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Posts Tagged ‘Coronavirus’

COVID-19 in Jails: A Case Study

Posted on: May 22nd, 2020

By: Wes Jackson

By now we are all familiar with the CDC’s recommendations for limiting the spread of COVID-19: “social distancing,” maintaining a distance of six feet from others as much as possible, avoiding large gatherings, and self-isolation if you exhibit symptoms of the disease or test positive, among others. As challenging as these practices can be for the general public, they pose a unique challenge to jail administrators who are now tasked with limiting the spread of COVID-19 amongst inmates tightly packed into closed places. All the while, jail officials must also maintain order and security in the jail while respecting the constitutional rights of inmates.

How should jails balance these competing interests and, perhaps more importantly, who gets to decide? There are no clear answers to those questions. Interestingly, though, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion in Swain v. Junior that provides a helpful analysis.

In Swain, inmates at Miami’s Metro West Detention Center filed for a preliminary injunction and habeas relief against the jail administrator, arguing that the jail was not doing enough to stop the spread of COVID-19 between inmates. While it was uncontested that the jail had already undertaken many measures recommended by the CDC  to address COVID-19 in jail settings (you can read that guidance here), the inmates nevertheless asked the federal district court to issue an injunction requiring the jail to take various precautions. The district court agreed and ordered the jail to implement several specific practices to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the jail, including maintenance of six feet social distancing “to the maximum extent possible;” strict testing and PPE requirements, and new procedures for the provision of medical care, among others.

The jail then went to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals to ask for a stay of the injunction. The Eleventh Circuit, applying the “deliberate indifference to a risk of serious harm” standard, found that the measures the jail had taken were constitutionally adequate and did not require an immediate injunction. Specifically, the Court of Appeals found that “the evidence supports that the defendants are taking the risk of COVID-19 seriously.” The Court also noted that local governments are in the best position to allocate resources in high-demand needed to prevent, test for, and treat COVID-19 amongst various local facilities, and the district court could not assume the role of “super warden” in ordering a particular allocation of those limited resources.

In short, the COVID-19 pandemic poses a novel challenge to jail administrators. At least for now, the Eleventh Circuit has granted one jail some latitude in how it addresses that challenge. The Eleventh Circuit’s decision is consistent with federal courts’ reluctance to micromanage correctional facilities in the absence of widespread constitutional violations.   

If you have any questions about local governments’ response to COVID-19, please contact Wes Jackson at [email protected].

Additional Information:

The FMG Coronavirus Task Team will be conducting a series of webinars on Coronavirus issues on a regular basis.  Click here to view upcoming webinars.

FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients.  Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments.  For more information about the Task Force, click here.

You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at [email protected].

**DISCLAIMER:  The attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP (“FMG”) have been working hard to produce educational content to address issues arising from the concern over COVID-19.  The webinars and our written material have produced many questions. Some we have been able to answer, but many we cannot without a specific legal engagement.  We can only give legal advice to clients.  Please be aware that your attendance at one of our webinars or receipt of our written material does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and FMG.  An attorney-client relationship will not exist unless and until an FMG partner expressly and explicitly states IN WRITING that FMG will undertake an attorney-client relationship with you, after ascertaining that the firm does not have any legal conflicts of interest.  As a result, you should not transmit any personal or confidential information to FMG unless we have entered into a formal written agreement with you.  We will continue to produce education content for the public, but we must point out that none of our webinars, articles, blog posts, or other similar material constitutes legal advice, does not create an attorney client relationship and you cannot rely on it as such.  We hope you will continue to take advantage of the conferences and materials that may pertain to your work or interests.**

FINRA In-Person Hearings Further Postponed Until July 31

Posted on: May 20th, 2020

By: Kathleen Cusack and Kirsten Patzer

On Friday, May 15, 2020, amidst continued concern over the potential spread of COVID-19, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) postponed all in-person arbitration and mediation proceedings until July 31, 2020. FINRA initially postponed in-person meetings beginning in March and extended the suspension several times. 

In its most recent announcement, FINRA also offered to waive the postponement fee if parties agree to reschedule in-person hearings currently scheduled between July 31 and September 4, 2020. All other case deadlines continue to apply. 

As an alternative to in-person meetings, videoconferencing or telephonic meetings are permissible if requested by parties or if mandated by arbitrators. This option is reportedly unpopular and infrequently utilized. And when it has been utilized, the outcomes are subject to scrutiny and may lead to awards being overturned.

A recent FINRA award has resulted in Wunderlich Securities, Inc. filing an action in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York asking that the $11.4 million award issued against them in March be vacated after the final hearing was held via Zoom. According to Wunderlich, the panel had been inattentive throughout the entire proceeding, held over the course of 9 sessions, with the final session being the only one not held in person. During the Zoom videoconference, one arbitrator would look at other screens, typing, and eating during testimony, another arbitrator completely blocked her screen, and during closing arguments, one of the panelists completely walked away from his screen. After the final hearing Wunderlich filed a motion requesting that the panel recuse itself. That motion was unanimously denied by the panel.

The original FINRA arbitration was Dominick & Dickerman LLC, Michael John Campbell v. Wunderlich Securities, Inc., available here. The Petition to Vacate for that case, available here.  

If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Kirsten Patzer at [email protected] or Kathleen Cusack at [email protected]

Additional Information:

The FMG Coronavirus Task Team will be conducting a series of webinars on Coronavirus issues on a regular basis.  Click here to view upcoming webinars.

FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients.  Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments.  For more information about the Task Force, click here.

You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at [email protected].

**DISCLAIMER:  The attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP (“FMG”) have been working hard to produce educational content to address issues arising from the concern over COVID-19.  The webinars and our written material have produced many questions. Some we have been able to answer, but many we cannot without a specific legal engagement.  We can only give legal advice to clients.  Please be aware that your attendance at one of our webinars or receipt of our written material does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and FMG.  An attorney-client relationship will not exist unless and until an FMG partner expressly and explicitly states IN WRITING that FMG will undertake an attorney-client relationship with you, after ascertaining that the firm does not have any legal conflicts of interest.  As a result, you should not transmit any personal or confidential information to FMG unless we have entered into a formal written agreement with you.  We will continue to produce education content for the public, but we must point out that none of our webinars, articles, blog posts, or other similar material constitutes legal advice, does not create an attorney client relationship and you cannot rely on it as such.  We hope you will continue to take advantage of the conferences and materials that may pertain to your work or interests.**

Boston Implements New COVID-19 Safety Procedures for Construction Sites

Posted on: May 13th, 2020

By: Catherine Bednar

On May 5, 2020, the City of Boston activated new COVID-19 safety procedures for active construction sites, which are currently limited to projects meeting the City’s definition of emergency or essential work. The City also targeted dates for expanding the categories of permitted construction activity in the City to more closely match the State’s definition of essential construction services; currently, the City has imposed significantly greater restrictions on construction activity.[1]

The City’s Order sets forth the following timetable:

• May 5, 2020 – Essential construction projects with approved COVID-19 Safety Affidavits and COVID-19 Safety Plans will be authorized to prepare the site with project-specific COVID-19 safety measures.

• May 18, 2020 – The City will allow essential construction work on sites that meet the following criteria: (1) Projects are permitted, in compliance and have filed a COVID-19 Safety plan and a signed affidavit; (2) Project sites are sufficiently prepared to adhere to all criteria of their safety plan; and (3) the work is for hospitals, public schools, residential buildings [1-3 units], road and utility work, or other outdoor/open air-work such as steel erection, roofing and constructing foundations.

• May 26, 2020 – All essential construction projects may re-commence construction activities in adherence to their safety plans.

The City has adopted this incremental approach in order to provide additional time “necessary to allow complex, large-scale development an opportunity to educate their workforce, safely remobilize and implement their site-specific Safety Plan.” All Projects must comply with the City’s COVID-19 Safety Policy for Construction, issued on April 27, 2020, which requires the implementation of best practices, including pre-shift safety measures (e.g. employees travel to work separately), job site hygiene practices (e.g. hand sanitization stations), social distancing techniques (e.g. holding safety meetings outdoors); and appropriate use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

[1] Massachusetts Sees Tensions Between Municipal Construction Bans and Governor’s “Essential Services” Order (April 1, 2020).

[2] https://www.boston.gov/news/temporary-guidance-construction-city-boston

Additional Information:

The FMG Coronavirus Task Team will be conducting a series of webinars on Coronavirus issues on a regular basis. Topics include liability considerations for jails and prisons, tort claims in a post COVID-19 world, real estate issues amid the pandemic and more. Click here to view upcoming webinars.

FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients.  Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments.  For more information about the Task Force, click here.

You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at [email protected].

**DISCLAIMER:  The attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP (“FMG”) have been working hard to produce educational content to address issues arising from the concern over COVID-19.  The webinars and our written material have produced many questions. Some we have been able to answer, but many we cannot without a specific legal engagement.  We can only give legal advice to clients.  Please be aware that your attendance at one of our webinars or receipt of our written material does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and FMG.  An attorney-client relationship will not exist unless and until an FMG partner expressly and explicitly states IN WRITING that FMG will undertake an attorney-client relationship with you, after ascertaining that the firm does not have any legal conflicts of interest.  As a result, you should not transmit any personal or confidential information to FMG unless we have entered into a formal written agreement with you.  We will continue to produce education content for the public, but we must point out that none of our webinars, articles, blog posts, or other similar material constitutes legal advice, does not create an attorney client relationship and you cannot rely on it as such.  We hope you will continue to take advantage of the conferences and materials that may pertain to your work or interests.**

Massachusetts Enacts Legislation Authorizing Virtual Notarization During COVID-19 State of Emergency

Posted on: April 30th, 2020

By: Jennifer Markowski

On April 27, 2020, Governor Baker signed into law An Act Providing for Virtual Notarization to Address Challenges Related to COVID-19 (the “Virtual Notarization Act” or the “Act”). In doing so, Massachusetts joins a number of other states, including Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, New Hampshire and Georgia (among others), in adopting temporary measures to permit virtual notarization during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Massachusetts Virtual Notarization Act shall remain in effect until three (3) business days after Governor Baker’s March 10, 2020 declaration of state of emergency terminates and permits a duly authorized notary public to virtually notarize signatures during this time. According to the Act, notaries shall adhere to the following protocols when performing an acknowledgment, affirmation, or other notarial act using real-time video conferencing:

  • Both the notary and the signer must be physically located within Massachusetts and the signer must swear under the pains and penalties of perjury as to his or her location.
  • The notary must observe the signing of the document.
  • The signer must verbally assent to the recording of the video conference.
  • The signer must disclose any other person present in the room and make that person viewable to the notary.
  • The signer must provide the notary with satisfactory evidence of identity per M.G.L. ch. 222, § 1. If the notary is reviewing government-issued identification, the signer must visually display the front and back of the identification to the notary and then send a copy of the identification (front and back) to the notary, which will be maintained securely and confidentially for ten (10) years.
  • The notary must indicate in the notarial certificate that the document was notarized remotely under the Act and indicate the county in which the notary was located at the time the notarial act was completed.
  • After the video conference, the signer must deliver the original executed documents to the notary.
  • The notary must make an audio and video recording of the notarial act and maintain the recordings for ten (10) years.

In addition to the preceding list of requirements, there are two additional steps to be taken for any documents executed in the course of a real estate transaction. If the signer is not personally known to the notary, during the initial video conference the signer must display a second form of identification containing the signer’s name. Another government-issued identification, credit card, social security card, tax or utility bill dated within 60 days of the video conference are acceptable forms of identification.  Additionally, upon receipt of the executed document(s), the notary and signer must engage in a second video conference during which the signer verifies to the notary that the document received by the notary is the same document executed during the first video conference. The signer must again disclose any other person present in the room and make him or her viewable to the notary.

The notary must also execute an affidavit that provides that he or she has:

  • Received a copy the signer’s identification and visually observed it during the video conference with the principal, if applicable;
  • Obtained the signer’s verbal assent to record the video conference;
  • Taken the signer’s affirmation that he or she was physically present within Massachusetts; and
  • Been informed of and noted on the affidavit any person present in the room and included a statement of the relationship of any person to the signer.

The notary shall retain the affidavit for ten (10) years.

The Act does not alter or amend the requirement in Massachusetts that the closing of a transaction involving a mortgage or other conveyance of title to real estate may only be conducted by an attorney duly admitted to practice law in the Commonwealth.

If a notary chooses to notarize documents under the Virtual Notarization Act, it is advisable to confirm with the client that a virtually notarized document is acceptable.  Additionally, it is also advisable to confirm that any applicable errors and omissions policy will cover professional acts involving a virtual notarization.

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

Additional Information:

The FMG Coronavirus Task Team will be conducting a series of webinars on Coronavirus issues on a regular basis. Topics include re-opening the workplace, protecting business interests, shelter in place orders and more. Click here to view upcoming webinars.

FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients.  Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments.  For more information about the Task Force, click here.

You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at [email protected].

**DISCLAIMER:  The attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP (“FMG”) have been working hard to produce educational content to address issues arising from the concern over COVID-19.  The webinars and our written material have produced many questions. Some we have been able to answer, but many we cannot without a specific legal engagement.  We can only give legal advice to clients.  Please be aware that your attendance at one of our webinars or receipt of our written material does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and FMG.  An attorney-client relationship will not exist unless and until an FMG partner expressly and explicitly states IN WRITING that FMG will undertake an attorney-client relationship with you, after ascertaining that the firm does not have any legal conflicts of interest.  As a result, you should not transmit any personal or confidential information to FMG unless we have entered into a formal written agreement with you.  We will continue to produce education content for the public, but we must point out that none of our webinars, articles, blog posts, or other similar material constitutes legal advice, does not create an attorney client relationship and you cannot rely on it as such.  We hope you will continue to take advantage of the conferences and materials that may pertain to your work or interests.**

CARES Section 18006 Encourages Schools to Retain Staff to the “Greatest Extent Practicable”

Posted on: April 27th, 2020

By: Tia Combs

As many schools around the country make the final decision to remain closed for the school year, it may be tempting to cut back on staff to save money for what is predicted to be a historic budget shortfall next year. However, the wisdom of that move may be lost when districts consider legislation recently passed by Congress.

On March 27, 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES” Act”). The lengthy piece of legislation gives financial benefits to seven primary groups: 1) individuals, 2) small businesses, 3) mid-size and larger companies, 4) hospitals and public health facilities, 5) children and families, through federal safety net programs, 6) state and local governments, and 7) providers of educational services.

Of particular interest to educational institutions is the Education Stabilization Fund. The fund provides over $30 billion dollars to educational institutions. Roughly $16.5 billion of the fund is allocated for distribution to elementary and secondary schools through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund. Distribution of these funds are contingent on the educational institutions fulfilling certain labor and employment related requirements. 

In particular, pursuant to Section 18006 of the Act states:

A local educational agency, State, institution of higher education, or other entity that receives funds under “Education Stabilization Fund,” shall to the greatest extent practicable, continue to pay its employees and contractors during the period of any disruptions or closures related to Coronavirus.

For K-12 educational institutions, this means that they must continue to pay employees and see that contractors (and their employees) are paid to the greatest extent possible and be prepared to explain any failure to do so.  Many state educational agencies have given advised local districts to do what they can to retain workers. For example, the Indiana Department of Education has advised districts: 

In the application for the CARES Act funding, the LEA must attest that it has been paying all employees and contractors during the closure or disruptions related to the coronavirus, or that it will begin doing so immediately. If LEAs are not able to attest to this fact, then it must provide a reasonable explanation beyond reasons related to cash flow (as tuition support has not been reduced) in order to be eligible for the CARES Act funding. IDOE considers the employees and contractors to include, but is not limited to, the following positions: teachers, administrators, counselors, social workers, nurses, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, custodians, food service, and administrative staff.

In light of Section 18006, districts considering staffing reductions should make those decisions in consultation with legal counsel so that the district’s ability to receive these federal funds is preserved.

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