Nevada’s Top Legal Issues of 2014

From gay marriage to Uber, Nevada has been at the center of several key legal matters in 2014

shutterstock_186812807The sound of the judge’s gavel banging against the block always carries beyond the courtroom, because so many judicial decisions directly impact our lives. That’s been particularly true in Nevada this year, as a slew of legal developments have made headlines—some big, some small, all significant.

The year’s most talked-about legal decision came down October 6, when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear petitions regarding the ban on same-sex marriage, thereby upholding the appellate court’s decision to strike down the ban. The Supreme Court’s decision marked the tipping point for marriage equality and eventually led to more than half the country legalizing same-sex marriage.

One day after the Supreme Court had its say, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Nevada and Idaho’s same-sex marriage bans. While it would take two days to clear legal hurdles, Nevada issued its first same-sex marriage license October 9. Now, gay couples no longer have to worry about if they can get married, only whether it will be in a chapel or a drive-through, and whether they’ll use a traditional officiant or Elvis.

The Nevada Supreme Court made a major ruling this fall that will have lasting effects on banks. In SFR Investments Pool 1 v. U.S. Bank, the court left some banks feeling robbed by ruling that a homeowners association’s priority lien may wipe out a bank’s first deed of trust. The case revolved around real estate investors who purchased a Southern Highlands home for $6,000 from an HOA foreclosure sale, which extinguished U.S. Bank’s first deed of trust.

That same day, the Nevada Supreme Court de-pantsed the strip-club industry, upholding a ruling that club operators must pay Nevada’s live entertainment tax. One month later, in Terry v. Sapphire Gentlemen’s Club, the court ruled that dancers at Sapphire Gentlemen’s Club are employees and not independent contractors. As a result, Sapphire has to pay retroactive wages to the 6,500 dancers involved in the class-action suit.

Speaking of arguments about wages, Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk is a notable ongoing U.S. Supreme Court case considering whether workers at an Amazon warehouse in Las Vegas should be paid for mandatory security screenings conducted after their work shift has concluded. The screenings are meant to prevent theft but can take as long as 25 minutes; employees believe they should be compensated for that time, while Amazon argues otherwise.

The Nevada District Court initially dismissed the case, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision. The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in October, and if it decides to reinterpret when work time begins and ends, the decision could impact many business and put millions of dollars at stake.

Of a more high-profile nature is NV Transportation v. Uber Technologies. On November 25, Washoe County District Judge Scott Freeman approved a preliminary injunction to halt Uber’s ride-sharing operations in Nevada. Freeman agreed with the Nevada Transportation Authority that Uber was illegally operating here since it failed to comply with state-licensing requirements prior to launching service statewide in October.

The judge said that Uber’s noncompliance with state regulations potentially risked public safety. Uber countered that it shouldn’t be subject to state regulations because it’s not a transportation-services company but a technology company connecting customers with independent contractors. However, not even Uber’s requirements of driver background checks and vehicle inspections swayed the judge from granting the injunction.

While the Uber saga has played out statewide for the past month, another legal controversy back in April generated national buzz: the intense standoff between Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management, whose personnel sought to enforce a court order to stop Bundy’s cattle from grazing on federally owned land. After hundreds of armed supporters flocked to Bundy’s defense, BLM personnel withdrew for employee and public safety rather than escalate the situation. Since the standoff ended, the BLM has said it is attempting to resolve the matter in the courts. Meanwhile, Bundy and his cattle remain on the contested land.

Not to be left out, Nevada voters were responsible for one of the year’s biggest legal decisions when they overwhelmingly approved Question 1 during November’s general election, creating an intermediate appellate court. Under the new setup, all district court appeals will still be filed with the Nevada Supreme Court, which will then assign cases to the new intermediate court. Prior to the passage of Question 1, Nevada was one of only 10 states in the country without a court of appeals.

Read more from the Legal Issue.