96fe35400688a81ae5209e22a535c115-552ff0469f68f'); var iframe = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-96fe35400688a81ae5209e22a535c115-552ff0469f68f'); if ( iframe_form && iframe ) { iframe_form.submit(); iframe.onload = function() { iframe.contentWindow.postMessage( { 'msg_type': 'poll_size', 'frame_id': 'wpcom-iframe-96fe35400688a81ae5209e22a535c115-552ff0469f68f' }, window.location.protocol + '//' ); } } // Autosize iframe var funcSizeResponse = function( e ) { var origin = document.createElement( 'a' ); origin.href = e.origin; // Verify message origin if ( '' !== ) return; // Verify message is in a format we expect if ( 'object' !== typeof || undefined === ) return; switch ( ) { case 'poll_size:response': var iframe = document.getElementById( ); if ( iframe && '' === iframe.width ) iframe.width = '100%'; if ( iframe && '' === iframe.height ) iframe.height = parseInt( ); return; default: return; } } if ( 'function' === typeof window.addEventListener ) { window.addEventListener( 'message', funcSizeResponse, false ); } else if ( 'function' === typeof window.attachEvent ) { window.attachEvent( 'onmessage', funcSizeResponse ); } } if (document.readyState === 'complete') { func.apply(); /* compat for infinite scroll */ } else if ( document.addEventListener ) { document.addEventListener( 'DOMContentLoaded', func, false ); } else if ( document.attachEvent ) { document.attachEvent( 'onreadystatechange', func ); } } )(); There are thousands of Walmarts in the U.S., so the fact that four of them were temporarily shut down all on the same day, all for the same reason, and all for the same estimated amount of time, may be statistically insignificant. But some workers and city officials are raising questions about what’s actually behind these six-month shutterings.

The four stores — two in Texas, one in California, and another in Florida — were all closed on Monday without advance notice to shoppers or the thousands of affected employees. At each of the stores, the reason given for the closures — which are estimated to last upwards of six months — was problems with plumbing.

However, some local officials are questioning the veracity of this claim.

In Pico Rivera, CA, the City Manager tells CBS Los Angeles that he was blindsided by the closure, which affects more than 500 workers in the area. As of yesterday, he said that the city hadn’t received any permit requests from the store.

Some employees at this store are questioning the motive, as it’s been a focal point of the pro-union OUR Walmart movement, and was the first location to stage a wage-related walkout back in 2012.

“This is the first store that went on strike. This is the first store in demanding changes for Walmart,” said one employee.

Walmart’s closure of a Tampa-area store is likewise being met with skepticism.

The Hillsborough County Commissioner tells WFLA that the store “didn’t mention anything about plumbing,” just “repairs and updates to the store.”

A Walmart plumbing technician, one of the 400 employees who could be out of work until the holidays, tells the station that the plumbing explanation lacks credibility.

“Even if they had to replace the whole sewer line, it wouldn’t take six months to replace a whole sewer line in that store,” he says.

Additionally, while this closure is being listed as temporary, a letter sent to the county claims the layoffs are permanent.

An ABC News report out of Tampa claims that no plumbing permits have been pulled in any of the municipalities where Walmart closed stores on Monday.

A city official from Midland, TX, tells ABC that his plumbing inspector was sent away when he tried to visited the closed store earlier this week to help them secure necessary permits.

We’ve written to Walmart HQ seeking comment on these reports and will update if we hear anything back.

Uber Won’t Allow Drivers To Discriminate Against Gay Passengers Even If A State Law Allows It

Thu, 2015-04-16 18:51
(Alan Rappa)

(Alan Rappa)

Even as lawmakers in Oklahoma sign off on a ridesharing service bill that removes protections for gay and transgender passengers, Uber has made it clear that changes to state laws will not alter its anti-discrimination policy.

A bill outlining how Oklahoma regulates ridesharing programs like Uber and Lyft [PDF] passed the state’s Senate on Wednesday, after removing language from a House-passed bill [PDF] that had outlawed discrimination in the industry against passengers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

From Section 14 of the original House bill “Oklahoma Transportation Network Company Services Act” (bolding ours) dated April 1:

“TNCs shall adopt a policy of nondiscrimination on the basis of destination, race, color, national origin, religious belief, religious affiliation, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation, or gender identity with respect to passengers and potential passengers and notify TNC drivers of such policy.”

In the same section of the amended bill, written by Sen. Jason Smalley that passed the state Senate on April 15, those bolded words are missing:

“TNCs shall adopt a policy of nondiscrimination on the basis of destination, race, color, national origin, religious belief, religious affiliation, sex, disability, or age with respect to passengers and potential passengers and notify TNC drivers of such policy.”

According to the Associated Press, Sen. Smalley said he removed those terms because he thinks private businesses should be allowed to establish their own policies regarding discrimination.

“I believe if a private business owner wants to serve or not serve an individual, they have that purview right now,” he said.

Sen. John Sparks tried and failed before the Senate bill passed to include an amendment [PDF] that would require drivers to tell passengers they’re of the discriminating sort, and explain exactly who they’re not going to drive:

“Any person not wanting to comply with the non-discrimination provisions set forth in subsection A of this section based on sexual orientation or gender identity shall post notice of such refusal in a manner clearly visible to the public in all places of business, including exteriors of vehicles, mobile phone applications and website. The notice may refer to the person’s religious beliefs, but shall state specifically which individuals the business does not serve by referring to a refusal based upon sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“Why should you be able to discriminate?” Sparks said. “We’re talking about a level of civil conduct in the marketplace. Society has figured out that when you enter the marketplace, you should have an expectation of being treated fairly.”

Although the Senate bill opens the door to such discrimination, both Uber and Lyft have policies in place that expressly prohibit drivers from doing so.

“Uber’s policy is to serve every neighborhood, every driver and every person who needs a ride,” an Uber company spokeswoman told the AP, saying the company will continue to enforce its current terms of service, “which make clear that discrimination in any form is not tolerated and will result in removal from the platform,” she said.

While Lyft has yet to respond to our request for comment, the company’s terms of service clearly state the company’s policy against discrimination as well:

“Such Driver will not discriminate or harass anyone on the basis of race, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity, physical or mental disability, medical condition, marital status, age or sexual orientation.”

HSBC Finance Says Some Mortgage Customers’ Information May Have Been Compromised

Thu, 2015-04-16 17:56


Customers of HSBC’s U.S.-based finance division are the latest victims of a data breach, the bank confirmed this week in a letter to the New Hampshire Attorney General.

American Banker reports that HSBC Finance, which was previously known as Household Finance before being purchased by the company in 2003, suffered a breach in which some records of current and former mortgage customers were compromised.

The company says that personal information about mortgage accounts, such as customers’ names, Social Security numbers, account numbers and possibly telephone numbers, were “inadvertently made accessible via the Internet.”

HSBC says it learned of the breach, which took place late last year, at the end of March.

The company declined to provide American Banker additional information about how many consumers were affected or how the breach occurred.

However, HSBC says it has ensured that the compromised information is no longer publicly available, and that notification has be sent to potential victims.

Customers affected by the breach are eligible for a free one-year subscription to a credit monitoring and identity theft protection service.

“HSBC takes this very seriously, and deeply regrets that this incident occurred,” the bank wrote in the letter. “We are conducting a thorough review of the potentially affected records and have implemented additional security measures designed to prevent a recurrence of such an incident.”

HSBC Finance Notifies Mortgage Customers of Data Breach [American Banker]

Ryanair Flight Attendant Lists Passenger’s Camera On eBay, Gets Caught

Thu, 2015-04-16 17:21

(Jon Gosier)

(Jon Gosier)

When we leave something behind on a plane, we like to believe that it is not going home with the cabin crew to be immediately listed on eBay. Yet that’s exactly what one attendant for Irish discount carrier Ryanair is accused of doing. He was caught at his second job when the owner of a camera up for sale was browsing eBay looking for a replacement.

Makes sense, right? He lost his almost-new camera, so he was shopping for a discounted almost-new replacement. The camera originally cost an estimated £499 ($743). While browsing eBay, he noticed the same model of camera that he had lost, in the location where his plane had landed, on eBay with only half an hour left in the auction.

Naturally, he wrote a polite note to the seller. “I am assuming that you work for Ryanair as the cabin gets checked after the flight and your location is Stansted,” he wrote. “So it’s up to you whether this is worth your job or not.”

The employee agreed to meet up and hand over the camera. “I found the camera at the end of the day and I will return it to you, of course. Please, please don’t report me,” the seller wrote back.

Instead, the police showed up at his home to arrest him after looking over the evidence.

Passenger had camera stolen by Ryanair steward then saw it for sale on ebay while shopping for replacement [Mirror] (via Bitterwallet)

Netflix Changes Tune About Seeking Data Cap Exemptions For Service

Thu, 2015-04-16 17:19

netflixhackgrabIn recent years, Netflix has been a vocal proponent of net neutrality and an outspoken critic of ISP business models that would allow certain deep-pocketed companies to gain a competitive edge over smaller players in the streaming video market. Thus the company was heavily criticized in March when it made deals with Australian ISPs that would exempt Netflix from users’ monthly data caps. This morning, the company announced that it regrets this decision and will no longer seek exemptions going forward.

The deals that Netflix made in Australia with providers like iiNet and Optus are commonly known as “zero-rating” arrangements, where the content provider subsidizes its users’ data so that, in this case, a Netflix subscriber could binge-watch at will without any of those hours of video counting against their monthly data cap.

It’s not unlike what T-Mobile offers here in the U.S. with its Music Freedom program, which allows T-Mo subscribers to stream audio from a number of different services without dinging their data allotment.

While zero-rating deals don’t automatically run afoul of the new net neutrality rules recently passed by the FCC, the Commission does now have the authority to review them on a case by case basis. Given that the neutrality rules were just published in the Federal Register on Monday — and that there are numerous legal and legislative challenges pending — it may be some time before we get any idea on how the FCC will handle the zero-rating issue.

In Australia, and some other countries where data caps are more commonplace, these sorts of deals are less controversial. But in a letter sent yesterday to shareholders, Netflix acknowledged that it may have been hypocritical to argue for a truly neutral Internet while still making zero-rating deals in Australia.

“Data caps inhibit Internet innovation and are bad for consumers. In Australia, we recently sought to protect our new members from data caps by participating in ISP programs that, while common in Australia, effectively condone discrimination among video services (some capped, some not),” reads the letter. “We should have avoided that and will avoid it going forward. Fortunately, most fixed-line ISPs are raising or eliminating data caps in line with our belief that ISPs should provide great video for all services in a market and let consumers do the choosing.”

[via ArsTechnica]

California Health Dept. Close To Declaring Measles Outbreak Linked To Disneyland Officially Over

Thu, 2015-04-16 17:03



A few months after Disneyland officials warned unvaccinated people to stay away amid a measles outbreak that was traced back to the park, the California Department of Public Health says it’s preparing to announce the end of the outbreak tomorrow, barring any new cases.

California disease investigators have been trying to contain the spread of measles after the disease popped up in Disney theme parks in December, soon traveling to other states and countries. In California, 131 people were infected, reports the Associated Press.

Many of those who caught the Disneyland measles weren’t immunized or hadn’t gone through the entire measles-mumps-rubella immunization process.

Disneyland was an ideal place for the measles to set up shop, experts said, as the parks bring in steady crowds from around the globe who then act basically as ambassadors, bringing the disease back home with them when they leave.

The Disneyland outbreak “reminds us that we are part of a global medical community” and the U.S. should help tame measles raging in many parts of the world, Dr. Richard Wenzel, an infectious disease expert told the AP.

Though the outbreak was homegrown, with the disease starting with 40 people who had been at Disneyland in December, as well as another identified source, it’s believed that whoever patient zero is, he or she brought it into the country from elsewhere, health experts say.

Disney-linked measles outbreak soon to be over in California [Associated Press]

Volkswagen Recalls 20,000 Chrysler-Built Minivans With Ignition Switch Issue

Thu, 2015-04-16 17:01


Nearly a month after Fiat Chrysler recalled 702,000 minivans and SUVs because of an ignition switch issue that can lead to disabled safety features, Volkswagen announced it would recall more than 20,000 Routan minivans that were produced by Chrysler at the same facility.

According to a notice [PDF] from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Volkswagen will recall 20,676 model year 2009 to 2010 Routan minivans because road conditions or some other jarring event may cause the ignition key to inadvertently move to the off position, turning the engine off and disabling the airbags, power steering and power breaks.

Volkswagen advises owners of affected vehicles to remove all items – including the key fob – from their key rings, leaving only the ignition key.

Last year, Volkswagen recalled nearly 18,500 model year 2009 Routan minivans for the same issue. The company says that some vehicles fixed under that campaign are not being re-recalled. However, if the previously recalled vehicle only received an ignition switch trim ring as a remedy, it will need to be fixed again.

Volkswagen’s latest recall was initiated in response to Fiat Chrysler’s recall of more than 700,000 minivans and SUVs for ignition switch issues last month.

According to NHTSA, Volkswagen made “numerous requests to Chrysler regarding a recall repair remedy and parts supply plan for recall implementation” for vehicles made at the same time as the minivans being recalled by Chrysler.

Volkswagen says in a filing that it learned of Chrysler’s amended recall information “via a news report and through various media outlets.”

Nearly a week later, the company finally received the parts supply and build plan from Chrysler regarding the recalled vehicles.

Volkswagen says it will notify owners of affected Routans and dealers will replace the ignition switch and key fobs. The recall is expected to begin this month for the 2009 Routan and in August for the 2010 Routan vehicles.

Delta Cutting Some International Flights Later This Year

Thu, 2015-04-16 16:00
(So Cal Metro)

(So Cal Metro)

If you were planning to fly Delta Air Lines for an overseas trip this holiday season, you might want to start making other plans. The airline aims to cut its international flights by about 3% during the last three months of 2015.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Delta will trim the routes to Japan, Brazil, Africa, India and the Middle East, as well as seasonal trips to Moscow in an effort to make up revenue.

The company said it chose to cut these routes as they are markets that have been most affected by the strong dollar and where demand has been negatively impacted by the decline in oil prices.

Despite the effect low oil prices and the strong dollars have had on Delta’s international service, the company says it expects to save more than $2 billion on fuel this year.

In preparation for less frequent international flights, Delta has been cutting back on routes from its hub at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, while instead serving more Asian destinations from Seattle and other U.S. airports.

In some cases, the company plans to make the cutbacks by simply using smaller jets. For example, to reduce capacity on Japan routes, Delta will mostly stop using the current Boeing 747 jumbo jets, Bloomberg reports.

Delta Air’s Pullback Abroad Seen Spurring Rivals to Follow [Bloomberg]
Delta Says Profits Triple, Plans Capacity Cuts to Overseas Flights [Wall Street Journal]

Long-Time Walmart Employee Charged With Stealing $240K From Store Over Two-Year Period

Thu, 2015-04-16 15:59
(Mike Mozart)

(Mike Mozart)

Occasionally, Consumerist reports on some less than perfect Walmart employees: the man arrested for stealing cash from a customer and food from the company’s deli, or the woman who allegedly stole $10,000 in cash and gift cards while working as a cashier. While those incidents are indeed bad, they pale in comparison to a long-time employee of the nation’s largest retailer who allegedly stole nearly $250,000 from her employer.

WFAA in Tennessee reports that a 50-year-old employee of a local Walmart store faces charges of theft after she allegedly stole more than $240,000 between January 2013 and October 2014.

According to local police officials, the 33-year employee of the retailer pocketed the funds by creating fake returns while working in the company’s cash department.

The woman told police that she was unsure when she began stealing from the store, but that it started with small amounts, taking $50 here or there, WFAA reports.

She says that when it became obvious that no one noticed the discrepancies, she began to be more brazen, stealing up to $8,000 a day.

Eventually, the store managers did catch on and interviewed the woman in October 2014. She admitted to several thefts from the cash office and was fired. The store then passed the case on to local police.

Police report that in her statement the woman said she stole the money to pay for bills and help care for her elderly parents.

Walmart employee accused of stealing nearly $240K [WFAA]

Clothing Company Apologizes To Don Henley For Invoking His Name To Sell Shirts

Thu, 2015-04-16 15:52

The ad in question.

The ad in question.

Don Henley will not take it easy when there’s a product being sold that references both his name and career with The Eagles, and now everyone knows: After filing a lawsuit against a Wisconsin clothing company that emailed an ad telling customers to “don a henley and take it easy” last October, the two sides have settled the case, with the company issuing an apology to both Henley and his fans for trying to be too clever.

Duluth Trading Co. and Henley settled their dispute this week, with the clothing company issuing a long apology on its website for using the musician’s fame to peddle clothing without asking him first (h/t AdAge).

Henley had accused Duluth of exploiting his name and connection to The Eagles’ hit song, saying customers might think he had endorsed the shirt.

The company admits “we pushed the advertising envelope too far” and said it’s “deeply regretful,” apologizing not only to Henley “but to anyone else who took offense.”

“Both Mr. Henley and the Eagles have worked hard for more than 40 years and pride themselves on the fact that they have never allowed their names, likenesses or music – individually or as a group – to be used to sell products, ” said a spokesman for Mr. Henley and the Eagles, in an email. “One would hope that these corporations will finally learn that U.S. law forbids trading on the name of a celebrity without permission.”

Duluth is also making a monetary donation to Henley’s non-profit organization Walden Wood Project, which aims to preserve the works of Henry David Thoreau.

The full letter from Duluth Trading Co.:

To our customers, friends, and Don Henley:

As many of you know, Duluth prides itself on not taking itself too seriously and this culture is often seen in our advertising, which we try and keep fresh, interesting, and funny. Unfortunately, we pushed the advertising envelope too far and distributed an advertisement promoting our line of Henley shirts that invoked American recording artist Don Henley’s name without his permission.

Mr. Henley has long been an advocate of artists’ rights and he brought his objections to our attention. We appreciate and respect what Mr. Henley has meant to music and we now see that our use of his name and an Eagles’ song title in our advertisement was inappropriate. For that we are deeply regretful and we apologize, not just to Mr. Henley, but to anyone else who took offense. We have learned a valuable lesson and thank Mr. Henley for helping us appreciate the importance that he and other artists place in their publicity rights.

We have, at Mr. Henley’s request, also made a monetary payment to be directed to the Walden Woods Project, in recognition of the 25th Anniversary of its founding, to resolve this matter.

Thank you.

Very truly yours,


GM Won’t Face Ignition Defect Lawsuits, Thanks To 2009 Bankruptcy

Thu, 2015-04-16 03:30



The same process that allowed a bankrupt General Motors to work its way back (with the help of several billion dollars from taxpayers) to being a viable business is, six years later, helping to shield the company from potentially billions of dollars in damages from class action fraud lawsuits involving the long-ignored ignition defect that claimed the lives of at least 84 people.

As we’ve mentioned before, as part of GM’s 2009 bankruptcy restructuring, the “New GM” that resulted was absolved of most of the liabilities of “Old GM.”

The particular question before the court was whether GM would have to answer ignition-related allegations of fraud, like the $10 billion class action for brand damage.

Central to this issue is the recall timeline. GM didn’t issue a recall for the affected vehicles until 2014, but the defective ignition switches — which could be turned off by the driver bumping a knee into the switch or from the weight of a heavy keychain — had been quietly redesigned before the bankruptcy restructuring. No cars made after the bankruptcy included the defective switches.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuits against GM contend that because some executives at the carmaker knew about the problem for years without issuing a recall, that an alleged cover-up continued into the New GM era.

GM disagreed, arguing that there was no cover-up and that the cars and defective parts were both sold by Old GM. The company maintains that as soon as senior management learned of the problem, the company began the recall process.

And today a federal bankruptcy court judge sided with the carmaker.

In a statement, GM said that the judge “properly concluded that claims based on Old GM’s conduct are barred.”

The court did allow that ignition-related lawsuits could be brought against New GM, but they would have be based solely on post-bankruptcy actions of the carmaker.

“This ruling padlocks the courthouse doors,” one of the attorneys suing GM said in a statement. “Hundreds of victims and their families will go to bed tonight forever deprived of justice. GM, bathing in billions may now turn its back on the dead and injured, worry free.”

Through its own victim compensation fund, GM is paying out an estimated $400 million to victims and their loved ones. As of the latest report from GM, the car company has acknowledged and made payment offers for 84 death and 157 serious injury claims. If a claimant accepts the payment offer from GM, they give up their right to pursue the company in court for the same incident.

[via CNN Money]
[via WSJ]

Sears Pension Fund Requires Cash Infusions From Sears

Thu, 2015-04-16 00:36

searsflagSears really didn’t need any more problems, financial or otherwise. Yet the company does have a problem that doesn’t involve its loss of $1.7 billion last year, run-down stores, fleeing customers, and alleged problems with suppliers? The company’s employee pension plan also isn’t doing very well, which has been another drain on the company’s finances.

Sears wouldn’t tell the Wall Street Journal exactly what it has invested its pension fund in that has led to such poor returns, but last year the fund posted a return of 1.5%. Those aren’t very good results during a year when a fund with middling performance earned about 7% last year.

The company has added $2.85 billion to the pension fund during the last decade. For a company like Sears, that isn’t a lot of money year to year, but it’s also $2 billion that they aren’t spending on things that could improve the company’s financial future.

Employees who have been at Sears or Kmart before 2006 are part of the pension plan, so it is still receiving contributions. (Sears and Kmart merged to form Sears Holdings Corporation in 2005.) A company spokesman explained to the WSJ that the company is still meeting its pension obligations. Better performance of its investments in future years may help the plan to keep making payments to retirees for as long as they live.

Poor Returns Weigh on Sears Pension Plan [Wall Street Journal]

Lottery Security Director Accused Of Winning The Lottery Fraudulently

Wed, 2015-04-15 23:40



Remember last fall, when lottery officials were trying to locate the mysterious man who bought the winning ticket in the multi-state Hot Lotto game? That situation was strange enough, with the winner or winners trying to remain anonymous and waiting a very long time to come forward. Now the situation has become even weirder, with the lottery’s former security director accused of winning the game fraudulently.

As the security director for the Multi-State Lottery Association, which runs the Hot Lotto, Eddie Raymond Tipton wasn’t supposed to be playing the lottery at all. That’s why the man in the video was wearing a hat and hood to conceal his identity but still not look out of place during a Midwestern winter. Prosecutors believe that Tipton was the person who bought the ticket, but a man from Texas has also been arrested and charged with fraud.

That would also explain why the man tried to win without revealing his identity, but how do you rig the lottery? Hot Lotto results come from a computer that randomly generates numbers. Prosecutors currently believe that he may have used a self-deleting malware program to alter the outcome in his favor.

Since Tipton was fired and arrested back in January, the Multi-State Lottery Association has replaced all of the computers and software used to generate the winning numbers.

We missed this news at the time the conspirators were arrested, but the former director’s trial begins on Monday. Tipster TD let us know about the upcoming trial, musing, “Perhaps it’s time to go back to little numbered balls for all lottery drawings?” .

Hot Lotto scandal prompts security changes [Des Moines Register]

New York Fines Domino’s Franchise Owners $970K For Violating A Slew Of Labor Laws

Wed, 2015-04-15 22:58



Four franchise owners operating 29 Domino’s franchises and a former owner of six resturants in New York state will have to fork over a hefty wad of cash — $970,000 — to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office, to settle a slew of charges involving labor law violations.

One of those owners is the same franchisee who was ordered to rehire 25 employees fired from a NYC Domino’s over a wage dispute, a press release from Schneiderman’s office notes, and will be paying out $675,000 out of the total amount.

“In the past two years, the owners of over fifty New York Domino’s franchise locations have admitted to violations of some of the most basic labor law protections— an appalling record of ongoing disregard for workers’ rights,” Attorney General Schneiderman said.

The violations occurred between 2008 and 2014, according to his office, and included:

• Stores that paid delivery workers below the tipped minimum wage.
• Failure to pay overtime to workers clocking more than 40 hours every week, and underpaying others for overtime by not combining all the hours worked at multiple stores owned by the same franchisee, or because they used the wrong formula to calculate overtime for tipped workers, unlawfully reducing workers’ pay.
• Failure to fully reimburse delivery workers who used their own cars or bikes to make deliveries for expenses, including not providing bikers with protective gear as required by New York City law.
• Not paying workers for at least three hours of work when employees show up expecting to work longer, but get sent home when things are slow or for other reason.
•Some stores took a “tip credit” without tracking tips, and assigned delivery workers to kitchen or other untipped work for more time than legally permitted.

In addition to coughing up all that dough in restitution funds, franchisees also must institute complaint procedures, provide written handbooks to employees, train supervisors on the labor law, post a statement of employees’ rights, and designate an officer to submit quarterly reports to the Attorney General’s Office regarding ongoing compliance for three years.

How Do You Get Your Tax Refund Back When Someone Steals It?

Wed, 2015-04-15 22:29



If you have only one job and take the standard deduction, filing your taxes can be pretty simple. It’s so simple, in fact, that fraudsters are happy to do it for you, stealing your refund in the process. What happens to taxpayers who get stuck in this situation? Tax fraud is complicated, and sometimes they end up waiting for a very long time to get their money back.

How long? CNN profiled people who have been victims of tax refund fraud, including one retired accountant who normally doesn’t receive a refund at all and had almost $10,000 issued to a fraudster back in 2011. She had to wait to get her actual refund until January 2014, since such a large fraud led to a large investigation.

An IRS spokesperson explained to CNN that investigations take such a long time because the agency has had its budget cut and no longer has the resources to evaluate complicated fraud cases quickly. While they can take some measures like checking out returns that come from

Where does the information that fraudsters need to come from? Last year, hacks of payroll databases were a popular target and handy source of income data and personal information. One case targeted health care workers, and experts are now afraid that people whose personal information was stolen in the massive Anthem breach could also end up victims of tax fraud.

A hacker stole our $3,500 tax refund [CNN]

AmEx, Jawbone Partnership Allows Customers To Buy Things Using Fitness Trackers

Wed, 2015-04-15 22:00


Using your phone to pay for things at the register is so 2014. With the soon-to-be released Apple Watch allowing payments to be made with a flick of the wrist, other wearable companies are jumping on the bandwagon. Case in point: a new joint venture from Jawbone and American Express.

Citing sources close to the partnership, the Wall Street Journal reports that American Express cardholders will soon be able to use their Jawbone fitness bands to make purchases at certain merchants.

While the people say the AmEx payment program won’t be part of the upcoming Jawbone UP3, it will be available on another future wearable from the company.

Similar to the current payment systems like Apple Pay, Jawbone and AmEx’s system will only be capable of making purchases at physical retail stores equipped with near-field communication technology.

The sources couldn’t provide information on whether or not Jawbone plans to extend its payment capabilities to include those processed by Visa or MasterCard.

AmEx, Jawbone Team Up to Allow Payments Via Fitness Bands [The Wall Street Journal]

Musical ‘Mamma Mia!’ Is Going To Be A Restaurant Because Even Former ABBA Members Need Hobbies

Wed, 2015-04-15 21:42


It could get kinda boring, retiring from your day job and trying to figure out how to fill the minutes, hours and days that stretch emptily before you. Especially after touring the globe as part of a Swedish supergroup and performing for hordes of rabid fans. Perhaps that’s why one former ABBA member has decided to open up a restaurant based on the band’s song and the musical it gave birth to, Mamma Mia!. Because hey, ABBA fans really like ABBA, so why not?

Björn Ulvaeus was also one of the composers behind the band’s 1975 song that was later turned into a Broadway musical and then a movie starring Meryl Streep, about a woman who invites three of her Greek inn-owning mother’s ex-flames to her wedding in order to find out which one is her dad.

If you’re wondering how that classic tale of dubious paternity will translate into a dining atmosphere, Ulvaeus explains that he hopes the show’s dancing-in-the-aisles feel will work well in the Greek taverna-style restaurant slated to open in January in Stockholm reports the Associated Press.

The musicians and actors working in the tentatively named Nicos’ Taverna — conveniently located just down the street from the city’s ABBA museum —  will interact with both servers and guests, who will be invited to sing and dance along to the show’s songs.

“They will be part of a little story in real time, which will be played out during the evening,” Ulvaeus told the AP.

The storyline will veer from the musical with changes every night, he adds, noting that the main characters of a Greek taverna owner in his 50s and his “slightly younger Swedish wife” will be at the center of the action.

Ulvaes says that his fellow ABBA pals aren’t involved, but are aware of his project and “wish it well.”

The timing could be good for bereft Mamma Mia! the musical fans mourning the show’s upcoming last show on Broadway in September, after a 14-year run there.

After Musical, Movie, Here Comes ‘Mamma Mia!’ the Restaurant [Associated Press]

HBO Now Accounted For Almost 1% Of Internet Video Traffic On Sunday Night

Wed, 2015-04-15 21:31

IMG_0022HBO’s standalone streaming service HBO Now is only a week old but a look at traffic numbers for its first big-event night give hope that it might be finding traction with consumers.

According to Sandvine’s analysis of Internet traffic in the U.S. at 9:30 p.m. ET on Sunday — that would be right in the middle of the season premiere of HBO’s Game of Thrones — the 5-day-old HBO Now managed to account for .7% of downstream video content.

That’s not huge — especially when compared to the 33.5% for Netflix or the 15.7% for YouTube — but when you consider all the current restrictions on HBO Now, it’s pretty impressive.

First, it was only a few days old and it costs $15/month. Even with HBO throwing in free 30-day trials, many consumers simply haven’t gotten around to deciding whether or not to give it a shot. And people with cable who may want to eventually cut the cord may be waiting for their contracts to expire or to see how HBO Now performs before bringing out the virtual ax.

Second, speaking of price, the $15/month rate is about double that of Netflix and Amazon Prime (if you were to break out the yearly Prime subscription into monthly amounts). Yet Amazon video, which has been around for years and offers a wide selection of free and rental videos, still only accounted for 1.9% of downstream video on Sunday.

Third, there’s the limitations on devices. HBO Now is only being sold through Apple’s iTunes and through Cablevision’s Optimum Online broadband service (though you have to be in an area served by Cablevision). And Apple’s iOS devices offer the only mobile platform for HBO Now at this moment, meaning the many millions of people using Android or Windows Mobile phones and tablets can’t access it.

Though we confirmed that HBO Now users watching on a computer can output the video to their TVs via HDMI, the only way to stream directly to TV’s is currently the Apple TV box. Thus, owners of devices from Roku, Amazon, Google, and others are not buying.

Meanwhile HBO Go, the streaming service that HBO has been providing to its cable subscribers for several years — and which still seems to crumple under the weight of high-demand — only managed 3.4% of traffic.

This apparent initial minor success of HBO Now may be good news for Showtime and Starz as they consider whether to make their premium networks available directly to consumers without requiring a cable subscription.

As Sandvine is quick, and right, to point out, these numbers are just a snapshot of one part of one evening. It will take months of data to see just how quickly consumers adopt HBO Now and whether those people use it as much as HBO Go and others.