Coffee with a Cop: Better Relationships through a Cup of Joe

High SwartzOver the last year, the United States has seen more than its fair share of controversy between law enforcement and communities. Numerous incidents have brought this topic to the front pages and primetime television, and tensions between minority communities and police have escalated.

As a result, supporting community relations has become even more important for many local leaders and businesses – and we take that to heart here at High Swartz.

We’ve helped introduce to our community of Norristown, Pennsylvania, a program called Coffee with a Cop and it’s exactly what it sounds like. The strategy is designed to build relationships between the police and Norristown citizens by bringing them together to mingle and talk, with a cup of coffee in hand. It creates a scenario where the two groups can chat without agendas to create human connections.

High Swartz has been committed to servicing its community since it was established over 100 years ago in 1914. We decided as a firm to fund and support this program to help address any gaps that may be developing between law enforcement and the community. We believe this initiative will help the Norristown Police Department be more effective in carrying out its mission.

Coffee with a Cop was created in 2011 by two police officers in Hawthorne, California. Capt. Keith Hoffmann and Sgt. Chris Cognac of the Hawthorne Police Department had a vision to build trust and improve relationships with local residents. The program has garnered positive feedback and has continued to gain support not just across the country, but internationally as well. Departments in Canada, Australia and Nigeria have all hosted their own Coffee with a Cop events.

The first Coffee with a Cop event in Norristown was held on the morning of June 3rd at the Dunkin Donuts on 151 West Main Street and was met with much success and positivity. We look forward to continuing to watch this program build lasting trust and positive relationships throughout our community.

 

The Constitutional Right to Gay Marriage

June 26, 2015By Melissa M. Boyd. Esq.In American society today, it often seems like the Constitution is a piñata, getting beaten from all angles in an effort to translate (and in some cases twist) what the writers meant. As an attorney, it’s a document that is the foundation of my career, and it’s a document that continues to amaze me.
Gay Marriage
The Constitutional Right to Gay Marriage
That’s one of the things that struck me at the news of the Supreme Court in OBERGEFELL ET AL. v. HODGES, DIRECTOR, OHIO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH, ET AL. that legalizes gay marriage: that the Constitution seems to say it all, almost like it’s ahead of its time, helping society grow and evolve. It provides the guidelines that help us determine issues that it seems impossible that the writers could have foreseen … and yet on days like today their foresight seems supernatural.As a family lawyer, I believe strongly that marriage is a good thing; in many ways, it forms the stitching for the fabric of society—without marriage, society is worse off. And so I’m excited about this decision because I believe it will stitch society together more tightly. There is no ambiguity now. Marriage is a fundamental right that bears no mind to race, religion and now gender.And, lastly, this, from closing paragraph from Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion on this case:“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”It is so ordered.Gay Marriage 

What happens when your insurance company refuses to defend you?

June 24, 2015by Kevin Cornish, Esq.Individuals and businesses purchase insurance to protect themselves and their assets: automobile insurance to protect them in the event of an accident involving a motor vehicle; homeowners insurance to protect their house and property; commercial general liability insurance to protect their businesses; professional liability insurance to protect professional business activities.Each of these types of insurance generally protects the insured in the event a lawsuit or legal claim is filed or asserted against them.  Often, insureds expect that if a claim is filed against them, their insurance company will step up and defend the person or business.When an insurance company denies coverageInsurance policies offer two types of protection: defense and indemnification.  An insurance company’s duty to defend requires that the insurance company defend the insured if a legal claim is asserted against the insured and the allegations “may potentially come within the policy’s coverage,”  Sphere Drake, P.L.C. v. 101 Variety, Inc., 35 F. Supp. 2d 421, 426 (E.D. Pa. 1999). (emphasis added).   The duty to defend exists even if the “claims against the insured [are] groundless, false, or fraudulent.”On the other hand, the duty to indemnify is narrower.  It requires that the insurer pay for any losses for which the insured is found liable.  An insurer has a duty to indemnify “only where the insured is held liable for a claim actually covered by the policy. Whole Enchilada, Inc. v. Travelers Prop. Cas. Co. of Am., 581 F.Supp.2d 677, 694-95 (W.D. Pa. 2008).Insureds are sometimes faced with situations in which a legal claim is asserted against them, but their insurance company denies coverage and refuses to defend them.  This leaves insured wondering what to do and where to turn.  Individuals or businesses could face significant expense to defend against the alleged claims.  This is especially difficult when the insured has been paying premiums expecting that their insurance company would protect them in the event of a lawsuit.In these cases, its important to understand that just because the insurance company asserts that the policy does not provide coverage does not necessarily make it true.When an insurance company denies coverage, the insured can defend the claim itself or file a declaratory judgment action against the insurance company.  In a declaratory judgment action, the insured asks the court to review the insurance policy and the claims asserted and determine if the insurance company is required to defend the insured.  Many times, the court determines that the insurance company is wrong and that the insurance company is required to defend the insured.Similarly, insureds can also face difficult and confusing situations when their insurance company initially agrees to defend them, but then files its own declaratory judgment action asking the court to rule that the insurer is not required to continue defending the insured.  If the court agrees with the insurer’s position, then the insurer would stop defending the claim.  Therefore, the insured has a strong interest in defending the claim to ensure that the insurance policy provides coverage.Finally, there is a potential that an insurance company’s failure to defend an insured constitutes bad faith.  In such a situation, an insured may be able to recover their attorneys’ fees from the insurer.Any time an insurance company does not agree to provide coverage under an insurance policy, it is important for an attorney to review the insured’s legal rights and options.Visit Kevin’s 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.

Selecting a Legal Structure for Your Emerging Business

June 17, 2015by Joel D. Rosen, Esq.
Selecting a Legal Structure for your Emerging Business
Selecting a Legal Structure for your Emerging Business
Making the decision to start your own business can be rewarding, energizing, and stressful.  As the business owner, you are presented with many important decisions. What will I call my business? How will I handle operations? Will I be successful?

One of the most important choices you will make is choosing a type of legal organization and structure for your business.

How to go about legally forming your business is controlled by the law of the state where your business is created.  Your decision will be mostly based on liability, taxation and recordkeeping.The most common forms of business structures are:
  • Sole Proprietorships
  • Partnerships
  • Corporations
  • Limited Liability Companies (LLC)

Sole Proprietorships

This option is likely the most simple, and the most common. With a sole proprietorship, your business is unincorporated and run completely by one person- you as the owner. While this makes you entitled to all the profits, you are also individually responsible for all debts and liabilities.Operating as a sole proprietorship, you obtain the necessary licenses and permits for your business, which vary by state and industry. Also, if you operate under  a name for your business you may legally have to file for a fictitious name. In many states, such as Pennsylvania, registering a fictitious name does not protect the name or give you any right to block others from registering the same fictitious name.  It serves only as a notice to the public that you are trading under that name.   If you are going to hire employees, you will need to file with the IRS for an Employer Identification Number (EIN).Because you are the sole owner, your business entity is not taxed. Rather you report the income and/or losses on Schedule C to Form 1040.

Partnerships

A business is legally structured as a partnership when two or more people share ownership. This means each partner contributes to aspects of the business, and both share liability and income. In business partnerships, it’s important to develop a legal partnership agreement up front to document how future decisions will be made. The agreement should include how the partnership will be dissolved if necessary. While a legal agreement is not mandatory, it’s strongly encouraged, since it’s obviously risky to operate a business without one.If you choose a partnership structure, you can form a general partnership so everything is divided equally among the partners or a limited partnership, which allows a partner to have limited responsibility.Partnerships may be registered with the state with an established business name and all licenses and permits. The business must also register with the IRS and file an “annual information return” to report its income and losses. The business itself does not pay income tax. Profits and losses are “passed through” to the partners.

Corporations

Becoming a legally recognized corporation is more complex. Corporations are formed under the laws of each state and pay corporate income tax at both the federal and state level. Certain small corporations can elect Subchapter S status and be taxed like a partnership, avoiding corporate taxes.  Profits flow through to the shareholders as ordinary income.In a corporation, the business becomes a corporate entity and the corporation is taxed and held legally liable for all business responsibilities.To become a corporation in the Commonwealth  of Pennsylvania, for example, the business first needs to choose  a corporate name not in use by another corporation or limited liability company and prepare and file articles of incorporation. Pennsylvania corporations also need to have an agent for service of process in the state which agrees to accept legal papers on the corporation’s behalf. A corporation with a Pennsylvania address need not have a separate agent for service of process.  To complete the legal requirements of forming  a corporation, you also need to  publish legal advertising, create corporate bylaws and hold an organizational, board of directors-style meeting.

Limited Liability Companies

An LLC, or Limited Liability Company, is a legally recognized business structure which combines aspects of both corporations and partnerships.To form an LLC, you must first choose a name that complies with state rules. The next step is to file articles of organization with your state’s business filing office, typically with the Secretary of State. These are generally short and simple documents that take only few minutes to fill out. After filing with the state, it’s imperative to work with an attorney to create an LLC Operating Agreement to set legal rules for the ownership and operation of the business. Finally, make sure to obtain all licenses and permits required. Also, some states may ask you to publish notice that you intend to form an LLC in a local publication.

So, which do I choose?

This question is entirely based on your business, your current ownership structure and your goals. You should assess your individual needs and choose the structure that is right for you. To make the right decision, it’s suggested to seek advice from business experts and legal professionals.Have a legal question about starting a business? Joel D. Rosen can be reached at 610-275-0700 or by email at jrosen@highswartz.com.Visit Joel D. Rosen’s 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. 

Co-Parenting through Vacation Season

Advice for Single Parents Seeking a Stress-Free Summer by Melissa M. Boyd, Esq.June 11, 2015I developed this post as one in a series to help parents and their attorneys plan for the slew of legal co-parenting complications the summer brings. Without the structure of school, even the tightest co-parenting plans are challenged.Whether an uncoupling was friendly or not, it takes a concentrated effort to find what works for each couple to co-parent successfully. Though every situation is different, and there is no recipe to guarantee positive family outcomes, this is practical advice for how to handle the legal aspects of these commonly faced issues…Child CustodyArranging a vacation is often a task that, well, causes most to need a vacation. For separated, divorced or single parents, planning a vacation for themselves and their children can be grueling.Typically single parents have a custody agreement which serves as a parenting plan. However, attorneys may have been vague concerning vacations. Or, parents may not have their agreements finalized yet.Unfortunately, co-parenting issues stemming from vacations typically present themselves at the last minute, when the vacation is already planned yet is being communicated to the other parent for the first time.To help, we’ve tied vacation planning to these familiar “Five W’s”:
  • Who
When making vacation plans, it’s important that parents communicate early and often. This avoids any last minute quarreling over changes. Some families start this process as early as March.While communication between parents is crucial, kids should be left out of the arranging.  The kids don’t need to know which parent made special requests, which made unnecessary denials, or who spent more money. They just need to know that their parents worked hard for them so that they can enjoy their summers.
  • What
When thinking about what type of vacation to take, each parent should try to put themselves in the other’s shoes.  If one would be uncomfortable with a particular activity or accommodation, they shouldn’t do anything similar when it’s their turn for a trip.All vacation provisions and plans should be agreed upon and put in writing as soon as possible to avoid conflict. Parents should also be held responsible to share detailed vacation itineraries. It must be a provision that the non-attending parent is provided with all details around accommodation, travel times and activities so they feel at ease.Another hugely important element of choosing a vacation is cost. Parents must be realistic financially when it comes to vacation selection. Parents may have half the resources they had pre-split, and regardless of what the children may be accustomed to, or what the other parent can afford, they need to choose a vacation that is within their means.Considering finances is also motivation to keep vacation planning peaceful – when parents disagree they may spend significant funds paying attorneys or mediators.
  • When
Attorneys have the opportunity to prevent disputes by setting clear parameters in the parenting plan or custody agreement.Every family is different and every divorce has its own unique spot on the amicable to nasty scale. Each plan should be customized but clear to avoid any possible confusion down the road. Some plans can be very specific and include pre-determined dates, such as Mom gets the third week in June, and Dad gets the third week in July.  Others may just state that each parent gets one week and dates must be finalized and communicated by a certain date.Parents should do their best to stick to the schedule. If for any reason they wish to deviate, or don’t have the plan outlined yet, respectful conversations should begin as soon as possible.
  • Where
Everyone enjoys dreaming about where they may go on their next vacation. For divorced and single parents, it’s important to be informed before the mind starts to wander.If you have the means to travel outside of the country for vacation, there are specific rules regarding passports for children of divorce. Both parents must give consent before a passport is used for any child under the age of 16 unless one parent was granted sole custody- then only the custodial parent’s signature is required.  It is possible to get a passport without the signature of both parents but only when it is needed for the child’s health or a special family circumstance – not a vacation.Parents who cannot get their former spouse’s support will have to contact an attorney. The most common course of action is to petition for the court to order the ex the sign the application.  Parents who are on the opposing end should also reach out to their lawyer after refusing to sign. Real fears about abduction should be communicated to attorneys and to the Court.
  • Why
The best piece of advice I can give when vacation planning gets stressful is to remember the reason for vacationing in the first place. Vacations are meant to bring families closer together – not farther apart. Parents should be considerate, thoughtful and respectful, with a children-first mentality. Attorneys should have the same children-first mentality in order to guide families toward the best possible outcomes.View related blog posts here

Gilbert P. High and Richard C. Sokorai Spoke at the 2015 Municipal Law Colloquium

June 10, 2015High Swartz municipal law attorneys, Gilbert P. High and Richard C. Sokorai, spoke at PBI’s Municipal Law Colloquium held on June 5-6, in Lancaster, PA.Gilbert P. High spoke on the topic of “Developer Agreements and Financial Security”, discussing municipal acceptance of public improvements shown on development and subdivision plans by means of deeds of dedication; and the various forms of financial security used to assure proper construction of those improvements.Richard C. Sokorai co-presented the topic “Paper Streets, Private Streets and Easements”, discussing time limits and other requirements for municipalities to accept dedication of streets and the status of streets not properly dedicated.Gilbert High Gilbert P. High Jr., Esq. has devoted his career primarily to the practice of Municipal and Real Estate and Land Use Law.  He has extensive experience in legislative drafting, subdivision and land development,  zoning litigation, public employment issues, local taxation, public contracting, and the law of easements and rights of way.  He regularly speaks on issues pertaining to municipal liability, particularly regarding the maintenance of the Urban Forest, a subject on which he has lectured nationally. Mr. High also practices in the area of estate planning, particularly in the administration of complex estates, the creation and administration of trusts, and representation in Orphan’s Court litigation. Richard SokoraiRichard C. Sokorai, Esq. is a Partner at High Swartz LLP in Norristown. He concentrates his practice in municipal and governmental law as well as commercial, franchise, construction and personal injury law. Additionally, Mr. Sokorai represents soldiers in military employment and reemployment rights cases.    He is a Major in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. Mr. Sokorai received his B.A. from Temple University and his J.D., cum laude, from Temple University School of Law. Admitted to practice in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, he is a member of the Federal, Montgomery County and Delaware County Bar Associations, the National Guard Association of Pennsylvania and the United States Armor Association. 

For more information, please visit High Swartz Municipal Law practice page.

 

Divorce, Threats and Social Media: Lessons From The Elonis Case

June 2, 2015By Melissa M. Boyd, Esq. “There’s one way to love you but a thousand ways to kill you.”Supreme Court buildingIf your wife left you, and you wrote that post on Facebook, would it be construed as a threat? Certainly some people would see it that way, but the US Supreme Court has ruled that that type of social media post is not enough to get you convicted under federal threat statutes; yesterday (June 1) the Court overruled the conviction of Pennsylvanian Anthony  Douglas Elonis.Elonis posted that message above, along with other violent messages, to his Facebook page after his wife left him, and was subsequently convicted of threatening her and sentenced to 44 months in prison. Elonis claims that he was not threatening his wife, but simply writing rap lyrics that were not representative of his true feelings, and his lawyer argued that the lyrics should be protected under the right to freedom of speech.The Court said the government needed to do more than prove that a reasonable person would find the postings threatening in order to convict Elonis.  The Court did not squarely address the First Amendment issues raised by Elonis in trying to protect the threats imbedded in rap lyrics.  The question is one of intent:  Did Elonis mean what he posted or was he reckless in posting the choice content?However, there is still a cautionary tale in this story: Just because Elonis’ conviction was overturned doesn’t mean he hasn’t paid a price for his social media posts. When people are in difficult marital or personal relationships, anger is not an unusual emotion. However, it’s best to not immediately vent your anger on social media.So, as angry or frustrated as you may be, zip it when it comes to venting on social media about your ex, ex’s ex, mother/father of your child, in laws, etc. Maybe you won’t be convicted, but you could be the subject of a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order if you are blogging or posting about your ex in what could be perceived as a threatening way.  And if there is other evidence of your threatening behavior toward an ex or other family member, that additional evidence of a social media post, whether it’s rap lyrics or just plain ol’ words, could tip the scales in favor of a PFA against you.As they said in movie The Social Network, the Internet is written in ink. What you post will never completely go away, and it can come back to haunt you.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.Visit Melissa M. Boyd’s attorney profile.Visit High Swartz’s family law practice page. 

To Be a Franchisee or Not to Be; That is the Question.

Franchise Practice Group Chair Joel D. Rosen recently wrote an article entitled “To Be a Franchisee or Not to Be; That is the Question”. Check it out on page 48 of May/June issue of the Local Living Magazine.
Visit Joel D. Rosen’s attorney profile.Visit Franchise Litigation page.

Can an employer who does not know anything about a job applicant’s religion still be sued for religious discrimination? As of today, the answer is a definitive yes.

June 2, 2015By James B. Shrimp, Esq.Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 that an employer is in violation of Title VII if the employer assumes that a job applicant’s religion would require a workplace accommodation, and therefore doesn’t hire the person.In the case of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, InEmployment Discriminationc., a woman who is a practicing Muslim sued Abercrombie for religious discrimination after she was not hired for a position for which she interviewed.  Specifically, the woman wore a headscarf to her interview, which the job applicant believed was required by her Muslim faith.  The initial interviewer believed the job applicant was qualified for the job, but asked her superiors whether the headscarf would violate Abercrombie’s dress code.  Notably, the job applicant never requested an accommodation and never indicated to the interviewer that she was wearing the headscarf because of her religion.  Abercrombie presumed the applicant wore the headscarf because of her Muslim faith and did not hire the job applicant.  The job applicant then brought suit.Abercrombie argued that since it did not have actual knowledge that the job applicant wore the headscarf because of her Muslim beliefs (i.e., the job applicant never told the potential employer and the employer never asked), it could not be held liable for not hiring her. In Abercrombie’s argument, the company was simply enforcing its neutrally applied dress code.The Supreme Court rejected Abercrombie’s argument.  In a decision that focused on Title VII’s language, the Court concluded that Title VII does not require an employer’s actual knowledge to find liability.  Title VII makes unlawful employment decisions that are “because of” an applicant/employee’s protected class (race, sex, color, national origin and religion).  The Supreme Court concluded that “because of” does not require actual knowledge, it only requires that the protected class (or characteristic thereof) is a “motivating factor” in the employment decision.  The Supreme Court continued stating that “Title VII forbids adverse employment decisions made with a forbidden motive, whether this motive derives from actual knowledge, a well-founded suspicion, or merely a hunch.”The decision extends beyond hiring situations to others, such as employee discipline actions or terminations. In short, the employer’s assumptions or impressions of a job applicant or a current employee can lead to liability, if those assumptions or impressions are a motivating factor in any adverse employment decision (e.g., failure to hire, discipline, termination). This decision emphasizes that businesses should only consider objective factors that relate to the performance of the job, such as experience, education and job performance, in making employment decisions and keep the speculation to a minimum.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.