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The Lawletter Blog

ESTATES: The Inheritability of Digital Music Files

Posted by Matthew T. McDavitt on Fri, Nov 11, 2016 @ 16:11 PM

The Lawletter Vol 41 No 10

Matthew McDavitt, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     The average layperson might assume that digital music files (i.e., songs purchased from services such as iTunes and Amazon) can be passed by will or intestate succession. This is certainly true for music recorded onto physical media, such as CDs. However, the law currently treats digital files differently, given (a) the manner in which digital music is purchased, (b) the use of multiple digital files when accessing digital music files, and (c) the perishable nature of nondigital media.

     Because most consumers never read the "Terms & Conditions" agreements when purchasing digital music, they may be surprised to learn that when buying a song from iTunes or Amazon, the purchaser is not granted ownership of the downloaded song file, but merely acquires a nontransferable license to use the file on the purchaser’s device for the contract duration. Thus, by contract, such files cannot pass at the death of the purchaser, as the usage license is nontransferable to other persons.

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Topics: Matthew T. McDavitt, estates, digital music files, usage license is nontransferable

PERSONAL INJURY: Hospital's Liability for Malpractice Based on Apparent Agency

Posted by Alfred C. Shackelford III on Fri, Nov 11, 2016 @ 16:11 PM

The Lawletter Vol 41 No 10

Fred Shackelford, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

      The Connecticut Supreme Court has clarified the circumstances under which a hospital may be held vicariously liable for malpractice by a physician who has staff privileges at the hospital but who is not an employee thereof. In Cefaratti v. Aranow, 321 Conn. 593, 141 A.3d 752 (2016), a patient brought a medical malpractice action against a surgeon ("Dr. Aranow") and a hospital ("Middlesex"), alleging that Dr. Aranow left a surgical sponge inside her abdomen during a gastric bypass surgery and that Middlesex was vicariously liable for Dr. Aranow's negligence. Prior to undergoing surgery at the hospital, the plaintiff patient went to Middlesex to attend several informational sessions, which were conducted by the staff of the independent professional corporation that employed Dr. Aranow. The plaintiff received a pamphlet at one of the informational sessions that had been prepared by Middlesex. The pamphlet stated that "the health care team who will be caring for you has developed an education program that is full of important information." In addition, the pamphlet stated that "[t]he team will go over every aspect of your stay with us. We will discuss what you should do at home before your operation, what to bring with you, and events on the day of surgery." The plaintiff assumed that Dr. Aranow was an employee of Middlesex because he had privileges there, and she relied on this belief when she chose to undergo surgery at Middlesex. Id. at 598, 141 A.3d at 755 (footnote omitted).

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CIVIL PROCEDURE: The Attorney Testimony Rule—Attorney Affidavits and Summary Judgment

Posted by Lee P. Dunham on Fri, Nov 11, 2016 @ 12:11 PM

The Lawletter Vol 41 No 10

Lee Dunham, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     Model Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 3.7 contains the well-known prohibition on lawyer testimony known as the "Lawyer as Witness Rule" or the "Attorney Testimony Rule." It provides:

(a) A lawyer shall not act as advocate at a trial in which the lawyer is likely to be a necessary witness unless:

     (1) the testimony relates to an uncontested issue;

     (2) the testimony relates to the nature and value of legal services rendered in the case; or

     (3) disqualification of the lawyer would work substantial hardship on the client.

(b) A lawyer may act as advocate in a trial in which another lawyer in the lawyer's firm is likely to be called as a witness unless precluded from doing so by Rule 1.7 or Rule 1.9.

Ann. Model Rules of Prof'l Conduct R. 3.7 ("Lawyer as Witness").

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Topics: civil procedure, Lee Dunham, attorney testimony rule, Rule 3.7, professional conduct

BANKRUPTCY: Puerto Rico Debt Restructuring

Posted by Anne B. Hemenway on Fri, Nov 11, 2016 @ 11:11 AM

The Lawletter Vol 41 No 10

Anne Hemenway, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     On June 13, 2016, in Commonwealth of Puerto Rico v. Franklin California Tax-Free Trust, 136 S. Ct. 1938 (2016), the United States Supreme Court was asked to decide whether the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico should remain a "state" for purposes of 11 U.S.C. § 903(a), the subsection of Chapter 9 of the United States Bankruptcy Code that states that "a State law prescribing a method of composition of indebtedness of such municipality may not bind any creditor that does not consent to such composition." This issue came to the Court on an injunction proceeding by bondholders suing the Puerto Rico government to enjoin the application of the Puerto Rico Corporation Debt Enforcement and Recovery Act (the "Puerto Rico Act"). Enacted by Puerto Rico in an effort to deal with its extraordinary financial crisis and, specifically, to create its own bankruptcy scheme to restructure the debt of its insolvent public utilities. The bondholder's issue was presented in federal court notwithstanding an amendment to the Code to exclude Puerto Rico from the definition of a "state." See 11 U.S.C. § 101(52).

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Topics: bankruptcy, Anne B. Hemenway, restructuring, Puerto Rico debt, remains a state

FAMILY LAW: Business Valuation Upon Divorce—Goodwill

Posted by Brett R. Turner on Tue, Oct 18, 2016 @ 12:10 PM

The Lawletter Vol 41 No 9

Brett R. Turner, Senior Attorney,National Legal Research Group

     The South Carolina Supreme Court recently considered a case that provides a wealth of guidance on business valuation questions. Moore v. Moore, 414 S.C. 490, 779 S.E.2d 533 (2015).

     The issue was one that arises often in divorce cases—is the goodwill of a business part of the business's value for purposes of a divorce case? Adopting the majority rule nationwide, the court held that the enterprise goodwill of the business is included, but that the individual goodwill of the owner is not included. Stated differently, the value includes goodwill that is transferable to another owner, but it does not include goodwill that is not transferable and resides in the owner individually.

The practical question, which has arisen in dozens of cases nationwide, is how to distinguish between the two types of goodwill. The court recognized, as most other courts have done, that goodwill need not be entirely enterprise or entirely individual. Businesses get their customers from many sources, and it is quite possible that some of those sources are individual to the owner, while others are transferable with the enterprise. For example, a dental practice might draw half of its customers from the individual reputation of the dentists, but the other half from the convenient location of its office building.

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Topics: family law, Brett R. Turner, The Lawletter Vol 41 No 9, business valuation, goodwill

GOVERNMENT CONTRACTS: Supreme Court Decision Aids Veteran-Owned Business

Posted by Charlene J. Hicks on Tue, Oct 18, 2016 @ 11:10 AM

The Lawletter Vol 41 No 9

Charlene Hicks, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     In Kingdomware Technologies, Inc. v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 1969 (2016), the United States Supreme Court recently declared that the Department of Veterans Affairs (the "VA") is required to give priority to veteran-owned businesses in the bidding process for government contracts as long as two or more veteran-owned small businesses may reasonably be expected to submit fair and reasonable bids. This unanimous decision should provide a boon to veteran-owned businesses and should also give government agencies pause in assessing bids for contract work.

     The Kingdomware dispute originated shortly after the enactment of the Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006 (the "VA Act"). The VA Act provides that the VA must restrict bid competitions to veteran-owned companies as long as the "rule of two" is satisfied. Specifically, 38 U.S.C. § 8127(d) states:

Except as provided in subsections (b) and (c), for purposes of meeting the goals under subsection (a), and in accordance with this section, a contracting officer of the Department shall award contracts on the basis of competition restricted to small business concerns owned and controlled by veterans if the contracting officer has a reasonable expectation that two or more small business concerns owned and controlled by veterans will submit offers and that the award can be made at a fair and reasonable price that offers best value to the United States.

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Topics: Charlene J. Hicks, The Lawletter Vol 41 No 9, VA priority, government contracts, veteran-owned business

EMPLOYMENT LAW: NLRB "Search-for-Work" and "Interim Employment"

Posted by Suzanne L. Bailey on Mon, Oct 17, 2016 @ 15:10 PM

he Lawletter Vol 41 No 9

Suzanne Bailey, Senior Attorney,National Legal Research Group

          For almost 80 years, the National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB" or "Board") has awarded "search-for-work" and "interim employment" expenses as part of its broad discretionary authority under section 10(c) of the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 160(c), to provide a make-whole remedy for those injured by unfair labor practices in violation of section 8 of the NLRA, 29 U.S.C. § 158.  See Crossett Lumber Co., 8 N.L.R.B. 440, 497-98, enforced, 102 F.2d 1003 (8th Cir. 1938).  Such expenses include, for example, increased transportation costs necessitated by seeking or commuting to interim employment, room and board while seeking employment and/or working away from home, and the cost of moving if necessary to assume interim employment. During those almost-80 years, the NLRB has awarded these expenses to those individuals who have suffered discrimination under section 8 of the NLRA in the form of an offset to interim earnings, rather than as a separate element of a back-pay award.  The result of treating the award as an offset to interim earnings was that (1) individuals who were unable to find interim employment did not receive any compensation for their search-for-work expenses, and (2) individuals who found jobs that paid wages lower than the amount of their expenses did not receive full compensation for the search-for-work and interim employment expenses.

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Topics: employment law, NLRB, Suzanne Bailey, The Lawletter Vol 41 No 9, interim employment expenses, search for work, make-whole relief

TAX: IRS v. Facebook

Posted by James P. Witt on Wed, Oct 5, 2016 @ 17:10 PM

The Lawletter Vol 41 No 8

Jim Witt, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     Over the last 30 years or so, American companies have sought to reduce their U.S. federal income tax liability by employing the tactic known as the "tax inversion." Typically, in an inversion transaction, one or more of the corporation's shareholders transfer stock to a controlled foreign corporate subsidiary in exchange for stock in the subsidiary. The goal is to shift corporate revenue from the United States to the jurisdiction to which the subsidiary is subject, presumably a country with favorable rates of corporate income taxation.

     It has recently come to light that corporate tax avoidance issues can arise in connection with a tax inversion transaction that are in addition to any question as to the validity of the inversion transaction itself. In proceedings involving Facebook's inversion transaction shifting a large portion of its tax base to Ireland, the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") is seeking the production of books and records from Facebook with the object of determining whether Facebook improperly avoided U.S. income tax on its royalty by undervaluing the assets transferred to its Irish subsidiary as part of its inversion transaction.

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Topics: Facebook, tax, James P. Witt, income tax liability, tax inversion

FAMILY LAW: Enforcing a Child Support Obligation Through Constructive Trust

Posted by Sandra L. Thomas on Tue, Oct 4, 2016 @ 14:10 PM

The Lawletter Vol 41 No 8

Sandra Thomas, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

      The Supreme Court of Montana imposed a constructive trust on $2.3 million of proceeds of two insurance policies in a case in which the husband ("Husband") in a divorce proceeding changed the beneficiaries on the policies in violation of a restraining order issued by the court while the divorce was pending. Volk v. Goeser, 2016 MT 61, 382 Mont. 382, 367 P.3d 378.

     Husband and wife ("Wife") were married in 1996, and they had a son, RBV, in 2000. In June 2010, Husband filed a petition for dissolution; that same day the trial court issued a restraining order under which the parties were not allowed to transfer assets while the divorce was pending. In December 2011, the parties entered into a settlement agreement in which, among other things, Husband agreed that "'[h]usband shall execute a will naming his son as beneficiary of his estate, giving all of his assets to his son.'" Id. ¶ 5, 382 Mont. at 384, 367 P.3d at 381.

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Topics: family law, child support obligation, The Lawletter Vol 41 No 8, constructive trust

CRIMINAL LAW: Use of Risk Assessment Tools in Sentencing Upheld . . . For Now

Posted by Jason Holder on Tue, Oct 4, 2016 @ 13:10 PM

The Lawletter Vol 41 No 8

Jason Holder, Research Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     In State v. Loomis, 2016 WI 68, 881 N.W.2d 749, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin upheld the use of risk assessment tools at sentencing against a due process challenge. In doing so, however, the Loomis court noted that such tools are consistent with due process protections only if they are used properly and in accordance with certain limitations. Additionally, the court may have provided a possible road map for future challenges to the use of risk assessment tools at sentencing.

     Loomis had been charged with a number of offenses stemming from a drive-by shooting and ultimately pleaded guilty to two of the lesser offenses. A presentence investigation report was prepared and included a Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions ("COMPAS") risk assessment. In ruling out probation, the circuit court noted that it did so because "of the seriousness of the crime and because your history, your history on supervision, and the risk assessment tools that have been utilized, suggest that you're extremely high risk to re-offend." Id. ¶ 19, 881 N.W.2d at 755.

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Topics: criminal law, The Lawletter Vol 41 No 8, Jason Holder, risk assessment, due process challenge

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