Sneaking Suspicions
Archives-- April 24-May 7, 2005

This page includes posts from April 24-May 7, 2005 in the usual reverse order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

May 7, 2005
Proud parents of a great kid

We were out of town for a couple days, attending older daughter's college graduation.

She made her parents very proud of the way she handled herself over the last four years.

May 7, 2005
Traffic Report

As of yesterday, this site has been up and running for three and one-third years. Thus far there have been 367,996 visits, with 481,506 pages viewed.

Thanks again for your patronage.

May 5, 2005
The mixed miracles of modern technology

A Delaware Common Pleas Court judge issued a criminal law decision today that shows that modern technology can be a decidedly mixed blessing.

According to the stipulated facts, a woman named Nancy Biddle attached a GPS tracking device to the bottom of another woman’s automobile. Her intent was to determine the car’s location and movement through the middle of the state.

GPS devices are well-suited for this purpose, with an apparently growing market.

Biddle eventually removed the device from the other woman’s car, before the police became involved.

Judge Merrill C. Trader found Biddle guilty of the misdemeanor offense of invasion of privacy, under 11 Del.C. Section 1335(a)(2). As he noted, the criminal charge for using a GPS device in this case was a first for Delaware. Nonetheless, after reviewing the language of the Delaware statute and analogous case law from other jurisdictions, Judge Trader appeared to have little difficulty finding Biddle guilty as charged:

In this case the tracking device was attached to the frame of the victim’s vehicle and the public … does not have access to this location. Additionally, the location under the vehicle should be safe from casual or hostile intrusion or surveillance. I conclude that the victim has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the undercarriage of her vehicle.

The judge later amplified his remarks with commentary that should give privacy advocates a warm glow:

[A]utomobiles can be tracked by the police, but the police do not have the unfettered right to tamper with a vehicle by surreptitiously attaching a tracking device without either the owner’s consent or without a warrant…. If the police whose duty is to prevent and detect crime have no such right then a private person would have no such right without the permission of the owner of the vehicle. The right to privacy is a fundamental right in a free and civilized society. The increasing use of electronic devices is eroding personal liberty.


If I were a marketing manager for a company that made or sold GPS tracking devices, I think I’d be re-checking my ad copy right about now.

On the other hand, if a suspicious spouse decides to see where his or her jointly-owned car goes when he or she is not riding in it, this case probably won't put a crimp in those plans.

May 4, 2005
Flying Good Samaritans

My recent experience with helicopter pilots also included an introduction to a volunteer service that deserves wide support.

Angel Flight America is a charitable organization of pilots and their aircraft. They provide free flight services to folks who need help being transported long distances for surgery, or for other critical medical needs, including transporting organs intended for transplants.

The group is now seeking legislative help to amend the Federal Good Samaritan laws.

The latest version of the Volunteer Pilot Organization Protection Act was introduced in Congress on April 27. Here’s how one sponsor, Congresswoman Thelma Drake (R-VA), describes the bill:

The legislation would amend the Good Samaritan Act to provide necessary liability protections in the area of charitable medical air transportation. It would also protect volunteer pilot organizations, their boards and small paid staff and non-flying volunteers from liability should there be an accident. It requires the pilot be fully insured and does not protect the pilot if they are negligent. Instead, it addresses frivolous lawsuits.

A friend of mine, Neil Kaye, MD, is a helicopter pilot/owner and an active member of Angel Flight. In a recent email he gave a very practical reason for the legislation:

Currently, as pilots, we are facing insurance premium increases of up to 25,000/year if we don't get this protection.  Many pilots will be unable to afford that coverage and will then not be able to provide this volunteer service.  We need to protect good Samaritan volunteers.

I join Neil and his fellow volunteer pilots in asking you to contact your Congressional representatives to ask for their votes in favor of this legislation. In addition, if you’re a blogger reading this, please pass the word to your own audience.

Thanks very much!

May 3, 2005
The Helicopter Ride

This morning I accompanied two helicopter pilots on a ride over parts of southern Delaware, on a work-related matter.

Fortunately it was a gorgeous spring day, and I remembered to have my camera with me.

Dewey Beach from the bay side, looking north.

Click here for more pictures.

May 2, 2005
Beachside economics 101

A front-page, top-of-the-fold story in today’s Wilmington News-Journal about a glut in beach house rental opportunities in Delaware was noteworthy for the semi-breathless way it described a standard Economics 101 lesson.

Consider the logical conclusion to be drawn from the following not-so-amazing facts reported in the article:

  • There’s been a huge building boom in the Delaware beach areas
  • Rental inventories for some real estate agents have risen dramatically, in one instance from 500 to more than 800 units
  • Potential renters are asking for (and receiving) discounts and other concessions from the owners of rental properties

But wait—there’s more:

Vacationers also demand the conveniences of home, including air conditioning, a washer and dryer, cable TV and computer hookup.

Being competitive means having TVs in all the bedrooms and a well-stocked kitchen that includes a lobster pot and 12-cup coffee maker. ***

"We tell our owners to have something bigger than a 15-inch television in the living room," [Robert W.] Slavin [, general manager of Prudential Gallo Realtors,] said.

Jane Galt, Tyler Cowen, and other outlets have posted recent pieces about local real estate housing bubbles and the risk of a few bursts here and there.

We’ve certainly seen more than our share of price appreciation in the Rehoboth Beach housing market in the last few years, with annualized increases of 20-30%  frequently noted by local real estate agents we know. While some of us actually live here year-round, far more homes in this resort community are used by their owners on a part-year basis at best. It’s common knowledge that many of these investors count on either seasonal rentals or year-round rentals to offset the increasingly huge carrying costs of these properties.

Unfortunately for them, the folks doing the renting couldn’t help but notice that they now have more choices, and they’re not shy about pressing their new-found advantage.

Shocking, I know.

Thus far the diminished level of cost-sharing contributed by renters hasn’t seemed to affect the local housing sales market. Surely the current disconnect can’t last forever, however.

I give this story two Claudes.

April 30, 2005
Shameless self-promotion

I posted my newest golf book review this morning.

The Augusta National Golf Club: Alister MacKenzie's Masterpiece, by Stan Byrdy, looks like a standard coffee table book.

Looks can deceive, and sometimes that's a good thing.

April 30, 2005
Taking a bite out of frivolous litigation

State and local governments are frequently the targets of litigious wrath by some of our less than happy fellow citizens. 

Unfortunately, the anger that drives these lawsuits is sometimes well out of proportion to the real or imagined offense being caused or taken.

It’s up to the attorneys who take these cases to refrain from making frivolous claims in a vain effort to bolster their clients’ chances. Sometimes the courts will give a short sharp reminder of that fact to those lawyers who neglect that duty, as well as to the plaintiffs who don’t bother using a lawyer to file their suits.

For example, I can well imagine the glint in Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner’s eye as he wrote the unanimous panel opinion in Wall v. City of Brookfield, Wisconsin, issued April 27.

Sherry Wall owns two dogs, one of which is a 95-pound Doberman Pinscher with a penchant for escaping the confines of Wall's home. 

A dog of that size and breed simply doesn’t give most people a case of warm fuzzies when they see it bounding toward them. In fact, the city government took what it thought was decisive action against the problem. It issued nine citations, forcing Wall to pay about $25,000 in fines and attorney’s fees for the continuous violations of the common city ordinance prohibiting dog owners from letting their pets run free. 

Despite these expensive reminders to be more neighborly, one day Wall’s Doberman escaped again. This time the city decided to take a different approach to the recurring problem. The officials told the local humane society, which picked up the Doberman, to treat it as a stray and hold it for a while, even though the dog’s identity was well-known. 

After keeping the dog for 60 days, the society returned it to Wall, who promptly filed a Federal lawsuit over the “loss of … dog companionship” that she allegedly suffered. 

Since the Doberman was constantly escaping from her home, one wonders if the dog ever really shared her interest in being together, but never mind. 

The District Court dismissed the case, but Wall was undeterred. She appealed the suit to the Seventh Circuit, attempting to take a bite out of the Brookfield city treasury. 

Judge Posner bit back:

If ever the resolution of a dispute belonged at the local level of government, it is this dispute over what to do about the plaintiff’s inability or, more likely, unwillingness to control her intimidating Doberman. It is impossible to discern a federal interest. There is no suggestion that the plaintiff belongs to a discriminated-against minority, that Wisconsin officialdom is irrationally hostile to dog owners, that Brookfield intended to sell the Doberman in order to retire the town debt, that the plaintiff is a political opponent of the town’s mayor, that leash laws challenge values embedded in the federal Constitution or federal laws, or that the detention of the dog was intended as retaliation against the plaintiff for asserting her federal rights. This is a neighborhood squabble over a dog, a squabble properly to be resolved at the neighborhood or local level rather than by federal judges sitting in Milwaukee and Chicago. Such hotly litigated issues as whether a neighbor’s two-pound dog the scruff of whose tiny neck the Doberman clamped its jaws on was a puppy that the Doberman was playing sweetly with or a minute adult that the Doberman was terrifying do not engage the expertise of federal judges.***

The Doberman was seized without notice and an opportunity for a pre-seizure hearing—necessarily so, since the dog was picked up in the street. Only a post-deprivation hearing was feasible. The plaintiff could have got that by filing a petition in the county court for the return of an animal “wrongfully withheld under [Wis. Stat. §] 173.21(1).” Wis. Stat. § 173.22. No more process than that was constitutionally required. Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527 (1981).

The case may not have engaged the judges’ expertise, but it certainly engaged their sense that something else would be done about it:

This is nuisance litigation that the federal judiciary does not need. So we affirm the judgment but at the same time issue the plaintiff an order to show cause why she should not be sanctioned for making a frivolous argument in a meritless case.


By the way, whoever handled this appeal for this dog-loving plaintiff might want to keep an additional fact in mind when next they appear before Judge Posner.

He likes cats.

April 28, 2005
A bit more excitement we didn't need

My daughters and I were together for a short while yesterday, and we drove to a few stores. Among other destinations, younger daughter asked me to stop at the local WaWa store for a sub.

I pulled into the parking lot, and had just begun to turn into a space in front of the store when I heard an engine roaring up, far too close for comfort.

I braked in time to watch a scruffy young guy in a small pickup truck speed between us and our parking space, heading from a long row of gasoline pumps toward the single exit.

Once again I didn't really need or want this extra bit of excitement in our lives, but luckily he missed us.

The girls wondered why he drove so recklessly. I suggested he had just left the pumps after filling up, without paying for his gas.

Good guess.

As we walked into the store, the cashier stood at her station, peering through a set of binoculars at the vehicles stopped at the corner intersection where this WaWa sits.

When the kid took off, he didn't notice that he had no easy escape route.

The clerk carefully noted the vehicle's tag number, so that the store manager could pass along that information to the police.

Good. Hope they catch that fool.

I just wonder how long this store was open before they issued those binoculars to the cashiers.

April 28, 2005
Sea Trail and other delights

I had a great golfing trip with ten other friends. We stayed at Sea Trail, in Sunset Beach, NC, a frequent site for these vacations.

The experience will be part of a golf/travelogue column in a week or so.


Contact Information:

Fritz Schranck
P.O. Box 88
Nassau, DE  19969


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© Frederick H. Schranck 2002-2005