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FMG Law Blog Line

Archive for December, 2018

EB1 Success Story

Posted on: December 20th, 2018

By: Kenneth Levine

The FMG Immigration Group was retained in June 2018 to prepare an EB1 “Alien of Extraordinary Ability” petition on behalf of Woman International Chess Master Mariam Danelia. Mariam, who hails from the country of Georgia, was residing in the U.S. pursuant to F-1 Optional Practical Training after having earned a Master of Science degree in Accounting from the University of Texas at Dallas.

Mariam happens to be one of the finest female chess players ever produced by the country of Georgia. She is currently the 20th ranked female chess player in Georgia and is overall ranked in the 99th percentile of female chess players worldwide. While attending UT at Dallas, Mariam was a key member of the school’s powerhouse chess team. The UT at Dallas chess team is a perennial favorite to qualify for the “final four” tournament of collegiate chess, known as the “President’s Cup.”

The attached article discusses Mariam’s remarkable chess talents and recounts her appearance at the Denver Chess Club, where she competed against 25 other chess players simultaneously:

Although Mariam’s petition included substantial evidence of her eligibility for the EB1 category, USCIS nonetheless issued a rather lengthy and detailed Request for Evidence. Our office refined the evidence to address the issues raised by USCIS and submitted the response. An approval notice soon followed.

Mariam was positively thrilled to learn that she will be receiving her green card under our country’s most elite and prestigious immigration category. Indeed, U.S. media typically refers to the EB1 category as the ‘Einstein” green card. Congratulations Mariam!

Mariam emailed us the below comments and has authorized us to print them here:

“I had a great experience working with Kenneth Levine. He took my EB1 case and managed to get it approved, when no other immigration lawyer believed the case was approvable. During our first conversation, Kenneth told me that my case would require a lot of work and we would receive a RFE from the USCIS, but he was confident that the case would ultimately be approved. This is exactly what happened. We received a RFE and after he submitted the response, the case was approved. The approval of the case speaks for itself and shows that Kenneth is an outstanding attorney, but I want to emphasize that he does an amazing job at making the whole process smooth for his clients. He promptly responds to emails and patiently answers questions. He truly cares about his clients and does his best to assist them. I would not be able to stay in the United States without his help. I highly recommend him to everyone who requires immigration legal assistance.”

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].

As of 1/1/19 California Lawyers & Clients Going To Mediation Have To Sign This

Posted on: December 19th, 2018

By: Greg Fayard

Come January 1, 2019, California lawyers who participate in mediations will need to provide written disclosures to their clients explaining mediation confidentiality. Further, California lawyers must get written acknowledgment from clients that they understand mediation confidentiality before participating in mediation. This requirement does not apply to class actions, however. The new law is a new statute in the Evidence Code pertaining to mediations–Section 1129.

The following disclosure satisfies the new law, so long as it is in 12-point font, in the preferred language of the client, and on a stand-alone, single page. Both the attorney and client have to sign and date the disclosure.

Mediation Disclosure Notification & Acknowledgment

To promote communication in mediation, California law generally makes mediation a confidential process. California’s mediation confidentiality laws are laid out in Sections 703.5 and 1115 to 1129, inclusive, of the Evidence Code. Those laws establish the confidentiality of mediation and limit the disclosure, admissibility, and a court’s consideration of communications, writings, and conduct in connection with a mediation. In general, those laws mean the following:

  • All communications, negotiations, or settlement offers in the course of a mediation must remain confidential.
  • Statements made and writings prepared in connection with a mediation are not admissible or subject to discovery or compelled disclosure in noncriminal proceedings.
  • A mediator’s report, opinion, recommendation, or finding about what occurred in a mediation may not be submitted to or considered by a court or another adjudicative body.
  • A mediator cannot testify in any subsequent civil proceeding about any communication or conduct occurring at, or in connection with, a mediation.

This means that all communications between you and your attorney made in preparation for a mediation, or during a mediation, are confidential and cannot be disclosed or used (except in extremely limited circumstances), even if you later decide to sue your attorney for malpractice because of something that happens during the mediation.

 

I, _____________ [Name of Client], understand that, unless all participants agree otherwise, no oral or written communication made during a mediation, or in preparation for a mediation, including communications between me and my attorney, can be used as evidence in any subsequent noncriminal legal action including an action against my attorney for malpractice or an ethical violation.

NOTE: This disclosure and signed acknowledgment does not limit your attorney’s potential liability to you for professional malpractice, or prevent you from (1) reporting any professional misconduct by your attorney to the State Bar of California or (2) cooperating with any disciplinary investigation or criminal prosecution of your attorney.

(Signature)

[Name of Client] [Date signed]

(Signature)

[Name of Attorney] [Date signed]”

 

This disclosure must be provided to clients and signed as soon as reasonably possible before the client agrees to mediate. However, not obtaining a proper signed acknowledgment from a client is not a basis to set aside an agreement prepared for, in the course of, or pursuant to mediation. (Evid. Code, § 1129, subd. (e)). Attorneys can be disciplined for not complying with the new law, however. (Evid. Code, § 1122,, subd. (a)(3)).

What prompted this new law? First, it addresses the lack of client awareness of confidentiality at mediation. Second, attorneys were able to avoid mediation professional liability claims through the cloak of confidentiality. To address attorneys escaping mediation liability claims, a communication, document or writing related to the attorney’s compliance with the new law is admissible in an attorney disciplinary proceeding (unless the document discloses something said or done during mediation).

In sum: If a California lawyer plans to mediate, he or she should prepare the above disclosure and calendar the client’s prompt signature before the mediation.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Greg Fayard at [email protected].

It’s A Business Not A Criminal Enterprise (Any Longer)

Posted on: December 17th, 2018

By: David Molinari

The operation of a commercial cannabis business presents a host of unique issues. Security is a concern when the business stores hundreds of thousands of dollars in “inventory” on site. Banking regulations present another problem requiring these enterprises to be a cash-based business; a requirement brought on by federal forfeiture laws if revenues are deposited into any federal banking institution insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Another aspect of operating a cannabis business: the smell. While state legislatures wrestle with how to balance the exercise of police powers with accepting tax revenues generated by a multi-billion-dollar industry, the day to day practical operation forces business and land owners to live and work next to one another; and where the relationship breaks down, neighboring business owners  turn to the courts.

For the cannabis industry, local regulations authorizing permits for operation are developed utilizing combinations of zoning and land use restrictions that have the potential, once a permit is issued, to provide some level of protection against neighboring business owners trying to impose common law remedies such as nuisance or trespass to control greater influx of traffic, odor and diminished land value.  Suits for nuisance or trespass may not allow a disgruntled neighboring land owner relief. The perceived lack of state remedies forces neighboring owners to try alternative jurisdiction and relief theories. In one instance, a neighboring commercial land owner decided to file a federal racketeering, influence and corrupt organization (RICO) civil suit seeking to close down the neighboring commercial cannabis business.

Although various states have enacted legislation legalizing medicinal and recreational cannabis, the fact remains that cannabis is a controlled federal substance, the possession or sale of which constitutes a federal crime.

Hope and Michael R. owned a neighboring commercial tract to Parker W’s cannabis cultivation business. The Hope and Michael claimed that Parker’s cannabis business inundated their neighboring property with the scent of cannabis as well as incessant noise from air conditioners.

Rather than attempting to enforce common law nuisance or trespass theories of relief, Hope and Michael filed a lawsuit based upon federal law and particularly that the product sold and cultivated is illegal under Federal Law; and such illegality had negative effects on the value of other neighboring parcels in the business park. They claimed the presence of the cannabis facility itself dropped the value of the land.

The case made it to trial where Parker argued that the business was legally zoned, housed in a business park that was commercial and agricultural. Other businesses in the park included an animal feed lot. Any scent or odor of cannabis was no different than the smell from an animal feed lot or a nearby landfill. The business itself was legal under state zoning and land use laws.

A federal jury rejected the claim that operation of a cannabis-based business in violation of federal law is inherently racketeering. As to the question of whether the operation of the cannabis business caused damage to neighboring land, the expert opinions presented by the parties actually showed the cannabis business resulted in an increase in the business park land values. One could argue under the Doctrine of Implied Findings, the jury found the smell of pot is preferable to animal feed or a landfill.

The cannabis industry, medicinal or recreational, may enjoy acceptance in a growing number of state legislatures. However, such acceptance in the legislature may not filter down to business to business levels. The economic impact of cannabis, including the influx of sales taxes to local economies as may negate the “stench” of marijuana in the halls of state senate and house chambers; but not to the neighboring small business owners that believe such an industry is only a business in which criminals or cartels profit. Neighboring business owners may not care about broader economic impact of sales taxes and look only to shelter their local investment in their business. The relationship among various commercial activities, be it manufacturing, technology or cannabis is an evolving process. The relationship among business owners will have its ups and downs and the cannabis industry will be subject to every variation of challenge at the local business to business level. Cannabis may be here to stay because of its commercial and economic impact being too great to ignore or confine. In the west, we now have emerging precedent that it is not a racketeering or corrupt business.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact David Molinari at [email protected].

In the Land of Insurance Coverage, Specificity is King

Posted on: December 13th, 2018

GA Court of Appeals Finds Insurer Must Cover Millions in Damages Because of Policy Ambiguities

By: Brandon Howard

Whenever a court suspects an insurance policy is “ambiguous,” anxiety strikes the minds of both coverage counsel and insurers alike. For coverage counsel, combating an alleged ambiguous provision of a policy typically occurs on the back-end, after an incident has occurred and the claimant or plaintiff has already made underlying allegations of liability. As a result, coverage counsel can only advise clients or litigate matters within the framework of any given insurance policy’s established language. Yet, as policy issuers, insurers are uniquely positioned to monitor trends in litigation, on the front-end, in an effort to anticipate and revise policy language which may appear ambiguous in light of unique or uncommon facts. By proactively taking on vague policy provisions, a prudent insurer may avoid unanticipated exposure and a public battle over any alleged ambiguities during litigation.

Recently, in Nat’l Union Fire Ins. Co. v. Scapa Dryer Fabrics, Inc., 2018 Ga. App. LEXIS 634 (Ga. Ct. App. Oct. 26, 2018), the Georgia Court of Appeals demonstrated how a pair of ambiguous policy provisions can expose an insurer to millions of dollars in unanticipated liability. In that case, over a period of five years, the primary insurer, National Union, issued commercial general liability policies to an entity selling asbestos-containing dryer felts (Scapa). Three of the policies had $1 million occurrence/aggregate limits, while the last two policies purported to cap the insured’s liability limits for any one occurrence at $7.2 million. Citing the policies’ non-cumulation and limit erosion provisions, National Union argued that its duty to indemnify Scapa was discharged when the Scapa’s liability reached $7.2 million. Scapa, however, argued that both the non-cumulation and limit erosion provisions were ambiguous, thus allowing it to “stack” the limits of each of the primary policies, for a total coverage limit of $17.4 million.

On appeal, the Georgia Court of Appeals held that Scapa was allowed to stack the coverage limits of the five National Union policies because the policies’ non-cumulation clauses were ambiguous. The policies provided that if “[Scapa] has been provided with more than one policy by [National Union] covering the same loss/losses, the limit of liability stated in the schedule of this endorsement is the total limit of [National Union’s] liability for all damages which are payable under such policies. Any loss incurred under this policy shall serve to reduce and shall therefore be deducted from the total limit of [National Union’s] liability.” Confronted with this language, the Court concluded that the non-cumulation provision is ambiguous because “[it] does not indicate whether the limit applies to [each discriminate] policy period only or to the aggregate period under the original and renewed policies.” Construing the policy in favor of the insured, the Court held that the non-cumulation provision did not apply in the aggregate and, therefore, Scapa could stack its policy limits to gain an additional $10.2 million in coverage beyond what National Union contended was due.

On the issue of policy limit erosion, the Court also sided with Scapa. National Union had argued that, under its policies, the liability limits were eroded by the costs expended to defend Scapa against liability. For support, Scapa pointed to the policy, which provides that the limits of liability are reduced by “all expenses incurred by [National Union], . . . in any claim, suit[,] or other action defended by [National Union].” The Court noted, however, that National Union’s limits “[are] eroded only by the total sums that National Union ‘become[s] obligated to pay due to’ any bodily injury or . . . property damage.” The erosion provision, according to the Court, “is ambiguous as to whether such expenses include defense costs National Union is obligated to pay solely as part of its contractual duty to defend (as opposed to those sums it is legally obligated to pay by reason of the liability imposed upon Scapa by law for damages).” Again, construing the policy in favor of the insured, the Court held that National Union’s limits were not eroded by the costs incurred defending Scapa.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Brandon Howard at [email protected].

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want, But . . . You Get What You Need”: Determining What is “Necessary” Under the Fair Housing Act

Posted on: December 12th, 2018

By: Jake Loken & Bill Buechner

In a case citing The Rolling Stones, Henry Thoreau, and Abraham Lincoln, and listing the ingredients needed to make lemonade, the Third Circuit rejected an elderly woman’s disability discrimination claim under the Fair Housing Act.

In Vorchheimer v. Philadelphian Owners Association, 903 F.3d 100 (3d Cir. 2018), Carol Vorchheimer, an elderly woman, wanted to leave her rolling walker in her condo building’s lobby. Vorchheimer needed the walker to get around her condo and the building, but did not need it when going from the lobby to her car. Vorchheimer wanted to leave the walker in the lobby when she left to go to her car, but was provided four alternatives by the property manager for storing her walker instead of leaving the walker out in the lobby. The alternatives, however, did not satisfy Vorchheimer’s desire to simply leave the walker in the lobby.

After a year of continually leaving the walker in the lobby, without using any of the alternative options, and having staff move the walker into storage, Vorchheimer filed a lawsuit against the owner’s association, the association’s president at the time, and the property manager. The lawsuit alleged the defendants violated the Fair Housing Act, specifically, 42 U.S.C. 3604(f)(3)(B), by discriminating against Vorchheimer in refusing to allow her to leave the walker out in the lobby. Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP attorney Christopher Curci argued on behalf of the defendants at oral argument before the Third Circuit.

The Court examined section 3605(f)(3)(B), which states: “Discrimination includes [1] a refusal to make [2] reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, [3] when such accommodations may be [a] necessary to afford such person [b] equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling[.]” 903 F.3d at 105. The Court focused in on what is meant by “necessary” in this section.

Typically, a suit alleging discrimination under this section focuses on the “reasonable accommodation” factor. In Vorchheimer, the court focused on the “necessary” factor, and held that what is “necessary” is a question of law to be determined by the court, along with holding the “necessity element requires that an accommodation be essential, not just preferable.” 903 F.3d at 107. The Court further held that a particular tenant’s needs must first be identified, then after doing so, a court “can gauge what is necessary to afford that tenant equal hosing opportunity.” Id. at 108.

In determining what a tenant’s needs are, the Court thoroughly discussed what the word “necessary” means, and then examined doctors’ letters detailing Vorchheimer’s disabilities and medical needs, which were exhibits to her complaint. The Court determined that Vorchheimer’s needs were “use of a rolling walker” and minimal “period[s] of unsupported standing.”

Next, the Court turned to whether the alternatives proposed by the property manager satisfied these needs. The Court found that leaving the walker out in the lobby was Vorchheimer’s want, and not a need, and that the four alternatives posed by the manager satisfied Vorchheimer’s needs of minimal unsupported standing and use of the walker when moving around the building.

For HOAs, this holding means that if a HOA offers reasonable alternatives that meet a tenant’s needs, even though they may not be the tenant’s preferred accommodations, then the existence of these alternatives will make the tenant’s preferred accommodation not “necessary.” The Sixth, Seventh, Tenth, and Eleventh Circuits have all likewise held that a plaintiff is not entitled to his or her preferred accommodation if it is not essential to having equal housing opportunities.

After Vorchheimer, the Third Circuit makes it clear that the term “necessary” as used in the Fair Housing Act does not include wants, and helps make The Rolling Stones lyrics ring truer than ever, as “[y]ou can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you find, you get what you need.”

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Jake Loken at [email protected] or Bill Buechner at [email protected].