The Lawletter Blog

PROPERTY: Does Seller of Real Property Have Duty to Disclose That Property Is Haunted?

Posted by D. Bradley Pettit on Tue, May 12, 2015 @ 13:05 PM

The Lawletter Vol 40 No 3

Brad Pettit, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

      The motion picture industry has produced many horror or suspense films that are centered on the theme of an individual or couple who purchase a dream house, only to subsequently discover, by way of terrifying sights, sounds, and other stimuli, that a gruesome event once occurred on the property. In a courtroom drama sequel to those movies, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania made it clear that the occurrence of a murder/suicide or similar tragic event inside a house does not constitute a "material defect" therein that must be disclosed by a seller to a purchaser. Milliken v. Jacono, 103 A.3d 806 (Pa. 2014), as modified on reconsideration (Nov. 12, 2014). Accordingly, the Milliken court held that a real property seller's failure to disclose the occurrence of a murder/suicide inside a house to a buyer thereof did not constitute actionable fraud, negligent misrepresentation, or violations of unfair trade practices, consumer protection, and real estate sales disclosure laws. In short, the Milliken court concluded that "purely psychological stigmas are not material defects" in property that a seller must reveal to a buyer. Id. at 811. The Milliken court's reasons for its decision were as follows:

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Topics: property law, haunted property, disclosure by seller, material defect

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW: Fighting Words Are Not Protected Speech

Posted by John M. Stone on Tue, May 12, 2015 @ 12:05 PM

The Lawletter Vol 40 No 3

John Stone, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     When there is a confrontational encounter between a citizen and a law enforcement officer, it is not uncommon for a charge of disorderly conduct against the citizen to result, sometimes even though there may be no other charge that emanates from the initial reason for the interaction. Some maintain that disorderly conduct charges are too readily leveled against citizens who may be doing no more than questioning, perhaps angrily, why a police officer is taking particular actions. According to that view, a disorderly conduct charge can become a catchall offense too often used to punish someone whose remarks or conduct simply annoy the police officer. On the other hand, there certainly are instances in which the way a citizen reacts to the police crosses the line from protected speech to criminal conduct constituting disorderly conduct. One such example is "fighting words" directed at a police officer.

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Topics: constitutional law, protected speech, disorderly conduct

FAMILY LAW: Laws of State of Domicile Govern Divorce of Couple Married in Another State

Posted by Sandra L. Thomas on Mon, May 11, 2015 @ 16:05 PM

The Lawletter Vol 40 No 3

Sandra Thomas, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     In the first decision in the nation to address the issue, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals has held that an Alabama trial court was under no obligation to enforce the covenant-marriage contract entered into between the parties at the time of their marriage in Louisiana where the parties subsequently moved to Alabama and sought a divorce in the Alabama court. Blackburn v. Blackburn, No. 2131043, 2015 WL 1608431 (Ala. Civ. App. Apr. 10, 2015) (not yet released for publication).

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Topics: family law, “golden rule” arguments, . Right to Farm Act did not bar nuisance claim, Louisiana Covenant Marriage Act, domiciliary state

ANTITRUST: Supreme Court Provides Guidance on Active-Supervision Prong of State-Action Immunity Test

Posted by Paul A. Ferrer on Mon, May 11, 2015 @ 13:05 PM

The Lawletter Vol 40 No 3

Paul Ferrer, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     The U.S. Supreme Court continues to refine the state-action immunity doctrine first formulated in Parker v. Brown, 317 U.S. 341 (1943). In Parker, relying on principles of federalism and state sovereignty, the Court refused to construe the Sherman Act, which prohibits contracts, combinations, or conspiracies in restraint of trade, see 15 U.S.C. § 1, as applying to the anticompetitive conduct of a state acting through its legislature. Rather, the Supreme Court ruled that the Sherman Act was intended to prohibit private restraints on trade, and it refused to infer an intent to "nullify a state's control over its officers and agents" in activities directed by the legislature. Parker, 317 U.S. at 351.

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Topics: active supervision of nonsovereign actor, antitrust, state-action immunity

TAX: State and Local Sales Tax on Internet Sales of Goods

Posted by D. Bradley Pettit on Wed, Apr 15, 2015 @ 13:04 PM

The Lawletter Vol 40 No 2

Brad Pettit, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

      A very recent decision by a Florida appellate court illustrates constitutional issues that arise when a state or locality seeks to impose a tax upon sales of goods to out-of-state customers via the Internet. In American Business USA Corp. v. Department of Revenue, 151 So. 3d 67 (Fla. 4th DCA 2014), the court addressed the question of whether Internet sales of flowers, gift baskets, other items of tangible personal property, and prepaid telephone calling arrangements by a corporation that was registered to do business in Florida to out-of-state consumers were subject to the Florida sales tax. The taxpayer in the American Business case objected to taxation of its Internet sales to out-of-state customers on the ground that such taxation violated the Commerce and/or Due Process Clauses of the U.S. Constitution. The American Business court upheld the State of Florida's taxation of Internet sales of prepaid telephone call cards but rejected the State's taxation of Internet sales of flowers and other tangible goods.

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Topics: Commerce Clause, Due Process Clause, tax law, Internet sales, state and local sales tax

ESTATES: Depletion of Eventual Probate Estate Through Inter Vivos Transfers

Posted by Matthew T. McDavitt on Tue, Apr 14, 2015 @ 13:04 PM

The Lawletter Vol 40 No 2

Matt McDavitt, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     One problematic issue regarding the administration of probate or intestate estates is that in which the property of mentally or physically incapacitated persons is found to have been significantly depleted through lifetime transfers in the period just prior to death. The Virginia Supreme Court recently addressed this problem, establishing that where such lifetime transfers benefit persons standing in a confidential relationship to the grantor, a rebuttable presumption of fraud arises so as to protect decedent estates from the depredations by third parties upon whom the decedent relied at the end of life.

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Topics: estates law, depletion of property in estate, inter vivos transfers, confidential relationship

PERSONAL INJURY: Does Medical Monitoring in Absence of Present Physical Injury Merit Award of Damages?

Posted by Alfred C. Shackelford III on Tue, Apr 14, 2015 @ 11:04 AM

The Lawletter Vol 40 No 2

Fred Shackelford, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     If a defendant's negligence causes no physical injury, can a plaintiff recover damages for the expense of monitoring his or her medical condition? That was the issue addressed by the Nevada Supreme Court in Sadler v. PacifiCare of Nevada, 340 P.3d 1264 (Nev. 2014). In that case, the plaintiffs sued a health maintenance organization for negligently failing to oversee the quality of care provided by medical providers in its network. The providers allegedly used unsafe injection practices, potentially exposing the plaintiffs to the risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis, and other blood-borne diseases.

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Topics: medical monitoring, damages, personal injury, quality of care, no physical injury

CRIMINAL LAW: Search Warrants—Good-Faith Exception

Posted by Douglas C. Plank on Tue, Apr 14, 2015 @ 11:04 AM

The Lawletter Vol 40 No 2

Doug Plank, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

      In a recent case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the court held that a search warrant obtained to search the defendant's residence for evidence of child pornography was not supported by probable cause, because the information supplied by the affiant was stale. United States v. Raymonda, 780 F.3d 105 (2d Cir. 2015). In seeking the warrant, the affiant referenced a single incident when someone had accessed thumbnail images of child pornography on the Internet from the defendant's Internet protocol address, which had occurred nine months earlier. The affidavit also included boilerplate language about how persons who look at and collect images of child pornography generally hold on to such images indefinitely. The court concluded that the evidence was equally consistent with an innocent user inadvertently stumbling upon a child pornography website, being horrified at what he saw, and promptly closing the window, and it held that absent any facts to show that the defendant was a collector of child pornography likely to hoard pornographic files, a single incident of access did not create a fair probability that child pornography would still be found on the defendant's computer months later.

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Topics: criminal law, search warrant, good-faith exception to exclusionary rule

BANKING LAW: Credit Card Issuer Prevails in Class Action Brought Under Credit CARD Act of 2009

Posted by Anne B. Hemenway on Wed, Mar 25, 2015 @ 12:03 PM

The Lawletter Vol 40 No 1

Anne Hemenway, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 (the "Credit CARD Act of 2009"), Pub. L. No. 111-24, 123 Stat. 1734, H.R. 627 (2009), amended the Federal Truth in Lending Act ("TILA"), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1601 et seq., by specifically requiring banks to make additional disclosures to consumers regarding their credit cards. These included disclosures prior to renewal of a credit card, 15 U.S.C. § 1637(d)(1), and disclosures when the creditor makes changes to the terms and notices, as well as advertising disclosures. Additional consumer regulations were later promulgated under the Credit CARD Act of 2009. In August 2010, regulations became effective that provided that if a card issuer prospectively changes the annual percentage rate ("APR") on the card based on certain factors, the card issuer must also apply the same factors to determine whether a reduction in the APR is proper. See 12 C.F.R. §§ 226.52(b), 226.59. Importantly, these regulations also require that a card issuer can assess penalty fees for late payments only in such a way as represents a "reasonable proportion of the total costs incurred by the card issuer." Id. § 226.52(b)(1)(i).

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Topics: credit card, banking law, Credit CARD Act of 2009, disclosures to consumers, Cred CARD Act of 2009

PRODUCTS LIABILITY: Expert Testimony Based on Unfounded Assumption Inadmissible

Posted by Jeremy Y. Taylor on Wed, Mar 25, 2015 @ 11:03 AM

The Lawletter Vol 40 No 1

Jeremy Taylor, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     The Virginia Supreme Court recently addressed the issue of the admissibility of expert testimony in a products liability case and ruled such testimony inadmissible under the circumstances presented. See Hyundai Motor Co. v. Duncan, ___ Va. ___, 766 S.E.2d 893 (2015). In Duncan, a driver was severely injured when he lost control of his car and ultimately struck a tree. Although the vehicle was equipped with a side airbag system, the airbag did not deploy. The circuit court entered judgment on a jury verdict for the plaintiff guardian/conservator.

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Topics: products liability, expert testimony, inadmissible if insufficient facts, unfounded assumption

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