High Swartz Attorneys Named to 2015 Pennsylvania Super Lawyers and Rising Stars Lists

NORRISTOWN, Pa. (May 29, 2015) – High Swartz LLP, a general practice law firm based in Norristown, Pa., is pleased to announce that five of its attorneys have been selected as Pennsylvania Super Lawyers and two have been selected as Pennsylvania Rising Stars.

High Swartz’s 2015 Pennsylvania Super Lawyers, identified by the practice area(s) for which they have been recognized, are:

High Swartz’s 2015 Pennsylvania Rising Stars are:

About Super Lawyers

Super Lawyers, a Thomson Reuters business, is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The annual selections are made using a rigorous multi-phased process that includes a statewide survey of lawyers, an independent research evaluation of candidates and peer reviews by practice area. According to Super Lawyers, the objective of the selection process is to create a credible, comprehensive and diverse listing of outstanding attorneys that can be used as a resource to assist attorneys and sophisticated consumers in the search for legal counsel. For more information about Super Lawyers, visit SuperLawyers.com.

 

And Now, Another New Practice Area! Drone Law!

May 27, 2015

By Thomas D. Rees, Esquire

Drones, or unmanned aircraft, are not just military devices.  Drones have thousands of civilian uses.  These uses range from the humanitarian (medicine delivery to remote areas) to law enforcement (searching for contraband or illegal activity), and from infrastructure maintenance (checking building or bridge conditions) to conservation (tracking endangered species).  More everyday uses include traffic control and commercial advertising.  Some drone uses seem unnecessary and even frivolous, such as pizza or beer delivery.One thing is certain: all this new drone activity will raise new legal and regulatory issues.  The Federal Aviation Administration has proposed regulations for small unmanned aircraft systems, but these rules address only part of the picture.  The regulations cover small devices, weighing less than 55 pounds, operating less than 500 feet above ground and within sight of the operator.One immediate legal issue that comes to mind is a property owner’s right to exclude drones.  Traditionally, a landowner owns all the airspace over his or her property, literally from the ground up to the heavens.  This principle is limited by Federal law setting aside airspace for aviation, however.  Will the use of drones expand the public right to airspace, thereby allowing your quiet evening to be interrupted by a low-flying drone delivering a pepperoni with extra cheese to your neighbor?  Not necessarily.  An organization called NoFlyZone.org allows property owners to register their land as a no-fly zone.  All that is needed is your property’s latitude and longitude.  Some, but not all, drone manufacturers have agreed to honor the no-fly registration.The right to privacy is closely tied to property rights.  The courts in most states allow individuals to sue for damages for invasion of privacy.  Conduct in the open is rarely protected under privacy law, but the idea that an aerial device could spy on someone’s driveway (for visitors) or yard (for activity) is sure to arouse concern.  Statutes in some states criminalize the capture of visual images on others’ property unless all participants consent.  Other states (including Pennsylvania) criminalize many audio recordings that are made without all parties’ consent.  Some state statutes prohibit commercial use of photographs without full consent and allow victims the right to sue for unauthorized use.   It is reasonable to expect that the use of drones will lead to many test cases under our patchwork of privacy laws.Then there is the question of visual and noise pollution.  How will people react if they look at the sunset and see hundreds of small devices flying around, or hear these devices while taking an afternoon nap?Every new technology creates new risk management issues.  What insurance will drone operators have to buy?  Will homeowners’ insurance protect against damage done by drones?  And just what will the rules of the road be in airspace?  Air traffic controllers deal with larger aircraft, but managing smaller aircraft is a very different task.  And finally, what role will states and municipalities have in the aviation field, which has had a strong and overriding federal presence?There seem to be no final answers to these questions yet.  So it is important to follow the issue, through regulators like the FAA, through the press, and through online publications.  Bard College even has a Center for the Study of the Drone.  And, since the industry doesn’t like the military connotation of the word “drone”, but “unmanned aircraft” does not inspire a sense of security, a more appealing word may take over as the common term for these new devices.Thomas D. Rees is a partner at High Swartz,  LLP.  He practices in the area of employment law and litigation; he has also handled a number of transportation and regulatory matters, leading to his interest in drone law. To learn more about Thomas D. Rees, visit his attorney profile. The information above is general: we recommend that you consult an attorney regarding your specific circumstances.  The content of this information is not meant to be considered as legal advice or a substitute for legal representation.

Can You Insult Your Boss’s Mother at Work and Avoid Dismissal? Maybe so!

May 19, 2015By Thomas D. Rees, EsquireMy foreman on one of my college summer jobs used to vent his frustration by saying, “There’s a limit to how much you can take.”  This quote (heavily censored here) became a good-natured rallying cry for the crew.Fired from Job“Limits to what you can take” must have been on the employer’s and employee’s minds  in Pier Sixty, LLC and Perez, 362 NLRB 59 (March 31, 2015).  Here, a supervisor issued harsh, loud orders to employees.  Right away, one employee (Perez) posted comments on Facebook calling the supervisor an obscene name.  Then Perez directed obscene Facebook  comments at the supervisor’s mother and “entire family”.  The employer fired Perez.  By a 2-1 vote, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) held that the firing violated the National Labor Relations Act, and ordered Perez’s reinstatement, because Perez had engaged in protected, concerted activities.The factual context of the case is important.  The employer was a New York City caterer.   The employees had complained about management mistreatment.  A union election was imminent.  The employer had imposed a “no talk” rule on employees pending the election.  At  a banquet, the  supervisor loudly told the employee and other servers to “stop chitchatting” and then loudly ordered the staff to “Spread out, move, move” within guests’ earshot.The supervisor’s order upset Perez.  A co-worker suggested that Perez take a break to cool down.  While on break, Perez posted his  Facebook messages.  After the obscene comments, Perez concluded by saying, “Vote YES for the UNION!!!!!!!”The NLRB found that Perez addressed supervisory mistreatment of employees and  sought redress through the union election, and so his comments were protected concerted activity.  The Board ruled that Perez’s vulgarity was an impulsive act that did not turn his outburst into unprotected activity.  The NLRB also considered whether the employer found the language offensive and prohibited the language, and whether firing Perez was disproportionate to his offense.  The NLRB noted that vulgar language filled the workplace.  (None specifically was directed at others’ families, however.)  Employer rules prohibited profanity, but no such rule was produced during the NLRB proceedings.One NLRB member dissented, based on Perez’s slurs toward the manager’s mother and family (none of whom worked for the employer).  To the dissenter, these vulgarities differed from other profanities that were tolerated in the workplace.  The dissenter said that Perez’s insults “typically cause irreparable damage to working relationships” and that “It serves no discernible purpose for the Board to stretch beyond reason to protect beyond-the-pale behavior that happens to overlap with protected activity.”The NLRB decision again raises the issue of what an employer may do to limit workplace speech without violating labor laws. Profane slurs against a manager’s family, who are not involved with the workplace, seem less deserving of protection than comments during a labor dispute or a union campaign. Under this new NLRB decision, “the limit to how much you must take” seems very broad indeed.Thomas D. Rees is a partner at High Swartz, LLP.  He practices in the area of employment law and litigation. The information above is general: we recommend that you consult an attorney regarding your specific circumstances.  The content of this information is not meant to be considered as legal advice or a substitute for legal representation.  

Melissa Boyd to Present at the Pennsylvania Bar Institute’s “20 Hot Tips in Family Law”

May 18, 2015
Melissa Boyd
Melissa Boyd
Partner Melissa Boyd, member of the High Swartz’s Family Law Group and Council Member of the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) Family Law Section, will present at the Pennsylvania Bar Institute (PBI)’s “20 Hot Tips in Family Law” seminar. The event is being held on Thursday, May 21, 2015, from 12:45 PM – 4:00 PM at the CLE Conference Center in Wanamaker Building, Philadelphia.The program has been approved for 3.0 hours of total CLE credit.This seminar will address the most current issues facing family lawyers in Pennsylvania.For more information, or to register to attend, please click hereMelissa Boyd

Advice for Separated Spouses Seeking a Stress-Free Summer

May 14, 2015By Melissa M. Boyd, Esquire

Co-Parenting through the End of the School Year and Summer Planning

I developed this post as one in a series to help parents and their attorneys plan for the slew of legal co-parenting complicationChild Custodys the summer brings. Without the structure of school, even the tightest co-parenting plans are challenged.Whether a divorce was friendly or not, it takes a concentrated effort to find what works for each couple to co-parent successfully. Though every divorce is different, and there is no recipe to guarantee positive family outcomes, this is practical advice for how to handle the legal aspects of commonly faced issues…As each school year winds down, parents’ schedules grow more hectic.  A parent’s calendar is filled with final parent teacher conferences and end of the year class events. Meanwhile, determining summer childcare is at the top of their long to-do list.Typically, separated spouses have a custody agreement which serves as a parenting plan. However, attorneys may have been vague concerning how parents approach extracurricular events and childcare. Or, parents may not have their agreements finalized yet.Whether an attorney is working through an agreement for an open divorce case, or has been called upon to solve a dispute, it’s important we craft a solution that’s in the best interest of the entire family, and prevents future conflict.When considering shared responsibility of school activities, parents who kept the divorce amicable may be able to attend events together, or can cooperate by taking turns. For the not so friendly exes, consider what is most important to each spouse, and what their personal schedules allow.Also, contact the school. Nowadays most schools allow separated parents to meet with teachers individually and post report cards online for shared access.This issue demonstrates why it’s important to share the custody agreement with faculty once complete.  It helps the teachers keep things as convenient as possible for the family, and the child.Child Custody (2)Selecting summer childcare is an interesting issue because it can be considered an amenity and not a need.  Also, there is virtually no legal precedent which delineates at what age a child can be left home alone, which can lead to some strong disagreements between parents.Separated couples should think about summer childcare as early as possible. Permission of both parents is absolutely needed in order for a child to attend summer camps, especially camps where travel is required.As an attorney, I always guide parents toward making a decision that is best for the child. Parents should think about providing their child with a comfortable atmosphere that includes recreational and educational stimulation.It’s crucial to make sure parents have gathered as much information about their child care options as possible.  This makes it easier for both parents to come to a decision they each feel comfortable with. When parents are unable to agree and the Court gets involved, detailed information regarding atmosphere, safety, experience of care givers, benefits, schedule, location, program size, etc. becomes even more important.A constant in all divorce cases is that the family’s life will be impacted for years to come. As attorneys, we can use our experience to anticipate challenges that clients haven’t thought of yet, and build a plan that makes co-parenting easier for the parents- and for the children.Visit Missy Boyd’s profile.The information above is general: we recommend that you consult an attorney regarding your specific circumstances.  The content of this information is not meant to be considered as legal advice or a substitute for legal representation. 

“Counselor, I got a subpoena to appear tomorrow on a case I’m not part of! Can you get me out of this?!”

May 8, 2015Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 234.1 was silent with regard to reasonable notice for service of a subpoena to testify on a non-party witness.  That issue has now been addressed…Amendment 234.1On April 8, 2015, The Pennsylvania Supreme Court amended Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 234.1. Now, the rule requires that a subpoena must be served on a non-party witness reasonably in advance of the date the witness is expected to attend and testify.Current Rule 234.3 Notice to Attend and Notice to Produce, states that a party witness shall be served notice reasonably in advance of the date they are required to appear. The old Rule 243.1  was silent on when an non-party witness must receive their notice.This was cause for concern, because a person who is aware of the case is provided with reasonable notice, while a person who may have no advanced knowledge, but is named as a witness prior to trial, may not have received reasonable notice to appear. This can have an impact on witnesses such as landlords, business partners of parties, employers, and any witness who can’t just drop everything and show up for court at a moments notice.While no one looks forward to having to come to court and testify, it is surely less difficult when reasonable notice is given  and the witness can adjust his or her schedule accordingly.  In addition, as attorneys, we certainly don’t want to have an angry witness who was subpoenaed at the last minute get on the stand and decide they no longer wish to be helpful to our case.While the rule has changed, and now requires reasonable notice, anyone who is subpoenaed is still required to supply information that is requested in conjunction with that subpoena.   Any documents or other information listed must be provided to the attorney who is requesting them.This means that both lawyers and clients must be more prepared when it comes to building witness lists. It is important that lawyers extensively review witness lists with their client in advance. Any late additions could be denied by the court, or the witness could be less than helpful if a reasonable time frame cannot be provided, which could damage the case depending on the value of the testimony.For more information regarding this rule, please contact us at 610-275-0700.Note:  The information above is general; we recommend that you consult with an attorney regarding your specific circumstances.  The content contained herein is not meant to be considered as legal advice or as a substitute for legal representation. 

Landowners Beware: New Natural Gas Pipelines Planned For PA

May 1, 2015By David J. Brooman, EsquirePipelinesWhen many Pennsylvania landowners look out onto their backyards, they are unaware of the pipeline system that currently resides under their lawns. Many more are unaware of the bottleneck within the system that transports gas from a record-setting natural gas reserve in the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania. That bottleneck is keeping over 1,000 of the 8,000 Pennsylvania wells dry, and preventing energy resources from reaching market, both local and abroad.This expensive problem has led several energy companies to plan to invest billions of dollars in natural gas infrastructure projects in Pennsylvania over the next ten years to transport shale gas resources. It’s expected that parts of Berks County, Chester County, Delaware County and other areas north and west of these counties will be impacted by construction and landowner disputes.  As these companies plan to dig up backyards across the Commonwealth to replace and add to current infrastructure with newer, bigger pipes, it’s important that impacted landowners understand their rights.Here are four important questions impacted landowners should know to ask:
  • How long will this take? Landowners can and should inquire about how long the construction will take from day one through full restoration of each property.  They should also know the extent of “earth disturbance” and the impact that disturbance will have on current and future use of the land, including farming and recreational uses.  This is known as the Temporary Construction Easement phase.  They should also know that the timeframe is often negotiable, and always compensable.  Landowners should push strongly for the shortest possible timeframe. The current prediction is up to 3 years, but landowners should be pushing for a 6 month to 1 year time frame.
 
  • What permanent land use limitations will this cause to properties? The Permanent Easement sets the specific location of the pipeline or pipelines.   Landowners should understand precisely where the pipelines will be placed on their property, including the exact location, depth, width and length.  The Permanent Easement becomes part of the title for the property and will be binding not only on the landowner but all successors and assigns.  They also need to fully understand how the pipeline will impact their land.  While the pipes are located underground, the reality is they will impact future use of the land since as a general rule no buildings or structures may be placed atop the easement area.  The extent to which the easement will limit or prevent future subdivisions and construction should be clearly known.  The greater the impact, the greater the potential compensation.
 
  • How will properties be restored? Landowners must inquire as to how their property will be restored once the project is complete. The energy companies should be held responsible up front to restore all properties to their current condition, or better.  There are many critical factors to consider, including restoration of natural resources such as streams and creeks, soil type and compaction standards, and landscaping.
 
  • Does this impact property and land value? It is imperative for landowners to speak to a real estate agent and/or an appraiser early in the negotiation process to understand how the permanent easement will impact property value.   Real estate agents are predicting that property and land values can be affected by tens of thousands of dollars since the new pipelines are different and much larger than the current pipes which have been in place since the 1930s.  Before signing, make an informed decision on value.
These are just a few considerations for landowners to understand and address when asked to grant easement rights by a pipeline company in Pennsylvania.  Other considerations, such as indemnities for environmental liabilities and accidents, size of the pipeline and the pressure it will operate  under, limitations on future expansion and accessory facilities, inspection rights, and access to the easement area also should be specifically addressed.If the landowner and pipeline company are unable to amicably negotiate the terms of the Temporary Construction Easement and Permanent Easement, and the compensation associated with each, the pipeline company may be able to obtain the easements through an eminent domain proceeding.  In Pennsylvania, pipeline companies that qualify as “public utilities” may initiate eminent domain proceedings to obtain the required easements.  In those situations, the landowner is compensated for the fair market value of the easements by a board of view or court, after the presentation of evidence by expert appraisers.   In the vast majority of cases, it is better for both the landowner and the pipeline company to amicably negotiate the terms of the easements, and a compensation package, than to resort to an eminent domain proceeding.For more information regarding real estate and eminent domain law as it relates to the Pennsylvania pipeline projects, please contact David Brooman at 610-275-0700, or by email at dbrooman@highswartz.comNote:  The information above is general; we recommend that you consult with an attorney regarding your specific circumstances.  The content contained herein is not meant to be considered as legal advice or as a substitute for legal representation.