Supreme Court issues rulings

December 03, 1991|By Washington Bureau of The Sun

Drunk-driving tests. The Supreme Court left intact yesterday a lower court ruling limiting police authority to use physical force to get a blood sample from a drunk-driving suspect who resists. A federal appeals court, in a Newport Beach, Calif., case, ruled that any time police use more than "reasonable" force on a suspect who is not cooperating, they have violated the suspect's privacy rights. The lower court abandoned an earlier standard allowing police to use any method short of one that "shocks the conscience" to get blood samples from suspects. In the California case, several police held down a man while a hospital staff member inserted a needle and took a blood sample. The man sued and won $2,500 in damages from the city. The case was Newport Beach vs. Hammer (No. 91-270).

Libel lawsuit. The court also refused to review a California state court ruling that a Japanese publisher of Focus, a magazine that specializes in sensational stories, may be sued for libel in California for a story critical of a Japanese man living in the state temporarily, when the publisher's only contact with California was the sale there, by others, of 40 copies of the magazine. Shinchosha vs. Superior Court (No. 91-478).

Music royalties. Without comment, the court refused to block the payment of $843,000, plus interest, in music royalties to singers B. J. Thomas and Gene Pitney and the Shirelles singing group. A Nashville music publisher used master recordings made by those performers but insisted that it need not pay royalties for a past period when another firm owned those recordings. That claim was rejected in lower courts. Gusto Records vs. Thomas (No. 91-703).

Airline crash. Without explanation, the court turned aside a plea to reinstate a $50 million "punitive" damages award to 137 survivors of passengers killed in 1983 when a Korean Air Lines jet, Flight 007, was shot down by Soviet military planes when the airliner veered off course and strayed over Soviet territory. A lower court ruled that such damages had been barred by an international commercial air treaty, the "Warsaw Convention." The case was Dooley vs. Korean Air Lines (91-251). In a separate order, the court also refused to hear a challenge by Korean Air Lines to the jury's verdict that the airline had engaged in "willful misconduct," leading to the incident. The case was Korean Air Lines vs. Dooley, (No. 91-547).

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