Due to the COVID -19 crisis, KJC Law Firm, LLC has transitioned to a remote workplace. We are committed to doing our part to reduce the spread of the virus.

Our attorneys and support staff have full access to telephone messages, email and our files. Our office is almost entirely paperless, and we plan to move our cases forward with videoconferencing tools. Our clients remain our first priority, and we are available to support and assist during this time of crisis.

Our email addresses are as follows: kjcook@kjclawfirm.com; jmartin@kjclawfirm.com; twilton@kjclawfirm.com; bduggan@kjclawfirm.com; mweaver@kjclawfirm.com; jryan@kjclawfirm.com; and dkelley@kjclawfirm.com. Please feel free to contact us.

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Your Guide to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was recently signed into law.  Hundreds of billions of dollars have been set aside to help your business survive these uncertain times.  The text of the law itself is hundreds of pages of long.  To try and help, we have prepared a basic guide to the most important provisions of the law as far as your business is concerned:  the Paycheck Protection Program; Economic Injury Disaster Loans and Emergency Economic Injury Grants; Small Business Debt Relief Program; Small Business Tax Provisions; and Small Business Counseling.  For more detailed information about any of these topics, or the CARES Act generally, be sure to visit the Small Business Administration’s website at https://www.sba.gov.

Paycheck Protection Program

Massachusetts business owners and sole proprietors: know your rights under your commercial insurance policies! The Coronavirus (“COVID-19”) promises widespread business interruption across a huge variety of sectors, from restaurants and bars to manufacturing and contracting, and everything in between. In Massachusetts in particular, Governor Baker has just announced a statewide ban on gatherings of 25 people or more and ordered than restaurants cease serving food and drinks on site. Even more restrictive measures may follow. You may be wondering what, if any, coverage you might claim for business losses or interruptions under your commercial insurance policy. Or you may have already received a notice from your insurance company claiming they owe no coverage at all. Now is the time to carefully review the wording of your policy, bearing a few things in mind.

First and foremost, your insurance company is not at liberty to retroactively and unilaterally restrict or limit coverage under your policy. Insurance contracts are contracts like any other – a bargained-for exchange between two parties formed the moment they are executed. One party to that contract cannot change its terms without the consent of the other. To the extent your insurance company may claim it owes no coverage under a specific “exclusion,” the burden will be on your insurance company to prove that the exclusion applies, and “exclusions” are construed strictly in favor of coverage. To the extent there is any ambiguity in your insurance policy about whether coverage exists for an event like COVID-19, it is a well-recognized rule that any ambiguity will be construed against your insurance company and that you, the insured, will be entitled to the more favorable interpretation. This rule of interpretation applies with particular force to exclusionary provisions. “If the meaning of the contract language is unclear, we ‘consider what an objectively reasonable insured, reading the relevant policy language, would expect to be covered.’”  Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Cotter, 464 Mass. 623, 635 (2013), citations omitted.

You may also be in a position where based on representations made to you by your insurance company, you were under the impression there would be coverage for this type of loss, only to find out now your insurance company is refusing to cooperate. You may still be able to obtain coverage under a legal doctrine known as estoppel. Even more generally, in Massachusetts your insurance company has a statutory duty to act in good faith towards you, its insured. Two statutes in particular require insurance companies to act in good faith. G.L. c. 176D catalogues fourteen separate unfair claim settlement practices. And G.L. c. 93A prohibits “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce,” including insurance. Under these statutes, should your insurance company force you to litigate a question of coverage where you are ultimately successful in court, you may stand to gain double or triple damages, plus attorneys’ fees, interest, and costs.

On November 16, 2017, in Suffolk County Superior Court, a jury of twelve returned a verdict of not guilty in favor of Attorney Benjamin Duggan’s client.  Attorney Duggan’s client was charged with, among other things, illegally possessing a firearm and ammunition.  Due to certain sentencing enhancements, Attorney Duggan’s client was facing a minimum mandatory state prison sentence of 15 years.  Attorney Duggan’s client had been held pending trial for over a year.  Following the jury’s verdict, he walked out the front door of the courthouse a free man.

Issues in the case included a motion to suppress certain items seized pursuant to a search warrant, the legal elements of actual and constructive possession, and various forensic testing including DNA and fingerprints.  The jury’s verdict followed extensive testimony and evidence.

If you have been charged with a crime, contact the attorneys at the KJC Law Firm.  Let our experience secure you the best possible results.

 

Can a Massachusetts prosecutor use a defendant’s refusal to take a breathalyzer test as evidence of drunk driving? The short answer is no, but understanding why this is the answer is a bit more complicated.

Everyone is familiar with the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution’s provision that no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” We’ve all heard someone – maybe on a TV show or maybe even in person – ‘plead the fifth’ by refusing to answer questions in some formal, legal setting.

What fewer people may know is that the Massachusetts Constitution’s protections against self-incrimination are even broader those contained in the Fifth Amendment. Under the Massachusetts Constitution, in addition to being entitled to refuse to be “a witness against himself,” a defendant also has the right not to “be compelled to . . . furnish evidence against himself.” While the difference in language is slight, its implications in drunk driving cases is very significant

Massachusetts is often considered an immigrant-friendly state, but according to the General Laws, only citizens of the United States can obtain admission to the Massachusetts Bar. The three statutes governing admission are G.L. c. 221, §§ 37, 38A, and 39. Section 37 and 39 both specifically require applicants to be citizens of the United States to petition for admission. Section 38A allows non-citizens to petition for admission, but directs the Board of Bar Examiners to not recommend admission until the applicant demonstrates that they have become a citizen of the United States. All three statutes are unconstitutional.

In Application of Griffiths, 413 U.S. 717 (1973), the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a state cannot prohibit bar admission based solely on the non-citizenship of a lawful permanent resident. Lower courts have clarified the limited scope of the holding. Soon after Griffiths was issued, the Supreme Courts of Wyoming and Washington invalidated similar rules that barred lawful permanent residents from applying for admission. See Mansfield v. State Board of Law Examiners, 601 P.2d 174 (Wyo. 1979); Nielsen v. Washington State Bar Association, 585 P.2d 1191 (Wash. 1978) (en banc). The Sixth Circuit, on the other hand has noted that while a state can no longer require that a bar applicant be a citizen, “Citizenship continues, however, to be a requirement for admission by motion.” Bashir v. Supreme Court of Ohio, 652 F.2d 641, 642 (6th Cir. 1981) (per curiam). Recently, a number of other courts have considered whether the state can prohibit a visa-holding applicant or an undocumented applicant from being admitted to the bar.

In LeClerc v. Webb, 419 F.3d 405 (5th Cir. 2005), the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Louisiana rule requiring that every applicant to the bar be a citizen of the United States or a “resident alien” thereof. The Fifth Circuit held that “nonimmigrant aliens,” meaning those who hold a visa instead of a green card, are not suspect class and therefore legislation classifying them are subject only to rational basis review. See id. at 418-19. The Fifth Circuit held the exclusion constitutionally permissible because the classification was rationally related to the state’s interest in assuring “continuity and accountability in legal representation.” See id. at 421.

Last month, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments for Bridgeman v. District Attorney for Suffolk County for the second time. Once more, the Committee for Public Counsel Services (“CPCS”) and the American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) both argued that the only fair conclusion to the Dookhan drug scandal is to provide a global remedy for those convicted of drug crimes based on tainted evidence.

The Dookhan scandal first came to light in 2011. Annie Dookhan, a former drug-lab chemist, admitted to falsifying drug evidence in as many as 24,000 cases. Dookhan pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence and obstruction of justice. She served just over two years in prison before being paroled. Her actions, however, still affect the lives of thousands of people convicted of drug offenses. Even if they are out of jail, Dookhan defendants still face consequences related to their convictions.

CPCS and the ACLU aim to convince the high court to provide a “global remedy” to Dookhan defendants. A global remedy could come in the form of blanket dismissals for all drug convictions where Dookhan served as the chemist on record. The District Attorneys for the Counties of Suffolk, Essex, Bristol, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth, and the Cape and the Islands argue that blanket dismissals would be too extreme. CPCS hoped for a global remedy when the case was before the court in 2015, but the ruling fell short. After one more year of litigation, the court may finally acquiesce to the proposal and offer a global remedy to Dookhan defendants.

It’s easy to get lulled into believing that the toys you buy for your children are safe. After all, it’s 2016, and surely if toys get through testing and get placed on the market, they must be safe, right? According to a number of organizations committed to keeping children safe, this is false.

Last month, W.A.T.C.H., the World Against Toys Causing Harm, Inc., put out its list of the 2016 most dangerous toys. According to W.A.T.C.H., this year’s list includes toys that pose risks of strangulation, choking and suffocation.

Here’s the complete list:

In Rass Corporation v. The Travelers Companies, Inc., 2015-P-0358 (Mass. App. Ct. 2016), the Massachusetts Appeals Court reviewed a case brought by a sauce company, Rass, against its insurance carrier, Travelers, for breach of contractual duties to defend, indemnify, and settle an underlying action brought against Rass. The underlying action alleged Rass committed the torts of trade disparagement, misappropriation of trade secrets, and defamation. Rass’s insurance policy only provided coverage for the trade disparagement and defamation claims. It was uncontested on appeal that misappropriation of trade secrets was not covered under the policy, and therefore, Travelers had no duty to contribute or indemnify Rass for whatever portion of damages arose out of that claim.

Before trial in the underlying action, Rass’s attorney recommended a settlement range of $100,000 to $150,000 to settle all claims. During negotiations, Travelers offered to contribute $20,000 to the settlement on the condition that Rass waive its right to seek indemnification. Rass rejected the offer and settled the case for $175,000 without any contribution from Travelers. Rass then filed a complaint in Superior Court alleging Travelers had breached its contract and committed unfair and deceptive acts under chapter 93A.

When a partial-coverage lawsuit proceeds to a final judgment, the trial judge or jury determine the portion of damages allocated for each claim. The insurance company then must indemnify in the amount for each covered claim, while the defendant is left to pay the damages that arise from uncovered claims. Because Rass settled before going to trial, the Superior Court had determine Traveler’s obligation to indemnify by inquiring “how the parties to the settlement viewed the relative merits of the plaintiff’s claims at the time of the settlement and whether, if the insured settled without the carrier’s approval, the settlement amount was reasonable.” Windt, INSURANCE CLAIMS & DISPUTES § 6:31 (6th ed. 2013). Here, the Superior Court found that $140,000 of the $175,000 settlement arose from the covered claims. The Superior Court further found that Travelers had breached its contractual duties by failing to contribute $140,000 to the settlement and concluded that that failure constituted an unfair and unreasonable act in violation of chapter 93A. The Appeals Court affirmed the entirety of the trial court’s judgment, including the apportionment of settlement funds to the covered claim and the finding of a 93A violation.

When a person commits a crime and causes property to be damaged, destroyed, or lost, the issue of restitution may become relevant. Restitution comes into play when, as part of his punishment for the crime he committed, a defendant is ordered to pay the former owner of the property that he damaged or destroyed the value of that property. A problem can arise, however, when the defendant is too poor to be able to repay the former owner in full.

The problem is that, if a person who is ordered to pay restitution fails to pay it, he may be jailed as a result of that failure, and a poor person is far more likely than a person of means to have trouble paying restitution.  Is it not unfair – and unjust – to jail someone simply because he is too poor to pay restitution, when a wealthier person would be allowed to remain free?

The Supreme Judicial Court addressed that question head on in a recent landmark decision: Commonwealth v. Henry, 475 Mass. 117 (2016). To be sure, previous cases had held that, in deciding whether to order restitution, the judge should consider whether the defendant is financially able to pay the amount ordered, but Henry is the first case in which the Supreme Judicial Court laid down a specific procedure that must be followed by judges in such circumstances. The Court wrote as follows:

This November in Massachusetts, Ballot Question 4, entitled “The Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act,” proposes the complete “legalization” of possession of certain amounts of marijuana for personal use. This stands in contrast to the current state of marijuana law in Massachusetts, which “decriminalizes” possession of certain amounts of marijuana for personal use. What’s the difference? To understand, it helps to know the current state of the law in Massachusetts.

In the past few years, Massachusetts law regulating marijuana has seen two major changes: (1) possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is no longer a criminal offense; and (2) Massachusetts now has a system in place for medical cultivation and use of marijuana. Here’s a brief guide to the basics of where things stand now.

In 2008, “An Act Establishing a Sensible State Marijuana Policy” was passed into law by way of ballot initiative and was codified as G.L. c. 94C, §§ 32L-N. Section 32L declares possession of less than one ounce of marijuana by a person eighteen years or older to be a civil infraction, not a criminal offense, and subject only to a fine of $100.00 and forfeiture of the marijuana. Section 32M requires persons under the age of eighteen to complete a drug awareness program in addition to their civil fine. Section 32N makes clear that civil citations issued for possession of marijuana are to be issued, contested, etc., in the same manner as any other civil citation.

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