Law & Daily Life - The FindLaw Life, Family and Workplace Law Blog

April 2014 Archives

Church, Clergy Sue to Strike N.C.'s Gay Marriage Ban

A church and a coalition of local clergy are challenging North Carolina's gay marriage ban by making a novel argument: that it violates freedom of religion.

Religious liberty has been the rallying cry for many opponents of same-sex marriage, so the lawsuit by the Cleveland-based United Church of Christ provides a unique opportunity to see whether gay marriage bans actually violate religious freedom. The Associated Press reports that the plaintiffs' attorney, Jake Sussman, believes this is the only case to make such an argument.

How exactly does North Carolina's marriage ban violate religious rights, according to the lawsuit?

Must Disabled Workers Be Allowed to Telecommute?

A recent lawsuit against Ford Motor Co. regarding the denial of a disabled woman's request to telecommute is making headlines. The lawsuit, which has not yet been resolved, may leave people wondering if companies must allow disabled workers telecommute.

In general, companies aren't required by law to allow employees to telecommute. But if telecommuting is determined to be a "reasonable accommodation" for a worker who's classified as disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act, then companies may have to allow it for that person.

So under what circumstances must a disabled worker be allowed to telecommute?

Legal How-To: Getting Squatters Evicted

It's always unsettling to come home and find that squatters are living on your property, but how can you get rid of them?

In some cases, you may get in trouble by forcibly removing squatters from your property, so there are some legal considerations you need to keep in mind. Here's a general overview:

Thinking about going up against a big law firm on your own (aka going pro se)? If so, you'll probably want some tips on how to deal with your opposing party's legal representatives.

Few things in life are certain, but in addition to death and taxes, you can add "litigation is costly." If you're in the unfortunate position of getting sued, or if want to take on the man, there's no way of getting around the courtroom. But you may be surprised to know that lawyers are optional.

While going up against a big law firm can be intimidating, it's not impossible. Keep in mind these five important "lawyerly" tips:

States Far Ahead of FDA in E-Cig Regulations

The FDA proposed new regulations for e-cigarettes last week, but more than a dozen states have already passed laws to regulate them.

In fact, at least 20 states have already included e-cigs in their smoking bans and regulations for public areas, workplaces, and schools, according to the online legal research service WestlawNext (which, like FindLaw, is owned by Thomson Reuters).

How do these states regulate e-cigarettes? Will they lead the way for accepting the new FDA rules?

Court Deportations Down 43% Since 2009: Report

Though some immigration-reform activists have called President Obama the "deporter in chief," court-ordered deportations actually declined 43 percent during the president's first five years in office, according to a recent report.

The New York Times looked at statistics released by Department of Justice and suggested a few reasons for the drop in court deportations. These include fewer cases being brought by federal prosecutors, and more foreigners retaining immigration lawyers.

Here's a closer look at the numbers and what they mean for immigrants in deportation cases:

Justice Stevens: Legalize Pot, 'Fix' 2nd Amendment

If you could "fix" America, what laws would you pass?

Retired Justice John Paul Stevens has a few ideas, and he's currently making the rounds promoting his new book, Six Amendments. In the book, he proposes six "fixes" to the Constitution including campaign finance reform and ending the death penalty, but one of his reforms in particular is likely to stir up the most controversy: disarmament of civilians.

And his ideas for fixing America don't stop with his book. In an interview with NPR, he discusses another burning issue: marijuana legalization.

For Arbor Day: Is It Legal to Cut Down Trees?

Happy Arbor Day! Though the day's goal is to inspire people to plant and celebrate trees, you may also be wondering if it's legal to cut down trees -- especially when it's a neighbor's tree that's somehow interfering with the enjoyment of your property.

Many people also wonder if it's legal to cut down a tree in the forest for personal use, such as for firewood or even to harvest your own Christmas tree.

So what are the laws regarding cutting down trees? Let's branch out a bit and consider these scenarios:

FDA's Proposed E-Cigarette Regulations Released

The FDA has announced new proposed regulations for e-cigarettes, attempting to get a handle on a now multibillion-dollar industry. The public will soon have a chance to comment.

The proposed rules not only cover e-cigs, but also pipe tobacco and cigars. The FDA wants to prohibit these products from being sold to minors, reports The New York Times.

Will the FDA be successful in its latest attempt to regulate e-cigs?

How Do You Legally Dispose of Prescription Drugs?

This Saturday is National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day.

While the name may sound a bit silly, the nationwide event aims to provide a safe, convenient, and responsible way for people to legally dispose of prescription medication that is either expired or unwanted, according to the Office of Diversion Control.

Although most people are aware of the dangers of medication abuse, not everyone knows that improperly disposing of drugs can harm the environment.

Ga.'s 'Guns Everywhere' Bill Signed Into Law

Georgia's so-called "guns everywhere" bill has been signed into law, permitting guns in bars, schools, churches, and government buildings, with some exceptions.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed House Bill 60 on Wednesday, worrying critics who had dubbed the bill "guns everywhere" for its broad scope, reports The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The law, set to take effect July 1, has been praised by the National Rifle Association as "the most comprehensive pro-gun reform bill in history."

So where will Georgians soon be able to bring their guns under the "guns everywhere" law?

If a Student Loan Co-Signer Dies, What Happens?

If a student loan co-signer dies or declares bankruptcy before the loan is repaid, the loan may go into default and wreak havoc on the borrower's credit, a new report finds.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau published the report which found that many private lenders will make the balance of a loan due if a parent, grandparent, or other co-signer becomes unable to share the responsibility of the loan, Reuters reports.

Why does this happen, and what can borrowers do?

Powdered Alcohol's Approval Rescinded by TTB

Looks like the party's over before it even began. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has rescinded its label approvals for Palcohol, a powdered alcohol product.

The TTB stated that the label approvals were somehow issued in error. Apparently, the labels were unclear as to how much powder was in a bag of Palcohol, according to The Associated Press.

At this time, Palcohol has the option of revising and resubmitting its labels, but it should also consider potential legal issues.

Mich. Affirmative Action Decision: 5 Takeaways

Michigan's ban on affirmative action has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, making the practice illegal for public employment, government contracts, and admission to Michigan's public universities.

In a 6-2 ruling issued Tuesday, the High Court determined that Michigan's Proposal 2 did not violate the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection, leaving the federal courts no authority to strike down the law, Reuters reports.

The fight over affirmative action in schools is far from over, but here are five takeaways from today's decision on Michigan's affirmative action ban:

Legal How-To: Fighting a School Suspension

A high school student who was suspended after he asked Miss America to the prom has raised issues about fighting school suspensions.

Patrick Farves' Pennsylvania high school knew he was going to ask Miss America to prom during an assembly, but warned the 18-year-old not to do it. However, Farves went ahead and asked her during a school sponsored Q&A and was given a three-day in-school suspension, according to New York's WNYW-TV.

So if you're a parent, here are some legal tips on how to fight a school suspension:

Supreme Court Calendar: 5 Cases to Watch in April

The U.S. Supreme Court may not have much of April left, but there are some big cases still to be argued and decided.

With six days of oral arguments remaining, here are five Supreme Court cases you should be watching in April:

Survey: The Most Popular Way to Find a Lawyer Is...

Move over, Yellow Pages and word-of-mouth referrals. The most popular way to find a lawyer nowadays is to do what you're doing right now: Go online.

It may be no surprise that in the digital age, the Internet is now the No. 1 option that comes to mind when consumers need to find an attorney, according to a new FindLaw survey.

That's actually quite different from how Americans looked for a lawyer in 2005, when FindLaw asked respondents the same question.

For 4/20, a Status Update on Pot Legalization

While it's technically Easter Sunday, marijuana aficionados will also be celebrating "4/20" -- the (un)official high holiday for weed lovers.

Even though several states have legalized pot to some degree, there are still many legal issues to look out for.

So here's a status update on pot legalization:

Don't Wait Like Valerie Harper to Write Your Will

If you haven't drafted a will yet, what are you waiting for? Actress Valerie Harper answered that question earlier this week, and her experience offers some lessons for us all.

Harper, 74, was diagnosed with inoperable cancer last March. At the time of her diagnosis, Harper's doctors said that she may only have a few months to live.

Surprisingly, Harper told radio host Howard Stern that it wasn't until after her cancer diagnosis that she finally decided to put together a will, ABC News reports. Why did she wait so long?

Is It Legal to Dye Baby Chickens?

As Easter approaches, some traditions may call for dyeing baby chickens in pastel greens, blues, and yellows.

But not only is the practice of dyeing Easter chicks questionably moral, it may be illegal in your state.

Nat'l Pet Owners Day: Top 10 Legal Reminders

Happy National Pet Owners Day!

Anyone who's an animal guardian knows how rewarding a pet's companionship can be. But just like your human best friend, your best animal buddy may also get you into some legal trouble if you aren't too careful.

So in celebration of National Pet Owners Day, let's "paws" for a few moments to share our Top 10 legal reminders regarding pet ownership:

Does 'Liking' a Company Mean You Can't Sue?

Be more careful with your Facebook "likes" -- they may block you from suing a company.

Critics of General Mills' newest legal terms believe that you may lose your right to sue the company simply by pressing "like" on its corporate Facebook page. The New York Times reports that the cereal maker may be the first major food company to seek "forced arbitration" on customers, removing their abilities to seek remedies in court.

Here are a few reasons to think twice before you "like" a company or brand:

Teacher Fired for 'Friending' Students Online

A 79-year-old substitute teacher from New Hampshire was fired after she refused to "unfriend" her students on Facebook.

Carol Thebarge had been teaching in the Claremont, New Hampshire school district for more than 30 years when she was apparently given an ultimatum from school officials to delete her students as Facebook friends or face termination, according to New Hampshire's WMUR9-TV.

School administrators don't argue that Thebarge was a good teacher, but written school policies forced them to let her go.

Nev. Ranch Standoff Ends; Legal Fight Continues

A Nevada rancher has prevailed in a standoff against the federal government over grazing rights for his cattle. But the legal battles are far from over.

Cliven Bundy, 67, attracted the attention of militiamen nationwide after he refused to pay grazing fees to the federal government -- which then seized Bundy's cattle. States' rights protestors and militia members rallied to Bundy's side, escalating tensions until the Bureau of Land Management finally agreed to release his cows on Saturday, reports the Las Vegas Sun.

What legal troubles still await this stalwart rancher?

5 Legal Tips If You're Fighting Over an Estate

Even if there's a will in place, families may still end up fighting over an estate after a loved one passes.

While most people think that the only way to settle estate battles is to go to probate court, there are ways to quash an estate battle without resorting to probate.

Here are five legal tips to consider if you're fighting over an estate.

Should You Include Burial Plans in Your Will?

Besides divvying up your estate to your beneficiaries, there are several other things to think about when executing a will.

One consideration is whether to include a burial plan in your will -- letting your executor know your wishes for your funeral. While including a burial plan in your will may seem like a good idea, your wishes may not be carried out exactly the way you want because your body isn't considered "property" for estate planning purposes.

So what can you do to convey your burial plan preferences?

Legal How-To: Preparing for an IRS Audit

While some people sweat at the idea of preparing for an IRS audit, there's good news: the chances of getting audited are lower than they've been since at least the 1980s.

Budget cuts and new responsibilities are limiting the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS's) resources and ability to police tax returns, so this year, the agency is only going after the "worst of the bad guys," according to the Associated Press.

Although the audit risks are lower this year, it doesn't mean all taxpayers are off the hook. Here's how to prepare for an IRS audit.

What Happens After a Twitter Terror Threat?

Considering a terror threat as a joke on Twitter? You may want to think of a less legally fraught way to entertain yourself.

Twitter user @queendemetriax_ probably wishes she did after American Airlines, the butt of her "joke" terror tweet, informed her that her IP address and details would be forwarded to the FBI, reports the New York Daily News. And that's not all that's happened to the 14-year-old Twitter user since her tweet went viral.

Here's why should you avoid tweeting terror pranks, and what can potentially happen if you send one:

Nat'l Ex-Spouse Day: 5 Ex-cellent Legal Tips

Today is National Ex-Spouse Day. And yes, it's a real thing.

The April 14 "holiday" was apparently created by a minister in Missouri in 1987, in hopes that exes would just play nice with each other, if only for one day, according to Examiner.com. Remember that even if your divorce is a painful experience, your current relationship with your ex-spouse doesn't necessarily have to be.

So without further ado, here are five smart tips for dealing with your ex-spouse:

What Happens When Cops Kill Innocent People?

Another innocent person was gunned down last week by law enforcement officers who mistook him for a stabbing suspect.

John Winkler, 30, a production assistant on Comedy Central's "Tosh.0," was shot and killed by Los Angeles County Sherriff's deputies Monday, after fleeing an apartment where he was being held hostage, reports the Los Angeles Times.

What happens when cops kill innocent people?

Top 10 Tips for Tax Procrastinators

Attention tax procrastinators: You're now just days away from the tax-filing deadline of April 15.

While it probably wasn't the best idea to wait until the very last minute to get your taxes together, there are still some tricks and surprising deductions that can potentially pay off for you.

Here are our Top 10 tips for tax procrastinators:

What Is the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 cemented many of the bedrock federal protections against discrimination in this country.

President Barack Obama delivered a speech Thursday at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum, marking 50 years of the Civil Rights Act opening "doors of opportunity for millions of Americans," including himself, The New York Times reports.

What exactly is the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and what does it cover?

What Is a Public Nuisance?

Mosquitoes and hangnails are everyday nuisances, but legally speaking, what is a public nuisance?

You may have seen the term used in the news, as a Southern California city recently decided that odors from a spicy Sriracha plant are a public nuisance.

So what is the legal effect of being deemed a public nuisance?

What Are the Rules on Cell Phone Use in Court?

There are a lot of rules out there for cell phone use, but what are the rules for using cell phones in court?

Even though you can now cell phones (in "airplane" mode) when you fly, some courts have more stringent rules and may even prohibit cell phones altogether. In one notable case, a lady whose cell phone rang loudly during a trial was held in contempt of court -- though that was later overturned on appeal.

So can you use a cell phone in court? Here are some general pointers:

How Do You Find Free Legal Aid?

Legal services can be expensive, but for some issues, there may be free legal aid available. But how do you find free legal aid?

Here's a general overview about how to qualify for free legal aid and where to find it:

5 Signs You May Need a New Divorce Lawyer

Finding the right divorce attorney is key to resolving your divorce case, and so is knowing when to get a new attorney.

While there are many good divorce lawyers out there, some just fail to meet the mark either professionally or interpersonally. And it may take time before you realize your current attorney isn't the best fit for you.

Here are five signs you may need to search for a new divorce lawyer:

Legal How-To: Paying Your Taxes in Installments

If you owe the IRS money, the April 15th deadline is fast approaching.

It's important to note that even if you get an extension to file your taxes, you still need to pay the taxes owed by the deadline or else you'll get charged interest on any unpaid amounts.

For those unable to pay the IRS in one lump sum, however, there are a few types of installment plans offered. Here's a general overview:

Fighting Deportation: 5 Legal Tips That May Help

In case you missed it, Saturday marked the "National Day of Action for Deportation," when immigration advocates called on politicians to put an end to forcibly removing persons from the United States.

Under the Twitter hashtags #Not1More and #2Million2Many, activists rallied around the common goal of ending the deportation of undocumented immigrants. It's believed that as of this month, the Obama administration will have deported 2 million people since 2009.

Deportation haunts many American immigrants, but here are five legal tips to consider when fighting removal from the United States:

Your Selfies' Metadata May Be Too Revealing

Beyond revealing what you look like, selfies containing metadata can reveal your exact location -- which means the person receiving your selfie can potentially figure out where you live.

Metadata can include GPS information, the date and time the photo was taken, and information on how and what conditions the photos were taken in, according to Cypher Avenue. Simple computer programs, like Apple's iPhoto application, can reveal the metadata information.

So why should you consider removing metadata from your selfies, and how do you do it?

NYC Can Bar Churches From Public Schools: 2nd Cir.

The fight over a New York City policy that bars church services in public schools took another legal twist this week. A federal appeals court held the ban did not violate the right to free exercise of religion, reversing a lower court's ruling.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the ban did not compel NYC officials to make decisions that "constitute excessive entanglement with religion," as a lower court had found.

What does this ruling mean for religious groups and for NYC's public schools?

Top 5 Legal Tips for Your Las Vegas Vacation

People visit Sin City to get a little wild and maybe win some extra cash. But if you aren't careful, your Las Vegas vacation could lead to legal trouble.

Here are our Top 5 legal tips to remember when you're vacationing in Vegas:

Can You Legally Share Your HBO Go Password?

With the new season of "Game of Thrones" set to premiere Sunday, HBO subscribers may be wondering: Can you legally share your HBO Go password with friends and family?

If you take HBO's CEO at his word, the premium cable TV company doesn't care if you do -- as long as it keeps viewers hooked on its programming.

Even if HBO looks the other way, is it technically legal to share your HBO Go password?

Sup. Ct.'s Campaign Contribution Ruling: 5 Key Facts

The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down aggregate campaign contribution limits for individuals, clearing the way for wealthy donors to support more candidates, political parties, and political action committees.

In McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the High Court ruled 5-4 that federal laws which placed a limit on the total amount an individual can contribute to federal candidates, parties, and PACs every two years -- currently $123,200, according to USA Today -- were unconstitutional.

Here are five key points to take away from the Supreme Court's campaign contribution ruling:

5 Legal Tips for Parents of Autistic Children

As many as one in 68 children in the United States may have autism, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

From your child's right to educational accommodations to different types of alternative dispute resolution, parents of autistic children are often unfamiliar with the legal protections in place to protect their children's access to education.

In honor of National Autism Awareness Month and World Autism Awareness Day, here are five introductory and education-focused legal tips for parents of autistic children:

Is 'Just Kidding' a Valid Legal Defense?

Can "just kidding" be an effective legal defense? As we observe the prankiest of "holidays," April Fools' Day, there will be more than one jokester who invokes "JK" as a defense.

While "just kidding" may placate coworkers and friends in social situations, it may have mixed success in court.

Legal How-To: Omitting Relatives From Your Will

If you don't have the best relationship with some of your relatives, omitting those family members from your will is one option to consider.

One example comes from late fashion designer L'Wren Scott. She left her entire estate to her boyfriend, Rolling Stone lead singer Mick Jagger. Noticeably absent from her will are her two siblings.

So if you don't want your relatives to inherit your estate upon your death, here's a general overview of how to omit them from your will: