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  • November 13, 2019

Robert Ferguson, Timothy Dygert Argue Construction Case of First Impression in Maryland Court of Appeals

On November 4, 2019, Robert Ferguson and Timothy Dygert argued a construction case of first impression before the Court of Appeals of Maryland.  The case concerns a critical question of insurance and joint liability that is being watched by contractors, architects, and insurers in the construction industry. The case is Gables Construction, Inc. v. Red Coats, Inc. and concerns a fire in a building under construction that occurred in 2014, and which caused $17.6 million in property damage. Gables Construction (represented by Ferguson, Schetelich & Ballew) was the general contractor.  The construction contract had standard clauses by which the property…

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  • October 15, 2019

Charitable Giving Falling Due to New Tax Law

In 2017, the Tax Cut and Jobs Act gave charities great concern that donations would be falling.  This is because the standard deduction was doubled (to $24,000 for married couples filing jointly) and other deductions (such as State taxes and mortgage interest) were capped.  Fewer people would itemize deductions on their 2018 tax returns, and without a tax benefit to their charitable contribution, they would give less.  New data shows that those fears were well-founded. In 2018, a year of record employment and sustained economic growth, the number of taxpayers who itemized dropped from 46 million to 19 million.  Individual…

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  • October 11, 2019

New Requirements Concerning Pre-Litigation Discovery of Insurance Policy Limits

For a number of years, Maryland has permitted pre-litigation discovery of insurance policy coverage limits under Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 10-1101, et seq., but only with respect to motor vehicle liability coverage.  As of October 1, 2019, claimants can obtain pre-litigation discovery of insurance information for homeowners’ and renters’ insurance policies as well. Although the scope of the statute has been expanded, there is now a new and significant requirement that Claimants must meet in order to obtain pre-litigation documentation of insurance policy limits.  It is no longer sufficient to simply provide basic information in writing…

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  • September 30, 2019

Flying High? Should Airlines fear judicial efforts to check their autonomy?

Airline travel is a distinctive means of transport, with the ability to move great distances, over varied terrain, in relatively short periods of time.  These characteristics which have made airplane travel atypical amongst transportation options, have also made it unique in the law. Specifically, under the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 (“ADA”) federal authority preempts State authority, and the individual States are prohibited from regulating matters having a connection with or reference to airline rates, routes, or services.  See, for example, Morales v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 504 U.S. 374 (1992). However, the airlines’ exemption from State law is not…

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  • September 3, 2019

New Maryland Employment Law Will Expand Employer Liablity for Workplace Harrassment.

Maryland’s new employee harassment law (HB 679) is set to become effective October 1, 2019.  The law dramatically expands the scope of actions that can be brought against employers, and (perhaps most importantly) is much broader than protections now available under Federal law. The new Maryland law covers harassment against workers based on race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex, age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.  It does not have a specific definition of “harassment,” but rather maintains the “judicially determined meaning” – which involves unwelcome behavior, comments, or actions that create a hostile or offensive working…

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  • July 1, 2019

The Supreme Court’s Bladensburg Peace Cross Decision Announces a New Definition For The Establishment of Religion

On June 20, 2018, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in American Legion v. American Humanist Assn., concerning a large cross on public lands, erected as a war memorial.  The nine justices produced eight different opinions (a majority decision, a plurality decision, five concurring opinions, and a dissent).  In so doing, the Court substantially changed the constitutional tests for defining the “establishment of religion” and continued the Roberts’ Court advancement of religious freedom. The First Amendment of the Constitution forbids the Federal Government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.”  Everyone understands that the government cannot formally…

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  • June 17, 2019

A Spouse May Be Barred from Receiving Statutory Share from a Deceased Spouse’s Estate by the Doctrine of Unclean Hands

On May 29, 2019, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland issued an opinion in In the Matter of Robert H. Watkins, Jr. in which the Court denied to a widow a spousal share of the Estate under the common law doctrine of “unclean hands” because the marriage was procured by undue influence.  This was a case of first impression in Maryland. Robert F. Watkins, Jr., was a real estate and racehorse owner in Maryland.  Mr. Watkins was raised by an affluent family in Maryland and he was married three times.  It was during his second marriage to Jasmine Watkins that he…

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  • May 23, 2019

A Primer on Pennsylvania Church Law

Pennsylvania church law is rooted in the history of the Commonwealth, described by the United States District Court as “the woods to which Penn led the Religious Society of Friends to enjoy the blessings of religious liberty.” United States v. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Religious Soc. of Friends, 753 F. Supp. 1300, 1306 (1990).   As such, Pennsylvania state law shows great deference to churches and other religious organizations in all aspects of faith, worship, and sacred practice.  Over the years, however, Pennsylvania courts have increasingly asserted the dominance of secular law over the spiritual in all matters not directly touching…

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  • March 4, 2019

The Form 990 as Public Relations

Form 990 is the Internal Revenue Service filing required annually for most nonprofits. Since 2009, it has included questions that have little to do with the tax rules, but rather concern the organization’s purpose, activities, and governance.  This makes the 990 Return not simply an accounting function.  Instead, the 990 can be a strong public relations statement, or it can be full of damaging disclosures for anyone to read. Unlike almost all other tax returns, Form 990 is a public disclosure document. It is a substantial form, requiring several schedules.  All Form 990s are available for public inspection, and available…

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  • January 14, 2019

Baltimore City Bill to Regulate Short-Term Rentals & Platforms

Baltimore City Bill to Regulate Short-Term Rentals & Platforms Baltimore City is the latest Maryland jurisdiction to pass legislation establishing a comprehensive framework to regulate short-term rental (STR) hosts and platforms such as Airbnb, FlipKey and VRBO. “We applaud lead sponsors Council President Jack Young and Councilman Eric Costello, and the entire Baltimore City Council for passing this important legislation,” said Amy Rohrer, President and CEO of the Maryland Hotel Lodging Association. “We believe this legislation strikes the right balance between preserving home-sharing for Baltimore guests and residents and protecting Baltimore’s hospitality industry from those investors who skirt the law and use short term rental platforms to operate illegal hotels…

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