News

New Vanderbilt Program Offers Joint JD and Master’s in Finance

Students can now earn a law degree concurrently with master's in finance degree through a new program offered this fall by Vanderbilt Law School and the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University. “For lawyers heading to Wall Street, understanding markets is critical to building a successful career in financial service,” said M. Eric Johnson, the Ralph Owen Dean of Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management. Prospective students should apply for admission to the J.D. and M.S.F. programs simultaneously. Spaces in this three-year joint degree program are limited.

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FedEx Could Face New Drug Charges

FedEx could face new charges related to the alleged distribution and conspiracy to distribute drugs for illegal Internet-based pharmacies, the Memphis Business Journal reports. Last Friday, federal prosecutors in California said they intend to present a "superseding indictment" by Aug. 28, which would modify or add to the original indictment. The first indictment, filed July 17, included 15 counts of shipping or conspiracy to ship drugs to questionable online pharmacies.

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Pilot to Pay $92M, Avoid Prosecution

Pilot Flying J has reached a deal with federal prosecutors to avoid criminal charges against the company, Knoxnews reports. Under the deal made public today, Pilot must pay a $92 million penalty over two years and cooperate with an ongoing criminal investigation into diesel fuel rebate fraud. Federal prosecutors said in a news release that the Criminal Enforcement Agreement “expressly states that it provides no protection from prosecution to any individual” in connection with the case. A criminal investigation against individual employees is ongoing with 10 already pleading guilty to charges.

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Mergers, 'Kaley' Ruling, Seersucker and More Covered in July TBJ

Kathryn Reed Edge gives the details of what a merger entails in the July issue of the Tennessee Bar Journal. Enjoy TBA Convention photos and stories in the printed version -- and read new TBA President Jonathan Steen's column, "If Not Us, Then Who?" Wade Davies explains the recent Kaley ruling about criminal defendants using their earnings to retain counsel (spoiler: they can't). And if you are wavering about buying a Seersucker suit this summer, read Bill Haltom's column for a nudge in favor of the cool, cotton ensemble.

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Court: Companies Can Refuse Contraception Insurance

A divided U.S. Supreme Court today ruled the contraceptive mandate in the federal health care law violates the religious freedom rights of corporate owners who object to providing coverage in employee insurance plans. Justice Samuel Alito Jr., writing for the majority, said “closely held” for-profit corporations cannot be required to provide the coverage under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires the government to use the “least restrictive” option when placing a burden on the exercise of religion. Opponents of the decision warned it would be used by companies to avoid a host of regulations. Law.com has more.

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President to Name Lawyer to Lead NTSB

The White House says the president will nominate a lawyer with a history in aviation and transportation safety to head the National Transportation Safety Board, News Channel 5 reports. Christopher Hart joined the board as vice chairman in 2009 and became acting chairman in April. Hart has held high-level posts in the FAA, including deputy director for air traffic safety oversight and assistant administrator for system safety. He served as deputy administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration before moving to the FAA in 1995. Hart is a licensed pilot with commercial ratings. His great uncle is James Herman Banning, who in 1926, became the first African-American to receive a government-issued pilot's license.

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6th Circuit Reverses Libel Verdict Against Website

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a $338,000 libel verdict awarded to a former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader saying that while the allegations made against her on a gossip website were defamatory, the company that operates the site is not liable because third parties posted the content. The lower court had sided with Sarah Jones saying the company was not entitled to protection because it played a significant role in developing the material. The ABA Journal has more on the decision.

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Chattanooga Attorney Elected to International Business Law Board

Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel shareholder Dana Perry has been appointed to the Board of Directors for Meritas, a global alliance of independent business law firms. The board is comprised of 21 lawyers from its member firms around the world. Perry will serve a three-year term, during which time she will also serve on the group's Finance Committee. The Hamilton County Herald has more.

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Pilot President, VP Depart While Legal Cases Continue

As a federal investigation into Pilot Flying J continues, the CEO of the Knoxville-based chain of truck stops disclosed that two high-ranking employees have departed, Knoxnews reports. In an email to employees yesterday, CEO Jimmy Haslam said the company’s president and vice president of national accounts left the firm effective immediately. In April 2013, federal agents raided Pilot’s headquarters, seeking information about an alleged scheme to defraud trucking customers of diesel fuel rebates. Ten employees subsequently pleaded guilty to charges in connection with the case. A criminal probe is ongoing.

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Bone McAllester Norton Opens Drone Practice

Bone McAllester Norton is expanding its emerging law group with a practice focused on the commercial use of drones, the law firm announced Thursday. James Mackler will lead the firm’s drone practice, which will focus on company formation, trademark registration, privacy issues and other areas associated with their usage by private companies. The Nashville-based firm’s first client in this field is Alamo, Tenn.-based Farmspace Systems, the Nashville Business Journal reports.

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Pilot Rebate Suits Joined, Sent to East Kentucky District

A federal judicial panel has merged seven pending civil suits against truck stop chain Pilot Flying J before a judge in Lexington, Ky., The Tennessean reports. The order issued Monday follows a hearing in which lawyers for Pilot had requested the cases be consolidated in Knoxville. The trucking companies, with operations in Alabama, New Jersey, New Mexico and Ohio opposed that move. The panel decided that the Eastern District of Kentucky was the most appropriate venue for the suits since a judge there is already presiding over a criminal investigation into allegations that Pilot withheld rebates from its trucking partners.

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UT LawMeets Team Wins Best Draft

Following a regional win in March, the University of Tennessee College of Law’s LawMeets team competed in New York City last week. The team received top honors in the drafting category, bringing home the award for best draft. The team also placed third overall in the National Transactional LawMeets Competition, which provides a moot court experience for students interested in transactional practice. The law school's newsletter, The Informant, has more.

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Court Passes on Range of Controversial Appeals

The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to enter the controversy over businesses refusing to serve gay and lesbian customers, Scotusblog reports, turning aside an appeal from the owners of a photography studio who had refused to work with a lesbian couple. The decision leaves intact an appellate court ruling that the studio violated state law prohibiting discrimination. In other significant denials, the court refused to hear a case upholding a ban on direct corporate contributions to federal candidates, declined to hear a case expediting a challenge to the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s telephone data gathering, refused to hear a case on testing federal court power to overturn an arbitration award, and denied a case assessing whether death-row inmates have a right to know the method of their execution in advance. The justices did grant one appeal to be reviewed in the next term. That case tests what information a party in a state court case must provide to have the case transferred to federal court.

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Dickel Distillery Sues Tennessee Over Storage Law

Diageo Americas Supply Inc., owner of the George Dickel whiskey brand, has filed suit against Tennessee over a decades-old law governing the storage of spirits, the Tennesean reports. Since 1937, Tennessee has required distillers to store their spirits in the county in which they were produced. In 2013, the law was amended to allow distillers to also store spirits in adjoining counties. The George Dickel Distillery in Tullahoma has been in operation for more than 130 years, and though it stores most of its liquor on site, it has transported some of its spirits to Louisville, Ky. On March 20, the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission advised the company it was in violation of the law. Diageo is challenging the law saying it violates the U.S. Constitution’s interstate commerce clause. Diageo is also at odds with Jack Daniel's over the definition of Tennessee whiskey. A bill that would have modified the current definition was tabled this session.

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Supreme Court Appears Divided on Religious Rights of Companies

Seemingly divided, the U.S. Supreme Court struggled yesterday with the question of whether for-profit companies have religious rights, a case challenging President Barack Obama's health overhaul and its guarantee of birth control in employees' preventive care plans. The Hobby Lobby chain of stores and others challenging the provision provide health insurance to their employees, but object to covering certain methods of birth control that they say can work after conception, in violation of their religious beliefs. The justices peppered attorneys with questions during a 90-minute argument. The outcome could turn on the views of Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the decisive vote, as his colleagues appeared otherwise to divide along liberal and conservative lines. A decision is expected by late June. The Chattanoga Times Free Press has more.

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Memphis Law Awards Wilder Scholarship

Abigail Mabry is the 2014 recipient of the BankTennessee John S. Wilder Law School Scholarship. The scholarship is named in memory of John S. Wilder Sr., a former lieutenant governor of Tennessee, a former vice-chairman of BankTennessee’s board of directors and one of the founders of the bank. 
It is awarded annually to a University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law third-year student and Tennessee resident who has demonstrated, in the spirit of Wilder, a commitment to public service and to enhancing the common good. The Millington Star has the story.

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Court May Provide New Guidance on Class Action Suits

With the onslaught of litigation resulting from Target’s data privacy breaches, there is an increased focus on the appropriateness of class action certification, Lexology reports. Courts must sort out which groups to include, making tough calls to include or exclude those who have the potential of suffering an injury, but have not, as of the date of the filing. In the Target breach, for example, decisions will have to be made whether to include cardholders whose information was stolen, but not used as of the date of the case, and those whose information was stolen and used, but were reimbursed for any losses. The blog suggests that the U.S. Supreme Court may provide guidance soon on these issues. In an unrelated case from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the court is considering whether individuals who have suffered no injury as of the date of filing can be included in a class alleging their washing machines caused mold and mildew.

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Bridgestone to Plead Guilty, Pay $425M in Price-Fixing Case

Bridgestone Corp. has agreed to plead guilty and pay a $425 million criminal fine in the Justice Department’s ongoing probe into price fixing and bid rigging. Twenty-six companies including Tokyo-based Bridgestone have pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty and pay more than $2 billion in criminal fines. Bridgestone has its North American headquarters in Nashville and several area manufacturing facilities. The Tennessean has more.

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If You Did It, Flaunt It With a TBJ Announcement

The Tennessee Bar Journal has a new opportunity for lawyers and firms to promote outstanding achievements, new associates, new partners, mergers, awards and any changes within the firm. Now, Professional Announcements are available at special, lower-rate pricing. You can tell more than 12,000 of your peers about your accomplishments by placing an announcement in the Journal. For information or to place an announcement, contact Debbie Taylor at 503-445-2231 or Debbie@llm.com. To have an announcement placed in the April issue, please contact her before Feb. 18.

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Service Animals, Closely Held Corporations Headline New Issue

Chattanooga lawyer Samuel J. Gowin explains in the new Tennessee Bar Journal the differences among service animals, therapy animals and pets and what that means to your clients. Murfreesboro attorney Josh McCreary details the equities of business dissolution and oppressive conduct in closely held corporations. And don't miss the latest words of wisdom from the students of the Law Launch Project.

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DOJ Seeks $2.1 Billion from Bank of America

The U.S. Justice Department is seeking $2.1 billion in fines from Bank of America. The charges stem from mortgage fraud perpetrated by Countrywide Financials in 2007 and 2008 before that company was purchased by the bank. A jury in federal court found Bank of America guilty last October in a civil case involving Countrywide’s actions. In the motion filed late Wednesday, the government argues that Countrywide's gross proceeds from the sale of mortgage loans topped $5 billion and 43 percent of those loans were "defective and sold with misrepresentations." A hearing on the fines is set for March, WCYB reports.

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Pilot Exec Admits Fraud; 2 Others Offer Guilty Pleas

A former top sales executive with Pilot Flying J confessed Monday to defrauding more than 50 trucking firms out of more than $7 million in promised diesel fuel rebates, Knox News reports. Brian Mosher, the company’s former director of sales for national accounts, struck a deal with federal prosecutors to plead guilty to a maximum total loss of $20 million and maximum victim count of 250 firms -- the highest losses in any plea agreement in the ongoing probe. He faces five to 10 years in prison. Two other Pilot staffers, a regional sales manager based in Dallas and a sales representative in Knoxville, also pleaded guilty Monday in the rebate scheme. They join seven other employees who have confessed guilt in the case.

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Judge Rejects Racketeering Claims in Pilot Lawsuit

A federal judge in Alabama has dismissed several claims, including racketeering allegations, filed by Wright Transportation against Pilot Flying J, Knoxnews reports. The suit alleged that a federal affidavit released by prosecutors in April was a sufficient basis for the allegations. U.S. District Judge William Steele rejected that argument, saying the affidavit failed to meet a legal threshold that requires plaintiffs to present detailed allegations about misrepresentations that were made and who was responsible for them. The judge also dismissed claims of deceptive trade practices, fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation and suppression. A breach of contract charge, however, was allowed to stand.

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Nashville Company Settles Suit Against Pilot

Nashville trucking firm Western Express has settled its lawsuit over rebate fraud against Pilot Flying J, the Memphis Daily News reports. The company had alleged that it lost more than $75 million in rebates that were wrongly withheld. It was among several trucking firms that declined to participate in Pilot's $85 million class-action settlement with 5,500 customers in November. Details of the settlement were not disclosed.

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Bradley Arant Forms Privacy and Information Security Team

Bradley Arant Boult Cummings announced today that it has formed a new Privacy and Information Security Team that will focus on representing clients with privacy and data security issues. Firm partners Paige M. Boshell and Amy S. Leopard will serve as co-chairs of the new group. Boshell practices in the firm’s Banking and Financial Services and Intellectual Property Practice groups. Leopard practices in the Health Care Practice Group. They report that the team will bring together a cross-disciplinary group of lawyers with experience helping clients minimize the risk of data breaches, deal with any breaches or attacks and comply with privacy laws and regulations.

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