As lawsuits targeting the press continue to rise in response to today’s political climate, local news outlets are more likely to find themselves facing unexpected legal expenses. Although the national news media can generally weather the costs of libel lawsuits and subpoena requests, smaller news outlets have gone bankrupt or barely escaped such a fate while paying off legal fees, even when these outlets have ultimately been successful in their legal battles. Because local news outlets serve a critical role in underserved communities and are powerful agents of positive social change, they ought to be protected against fatal legal expenses. This Article examines the important functions of local journalism, explains the recent legal challenges that local news outlets have been facing and their resulting impact, and exposes the problematic gaps of statutory frameworks that fail to adequately protect local news outlets from fatal legal expenses. In so doing, this Article argues that enacting strong state anti-SLAPP statutes and reporter’s shield laws is necessary to combat recent costly attacks against the press and to preserve the vitality of the local media.
Tortious Constructions: Holding Federal Law Enforcement Accountable by Applying the FTCA’s Law Enforcement Proviso over the Discretionary Function Exception
Courts are reluctant to decide cases alleging abuses by federal law enforcement. This judicial reluctance is largely attributed to the principle of sovereign immunity, which holds that the United States—and therefore the federal government—cannot be sued. However, the sovereign can of its own accord consent to be sued: The federal government provided that consent in 1946 by enacting the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), which allows tort suits against the United States. Specifically, a provision of the FTCA—the law enforcement proviso—explicitly states that law enforcement officers are amenable to suit for certain intentional torts. Nevertheless, courts have restricted the proviso’s efficacy through narrow interpretations and undue deference to competing FTCA provisions such as the discretionary function exception.
This Note argues that the law enforcement proviso must be interpreted more broadly to properly hold government officers accountable. It takes on the project of sifting through the FTCA’s complexity and history to articulate why the correct doctrinal approach is to apply the proviso exclusively, superseding any competing provision within the FTCA. It delineates the current spectrum of approaches among the circuit courts, finding that only the Eleventh Circuit has adopted the advocated approach. The Note then justifies this approach under statutory interpretation principles and tort law theory while also considering the practical consequences of a disappearing Bivens remedy. Properly understood, the complexity of the FTCA and the barrier of sovereign immunity fade away: For government activity as intrusive and forceful as law enforcement, a court of law simply must have the ability to hold officers accountable.
The Costs of Clean Water in Hoosick Falls: Private Civil Litigation and the Regulation of Drinking Water Quality
Despite extensive statutory law and regulations governing drinking water quality in the United States, water-contamination crises have been a regular feature of the American news cycle in recent years, perhaps most notably in Flint, Michigan, but also in a disturbing number of localities across the United States, including the upstate New York town of Hoosick Falls. This Note uses the water-contamination crisis in Hoosick Falls as a case study to analyze why these apparent regulatory failings continue to persist. This case study reveals how scientific uncertainty, resource constraints, and the socio-political dynamics of public regulation in the drinking-water context limit public ex ante regulatory mechanisms’ power to deter drinking-water contamination and to rebalance the equities disrupted when drinking-water pollution occurs. In Hoosick, private tort litigation has the potential to be a powerful vehicle for addressing such regulatory shortcomings, but its ability to do so will turn on whether courts are willing to be more flexible in their conceptions of legally cognizable harm. I argue that such flexible conceptions are justified and would serve a crucial dual purpose—bolstering pollution deterrence and providing a forum in which social costs not accounted for during the regulatory, industrial, and political processes that drive public-resource governance may, finally, be accounted for.