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    The Lawletter Blog

    ATTORNEY AND CLIENT—LEGAL ETHICS: In the Matter of Rudy Giuliani

    Posted by Amy Gore on Mon, Sep 13, 2021 @ 12:09 PM

    The Lawletter Vol 46 No 5

    Amy Gore—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                Recently, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court suspended the law license of Rudy Giuliani, pending a fuller hearing in In re Giuliani, 197 A.D.3d 1, 146 N.Y.S.3d 266 (2021). Without getting mired in any of the political ramifications the suspension of Giuliani may trigger, this ruling provides a useful procedural and substantive framework for evaluating the limits of advocacy by attorneys, both inside and outside of a courtroom.

                In this case, multiple complaints were filed before the New York Attorney Grievance Committee ("AGC") based primarily on alleged false statements made by Giuliani in various filings before multiple courts as well as statements made to the press and before other groups during the course of his representation of Donald Trump and the Trump Campaign. The AGC is the administrative entity charged with investigating allegations of attorney misconduct in violation of the New York Rule of Professional Conduct, 22 NYCRR 1240.7, upon receipt of a written complaint. One of the procedural mechanisms available to the AGC is to motion to the Appellate Division a request for interim suspension when "uncontroverted evidence of professional misconduct" has been demonstrated. 22 NYCRR 1240.9(a)(5). While the result in Giuliani was an immediate suspension, attorneys retain the right to a complete investigation and hearing. 22 NYCRR 1240.9(c); see Annotation, Validity and Construction of Procedures to Temporarily Suspend Attorney from Practice, or Place Attorney on Inactive Status, Pending Investigation of, and Action upon, Disciplinary Charges, 80 A.L.R.4th 136 (1990 & Supp.).

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    Topics: Amy Gore, license suspension, ethics, limits of advocacy, Rudy Giuliani, false or misleading statements by attorney

    CRIMINAL LAW: Ineffective Assistance—Death Penalty

    Posted by Mark Rieber on Mon, Sep 13, 2021 @ 12:09 PM

    The Lawletter Vol 46 No 5

    Mark Rieber—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                In Andrus v. Texas, 140 S. Ct. 1875 (2020), the Supreme Court vacated the opinion of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denying habeas relief to the petitioner challenging his death sentence and claiming that his counsel was ineffective in failing to investigate and present mitigating evidence at the penalty phase of trial. At the guilty phase of defendant's capital murder trial, defense counsel essentially conceded guilt and indicated he would "be fighting" at the punishment phase. Counsel, however, presented limited evidence at sentencing and failed to investigate and overlooked "vast tranches of mitigating evidence." Id. at 1881. Counsel also failed to investigate the State's aggravating evidence. At the habeas hearing, counsel offered no tactical rationale for such failure, which was "all the more alarming given that counsel's purported strategy was to concede guilt and focus on mitigation." Id. at 1883. The Court easily found that counsel was ineffective at the penalty phase, despite the Texas state court's summary dismissal of such claim.

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    Topics: criminal, Mark Rieber, ineffective assistance of counsel, death penalty

    EMPLOYMENT: Supreme Court Rebuffs Another Challenge to the ACA

    Posted by Nadine Roddy on Mon, Sep 13, 2021 @ 12:09 PM

    The Lawletter Vol 46 No 5

    Nadine Roddy—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                In a closely watched case, California v. Texas, 141 S. Ct. 2104 (2021), the Supreme Court recently turned back a third challenge to the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("ACA" or "Act")—the extensive health-care reform law enacted in 2010 that includes, among other things, a requirement for all individuals (known as the "individual mandate") to obtain a minimum level of health insurance coverage (known as "minimum essential coverage" or "MEC") or to pay a tax penalty to the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS"). In subsequent legislation, Congress reduced the penalty from $695 to $0. At that point, the State of Texas, joined by several other states and two individual plaintiffs, filed a challenge to the amended Act in a federal district court sitting in Texas. The court held that Congress's effective elimination of the tax penalty had rendered unconstitutional the individual mandate to obtain MEC, as it could no longer be justified as a tax. Further, because the unconstitutional provision could not be severed from the rest of the ACA, the entire Act was invalid. In its June 2021 decision, the Supreme Court did not reach these substantive issues, instead ruling 7-2 that neither the states nor the individual plaintiffs had Article III standing to bring the suit, as none had shown a past or future injury "fairly traceable" to the officials' conduct.

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    Topics: Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act PPACA, Nadine Roddy, past or future injury, traceability

    PERSONAL INJURY: Technology Expands Recovery for Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

    Posted by Alfred C. Shackelford III on Mon, Sep 13, 2021 @ 12:09 PM

    The Lawletter Vol 46 No 5

    Fred Shackelford—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

         The concept of bystander liability was first recognized by American courts in the landmark California case of Dillon v. Legg, 68 Cal. 2d 728, 441 P.2d 912 (1968). Today, most courts allow recovery under this doctrine, also known as negligent infliction of emotional distress ("NIED"). Under this theory of liability, a tortfeasor can sometimes be held liable to a bystander who experiences emotional distress from observing a direct injury to another person. Under Dillon, bystander liability was limited by foreseeability, and courts would take into account such factors as (1) whether the plaintiff was located near the scene of the accident as opposed to a distance away from it; (2) whether the shock resulted from a direct emotional impact upon the plaintiff from the sensory and contemporaneous observance of the accident rather than learning of the accident from others after its occurrence; and (3) whether the plaintiff and the victim were closely related, as contrasted with an absence of any relationship or only a distant relationship.

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    Topics: Alfred C. Shackelford III, personal injury, negligent infliction of emotional distress, bystander liability, live-stream audio and video

    TAX: Sales Tax Pandemic—Facemasks

    Posted by James P. Witt on Mon, Sep 13, 2021 @ 12:09 PM

    The Lawletter Vol 46 No 5

    Jim Witt—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                In addition to the direct health issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, given the economic disruption the pandemic has caused, it is obvious that the pandemic will indirectly be giving rise to countless legal issues (for instance, in the construction/real estate field alone, with government mandates halting some projects and granting waivers as to others, and with issues related to supply chain, employee safety, construction disputes, defaults, loans, and leases, there will be important questions up for decision for a long time to come). As exemplified by the case of McLean v. Big Lots Inc., No. 2:20-CV-02000-MJH, 2021 WL 2317417 (W.D. Pa. June 7, 2021), however, there will also be COVID-19-related cases concerning far less momentous topics.

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    Topics: James P. Witt, sales tax, pandemic, face masks

    EMPLOYMENT: Title VII and "Supervisors"

    Posted by Nadine Roddy on Mon, Sep 13, 2021 @ 12:09 PM

    The Lawletter Vol 46 No 5

    Nadine Roddy—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                One of the more difficult issues in the employment discrimination context has been the determination of whether an employee who is charged with misconduct toward another employee is a "supervisor" or a "coworker" for purposes of employer liability under Title VII and related statutes. Initially, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") took the position that an individual is qualified as an employee's supervisor if (1) the individual had authority to undertake or recommend tangible employment decisions affecting the employee, or (2) the individual had authority to direct the employee's daily work activities. EEOC Enforcement Guidance: Vicarious Liability for Unlawful Harassment by Supervisors (1999). In its 2013 decision in Vance v. Ball State University, 133 S. Ct. 2434 (2013), however, the Supreme Court narrowed the definition, holding that an employee is a "supervisor" only when empowered by the employer to take tangible employment action—such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassigning with significantly different responsibilities, or causing a significant change in benefits—against the employee alleging discrimination. Since then, the lower federal courts have refined this definition in relevant cases.

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    Topics: employment discrimination, Nadine Roddy, employee vs. supervisor, indicia of reliance, authoritative input

    CONTRACTS: An Object Lesson in How Not to Mitigate Damages

    Posted by Paul A. Ferrer on Thu, Aug 19, 2021 @ 11:08 AM

    The Lawletter Vol 46 No 4

    Paul Ferrer—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                Well-established contract law holds that when one party breaches a contract, the nonbreaching party must make reasonable efforts to mitigate its damages. The consequences of failing to mitigate are well illustrated by a recent Illinois appellate decision. See Mayster v. Santacruz, 2020 IL App (2d) 190840, 163 N.E.3d 246.

                The plaintiff owned and operated a Mathnasium math tutoring franchise. The franchisee entered into a binding purchase agreement to sell the franchise for $100,000. The parties bickered over several terms, but the disagreement did not justify the buyer's termination, which therefore constituted a breach. Soon after the breach, however, the buyer offered to reinstate the deal and buy the franchise for the same $100,000 originally agreed. The franchisee refused, choosing instead to raise the asking price to $130,000 to explore more profitable opportunities. The franchisee also declined the franchisor's suggestion that it advertise the franchise for sale in an internal publication that targeted Mathnasium owners, and would thus have been more likely to produce a new buyer. The trial court concluded that the buyer had breached the contract but that the franchisee could not recover any damages based on its absolute failure to mitigate. The only questions presented on appeal were whether the franchisee had failed to mitigate its damages and, if so, whether its failure barred it from recovering anything at all.

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    Topics: contracts, Paul A. Ferrer, failure to mitigate, no recovery of damages

    PERSONAL INJURY: Tort Immunity for Nonprofit Volunteers Is Limited to Their Organizational Roles

    Posted by John M. Stone on Thu, Aug 19, 2021 @ 11:08 AM

    The Lawletter Vol 46 No 4

    John Stone—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                A youth mentor brought a 12-year-old boy to his farm for a weekend of outdoor activities, where he allowed the boy to drive an all-terrain vehicle ("ATV") without a helmet or supervision. When the boy suffered permanent serious injuries, including a brain injury and partial blindness, after he lost control of the ATV, he sued the mentor for negligent entrustment and supervision. A trial court granted summary judgment dismissing the suit, concluding that the Minnesota Nonprofit Corporations Act immunized the defendant from civil liability for his alleged negligence.

                An appellate court reversed the lower court because the Act applies only to a volunteer's actions that are undertaken "within the scope of the person's responsibilities as a[n] . . . agent[.]" Hogan v. Brass, No. A20-0846, 2021 WL 852073 (Minn. Ct. App. Mar. 8, 2021). In this case, the nonprofit organization through which the mentor and the boy became associated connected adult mentors with children affected by a parent's incarceration. It provided only same-day mentoring services, encouraging each volunteer mentor to connect with the child on a weekly basis for one to four hours. In various ways, the organization expressly declined a role in interactions that involve overnight or extended arrangements.

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    Topics: personal injury, John M Stone, nonprofit volunteers, tort immunity, actual and express limits

    ESTATE PLANNING: Pet Trusts

    Posted by D. Bradley Pettit on Thu, Aug 19, 2021 @ 11:08 AM

    D. Bradley Pettit, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                According to a treatise on revocable trusts,

    [t]he number of individuals who own animals is staggering. As many as 56.7 million households in the United States own dogs and 45.3 million own cats.

    2 George M. Turner et al., Revocable Trusts, 5th § 78:1 (Westlaw current through November 2020 update).

                As to pet trusts, the Uniform Probate Code provides as follows:

    Subject to this subsection and subsection (c), a trust for the care of a designated domestic or pet animal is valid. The trust terminates when no living animal is covered by the trust. A governing instrument must be liberally construed to bring the transfer within this subsection, to presume against the merely precatory or honorary nature of the disposition, and to carry out the general intent of the transferor. Extrinsic evidence is admissible in determining the transferor’s intent.

    Unif. Prob. Code § 2-907(b) (Westlaw current through 2019 Annual Meeting of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws).

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    Topics: trusts, estate planning, D. Bradley Pettit, pets

    CIVIL PROCEDURE: Attorney's Fees as Damages for Breach of Covenant Not to Sue

    Posted by Paul A. Ferrer on Fri, Aug 13, 2021 @ 11:08 AM

    The Lawletter Vol 46 No 4

    Paul Ferrer—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                The familiar "American rule" holds that a prevailing party generally cannot recover its attorney's fees from the losing party in the absence of a statute or contract provision specifically authorizing an award of such fees. Jurisdictions are divided on the issue of whether a party can recover its attorney's fees as damages, rather than costs, for the breach of a covenant not to sue the other party. In those jurisdictions that have not permitted attorney's fees to be awarded as damages, courts have reasoned that the contract containing the covenant not to sue can itself provide for attorney's fees in the event of its breach if that is the parties' intention. See Artvale, Inc. v. Rugby Fabrics Corp., 363 F.2d 1002, 1008 (2d Cir. 1966) ("Certainly it is not beyond the powers of a lawyer to draw a covenant not to sue in such terms as to make clear that any breach will entail liability for damages, including the most certain of all—defendant's litigation expense."). By contrast, other courts have determined that the American rule does not apply in "those cases in which the attorney fees are not awarded to the successful litigant in the case at hand, but rather are the subject of the law suit itself." Zuniga v. United Can Co., 812 F.2d 443, 455 (9th Cir. 1987). Virginia recently adopted the latter view.

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    Topics: Paul A. Ferrer, civil procedure, attorneys fees, breach of covenant, damages vs. costs

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