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A lawn care company hoping to harvest a significant tax break has failed to break ground at the Michigan appeals court.

TruGreen said it should qualify for a certain tax exemption on seed, fertilizer, insecticides and other products used to enhance the lawns of customers. It wants to be treated like farmers who till and plant or raise livestock.

TruGreen latched on to a key phrase in Michigan law referring to “things of the soil.” But the appeals court, in a 2-1 decision  Friday, said the company’s services don’t qualify.

“TruGreen plants grass and cares for it. ... The term ‘things of the soil’ pertains to the products of farms and horticultural businesses, not blades of well-tended grass,” said Judge Elizabeth Gleicher.

Judge Brock Swartzle wrote a 13-page dissent, chiding Gleicher and Judge Douglas Shapiro. He said there is no phrase in the law applying the tax exemption strictly to “agricultural production.”

Lawmakers “instead chose a logically broader one, ‘things of the soil,’” Swartzle said. “Under the plain meaning and statutory context of the use-tax exemption, TruGreen remains on solid ground.”



A federal appeals court is ordering a U.S. district judge in New Mexico to reconsider a case involving a fight over critical habitat for the endangered jaguar in the American Southwest.

Groups representing ranchers had sued, arguing that a 2014 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to set aside thousands of acres for the cats was arbitrary and violated the statute that guides wildlife managers in determining whether certain areas are essential for the conservation of a species.

With the order released this week, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned an earlier ruling that had sided with the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Jaguars are currently found in 19 countries. Several individual male jaguars have been spotted in Arizona and New Mexico over the last two decades but there's no evidence of breeding pairs establishing territories beyond northern Mexico.

Shrinking habitats, insufficient prey, poaching and retaliatory killings over livestock deaths are some of the things that have contributed to the jaguar’s decline in the Southwest over the past 150 years.

Under a recovery plan finalized last year, Mexico as well as countries in Central and South America would be primarily responsible for monitoring jaguar movements within their territory. Environmentalists have criticized the plan, saying the U.S. government is overlooking opportunities for recovery north of the international border.



A court ruling is ending a legal fight over the voluntary merger of two school districts in south Mississippi.

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled Thursday that opponents waited too long to file a lawsuit, the Hattiesburg American reported.

In April 2017, the Lumberton Public School District and the Lamar County School District voted to consolidate. The plan included some territory and affected some students in Pearl River County.

The Mississippi Board of Education approved the plan in June 2017, and the two districts consolidated in July 2018. Lamar County schools officials agreed to keep Lumberton schools open and have Lumberton students attend those schools. The officials also hired Lumberton teachers.

Pearl River County officials filed a lawsuit to oppose the Lamar and Lumberton merger. They aregued that students who live in Pearl River County should attend school in Pearl River County. A chancery judge ruled against the Pearl River County plaintiffs, and they appealed to the state Supreme Court. The consolidation remains in place.



A Spanish court has raised the sentence against a former bank president found guilty of trying to smuggle a painting by Pablo Picasso out of the country.

The Madrid court announced the decision Tuesday to raise the sentence against fined ex-Bankinter head Jaime Botín to three years instead of 18 months. The move came after the prosecution detected an error in the original sentence handed down last month.

The court also raised the amount Botín was fined from 52.4 million euros ($57. 9 million) to 91.7 million euros.

The trial last year heard how a team of Spanish police experts flew to the French island of Corsica in 2015 to retrieve the painting, Picasso’s masterpiece “Head of a Young Woman.” The Spanish government had ruled in 2012 that the painting, which is valued at some 24 million euros ($26.5 million), could not be taken out of the country.

The work was owned by Botín, an uncle of Ana Botín, president of the powerful Santander banking group.

Corsican authorities said they had been tipped off about an attempted smuggling of the prized painting from Spain by boat. They said the oil painting, which comes from the Cubist master’s “pink period” and features a woman with long black hair, was seized when the boat’s captain was unable to produce a proper certificate.

On the boat, authorities found a document in Spanish confirming that the work was of “cultural interest” and was banned from leaving Spain, Picasso’s homeland, without permission.


Tucked in a windowless room of Chicago’s immigration court, one of the nation’s largest legal advocacy groups for immigrants runs a free help desk.

Their pace is dizzying. Most days, there’s a line outside the door, with some cases taking years to resolve. Attorneys have no printer and make copies by hand. They rarely take breaks, even to use the bathroom.

A visit to the operation — one of five nationwide — illustrates the growing burden on attorneys in the immigration courts system, where there’s no right to appointed counsel, no electronic filing, a crushing backlog and ever-shifting Trump administration policies that have created unparalleled turmoil.

“Attorneys are spending so much time on work that is effectively meaningless,” said Ashley Huebner with the Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Center, which staffs the legal help desk. “It’s unnecessary, bureaucratic red tape gone crazy.”

Notices to appear in court list times or dates when courts aren’t in session. Immigrants who don’t get copies of their asylum paperwork at the border must file formal Freedom of Information Act requests, which can take time and money. And the Trump administration has all but shut down interactions between government and immigration attorneys outside court, even for mundane matters like finding out when there’s a hearing.

The legal help desk is inside the main immigration court in a downtown high-rise. The National Immigrant Justice Center began a privately funded version of the program in 2013, which was expanded in 2016 with federal funding. Currently, the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review administers similar desks in four other cities: Los Angeles, Miami, New York and San Antonio.




Bolivians asked a U.S. appeals court Tuesday to restore a $10 million jury verdict against a former president and defense minister of the South American nation over killings by security forces during 2003 unrest there.

Lawyers for a group of indigenous Bolivians told a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that a Florida judge was wrong to set aside last year's verdict.

The jury found against former Bolivian President Gonzalo "Goni" Sanchez de Lozada and former defense minister, Jose Carlos Sanchez Berzain. Both have been living in the U.S. after fleeing Bolivia in 2003.

We have faith that the court of appeals will see what the Bolivian people and the American jury also saw: that Goni and Sánchez Berzaín are responsible for these killings, and that justice must be done," said Teófilo Baltazar Cerro, a plaintiff whose pregnant wife Teodosia was shot and killed during the unrest.

The judges did not indicate when they would rule. In the lawsuit, relatives of eight Bolivians who died claimed the two officials planned to kill thousands of civilians to crush political opposition during civil unrest known as the "Gas War." The lawsuit was filed under the Torture Victim Protection Act, which authorizes suits in the U.S. for extrajudicial killings.

The unrest erupted in the fall of 2003 as street protests in Bolivia over use of the country's vast natural gas reserves boiled over. Demonstrators threw up street blockades of flaming debris and rubble in several places including on the outskirts of the capital of La Paz, and violent clashes between police and security forces with the civilian protesters turned deadly.

At times, government forces intent on clearing street barricades fired on demonstrators, mainly in the El Alto municipality adjacent to La Paz, leading to deaths. Other fatalities were reported in confrontations between security forces and Bolivian miners marching to the capital in support of the protesters. Many of the civilian victims were indigenous Aymara Bolivians.


he U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it will leave in place a court decision that derailed the impeachment trials of three West Virginia Supreme Court justices accused of corruption.

The case was one of a long list of those the Supreme Court announced it wouldn’t hear, and as is usual the high court made no comment in declining to take the case. Monday was the Supreme Court’s first day of arguments after its summer break.

The case the high court declined to review was a decision by five acting justices of West Virginia’s highest court who ruled last year that prosecuting then-state Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret Workman in the state Senate would violate the state constitution’s separation of powers clause.

That ruling in Workman’s case was later applied to also halt impeachment proceedings against two other justices who have since left the court: Robin Davis and Allen Loughry. Davis retired after the House approved impeachment charges against her. Loughry resigned after being convicted of felony fraud charges in federal court.

West Virginia House lawmakers had impeached the justices in 2018 over questions involving lavish office renovations that evolved into accusations of corruption, incompetence and neglect of duty. But the acting justices’ ruling halted state Senate impeachment trials.

Workman remains on the court but is no longer chief justice. The current chief justice, Elizabeth Walker, was also impeached by the House, but was cleared at her Senate trial, which took place before the acting justices’ ruling in Workman’s case.

House of Delegates Speaker Roger Hanshaw had said previously that the hope in asking the Supreme Court to take the case was not to seek permission to restart impeachment proceedings but to correct legal errors in the decision.

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