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The Lawletter Blog

TAX: U.S. Tax Court Quotes Show Business Celebrity

Posted by James P. Witt on Fri, Oct 20, 2017 @ 13:10 PM

The Lawletter Vol 42 No 8

Jim Witt, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            It is not often, if ever, that the U.S. Tax Court quotes a show business celebrity in its opinions, but it did so in a summary opinion filed on August 16, 2017, in the case of Omoloh v. Commissioner, T.C. Summ. Op. 2017-64, 2017 WL 3530853. The case turned on whether the taxpayer, Wilfred Omoloh, was age 59½ at the time that he took a distribution from his individual retirement account ("IRA"). I.R.C. § 72(t) ("10-percent additional tax on early distributions from qualified retirement plans") provides in subsection that (1) if the taxpayer receives a distribution from a qualified retirement plan such as an IRA, the taxpayer's income tax liability for the year will be increased by an amount equal to 10% of the portion of the distribution includible in gross income. However, under subsection (2), the 10% penalty of subsection (1) shall not apply if the distribution is made on or after the date on which the taxpayer attains age 59½.

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Topics: tax, distribution, tax liability, taxpayer's age, IRA account

PROPERTY: Landlord's Liability for Collapsed Deck

Posted by D. Bradley Pettit on Wed, Oct 18, 2017 @ 12:10 PM

The Lawletter Vol 42 No 8

Brad Pettit, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            The general rule is that "[w]hile a landlord is not a guarantor for the safety of those persons who might be expected to come upon its property, it does have a duty to make all repairs and do whatever is necessary to put and keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition."  49 Am. Jur. 2d Landlord and Tenant § 454 (Westlaw May 2017 Update) (citing Rodriguez v. Providence Hous. Auth., 824 A.2d 452 (R.I. 2003)). A recent decision by a Georgia appellate court in a deck collapse case indicates that unless the evidence shows that an out-of-possession lessor of residential real estate knew or had reason to know that a potentially dangerous condition existed with respect to the premises or an improvement thereto, the landlord cannot be held liable for injuries that were suffered by a guest of the tenant due to the alleged failure to repair the premises or make an improvement. Aldredge v. Byrd, 341 Ga. App. 300, 799 S.E.2d 263 (2017), reconsideration denied (Apr. 26, 2017). 

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Topics: property, landlord liability, notice of defect, lessor's duty to inspect

EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION: Long-Term Leave Is Not a Reasonable Accommodation

Posted by Nicole Prysby on Tue, Oct 17, 2017 @ 12:10 PM

The Lawlettervol 42 No 8

Nicole D. Prysby, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            On September 20, 2017, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a decision by a district court, holding that the failure to provide an employee with long-term medical leave is not a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). The decision, Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc., No. 15-3754, 2017 WL 4160849 (7th Cir. Sept. 20, 2017), rejects the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") position that long-term medical leave may qualify as a reasonable accommodation.

            Severson worked for Heartland Woodcraft, Inc., in a position for which heavy lifting was an essential function. In 2013, he took 12 weeks of Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") leave due to back pain. On the last day of leave, he had back surgery, which required that he take another two to three months of leave from work to recuperate. He asked if he could continue his medical leave, but because he had exhausted his FMLA leave, Heartland denied the request and told him that he could reapply for a position once he was medically cleared to work.

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Topics: employment discrimination, ADA, FMLA, long-term leave, reasonable accommodation

CRIMINAL LAW: Digital Cameras Held Outside Scope of Search Incident to Arrest Exception

Posted by Mark Rieber on Tue, Oct 17, 2017 @ 12:10 PM

The Lawletter Vol 42 No 8

Mark Rieber, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            In Commonwealth v. Mauricio, 477 Mass. 588, 80 N.E.3d 318 (2017), the court held that, under the Massachusetts Constitution, the search of data contained in digital cameras falls outside the scope of the "search incident to a lawful arrest" exception to the warrant requirement.  In so holding, the court found the reasoning set forth in Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct. 2473 (2014), applicable to digital cameras.  In Riley, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the search incident to arrest exception did not apply to cell phones. Riley found that applying the exception to the search of digital data on a cell phone served neither of the two justifications for the exception: prevention of harm to officers and prevention of destruction of evidence. Riley also recognized the privacy interests at stake, since cell phones "place vast quantities of personal information literally in the hands of individuals."  Id.  at 2485.

            Mauricio found that these same considerations also applied to digital cameras and thus determined that the reasoning of Riley presented a compelling basis to exclude digital cameras from the reach of the search incident to arrest exception. The court rejected the Commonwealth's argument that Riley did not apply because digital cameras, lacking the ability to function as computers, were not analogous to cell phones for Fourth Amendment purposes. The court observed that although digital cameras do not allow storage of information as diverse and far ranging as a cell phone, "they nevertheless possess the capacity to store enormous quantities of photographs and often video recordings, dating over periods of months and even years, which can reveal intimate details of an individual's life." Mauricio, 477 Mass. at 593, 80 N.E.3d at 323.

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Topics: criminal law, privacy interests, digital cameras, outside scope of arrest search exception

CIVIL RIGHTS: Third Circuit Joins Sister Circuits in Recognizing Right to Record Police

Posted by Jason Holder on Tue, Oct 17, 2017 @ 11:10 AM

The Lawletter Vol 42 No 8

Jason Holder, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            Amanda Geraci ("Geraci") attempted to record a Philadelphia police officer's actions as he arrested an antifracking protester. Fields v. City of Philadelphia, 862 F.3d 353, 356 (3d Cir. 2017). Despite the fact that she was not interfering with the officer, a second officer pinned Geraci against a pillar, preventing her from observing or recording the arrest. Id. Geraci faced neither arrest nor citation for her actions. Id.

            Richard Fields ("Fields") was walking down a public sidewalk when he noticed a number of police officers breaking up a house party across the street.  Id. As Fields took a photograph of the scene, an officer ordered him to leave the scene. Id. When Fields refused, the officer arrested him, confiscated his phone, and searched it opening "several videos and other photos."  Id.

            Geraci and Fields brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging, inter alia, "that the officers illegally retaliated against them for exercising their First Amendment right to record public police activity."  Id.  In doing so, they noted a 2011 Philadelphia Police Department memorandum "advising officers not to interfere with a private citizen's recording of police activity because it was protected by the First Amendment," and department directive issued a year later reiterating the existence of the right.  Id. 

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Topics: civil rights, First Amendment rights, right to record police activity, access to information

PERSONAL INJURY: Suicide as Intervening Event

Posted by John M. Stone on Wed, Sep 20, 2017 @ 11:09 AM

The Lawletter Vol 42 No 7

John Stone, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            According to the "intervening causes doctrine," there can be no proximate cause, as is required for liability in a negligence case, where there has intervened between the act of the defendant and the injury to the plaintiff an independent act or omission of someone other than the defendant, that was not foreseeable by the defendant, was not triggered by the defendant's act, and was sufficient of itself to cause the injury. As a general rule, suicide is deemed an unforeseeable intervening cause of death that absolves the tortfeasor of negligence liability in an action for wrongful death.

            When a mother brought an action against a city and its police officer for wrongful death arising out of her teenage daughter's suicide death, after the officer's disclosure of photographs of the daughter's body following her previous suicide attempt, the claim failed because of the intervening cause doctrine.  City of Richmond Hill v. Maia, No. S16G1337, 2017 WL 2332660 (Ga. May 30, 2017).

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Topics: suicide, personal injury, intervening event

CIVIL PROCEDURE: International Service of Process via Twitter

Posted by Paul A. Ferrer on Mon, Sep 18, 2017 @ 11:09 AM

The Lawletter Vol 42 No 7

Paul Ferrer, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            Rule 4(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure establishes three mechanisms for serving an individual in a foreign country. First, service may be had "by any internationally agreed means of service that is reasonably calculated to give notice, such as those authorized by the Hague Convention." Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(f)(1). The Hague Convention is the standard method for serving an individual in a foreign country, but it does not preempt all other methods of service on individuals in another signatory nation. See 4B Charles A. Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 1134 (4th ed. & Westlaw updated through Apr. 2017). Rather, all three methods of service under Rule 4(f) are "on equal footing," and a plaintiff need not attempt service by any one method before resorting to another. Rio Props., Inc. v. Rio Int'l Interlink, 284 F.3d 1007, 1015-16 (9th Cir. 2002). Second, if there is no internationally agreed means, or if an international agreement allows but does not specify other means, then service may be had "by a method that is reasonably calculated to give notice," including service "as prescribed by the foreign country's law for service in that country in an action in its courts of general jurisdiction," or by delivering a copy of the summons and complaint to the individual personally, unless that method is prohibited by the foreign country's law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(f)(2)(A), (C). Third, an individual may be served in a foreign country "by other means not prohibited by international agreement, as the court orders." Id. R. 4(f)(3).

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Topics: service of process, civil procedure, foreign country

TRUSTS: Creation/Timing of Self-Proving Affidavits

Posted by Matthew T. McDavitt on Mon, Sep 18, 2017 @ 11:09 AM

The Lawletter Vol 42 No 7

Matthew McDavitt, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            In the execution of wills, many testators utilize the optional execution of self-proving affidavits, where statutorily authorized, wherein the will execution witnesses sign a statement before an officer authorized to administer oaths affirming their observation of the testator's mental capacity and testamentary intent, as well as the signing of the will. A properly executed self-proving affidavit raises a legal presumption of due execution and eliminates the normal requirement mandating that witnesses to a will testify in court as to the authenticity of the will.

            In practice, self-proving affidavits are normally created contemporaneously with the execution of the will, and some states' statutes mandate such simultaneous affidavit execution. However, some state statutes expressly allow self-proving affidavits to be executed at any time after the observed will execution. Thus, for example, we see both simultaneous and postexecution self-proving affidavit execution mentioned in Michigan's statutory provision on the subject:

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Topics: trusts, proper execution, timing, self-proving affidavits

CIVIL PROCEDURE: Issue Preclusion Between Claims Arising Under Two Different Statutes

Posted by Lee P. Dunham on Mon, Sep 18, 2017 @ 10:09 AM

The Lawletter Vol 42 No 7

Lee Dunham, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            Collateral estoppel, also known as "issue preclusion," prohibits relitigation of factual or legal issues that have been "actually and necessarily decided" in earlier litigation. See, e.g., Banga v. First USA, 29 F. Supp. 3d 1270, 1280-81 (N.D. Cal. 2014) (citing San Remo Hotel L.P. v. San Francisco City & County, 364 F.3d 1088, 1094 (9th Cir. 2004)).  Unlike the related doctrine of res judicata (or "claim preclusion"), which operates as a complete bar to relitigation of an entire claim, under collateral estoppel, the (new and different) claim may proceed, but "the prior judgment conclusively resolves an issue actually litigated and determined in the first action." DKN Holdings LLC v. Faerber, 61 Cal. 4th 813, 824, 352 P.3d 378, 386-87 (2015), reh'g denied (Aug. 12, 2015).  Claim preclusion bars litigation of all issues that were or could have been litigated in the original action under the original claim, while issue preclusion resolves only those issues that were actually litigated. Banga, 29 F. Supp. 3d at 1280-81.

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Topics: civil procedure, collateral estoppel, issue preclusion, prerequisites

PERSONAL INJURY: Effect of Injured Party's Immigration Status

Posted by Alfred C. Shackelford III on Thu, Jul 20, 2017 @ 12:07 PM

The Lawletter Vol 42 No 6

Fred Shackelford, Senior Attorney,National Legal Research Group

            In a case of first impression, the Indiana Supreme Court has addressed two issues that affect actions arising from injuries to plaintiffs who are in the United States unlawfully. In Escamilla v. Shiel Sexton Co., Inc., 73 N.E.3d 663 (Ind. 2017), an unauthorized immigrant (a Mexican citizen) was injured while working as a masonry laborer at an Indiana job site. He sued the general contractor, which argued that his immigration status should bar him from recovering damages for decreased earning capacity. The Escamilla court addressed both that issue and the admissibility of the plaintiff's status.

            As to the first issue, the court ruled that the plaintiff could recover damages for decreased earning capacity. The court relied upon the Open Courts Clause in the state's constitution, which mandates that courts shall be open and that "every person . . . shall have remedy by due course of law." Id. at 665. The court reasoned that "[w]e cannot read the Open Courts Clause's 'every person' guarantee to exclude unauthorized immigrants." Id. at 667.

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Topics: personal injury, admissibility, damages for decreased earning capacity, unauthorized immigration status, Indiana Open Courts Clause

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