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CAN YOU SEE THE LIGHT?!

So asked Reverend Cleophus James of Jake and Elwood Blues in “The Blues Brothers”.  Yet, James Brown now sings the blues.  He died over 8 years ago at age 73, on December 25, 2006, and his estate remains unsettled, lost in darkness, with his body not permanently interred at the intended memorial.  Caught in estate litigation of Dickinsonian proportions, with personal representatives who were appointed, then resigned and were either dismissed and reappointed, one wonders whether any funds will be left for the charitable beneficiaries of his estate, as his estate preambles through the legal system.  .

Mr. Brown, the “Godfather of Soul”, lead a complicated life, including numerous marriages, children, accusations of alleged drug use, and alleged domestic violence.  While one would think that his estate plan documents, or possible lack thereof, would be equally complex or unplanned, he did leave a will and irrevocable trust, which left substantial portions of his wealth to provide scholarships to needy children.  However, despite the passage of over 8 years, the trustees have allegedly not distributed scholarships via the charitable trust to needy students.   Instead, the South Carolina State Attorney General intervened in the matter in an allegedly unprecedented scope.  Ultimately, the South Carolina Supreme Court overruled the decision of the Attorney General, to prevent the implementation of the Attorney General’s proposed changes to Mr. Brown’s dispositive intentions.

This summer, the Court sent the matter back to the local South Carolina probate court, which has yet to enter a final decision, due to various claims.  Why the matter did not promptly proceed to the local probate court for a trial to resolve all issues and so a decision could be rendered, remains unclear.

Of further complexity, the value of Mr. Brown’s estate remains unknown.  This remains a critical factor for determination of reasonableness of fees of the various professionals, which could ultimately further deplete the estate.

Presumably, Mr. Brown’s estate continues to earn millions of dollars a year in royalties.  An unknown factor remains regarding the allocation of the income earned after his passing.  If the executors/trustees could not or failed to distribute to the net income to the charitable beneficiaries/charitable trust their share of the income, then almost certainly the IRS, on behalf of the U.S. Treasury and possibly state or local governments, will receive substantial income tax revenues from and estate, instead of deducting said funds for charities from income earned.

Many individuals do not understand that an estate or trust, just like a person or corporation, must pay income tax, unless the estate distributes the income to the beneficiaries or the funds pass to a qualified charitable beneficiary, such as a charitable trust or other like organization.  When such distribution occurs, the income received by the beneficiaries/charitable trusts generally results in deductions at the estate level, with non-charitable individuals and entity generally then considered to have received income to the extent the funds distributed exceed principal.

A qualified charity receiving income from a qualified charitable entity generally does not have to pay any income tax.  But, when the income is accumulated and not distributed, the U.S. Treasury levies an income tax on estate income over $600 ($100 exemption for certain trusts) , with the maximum income tax currently generally set 39.5% for all income over $12,150 in a year.  By contrast, income allocated to qualified charities, is not generally subject to income tax.  The foregoing does not even factor in any state or local income taxes.  Thus, Mr. Brown’s estate ligation has exposed his estate to substantial income tax due to the lack of prompt settling of his estate.

How could some of the above-discussed issues have been avoided?

A family settlement agreement prepared before Mr. Brown’s passing in which he fully disclosed all assets, debts, income and expenses and had all heirs and beneficiaries execute, agreeing to the disposition he intended, may have limited litigation after his passing.  While to some extent this was attempted, at least with the individual claiming to be his spouse; as she is now a party to the estate litigation, presumably the agreement was not sufficient for some reason.

Failing such an agreement being practical, or possible, years before Mr. Brown’s passing he could have retained an independent appraiser to value his estate, and eventually transferred, while he was alive and in good health, assets to one or more types of irrevocable charitable trusts, such as a charitable remainder annuity trust.  Some funds/assets might have been allocated directly for the scholarship fund he intended to create, while others funds/assets could have been allocated for the individual beneficiaries he intended to benefit from his estate.  Indeed, transference of highly appreciated assets to one or more such trusts may have resulted in substantial reduction in taxes, either income taxes and/or estate taxes.

Of course, the funding while alive of charitable bequests or other gifting of assets to heirs in advance of one’s passing requires a willingness to live on less income and to accept one’s mortality. Moreover there are tax consequences.  There are potential gift taxes, depending on the sums in question.  Also, when a person dies, the cost basis to determine capital gain is normally the date of death of the asset in question, which is known as a “step-up” in cost basis.  This means in effect that if you wait until you die, and have a highly appreciated asset, when sold, at death there may be little to know capital gains tax.  But, if there asset had been transferred to a non-qualified charity while alive, there might have been substantial capital gain taxes.  There are a variety of charitable trusts that when used can minimize or eliminate the capital gain tax in question.  Accepting one’s mortality, and careful planning, can then minimize the possibility of disputes.

Here is an article by Adam S. Bernick, Esquire who is of counsel with my firm.  This article was originally published in Upon Further Review on January 22, 2015.

Law360’s Weekly Verdict: Legal Lions & Lambs

Law360 (September 19, 2019, 3:25 PM EDT) — Akerman snagged a spot among the week’s legal lions after a jury awarded its model clients nearly $1 million for a swingers club’s unauthorized use of their images, while Hanshaw Burink was among the legal lambs with a loss at the Sixth Circuit for a client fired after golfing during medical leave.

Legal Lions

Akerman LLP clinched the top spot on this week’s legal lions list after a Miami federal jury on Monday ruled that a swingers club should pay the law firm’s clients, 32 models, a total of $892,500 in damages for using the women’s images to promote sex parties without getting their permission or paying them. The models are represented by Naim S. Surgeon, Lawrence D. Silverman, Akivia P. Bassaragh and Dianne O. Fischer of Akerman.

Next up on this week’s lions list are Hogan Lovells and King & Spalding LLP. A D.C. federal judge ruled in favor of their hospital clients Tuesday and found that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services exceeded its authority last year when it cut payments by hundreds of millions of dollars for outpatient hospital care that’s not actually delivered on hospital campuses. The hospitals are represented by Catherine Emily Stetson and Susan Margaret Cook of Hogan Lovells and Mark PolstonChris Kenny, Joel McElvain and Nikesh Jindal from King & Spalding.

Dechert LLP earned a spot on the list Friday after a California federal jury cleared client Quest Diagnostics of allegations it stole Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s trade secrets in a bid to develop a competing diagnostic blood test. Quest is represented by Jonathan D. Loeb, Christopher S. Ruhland, Blake Greene and Anna Do of Dechert.

Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart LLP secured a lion’s win for client Steak ‘n Shake Friday when the Sixth Circuit reversed a lower court decision, finding the restaurant chain didn’t have to notify a worker of her right to continued health coverage after she suffered an on-the-job knee injury. Steak ‘n Shake is represented by Eric P. Mathisen of Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart.

Last up on this week’s lions list are Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP and Coffey Burlington PL. The law firms’ client, tennis superstar Naomi Osaka, has prevailed over a former coach suing her for 20% of everything she’s worth after a Florida state judge said the contract in question was clearly unenforceable because Osaka was 15 when her father signed it. Osaka is represented by Paul J. Schwiep of Coffey Burlington and Alex Spiro and Luke Nikas of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.

Legal Lambs

Kicking off this week’s legal lambs list is Hanshaw Burink PLC. The law firm’s client, a former mine worker who was fired after being caught golfing on days for which he took intermittent medical leave for shoulder pain, could not convince the Sixth Circuit to revive his retaliation suit, with the court saying Friday he was justifiably ousted for abusing his Family and Medical Leave Act rights. LaBelle is represented by Sandra Hanshaw Burink of Hanshaw Burink.

Next up on the lambs list are Lane Powell PC and Landman Corsi Ballaine & Ford. A federal jury awarded $16.75 million to three people in the first trial over a major Amtrak train derailment near DuPont, Washington, in 2017. Amtrak is represented by Andrew Yates of Lane Powell and John Bonventre of Landman Corsi Ballaine & Ford.

Bodman PLC ended up on the list Friday after the Federal Circuit affirmed that steakhouses at a Michigan hotel and New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport have confusingly similar names, rejecting the Inn at St. John’s argument that it was wrongly denied a trademark because the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office disregarded its own earlier decision. Inn at St. John’s LLC is represented by Justin Bagdady, Susan Kornfield and Michael Serra of Bodman.

The Third Circuit refused Tuesday to revive an American Airlines flight attendant’s suit claiming she was harassed by male colleagues in a Facebook group, saying the “crude” comments were not severe enough to trigger protection under federal workplace discrimination law, landing attendant Laura Medlin’s attorneys at the Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen PC on this week’s legal lambs list. Medlin is represented by Faye Riva Cohen and Brian M. Doyle of the Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen.

Last up on this week’s lambs list is Prince Lobel Tye LLP. The Federal Circuit delivered a likely end to a patent suit Uniloc brought against gaming company Big Fish Games over technology in data processing systems, refusing Friday to resurrect two patents a lower court found covered only an abstract idea. Uniloc is represented by James Foster, Paul Hayes and Aaron Jacobs of Prince Lobel Tye.

–Additional reporting by Cara Salvatore, Vin Gurrieri, Tiffany Hu, Adam Lidgett, Matthew Bultman, Nathan Hale, Craig Clough, Lauren Berg, Emily Brill and Ryan Boysen. Editing by Philip Shea.

3rd Circ. Grounds Harassment Suit Against American Airlines

The Third Circuit refused Tuesday to revive an American Airlines flight attendant’s suit claiming she was harassed by male colleagues in a Facebook group, saying the “crude” comments were not severe enough to trigger protection under federal workplace discrimination law.

A three-judge panel affirmed a lower court’s decision handing American Airlines summary judgment
on Laura Medlin’s Title VII hostile work environment claim over comments and posts in a Facebook
group named “Wingnuts.”

While the panel called the comments “crude and thoughtless,” the judges said Title VII doesn’t
protect workers from ordinary workplace troubles. The panel said that Medlin fell short of showing
any of the comments actually changed a condition of her employment and noted that she didn’t
actually work with the attendants who were behind the postings.

“Additionally, there is no evidence that American’s failure to respond to Medlin’s complaints and
perform an investigation changed the terms of her employment,” the panel said.  Medlin had alleged that comments in the Facebook group — including a crude name she believed was aimed at her, gender epithets and threats — caused her to suffer from a hostile work environment. She herself was not a member of the group, and American Airlines had nothing to do with the group, according to court documents.  Medlin said she took the issue to the airline’s human resources department, but an investigation wasn’t done because the complaint was “lost in the shuffle.”

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission gave her a right-to-sue letter, and Medlin did so
in 2016, claiming hostile work environment and discrimination, according to court documents.
American Airlines defeated both claims at the lower court. Medlin appealed only the loss of her
hostile work environment allegation. She argued on appeal that a jury might have been able to find the postings were aimed at her gender and that the lower court was wrong to say that she didn’t prove the conduct was pervasive or severe.

Faye Riva Cohen, one of Medlin’s attorneys, told Law360 on Tuesday that she wasn’t planning at this
time to ask for rehearing, but did say that social media postings and bullying have a severe impact
on the real world.  “We feel that courts have not caught up with the reality of social media and its role in workplace issues,” she said. “And also depending on the type of industry, for example in the airline industry where flight attendants do not have regular shifts and don’t even meet each other on a regular basis, they use social media as the prevalent way that they can communicate with each other. So they talk about their workplace. They talk about union issues. They talk about exchanging ideas.”

American Airlines told Law360 that it was happy with the decision.

Circuit Judges Michael Chagares, Kent A. Jordan and Luis Felipe Restrepo sat on the panel. Medlin is represented by Faye Riva Cohen and Brian M. Doyle of the Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen, PC. American Airlines is represented by Daniel E. Farrington of Fisher Phillips. The case is Laura Medlin v. American Airlines, case number 18-3117, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

By Adam Lidgett and published in Law360 on September 17, 2019 and can be found here.

Pa. Superior Court: Family Court Notice Must Be Meaningful

Although there are standard forms for various pleadings and motions for family matters, they should certainly not be considered formalities or merely boilerplates. In the matter of T.L.G. v. J.D.G., the Pennsylvania Superior Court drove home the importance of pleadings and motions in providing the opposing party notice of what is at issue when going to a family court hearing.

In T.L.G. the parents of two children were subject to a stipulated custody order. One of the two children subject to this order unfortunately suffers from various mental health issues. Her parents both agreed to enroll their daughter in a residential program in North Carolina. At the conclusion of her program in the residential facility, she had the option to enroll in a therapeutic boarding school (which was recommended by the professionals at the residential program), or, in the alternative, she had the option to enroll in a standard public school with in-school and out-of-school therapeutic services. The parents disagreed over where to enroll the child; the child’s mother wanted to follow the recommendations while her father wanted to send her to a public school with additional services.

As the parents were unable to overcome their impasse regarding where to enroll their daughter, the mother filed a petition for special relief requesting the court to enter an order requiring the parties to follow the recommendations of the mental health professionals at the residential program. Accordingly, the court entered a scheduling order that set a hearing date “in consideration of the within petition.”

At the day of the hearing, the judge before whom the hearing took place opened the hearing by announcing that the order he would enter would likely be one that awarded sole legal custody (in the areas of education and mental health issues only). The judge ultimately entered an order granting the father sole legal custody (limited to education and mental health issues), and the mother timely appealed this order to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

On appeal the mother argued that the trial court abused its discretion and violated her due process rights when it entered an order modifying the custody order (by changing legal custody) despite the fact that there was no petition to modify custody filed by either party.  Instead, the mother argued, her petition simply requested an order to resolve a single discreet issue of dispute between the parties, and the trial court’s order should have reflected that.

In ruling on the mother’s appeal, the Superior Court first noted that “notice and an opportunity to be heard are fundamental components of due process.” Furthermore, the court further noted that notice to a party must be provided within a meaningful time in a meaningful manner. Citing the Pennsylvania Superior Court case of Langendorfer v. Spearman, 797 A.2d 303 (Pa.Super.2002) (which in turn cited Choplosky v. Choplosky, 584 A.2d 340 (Pa.Super.1990)) the T.L.G. court also indicated that “if the parties do not receive proper notice that custody is at issue, a trial court cannot ‘assume that the parties had either sufficiently exposed the relevant facts or properly argued their significance.’”

While filing a petition to modify custody is typically the appropriate manner by which to request a custody modification, the court recognized that a trial court, under the right circumstances, may modify a custody order when it is in the best interests of the child, even if a petition to modify had not been filed. The court clarified, however, that such circumstances are only “if notice of the proceeding adequately advises a party that custody will be at issue, a court may entertain the request to permanently modify a custody order after hearing in that proceeding.”

When reviewing the facts of this matter, the court observed that mother’s petition for special relief does not request any modification of the custody order at all. It merely requests the trial court to adjudicate the discreet issue of where their daughter should be enrolled. Furthermore, the court also observed that the trial court’s scheduling order, quoted above, did not reference the potentiality of a modification of custody.

Based on the above, the Superior Court ruled that mother did not have proper notice that custody modification would be an issue at a petition for special relief hearing. In addition, the court did not believe the trial court judge’s opening statement at the hearing that legal custody may be modified constituted notice at a “meaningful time” or in a “meaningful manner.” In the court’s view, requiring the mother to make an objection on the record against the judge’s statement giving her last-minute notice that modification would likely be at issue (indeed, there was not even notice that it would definitely be an issue) is not sufficiently advanced notice to the mother to enable her to prepare or properly advocate. Indeed, the trial court did not even inform the parties that it would, in fact, modify legal custody until it issued its order after the hearing concluded.

In light of the above, the court ruled that the trial court abused its discretion and violated the mother’s due process rights when it awarded the father sole legal custody over educational and mental health matters despite the fact that neither party filed to modify the custody order. The court ruled that the mother did not receive proper notice that the custody order could be modified, vacated the trial court’s order, and remanded the matter. This decision makes it clear that court filings, and the court notices that follow from them, must be specific and provide adequate notice to the parties in order to ensure and protect a party’s basic due process rights.

James W. Cushing is senior associate at the Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen and managing attorney for Legal Research Inc., and sits on the executive committee of the family law section of the Philadelphia Bar Association.

 

Minnesota Amish Must Install Septic Tanks

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Mast v. County of Fillmore, (MN App., June 8, 2020), the Minnesota state Court of Appeals rejected claims by four members of the Amish community that laws requiring them to install septic systems to dispose of their waste water violate their freedom of conscience under the Minnesota Constitution and their rights under RLUIPA. The Court of Appeals said in part:

the district court appropriately concluded that respondents met their burden of demonstrating that appellants’ mulch-basin system does not provide a less-restrictive means of accomplishing the government’s compelling interests of protecting public health and the environment.

Rochester Post Bulletin reports on the decision.

You can learn more about this issue here.

 

 

Court Rejects Claim of Retaliation Because of Foster Parents’ Religious Beliefs

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Lasche v. State of New Jersey, (D NJ, June 4, 2020), a New Jersey federal district court rejected claims by a couple who were formerly foster parents that the state acted unconstitutionally when it removed a foster child from their home and when it suspended their foster care license. Plaintiffs claim that they were retaliated against because of their religious belief that homosexuality is a sin, or because they shared their religious belief with their child. The court found insufficient allegations to support an equal protection claim. As to plaintiffs’ 1st Amendment retaliation claim, the court said in part:

there is no legal support for Plaintiffs’ assertion of a First Amendment right to share their religious beliefs with their foster child, who was neither their biological child nor their adoptive child. In fact, finding that foster parents have an unfettered constitutional right to share their religious beliefs with a foster child would seemingly conflict with the free exercise rights of the foster children and his or her biological parents. Accordingly, I do not find that Plaintiffs can assert a First Amendment retaliation claim based on such a theory.

Rejecting the argument that the state’s actions were in retaliation merely for their religious beliefs, the court said in part:

Plaintiffs’ allegations present a close-question regarding causality, nonetheless, I find that Plaintiffs have failed to allege facts demonstrating “a pattern of antagonism,” or other circumstantial evidence from which retaliatory or discriminatory motives can be inferred.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Court Refuses To Order Vermont To Extend Dual Enrollment Program To Catholic School

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In A.M. v. French, (D VT, May 29, 2020), a Vermont federal district court refused to issue a preliminary injunction to require the state to allow a student enrolled in a Catholic high school to participate in the Dual Enrollment Program (DEP) that pays for high schoolers to take college courses. The court observed that while those administering DEP advised plaintiffs that religious parochial schools are ineligible to participate, this was an inaccurate characterization.  Instead, DEP is open to students enrolled in public schools, in private schools where a district without a public high school pays tuition, or students who are home schooled. In a prior decision, the Vermont Supreme Court held that the program allowing districts without public high schools to pay tuition to private schools violates the Vermont constitution only when the district reimburses tuition for a religious school and does not impose adequate safeguards to prevent the use of the funds for religious worship. In light of this, the federal district court said in part:

The DEP’s plain text does not impose classifications or disparate treatment based on religion. Indeed, the statutory scheme does not even mention religion…. [A] home study student receiving a religious education from his or her parents may take religious education classes at a postsecondary institution with a religious affiliation provided the home study student can satisfy the DEP Eligibility Requirements. A publicly funded high school student at an approved independent school with a religious affiliation may do the same….

Because qualified independent religious schools are not categorically excluded from the DEP and face no additional burdens not imposed on secular approved independent schools, the DEP Eligibility Requirements are neutral as applied to religion. Plaintiffs have therefore not demonstrated a violation of their constitutional rights giving rise to irreparable harm.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Third Circuit Provides Practical Guidance on Common Workplace Issues

Offensive Facebook Postings

In Chinery v. American Airlines, Melissa Chinery worked as a flight attendant for American Airlines based out of Philadelphia. She was represented by the Association of Professional Flight Attendants Union and ran for president of its Philadelphia local chapter in November 2014. Chinery lost the election, but claimed that during its course and thereafter, she was harassed by a group of flight attendants who were part of a Facebook group used primarily by Philadelphia-based flight attendants. American Airlines had nothing to do with the Facebook group and there was no evidence that the company was aware of posts within the group.

Specifically, Chinery cited numerous posts that used vulgar language about the union election that Chinery interpreted as being directed at her. There were also multiple posts that called Chinery’s supporters “cavalier harpies” and “shrews of misinformation” among other offensive gender-based phrases.

Chinery complained about these posts to American Airlines’ human resources department, which investigated her claims but found them to be meritless.

“Chinery claims that the investigator failed to adequately address her concerns and that American Airlines could have enforced its social media policy against the flight attendants at issue but chose not to.” Chinery brought suit against American, claiming that she was subject to a hostile work environment and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of American and Chinery appealed.

Posts Were Not Harassing Under Title VII

Initially, the court affirmed dismissal of the sexual harassment claim, finding that the complained-of conduct was neither severe nor pervasive enough to “amount to a change in the terms and conditions of employment.” The court rejected Chinery’s novel argument that the allegedly offensive posts were “pervasive” because “social media posts are public and endure.” The court found no authority to suggest that “permanence” alone is enough for a reasonable trier of fact to conclude that the posts rose to the level of pervasiveness.

Secondly, while the posts were found to be offensive, the court affirmed that they constituted only “offhand comments and isolated incidents” that do not rise to the level of harassment as a matter of law.

Alleged Inadequate Investigation Is Not Harassment

Finally, Chinery argued that American’s failure to (in her mind) adequately investigate her claims and the company’s failure to enforce its social media policy constituted a level of “severe” harassment. The court also rejected this argument, finding that Chinery failed to show how “American’s shortcomings caused a material change in the terms of condition of her employment. Rather, any failure to investigate or discipline the flight attendants merely preserved the very circumstances that were the subject of the complaint.”

The case brings to the legal system a very real conundrum for employers in the age of social media. An employer, of course, is not responsible for intra-employee social media postings, but the court implied that the employer’s failure to investigate or apply its own social media policy might have some bearing on the question of whether respondeat superior liability may be attributed to the employer—but the (alleged) failure to follow policy will not, in and of itself, rise to the level of actionable harassment.

Inconsistent Statements Regarding Disability

In Ehnert v. Washington Penn Plastic, Hahns Ehnert was a temporary employee assigned by a staffing company to work at Washington Penn Plastic in April 2012. It was understood that Ehnert would be considered for hire by Washington Penn at the conclusion of his temporary assignment. While Ehnert worked at Washington Penn, he suffered from a “variety of medical conditions, but never requested any accommodations” from the company. On May 23, the last day at his workplace, Ehnert was advised by the staffing agency that he would not be hired on a permanent basis.

A few months later, in July 2012, Ehnert completed an application for Social Security disability insurance benefits on which he represented that he had been “unable to work due to a ‘disabling condition’ since May 21, 2012—two days before his temporary assignment at Washington Penn ended.” Ehnert was ultimately granted the sought-for SSDI benefits based upon a finding that he was “unable to perform any past relevant work” and that there are “no jobs that exist in significant numbers in a national economy that Ehnert can perform.”

Ehnert subsequently brought a claim against Washington Penn and the staffing agency, alleging that he had been discriminated against on the basis of his disability. Thus, Ehnert set up a classic “speaking out of both sides of your mouth” situation (McNemar v. Disney Store, 91 F.3d 610 (3d Cir. 1996)) in which his claim for disability benefits conflicted with his assertion that he was “otherwise qualified” to perform the duties of his position in his ADA claim. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Washington Penn and Ehnert appealed.

LTD Representation Inconsistent With ADA Claim

The court began its consideration by noting that when a plaintiff’s claim that he was “a qualified individual with a disability” conflicts with a concurrent claim for disability benefits in which he asserts that he was “unable to work,” a court’s first inquiry is whether the representations are “patently inconsistent,” as in Cleveland v. Policy Management Systems,526 U.S. 795, 806 (1999). Ehnert argued that his apparently conflicting representations were not “patently inconsistent” because he represented to the Social Security Administration that “he could not work because he was being discriminated against.” The court rejected this argument based upon a finding that Ehnert represented “to the SSA that he was incapable of performing any work beginning May 21, 2012,” and that such representation “crashes face first against” his current representation that he “had been able to work at that time.”

Secondly, the court rejected Ehnert’s assertion that his representations could be reconciled because “reasonable accommodations are not considered by the SSA when making its decision.” While the court recognized this to be accurate, Ehnert presented no evidence that he had sought any accommodation during the course of his employment.

The case reinforces the need for employers and their counsel to review claims for disability benefits made by current or future (potential) litigants for the type of inconsistencies recognized by the court.

 

Court Strikes Down North Carolina Limits On Worship Services

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Berean Baptist Church v. Cooper, (ED NC, May 16, 2020), a North Carolina federal district court issued a temporary restraining order barring enforcement of the governor’s COVID-19 order that limits indoor worship services to ten people. Saying that “There is no pandemic exception to the Constitution of the United States or the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.,” the court continued:

The assembly for religious worship provisions in EO 138 starkly illustrate the extent to which religious entities and individuals are not subject to a neutral or generally applicable law. The record, at this admittedly early stage of the case, reveals that the Governor appears to trust citizens to perform non-religious activities indoors (such as shopping or working or selling merchandise) but does not trust them to do the same when they worship indoors together.

News & Observer reports on the decision.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Court Refuses To Dismiss Catholic School Teacher’s Suit On Church Autonomy Grounds

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Payne-Elliott v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Inc.(IN Super. Ct., May 1, 2020), an Indiana trial court refused to dismiss a lawsuit against the Catholic Archdiocese brought by a teacher who claims that the Archdiocese interfered with his contractual relationship with Cathedral High School, an independent school that had a relationship with the Archdiocese. The teacher was fired pursuant to a directive from the Archdiocese issued after the teacher entered a same-sex marriage. The school feared that if it did not comply, the Archdiocese would no longer recognize it as a Catholic institution. The Archdiocese argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed under the “church autonomy” doctrine. The court said in part:

In civil dispute involving church as party, the court has jurisdiction to resolve the case if it can be done without resolving an ecclesiastical controversy. The court can avoid the religious controversy by deferring to the highest authority within the ecclesiastical body….

… [T]his Court cannot determine that the directive by the Archdiocese to terminate Payne-Elliott was made by the highest authority in the ecclesiastical body of Cathedral or of the Roman Catholic Church.“

The court also questioned whether the case involved an ecclesiastical controversy at all:

… [A] letter from the President and Chairman of the Board of Cathedral elaborates as to ”What is at stake?” Therein, Cathedral states: ”Furthermore, Cathedral would lose its 501(c)(3) status thus rendering Cathedral unable to operate as nonprofit school.” This rational for firing Payne-Elliott is important,… If Payne-Elliott was terminated by Cathedral for an economic benefit to Cathedral at the direction of the Archdiocese, then that is different matter than Catholic doctrine.

The court also refused to accept several other grounds for dismissal put forward by the Archdiocese.  Indiana Lawyer reports on the decision.

You can learn more about this issue here.

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