This is Part 2 of a series of posts analyzing the legal issues in the hit podcast S-Town, produced by the creators of Serial and This American Life. For more background, check out the introduction to the series. Although the events in S-Town occur in Alabama, for the purposes of this series, the legal analysis will be based on general principles of law and Pennsylvania law, since we’re Pennsylvania lawyers.

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t listened to the series yet and want to avoid spoilers, proceed beyond this point with caution.

Chapter 3 picks up after the shocking end of Chapter 2, wherein the listener learns that John B. has killed himself.  It quickly becomes apparent that while John had talked about suicide for years, even keeping a lengthy suicide note on his computer, he did not plan to have his loved ones taken care of after his death.

John B. was the primary care taker for his mother, Mary Grace.  John led people to think she was suffering from some form of dementia, although an actual diagnosis is never given.  When John dies, someone had to care for Mary Grace.  There was a battle between Tyler Goodson, a younger friend and sometime employee of John and Rita and Charlie, cousins of John.  At first listen, Tyler seems to be the reasonable choice.  He knows Mary Grace well, seeing her almost daily.  He had been helping John B. around the property for years.  Tyler considered Mary Grace to be part of his family, even referring to her as Mama.  Rita and Charlie on the other hand, seem to appear out of nowhere and now want to take over Mary Grace’s care.  While the listener is given both sides of the story, it is never clear who has pure motives or who is trying to take advantage of Mary Grace.  Continue Reading Legal Lessons from Hit Podcast, S-Town – Part 2: Power of Attorney

While “made-up holidays” and “National _____ Weeks” have been on the rise, since 1963, the United States Small Business Administration has celebrated National Small Business Week, which recognizes the critical contributions of America’s entrepreneurs and small business owners. That basically makes National Small Business Week an OG of the made-up holiday scene.

Though National Small Business Week is a nationwide event, Lancaster County is home to a thriving small business community with great resources available to entrepreneurs to help start and grow their businesses.

Here are just a few resources available to entrepreneurs in Lancaster County:

Continue Reading Think Lancaster During National Small Business Week

Today is National Superhero Day.  Earlier this month I had the opportunity to accompany one of the partners of the firm to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.  As a young attorney who has not yet had the opportunity to argue at the Superior Court, this was an exciting day for me and I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Attorney Holly Filius’ argument of an appeal of a custody order in front of a panel of three Superior Court Judges was professional but fairly uneventful.  However, as we were leaving we happened upon a group of individuals dressed as superheroes on the Capitol steps.  So what do you do when you run into superheroes after a Superior Court argument?  Have your picture taken with them, of course!

The definition of a superhero according to Webster:

a fictional hero having extraordinary or superhuman powers; also: an exceptionally skillful or successful person

Superior Court Superheroes

Based on this definition, many of you often function as superheroes in some capacity in your life.  You also probably know, live or work with someone who behaves each and every day as a superhero.  Although she did not have a cape, mask or colorful costume, Holly’s skillful presentation at Superior Court made her a superhero for her client that day.  Continue Reading Superheroes of the Pennsylvania Superior Court

Nala Blu
Nala Blu

Earlier this year, much to my husband’s chagrin, we drove over an hour to Maryland to spend a Sunday afternoon at the home of a stranger.  We left with our new four-legged baby- Nala Blu.  More and more people choose to open their homes to rescue pets.  I must admit, it is a pretty fulfilling feeling to know that you were able to save the life of an animal whose fate was once questionable.  Our girl happened to be thrown into a cardboard box with her 8 brothers and sisters and left next to a dumpster in Tennessee.

This Sunday, April 30, just so happens to be “Adopt a Shelter Pet Day.”  Each year, more than 3.2 million pets are rescued from shelters across the US.  Each one comes with their own special story and leaves with their own special place in their new families’ hearts.

If you have ever had a pet, you know that almost immediately they become an integral part of your family, and are treated just like (or maybe even better!) than children.  But what happens to our four-legged kids when a marriage falls apart?  Some may find it hard to believe, but people do fight over their pets.  And unfortunately, in 49 of the 50 states, courts will refuse to step in to help.  In fact, the courts have labeled our beloved pets as nothing more than property.  In its 2002 decision in DeSanctis v. Pritchard, the Pennsylvania Superior Court went so far as to equate a dog to a table or lamp.  I can’t imagine that analogy won the hearts of those who read it.

Under Pennsylvania divorce law, personal property is distributed between the parties as the court sees fit after analyzing a list of factors.  And because a pet is considered personal property, they will be lumped into the “equitable distribution” of all property.  So if you want to keep your furry friend, you may have to give up that new big screen TV. Continue Reading Pet Custody in Pennsylvania

I have written a number of times on this blog about providing reasonable accommodations for “service animals” and “emotional support animals.”  This legal battle continues to affect condominium and homeowner association communities.  A recent case shows a new way that a condominium association could get in trouble for refusing to provide a reasonable accommodation: because of a neighbor’s blog post.

Estate of Walters v. Cowpet Bay West Condominium Association, begins with the “usual” issue.  Two condominium unit owners sought to keep “emotional support dogs” in the condominium.  The condominium’s rules absolutely banned pets.  In this case, the Court determined that the unit owners were disabled, and that the support animals were necessary to allow them the use and enjoyment of the condominium unit.  Because of this, the condominium association was required to make a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act.

The concerning part of this case arises from the blog of some disgruntled neighbors.  The opinion from the United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, quoted a number of blog posts from residents of the community that opposed the emotional support dogs.  One neighbor replied on a blog post “isolate them [the unit owners] completely to their little “dog patch” on the beach and ignore them at every venue or occasion!” Continue Reading Could a Condominium Face Legal Trouble Because of Residents’ Blog Against Emotional Support Animals

For entrepreneurs in states that permit state equity crowdfunding, effective today, a change in federal rules will allow those states to allow entrepreneurs to use social media to solicit out of state residents to raise money for their business ventures. This article posted on LancasterOnline describes the impact of the law change on businesses raising money pursuant to state crowdfunding laws: Law change could boost little-used state crowdfunding laws.

Previously, social media solicitation was prohibited. The revised rules are 17 CFR Sections 230.147 and 230.147A and can be found at the Securities and Exchange Commission’s website.

Pennsylvania does not currently have a state crowdfunding law, but Pennsylvania residents and businesses could be impacted by this change if they are solicited by out of state companies raising capital for their ventures. Since May 2016, Pennsylvania businesses may utilize federal crowdfunding laws to offer equity in their companies. Continue Reading Federal Rule Changes Impacting Equity Crowdfunding and Social Media Use Go Into Effect Today

This is Part 1 of a series of posts analyzing the legal issues in the hit podcast S-Town, produced by the creators of Serial and This American Life. For more background, check out the introduction to the series. Although the events in S-Town occur in Alabama, for the purposes of this series, the legal analysis will be based on general principles of law and Pennsylvania law, since we’re Pennsylvania lawyers.

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t listened to the series yet and want to avoid spoilers, proceed beyond this point with caution.

Chapters 1 and 2 of S-Town focus on what brought narrator/reporter Brian Reed to rural Alabama: John B. McLemore contacts Reed with a rumor that there may have been a murder committed by the son of a wealthy, well-connected business man in town. The son’s name is Kabrahm. The rumor mill is in high gear, and there are reports of a cover-up by local police and that Kabrahm is a brazen alleged killer who is said to be bragging about killing another man in a fight.

John goes into great detail about the rumors that he’s heard, and by talking publicly about the accusations, would Kabrahm have any legal recourse against John?

While this issue is not explored by the podcast, it provides an interesting case study for the law of defamation. Defamation is defined as the action of damaging the good reputation of someone, and includes libel and slander. Libel is when the action is in writing or another print medium, and slander is when the damaging action is verbal. People often get libel and slander confused – a simple device that I used in law school to keep them straight is that slander is spoken. Continue Reading Legal Lessons from Hit Podcast, S-Town – Part 1: Defamation

It may be strange to think about slipping on ice now that the weather is finally warming up.  But a recent court ruling decided the question of who is responsible when a resident slips on an icy spot on a community walkway.  Is it the Builder who installed the walkway, or the Association who failed to treat the ice?

In Davis v. NVR, Inc. a homeowner attempted to sue the developer, builder, snow removal contractor and architect for a slip and fall injury. Davis was walking on the homeowners’ association walking path when she slipped on ice and injured herself.  The ice was present at a low spot in the walkway where the walkway crossed through a wetlands area in the homeowners’ association property. Apparently, many owners pointed out to the homeowners’ association that water puddled up at this spot on the walkway. It sounds like this icy spot was a pretty regular occurrence. Continue Reading Is the Builder Responsible When a Homeowners’ Association Doesn’t Treat Ice?

I continue to talk to friends and neighbors and clients who are confused, concerned, annoyed or worried about the reassessment and what it means for their future tax bills.  I’ve heard a lot of people say that the assessors are off their rockers if they think their home’s value has increased as much as the reassessments show.  It’s obvious the property reassessments are still a hot topic and seem to be on every homeowner’s mind.  I anticipate I will continue to be involved in assessment discussion even after June 1 rolls around and the final notices land in our mailboxes.

If you’ve read my previous blogs, you already know how the reassessments work and have heard my tips to help you decide if an appeal may be your best option.  Hopefully, you’ve taken my advice and started to do some research of your own.

If you think you found something that will help you show that your assessment is off, start preparing for the appeal process now.  If any of the major facts in your assessment are incorrect, you may have a quick and easy challenge. Let’s face it, if your square footage has all of a sudden doubled, it’s an easy appeal.  But most other situations will require some more leg work on your end, and likely a lot more time to prepare.  Continue Reading More About the Lancaster County Reassessment – First Step

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of podcasts. At any given time, my Overcast queue is full of episodes covering a variety of topics, including tech, productivity, true crime, law and music. I also write about them from time to time – check out my posts Podcasts and the Law and The Law According to Planet Money.

Lately, I’ve heard a lot of buzz about a new podcast called S-Town, which is the latest series from the creators of public radio/podcast giant This American Life and the hugely popular podcast Serial.

So what is S-Town about? The show’s website introduces it this way: “John despises his Alabama town and decides to do something about it. He asks a reporter to investigate the son of a wealthy family who’s allegedly been bragging that he got away with murder. But then someone else ends up dead, sparking a nasty feud, a hunt for hidden treasure, and an unearthing of the mysteries of one man’s life.” Continue Reading Legal Lessons from Hit Podcast, S-Town – Introduction