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HHS Says California Violated Federal Conscience Protections On Abortion Coverage

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

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights today issued a Notice of Violation (full text) to the state of California finding that the state violated federal law by making elective abortion coverage mandatory in all policies offered by insurance companies regulated by the state’s Department of Managed Health Care. A Christian church and a Catholic religious order filed complaints with HHS saying that California’s Mandate Letters to health care plans resulted in the religious organizations being required to offer their employees policies that cover abortions, in violation of the conscience provisions of the federal Weldon Amendment.

The Notice of Violation explains:

… [T]he only exemption California offered (to a health plan issuer) was limited to plans covering a narrow set of “religious employers” under California law. However, the Weldon Amendment protects from discrimination all plans that decline to cover abortion, without requiring any plan issuers, sponsors, or beneficiaries to have a religious character or have a religious reason for not providing or paying for such coverage…. [E]ven a categorical exemption of “religious employers,” as defined by California law, would have only been available to approximately 37% of those employer groups who, prior to the Mandate Letters, had health care coverage that limited or excluded abortion.

The Notice of Violation concludes:

If OCR does not receive sufficient assurance that California will cease requiring all health care plans, as a class, to cover abortion, or that it is willing to negotiate in good faith towards that end, OCR will forward this Notice of Violation and the evidence supporting OCR’s findings in this matter to the appropriate HHS funding components for further action under applicable grants and contracts regulations. Such referral may ultimately result in limitations on continued receipt of certain HHS funds in accordance with the Constitution and applicable Supreme Court case law.

HHS also issued a press release explaining its action which in part quotes the Director of HHS’s Office of Civil Rights:

We are putting California on notice that it must stop forcing people of good will to subsidize the taking of human life, not only because it’s the moral thing to do, but because it’s the law.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Tennessee Passes Law Protecting Faith-Based Adoption/ Foster Care Agencies

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

Yesterday, the Tennessee General Assembly gave final passage to HB0836 (full text) which bars denial of licensing or funding for faith-based child placement agencies. The law protects agencies that refuse to participate in placing a child for foster care or adoption in violation of the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies. According to AP, Gov. Bill Lee’s Communications Director says that the governor will sign the bill.

You can learn more about this issue here.

PA Superior Court Says QDRO’s Take Effect Upon Execution of Marital Agreement

Conway v. Conway v. City of Erie Police Relief and Pension Association, 209 A.3d 367 (PA Super. 2019)

Brief Summary of the Facts:

Michael Conway (“Husband”) and Julie Conway (“Wife”) were married on July 12, 1991 and separated in August 2007.  Husband was employed as a police officer and filed for divorce on July 28, 2009. The parties executed a Marital Settlement Agreement (“MSA”) on Aug. 19, 2016, that directed the parties to prepare, execute, and file a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (“QDRO”) to allow Wife to receive her marital share of Husband’s pension. At the time of the execution of the MSA, Husband’s pension plan stated, with regard to a QDRO, “a former spouse of a Participant shall be treated as the spouse or surviving spouse for all purposes under the Plan.” A divorce decree was entered on Aug. 22, 2016, that incorporated the MSA. On Aug. 23, 2016, the municipality for which Husband worked amended the pension plan to read “a former spouse of a Participant shall not be treated as the spouse or surviving spouse for any purposes under the Plan,” (emphasis added). Wife submitted the QDRO to the pension plan administrator on Aug. 29, 2016, which denied the QDRO on the basis that as it was filed after the Aug. 23, 2016 pension plan revision and is inconsistent with the same. Wife filed a Motion for Entry of QDRO, which was denied by the trial court, prompting Wife to appeal to Superior Court.

Issue:

Did the trial court err by failing to enter the QDRO submitted by Wife to secure her post-divorce rights to Husband’s pension when the MSA and Divorce Decree were both filed/entered and in effect prior to the revision to the pension plan? Holding A QDRO is an order “which creates or recognizes the rights of an alternate payee to receive all or a portion of the benefits payable to a participant under [a pension] plan.” A QDRO merely implements the terms of a preexisting MSA and does not in itself create new rights or terms. In the instant matter, the MSA was entered and incorporated into a Divorce Decree before the pension plan was revised; therefore, as the QDRO only serves to recognize and implement settled rights, it is enforceable as the underlying MSA predates the pension plan revisions. The denial of the QDRO amounts to an unlawful ex post facto application of the revised pension plan. Based on the above, the court directed the QDRO to be entered.

Comments/Impressions:

The court also pointed out that the objective of the Divorce Code “is to effectuate economic justice” for the parties to a divorce. In the court’s estimation, to rule against Wife “would deny [her] the benefit she bargained for and would cause an unfair and severe injustice concerning the parties’ settlement of their existing rights” and would be “contrary to the goal of achieving economic justice.”

Originally published in the Pennsylvania Family Lawyer in Volume 41, Issue number 3 (Autumn 2019)

Court Refuses To Examine Parties’ Need For Jewish Religious Divorce

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

In A.W. v. I.N., (Sup Ct Nassau Cty NY, Jan. 2, 2020), a New York state trial court held that the 1st Amendment precludes it from looking beyond a wife’s sworn statement that she has, to the best of her knowledge, removed all barriers to the Husband’s remarriage. NY Domestic Relations Law §253 requires such a statement from a plaintiff in a divorce action, and also provides that the court may not look into any religious or ecclesiastical issue.  In this case, the husband sought a stay in entering a final judgment of divorce because the wife refused to appear before an Orthodox Jewish religious court and accept a get (divorce document) from the husband.  According to an affidavit from a rabbi submitted by the husband, the husband is prevented from remarrying without the wife’s acceptance of a get.  The wife contends, on the other hand;

the parties were not married religiously nor was there any religious ceremony. Therefore … since there was no marriage according to Jewish Law, there is no religious divorce to be had. The Wife states that she refused the Husband’s offers for a religious wedding ceremony because she wanted to avoid any religious divorce rituals. The Wife argues that in any event, the Husband is not a practicing Orthodox Jew.

The court said in part:

It would be a violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution for the Court to order the Wife to participate in a religious ritual when she did not agree to do so.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Finding Attorneys in Contempt for Clients’ Actions in Divorce Case

No one wants to be held in contempt of court, and attorneys do their best to try and keep their clients from being held in contempt, but there are times when an attorney can be held in contempt of court for what his client does or does not do.

No one wants to be held in contempt of court, and attorneys do their best to try and keep their clients from being held in contempt, but there are times when an attorney can be held in contempt of court for what his client does or does not do. The recent Pennsylvania Superior Court case of Farrell v. Farrell, No. 1424 WDA 2018 (Pa. Super), should serve as a cautionary tale for all attorneys to keep in mind when discerning how much involvement their clients should have in the drafting and serving of legal documents.

Farrell is a divorce matter that involved two represented parties, the husband and the wife. The husband initiated the divorce action against his wife who, for the first two years of the case, elected to proceed on a pro se basis. When it was time for the case to be advanced to a divorce master, the wife hired an attorney. In the months leading up to the divorce master’s hearing, the husband issued the wife informal discovery requests. The wife ignored the requests, which led to the husband issuing follow-up correspondence, to which, again, the wife provided no response. As a result, the husband filed a motion to compel the responses to the discovery requests. The trial court granted the motion, and gave the wife 20 days to comply with the discovery requests.

Instead of taking an active role in helping her client respond to the discovery requests, the wife’s attorney simply allowed her client to type up the responses herself, which the attorney then forwarded to the husband’s attorney, unedited. In her responses, the wife refused to disclose some information, declared some requests “N/A,” and leveled personal attacks upon the husband in others.

The wife’s pro se responses provoked the husband’s attorney to file a motion to compel, for sanctions and for attorney fees. The court scheduled a hearing on the husband’s motion three days after the responses were filed, as the master’s hearing was scheduled for four days after the responses were filed. As a response to the husband’s aforesaid motion, the wife’s attorney immediately filed her own motion to compel and for attorney fees.

At the motion hearing, the husband admitted that more documents were produced by the wife, but her responses were still inadequate. Furthermore, the wife’s attorney indicated that she had not prepared the discovery responses for the husband, but simply allowed her client to type up the responses where provided on her own. The court took note of when the wife filed her above-mentioned motion and found that it was filed for the sole purpose of trying to “equalize” the motion filed by the husband, and not for any actual legally cognizable purpose.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court dismissed the wife’s motion and granted the husband’s motion, ordering that the wife may not produce any documentation not already produced in support of her own case. The court also found the wife’s attorney to be in contempt, ordering her to pay the husband’s attorney fees. The wife’s attorney filed for reconsideration and appealed this ruling to the Superior Court.

The wife’s attorney argued in both her motion for reconsideration and the appeal that she cannot be personally found in contempt as she was never actually ordered to do anything (only her client was) regarding discovery. To this end, she maintained that no evidence was ever produced demonstrating that she, personally, had any court order directing her to do anything, therefore there is no evidence that she disregarded a court’s order. She further argued that there was no evidence belonging to the wife that she had in her possession that was requested to be produced; therefore, she did not personally withhold anything from being produced in discovery.

As an initial matter, the Superior Court first noted that the wife’s attorney cited to no authority for the proposition that she cannot personally be held in contempt for her client’s actions or inactions. As a result, under established case law, her arguments, on that issue, were deemed waived as unsupported by authority.

Regardless, the court cited to Pa.R.C.P. 4019(g)(1) which states that “the court on a subsequent motion for sanctions may, if the motion is granted, require the … attorney advising such conduct … to pay the moving party the reasonable expenses, including attorney’s fees …”

Based on Pa.R.C.P. 4019(g)(1), the court determined that the wife’s attorney’s decisions to allow the wife to personally produce deficient and attacking discovery responses without the attorney offering any input or edits, did not comply with the trial court’s order to compel, and her filing of what appears to be a retaliatory motion to compel are all adequate grounds to hold the wife’s attorney in contempt of court.

So, while it is rare, practitioners should always be cognizant of the fact that they could be held in contempt of court for the actions of their clients, even if they were not personally directed by the attorney and there is no order directing the attorney to do anything.

James W. Cushing is a senior associate at the Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen and is a research attorney for Legal Research Inc.

Originally published in The Legal Intelligencer on December 16, 2019 and can be found here.

Catholic School Principal’s Retaliatory Discharge Claim Dismissed

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

In Rehfield v. Diocese of Joliet, (IL App., Dec. 10, 2019), an Illinois state appeals court dismissed a suit by the former principal of a Catholic school who contended that she was the victim of a retaliatory discharge. Her suit raised both common law and Whistleblower Act claims. Plaintiff’s firing came after controversy over her contacting the police about a threatening phone call from a parent to the parish priest. In dismissing the suit, the court said in part:

[T]he ecclesiastical abstention doctrine applied to Rehfield’s claims. Further, since this case involved the Diocese’s subjective decision to terminate Rehfield’s employment and did not involve church charters, constitutions and bylaws, deeds, State statutes, or other evidence that would resolve the matter the same as it would a secular dispute, we decline to employ the neutral principals of law approach…. Last, because we find the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine applied to Rehfield’s claims, we need not address … whether claims for common law retaliatory discharge are available to contractual employees.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Family Law Tip: Divorce After Death?

I  post some tips regarding family to my Linkedin page (see here) from time to time, and I thought I should start sharing them here too. Below is one of my family law tips, and you can read my articles on family law here and other posts on family law here and all are cataloged here.

3rd Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Title VII Religious Discrimination Suit

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

In Darby v. Temple University, (3d Cir., Dec. 4, 2019), the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s claim under Title VII that he was fired by Temple University because of his religion.  The court said in part:

[Plaintiff] states that he wore a cross on a chain around his neck, that he read the bible on breaks, that he spoke openly about attending church services, and that he was employed at Temple for a lengthy period of time. But none of the evidence he produced is sufficient to reasonably infer that his coworkers knew his Baptist identity. More important, none of it relates directly to the person, Thomas Johnston, who terminated his employment. He does not proffer any evidence to show that Johnston knew of his religious affiliation.

Penn Live reports on the decision.

You can learn more about this issue here.

 

 

Family Law Tip: Gifts and Child Support

I  post some tips regarding family to my Linkedin page (see here) from time to time, and I thought I should start sharing them here too. Below is one of my family law tips, and you can read my articles on family law here and other posts on family law here and all are cataloged here.

 

6th Circuit Rules In Firefighter’s Claim of Retaliation for Religious Speech

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

In Hudson v. City of Highland Park, Michigan, (6th Cir., Nov. 22, 2019), the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in part reversed a district court’s dismissal of claims by a firefighter that he was dismissed in retaliation for his religious views.  The court summarized the facts:

Hudson worked for the Highland Park Fire Department from 2002 to 2015. Over time, he developed a reputation for two things: being an effective firefighter and being outspoken about his Christian faith. According to Hudson, the other firefighters had reputations too—for watching pornography in communal spaces and engaging in extra-marital affairs at the fire station. All of this created tension. He criticized their behavior, and they responded with disrespectful comments about his religious practices and sexual orientation. The back and forth went on for five years.

Hudson was fired after he claimed extra hours on his time sheet and reported he had worked the same shift for two different employers. The 6th Circuit held, however, that Hudson had shown enough to avoid dismissal on the pleadings of his claim that the Chief had fired him because of his speech. The court however affirmed the dismissal of his Title VII religious discrimination claim, saying in part:

Employees are free to speak out about misconduct in the workplace without subjecting themselves to discharge for rocking the boat…. Employees are no less free to root legitimate criticisms about the workplace in their faith than in any other aspects of their worldview. For many people of faith, their religion is not an abstraction. It has consequences for how they behave and may require them to be witnesses and examples for their faith. That reality does not permit differential treatment of them because they criticize behavior on moral grounds stemming from religious convictions as opposed to moral grounds stemming from secular convictions. “Let firemen be firemen” is not a cognizable defense to Title VII claims based on gender discrimination, race discrimination, or faith-based discrimination.

Even so, Hudson’s disparate treatment claim fails…. He cannot show that the city’s justification for his discharge amounted to a pretextual basis for discriminating against him because of his faith. The fire department put forth a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for treating Hudson differently. He falsified his time-sheets while other firefighters did not.

Judge Kethledge, dissenting in part, would have affirmed the dismissal of Hudson’s claim that he was fired in retaliation for his speech. Judge Stranch dissented in part, contending that Hudson should have been allowed to move ahead on his hostile work environment claim which the majority held should be dismissed.

You can learn more about this issue here.

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