News

Plan to Attend: Disability Law Forum on April 12

The TBA Disability Law Section is offering a stacked program for its annual forum, with a diverse lineup of speakers and topics including Kim Joseph of the Tennessee Disability Determination Services. She is presenting a session focused on effective representation at DDS and will provide attendees with a much-needed Q&A period to ask those challenging questions. The section's chair-elect John Dreiser of Farmer & Dreiser will present a session on LTD/STD for SSD practitioners. Additionally, the section’s chair Chris George of George & George will cover an hour of ethics, including how to handle ethical dilemmas and more. The day will end with Administrative Law Judge Robert Martin from the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review who will share his unique perspective as a former private attorney and current judge. It all takes place April 12 at the Tennessee Bar Center. Reserve your spot by registering today.

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Hamilton County Considers New Program for Mentally Ill Offenders

A new program in Hamilton County intends to address the way courts deal with the mentally ill, offering treatment in lieu of incarceration for certain cases, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. The initiative — Frequent Users Systems Engagement (FUSE) — is a collaboration between the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, mental health and medical providers, insurers and Chattanooga's housing agency to help defendants with mental health issues find treatment for their illness or addiction and stable housing, a move that proponents believe will reduce jail populations, ultimately saving the county money. FUSE has already raised $120,000 from outside donors, and county commissioners will vote next week on whether they will accept those donations.

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Tennessee's Process for Handling Disability Applications Stirs Controversy

The way Tennessee physicians earn money by reviewing disability claims is stirring controversy, The Tennessean reports. There are currently about 50 doctors statewide who review disability applications, for which they receive a flat rate payment on each claim filed. Detractors feel that this incentivizes the physicians to speed through the review process because how much they earn depends on how fast they work. The article notes one doctor in particular who earned $420,000 for reviewing the disability applications of 9,088 Tennesseans during the 2018 fiscal year, averaging 12 minutes on each case. 80 percent of the cases reviewed by this doctor were denied. Tennessee has among the highest denial rates for disability applicants, rejecting 72 percent of all claims in 2017 compared to the national average of 66 percent.

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Planned Parenthood and Others Face Accusations of Mistreating Pregnant Employees

Planned Parenthood and four other organizations that serve or cater to women have been accused of engaging in discriminatory practices against potential and current pregnant employees, The New York Times reports. Employees from four states claim that Planned Parenthood managers in certain locations declined to hire pregnant job applicants and declined break requests from pregnant employees. Additionally, some employees were forced out of their position following child birth. Natera, a company that sells genetic tests for pregnant women, has been accused of demoting employees while on maternity leave. CNN adds to the story that beauty company Avon, hailed as “the company for women,” has been sued by two cosmetics-testing lab employees with claims that they were forced to handle toxic chemicals while pregnant. The law firm Mehri & Skalet faces accusations that Cyrus Mehri, a founding partner, mistreated three female lawyer employees. One claims she was pressured to return to work from her maternity leave earlier than planned, while another alleges that she was fired following her request to delay her performance review while she was on leave.  

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Blog Reviews Most Important Legal Tech Developments in 2018

LawSitesBlog.com has published a roundup of the 20 most important legal tech developments in the past year, eschewing the traditional Top 10 list due to the overwhelming number of significant changes. Included on the list were analytics becoming an essential part of the legal practice, investments in legal tech topping $1 billion, the end of Avvo and the new American Bar Association rule emphasizing the duty of lawyers to be up-to-date on legal technology.
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Rural Clinics Grapple with Frozen TennCare Payments

An estimated 20 rural health clinics that opened in the last 15 months are facing financial distress due to promised TennCare payments being temporarily frozen until the state establishes new payment rules, The Tennessean reports. Many of these clinics are the only health provider in the area due to several rural hospital closures. While national and state health care organizations have expressed the necessity of ending the moratorium, a TennCare spokeswoman defended the freeze due to the complicated nature of creating required rules for billing procedures for all of the state’s 150 rural clinics.  The moratorium has been extended twice; the current freeze is scheduled to end in April but could be extended again.  

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Regular Memphis Pro Bono Clinic Has Served 12K Since Inception

Since its beginnings over a decade ago, a Memphis-area pro bono legal clinic has gone on to serve roughly 12,000 individuals in need, The Daily Memphian reports. The Saturday Legal Clinic, sponsored by Memphis Area Legal Services (MALS) and the Memphis Bar Association, has been held at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library once a month since November 2006. Firms and associations work to promote the event to ensure that 30 to 40 attorneys attend each month.
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CBO Report Includes Proposals to Cut Veteran Benefits

A Congressional Budget Office report was released last week which included 121 cost-saving proposals, Stars and Stripes reports.  A 2017 proposal resurfaced in the report; it calls for significant cuts to a Department of Veterans Affairs program called Individual Unemployability in 2020. The report includes options of removing 235,000 disabled veterans from the program and removing veterans once they reach age 67. The projected savings are nearly $50 billion over 10 years. Although the proposal is included in the report, it does not necessarily mean it will be considered by The White House or Congress.

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SSA’s Study on National Benefit Offset Policy Completed

A nine-year study for the Social Security Administration (SSA) regarding a potential national policy that pays partial disability benefits to beneficiaries of the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program when earnings exceed SSA’s substantial gainful activity level has concluded, Cision PRWeb reports. Current law for SSDI recipients includes losing all SSDI benefits after 12 months of substantial earnings. In the $127 million Benefit Offset National Demonstration (BOND) study, nearly one million disability recipients were sampled. Instead of experiencing a sudden loss of benefits, beneficiaries received reduced benefits by $1 for every $2 in earning above the substantial earning threshold. The study examined whether this policy change would increase beneficiaries’ earnings and produce national savings. It found no evidence of a change in earnings for beneficiaries and found that the rule change produced an overall increase in benefits paid out under the SSDI program. You can view the SSA's full report here.

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Court Solicits Comments on Rule Change for Professional Privilege Tax Payments

The Tennessee Supreme Court is soliciting comments on a proposed rule change that would make delinquent professional privilege tax fees payable via an online portal and remove the requirement of a Privilege Tax Delinquency Notice to be sent via mail, requiring only an email notice. The deadline for submitting written comments is Feb. 4. Written comments may be emailed to appellatecourtclerk@tncourts.gov or mailed to James M. Hivner, Clerk, Re: Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 9, section 26 Tennessee Appellate Courts, 100 Supreme Court Building, 401 7th Avenue North, Nashville, Tennessee 37219-1407.
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Woman Draws Attention to Guardianship Practices

A New York woman deemed incompetent after Adult Protective Services (APS) forcefully entered her apartment is bringing attention to national guardianship practices, The New York Times reports. Phyllis Funke — who is a former freelance journalist for The Times — holds a master’s degree from Columbia University, a pilot license and what she estimates as several hundred thousand dollars in investments, however, an APS caseworker and city psychiatrist determined that she was incapable of making her own decisions after she did not respond to court motions to evict her for hoarding, and determining she was malnourished and dehydrated. The city psychiatrist testified that she suffered from “unspecified bipolar and related disorder, hoarding disorder and unspecified personality disorder,” therefore was unable to manage her personal needs and property, or to understand the consequences of her hoarding. Her own psychiatrist, however, maintains that she is stable and “perfectly competent to handle all her affairs.”  Since being placed under guardianship, Funke has been billed $16,800 by her court-appointed lawyer; $3,437 by a court evaluator and $5,000 by her first temporary guardian. “I feel as if I have absolutely no rights at all in the country in which I was born, and therefore in the rest of the world,” said Funke. “It’s worse than incarceration. At least in prison, you have rights.”

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Law Tech Blast: Feb. 15, 2019

Discover the newest technology for your law practice and law office at this year's Law Tech Blast on Feb. 15! This is a free program available to all practicing lawyers. The flexible open house format allows you to create your own schedule. You can attend CLE sessions, enter to win prizes, network with attendees, visit with sponsors and interact with speakers. Take as many or as few CLE hours as you need. Only those seeking to be awarded CLE Credit will be charged. The registration desk will be open all day, so you can come and go for the hours you need when it is convenient for you. Attendees can earn up to 6.5 hours of Dual CLE credit.

FREE SIGN UP: Sign up now so we know you are coming.

  • You will only pay for the hours you wish to be awarded CLE credit.
  • Programming will be available throughout the day with dual credit hours available.
  • The registration desk will also be open all day.
CLE TOPICS:
  • GDPR, Cloud and Technological Competency
  • The Bill and Phil Tech Show
  • Best Practices: Information Security for Firms
  • Judicial Panel: Technology in the Courtroom
  • Preparing for eDiscovery Before Litigation 

ATTEND TO WIN: Attendees will have a chance to win prizes, including an iPad Pro. The tech prize drawing will be held at the 10:30 a.m. break. Must be present to win.

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Give the Gift of TBA Membership

Give yourself (or a friend) the gift that keeps giving — one-year of unlimited access to professional development opportunities and a number of programs and services designed to help you become a better practitioner. Founded in 1881, the Tennessee Bar Association is dedicated to enhancing fellowship among members of the state's legal community. Oh, and did we mention some of the benefits? Earn three pre-paid credits to use on any live or online course featured in the 12-days of CLE. Join now!

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Sixth Circuit Sides with Plaintiffs in Social Security Disability Case, Lawyer Gets Jail

The Sixth Circuit of Appeals ruled against the Social Security Administration last week, Jurist reports. Kentucky lawyer Eric Conn created a widespread system of fraud to guarantee his clients would be approved for social security disability claims. He bribed an Administrative Law judge and paid several doctors to falsify medical records. Conn defrauded the government of more than $500 million in benefits. He agreed to a plea deal to serve 12 years but fled the country before he could be sentenced; he was later apprehended and sentenced to an additional 15 years. The administration ordered reassessments of all the benefit claims of Conn’s clients once the fraud was revealed. Eleven individuals claimed their due process rights were violated when the administration ruled their medical records as inadmissible by being tainted by fraud, and they were not allowed to admit further evidence. The 6th Circuit ruled in favor of the plaintiffs allowing them a chance to introduce medical evidence before an Administrative Law judge to prove their disability qualifies them for a reinstatement of Social Security benefits.

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Supreme Court Adopts Proposed Amendments to Rule 33

The Tennessee Supreme Court on Wednesday approved amendments to Rule 33 dealing with the Tennessee Lawyer Assistance Program (TLAP) and the establishment of a supporting organization under the Tennessee Nonprofit Corporation Act. The court filed an order soliciting public comments on the proposed amendments on Oct. 17. It received three written comments during that period, each in support of the proposed amendments.

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Franklin Man Sues Theater Chain Over Handicap Access

Janek John Pawlik of Franklin has filed a civil lawsuit against theater chain AMC Entertainment over claims that its theaters lack appropriate handicap access, The Daily News Journal reports. According to Pawlik’s suit, theater entryways don’t have handicap buttons, which makes it difficult for people who use wheelchairs to enter or exit the building. The lawsuit names AMC locations in Spring Hill, Antioch, Murfreesboro and Nashville. Rebecca Williams of the Southeast ADA Center says that while there are other requirements for door size and weight, lacking power doors is not a violation under the ADA.
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Board of Law Examiners Holds Deans' Summit in Nashville

Law school deans from across the state recently gathered in Nashville for the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners’ 2018 Deans’ Summit. The summit, which included deans from most of Tennessee's law schools, featured presentations and discussions on a range of topics, from law student wellness, to innovations at Tennessee law schools, to the state’s recent adoption of the Uniform Bar Exam. Other parts of the program took the form of an open discussion between members of the board and the deans. 
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December CLE in 6 Cities

TBA offers CLE in six locations during December. See offerings in Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis, Nashville, Johnson City and Jackson. Find last-minute by the hour through Dec. 31 or take any of the TBA's online CLE packages.
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Winery Websites Unclear How to Comply with ADA

Fifteen New York wineries have been named in a suit filed by a visually impaired woman residing in Brooklyn, Forbes reports.  She uses screen-reading software to access website content for businesses. However, the suit claims that these wineries are in violation of ADA rules by not making information on the website, like hours of operation and winery location, compatible with screen-reading features. One California-based law firm that deals with many aspects of the beverage alcohol industry claims that the courts have not made it clear which businesses must make websites ADA compatible. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Justice does not have guidelines for wineries seeking to make its website ADA compliant. The article notes that World Wide Web Consortium, an international standards organization, has Web Content Accessibility Guidelines that wineries can utilize, but there is no federal law stating that following these guidelines makes a winery website ADA compliant.

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Suit: Pain Clinics Duped Government, Military out of Millions

Federal prosecutors have accused a chain of pain clinics in Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia of duping the government and the military out of millions of dollars by forcing patients to receive unnecessary injections into their back, then intentionally mislabeling the injections during billing, the Tennessean reports. A lawsuit filed against Franklin-based Pain MD clinics and parent company MedManagement, or MMi, alleges that the MMi company culture pressured medical staff to inject patients as often as possible in an effort to inflate profits.

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Mark Your Calendars!

Tennessean: No People of Color in Tennessee's Top Congressional Staff Positions

Tennessee congressional staffs are among the lowest in the the country in their diversity, The Tennessean reports. According to a study released last week by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, those who serve as full committee staff directors, personal office chiefs of staff, legislative directors and communications directors of Tennessee's U.S. House and U.S. Senate members, were all white. About 25 percent of Tennesseans identify as being persons of color.

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ABA Throws Support Behind Fair Housing Improvement Bill

American Bar Association President Bob Carlson is applauding a bill that would expand the protections of the Fair Housing Act to prevent discrimination based on a person’s lawful source of income, The ABA Journal reports. Carlson praised the bill in a letter to its sponsors, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia. The bill, called the Fair Housing Improvement Act of 2018, would bar housing discrimination based on income source or veteran status. Last year, the ABA House of Delegates adopted a policy urging the implementation of such legislation and opposing prejudice against people who rely on government support to make ends meet.
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LSAC Found in Contempt in Accommodation Lawsuit

The Law School Admission Council was found in contempt for violating a consent decree regarding disability accommodations on the Law School Admission Test, the ABA Journal reports. The organization was ordered to pay $480,489 in attorney fees. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed the contempt motion in January 2018. It alleged that the council offered less time to take the test than requested, altered internal documents by replacing the requested time with the time the council offered and wrongfully reported the requests as “granted in full.”

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Williamson Family Sues Schools for Denying Disability Access

The family of a child with Down syndrome is suing Williamson County Schools after their child was turned away three times from an after-school care program, The Tennessean reports. The school district claims it could not accept the child because it can’t hire a one-on-one aide who is needed to accommodate the child. The parents are asking for a judgment requiring the district to hire a trained aide for their child and reimburse the cost incurred by the parents while they sent their child to more expensive, private after school care.
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