It is common knowledge among corporate executives that it is illegal to conspire with your competitors to “price-fix”. Price-fixing is an agreement between competitors to set a minimum price for a particular good without regards to natural market forces.  Such agreements are intended to maximize profitability for the companies at the expense of the general public.  It is not hard to imagine how such an agreement harms the public because it reduces competition in the industry, usually resulting in increased prices.

There are other less known forms of anti-competitive activity that have recently drawn the attention of criminal prosecutors often referred to as “No poach agreements” or “wage fixing”.   

Within a particular industry, it can be common for employees to leverage their knowledge and experience to obtain higher salaries from one of their employer’s competitors.  This can result in competitors recruiting employees from their competitors, resulting in higher wage costs for everyone in the industry.  It can be frustrating for an employer to spend many years and hundreds of thousands of dollars investing in their employees, only to lose them to a competitor.   

As a result, some companies resorted to entering into agreements not to hire employees from one another.  These agreements are called “No poach agreements”.  Additionally, companies looking to combat rising employment costs entered into agreements with their competitors to limit salaries of employees to eliminate the employees’ motivation to switch from one company to their competitor.  These agreements are called “Wage-fixing”. 

The Department of Justice has taken aim at these anti-competitive employment agreements taking the position that just as consumers have the right to the benefits of an open market, so do employees.  These prosecutors are pursuing civil and felony criminal complaints against companies and their executives under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.

It is becoming more common for corporations and executives and to become entangled in criminal investigations for these agreements not to hire a one another’s employees, which was initially seen as a cost-saving move to combat escalating salaries caused by a competitor’s poaching.  The consequences of these investigations can be staggering, including huge fines and possible imprisonment for the executives accused of entering into one of these agreements. 

If you or your company has been accused of any anti-competitive behavior in Alabama or across the United States, or if you have any questions about “wage fixing” or “no poach agreements”, the attorneys at Boles Holmes White LLC are available to assist.

In years past, sports gambling was often associated with seedy characters involved in organized crime where weekly settlements occurred in person, and could involve violence for failure to pay a gambling debt.  There was also a concern this type of violent behavior could influence the outcome of sporting events.  As a result, a number of laws were enacted in the 1950s and aggressive prosecutions arose to shut down this activity. 

In spite of these laws and prosecutions, sports wagering has not disappeared.  In fact, it has grown as an industry with more and more states legalizing it under their regulatory authority. 

Despite this widespread acceptance of sports betting, there are still criminal prosecutions that arise from sports gambling.  The vast majority of these prosecutions involve individuals operating gambling businesses outside the scope of regulation of their local authority. If you are not a regulated gambling entity, you almost certainly would be considered to be involved in criminal activity.  The primary avenues the government utilizes in prosecuting these cases are through the charges of tax evasion, wire fraud and money laundering.    

Illegal Sports Gambling and Tax Evasion

Tax Evasion – Tax laws for regulated and legally operated gambling businesses are complicated.  This is not the typical source of a gambling tax evasion investigation.  Usually, criminal tax evasion cases involving gambling involve the “bookie” or owner of an unregistered gambling operation failing to claim taxes on his gambling profits.  Such failure to list these profits on tax returns can result in arrest for tax evasion.  This is the most common form of criminal prosecution in a gambling case. 

Wire Fraud

Wire Fraud – The “Wire Act” criminalizes the use of the internet, phone or fax lines, and other forms of wire transfers to conduct any illegal gambling operation.  In other words, if you are operating a gambling business in a state where sports betting is illegal (even if only a misdemeanor) you can be guilty of felony wire fraud if payment or wagering is made using the internet or other wire.  In our modern society, it is likely that all gambling operations involve the use of federal wires in some manner to implicate the Wire Act.   

Money Laundering

Money Laundering – Finally, prosecutors also often bring “money laundering” charges against illegal gambling operations.  Federal money laundering statutes make it a crime try to legitimize illegally obtained funds in an effort to hide the criminal source of those funds.  In other words, it is illegal to take dirty money and try to clean it through a legitimate business or transaction.  It is also common for the government to seek forfeiture of laundered proceeds.  In other words, the government will seize all of the money laundered and request the Court Order the funds be forfeited entirely to the government.  

If you are under investigation for involvement in illegal sports gambling, or have in questions in Alabama about this topic, call the sports gambling attorneys at Boles Holmes White LLC for legal assistance. 

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Boles Holmes White Attorney Wally Walker Assists in Securing Affirmance of $40 Million Settlement for Plaintiff Class. March 15, 2022, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the approval of an approximate $40 million class action settlement. Wally Walker, co-lead counsel, orally argued the case before the Fourth Circuit. The Fourth Circuit found that the lower court in Maryland did not abuse its discretion in approving the agreement reached between the policyholders and Banner Life Insurance and William Penn Insurance Companies. In affirming the district court’s approval of the settlement as fair to the class, it said: “[the] settlement was reached after an extensive motions practice, extensive discovery and investigation of Banner and William Penn policies by Plaintiffs’ counsel and multiple settlement discussions and negotiations.”

The Fourth Circuit stated that this case should be considered a poster child for deferential treatment. Therefore, afforded the District Court as it was “chock-full of the most esoteric principles of life insurance accounting imaginable.”  The Court’s twenty-five page opinion clarified the standard in the Fourth Circuit for objections to class settlements as follows. For instance, objectors of the settlement must state and support their objection, and proponents must demonstrate that it is fair, reasonable, and adequate despite the objection. 

Boles Holmes White’s Succeed

The named plaintiffs, represented by Walker and co-lead counsel Dee Miles, alleged the companies unfairly increased the cost of insurance charges on certain universal life insurance policies in 2015. In May 2019, Maryland Federal District Court Judge Richard D. Bennett approved the $38.2 million class-wide settlement between plaintiffs and Defendants Banner Life Insurance Co. and William Penn Life Insurance Co. Therefore, consisted of more than 10,750 universal life policyholders.

Boles Holmes White Attorney Wally Walker Assists in Securing Affirmance of $40 Million Settlement for Plaintiff Class Conclusion:

However, before the Maryland court could give final approval, one policyholder objected to the settlement – the 1988 Trust for Allen Children (Allen Trust). The Allen Trust argued that the settlement provides no compensation for damages it called “Deficit Account Harm.” The district court permitted the Allen Trust discovery to assist in determining whether the objection was meritorious. Furthermore, which the Fourth Circuit acknowledged was “an extremely unusual occurrence” but was within the district court’s discretion.

Walker and Miles, as Court-appointed co-lead counsel, represented the named plaintiffs and succeeded in arguing before the district court. Proving that the settlement was fair, reasonable, and adequate to all class members notwithstanding the lone objector’s arguments. 

The case is 1988 Trust for Allen Children v. Banner Life Insurance Company, case number 20-1630, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

NAP policy claims lead to federal scrutiny of Wiregrass farmers. A federal spotlight has been placed on the Wiregrass area due to farmer’s filing an unusually high number of claims for a little known federal assistance program.  The program in question is called the “Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program”, or the “NAP program” for short.

This is a federal program administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA). Therefore, provides protection from natural disasters for farmer’s growing crops for which crop insurance is unavailable.

A local Wiregrass employee of the FSA has been indicted in federal court for filing fraudulent NAP claims. Although, speculation is that other farmers in the area may also be under investigation.

In the Houston County area, private crop insurance is generally available for commodities such as peanuts and cotton, while farmers cannot obtain insurance on produce crops such as watermelons and squash.  As a result, many farmers cannot obtain the financing they need to purchase supplies necessary to plant the high risk crops.  This is where NAP protection becomes available for commercial farmer’s.

“Eligible Producers” can apply for this NAP insurance from the federal government, which provides protection up to approximately $125,000 in the event of total crop loss due to a natural disaster, such as flooding or drought.

The question many have been asking is exactly what is an “eligible producer”?  The program specifies that to be considered an “eligible producer” for NAP protection you must be an owner, landlord, tenant, or sharecropper who shares in the risk of producing the crop. Moreover, is eligible to share in the crop available for marketing from the farm or would have shared had the crop been produced.  Exactly who this definition covers is arguably open to interpretation. Although, will likely be the focus of some high stakes litigation in Alabama’s federal courts.

Because of the unusual weather conditions that took place during 2016 and 2017. Which included extended periods of draught and extreme rain, many produce crops failed and were eligible for NAP coverage. This led to an increase in NAP claims in and around the Dothan area. Leading to FSA having the prospect of huge federal payouts.  While some farmers may have committed fraud by filing NAP claims under ineligible circumstances. The fear is that innocent farmers and lenders may be swept up into the investigation due to the government’s desire to avoid paying the large number of NAP claims.

If you are involved in a NAP claim in any way, whether you are a farmer, land owner, sharecropper, or lender, and have any questions, feel free to call our offices to discuss your situation.  If you are approached by an investigator, we recommend you seek our assistance. Furthermore, assistance of another qualified federal criminal attorney with a working knowledge of the NAP program.

Pharmacy Negligence? Someone who does not feel well books an appointment with a doctor. During the exam, a doctor diagnoses the patient and prescribes him some medication. The patient takes a doctor’s prescription to the pharmacy, where the pharmacist verifies the patient’s condition and medical history and fills the correct prescription. The patient returns home and takes the medicine for the prescribed time period, and the medication helps the patient recover.

That is how it is supposed to go, but what if, instead, the pharmacy commits a serious mistake and injures the patient? When this happens, multiple parties may be liable for the injury.

Duties of the Pharmacy

Doctors are tasked with understanding medications and prescribing the proper type and dose. A pharmacy is tasked with dispensing medicine according to the prescription. Medicine in correct quantities can be healing, but that same medicine in larger quantities can be harmful. If the pharmacy provides the patient with an incorrect dosage that harms a patient, the pharmacy can be liable for negligence. Alabama tort law imposes a duty of care on the pharmacy that it must act under a reasonable standard of care.

Dispensing incorrect dosages to patients is a breach of that duty of care. Similarly, the pharmacy had a duty of care to only purchase and obtain drugs that are safe. If the pharmacy’s supplier is not following regulatory standards and the pharmacy knowingly or negligently disregards this issue, then the pharmacy breached its duty of care. In such a situation, the pharmacy can be liable for negligently dispensing deficient drugs.

Doctor’s Orders

Liability may be relevant even if the pharmacy follows doctor’s orders. A pharmacist’s duty is to analyze a patient’s reactions to medication even though the doctor prescribed the medication. The pharmacy has a duty not to dispense medication if it believes the patient will have a bad reaction. Regardless of the doctor’s prescription. A pharmacist is responsible for evaluating the prescription as well as all other medications the patient is prescribed and determining whether it is safe. If the medications interact negatively, the pharmacist is obligated not to dispense the prescribed medicine. Thus, if the pharmacist negligently disregards patient risk by dispensing medicine. As a result, the patient suffers injury, the patient is a victim of pharmacy malpractice.

The Law of Agency

If you suffered a pharmacy-related injury, the law of agency may allow you to collect from different parties. The pharmacy can be liable for the pharmacist’s negligence because the pharmacist acts as an agent for the pharmacy. The same is applicable for the pharmacy technician or anyone else involved in dispensing the medicine. The law of agency imputes liability from an individual to an entity, which can be from the pharmacist to the pharmacy. By the same token, if the pharmacy’s delivery man is negligent by leaving the medicine in the hot sun, for example, and that results in tainted medicine, then the pharmacy would be responsible for negligence, as well.

If you are the victim of pharmacy malpractice, contact the law firm of Boles Holmes White, Alabama plaintiff attorneys.

Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed in Wreck that Killed Teen. The stepfather of a teenager killed in a fatal car crash last year has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Brandon Scott Smith, the driver of the 2004 Nissan Altima that overturned and struck a parked vehicle on Jackson Trace Toad at 1:00 a.m. on September 30, 2012.

Patricia Gayle Todd, 19, was thrown from the car and later died at the scene.  An investigation by Alabama State troopers into skid marks at the scene revealed that Smith was traveling at least 70 miles per hour on the road. Which has a posted speed limit of 45 miles per hour.  Smith, 25, later admitted to driving under the influence of alcohol and smoking marijuana according to the accident report. He was arrested and later released from Tuscaloosa County Jail.

Brandon Scott Smith, of Northport, is facing criminal charges that are still pending. Therefore, including: manslaughter, two charges of second degree assault, one charge of third degree assault. In addition, leaving the scene of an accident with injuries, striking an unoccupied vehicle and second degree possession of marijuana. After that, driving with a suspended license.  A court hearing on those charges has been scheduled and will take place next month.

Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed in Wreck that Killed Teen Conclusion: The civil suit that was filed by stepfather Jerry Plowman, seeks unspecified damages and a jury trial.

Recent Decisions May Make Personal Injury Suits Against Alabama Doctors Easier. Personal injury suits against doctors are generally referred to as medical malpractice lawsuits. Such lawsuits are governed by the Alabama Medical Liability Act (AMLA). Which generally requires the filer of the lawsuit to retain a medical expert to testify that the doctor against whom they wish to bring the lawsuit has violated the appropriate standard of care. Without providing this expert testimony, a lawsuit against a doctor is generally dismissed.

The AMLA provides an exception to this requirement if the wrong done by the doctor or medical institution is so obvious that one does not have to be a doctor to recognize that it is inappropriate. In other words, the “common layman” could understand, based on common experience. That the doctor or medical institution made an error. It is important to remember that this exception is a narrow one; however, in two recent cases, the Alabama Supreme Court identified situations where errors are such that expert testimony is not required.

In Morgan v. Publix, a customer of Publix brought a lawsuit against the chain’s pharmacy department. She alleged that she received the wrong medication from a Publix pharmacist when she went to have a prescription filled. Upon consuming the incorrect medicine, she suffered several negative medical reactions. Therefore, similar to an allergic reaction, such as swelling and hives. The lawsuit stated that she would not have suffered these personal injuries if she had been issued the proper medication.

In McGathey v. Brookwood Health Services, a patient brought a lawsuit against the hospital where she underwent surgery. During the operation, which involved surgery on her shoulder, the rest of her arm was attached to a metal bar in order to hold the arm still. As a result of a sterilization procedure, the bar was very hot. When the patient woke up after surgery she had sustained second and third-degree burns on her arm. The lawsuit stated these burns would not have happened if the bar had been properly cooled prior to surgery.

In both of these cases, the Alabama Supreme Court said that expert testimony was not necessary for the lawsuit to proceed. The Court said that one did not have to be a medical expert to understand that it was dangerous to either consume improper medication or to have one’s arm directly touching a bar that was very hot. As a result, the lawsuits were not dismissed and the plaintiffs were able to recover monetary damages.

During its discussion of the AMLA, the Supreme Court emphasized that the common layman exception to the AMLA’s requirement of expert testimony was a narrow one. Despite this, by providing specific examples of cases where expert testimony is not required. The Court has made similar lawsuits easier to bring in the future. The attorneys at Boles Holmes White, LLC are very familiar with the AMLA specifically and personal injury lawsuits more broadly. If you are interested in bringing a lawsuit against a doctor or medical institution please contact the firm at 205-502-2000.