MySpace, students & free speech

In separate cases, two public school students used MySpace to post disparaging comments about each of their principals. Each of the students was punished with a suspension from school, and each made a federal case out of it, literally, by suing on the basis of alleged infringement of the right of free speech. Both cases arose in the same state, and the same federal appellate court decided appeals in the cases on the same day. The parallels end there, however, because one student succeeded in his First Amendment argument while the other student did not. Continue reading

What is an “S-Corporation”?

An S corporation is a form of business classified for federal income tax purposes as a corporation that has elected to be taxed as a pass‑through entity, in a manner similar to a partnership or sole proprietor. Unlike a regular corporation, or C corporation, an S corporation (both names derive from sections of the Internal Revenue Code) generally is not subject to federal income tax. Instead, its income is reported on the tax returns of its shareholders, and they have the responsibility for paying the tax. If there are losses suffered by the corporation, they also pass through and are reported on the shareholders’ income tax returns. Continue reading

Choosing an Executor for your Will

The designation of an executor for a will is one of the critical steps in effective estate planning. The executor will be the individual responsible for the administration of the estate. He or she must execute the necessary documents to submit the will for probate. Then the executor must gather all of the testator’s (person who makes the will) assets and distribute them in accordance with the terms of the will. Good recordkeeping will be essential because an accounting will have to be filed. Creditors’ claims will have to be dealt with, and estate tax returns may have to be filed. Continue reading

Credit card act of 2009

Recently, the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act of 2009 (the Credit CARD Act) went into effect. Congress saw a pressing need to protect consumers from abusive fees, penalties, interest rate increases, and other unjustified changes in the terms of credit card accounts. A new hike in the penalties for violators of the Act will provide extra incentive for compliance. Continue reading

E-mailed documents allowed

Shortly before he left the employment of a residential treatment center for addicted persons, an employee e‑mailed some of his employer’s documents to his and his wife’s personal e‑mail accounts. The employee operated two consulting businesses of his own concerning addiction rehabilitation services. The employer’s documents, including its financial statement and the names of past and current patients at the center, could have been useful to those businesses. Continue reading

Americans with disabilities act amendments

The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), which went into effect last year, was a legislative response to U.S. Supreme Court precedent. The ADAAA generally makes it easier for some employees to establish themselves as “disabled” and to require accommodations from their employers. Recently, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) fleshed out the import of the ADAAA when it issued new regulations and an interpretive guidance. Continue reading

Business loans cannot reduce estate taxes

A section of the federal Internal Revenue Code authorizes estate tax deductions for qualifying interests in family‑owned businesses. For the deduction to apply, the value of the interest in the business held by a person at the time of his or her death must exceed 50% of the total value of the person’s adjusted gross estate. This is known as the “50% liquidity test.” Continue reading

Misrepresentation About Water Damage Is Not “Property Damage”

About a year after a married couple sold their home, the buyers sued them for fraudulent misrepresentation. The buyers contended that the sellers had falsely represented that the home had no moisture or water problems, no damage due to flooding, and no problems with its foundation. The sellers, in turn, asked a state court to declare that the carrier on their homeowners insurance policy was obligated to defend and indemnify them against the buyers’ lawsuit. Continue reading

Lapsed Flood Insurance

Hurricane Katrina destroyed Merlin’s house in August of 2005. About two weeks before Katrina hit, he had missed a deadline to pay a premium to keep his flood insurance policy in effect for 2005 to 2006. After Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency extended a grace period of 90 days for paying premiums to keep policies in force.

When Merlin submitted a claim under the policy shortly after Katrina, his insurer told him that he would be covered and even sent a small advance check for the claim. Merlin had many telephone calls with the insurer’s representatives during this period, but none of them told him a critical fact: Any payments under the policy were conditioned on Merlin later paying the delinquent premium by the extended due date. When that date came and went without the payment having been made, the insurer demanded the return of its advance payment and told Merlin that he had no coverage.

Merlin sued the insurer for the state law claim of negligent misrepresentation. The insurer responded that such a claim was foreclosed, or “preempted,” by federal law. The insurer was relying on legal authorities stating that certain tort claims against an insurer participating in the National Flood Insurance Program are preempted. However, only tort claims arising from the “handling” of insurance claims are preempted. The federal appellate court considering Merlin’s lawsuit ruled that it could proceed.

When the alleged misrepresentation happened, Merlin only held the status of a former, and a potential future, policyholder. If the case was about a “claim” at all, it was a legally fictitious claim, because the policy had expired. Since his dispute with the insurer was really about whether he could even have a policy at all, Merlin’s negligent misrepresentation claim stemmed from the procuring of insurance, not from the “handling” of a claim.