News

Legal Aid Reports $23M Impact on Middle Tennessee

The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands has tallied its annual impact on the region and found it provided $23.3 million worth of free legal assistance in 2015 – a 2.6 percent increase over 2014. The group also reported that it handled 7,022 cases across its 48-county service area; organized 76 free legal clinics, which served 1,447 attendees; coordinated 733 free legal educational seminars with almost 29,400 attendees; and distributed 64,607 self-help brochures. The agency this year also launched a re-entry program that helps people with criminal records deal with civil legal issues such as fairness in housing, employment and health care. Read more from the agency’s year-end report.

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Jury Imposes $30M Judgment on Memphis Nursing Home

A Shelby County jury has set a $30 million judgment against Allenbrooke Nursing and Rehabilitation Center after finding the Memphis nursing home liable for negligence, violations of the Tennessee Adult Protection Act, fraudulent records of care and medical malpractice, the Commercial Appeal reports. The verdict includes $1.9 million for negligence, $129,000 for violations of the protection act, and $28 million in punitive damages against Allenbrooke, four related companies and two owners in New York. 

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Questions Surface Over Bell’s Mental Health Orders

Already facing scrutiny over her work schedule, Nashville General Sessions Judge Rachel Bell now appears to have retroactively signed orders to commit 11 people to a local mental health institution, though she never heard the cases. While Bell was on vacation, she arranged for another lawyer to cover for her. But that individual forgot to sign orders keeping the patients in mental health facilities. Bell retroactively signed them six days later, pointing to the practice in Shelby County, where she says other judges sign off on orders they do not hear. Some are now questioning whether the orders are legitimate, the Tennessean reports.

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States File Suit Over Transgender Healthcare Rules

Texas and four other states filed another lawsuit this week seeking to roll back the Obama administration’s efforts to strengthen transgender rights, saying new federal nondiscrimination health rules could force doctors, hospitals and insurers to act contrary to their medical judgment or religious beliefs. Kansas, Kentucky Nebraska and Wisconsin joined the suit, which argues that the rules could force doctors to help with gender transition procedures against their beliefs. The Associated Press has the story.

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State Approves $25M Mental Health Hospital

A state board has approved a request by Erlanger Hospital to build a new $25 million, 88-bed mental health hospital in Chattanooga, the Times Free Press reports. While opponents argued that the real need in the state is not new beds, but more staffing for existing beds, Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judge Gary Starnes backed the project, saying too many of the people he sees in his courtroom have significant mental health issues but no place to go for treatment. “This week, I have seen 12 individuals who needed care at [the state mental health facility], but they can’t get in. So we try to keep them in a jail cell,” he told the panel.

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Tennessee Participating in Multi-state Opioid Initiative

Tennessee is one of nine states participating in an opioid abuse summit taking place in Cincinnati this week, the Times Free Press reports. The primary goals of the group are to improve cooperation across borders and jurisdictions, identify best practices for testing and treatment services and increase access to prescription drug data. Other states involved are Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. Speakers were to include Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton. In related news, the U.S. Surgeon General has taken the unprecedented step of contacting 2.3 million prescribers in America to ask them to help change the way the country thinks about addiction as opioids cause more than 1,000 emergency room visits and 78 deaths each day.

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Court Square Series: Sept. 9 in Jackson

The 2016 Court Square series is heading to Jackson! On Sept. 9, Nancy Choate, Sherry Wilds and Linda Warren Seely will address Medicaid planning, occupational diploma, hiring persons with disabilities and how lawyers can best thrive. The course will take place at the Chamber of Commerce.

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Disability Group Seeks Attorney in Chattanooga

The Florida-based Disability Help Group is seeking an associate attorney to serve the greater Chattanooga area. Responsibilities include helping individuals obtain disability benefits from the Social Security Administration and handling all stages of the administrative process. Past experience with SSA cases is not required but successful candidates will need to spend four to six months in Florida for training. Those hired also must be able to work from home. Interested individuals should submit a cover letter, salary request and resume to Matthew Sauerwald. Learn more in this job announcement.

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Insurance Commissioner: Health Exchange ‘Very Near Collapse’

Tennessee Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak proclaimed the state’s health exchange “very near collapse” yesterday after signing off on significant premium hikes in a bid to keep the platform viable. The rate approvals were necessary to ensure healthcare options in every part of Tennessee, McPeak said. Tennessee is seeing a steady decrease in the number of insurance companies selling plans on the federally run exchange, the Tennessean reports. In 2017, 57 of the state’s 95 counties will have only one insurance company serving their area.

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Judge Plans 10th Judicial District Mental Health Court

Circuit Court Judge Andrew Freiberg has announced plans to create a new mental health court in the 10th Judicial District, the Cleveland Banner reports. Freiberg said the move recognizes the need to rehabilitate individuals through appropriate mental health treatment as well as the limitations of the traditional criminal justice system in dealing with repeat non-violent offenders with mental health issues. The court, set to launch in January, will serve every county in the district, including Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk.

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Legal Aid Gets $15,000 Grant for Food Stamp Advocacy

The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands has received a $15,000 grant to support the anti-hunger efforts of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. This is the third year the agency has received money from the national nonprofit working to end hunger in the United States and Israel. Funds will be used to advocate for clients receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Russell Overby and Emma Sholl in the Nashville office and Theresa-Vay Smith in the Oak Ridge office will focus on this work.

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New Rules Prohibit Discrimination in Health Care Services

A new set of federal regulations under the Affordable Care Act makes it illegal for health care providers to discriminate on the basis of disability, race or sex, which includes gender identity, sex stereotypes, termination of pregnancy and sex-related medical conditions. Providers must set up a grievance procedure for complaints and post information about the rules on their websites. Though the regulations were released earlier this summer, they have not received much attention, one legal analyst says in this Tennessean article.

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Nashville Lawyer Named 2016 Emerging Leader

Nashville lawyer Gabe Roberts with the Bureau of TennCare has been named the 2016 Nashville Emerging Leader in the legal services category. The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and YP Nashville announced the winners in a variety of categories this week, the Tennessean reports. Roberts serves on the TBA Health Law Section’s Executive Council. He also serves on the board of Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee and is treasurer of the Phoenix Club of Nashville.

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Health Law Expert Joins UT Law Faculty

The University of Tennessee College of Law has welcomed Zack Buck to its faculty as an assistant professor specializing in health law. Buck joins the school after spending three years as an assistant professor at the Mercer University School of Law in Georgia, a visiting professor at two other law schools and a litigator at Sidley Austin. His past work includes examining governmental enforcement of laws and rules affecting health, how the enforcement of healthcare fraud and abuse laws impacts quality of care, and the legal regulation of over-treatment.

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AG Announces Settlement with Anti-Competitive Pharma Business

Attorney General Herbert Slatery announced today that Tennessee, 48 other states and the District of Columbia have reached an agreement with Cephalon Inc. and affiliated companies, now a part of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, following alleged anti-competitive conduct. The $125 million settlement concludes an investigation into a scheme by Cephalon to block generic competition to its sleep-disorder drug, Provigil. Cephalon prevented competition by filing patent infringement lawsuits against potential competitors, and then paid those competitors to delay the sale of their generic versions of the drug. In total, the states will receive $35 million for distribution to consumers who purchased Provigil. Tennessee and its consumers will receive an estimated $3.32 million.

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Suit Alleges TennCare Wrongly Delayed Coverage

A federal lawsuit filed yesterday by the Tennessee Justice Center alleges that TennCare wrongly delayed coverage to a woman in a coma for two months, leaving her family with nearly $900,000 in medical debt. The suit also alleges that the state Medicaid program violated the 34-year-old woman’s right to apply for coverage and denied rights to appeal. The Tennessean reports on the story.

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Lawyers Donate $76,000 to Access to Justice Efforts

More than $76,000 has been donated by Tennessee attorneys to organizations that serve low-income individuals in need of legal assistance, the Administrative Office of the Courts reports. The donations come as part of the annual licensing registration process. Starting in 2015, attorneys were given the option to donate to an Access to Justice Fund when renewing their licenses. Organizations receiving funds this year are the Community Legal Center, Disability Rights Tennessee, Legal Aid of East Tennessee, Legal Aid Society, Memphis Area Legal Services, Southeast Tennessee Legal Services, Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, Tennessee Justice Center, Tennessee Justice for Our Neighbors, Volunteer Lawyers and Professionals for the Arts, and West Tennessee Legal Services.

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Shelby Mental Health Court Seeks to Grow

In January, Shelby County launched a new mental health court as a way to handle individuals with mental illnesses who chronically end up in jail. In just a few months, the court has reached capacity and is asking the state for additional funding, the Commercial Appeal reports. The court is seeking $78,000 to pay a full-time case worker so it can double the number of people served to 50 participants. The program requires defendants to plead guilty to their crimes but arrests are expunged if they finish the year-long program. Participants are given mental and physical health care, help with alcohol and drug abuse, housing assistance and employment assistance.

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New TBJ Looks at Clemency, Medical Battery

Nashville lawyer Ben Raybin researched recent clemency statistics in Tennessee and found some interesting trends. Read his article, “How Executive Clemency Works (and How It Doesn’t)” in the August Tennessee Bar Journal. Also in this issue, Hendersonville lawyer Clint Kelly details the rise of medical battery and informed consent and Tennessee Bar Association President Jason Long explains how meeting up with fellow lawyers helps with overall civil discourse and civility in the profession. Read the August TBJ.

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State Leaders Participate in National Child Safety Initiative

Tennessee was one of eight states selected to participate in the Three Branch Institute to Improve Child Safety and Prevent Child Fatalities. The Florida event included sessions on identifying and assessing at-risk populations, parental substance abuse and opioid impact on child welfare. Attendees from Tennessee included Amy Coble and Michael Cull; Rep. John DeBerry Jr., D-Memphis; Sen. Ferrell Haile, R- Gallatin; and AOC Director Deborah Taylor Tate. The AOC has more.

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Inaugural Veterans Legal Clinic Set for Knoxville

Legal organizations in Knoxville have teamed up to hold a monthly legal advice clinic for veterans, service members and military families. The inaugural two-hour clinic will be held Sept. 7 from noon to 2 p.m. at the Knox County Public Defender’s Community Law Office, 1101 Liberty St. The clinic then will be held each month on the Wednesday preceding the Pro Bono Project’s Saturday Bar. Partners include the Knoxville Bar Association and its Barristers’ Access to Justice Committee, Legal Aid of East Tennessee, the Knox County Public Defender’s Office, University of Tennessee College of Law and the local Veterans’ Affairs office. Contact Spencer Fair for more information or to volunteer.

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Haslam Aide Joins TennCare Bureau

Will Cromer, who has been serving as Gov. Bill Haslam’s policy director and special assistant for strategy, will join the Bureau of TennCare as deputy director and chief of staff on Sept. 6. Haslam announced the move today saying, “Will is incredibly smart and thoughtful, and he has been at the heart of every major policy decision and initiative we’ve launched in our office. I’m excited to see him apply his knowledge and experience in helping manage this $11 billion agency.” Cromer has been with Haslam since 2010. Prior to that he worked for State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE), an education initiative founded by Bill Frist.

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ACLU Vows to Challenge Numerous Trump Policies

The ACLU is vowing to file constitutional challenges to several of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s policies if he is elected and tries to implement them. These include Trump’s call for a “total and complete” ban on Muslims entering the United States, creation of a “deportation force” to round up the undocumented, surveillance or registration of mosques and American Muslims, use of waterboarding, changes to libel laws so media outlets can be sued, bulk collection of metadata, and punishment for doctors who perform abortions. The ABA Journal looks at the ACLU's positions.

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Overbey to Chair Regional Policy Committee

State Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, has been elected chair of the Southern Legislative Conference’s (SLC) Human Services and Public Safety Committee. The election was held during the group’s annual meeting, Humphrey on the Hill reports. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said Overbey’s “tremendous knowledge and experience in mental health and human services … will be of great benefit to his fellow legislators and this organization." Overbey has served on both the House and Senate Health committees. He currently is chair of the Senate Ethics Committee and a vice chair of the Judiciary and Finance committees.

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Planned Parenthood to Target Tennessee Abortion Law

Planned Parenthood says it will target abortion laws in eight states, including Tennessee, that may be vulnerable after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down abortion restrictions in Texas. The repeal campaign, announced Thursday, will target laws in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia, as well as measures in Texas that were not addressed by the Supreme Court ruling. WKRN News 2 has more.

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