Lancaster Law Blog

Lancaster Law Blog

Lancaster's Legal Link

Happiness After Divorce

Posted in Collaborative Law, Divorce, Family Law

I read a lot of articles online about divorce, and all aspects of it.  Not many of them contain content that is worth sharing. However, I found a recent post on Philly.com that I find insightful and provides a healthy perspective about divorce, and overcoming the emotional aspects of extracting oneself from a bad marriage.

In my practice, I’ve never met a client who has been happy that their marriage failed.  This article recognizes that there is life beyond the divorce process (whether collaborative or litigation), and that life does include happiness. With the right information and team in place, a divorcing spouse can find emotional and financial security, and a future of opportunity and reward.

If you are considering a divorce, are in the midst of the process, or are recently divorced, take some time to consider your vision for your post-divorce life.  Understanding your options when choosing the right team of professionals and friends to surround you and assist with the process may be as important as the process itself.  If you are interested in learning more about different process choices for divorce take some time to look into collaborative divorce.  It is not the correct choice for everyone but, depending on your circumstances, it is an option that you may wish to consider.

 Julie Miller is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Dickinson School of Law and practices in a variety of areas including Collaborative Law and traditional Family Law.

Cost of Gas Down, Reimbursement Rate Up

Posted in Business Law, Taxation

If you have filled up your gas tank recently, turned on the news, listened to the radio, or read a newspaper you’ve probably noticed gas prices are steadily dropping and in a big way.  This time last year the national average price for a gallon of regular gas according to AAA’s gas price tracker was $3.259 and Lancaster County’s average was slightly higher at $3.395 per gallon.  This year, according to AAA’s gas price tracker the national average is $2.082 per gallon of regular gas with Lancaster County again coming in slightly higher at $2.403 per gallon. As other costs of living continue to increase this is welcome news. But wait, there is more good news for those of you who claim your business mileage. Continue Reading

What Is a Privacy Policy and What Does It Do?

Posted in Business Law

Titles can be misleading.  There are many lists and articles online pointing out how audiences can be misled  by movie titles, book titles, headlines and even short titles for legislation.  Which brings me to privacy policies.  According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 52% of polled internet users responded incorrectly to the following:

True or False: When a company posts a privacy policy, it ensures that the company keeps confidential all the information it collects on users.

The correct response to this statement is “False”.

A privacy policy is a statement that notifies users about the website operator’s practices concerning the collection, storage, use and disclosure of information, including personal information. While a privacy policy may state that the company keeps all of a user’s information confidential, the language of the policy itself will govern what an entity may or may not do with the collected information.

In Pennsylvania, there could be criminal repercussions for entities that publish false or misleading statements in their privacy policies. 18 Pa.C.S. Section 4107(a)(10) makes it a crime when an entity in the course of business “knowingly makes a false or misleading statement in a privacy policy, published on the Internet or otherwise distributed or published, regarding the use of personal information submitted by members of the public” with certain limited exceptions.

Depending on the type of business or its target audience, certain federal laws could require certain privacy notices, restrictions and requirements in addition to typical privacy policy terms. For example:

  • The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) requires certain health care and related organizations to include specific privacy notices for online services.
  • The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act governs certain financial institutions regarding their information-sharing practices.
  • The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”) imposes certain requirements upon websites that knowingly collect information about or target children under the age of 13.

Continue Reading

BYOD Language – Smartphones, Tablets and the Workplace

Posted in Business Law

The holidays are coming up and your employees may be getting that coveted new tablet, smartphone, or other mobile device from their Christmas list. Employees increasingly wish to use their own devices, whether it be to use their preferred hardware, operating system, or merely to avoid carrying two or more devices for work and personal use. Does your company have a policy in place to govern the use of such devices for work purposes?

A carefully drafted Bring Your Own Device (“BYOD”) policy can help address the concerns and risks to employers and employees implicated by use of mobile devices at work or outside of the workplace. Below are some of the common issues that can be addressed by a BYOD policy:

  •  rules and expectations regarding the types of information that may be stored or accessed on the device
  • privacy expectations for employee information and business information
  • implementing appropriate security safeguards to protect confidential information
  • employer liability for an employee’s wrongful use of a device
  • financial reimbursement and technical support
  • issues with the device and data when an employee leaves or is terminated
  • potential wage and hour issues for nonexempt employees
  • consequences for noncompliance with the policy and interaction with an employee handbook, a social media policy, or an information technology and communications systems policy

When considering drafting a BYOD policy, it is important to identify the key concerns and expectations of management, employees, and customers or clients of your business. After identifying those concerns, a BYOD policy should be drafted in a clear, concise manner so that everyone involved understands their rights and obligations under the policy.

Continue Reading

Wills for Heroes Poised to Serve Their 1000th Hero

Posted in Estate Planning

On December 6, 2014, the Lancaster County Bar Association will hold another Wills for Heroes event.  The Wills for Heroes program provides estate planning documents to first responders and their spouses.  The program started after September 11, 2001, when it became clear that many first responders did not have basic estate planning documents in place.  Anthony Hayes, an attorney from South Carolina, realized that he could provide these brave people, who put their lives on the line by running into situations most people run from, some peace of mind by helping ensure that loved ones were taken care of in the event something happens to them.  

In 2007, the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division made the Wills for Heroes Program their 2007-2008 service project.  The program has grown tremendously over the years and has spread across the country.  Lancaster County Bar Association started the local program in 2010 and is poised to serve its 1000th Hero at its next event.  I have been fortunate to participate for the last four years as a volunteer and I am always amazed at how grateful the Heroes are to those of us working the event.  But as I’ve heard it said countless times, it is us, the volunteers and community that are grateful to the first responders for all that they do to keep us safe.  If you are interested in learning more about the Wills for the Heroes program or want to see how you can help, go to www.willsforheroes.org for the national website, or for Pennsylvania’s site visit: www.pabar.org/public/yld/Projects/willsforheroesyld.asp.

Lindsay Schoeneberger is an attorney at Russell, Krafft and Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Widener University School of Law and practices in a variety of areas, including Estate Planning and Estate Administration.
Matthew Landis will also participate in the event on December 6, 2014.

Say ‘Ello’ to Public Benefit Corporations

Posted in Business Law

On October 23, 2014, Ello, the burgeoning social network, announced that it converted to a Public Benefit Corporation. Ello describes itself as “a simple, beautiful, and ad-free social network created by a small group of artists and designers.” Ello’s business model appears to fly in the face of the current market trend of monetizing social networks – through the sales of advertising and user data.

In its press release, the founders and investors of Ello said “[t]o assure in the strongest possible way that Ello stays focused on its mission to be a different kind of social network, Ello has converted to a State of Delaware Public Benefit Corporation (PBC). A PBC is a special for-profit company in the USA that operates to produce a benefit for society as a whole. As a PBC, Ello is legally obligated to take its impact on society into account in every decision it makes.”

While Ello used Delaware law to convert to a Public Benefit Corporation, Pennsylvania amended its Business Corporation Law to provide the Benefit Corporation option for local companies effective as of January 23, 2013. In Pennsylvania, a Benefit Corporation shall have a purpose of creating a general public benefit, which means a “material positive impact on society and the environment, taken as a whole and assessed against a third-party standard, from the business and operations of a benefit corporation.” 15 Pa.C.S.A. Section 3302. A Benefit Corporation may also commit to specific public benefit purposes, including:

(1) providing low-income or underserved individuals or communities with beneficial products or services;

(2) promoting economic opportunity for individuals or communities beyond the creation of jobs in the normal course of business;

(3) preserving the environment;

(4) improving human health;

(5) promoting the arts, sciences or advancement of knowledge;

(6) promoting economic development through support of initiatives that increase access to capital for emerging and growing technology enterprises, facilitate the transfer and commercial adoption of new technologies, provide technical and business support to emerging and growing technology enterprises or form support partnerships that support those objectives;

(7) increasing the flow of capital to entities with a public benefit purpose; and

(8) the accomplishment of any other particular benefit for society or the environment.

Pennsylvania Benefit Corporations may be formed as a new entity, or an existing business corporation may convert to a Benefit Corporation.  The Benefit Corporation bridges the gap between nonprofit corporations and domestic business corporations and is a way to publicly display a for-profit business entity’s commitment to one or more of the above public benefits. Although there are no tax benefits as there would be with a nonprofit, a for-profit Benefit Corporation has a publicly-stated, legally-binding commitment to providing one or more benefits to society and does not solely consider maximizing value for shareholders as its sole purpose.  It enables the corporation to ensure it holds itself accountable to its desire to make a positive impact on society and it could play an important role in branding the company for marketing purposes. 

 
Matt Landis is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Widener University and practices in a variety of areas.

Be Careful What You Text

Posted in Family Law

A story about a man who dumped his fiancé via text message found its way into my inbox recently. While arguably poor form to end a serious relationship via text message, that wasn’t what caught my attention. It was the fact that the content of the text message ended up costing the man $53,000.00. In ending the relationship, the gentlemen promised to reimburse his fiancé for money she spent on the wedding preparations and added the line “plus you get a $50,000.00 parting ring”. A few weeks later the gentlemen attempted to retrieve the ring from his now former fiancé, claiming by law, she had to return the ring. However, a New York judge ruled differently. While engagement rings have been found to be conditional gifts that do not vest until marriage, the text message stating the ring was a parting gift changed the nature of the ring and it was no longer seen as a conditional gift.  The court ruled that the jilted woman was the rightful owner of the $53,000.00 ring.

Pennsylvania courts have also held that engagement rings are conditional gifts that do not vest until marriage occurs. Generally, that means if the engagement is broken, the ring goes back to the person who purchased it, regardless of fault. Unless of course the nature of the gift is changed, say by a text message. Be careful what you text, you don’t know what it could cost you.

Lindsay Schoeneberger is an attorney at Russell, Krafft and Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Widener University School of Law and practices in a variety of areas, including Estate Planning and Domestic Relations 

What is Just Compensation?

Posted in Legal Tidbits

Tonight I am speaking at the Pipeline Informational Event sponsored by Lancaster County Conservancy and Lancaster Farmland Trust.  I have been told that some property owners mistakenly believe that if they fail to accept the offer that is made to them or to negotiate an agreement with the pipeline company, their property can be taken without their consent, and that they would be unpaid.  This is totally incorrect.  A governmental agency or public utility can take property through eminent domain only if the landowner is paid just compensation.  

What is just compensation?  Payment of just compensation is what makes eminent domain, the involuntary taking of private property by government, constitutional.  The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution states, “nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” 

“Just compensation” is defined in the Pennsylvania Eminent Domain Code as “the difference between the fair market value of the condemnee’s entire property interest immediately before the condemnation and as unaffected by the condemnation and the fair market value of the property interest remaining immediately after the condemnation and as affected by the condemnation.” 

If only a portion of the property is taken (as is the case with the pipeline easements) just compensation includes another element in addition to compensation for the property taken.  The second element is damages for injury to the remainder of the property after taking, sometimes called severance damages. 

There are many court cases, and federal and state statutes and regulations addressing what is the appropriate just compensation to be paid for condemned property.  Every property is different, and what represents just compensation for one landowner will differ from another. 

The panel of attorneys and appraisers speaking at tonight’s event will address valuation factors determining how much property owners will be paid for the easements sought by Williams to install and maintain the pipeline.  We will also address the temporary construction easements and just compensation for that taking.  Any property owner who has been advised that their property is subject to acquisition by Williams or by any other utility or governmental agency will benefit from obtaining more information about landowners’ rights and condemnors’ obligations before signing any agreement. 

The primary point I want to stress tonight is that a landowner who does not reach an agreement with the condemning agency, such as Williams, must still be paid just compensation for property that is taken. The failure of the parties to reach an amicable agreement does not leave the landowner without remedy or recourse.  The landowner cannot be compelled to agree with the condemnor as to the amount of money paid, and has the right to challenge the amount of just compensation in court.

More information on the event can be found here.  

Christina Hausner is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, PA. She received her law degree from Duquesne University School of Law and practices in a variety of areas.

Criminal Charges, Convictions and Employment

Posted in Employment Law

When I read that Lancaster City Council voted on October 1, 2014 to delete the box inquiring whether an employment applicant had been convicted of a crime from Lancaster City’s employment application form, it reminded me of how conflicted our positions are on criminal activity and employment. 

The “Ban the Box” movement is a nationwide effort to reduce the effects of criminal convictions on employment. At the same time that Council is explaining that taking this action is necessary to give people a fair chance for a job, others are criticizing NFL officials for failing to ban football players from the League when accused of off-field violence, sometimes before they are even charged, much less convicted. Is domestic violence different from other crimes, or are football players different from Lancaster City employees?  What does this mean for other employers?

Pennsylvania’s Criminal History Record Information Act provides that an employer may consider felony and misdemeanor convictions “only to the extent to which they relate to the applicant’s suitability for employment." The Act is often cited for the proposition that summary offenses and charges that do not rise to convictions may not be considered in hiring. 

Notwithstanding the Criminal History Record Information Act, each body of the Pennsylvania General Assembly has enacted substantially similar legislation that would require an applicant for a position involving direct contact with children to provide a written statement of whether the applicant “has been the subject of an abuse or sexual misconduct investigation by any employer . . . unless the investigation resulted in a finding that the allegations were false.”  Employers will be asked to indicate whether a former employee “was the subject of any abuse or sexual misconduct investigation.”  This legislation, referred to as “Pass the Trash”, has the admirable goal of protecting school children from sexual abuse. But considering an “investigation” conducted by a prior employer and perhaps in the remote past certainly doesn’t comport with the policy requiring consideration only of criminal convictions, not unproven charges.  See my blog post on Employment Law Lessons from the Penn State Scandal.

Now, Lancaster City Council will consider a resolution calling on other employers to “Ban the Box.”  At the same time, the Pennsylvania legislature may in its few remaining session days enact “Pass the Trash” legislation. This is an interesting area where employers’ obligation to protect workers, customers and students, employees’ civil rights and public policy to employ those who have paid their debt to society intersect. 

Christina Hausner is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, PA. She received her law degree from Duquesne University School of Law and has practiced in the area of employment law for over 25 years.

Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP announces that Matthew J. Landis has joined the firm as an associate

Posted in Outside the Law

Matthew Landis joined Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP in 2014 after several years in private practice with a Harrisburg area firm where he began his legal career as a law clerk while attending law school.  He obtained his B.A. in Political Science in 2007 from Susquehanna University where he played varsity lacrosse for the Crusaders.  He was also a member of the Susquehanna University Hurricane Response Team and participated in several relief trips to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Matt is a 2010 cum laude graduate of Widener University School of Law.  During law school Matt worked as a Westlaw Student Representative for Thomson Reuters, an industry leader in providing information to businesses and professionals.

Matt concentrates his practice in Business Law, Information Technology, Privacy and Data Security, Real Estate and Banking and Finance.  Whether working with an individual, a business owner or executive, he is passionate about identifying and achieving the best result for each client based on their unique needs.  He utilizes technology to increase productivity, research thoroughly and efficiently and communicate effectively. 

Matt is a member of the Lancaster and Dauphin County Bar Associations and the Pennsylvania Bar Association.  He is licensed to practice in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

.