Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Can Your Facebook Photos Cost You Your Insurance Benefits?

A 29-year-old Canadian women who was on long-term sick leave from her job, stopped receiving insurance benefit checks after she posted some photographs on her Facebook page. According to the news, Natalie Blanchard who used to work at IBM's Bromont, Quebec office, was diagnosed with major depression and placed on sick leave a year ago. She was receiving monthly sick leave benfits from Manulife.

Soon after Blanchard posted her vacation photos on her Facebook account, she noticed she is no longer receiving her insurance benefit checks. When Blanchard contacted the insurance office, her insurance agent referred to her vacation photos saying she is no longer depressed and should be able to return to work. The photos showed Blanchard having fun at her birthday party, and at a Chippendales bar show.

Thomas Lavin, Blanchard's attorney is threatening legal action against Manulife and IBM, saying Blanchard went on vacation based on her doctor's orders. Lavin complains that the insurance company stopped his client's benefits without proper notice to her, and his client has been constructively terminated from her employment.

The materials for this blog are based on articles in ABC News and The Washington Post. For additional information, run a search on Google.

Robin Mashal is a partner at the law firm of Hong & Mashal LLP. He can be reached at (310) 286-2000.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Is Loan Modification Dead?

It was about two years ago when the U.S. real estate market crashed. The headline news contstantly talked about the increase in unemployment, how people are unable to make their mortgage payments, how the real estate values are dropping, and how most property values are "upside down."

And then came a sigh a relief: the "loan modification experts" who could negotiate with the lenders to reduce the loan principal balances, reduce the mortgage interest rates, or modify the mortgage payoff terms. Suddenly everyone was an expert in loan modification, the lawyers, the real estate brokers ... everyone and their best friend had some expertise in the field.

Well, it seems like the loan modification industry has also turned upside down. For a while now the news talks about government regulation of this industry. Here is a highlight of the news in California:

* On January 22, 2009, Senators Calderon, Corbett and Steinberg introduced Senate Bill 94, proposing to amend several California statutes in response to the urgent mortgage loan problems.

* On July 23, 2009, California Attorney General, Edmund G. Brown Jr. made a news release warning homeowners "to avoid 'shadowy and unscrupulous' loan modification consultants who use aggressive telemarketing tactics and charge thousands of dollars in upfront fees for foreclosure relied." This news release and related materials can be found on Attorney General's web pages entitled "Stop Loan Modification Fraud."

* On September 18, 2009, the State Bar of California made a news release about 16 attorneys who were "under invesitgation for misconduct related to loan modification."

* On October 11, 2009, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law Senate Bill 94 (Calderon) prohibiting any person from demanding of collecting any advance fee, retainer fee or other pre-payment from a consumer for loan modification or mortgage loan forbearance related to a residential unit of 4 units or less. The California Department of Real Estate has placed a Consumer Alert on its web site detailing Senate Bill 94's provisions.

* The November 2009 edition of the California Bar Journal contains an article by Nancy McCarthy entitled More Lawyers in Trouble for Foreclosure Activity. The article recites 3 more California attorneys having resigned the California State Bar, and one California attorney placed on inactive status, "as a result of their misconduct related to their loan modification activities."

Although the law is not putting a complete halt to loan modifications, it will significantly reduce the industry's activities. The few who will remain in the field will be under close scrutiny, but they will be assist those truly in need of their services.

Robin Mashal is a partner at the law firm of Hong & Mashal LLP. He can be reached at (310) 286-2000.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Playboy sues Chicago Lawyer who Had Posed for the Magazine

Playboy magazine has sued Corri Fetman, a Chicago lawyer who had posed nude for Playboy and used to write a Playboy.com advice column titled "Lawyer of Love", report ABA Journal and Chicago Sun Times. Playboy is complaining about Fetman's use of the phrase "Lawyer of Love", and her attempt to register this phrase as a trademark, because Playboy argues Fetman gave up any rights to this mark in her freelance agreement with Playboy.

According to Chicago Tribune, in March 2009 Corri Fetman filed a $5.4 Million sexual harassment lawsuit against Playboy, claiming Fetman lost her writing column with Playboy as a result of her resisting sexual advances by Playboy executive Thomas Hagopian.

Corri D. Fetman is a Chicago divorce lawyer at the law firm of Fetman, Garland & Associates Ltd. Her firm's web site, has a prominent "Playboy Press" page, and as well provides a link to "Love Lawyer Advice Blog" maintained by Ms. Fetman.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It Happens to the Best of Us: $1.26 Billion Default Judgment Entered Against PepsiCo

Anyone who has consulted a lawyer about defending a lawsuit knows that if you don't file your answer on time, the plaintiff can can a "default judgment" against you. We can imagine someone who has never been sued before and has not had a chance to consult a lawyer to fall into this trap. But, could it also happen to a large, multi-national corporation which has been a party to many lawsuits, and has a bunch of lawyers on its payroll? Apparently it can.

The case in point is a recent $1.26 Billion default judgment entered against PepsiCo, Inc. in the Wisconsin state court. According to the news buzz, in April 2009, Charles Joyce and James Voigt filed a lawsuit alleging PepsiCo, Inc. developed Aqafina based on misappropriated trade secrets from the confidential conversations plaintiffs had with their distributors about selling purified water. The lawsuit was served on PepsiCo, Inc.'s agent in North Carlina. When PepsiCo did not answer the complaint, plaintiffs obtained the default judgment.

On October 13, 2009, PepsiCo's attorneys brought motion to set aside the judgment. They are making various arguments, that the documents were not properly served on the company's agent in North Carolina, that the papers were mislaid by PepsiCo's employees instead of being forwarded to the attorneys, etc. According to Yahoo! News, PepsiCo's attorneys have made this account of the events in their motion so set aside the judgment:
  • June 11, 2009: Stith & Stith, PepsiCo's law firm in North Carolina was "allegedly" served with process, but PepsiCo was not made aware of this;
  • September 15, 2009: Stith & Stith sends a correspondence concerning this lawsuit to Tom Tamoney in PepsiCo's legal department, but his secretary Kathy Henry was so occupied with other matters that she did not communicate the letter to anyone nor did she enter it into the log;
  • September 29, 2009: Plaintiffs Charles Joyce and James Voigt request entry of default judgment against PepsiCo;
  • September 30, 2009: The Wisconsin court enters default judgment against PepsiCo;
  • October 5, 2009: Kathy Henry receives notice of judgment, and as she enters it into the log, she is reminded about the earlier letter;
  • October 6, 2009: PepsiCo's attorneys learn about the case.
At the end of the day, the court may set aside the judgment and allow PepsiCo to file its answer and defend the lawsuit. But in the meantime, PepsiCo's attorneys and employees will need to explain this public embarrassment. How could it be that such a large company overlooks defending a good size lawsuit as this? Can a large company be at a disadvantage in such matters, because the various departments cannot effectively communicate with each other?

Some of the materials for this blog were obtained from ABA Journal and Yahoo! News. For additional information visit the Wisconsin Court web site or run a search on Google.

Robin Mashal is a partner at the law firm of Hong & Mashal LLP. He can be reached at (310) 286-2000.