Thursday, December 8, 2016

NHL Expansion Team Faces Trademark Fight

The newest National Hockey League team - the Vegas Golden Knights - is facing a legal battle before its first puck even drops on the ice.  The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recently issued an Office Action refusing the team's trademark registration, citing a likelihood of confusion with the College of Saint Rose Golden Knights,

The franchise (which is already selling merchandise with its name and logo) has six months to respond to the Office Action and does not plan to change its name.


"We consider this a routine matter and it is not our intention to reconsider the name or logo of this franchise," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement Thursday. "We fully intend to proceed as originally planned, relying on our common law trademark rights as well as our state trademark registrations while we work through the process of addressing the question raised in the federal applications."

The United States Army has also signaled its opposition to the "Golden Knights" moniker.  The Army's demonstration parachute team has been known as the Golden Knights since 1962, but the name was never protected by federal trademark law.

From the Washington Post:

“For us, the bottom line is the (perceived) connection between the Army and the professional sports team,” [Army spokesperson Alison] Bettencourt said, declining to answer whether the Army will ask the Vegas Golden Knights to change their name before the military’s review is completed.
“Our interest in this announcement is meant to protect the proud history of the Army’s Golden Knights and their vital role in telling the Army story and connecting America with their Army,” Bettencourt told the [Fayetteville] Observer.

For comparison, the Columbus Blue Jackets own numerous trademarks, including registrations for CBJ, Blue Jackets, Let Fandom Ring, We Are The 5th Line and a team logo featuring a cannon.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Nine to Five? The Uncertainty of Federal Overtime Regulations

On November 22, 2016, a federal judge in Texas granted a nationwide injunction to prevent implementation of new federal overtime regulations doubling the minimum salary of exempt employees.The ruling, which was issued only days before the rule was to become effective, has created uncertainty for many businesses.

First, it is important to note that this preliminary injunction is only a temporary hold on the overtime rule. The regulation may be implemented in the future, but given potential appeals by the Labor Department, as well as possible changes under the incoming Trump Administration, it is impossible to know when, if ever, the rule may become effective.

What should employers do in the meantime?  At least three general recommendations are in order:
  1. Continue to comply with the existing overtime regulations.  Because the new regulation is not in effect, employers are not required to pay overtime wages as provided under the new rule.
  2. Assume that the new regulation will be implemented in some form, and begin planning accordingly. For instance, our recommendation is that all employers keep detailed records of employees’ hours, whether those individuals work full-time, part-time, or volunteer. Likewise, it is a good time to update employee job descriptions, company policies, and employee handbooks to include specific procedures and guidelines for working overtime (even including such issues as smartphone usage).
  3. If a business has already advised employees about the salary increase or has actually implemented the increase to keep up with the new federal regulation, it may be best to uphold those changes. Although businesses are not required to do so, honoring such a commitment encourages a relationship of good will between employer and employee. In these cases, employers may wish to consider a written agreement in which the employer will pay overtime wages to those employees who would have been eligible under the new regulation for a limited time period in the discretion of the employer.  
More suggestions are available at The Ohio Employer's Law Blog or The Employer Law Report.

Friday, October 7, 2016

If I Only Had the Words: Billy Joel's Relevance to Attorneys

Too often, the legal profession relies on specialized language (think of terms like jurisdiction, quitclaim, and fiduciary) without considering that such terms may confuse and discourage clients or other non-professionals. Whether addressing a court or a layperson, it is essential for attorneys to communicate well.

This weekend, attorney Christian Brill will discuss this important issue using an unlikely source - the music of Billy Joel. The presentation is part of “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me”: The Music and Lyrics of Billy Joel, a scholarly symposium to discuss the impact of the Piano Man.

Brill's presentation will discuss the need for effective legal communication and how the lyrics of Billy Joel have been used in legal writing and opinions to interest, persuade, and illuminate readers. For example, judges have incorporated Joel lyrics into opinions on such varied matters as child support (“I Go To Extremes”) and arson (“We Didn’t Start The Fire”).

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Changes to Public Records Laws Take Effect Sept. 28

Under Ohio's Public Records Law, any Ohioan may request copies of public records from a public office.  If a proper request for records is denied, the citizen can petition a court to order the release of the records.

However, new legislation passed by the General Assembly - the first of its kind in the country - now gives Ohioans a more streamlined and cost-effective way to obtain these records in case of a denial.

From the Columbus Dispatch:

On Sept. 28, the Ohio Court of Claims will begin accepting complaints on the refusal to release records by government at all levels, from townships to the state.

The law, the product of legislation from Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, will send complaints to a mediator who will work with citizens and government officials in an attempt to reach a resolution.

If no agreement is reached, a special master will rule within seven days whether government was legally correct in denying a records request or broke the law and must hand over the records.

In order to file an appeal, a citizen must file a complaint form and copies of the records requests and governmental denials, along with a filing fee of $25, with the county court of common pleas. 

The 2016 Ohio Sunshine Laws Manual, published by the Public Records unit of the Ohio Attorney General's office, provides an excellent overview of Ohio's public records laws.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Faith-Based Discrimination in Hiring

Can a faith-based organization refuse to hire employees who do not share its faith?

Section 702 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e) exempts religious organizations from the prohibition against discrimination in employment on the basis of religion. (Ohio has a similar statute.) Therefore, if an organization is religious for purposes of the statute, it can restrict employment to those of a certain religion in order to carry out its activities.

In order to qualify for the exemption, the organization must be primarily religious.  The definition is not included in the statute but has been explored by the courts.  For example, a 2010 federal case involving the relief and development organization World Vision examined if the organization is 1) organized for a self-identified religious purpose; 2) engaged in activity that is consistent with and furthers that purpose; and 3) holding itself out to the public as religious.

This exemption also extends to permit a religious organization to discriminate in hiring for its nonprofit secular activities, even if the employment is not primarily religious.  For example, in 1987, the Supreme Court ruled that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints were permitted to terminate a non-Mormon employee of a nonprofit gymnasium which it controlled.

Religious organizations should be sure that all documents (from employment agreements to corporate articles) consistently reflect the organization's nature as religious and emphasize that all its activities are designed to further the organization's purpose.

More information regarding religious discrimination in the workplace is available from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Ohio Doubles Film Tax Credit

In good news for Ohio filmmakers, the General Assembly recently passed legislation to double Ohio's film making tax incentive in order to encourage big-budget films to be shot in the Buckeye State.

From the Columbus Dispatch:

The legislation, passed by the Ohio General Assembly and signed by Kasich last month, will go into effect at the end of September. In addition to doubling the incentive cap, the law removes the $5 million cap for each project and raises the incentive rate to 30 percent of production dollars spent in Ohio.

Since 2011, when the state increased the tax credit to $20 million, 1,729 full-time jobs have been created and more than $400 million in total economic impact has been generated, according to the Ohio Department of Development.

In addition to the state tax credit, Section 181 of the Internal Revenue Code includes various federal incentives for filmmakers. Congress has extended these incentives through the end of 2016.

A previous blog post has additional information on the tax incentives available to filmmakers.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Just The Facts, Ma'am: Recording an Affidavit Related to Title

Ohio law permits anyone knowledgeable about facts which may affect the title to property to record an Affidavit of Facts Relating to Title with the county recorder.  This affidavit serves as evidence of facts and matters that have a bearing on title to the property.

The statute allows the affiant to state facts about a wide variety of matters, such as birth and death, the identity of parties, possession of the property, the location of physical features such as fences or streams and, most broadly, "[t]he happening of any condition or event that may create or terminate an estate or interest" in the property.

An Affidavit of Facts Relating to Title warns potential purchasers that another party may have an interest in the real estate.  Before purchasing a property, it is wise to do a comprehensive title search to ensure that you will receive clean title to the real estate.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Ohio Real Estate Tax Exemptions For Places Of Worship

Article XII Sec. 2 of the Ohio Constitution permits the enactment of general laws exempting from taxation public school houses, houses used exclusively for public worship, institutions used exclusively for charitable purposes, and public property used exclusively for any public purpose. Pursuant to this authority, the Ohio Legislature enacted Ohio Revised Code (the “ORC”) §5709, “Taxable Property – Exemptions.”

Church tax exemptions are found in ORC §5709.07. The ORC defines “Church” to mean a fellowship of believers, congregation, society, corporation, convention, or association that is formed primarily or exclusively for religious purposes and that is not formed for the private profit of any person. R.C. §5709.07(D)(1). A church can be exempt from taxation under ORC §5709.07(A)(3) if the real property owned and operated by the church is “used ordinarily for public worship.” Beth Hamidrosh Hagodol v. Kinney, 16 Ohio App. 3d, 474 N.E.2d 658 (1984).

There are a few important mentionables: (1) A church that is both a religious institution and a charitable institution cannot receive both tax exemptions under ORC §5709.12 and §5709.121. Mt. Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church v. Kinney, 19 Ohio App. 3d 267, 483 N.E.2d 1199, 1984 Ohio App. LEXIS 11301 (Ohio Ct. App., Montgomery County 1984); (2) Property which is owned by a church and leased to another church for church purposes is exempt from taxation. New Jerusalem Soc. v. Richardson, 10 Ohio N.P. 214 (1910); (3) Partial exemptions are allowed - that is, ORC §5713.04 permits real property to be split into “exempt” and “nonexempt” if those parts can be precisely delineated (i.e., first floor and second floor). Faith Fellowship Ministries, Inc. v. Limbach, 32 Ohio St. 3d 432, 513 N.E.2d 1340, 1987 Ohio LEXIS 403 (Ohio 1987); (4) Where a church is being reconstructed (i.e., torn down and rebuilt) and if within a reasonable period of time, the church does not lose its tax exemption. In re Ohave Scholem Congregation, 156 Ohio St. 183, 46 Ohio Op. 56, 101 N.E.2d 767 (1951); (5) Lastly, if a church purchases vacant land with the intent to use the property exclusively for public worship and there is evidence of prepared plans and available funds that establish this intent, then that land is entitled to a tax exemption. Peoples Faith Chapel, Inc. v. Limbach, 18 Ohio St. 3d 236, 480 N.E.2d 781, 1985 Ohio LEXIS 442 (Ohio 1985).

Traditionally, places of “public worship” are often thought of as churches, synagogues, and the like. In other words, they are physical, tangible places where people go to worship. However, the Ohio Supreme Court recently ruled that “public worship” can also extend to property owned to further gospel through music, preaching and teaching radio programs. Specifically, Christian Voice of Central Ohio, most famously known for their radio station, WCVO’s 104.9 “The River,” was granted a tax exemption for the property upon which their radio stations existed upon. In the opinion, Justice Sharon Kennedy wrote that Christian Voice functioned as a place of “public worship” because the non-profit dedicates all its land and buildings to charity and religion -- it has all the necessary attributes of a church, minus the physical presence of a traditional church. Ultimately, the Court interpreted ORC §5709.07 broadly and held that institutions can embody and perpetuate the meaning of “public worship” even though they may not have the physical presence of a church on their property.

The information presented is for information purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice, and it should not be acted upon as such. It also does not constitute advertising or solicitation.

This post was prepared with the assistance of Lauren Augostini, a student at Capital University Law School.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Negative Online Reviews: What Can You Do?

Recent studies have found that 88% of customers have been influenced by an online customer service review and that almost half of job seekers had researched companies on GlassDoor, an online company review site.  If these reviews are negative (and particularly false), however, they can have a lasting negative impact on your business.

In some cases, businesses may have a claim for defamation against individuals who post false negative reviews online.  Ohio courts have defined defamation as follows:

"Defamation is the publication or communication of a false statement of fact that injures someone by adversely affecting the person's (1) reputation, (2) business, or (3) position by exposure to public hatred, contempt, ridicule, shame, or disgrace. The essential elements of a claim for defamation are that (1) the defendant made a false statement; (2) that false statement was defamatory in the sense that it reflected unfavorably on the plaintiff's character or injured his trade or business; (3) the statement was published or communicated; and (4) the defendant acted with the necessary degree of fault."  Fuchs v. Scripps Howard Broad. Co., 170 Ohio App. 3d 679.

The Columbus Dispatch recently reported on a lawsuit between a tenant accused of making defamatory comments that injured the landlord's business.

[James] Raney was a tenant at the Meridian Apartments in the Fifth by Northwest neighborhood of Columbus, then owned by Connor Group. While living there, he commented online about what he saw as conditions that fell short of the “luxury” described in marketing materials.

He moved out the complex but continued blogging about Connor Group.

Connor Group said Raney’s claims were false and harmful to the company, while Raney and his attorney argued that the online postings were constitutionally-protected opinion.

As in this case, the most difficult questions are often: 1) Were the negative statements presented as fact or opinion? and 2) Did the statements result in actual damages to the business?  

If your business has been adversely affected by negative online reviews, please contact our firm to discuss the best course of action. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Ohio Real Estate Tax Exemptions For Charitable Uses

Article XII Sec. 2 of the Ohio Constitution permits the enactment of general laws exempting from taxation public school houses, houses used exclusively for public worship, institutions used exclusively for charitable purposes, and public property used exclusively for any public purpose. Pursuant to this authority the Ohio Legislature enacted Ohio Revised Code (the "ORC") §5709, "Taxable Property -- Exemptions."

The exemption for charitable uses is found in ORC §5709.12 and §5709.112. To be exempted from taxation under ORC §5709.12, the property must (1) belong to an institution and (2) be used exclusively for charitable purposes. True Christianity Evangelism v. Zaino, 91 Ohio St.3d 117, 118, 2001-Ohio-295, 742 N.E.2d 638, 639 (2001) Black's Law Dictionary (6 Ed.1990) 800, defines “institution” as: “An establishment, especially one of eleemosynary or public character or one affecting a community. An established or organized society or corporation. It may be private in its character, designed for profit to those composing the organization, or public and charitable in its purposes, or educational (e.g. college or university)." Any institution, irrespective of its charitable or non-charitable character, may take advantage of a tax exemption if it is making exclusive charitable use of its property. Wehrle Foundation v. Evatt (1943), 141 Ohio St. 467,[26 O.O. 29], 49 N.E.2d 52.

Statutes granting tax exemptions are interpreted strictly (Cincinnati Community Kollel v. Testa, 135 Ohio St.3d 219, 2013-Ohio-396, 985 N.E.2d 1236, ¶ 17.), so it is critical to ensure that the charitable use is both exclusive and charitable. If any part of the property is used for the purpose of profit making, that part of the property will be denied the exemption. Exemptions can be split if there is both an exempt and non-exempt use, and such splits will usually be made on a pro-rata basis based on the square footage or acreage used.

Sometimes the charitable use being made of the property is being made by an institution other than the title holder. This might be the case if a tenant is making an exempt use. Ohio Revised Code §5709.12(B) states that “[r]eal and tangible personal property belonging to institutions that is used exclusively for charitable purposes shall be exempt from taxation.” The words "property belonging to institutions" means ownership. Humphries v. Little Sisters of the Poor, 29 Ohio St. 201, 207 (1876). Possessing a leasehold interest, even under a long-term lease, is not ownership. See, e.g., Toledo v. Jenkins, 143 Ohio St. 141, 158–159, 54 N.E.2d 656 (1944); Evans Invest. Co. v. Limbach, 51 Ohio App.3d 104, 106, 554 N.E.2d 941 (10th Dist.1988). However, separating ownership and use is not be fatal to the exemption if the situation fits under ORC §5709.112. There, in certain cases exemptions can be granted for the use tenants make of the property if the property belongs to a charitable institution.

Reminder: The information presented is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice, and it should not be acted upon as such. It also does not constitute advertising or solicitation.

Monday, May 16, 2016

All In The Family: Do Job Applicants Match Your Company Culture?

According to a recent survey by the Conway Center for Family Business, about two-thirds of local family-owned businesses plan to increase hiring this year despite worries about finding qualified workers.  One of the major difficulties identified by leaders was finding applicants who fit with the existing company culture.

From the Columbus Dispatch:

For the first time, the survey found a growing number of companies that said finding someone who was the "right fit" for the culture of the business was a challenge. These would be applicants who embody the value and the culture of the business. 
The problem with hiring partly reflects a growing economy in central Ohio and family businesses that are doing well enough that they need to add staff. It also reflects the region's low 4.4 percent jobless rate. 

Among the survey's other findings:
  • 90% of respondents said the local economy was going somewhat well or very well.
  • After concerns about hiring, businesses expected to face challenges related to the costs of health care and materials.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Money Don't Matter 2 Night?: Prince Estate Complicated by Lack of Will

In 1991, recording artist Prince released a song entitled "Money Don't Matter 2 Night" with these lyrics:

Money don't matter tonight 
It sure didn't matter yesterday 
Just when you think you've got more than enough 
That's when it all up and flies away 

These lyrics may now have a new meaning for Prince's relatives. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars in assets, the music star apparently never took the time to make a will before he died last month at age 57.

From the New York Times:

Prince died without a will, according to court documents filed by his sister on Tuesday, potentially causing big complications for that star’s sprawling financial estate and musical legacy. 

In probate documents filed with the Carver County District Court in Minnesota, Tyka Nelson, 55, Prince’s sister, said that her brother died without a spouse, children or surviving parents, and that “I do not know of the existence of a will.” 

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

If Prince left no trust or will, state law determines how the assets will be distributed. Attorneys say the more money there is at stake, the more likely there will be a dispute that could take years to sort out. 

For federal tax purposes, the only thing that matters is the value of the estate the day Prince died. By any measure, that’s a bundle. 

In addition to Prince's physical assets - such as homes or recording equipment - the star owned intellectual property rights such as song copyrights or the trademark to his "Love Symbol", as well as many unreleased songs. Each of those assets must be valued and then distributed as provided by the laws of Minnesota.

While most of us have assets far less than those of Prince, this is yet another reminder of the importance of considering your end of life wishes and consulting an estate planning attorney to ensure that those wishes are carried out.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Ohio State Seeks to Trademark "Woody Hayes"

The Ohio State University has filed a trademark application to protect its use of the name of Woody Hayes, the legendary coach of five national championship-winning Buckeye teams.

While this marks the second Ohio State coach whose name has been trademarked by the university — Urban Meyer's name was officially registered a year ago — the need for the designation predates the Meyer registration by many years, said Rick Van Brimmer, director of trademark and licensing services at Ohio State.

"We've been using Woody's image and name on products for years," Van Brimmer said. "But we've had an increasing number of people using our marks. This helps us in the long run."

The use of Hayes' name "started very innocently, with 'Woody' on the back of a hat, which we called 'the Woody Hat' because it was the kind of hat he wore with the block 'O' on the front," Van Brimmer said.

The trademark application is currently pending before the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Do You Know Your Surface Water Rights?

Spring is coming, and that means a lot of rain in my part of the country. This reminds me of some issues that have come up with clients who were surprised to when their backyards flooded what the law of surface water rights is.

The Supreme Court of Ohio has held that land of a lower elevation is burdened with a "servitude" to receive the natural flow of surface water from land of a higher elevation. That means that your neighbor with the higher ground has an implied right to allow his or her surface water to flow onto your property. But, do you have to take it? Yes ... well mostly. You only have to take that surface water onto your property so long as it comes in its natural state and quantity, and only so long as the flow of that surface water has not been altered by some artificial means. Your uppity neighbor cannot manage his or her flooding problems by building a channel that captures or redirects surface water and then causes it to flow as a stream onto your property.

Somewhat different rules apply if your land is considered to be in an urban location versus a rural location. The cases have not developed distinctions in the definitions of urban versus rural, so it is best to speak to a lawyer if you have questions.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Franklin County Offers New Online Tool to Protect Property From Fraud

Earlier this year, the Franklin County Recorder’s Office announced a new electronic feature to help protect title holders from fraud. The free program, FraudSleuth, permits you to register your name to receive alerts if any activity occurs with respect to property titled in your name. It protects against certain acts of fraud where thieves file deeds to transfer property into their names and then mortgage the property to obtain loans. Properties with no liens are especially at risk. FraudSleuth also allows you to register to receive alerts if there is title activity involving someone else’s name, which is useful for monitoring the title of elderly parents.

More from the Columbus Dispatch:

The system is designed to let consumers know whether a mechanic’s lien has been filed against their home. But it can be used in other ways as well. Because a consumer can get alerts on someone else, it would allow a person, for example, to discover whether an elderly parent unwittingly signed a contract for their home.

FraudSleuth has been helpful, for instance, in alerting homeowners and their families of a rash of reverse-mortgage filings in Michigan, said Jeff Rothenberg of PropertyInfo, the software company hired by the county for the new system.

Because it sends alerts only about something that has already happened, the program can’t, of course, prevent such filings. But you’re a lot better off knowing about a lien the moment it happens instead of discovering it when you’re preparing to sell the home or refinance.

While we have not seen any specific instances of this type of fraud occurring to our clients, we are aware that electronic and identity theft are on the rise. We recommend that our clients sign up for FraudSleuth today in order to protect their title. You can enroll for free by registering on the Franklin County Recorder’s Property Search webpage.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

New Ohio Law Affects Rideshare Drivers

Ridesharing service companies, termed Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft, and their self-employed drivers, are now subject to new laws in Ohio. These new laws which go into effect March 23, 2016 were enacted to address a common “gap” in insurance coverage whereby TNC drivers would find themselves driving uninsured during the point when the driver was logged in to the TNC’s network application but had not yet accepted a ride request. Many private auto insurance providers considered this activity commercial and not covered by the driver’s private insurance policy if the driver was logged in to the TNCs network. The TNC’s own insurance coverage didn’t kick in until the driver accepted a ride request, thus creating an uninsured “gap.”
Under the new law, TNC drivers will be required to maintain minimum coverage during this “gap” period in the amount of $50,000 for bodily injury or death of a person, $100,000 for bodily injury or death of two or more persons, and $25,000 for property damage. Drivers will also be required to maintain minimum coverage of $1 Million, for bodily injury or death of one or more persons and property damage, from the point when a TNC driver accepts a ride request to the point when the last rider has left the TNC driver’s vehicle. Notably, the minimum coverage may be satisfied by either a policy maintained by the TNC driver personally, a policy maintained by the TNC, or a combination of both.
The new law also creates a carve out provision for TNCs whereby the TNC drivers will not be considered an employee for purposes of Ohio law regarding minimum fair wage standards, workers’ compensation, unemployment, semimonthly payment of wages, and whistle blower protection.
The law also requires TNCs to disclose that a driver’s activity as a TNC driver may violate the terms of any lien against the driver’s vehicle such as car loan or lease. Prospective TNC drivers, who now must be at least 19 years old, will also be subject to criminal background checks, including the national sex offender registry, and reviewed for certain traffic and safety violations. The law also creates a zero tolerance standard for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, even when merely logged in to the TNC’s network.
Riders will now be able to see a photo of the driver before entering the vehicle and will also be given the license number in advance.
In sum, TNC drivers will be required to:
  • Carry $50,000/$100,000/$25,000 liability coverage while only logged in to a TNC digital network;
  • Carry 1 Million liability coverage after accepting a transportation request until all passengers have exited the driver’s vehicle;
  • Abstain from consuming any alcohol or drugs of abuse while transporting passengers or even while logged in to the TNC digital network.
TNC drivers should also review carefully the terms of their contract with their TNC to make sure they are properly insured and to confirm driving for a TNC does not violate the terms of either a loan or a lease they may have on the vehicle they use for ridesharing purposes.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

NCAA Tournament to Cost Employers $3.9 Billion in Lost Productivity

Even though the Buckeyes are not participating this March, Ohio employers should not forget about the impact that the NCAA men's basketball tournament can have on the workplace. 

From the Columbus Dispatch:

Distracted workers filling out NCAA tournament brackets and watching games at the office are expected to cost their employers $3.9 billion in lost productivity this week.

That's according to placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which estimates that the average worker will spend three hours of work time on March Madness.

The firm estimates that 20 percent [of] employed Americans could join office pools this year.

As you plan for March, don't forget to check out our trademark and employment tips to help employers manage the madness.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Ohio's D.O.L.L.A.R. Deed Program

The 131st Ohio General Assembly is currently considering new legislation to give individuals and families another opportunity to stay in their homes and avoid foreclosure after default on a mortgage loan.

House Bill 303 would create the D.O.L.L.A.R. Deed Program, established in part by the Ohio Housing Finance Agency. Under the new program, if the borrower defaulted on a mortgage loan, the borrower and lender would enter into an agreement in which the borrower transfers his interest in the property to the lender by way of a deed in lieu of foreclosure. In return, the lender would then rent the property back to the borrower for a specified period of time. During the lease term, the borrower would be able to repurchase or refinance the property.

House Bill 303 was passed by the House on December 8, 2015 and is currently under consideration by the Senate Committee on Financial Institutions.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Is Your Property Fairly Taxed?

Every year, Ohio counties assess a property’s real estate taxes based on the market value the county places upon the property. However, the county's assessed value does not always accurately reflect the property’s true market value.

Ohio law gives property owners the right to challenge the value the county has placed upon their property if they feel it is in excess of the true market value by filing a complaint against the property's value with the county auditor. That complaint must be submitted by March 31, 2016.

If you believe your property is not valued correctly, please contact our office to discuss whether it is in your best interest to file such a complaint, keeping in mind the deadline of March 31, 2016.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Snow Days and Your Business

Should your business pay employees if a blizzard prevents them from working?

From Employers Lawyers Blog:

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), you don’t need to pay non-exempt employees for time not worked, meaning you don’t need to pay non-exempt employees for time missed due to weather-related reasons. This applies whether your business completely shuts down for inclement weather, or if it remains open and individual employees can’t report to work. 
Exempt employees, on the other hand, can’t have their salaries reduced “for absences occasioned by the employer” so if your company closes due to bad weather for less than a full workweek, you must pay exempt employees their full salary for that week. 

Within these broad guidelines, it is advisable to tailor your weather-related policies to your unique business. For example, should nonexempt employees be paid if the business closes early? Can some employees work from home? Under what considerations will the business close? It is essential for your employee handbook to address these and other issues to provide clarity to employees and reduce the potential for misunderstanding or liability.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Star Wars: The Judicial Opinions

Our last post explored how the lens of Star Wars has been used to interpret various aspects of the law. In addition to these broader discussions, judicial opinions themselves are also full of references to the Star Wars franchise.

Some of these are directly related to the Star Wars movies and licensed products, such as this 1977 suit over allegedly derivative toys, in which the court described the characters in great detail:

C-3PO (also "See-Threepio") is a humanoid robot of a gleaming brass- or [744] gold-colored metal. His metal plates overlap at various joints but do not cover his stomach area, through which complicated wiring is displayed. He is a "human-robot relations specialist" and often accompanies R2-D2. Ideal Toy Corp. v. Kenner Prods. Div. of Gen. Mills Fun Grp, Inc., 443 F. Supp. 291 (S.D.N.Y. 1977) 

In a major copyright infringement lawsuit, the court compared the differences between Star Wars and the movie Battlestar Galactica:

To describe STAR WARS as a morality play captures its essence, taken as a whole. The central character of STAR WARS, Luke Skywalker, is flawless, greater, purer than life. The Princess, another important character, is untouchable and unreal; also purer than life, more a symbol than an actual person.
Now, contrast STAR WARS, as I have described it, with BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. The latter is merely a prosaic familiar story of the goods fighting the bads. GALACTICA is no morality play.It is not pure fantasy. It puts very human people, with all their weaknesses and feelings, in a situation we can all relate to, except that the familiar scenes all take place in a space setting. 
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. v. MCA, Inc., 1980 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16637 (C.D. Cal. 1980)

Even in cases unrelated to the movies, a number of judicial opinions have referred to characters from the saga to illustrate points. For example:

Luke Skywalker, the mythological hero:
  • Precisely this reluctance drives many hero stories. Spiderman, Batman and Superman are a prime examples of reluctant heros. So are Luke Skywalker, the Hobbits, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Mere reluctance to take up the mantle of greatness cannot be grounds for copyright infringement. Davis v. ABC, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 76145 (W.D. Mich. July 28, 2010) (copyright infringement)
  • Absolute certainty in matters of paternity, of course, has historically been unobtainable. Think of the characters in classical mythology who discover who their true father was somewhat late in their lives. E.g., Theseus, Arthur, Luke Skywalker. Estate of Carter, 111 Cal. App. 4th 1139 (Cal. App. 4th Dist. 2003) (paternity)
Jar Jar Binks, the symbol of disappointment:
  • The toys customers seek in all these stores are highly differentiated products. The little girl who wants Malibu Barbie is not likely to be satisfied with My First Barbie, and she certainly does not want Ken or Skipper. The boy who has his heart set on a figure of Anakin Skywalker will be disappointed if he receives Jar-Jar Binks, or a truck, or a baseball bat instead. Toys "R" Us v. Ftc, 221 F.3d 928 (7th Cir. 2000) (antitrust) 
Lando Calrissian, the traitor:
  • Capuano promised the others he would "not do anything 'Callrisian-esque,'" which was his way of saying that he would not betray defendants to TestMasters, as the character Lando Calrissian ("the mayor of [13] Cloud City" played by Billy D. Williams) had done in the Star Wars movie The Empire Strikes Back (Lucasfilm 1980). Robin Singh Educ. Servs. v. Blueprint Test Preparation, 2013 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 537 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. Jan. 23, 2013) (unfair competition) 
Obi-Wan Kenobi, the master of diversion
  • Without citation to authority or much supporting argument, Stapleton tries a unique line of attack. He directs the Court for "guidance" to the more detailed requirements of the analogous rule of civil procedure. See R. 45 at 5 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a)(2)(B)). This attempted diversion—the legal equivalent of Obi-Wan Kenobi's "These aren't the droids you're looking for," see Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (Lucasfilm 1977)—is unavailing. United States v. Stapleton, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 108189 (E.D. Ky. July 31, 2013) (expert testimony dispute) 
Darth Vader, the symbol of evil:
  • This case is somewhat akin to deciding a dispute between Darth Vader and the Borg, or if you prefer a classical metaphor, Scylla and Charybdis. Anthony v. Mazon, 2006 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 5625 (Cal. App. 4th Dist. June 27, 2006) (exclusion of evidence dispute)
  • Defendant portrays Officer Fleming as the Darth Vader of High Desert State Prison and the nurse and other correctional officer, both of whom testified they saw the weapon in defendant's shoe, as his minions. People v. Pimentel, 2015 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 3043 (Cal. App. 3d Dist. Apr. 30, 2015) (exclusion of witness testimony)
  • After receiving extensive testimony, the Court notes that Vader does not appear to be anything like the powerful Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Vader, from the epic saga Star Wars. In essence, Vader the dog, appears to be a lovable pet that was rescued from the Humane Society and put to work as a police dog. United States v. McLaughlin, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39402 (D. Utah June 15, 2005) (search and seizure) 
With the enormous box office success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it is likely only a matter of time until a judge incorporates references to new characters Kylo Ren, Rey, or BB-8 into a ruling.