Search and Seizure

The U.S. Supreme further erodes the protection of the 4th Amendment against unreasonable searches in most recent case. A North Carolina police officer stops a car for having only one taillight. Under N.C. law, you only have to have one taillight. Driver gives cop permission to search. Cop finds illegal drugs. Circuit court rules the cop didn’t have probable cause to stop vehicle and search was unreasonable. Supreme Court rules cops should be forgiven for not knowing the law–mistakes are compatible with reasonable suspicion. See Supreme Court of the U.S., Heien v. North Carolina, No. 13-604, decided 12/15/14.

Wills and Estates

Has your spouse made a will? Did they leave you out? You may not know until they die, but if they left you out of the will you should know about the marital election. This allows you to choose what you would get under the will or to take an elective share: the lesser of all of the estate of the decease reduced by the value of your separate estate or one-third of the estate of the deceased. There’s one important caveat–you must file a petition for an elective share within six months after the will is admitted to probate. If you don’t, you waive the elective share. See Supreme Court of Alabama, Oct. Term, 2014-15, 1120848, Saylor v. Saylor.

Employment Law

Not only may your employer frisk you after work to see if you’re stealing, they don’t have to pay you for the time spent being frisked. This is according to a recent U.S. Supreme Court case involving warehouse workers at Amazon.com. The workers were required to stand in line for roughly 25 minutes after they finished their shifts in order to be searched. The justices equated this to time spent standing in line to clock in to work. See Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, et al, No. 13-433, decided 12/9/2014.

Prepaid Funeral Services

Have you bought or are you thinking about buying a preneed funeral and cemetery contract? With preneed contracts, you pay a company in advance for funeral and cemetery merchandise and services. A recent Alabama Supreme Court case deals with such a company that went out of business. The preneed company is supposed to keep funds in trust to pay for the funeral when the contract buyer dies. However, as is sometimes the case, this company did not. So consider the financial stability of the preneed company before you purchase. See, Supreme Court of Alabama, Oct. Term, 2014-15, 1130604, Corner Stone Funeral Chapel, Inc., v. MVGF, LLC, Appeal from DeKalb Cir. Ct., CV-09-900101).

Black Lung Benefits

If your spouse was receiving life time Black Lung benefits and died before 2010, you had to prove that the death was caused by pneumoconiosis in order to receive survivor’s benefits. Since 2010, the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care) has amended the Black Lung Benefits Act. Now it is no longer necessary to prove causation in order to receive survivor’s benefits. If you were previously denied, you should consider refiling.  See Jim Walter Resources v. Davis, No. 13-13185 (11th Cir. Sept. 12, 2014).

Immunity from Suit

The Alabama Supreme Court has made local school boards immune from law suits in tort or contract. However, the U.S. Supreme Court and the 11th Cir. have made it clear that local school boards in Alabama are not immune from violations of federal statutes. See Walker, et al. v. Jefferson Co. Sch. Board of Ed., et al. (11th Cir. No. 13-14624, 11/04/13).

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Do you have a child age birth to three with a learning disability such as autism? Then you’ll be happy to know that the 11th Cir. has recently affirmed the necessity of public schools to provide a free appropriate public education. If the public school can’t, then they must pay for a private education plus transportation. See Blount Co. Bd. of Educ. v. Bowens, No. 13-11392 (11th Cir. August 5, 2014).

Employee Stock Plans

If you have a retirement plan through your employer that invests in the stock of the employer company, then you should be aware that the company has no duty to inform you that the stock may be overvalued. This is true even if they have insider information that the stock may soon loose most of its value. So buyer beware. See Supreme Court of the United States, Fifth Third Bancorp Et Al. v. Dudenhoeffer, et al., Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals of the Sixth Circuit No. 12–751. Argued April 2, 2014—Decided June 25, 2014.

Arbitration

Alabama Supreme Court discusses arbitration enforcement in recent decision. By now everyone should know about the arbitration clauses found in almost every written contract. You can’t buy a car or get a phone service plan without agreeing to them. Why should you care? Because you give up a lot of rights–jury trial most importantly and punitive damages. So how can you get out of them? The main reason would be fraud–you were induced to sign the contract through misrepresentation. However, as the Court states most emphatically, you better have proof! See Supreme Court of Alabama, Oct. Term, 2014-15, 130184, Ex parte Alaska Bush Adventures, LLC, et al. Petition for Writ of Mandamus, (In re: Guy R. Willis v. Alaska Bush Adventures, LLC, et al.) 1130231.