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FMG Law Blog Line

Smart Cities Face Hacking Threat

Posted on: August 15th, 2018

By: Ze’eva Kushner

As you sit in traffic, frustrated and wondering why the city or municipality cannot do something to ease congestion, know that a city’s use of internet-connected technology to make your commute better may also invite hackers to wreak havoc on your city.

Traffic is just one of many problems that “smart cities” use internet-connected technology to address.  A smart city can set up an array of sensors and integrate their data to monitor things like air quality, water levels, radiation, and the electrical grid.  That data then can be used to automatically inform fundamental services like traffic and street lights and emergency alerts.

Smart city technology provides many benefits to city management, including connectivity and ease of management.  However, these very same features make the technology an attractive target for hackers.  In a recently released white paper, IBM revealed 17 vulnerabilities in smart city systems around the world.  Some of these risks were as simple as failing to change default passwords that could be guessed easily, bugs that could allow an attacker to inject malicious software commands, and others that would allow an attacker to sidestep authentication checks.  Additionally, use of the open internet rather than an internal city network to connect sensors or relay data to the cloud presents an opportunity for hackers.

Atlanta is an example of a smart city that is attempting to improve its efficiency by employing smart city technology, with its focus being mobility, public safety, environment, city operations efficiency, and public and business engagement.  Atlanta knows all too well how crippling a hack can be, as it suffered from the ransomware attack in the Spring that kept residents from services such as paying their water bills or traffic tickets online.  The hacking threat to smart cities is real and significant.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Ze’eva Kushner at [email protected].

Another Day, Another Dollar: Private Detention Center Sued By Detainees for Violations of the Washington Minimum Wage Act

Posted on: August 9th, 2018

By: Layli Eskandari Deal

A lawsuit filed by thousands of detained immigrants held at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, Washington alleges systematic wage theft by GEO Group, Inc.  The Plaintiffs seek to recover wages under the Washington Minimum Wage Act, as well as other damages allowable under State law.

GEO Group, Inc. has owned and operated the NWDC, which has 1,500 beds for immigrants, since 2005.  The lawsuit alleges that “rather than hire from local workforce, GEO relies upon “captive detainee workers to clean, maintain, and operate NWDC.”  It further states that “GEO’s NWDC Detainee Handbook describes detainee work assignments as including kitchen and laundry work, as well as recreation/library/barber and janitorial services.  The Handbook refers to these various tasks as ‘work’ and a ‘job,’ and references ‘wages earned’ by detainee ‘workers.’”

The Plaintiffs asked the Federal District Court for class certification.  Judge Robert Bryan of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington determined that the detained immigrants have an “employment relationship with GEO.”  The Judge determined that the group of detained immigrants all participate in a volunteer program at NWDC and allege the same “injury,” which is that they are only paid a $1 per day for work, “an amount not commensurate” with the law.  The Judge granted certification for the Plaintiffs to proceed as a class.

In addition to the Federal lawsuit, the State of Washington has also brought a lawsuit against GEO Group, Inc. in the State Superior Court that alleges GEO is violating the State’s minimum wage laws.  The Attorney General for the State of Washington, Bob Ferguson, stated, “A multi-billion dollar corporation is trying to get away with paying its workers $1 per day. That shouldn’t happen in America, and I will not tolerate it happening in Washington. For-profit companies cannot exploit Washington workers.”

Multiple lawsuits have been filed against private prisons, including GEO and others, over detainee pay and other issues. The lawsuits allege that the private prison giants use voluntary work programs to violate state minimum wage laws, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, unjust enrichment and other labor statutes.  The outcome of these cases will have significant effect on the way prison systems treat and compensate detained workers.

For additional information related to this topic and for advice regarding how to navigate U.S. immigration laws you may contact Layli Eskandari Deal of the law firm of Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP at (770-551-2700) or [email protected].

USCIS Creates Another Roadblock for Legal Immigrants

Posted on: August 8th, 2018

By: Kenneth Levine

A proposed Trump administration change to the “public charge” regulations, expected to be issued within the next few months, will dramatically alter the process for how Immigration Officers determine eligibility for citizenship or permanent residency.  USCIS designates an applicant as a “public charge” if they are likely to become predominantly dependent on government benefits for long term survival.  Currently, USCIS Officers focus on the petitioning sponsor’s income (or a cosponsor’s income if the petitioner’s income falls below the required amount) in assessing eligibility.  Section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act currently allows USCIS to deem a permanent residency applicant ineligible if they are likely at any time to become a “public charge.” Although the current regulation appears to afford an Immigration Officer considerable discretion in assessing an Applicant’s public charge prospects, in practice there is virtually no discretion.  In other words, if the petitioner or the co-sponsor’s current income satisfies the affidavit of support, then USCIS will typically have no justifiable basis to deny an application on public charge grounds.

The new regulations would substantially redefine “public charge” criteria by creating new grounds of ineligibility if the foreign national (or immediate family members) ever obtained health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or signed up for supplemental assistance programs for financial and/or nutritional assistance for their U.S. citizen children.  Moving forward, USCIS Officers will be allowed to analyze a foreign national applicant’s income, employment history, job skills, health status, assets, and any family history of having received public health benefits (no matter if they were legally entitled to receive such benefits).  This new approach will dramatically expand USCIS authority to deny a case based on the arbitrary whims of an Officer who looks unfavorably on an applicant’s job history or the amount of money they have saved in the bank.

At this point it is unknown whether there will be different public charge standards for permanent residency or citizenship applicants.  Regardless, FMG Immigration Attorneys fully expect that federal litigation will ensue once USCIS attempts to implement the new public charge regulations.

For additional information related to this topic and for advice regarding how to navigate U.S. immigration laws you may contact Kenneth Levine of the law firm of Freeman, Mathis & Gary, LLP at (770-551-2700) or [email protected].

Amendments To Pennsylvania’s CASPA Will Change The Landscape Of Payment Disputes

Posted on: August 3rd, 2018

By: Jonathan Romvary

Anyone who has ever done any amount of work as a contractor or who has represented them in collections cases has learned from hard experience that it can be all but impossible to get paid for one’s work. In Pennsylvania, there is the Contractor and Subcontractor Act (CASPA) was introduced in 1994 as a complement to the Pennsylvania Mechanic’s Lien Law and was intended to provide contractors (and subcontractors) with additional remedies against those owners/contractors withholding payment for their services. However, the landscape of these payment disputes is likely to significantly change as a result of recent legislation.

Last year, a Pennsylvania state representative introduced a bill, which sought to substantially amend the act and for the first time since 1994, provide further protections for contractors against those withholding funds for the work. That bill has languished in the House Commerce Committee since last year. Nonetheless, a similar bill amending CASPA was referred to the state senate and in June 2018, Governor Tom Wolf signed the bill into law as Act 27. Amongst the numerous amendments to CASPA, Act 27 now provides:

  • If an owner fails to adhere to the terms or withholds payment, contractors and subcontractors may stop performance of the work (subject to contractual limits);
  • There is no permissible waiver of any provision of CASPA;
  • Failure to provide the contractor with a 14 day written notice of a deficiency results in a waiver of the right to withhold payment for the deficiency and requires full payment of the invoice;
  • If a party alleges an invoice contains an error, that party must pay the correct amount on the date payment would otherwise be due otherwise it will be an improper withholding; and,
  • Withholding retention for longer than 30 days after final acceptance of the work generally qualifies as improper withholding.

These new changes are scheduled to take effect on October 10.

Without question, these changes increase the negotiation power of contractors and subcontractors, however, more importantly, the changes reinforce the need for owners and contractors to maintain clear payment records as only clear payment records will provide owners and contractors a sufficient defense in any payment dispute. Owners, contractors and subcontractors involved in payment disputes need to be aware of their respective obligations and rights.

Anyone in the construction industry that has questions about these amendments and how they may affect their business or current projects, please contact Jonathan Romvary at [email protected].

Despite Causing Wildfires, PG&E Avoids Punitive Damages

Posted on: August 2nd, 2018

By: Carlos Martinez-Garcia

On July 2, 2018, the Third Appellate District of California awarded Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) its first critical victory in defending itself against fire claims caused by its power lines: Butte Fire Cases, (2018) 24 Cal. App. 5th 1150. In 2015, the “Butte Fire” started after a gray pine came into contact with one of PG&E’s power lines, burning more than 70,868 acres, damaging hundreds of structures, and claiming two lives. The subsequent lawsuits, which were consolidated in a judicial council coordinated proceeding in Sacramento Superior Court, are comprised of 2,050 plaintiffs who sought punitive damages under Civil Code § 3294.

The master complaint alleged that the utility company and two contractors failed to properly maintain the power line and adjacent vegetation, warranting punitive damages. The Third Appellate District disagreed, striking Plaintiffs’ prayer for a punitive damages award.

In California, punitive damages may be recovered under section 3294 “where it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice.” (Civ. Code § 3294) Malice is defined by section 3294, subdivision (c)(1) as “conduct which is intended by the defendant to cause injury to the plaintiff or despicable conduct which is carried on by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.”

In seeking summary adjudication, PG&E submitted evidence that it devotes significant resources to vegetation management programs intended to minimize the risk of wildfire, spending more than $190 million per year on vegetation management operations. The operations include routine annual patrols, quality assurance and control programs, and a public safety and reliability program. PG&E also contracted with ACRT, Inc. to conduct inspections and vegetation management, Quantum Spatial, to collect data using LiDAR to identify dead or dying trees, and Trees, Inc. to trim noncompliant trees. No inspections identified the subject tree as a danger.

The Third District was unpersuaded by Plaintiffs’ contention that PG&E’s vegetation management program was “window dressing”, PG&E’s vegetation management methodologies were defective, or that PG&E evinced a cavalier attitude towards public safety evidenced by the infamous San Bruno pipeline explosion and a 1994 “Rough and Ready” fire caused by PG&E.

Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate the existence of a triable issue of material fact that showed PG&E acted despicably, or with willful and conscious disregard for the rights and safety of others. PG&E’s nondelegable duty to safely maintain the power lines does not alter the analysis of punitive damages under § 3294. There was nothing despicable in the utility company’s assumption that contractors were training their employees as required, and any criticisms of PG&E’s methodologies do not amount to clear and convincing proof that PG&E acted with malice. At most, plaintiffs’ evidence showed mere carelessness or ignorance.

If you have any questions, or would like more information, please contact Carlos Martinez-Garcia at [email protected].