News

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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Lawsuits Piling up over Target Data Breach

Days after acknowledging a massive hacking of customer credit card data, Target is facing at least two dozen lawsuits, CNN Money reports. Customers from California, Oregon and Washington to Louisiana, Massachusetts and Rhode Island have filed would-be class actions in federal courts, alleging Target was negligent and did not protect their card information. The retailer announced Monday that the Department of Justice is investigating the security breach of about 40 million credit and debit card accounts, the Associate Press reports on WATE. Security experts say it is the second largest theft of card accounts in U.S. history.

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TBJ Covers Jobs, Money Laundering, Estate Planning for Same-Sex Couples

About 25 percent of the students in The Law Launch Project have jobs lined up after graduation -- the Tennessee Bar Journal checks in on them and how the job searches of the other three-quarters of the group are going. Also in this issue, columnists Kathryn Reed Edge covers money laundering, Eddy R. Smith discusses estate planning for same-sex couples, and Bill Haltom has discovered a new toy -- a coloring book for lawyers.

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Less Than 20 Civil Cases Pending Against Pilot

An attorney for Knoxville-based truck stop chain Flying Pilot J said today that fewer than 20 companies have filed lawsuits against the company, despite nearly 60 refusing Pilot’s settlement offer. At a hearing before Knox County Circuit Judge Harold Wimberly, Pilot attorney Al Harb distributed a list showing nine of the cases were pending in state courts, including actions in Texas and Louisiana, while seven were filed in federal courts. Harb says he expects the company will seek to consolidate the federal cases for pre-trial proceedings likely during a hearing on Jan. 30 when the federal Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation is slated to meet in New Orleans. Knoxnews has more.

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Judge Clears Way for Airline Merger Completion

U.S. District Court Judge Sean Lane has ruled that this month's settlement of an antitrust lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice did not upset American Airlines’ bankruptcy reorganization plan, which is built around the merger of American Airlines and US Airways into the world’s largest airline. The judge rejected a request by a group of consumers to temporarily block the deal. WRCB Channel 3 has the story.

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Investor Lawsuit Allowed to Continue in State Court

The Tennessee Supreme Court yesterday unanimously decided that a lawsuit filed by Jeffrey R. Cooper against a movie start-up could proceed in state court. Cooper’s suit claims Phillip, Richard and David Glasser misrepresented facts to induce him to invest $500,000 in their production company, Hi Def Entertainment. After Cooper requested dismissal of a similar action filed in California and a suit filed in federal court, the defendants sought to block the case based on a federal rule that precludes proceeding on a claim after two dismissals. The high court determined that the voluntary federal dismissals did not address the merits of the case and that the claims raised by Cooper were still viable in state court. The Administrative Office of the Courts has more.

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Lawsuits Target Black Friday Phantom Discounts

Beware of Black Friday discounts this holiday season, consumer advocates warn. According to the ABA Journal, unhappy shoppers have filed lawsuits claiming they bought merchandise touting discounts that turned out to be illusory. The Wall Street Journal reports that retailers often set starting retail prices so high that the discounted price will give them the profit margins they want— a strategy that isn’t deceptive according to Federal Trade Commission guidelines. Among the retailers facing suit over alleged phantom discounts are J.C. Penney, Kohl’s and Jos A. Banks Clothiers.

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Catholic Diocese Sues Feds over Health Reform

The Catholic Diocese of Nashville and other related groups have filed suit against the federal government over health care reform, the Nashville Business Journal reports. The suit argues that the groups do not qualify under the government’s narrow definition of “religious employers” in the guidelines defining exemption from coverage requirements, such as birth-control coverage. The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday agreed to hear arguments from for-profit companies Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., which also are objecting to being forced to provide coverage for contraceptives on religious grounds. 

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New Pilot Suit Filed Days Before Settlement Hearing

A Knox County trucking firm has filed suit against Pilot Flying J and a former sales executive of the company who already has pleaded guilty to charges stemming from a federal rebate fraud probe, The Tennessean reports. The suit comes just days before a federal judge is scheduled to hold a hearing on a proposed $72 million settlement of rebate fraud charges against Pilot. The so-called fairness hearing on that proposal will take place Monday in Little Rock, Ark. The new suit, brought by Moore Freight Services of Mascot, outlines the company’s complaint and why it decided to opt out of the settlement.

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DOJ: Bankers Need to Do More to Clean Up Profession

The U.S. Department of Justice’s second in command, Deputy Attorney General James Cole, told a group of bankers and lawyers gathered at a money laundering conference that too many financial institutions have failed in their duty to ensure that businesses are run cleanly. "Despite years of admonitions by government officials that compliance must be an important part of a corporation's culture, we continue to see significant violations of law at banks, inadequate compliance programs, and missed opportunities to prevent and detect crimes," he said. The comments come amid an international probe into possible manipulation of foreign exchange rates. "You will be hearing more about these investigations," Cole said. Read more in the Memphis Daily News.

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Court Considers Whistle-Blower Protections

The U.S Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday involving the collapse of energy giant Enron to determine who is protected from retaliation after blowing the whistle on the company’s misdeeds. In an appeal brought by two former employees of the companies that run the Fidelity family of mutual funds, the workers claimed they faced retaliations after they reported allegations of fraud affecting Fidelity funds. They argued that a provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act protects their whistle-blower activity, WRCB News 3 reports.

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American, US Air Reach Deal with DOJ and States

American Airlines and US Airways Group have reached a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) in an antitrust lawsuit that sought to block the companies’ proposed $17 billion merger, the Dallas Business Journal reports. Under the deal, the airlines will be able to merge but will sell 104 takeoff and landing slots at Reagan National Airport near Washington D.C., 34 slots at LaGuardia Airport in New York and slots at gates at Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Love Field and Los Angeles International. Key slots will be auctioned off to low-cost carriers, the DOJ reported. The airlines also settled a suit brought by Tennessee and five other states, Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper reports. Under those terms, the new airline will commit to serve the state’s major airports in Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, Chattanooga and the Tri-Cities for five years.

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Bank of America Found Guilty of Fraud

A jury in federal court found Bank of America and a former Countrywide Financial executive guilty of fraud, the Nashville Business Journal reports. Jurors concluded Bank of America, through its Countrywide Financial acquisition, had fraudulently sold mortgages to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as part of an internal program called "The Hustle."

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Judge Allows Separate Pilot Suit to Proceed

A federal judge in Alabama has allowed a lawsuit against Pilot Flying J to be brought by Wright Transportation, despite Pilot’s claim the case should be dismissed given a pending class action settlement and an ongoing federal investigation. The judge rejected that argument noting that Wright, like 90 other companies, had opted out of the class action designed to settle claims that Pilot withheld millions of dollars in promised rebates. The proposed $40 million class-action settlement will be heard Nov. 25 in Little Rock, The Tennessean reports.

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Tower Wins Domain Dispute with MDHA

After a bitterly contentious four-year legal dispute about the fair value of land Metro Nashville took to build the new convention center, the Tennessee Supreme Court denied the Metro Development and Housing Agency’s (MDHA) request to appeal, giving a decisive victory to development firm Tower Investments. According to the Tennessean, Metro used eminent domain to take land south of Broadway it needed to build Music City Center, and then paid owners what it contended was fair market value for the property. A Nashville jury decided in 2011 that Tower’s 5.66-acre tract was worth $30.4 million, more than double the $14.8 million the city paid during the condemnation proceedings.

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