Articles Posted in PRACTICE OF LAW

Boston Accident Lawyer, Keith L. Miller, is investigating potential claims on behalf of individuals who were victims of the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme. Those who had direct investments in Bernard L. Madoff Securities, LLC are limited to the remedies offered in the bankruptcy proceeding now pending in New York. Claims for reimbursement of monies actually invested in the fund up to $500,000 can be recovered through the Securities Investment Protection Corporation (“SIPC”). However, there is an absolute filing deadline of July 2, 2009. 

ponzi.jpgFor those who did not invest directly with Madoff, there may be other potential remedies and sources of recovery available. Civil actions have been commenced against so called “feeder funds”, who filtered investment to Madoff in exchange for lucrative management fees. Such suits are now pending in state court in Connecticut, Florida, California and Arizona. The list of Defendants includes Tremont Capital Management, Inc., Fairfield Greenwich Group and Boston based Cohmad. Securities Corporation. The principals of these feeder funds have been sued as well and efforts are being made to tie up assets in the event of an eventual recovery.

 

images.jpgIn essence, the suits allege that these hedge funds failed to perform any meaningful investigation, due diligence or oversight of the Madoff fund, which reported consistent double digit gains year after year, notwithstanding questions about the trading strategies allegedly employed or the fact that Madoff enforced a veil of secrecy over his actual trading activity. In fact, it appears that there was no such strategy whatsoever.

 

The accounting firms who perform regular audits of these feeder funds have not been spared, having also been named as defendants in these civil actions. It appears that this is just the beginning and the dragnet will widen in an attempt to uncover insurance monies, which might be available to aid in the recovery of the millions in lost investments.

Several states have also joined in, filing administrative or other proceedings on behalf of defrauded citizens. In particular, the Massahusetts Secretary of State has filed administrative proceedings against Cohmad Securities and Fairfield Greenwich Group, its principals and affiliates. The attorney general of New York has also filed an action against J. Ezra Merkin and his Ascot Funds, alleging that he also clandestinely invested client funds with Madoff, while purporting to be trading on their behalf himself.

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(This Boston Accident and Injury Lawyer Blogpost is the Last in a Three Part Analysis of a Recent U.S. Appeals Court Ruling involving defamation, public officials and the news media Click here to view Part One and Click Here to view Part Two)

PART THREE : THE COURT RULES ON THE DEFAMATORY BROADCAST

As stated previously, under Maine common law, a plaintiff alleging defamation must show a false and defamatory statement published without privilege to a third party resulting in harm to the plaintiff.

HAMSTEAK.jpgIn the lower court proceeding, the defendants had contended that the various statements made on the show and attributed to Levesque either were not defamatory or, because Levesque had stipulated that he was a public official, it could not be shown that they were made with actual malice. The district court held that the statements were protected on multiple grounds. It found the “hate crime” comments substantially true and mention of the “anti-ham response plan” protected as “rhetorical hyperbole”.

However, the lower court determined that the ham sandwich and the “ham is not a toy” comments were materially false, reasonably susceptible of a defamatory meaning, and highly offensive. Yet the court believed that Levesque had failed to demonstrate that the defendants had acted with constitutional malice when they made the defamatory comments.

The Court of Appeals agreed, finding that most, but not all of the statements attributed to the Plaintiff were largely true, although laced with “imaginative expression” or “rhetorical hyperbole”, which it concluded were protected speech.

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(This BlogPost written by Boston Personal Injury Attorney, Keith L. Miller, is the Second in a Three Part Analysis of a Recent U.S. Appeals Court Ruling involving defamation, public officials and the news media Click here to view Part One)

PART TWO – FOX & FRIENDS READS AND REACTS

On April 24, a line producer for “Fox & Friends” discovered the Plagman article. The Fox News Research Department read the Plagman article and conducted further research, and discovered additional information, including the original Lewiston Sun Journal story. The Plagman articles and other research materials were delivered to the show’s Doocy and Kilmeade. Doocy used Google News to conduct additional research, also found the Plagman article and Sun Journal stories, and decided to use the story as part of its show.

ham sandwich.jpgDuring the three-hour show, Doocy and Kilmeade repeatedly raised the April 11 incident, ridiculed Levesque, and blamed him for the handling of the incident. They reported as true several of the fabricated quotations that Plagman attributed to Levesque including the fact that the student had placed a ham sandwich on the table, the “ham is not a toy” statement and also attributed to Levesque a false statement comparing the incident to Mogadishu. Throughout the show, Doocy and Kilmeade repeated these falsified quotations.

After the April 11 incident, Levesque had received derogatory and threatening emails and phone calls from persons who learned about the incident and the student’s suspension. Of seventy-five emails submitted to the district court, sixty-nine were written after the “Fox & Friends” cablecast. As the result of these incidents, he elected to bring an action for defamation.

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(This Blogpost is the First in a Three Part Series by Boston Injury Lawyer, Keith L. Miller, who analyzes an interesting recent U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals Ruling involving defamation, public officials and the news media. Click Here to view Part Two)

PART ONE – THE SCHOOL HATE CRIME INCIDENT MAKES LOCAL NEWS  

The U.S. District Court of Massachusetts has affirmed a lower Court’s summary judgment ruling that Fox News Network, LLC (“Fox”), and “Fox and Friends” television personalities, Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade, did not defame the Superintendent of the Lewiston, Maine public schools during a morning show, which ran in April, 2007.

FOX AND FRIENDS.jpgThe story involves an incident, which took place on April 11, 2007, when a student at the Lewiston Middle School placed a bag containing leftover ham on the cafeteria table where Somali Muslim students were sitting for lunch. The Somali students reported the incident, which resulted in an investigation and suspension of the offending students. The incident was classified as a “Hate Crime/Bias” in the school’s computer system, and a police report was filed characterizing the incident as “Crime: Harassment/Hate Bias.”

The Plaintiff, Leon Levesque, was the superintendent of the Lewiston School System. He was informed of the suspension and endorsed the decision. The following week, a reporter for the Lewiston Sun Journal, interviewed Levesque for an article she intended to write about the incident, which was published on April 19, 2007. The article included quotations from Levesque, describing the offending student’s conduct as “a hate incident”.
 

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This Blogpost by Boston Personal Injury and Accident Laywer, Keith L. Miller, anaylzes a battle between insurers over costs of construction accident.

Following a construction site accident where an insurer of a subcontractor refused to defend the general contractor, who then successfully filed a declaratory action to force the subcontractor’s insurer to share in the defense and settlement costs of the action, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has refused to permit the general’s insurer to recover the attorney’s fees incurred in successfully bringing its declaratory judgment action.
 
zurich.jpgIn January of 2001 a worker fell and suffered injuries while employed on a project in Uxbridge, Massachusetts. A year later he brought a negligence action against the general contractor and another subcontractor on the project. The general contractor was insured under a general liability insurance policy with Zurich American Insurance Company (Zurich). The subcontractor also had a policy issued by Worcester Insurance Company (Worcester), and was required by contract to list the general as an additional insured.

Upon filing of the complaint, the general called upon the subcontractor and Worcester to defend. They refused and Zurich defended. Zurich also brought a declaratory judgment action in the general’s name, seeking indemnification from the subcontractor and Worcester for their refusal to defend. Ultimately, the negligence case settled, with the general contributing $75,000 to the settlement.

The general contractor prevailed in the declaratory judgment action and Worcester was ordered to pay one half of both the settlement amount and the costs of defending the negligence action. However, the general contractor also sought an award of the attorney’s fees incurred to file and prevail in the declaratory judgment action, even though it was evident that it was Zurich who had paid the fees. The Superior Court judge denied the request and the general contractor appealed.

The SJC affirmed and discussed at length its reasoning. Massachusetts generally follows the customary approach to the award of attorney’s fees in civil litigation, known as the “American Rule”. In the absence of some statute or other rule, successful litigants must nonetheless pay their own attorney’s fees and expenses.

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(This is the second post of a blog, from Boston Personal Injury Lawyer, Keith L. Miller, which considers protections afforded under a Massachusetts statute intended to protect non-profit entities from liability from accidental personal injury)

PART TWO – GL C. 231, S. 85V CONSIDERED 

General Laws c. 231, § 85V limits the liability of non profit sports programs to third parties for accidents and injuries arising from the conduct of such programs. However, the limit on liability is not absolute. Specifically, liability can arise for conduct relating to the care and maintenance of real estate which the association uses in connection with a sports program or related activity (G.L. c. 231, § 85V(iii)).

goal-post2.jpgThe Plaintiff articulated two reasons why the immunity provided by the statute should not apply to his facts. First, he contended that the statute did not apply because he was neither a participant, nor a spectator at an organized game or practice at the time of the accident. The Court rejected this theory on the basis that the immunity was not controlled by the status of the individual who was injured, but rather on the question of what was the status of the organization. If the injury arose from the conduct of the sports program, the immunity applied. Here, the placement of the goal posts on the field was irrefutably a part of the conduct of its soccer program.

The Plaintiff also contended that the real estate exception in the statute imposed liability on the association. He argued that the associations were negligent in their care and maintenance of Haskell Field by permitting improperly secured goal posts to be present on the property, and that this dangerous condition caused him serious harm. The Court rejected this argument, and an analysis that followed the common law duty of landowners to invitees with regard to unnatural and dangerous conditions on the premises.

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This is the first of a two part Blogpost,which looks at a Boston area personal injury case where the insurer avoided payment for an accident involving a youth soccer player injured by a goal post.

PART ONE- THE UNDERLYING FACTS

In this recent appellate decision, a participant in a Sudbury youth soccer program who suffered a personal injury as the result of an accident in which a metal goal post flipped over onto him during a team practice cannot sue for any alleged negligence arising from the improper placement of the posts. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed a Superior Court decision that a Massachusetts Statute, G.L. c. 231, s. 85V, protected the non-profit association from such suits. 

soccer posts.jpgThe Plaintiff was a twelve year old who in April, 1998, was a participant in a program run by the Sudbury Youth Soccer Association, Inc. His team practiced and played games on a field in Sudbury, Massachusetts. The association had acquired metal goal posts and nets that were used for both practices and organized matches. Welch was injured when a goal post flipped over, striking and fracturing his right leg.
 
The Plaintiff filed an action against the Sudbury association in 2006, alleging it had negligently failed to maintain the goal posts in a safe and secure condition, and to warn him of the danger that existed if the goal posts were not properly anchored to the ground. Welch further alleged that he was seriously injured as a result of the association’s careless and negligent conduct.

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A worker was entitled to medical and disability payments under the Massachusetts worker’s compensation statute for a work related injury even though there was evidence in his own medical record that he had a pre-existing back condition.

The Massachusetts Appeals Court determined that the insurer for the employer had failed to produce evidence to overcome the opinion of the worker’s chiropractor that the injuries were primarily related to the new injury, rather than the pre-existing degenerative back condition, as was required under G.L. c. 152, s. 1(7A).

On December 31, 2004, Scott MacDonald was cleaning up a worksite at the end of a work day. While lifting buckets of waterproofing, he felt a tightness in his back, which did not seem sufficiently serious at the time to prevent him from completing his workday. However, the following day the pain became excruciating, and he sought treatment with a chiropractor, which continued for the next four months.

The chiropractor also recommended that he obtain an MRI, which revealed disc herniations and degenerative changes. MacDonald then sought treatment from a group of neurologists, whose reports referenced prior back injuries and treatment, and made a diagnosis of pre-existing degenerative disc disease. The records show that MacDonald’s condition was improved in March, 2005 and he was back to work by the beginning of May, 2005.

McDonald sought benefits for a work related injury, which his employer’s insurer challenged on the basis that his injury was pre-existing and not work related. An administrative judge heard MacDonald’s claim and awarded medical benefits, temporary total incapacity from January 1, 2005, to March 15, 2005, and temporary partial incapacity from March 16, 2005, until April 30, 2005.

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textron.jpgInternal documents prepared by a corporation, which analyze the potential success of IRS challenges to its tax returns, is protected work product and not discoverable by the IRS as part of a subsequent investigative subpoena, according to the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals.

In this case, Textron, Inc. and its various subsidiaries had prepared internal tax accrual workpapers, which listed positions the company was taking on its 2001 IRS returns, and which might require the company to set aside a reserve. These positions were then analyzed by Textron attorneys who estimated a percentage likelihood that the position would not prevail if challenged by the IRS. Textron had also produced these workpapers to its independent auditor, Ernst & Young.

The IRS had issued an administrative summons to obtain the documents, which Textron refused to produce, claiming various legal defenses. The IRS sued to enforce the subpoena. After an evidentiary hearing, the district court for the District of Rhode Island ruled that the documents were protected as work-product, and also found that Textron’s disclosure to Ernst & Young did not constitute a waiver (although it did rule that the disclosure constituted a waiver of any attorney-client privilege claimed).

The IRS appealed. The First Circuit agreed with the District Court, finding that the documents were produced “because of” potential litigation. While not all dealings with the IRS during an audit could be construed as comercial litigation, “the resolution of disputes through adversary administrative processes, including proceedings before the IRS Appeals Board” fell under the definition of litigation.

The IRS had argued that preparation of tax returns was not meant to be an adversary process, but a self-reporting exercise, which relied on the good faith of taxpayers, and that it was entitled to verify such self-assessment by reviewing any relevant information.

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docsThe Massachusetts Appeals Court has reversed a Superior Court ruling reinstating a medical professional malpractice complaint, which had been dismissed for lack of service, but reinstated over one year later on a Motion to Vacate Judgment under Mass. Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 60(b).

The original complaint had been filed within the statute of limitations, but not served within the following ninety (90) days as required under the Mass. Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 4(j). Counsel for the Plaintiff had sought and obtained not less than five (5) extensions from the Court, but still was unable to effect service.

The medical malpractice action was filed against the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Inc. and two of its physicians, alleging their failure to diagnose cystic fibrosis during care and treatment of him up to and including December 3, 2001.

Plaintiff’s attorney filed an initial complaint and then repeatedly sought the Court’s permission to delay filing “a more detailed” complaint. Other excuses followed resulting in a total of six extensions. However, the complaint never got served and the Complaint was dismissed.

Thirteen months later, Plaintiff’s counsel filed an ex parte motion to vacate the judgment, which was allowed. Service was then effected, and Defendants filed motions to reconsider the allowance of the Rule 60(b) motion, which vacated the judgment. The motions were denied, and the defendants appealed.

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