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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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  • November 29, 2018

Court Affirms Maryland Legislature’s Balance to the Collateral Source Rule

Historically, Maryland judicial proceedings have been bound by the “collateral source rule;” a rule that permits a tort plaintiff to recover the full value of the cost of treatment, and other economic losses, even to the extent that the value of the treatment, etc. exceeds the associated costs actually paid.  Juries are instructed that they are not to reduce an award for medical expenses and earnings losses based on a belief that the tort plaintiff has or will receive reimbursement or payment from another (collateral) source, such as a health insurance policy or paid sick days from an employer.  Likewise, introduction…

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  • November 5, 2018

New Maryland Law Extends Grounds for Divorce Without Separation

Maryland’s family law has been steadily expanding the ability for consenting couples to obtain a divorce with a minimum of expense and litigation.  A Maryland couple with children had to be separated for at least one year before an action for divorce could be filed, even if both husband and wife had agreed to the divorce and its terms. The Maryland legislature has now created a new grounds for divorce by agreement, without separation, even if children are involved.  The new statute (SB120), effective October 1, 2018, provides that divorcing parties with minor children can get divorced with no required…

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  • October 23, 2018

New Maryland Statute Strengthens Condo Associations Against Owners

Owners who do not pay their condo assessments are the bane of condominium associations.  The association can bring a lawsuit or establish a lien on the unit, but that might be of little value against an owner who holds the unit in an LLC and has little equity in the unit because of a substantial mortgage. One tool that condo associations have turned to is to deny the owner’s common element privileges.  Denying use of the pool or common element parking creates an incentive to keep condo assessments paid. In 2017, the Maryland Court of Appeals struck down a condominium…

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  • October 8, 2018

General Contractor Liability for Unpaid Wages

The Maryland General Assembly has passed a new statute that marks a dramatic departure from existing wage and hour requirements for general contractors.  The new statute, which took effect on October 1, 2018, makes general contractors responsible for the failure of their subcontractors to pay their employees the wages they are owed.  The statute is modeled after a recent District of Columbia law, and will significantly alter the long established rules among general contractors, subcontractors, and their employees. The Maryland wage and hour and wage payment laws are designed to ensure that employees are fully and timely paid.  The laws…

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  • August 2, 2018

Submit to an Examination Under Oath or Lose Coverage

  On June 28th, 2018, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals issued an opinion in Dolan v. Kemper Independence Insurance Company, 218 WL 3199548 (Sept. Term, 2017) in which the appellate court affirmed the circuit court’s judgment in favor of the insurer against an insured who refused to submit to an examination under oath (EUO).   Most insurance policies, including the one at issue, contain policy conditions that require a person seeking coverage to cooperate with the insurer in the investigation, settlement, or defense of any claim or suit. These conditions usually require a person seeking coverage to submit to…

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