8 High Swartz Attorneys Named ‘Top Lawyer’ for 2018 by Main Line Today

High Swartz LLP, a full-service law firm with offices in Norristown and Doylestown, Pennsylvania, is pleased to announce that 8 of  its attorneys have been named among the “Top Lawyers” for 2018 by Main Line Today magazine.

David J. Brooman – Environmental Law

Arnold Heller – Real Estate Law

William F. Kerr, Jr. – Real Estate Law

Mary R. LaSota – Trusts & Wills

Thomas D. Rees – Labor Law

Joel D. Rosen – Business Law

James B. Shrimp – Labor Law

Richard C. Sokorai – Civil Litigation

The annual list of Top Lawyers in Main Line Today highlights top attorneys in Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties. The attorneys are nominated via peer balloting and then vetted through Main Line Today’s editorial process.

About High Swartz LLP: High Swartz LLP is a full-service law firm serving clients in the Delaware Valley and throughout Pennsylvania from offices in Norristown and Doylestown. Established in 1914, High Swartz serves the needs of businesses, municipalities, government entities, nonprofits and individuals. With offices in Bucks County and Montgomery County, the full-service law firm provides comprehensive counsel and legal support to individuals and business entities of all sizes across a broad spectrum of industries throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. For more information, go to www.highswartz.com.

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Don’t Forget! 2019 Tax Appeal Deadlines Are Approaching

New assessment notices and tax bills have been arriving in property owners’ mailboxes throughout the spring and summer, and deadlines in a few counties in southeastern Pennsylvania are only a few cookouts or trips to the shore away. August 1 is the deadline for  filing appeals in Montgomery County, Bucks County, Delaware County, and Chester County this year, while Philadelphia appeals are due in early October.  Deadlines in  most other counties are between August 1 and October 1.Property assessments – and the tax bills that are calculated from them – are often very difficult for property owners to interpret and fully understand.  Assessments are often some percentage of actual fair market value, and determining your property’s actual fair market value can be a bit complex.  It is usually best supported for residential properties by evidence such as an appraisal, recent sales data for comparable properties, or other sources of information and support. Several other factors might be considered for commercial or investment properties, like the cost approach or income approach to valuation, each of which can involve compiling significant amounts of data and applying complex analysis.At High Swartz, our attorneys have many years of experience representing property owners in counties all across the state in appeals on properties ranging from single family homes to multi-million dollar apartment complexes, to high-value commercial properties. With our skills and experience, we help our clients assure that their property assessments, and the taxes based on those assessments, are appropriate.Below we’ve provided some information and resources on the appeals process in a few southeastern Pennsylvania counties.  Feel free to do some research regarding the possibility of appealing your own tax assessment, or Contact Us to discuss a potential appeal of your property with one of our experienced and skilled attorneys.  William F. Kerr, Jr., Esquire and Stephen M. Zaffuto, Esquire can also be reached at (610) 275-0700.Montgomery County The deadline to file Montgomery County tax assessment appeals is August 1.Montgomery County was last reassessed in 1996, and a 2017 Inquirer article estimated that 1 in 5 Montgomery County properties were over-assessed. The Common Level Ratio for 2019 is 50.9% meaning the assessed values you see on the website or your bill are supposed to correspond to about 50.9% of the current fair market value.Click here for the Montgomery County Assessment Appeal formFor more information, check out this FAQ on the website for the Board of Assessment AppealsBucks County The deadline to file Bucks County tax assessment appeals is August 1.Bucks County real estate values were last reassessed in 1972, and a 2017 Inquirer article estimated that about 16% of Bucks County properties are over-assessed. Because the base year was 46 years ago, the  Common Level Ratio for 2019 is only 10.4%, meaning the assessed values you see on the website or your bill are supposed to correspond to about 10.4% of the current fair market value.Click here for the Bucks County Residential Assessment Appeal formClick here for the Bucks County Commercial/Industrial/Vacant Assessment Appeal formDelaware County The deadline to file Delaware County tax assessment appeals is August 1.Delaware County real estate values are actually in the process of being reassessed, pursuant to a recent court order. The process of assessing the county’s over 200,000 properties is expected to take a few years, and the new values will go into effect by 2021. However, the current assessed values are still based off of the previous base year of 1998, with a Common Level Ratio for 2019 of about 58.1%, meaning the assessed values you see on the website or your bill are supposed to correspond to about 58.1% of the current fair market value.Click here for the Delaware County Residential Assessment Appeal formClick here for the Delaware County Commercial Assessment Appeal formChester County The deadline to file Chester County tax assessment appeals is August 1.Chester County real estate values were last reassessed in 1996. The  Common Level Ratio is 51.3%, meaning the assessed values you see on the website or your bill are supposed to correspond to about 52.9% of the current fair market value.Click here for the Chester County Residential Assessment Appeal formClick here for the Chester County Commercial  Assessment Appeal formPhiladelphiaThe deadline to file Philadelphia tax assessment appeals is the first Monday in October (which falls on October  1 this year).Because Philadelphia does an annual reassessment, the Common Level Ratio is 1.00, meaning the assessed value should reflect the current market value. We’ve heard from lot of Philadelphia property owners who were alarmed to see large increases in their tax assessments for 2019, in some cases as high as 200+% higher than 2018. These stories aren’t necessarily anecdotal either, as the overall median market value for single family homes increased 10.5% from last year according to analysis of the data done by the Inquirer and Daily News. Certain neighborhoods or even individual blocks saw much higher median increases.While most assessment appeals will challenge the Office of Property Assessment’s total assessed value, property owners with tax abatements on the improvement value of their property have begun appealing only their land values (which are not subject to the abatement). Some of these appeals have already been decided in Common Pleas court, with some favorable results for the property owners – see our earlier blog post for more information on Philly’s tax abatement system and assessment appeals.Click here for the Philadelphia Assessment Appeal formClick here for the OPA’s website containing information on appeals and the appeals process

Mary Cushing Doherty Receives the Eric Turner Memorial Award from the PBA

High Swartz partner, Mary Cushing Doherty was honored last week at the Pennsylvania Bar Association Family Law Section Summer with the prestigious Eric Turner Memorial Award.The Eric Turner Memorial Award honors a lawyer who is dedicated to the practice of family law and who serves as a mentor and teacher to fellow lawyers. As part of the award, a $1,000 donation will be made to the Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, a charity selected by Doherty.Throughout her more than 35 years of practice, Doherty has been invested in the advancement of family law practice and women’s issues in the practice of law. An active member of the legal community, Doherty has held numerous leadership positions in the PBA, including chair, officer and council member of the Family Law Section and chair of the Review and Certifying Board tasked with developing and implementing a certification process for various practice areas. Last year, she was recognized with a Special Achievement Award for her service in navigating a divorce reform bill through the General Assembly — one of the many contributions she has made since joining the section in 1979. Doherty is currently a member at-large of the Commission on Women in the Profession Executive Council.Throughout her career, Doherty’s work and service have been recognized with several awards, including the PBA Commission on Women in Profession 2012 Lynette Norton Award, 2012 Women of the Year list by The Legal Intelligencer, 2009 Woman of Distinction list by Philadelphia Business Journal, 2008 Frederick Cohen Award for Excellence in Teaching and 2006 Margaret Richardson Award.Ms. Doherty has been a Course Planner and Lecturer for the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers since 1990 and for the Pennsylvania Bar Institute since 1985. She also has been a Lecturer for the Pennsylvania Bar Association Family Law Section and Montgomery Bar Association.About High Swartz LLP: High Swartz LLP is a full-service law firm serving clients in the Delaware Valley and throughout Pennsylvania from offices in Norristown and Doylestown. Established in 1914, High Swartz serves the needs of businesses, municipalities, government entities, nonprofits and individuals. With offices in Bucks County and Montgomery County, the full-service law firm provides comprehensive counsel and legal support to individuals and business entities of all sizes across a broad spectrum of industries throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. For more information, go to www.highswartz.com.# # #

You Must be a Current Employee to Review your Personnel File!

July 18, 2018By Thomas D. Rees, EsquirePersonnel FileLast year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that only current employees have the right to review their personnel files under the Pennsylvania Personnel Files Act.  This decision in Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals, Inc. v. Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, 162 A.3d 384 (Pa. 2017), does not seem surprising.  After all, the statute defines “employee” as a person “currently employed” or someone on layoff with rights to return to work or on leave of absence.Pennsylvania’s Personnel Files Act gives employees the right to review their own employer-maintained personnel files to determine the employee’s own qualification for employment, promotion, compensation, or termination.  The Department of Labor and Industry has the power to enforce the Act.  By not allowing ex-employees the right to review personnel files, Pennsylvania’s statute differs from the majority of state statutes that provide for access to personnel files.  However, many states do not have any statute permitting employees to review their personnel files.The Jefferson Hospital decision resolved 20 years of uncertainty in the law.  The uncertainty stems from both vague drafting of the statute and the Commonwealth Court’s 1996 decision in Beitman v. Department of Labor and Industry, 675 A.2d 1300 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1996).  The Beitman decision refused to allow a terminated employee to inspect her own personnel file two years after termination.  But the Court stated that an employee could inspect a personnel file within a reasonable time after termination in order to ascertain the reason for termination.  This statement about a “reasonable time” was dictum– a fancy legal term for a statement that was not essential to the Court’s ruling.The Beitman decision became known more for this dictum on what an employee might be able to do (review a personnel file reasonably soon after termination) than its denial of review to the plaintiff employee.  And so terminated employees started asking to review their files.  The Bar and the Department of Labor and Industry then had to figure out when after termination it was too late to inspect a file.  Was one week too late?  One month?  Six months?  Labor and Industry decided that 30 days after termination was a logical cutoff date.In 2013, a terminated Jefferson Hospital employee asked to inspect her file a week after termination.  The hospital rejected her request.  Labor and Industry ruled in favor of the employee and the hospital appealed to the Commonwealth Court, which upheld her right to review the file.The Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court unanimously.  The Supreme Court held  that “current employee” means an individual who is presently employed.  The Court overruled the statements in Beitman allowing ex-employee review to the extent that these statements were more than dictum. The Supreme Court’s decision helps to restore certainty to the law.  In effect, the Court has held that the Act means what it says and means what most readers initially thought it meant.  There is always the chance for future disputes, however, over when one ceases to be an employee.  For example, can a terminated employee with two weeks of accrued vacation review a personnel file as a current employee during the two weeks after termination?  Stay tuned.If you have any questions, please contact Thomas D. Rees at 610-275-0700 or via email at trees@highswartz.com. The High Swartz employment law attorneys provide businesses and nonprofit organizations throughout the Pennsylvania region, including Bucks County, Montgomery County, Delaware County, Philadelphia and Chester County with sound advice and excellent representation.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.

Mary Cushing Doherty and Melissa M. Boyd lead sessions at the Pennsylvania Bar Association

High Swartz partners from the firm’s Family Law practice, Mary Cushing Doherty and Melissa M. Boyd led sessions at the Pennsylvania Bar Association Family Law Summer Meeting held July 12th through the 15th in Hershey.Mrs. Doherty was a speaker on the panel “Drafting Agreements in the Year 2018.” The panel presented on the do’s and don’ts of agreement drafting and the importance of contemplating all potential legal consequences into Separation, Custody and Settlement Agreements.Mrs. Boyd was the moderator for the panel “The Evolution of Family Law: Past, Present and Future.” The panel was a discussion of trends in family law practice over the past few decades and a prospective view of what lies ahead.  Topics covered how changes in procedure, technology, evidence, legislation and substantive law involving divorce, support, custody and reproductive advancements are developing and suggest practice strategies for all practitioners. The panel addressed practical ways to accommodate clients who want a fair result without lengthy, expensive litigation.With a distinguished record of professional and community service, Mary Cushing Doherty has more than 35 years of legal experience in the area of family law. She concentrates her practice on all aspects of marital dissolution and family law issues including divorce, child support, visitation, custody, spousal support and alimony, premarital agreement asset protection, complex property division, and more. Ms. Doherty is an experienced and certified Arbitrator and Mediator. She strives for the amicable resolution of divorce when possible; however, she is a zealous litigator when it serves the best interests of her clients.Ms. Doherty has been a Course Planner and Lecturer for the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers since 1990 and for the Pennsylvania Bar Institute since 1985. She also has been a Lecturer for the Pennsylvania Bar Association Family Law Section and Montgomery Bar Association. A highly sought-after speaker in family law, Doherty received the Lynette Norton Award from the Pennsylvania Bar Association Women in the Profession Committee in 2012 and also was one of the Legal Intelligencer’s Women of the Year. She has been named a Philadelphia Business Journal Woman of Distinction, and, in 2006, she received the Margaret Richardson Award from the Montgomery Bar Association, which is presented to a trailblazer who has promoted the role of women in the legal profession.Ms. Boyd is a fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, Board member of the Pennsylvania Chapter of AAML and member of the family law sections of the American Bar Association, Pennsylvania Bar Association and the Montgomery Bar Association. She is former Chair of the Family Law Section of the Montgomery Bar Association. Ms. Boyd has been certified as a Family Law Arbitrator by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.A graduate of Washington College and the University of Baltimore School of Law, Boyd has received the highest possible rating from Martindale-Hubbell, has been named a Pennsylvania Super Lawyer for 8 years, Best Lawyer in America since 2016 and named among the 10 Leaders of Matrimonial Law in Philadelphia.About High Swartz LLP: High Swartz LLP is a full-service law firm serving clients in the Delaware Valley and throughout Pennsylvania from offices in Norristown and Doylestown. Established in 1914, High Swartz serves the needs of businesses, municipalities, government entities, nonprofits and individuals. With offices in Bucks County and Montgomery County, the full-service law firm provides comprehensive counsel and legal support to individuals and business entities of all sizes across a broad spectrum of industries throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. For more information, go to www.highswartz.com.# # #

Social Security Disability: Meeting the Financial and Medical Eligibility Requirements

Being diagnosed with a potentially disabling medical condition and not being able perform the work you used to do is not a guarantee that you will be entitled to Social Security Disability benefits. There are stringent rules and requirements, both financial and medical, which must be met in order to be approved for Social Security benefits.  Applying for benefits without both knowing these rules and seeking the assistance of a professional experienced in Social Security Disability could lead to an initial denial of your claim and then a lengthy appeals process.Social Security evaluates claims in a five step sequential process.  First, when you submit an application for disability benefits, the field office will determine whether you are financially eligible for benefits.  If you are engaged in “substantial gainful activity” or “SGA” your claim will be denied.  SGA is “work that involves doing significant and productive physical or mental duties and is done for pay or profit”.  In 2018, if you earn $1,180 per month (non-blind applicants) or $1,970 per month (blind applicants),  you will be considered gainfully employed and not eligible for benefits.  The fact that your monthly earnings are zero or less than SGA does not establish disability, but will move you to the next step of the evaluation.During Step 2 Social Security will evaluate your claim under the  “duration test”. In order to be disabled, your medical disability must have lasted for one year, or be expected to last for at least one year, or must be expected to result in death. If the medical evidence does not establish one of these requirements, your claim will be denied at Step 2.Step 3 is designed to allow for the most severely disabled applicants to be approved.  Social Security has a Listing of Impairments for physical and mental conditions.  Each Listing contains codified clinical criteria that must be met in order for Social Security to find you disabled at this step.  The Listings provide very specific standards that must be met for diagnostic studies, objective findings on evaluation, and subjective symptoms documented within the medical evidence.  The Listings are extremely difficult to meet.  If you have not treated with medical providers that have performed all of the necessary diagnostic testing and documented all of the pertinent abnormal findings on examination, you will not meet a Listing and will not be approved at this step.If you did not meet a Listing, your case will move on to Step 4, which examines whether or not you can perform the basic skills and requirements of your past jobs.  Social Security will look at what types of work you have performed over the last 15 years and determine from the medical evidence if you could now meet the physical and/or mental requirements of those jobs.  If Social Security determines that you can perform any of these past jobs, your claim will be denied at this step.  If Social Security determines that your physical and/or mental capacities have decreased to the extent you can no longer perform your prior jobs, your claim can move forward to Step 5.Step 5 evaluates whether you are capable of performing other work in the national economy other than what you have done in the past. The evaluation takes into consideration what Social Security has determined are your residual functional capacities, which include ability to sit, stand, walk, lift, carry, use of hands/feet, reaching, bending, etc. and the length of time these activities can be performed in an eight-hour work day.At this step, Social Security also examines your prior work to determine if you have transferrable skills which would allow you to do similar work in a less physically or mentally taxing position. Social Security also looks at whether you could be trained to perform work different than your past work that would be within your residual functional capacity. Your age, level of education and vocational history are part of this analysis. The disability examiners use the “medical-vocational guidelines” which is often referred to as “the grid”. It is extremely difficult to be found disabled under the “grid” if you are a high school graduate under the age of 50 and can perform light duty work.  In most instances, an applicant that falls under this category will be considered capable of performing entry level work or capable of being retrained to perform different work. Many factors that you think should be considered in reaching the determination of whether or not you can perform work are not given much weight at this step in the evaluation. For example, driving restrictions, lack of access to public transportation, lack of availability of work in your general area do not factor into Step 5.Although we strongly recommend getting professional advice during the application stage of the process, most people do not seek counsel until their application has been denied by Social Security. If it is your intention to appeal the Social Security’s unfavorable determination, you should obtain counsel as soon as possible.  At the present time, you may not be able to have a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) until 18 to 24 months after denial of your disability application. If you come to a hearing without legal representation, the ALJ will usually advise you that you have a right to an attorney and that in general it is recommended that you have one present with you at the hearing. The ALJ will often allow you to reschedule your hearing to allow you to seek an attorney.An attorney experienced in Social Security Disability will be able to help you develop a strong medical and legal argument as to why you meet the requirements of the Social Security Administration to get your benefits. They will be able to examine your full evidentiary file to determine where your application and medical evidence fell short and assist you in putting your best case before an ALJ and/or through a request for reconsideration of your claim. In general, attorneys practicing Social Security Disability are not paid hourly. Attorneys are paid on a contingency fee basis and only if they are able to get you past due benefits. Most attorneys will perform an initial evaluation of your case in person or through a telephone conference.If you have questions regarding your entitlement to Social Security Disability benefits or need assistance in applying for benefits or filing an appeal, please contact me at 215-345-8888 or lhaubert@highswartz.com. As a registered nurse, I also have the medical knowledge and experience to navigate you claim through the rigorous medical requirements of the disability application and appeal process. Our attorneys see clients in both our Bucks County and Montgomery offices and have the knowledge and experience in all facets of disability issues.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.

Stephanie A. Henrick Named a 2018 Lawyer on the Fast Track

High Swartz attorney, Stephanie A. Henrick, was recently awarded the prestigious honor of being one of The Legal Intelligencer’s 2018 Lawyers on the Fast Track.Ms. Henrick was awarded the honor after a panel of five members judged legal professionals across the state. A total of 30 attorneys were selected. The formal event recognizing the winners was held of June 27th.Stephanie A. Henrick is a member of the Wills, Trusts & Estates group. She focuses her legal practice on estate planning, estate administration, tax law, and Social Security Disability. She earned a Masters of Law (LL.M.) in Taxation and a Certificate in Estate Planning from Villanova University School of Law.Stephanie’s passion for civic service drives her personal and professional life. She was recently elected Mayor of Pottstown, in addition, she is an active member in Pottstown Rotary. She endeavors to work with integrity and contribute her expertise to the problems and needs of society in order to improve the quality of life for people in her community.To read more about the 2018 Legal Intelligencer Lawyers on the Fast Track, visit https://www.law.com/thelegalintelligencer/2018/06/12/2018-lawyers-on-the-fast-track/About High Swartz LLP: High Swartz LLP is a full-service law firm serving clients in the Delaware Valley and throughout Pennsylvania from offices in Norristown and Doylestown. Established in 1914, High Swartz serves the needs of businesses, municipalities, government entities, nonprofits and individuals. With offices in Bucks County and Montgomery County, the full-service law firm provides comprehensive counsel and legal support to individuals and business entities of all sizes across a broad spectrum of industries throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. For more information, go to www.highswartz.com.# # #