The Incoming Privatization Assault

In The Art of the Deal, Donald Trump wrote about perhaps his first deal ever, made with his younger brother, Robert: “One day we were in the playroom of our house, building with blocks. I wanted to build a very tall building, but it turned out that I didn’t have enough blocks. I asked Robert if I could borrow some of his, and he said, ‘Okay, but you have to give them back when you’re done.’ I ended up using all of my blocks, and then all of his, and when I was done, I’d created a beautiful building. I liked it so much that I glued the whole thing together. And that was the end of Robert’s blocks.”

According to President Trump, Robert, now 67, likes to tell the “blocks” story because it revealed to him where Donald was headed. Now, we know where Donald was headed—to the White House, which comes with a much larger playroom, the most powerful in the world: the federal government of the United States.

 

Read the full article here.

Missouri poised to make it harder for fired workers to win discrimination cases

Missouri Republicans are on the cusp of making it much more difficult to prove discrimination cases against former employers.

The bill, which has cleared the Senate and could be debated by the House as early as next week, would require workers who claim discrimination in wrongful termination lawsuits to prove that bias was the explicit reason they were fired. The current standard is much lower, requiring them to prove only that bias was a contributing factor.

Democrats are crying foul, saying the legislation rolls back decades of progress on civil rights and will make it virtually impossible for a victim of discrimination to win in court. The bill also makes dramatic changes to the state’s whistleblower laws — including removing protections for state employees — which critics say will shield the perpetrators of discrimination, harassment and other wrongdoing.

“It would enable employers to engage in unlawful discrimination with little fear of consequences,” said House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, a Kansas City Democrat.

But to the bill’s supporters, the changes are designed to reduce frivolous lawsuits and improve the state’s business climate.

“Discrimination is ugly and wrong,” said Dan Mehan, president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “But tipping the standards so far against employers is also wrong. This bill simply provides justice for both parties.”

Democrats say the bill also represents a major conflict of interest because its sponsor, Republican Sen. Gary Romine of Farmington, is entangled in a discrimination lawsuit.

Romine owns the Show-Me Rent-to-Own chain of furniture stores in southeast Missouri. The company is being sued by an employee who says she was targeted with racial slurs by a store manager. The lawsuit also claims the store contained a map with a circle around an African-American neighborhood and a note saying “do not rent to.”

“This senator … seeks to change the law to suit his own personal advantage, and to twist the arc of public policy to suit his personal benefit,” said Rep. Mark Ellebracht, a Liberty Democrat. “There can be no doubt that this legislation is the result of a corrupted and self-dealing individual who no longer honors the oath of office he once took.”

Romine has consistently bristled at the accusations that he’s pushing the legislation to benefit his company.

He says that on three occasions his business has faced accusations of discrimination that were deemed without merit by the Missouri Commission on Human Rights. But in each instance, the allegations still ended up resulting in a lawsuit.

“The system encourages individuals to pursue a meritless case simply to force a settlement, costing our small businesses time and money they do not have,” Romine said.

House Speaker Todd Richardson, a Poplar Bluff Republican, defended Romine and his legislation.

“He’s trying to do this because he thinks it helps the overall environment for businesses to compete and operate here in Missouri,” Richardson said.

In addition to the changes in discrimination and whistleblower law, the bill also would limit punitive damages for victims of workplace discrimination. Workers could get up to $500,000 if their employer has more than 500 employees; $200,000 if their employer had between 200 and 500 employees; $100,000 if their employer has between 100 to 199 employees; and $50,000 if the employer has fewer than 100 employees.

If the House passes the bill without any amendments, which GOP leaders have said is their plan, it would go directly to Gov. Eric Greitens.

Dream Factory at the Mavericks Game

Our firm was privileged to entertain three families each with a Dream Child at the April 2nd Mavericks Ice Hockey Game. BKTP Law is a proud supporter of the Dream Factory, which grants dreams to critically and chronically ill children from the ages of three through eighteen.

Just because a debt collector says you owe a debt, doesn’t make it true

Debt collectors are banking on the fact that they can hound people or file lawsuits to get a default judgment and garnish wages whether or not the debt was ever valid.

 

For months Lynn Dingwall never told anyone about the debt collector constantly calling her Lee’s Summit home and demanding $10,000 for an unpaid credit card bill. Dingwall knew she didn’t owe the money, but she couldn’t get the caller to leave her alone.

 

“If I had felt that I owed it, I would have paid it off,” said Dingwall who, until then, had a nearly perfect credit history.

 

When the debt collector wouldn’t give up, Dingwall finally told her son what was happening.

 

“I don’t like my kids to worry about me,” she said. “I’m private and it’s embarrassing.”

Her son immediately wrote the debt collector, informing them the debt didn’t belong to his mother and demanding they stop bothering her. But instead of stopping, the debt collecting — Cach LLC — sued Lynn Dingwall. She became one of about 2,000 people sued every year by the Colorado debt buying company.

 

Attorneys, Brianne Thomas and Josh Sanders of Boyd Kenter Thomas & Parrish, defended Dingwall in court and won. The debt collector didn’t even bother to show up. Dingwall didn’t stop there. She wanted to send a message to Cach LLC that it wasn’t nice to shake down someone for money they don’t owe. Dingwall’s attorneys filed a counter claim accusing Cach of violating the Fair Debt Collection and Practices Act, and of malicious prosecution.

 

“They (Cach) is banking on the fact that they can hound… people or file lawsuits and the consumers won’t show up to court, won’t fight it,” said attorney Thomas. “Then they (Cach) will get a default judgment and garnish wages whether or not the debt was ever valid.”

 

The jury trial showed that Cach had sued about 9,700 Missourians between 2009 and 2014. Cach won 97 percent of the time, often because the person being sued never bothered to show up for court.

 

“The public needs to understand that debt buyers don’t generally receive documentation and evidence to prove their claims,” attorney Sanders said. “So if you are a person who believes you don’t owe the debt you need to require them to prove their case.”

 

As the trial showed, Dingwall’s “debt” was tracked to a credit card that had belonged only to her late husband. It was a credit card she had no idea even existed because they kept their finances separate.

 

“I didn’t even open his mail,” Dingwall said. “He opened his own mail.”

 

Documents produced by the debt collector for the court showed the account was only in her husband’s name — up until the month he passed away of a heart attack. That very next month the account was switched to her name and her husband’s name disappeared. The debt collector couldn’t explain how that happened or even provide proof Lynn Dingwall had ever used the credit card.

The jury ruled that Cach LLC had violated the Fair Debt Collection and Practices Act by pursuing Dingwall for a debt she didn’t owe. The jury also awarded Dingwall $500,000 for malicious prosecution. Representatives for Cach never responded to FOX 4’s phone calls for comment on the trial. Cach has not yet filed an appeal, but has time left to do so.

 

Dingwall agreed to share her story with FOX 4 Problem Solvers so that others know to fight back. Just because a debt collector says you owe a debt, doesn’t make it true.

SB 43 – Discrimination Bill on the Senate Floor

Please get the word out:

The Senate is currently debating a bill that could further victimize employees who have been the victims of discrimination in the workplace. Those in favor of the bill claim that it is too easy to sue for discrimination in Missouri. This bill would actually allow discrimination without legal consequences because it removes protections for employees who have been discriminated against based on their age, ancestry, color, disability, sex, religion, race or nation of origin. The bill was the recent subject of a hearing when NAACP-MO President Rod Chapel had his microphone cut off.

An Associated Press report from today’s anti-discrimination press conference has been picked up by U.S. News & World Reports. Here is the link:

https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/missouri/articles/2017-02-28/missouri-naacp-advocates-slam-discrimination-bill

 

 

 

 

 

 

Firefighters Workers’ Compensation Cancer Claims – HB 482

As cancer deaths among firefighters soar, their families must fight for compensation. A proposed law, HB 482, resembles cancer legislation already enacted in 30 states is now before the Missouri General Assembly. J.R. Boyd, one of the partners at Boyd Kenter Thomas & Parrish was recently interviewed regarding workers’ compensation firefighters cancer claims.

By Mike Hendricks / The Kansas City Star – February 27, 2017

February 27, 2017

Heather Winship was left to raise two boys by herself after her husband, Rick Winship, died from cancer in 2015. He had a 26 year career with the Independence Fire Department before dying of throat cancer that had spread to his liver and brain. -Keith Myers

 Fire Capt. Rick Winship died in a hospital bed, not in a raging inferno or a tragic accident while racing to an emergency scene.

But his death was in the line of duty all the same, his widow says. The fast-spreading cancer that killed him two years ago was, Heather Winship believes, a result of exposure to toxic soot and smoke during his 26-year career with the Independence Fire Department.

Proving that won’t be easy as she seeks workers’ compensation survivor benefits. The system, as it stands now in Missouri, is stacked against firefighter cancer claims, The Star found in a monthlong look at the hurdles firefighters and their families face seeking compensation for cancers that even the government acknowledges are likely job related.

The same is true in Kansas and about a dozen other states. And on the federal level, the newspaper found, a federal death benefit for public safety officers who die in the line of duty has, likewise, never been paid out in cancer cases other than those directly attributed to toxic exposures related to the 9/11  World Trade Center disaster and cleanup.

But the families of firefighter cancer victims are hopeful that could change as cases like Winship’s become more common here and across the nation. A growing body of evidence shows that firefighters are at greater risk to contract certain cancers than the public at large.

“Cancer is an epidemic with us,” said Jeff Strawn, a fire department captain in Columbia and Missouri representative for the nationwide Firefighters Cancer Support Network.

Some within the American fire service contend that cancer is now responsible for more line-of-duty deaths than all other causes combined because of the increased toxicity of today’s fires.

A 2015 federal study found that firefighters are twice as likely to suffer from testicular cancer and malignant mesothelioma, for instance. They have higher rates for many other malignancies, as well — cancers of the lung, colon and urinary tract, to name just a few — in part because buildings today are filled with furnishings and other objects made entirely of synthetics that produce a poisonous cloud when they burn.

“Today’s residential fires have more in common with hazmat events,” according to one report.

When inhaled or absorbed through the skin, these toxins can trigger cancer over time, scientists say. Fire departments across the country, including the one in Independence, have publicly acknowledged that risk and are increasingly taking precautions to lessen exposures.

Yet while their fire departments ring the alarm bell, local governments’ legal departments balk at paying cancer claims to firefighters and their survivors. In Missouri, Kansas and other states, the burden of proof that job exposures caused cancer falls on the firefighters or their survivors.

The same burden applies to the U.S. Justice Department program that is supposed to help the families of fallen public safety officers.

Burn to death or die of smoke inhalation? Your family is entitled to a onetime $343,589 payment from Uncle Sam, as well as college tuition assistance.

Die from job-related cancer, and your survivors are likely to get nothing from that fund unless the deceased worked on the pile at the World Trade Center.

Few then bother trying to collect. Out of the 40 non- 9/11  cancer death claims filed with the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program since 2010, 28 were denied, one was withdrawn and 11 are pending, the Justice Department said in response to The Star’s request for information.

To many survivors, that’s galling.

“Firemen are having 9/11s  every day across this country,” said Linda Goddard of Springfield, whose 42-year-old firefighter husband, Aaron, died in 2015 after a gruesome bout of cancer that ravaged his esophagus, stomach and bowels. “I know it’s horrible to say, but in a way, it would have been easier had he died in a fire.”

Many in the fire service find the justice department’s reluctance to approve death benefits in firefighter cancer cases especially frustrating given that other federal agencies, notably the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are at the forefront of substantiating the cancer link to firefighting. The U.S. Fire Administration even provides fire departments with money to buy gear and special washing machines to launder that gear to minimize the risk.

“This is not right,” Heather Winship said. “Here they’ve worked so hard, make minimal money, and there’s no compensation for their lives, their struggles?”

Debating the cause

A proposed law that would address this issue on the state level, at least, is now before the Missouri General Assembly.

It resembles so-called presumptive cancer legislation already enacted in more than 30 states. Introduced by a Republican legislator and part-time firefighter, Rep. Shane Roden’s bill gives firefighters and their survivors the benefit of the doubt when trying to collect workers’ comp benefits for a cancer disability or death.

“Basically right now,” Roden said, “workers’ comp says you have to prove which fire you were at, where you were exposed to the material and prove that you got cancer from being a firefighter.”

Under HB 482, most cancers would automatically be classified as job related unless the employer can prove otherwise or claim mitigating factors, like tobacco use. Eligibility would be limited to firefighters who had at least five years of service, are under age 70 and haven’t been retired for more than 20 years.

Only one hearing has been held so far, and lobbyists for local governments have expressed opposition, fearing the change would hurt their budgets, as many are self insured. The Missouri Municipal League says it’s unfair to automatically assume that firefighters are getting cancer from exposure to toxic air and debris at fire scenes, when the disease might be hereditary or from an exposure off the job.

“Our main contention is that there’s no proof that it’s causing the cancer,” said league deputy director Richard Sheets. If the bill wasn’t so broad, local government might at least be willing to consider it.

“There’s a possibility we can talk about a particular cancer that’s caused by a particular type of incident,” he said, “but it’s got to be very, very narrow, because there’s a lot of cancers out there.”

The perception that cancer is now the No. 1 fatal threat within the fire service is of recent vintage, which is one reason presumptive cancer legislation has yet to be enacted nationwide.

Currently, heart attacks from strenuous duty are officially the No. 1 cause of firefighters’ deaths in the line of duty nationwide. But it took years for Congress to recognize the connection and pass the 2003 legislation that guaranteed federal benefits to the survivors of public safety officers who die from heart attacks and strokes.

Now, if a fatal cardiac event or stroke occurs within 24 hours of a physical training exercise or emergency call, it’s automatically assumed to have occurred in the line of duty.

Cancer, on other hand, progresses over years, and the cause is not easily traced. Therefore, neither the federal government, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation nor the industry standard-writing group, the National Fire Protection Association, even keeps track of firefighter cancer deaths.

Only the union representing most full-time career firefighters in North America, the International Association of Fire Fighters, has been full-throated in its contention that cancer exceeds heart attacks, traffic accidents and traumatic injuries as the top cause of job-related fatalities.

“Cancer is a looming personal catastrophe for all our members, and we are just beginning to understand the magnitude of the problem,” union president Harold Schaitberger said last year in support of legislation that would establish a federal registry of firefighter cancer deaths.

The union believes that information could build a case for federal presumptive cancer legislation that might also be adopted by states without the presumption now.

Nearly 60 percent of the names added to the union’s national memorial in Colorado Springs, Colo., since 2002 were firefighters who died of cancer.

“Over the years, we’ve had quite a few retirees that passed away as a result of cancer,” said Kansas City, Kan., Fire Chief John Paul Jones. “We have retirees who are dealing with cancer now, and we also have several of our department members battling cancer now who are still on the job.”

Off the charts

The perceptions of a cancer epidemic within the fire service was for years based mostly on anecdotes. The scientific evidence pointed that way, but it was spotty.

Then came the 2015 report by the federal National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, considered the authority on firefighter fatalities.

The multi-year NIOSH study was the largest and longest ever. It looked at the health histories of nearly 30,000 firefighters at three metropolitan fire departments — Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco — and found that firefighters were more likely to get cancer than the general population.

“Certain kinds of cancers are off the charts for firefighters,” said Eric Johnson, executive director of Supporting Heroes, a charity that helps the families of police, fire and other first responders in Missouri and two other states.

The NIOSH study found that firefighters had higher rates of skin, colon and prostate cancer, as well as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Even breast cancer rates are higher among female firefighters, the study found. That was something of an aha moment for former Kansas City firefighter Krista Graham, who had a double mastectomy in 2010, six years after retiring on disability with a neck ailment.

The hormone therapy she undergoes to keep her cancer at bay contributes to her chronic pain.

“I’m disabled as hell,” said Graham, 53, who thinks her cancer could have been the result of her dozen years at the Kansas City Fire Department. “I have about five hours a day functioning.”

She never filed a workers’ comp claim asking the city to help cover her medical costs.

But the NIOSH study has provided others with the ammunition they need to pursue claims.

“The uptick in the number of cases has really exploded over the last several years,” said J.R. Boyd, a labor and workers’ comp attorney based in Independence.

According to the Missouri Department of Labor, just eight claims for compensation were filed by firefighters with a nature of injury listed as cancer. Of those eight claims, one was voluntarily dismissed by the employee, and the remaining seven are pending with the division.

But Boyd thinks more cases have been filed.

During his first 15 years representing employees in benefit cases, he never came across a firefighter cancer case. Now he has a dozen cases filed or in the process of being filed.

He recently tried the first of those on behalf of a Gladstone fire captain who died at 54 after a six-year cancer battle.

Another client is Heather Winship, the widow whose firefighter husband died from cancer in early 2015.

In many ways the Winship case is typical of those now rising up.

Fit and seemingly in good health, Capt. Rick Winship was 53 when he learned he had throat cancer, which had spread to his liver and brain.

The leading risk factors for throat cancer are tobacco or heavy alcohol use, but her husband didn’t smoke, nor was he a drinker, his widow said.

However, he was exposed to untold amounts of toxic soot and gasses during his quarter century on the Independence Fire Department.

Given six months to live at best, Winship was gone six weeks after that prognosis.

Now his devastated wife of 13 years is on her own to raise their twin boys and wage the legal fight Rick set in motion shortly before his death.

She thinks she and her children deserve the same workers’ compensation survivors’ benefits they would automatically get had Rick died at a fire: roughly two-thirds of his salary for life.

But Independence city government, which declined to comment on pending litigation, is not likely to write those checks without a fight. No employer would, Boyd said, and open the floodgate for more claims.

So he’s busy documenting every instance over the course of Rick Winship’s career where he might have been exposed to the poisons that could have led to his early death. If the evidence is convincing enough, Boyd said, it could lead to one of the first successful workers’ comp cases of its type in Missouri.

No amount of money, however, will fill the hole that Heather Winship has in her heart or give her boys the time they should have with their dad.

“He’s missing out on so much,” she sobbed. “It’s not right.”

Mike Hendricks: 816-234-4738

Missouri Republicans’ push to limit lawsuits could have unexpected beneficiaries: themselves

Compliments of Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys 2/14/2017

By Kevin McDermott St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Missouri State Sen. Gary Romine, sponsor of a bill that seeks to make it harder to sue businesses for racial discrimination, says the measure will improve “Missouri’s legal climate.”

It also could improve Romine’s personal legal climate, making it less likely that his “rent-to-own” furniture business will face any more racial discrimination lawsuits like the one it has been embroiled in for almost two years.

Romine, R-Farmington, isn’t the only lawmaker in Jefferson City who is trying to change the law to protect businesses from lawsuits in ways that could theoretically protect his own bottom line as well.

Another Republican senator, who is a veterinarian, is sponsoring legislation to put new limits on malpractice suits against veterinarians. And the Senate’s top Republican is trying to change a state consumer-protection law that is currently being used to sue one of his biggest campaign contributors.

The proposals are in keeping with the promise Missouri Republicans have been making for years: to rein in what they allege is an out-of-control civil litigation system that hurts the state’s business landscape. With the new Republican control of virtually every lever of state government that went into effect last month, it was a foregone conclusion that bills of this type would start moving through the Legislature.

Still, the pace of it has surprised even statehouse veterans.

“This has been one of the most ambitious agendas we’ve ever seen to limit access to the courts,” said Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton. Like many other Democrats, he argues that such limits can infringe on the rights of injured plaintiffs who have legitimate complaints against businesses.

And the appearance of conflict of interest in at least some of the bills is “absolutely concerning,” says Jay Benson, president of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, a group that frequently donates to and supports Democrats.

“This is all being presented with the suggestion that our tort system is bad for business. It’s not bad for business; it’s bad for bad business,” said Benson, who calls the proliferation of such bills “an epidemic.” “The civil justice system is designed to hold people accountable when they do bad things.”

Republicans and pro-business groups counter that what they call frivolous lawsuits create costs not just to individual defendants but to Missouri’s entire business climate.

“My office has already received an exceptionally good response from members of the business community” to the bill putting new restrictions on lawsuits alleging discrimination by businesses, Romine wrote in an online column recently. “It …will go a long way toward reforming Missouri’s legal climate and improving our ability to grow existing businesses and attract new employers.”

Lawmakers — particularly in part-time, term-limited systems like Missouri’s — are expected to bring their private-sector experience and perspective to their lawmaking. There is no one more qualified to write agricultural laws than a farmer, goes the thinking, or to write medical laws than a doctor, and so forth.

“I’m the person pursuing the legislation because I have first-hand experience with the situation,” Romine said in an interview Saturday.  As for concerns that such legislation looks like self-dealing, Romine noted, “I have 33 other senators who have to consider it.”

But others say when a business owner writes laws addressing conflicts between business owners and their employees; it inevitably raises the question of whether the employees are getting fair representation.

“This kind of legislation just adds to the perception that legislators are benefiting themselves and using government to do it,” said Dave Robertson, political scientist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “It’s fair to be concerned about the tort system, but the very specific benefits connected to the individual lawmakers really add the perception of corruption.”

‘Do not rent to’

Romine owns the Show-Me Rent-to-Own chain of furniture stores in southeast Missouri. A Scott County lawsuit, filed in 2015 and still pending according to records, alleges that a supervisor at the chain’s Sikeston store routinely used racial epithets against a black account manager.

The account manager’s suit claims the supervisor also circled an African-American neighborhood on a wall map in the store with the notation “Do not rent to” written on it. The suit further claims that the account manager’s complaints about the supervisor went up the chain to Romine, but that he declined to take any action. (A defense filing in the suit denies that and all the other allegations.)

The account manager was later fired, on what the suit alleges was “the pre-textual reason” of using profanity. “White employees routinely use profanity in Defendant’s workplace and are not disciplined,” alleges the suit. It specifically claims that “Plaintiff’s race was a contributing factor” to the account manager’s termination.

That last line is crucial because court precedent in Missouri says a fired employee can invoke the state’s anti-discrimination laws if discrimination was a “contributing factor” in the firing, even if it wasn’t the only factor.

That’s one thing that Romine’s legislation, Senate Bill 43, would specifically change: to win a discrimination case, the plaintiff would have to show that discrimination was the primary cause of his firing, and not just a “contributing factor.”

It would also make it more difficult for plaintiffs to appeal their complaints into the civil court system if the Missouri Commission on Human Rights finds for the employer.

In his recent column, Romine notes his “frustrating” experiences with the current discrimination law. “On three different occasions, I have had to go before the (Missouri Commission on Human Rights) as a business owner. In each instance, they determined the employee’s case had no merit,” he wrote.

But in each case, he added, the plaintiff was allowed to sue in the court system, “which opened the case up all over again.”

“In its current form, this system encourages individuals to pursue a meritless case simply to force a settlement, costing our small businesses time and money they do not have,” Romine wrote. In an interview Saturday, Romine said the Scott County case is “a prime example of what needs to get fixed” in the system.

Aiding a contributor?

Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, who has practiced veterinary medicine for more than 40 years, wants to place a two-year statute of limitations on malpractice or negligence actions against veterinarians.

His legislation, Senate Bill 88, would add vets like himself to the list of providers subject to the statute, including doctors, optometrists and other providers who treat human subjects.

Brown, who has practiced veterinary medicine for more than 40 years, wants to place a two-year statute of limitations on malpractice or negligence actions against veterinarians.

His legislation, Senate Bill 88, would add vets like himself to the list of providers subject to the statute, including doctors, optometrists and other providers who treat human subjects.

Brown acknowledged last week that to have a veterinarian carrying this particular bill “looks terribly self-serving,” but said his profession has been shortchanged in lawmaking because of the rarity of having veterinarians in public office.

The bill would change the statute of limitations for filing a malpractice suit against a veterinarian to two years from the current seven years — a common-sense change, Brown argued, given the limited lifespans of most animals. “If I treat a dog that’s eight years old, and they’re going out to seven years (with the statute of limitations for filing a malpractice suit), most dogs aren’t going to live that long.”

Still, he said, he’s hoping an identical bill in the House — sponsored by a non-veterinarian — will work out instead of his. “I think it’s wise to let someone else” carry it, he said. “I truly am not trying to do anything nefarious here.”

Last week, Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard had to field questions about whether his legislation to put new limits on use of the state’s consumer-protection law is designed to help out one of his largest campaign contributors: the Humphreys family of Joplin, which has given Richard almost $300,000.

David Humphreys is CEO of TAMKO Building Products Inc., which is facing a class-action lawsuit over allegedly defective roofing shingles it sold. The company is being sued under Missouri’s Merchandising Practices Act, the consumer-protection law that Richard seeks to change with his bill.

Richard’s legislation, Senate Bill 5, would, among other things, impose new requirements on people joining class-action lawsuits of the kind being pursued against TAMKO.

Critics, including the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, say the measure would effectively prohibit consumer-protection class-action suits under the statute. Richard told reporters last week that “sounds like a great idea,” but denied his bill has anything to do with protecting the Humphreys business from future litigation.

Kurt Erickson and Stephen Deere of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

 

 

National Right to Work Foundation Launches Missouri Task Force to Defend and Enforce New Right to Work Law

Article taken from the National Right to Work Defense Foundation 2/13/2017

Foundation staff attorneys will provide free legal aid to Missouri workers seeking to exercise new Right to Work protections

Springfield, VA (February 13, 2017) – The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation announced today the creation of a special task force to defend and enforce Missouri’s newly-passed Right to Work law. Foundation staff attorneys will offer free legal advice and aid to Missouri workers seeking to exercise their right to refrain from union membership and union dues payment, as guaranteed by the Right to Work law.

One week ago, on Monday, February 6, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens signed into law Right to Work legislation, thereby making Missouri the nation’s newest and 28th Right to Work state.

Foundation staff attorneys are prepared to defend the Missouri Right to Work law from any spurious legal challenges brought by union officials. Big Labor, unwilling to give up their forced-dues powers, routinely challenges Right to Work laws in courts despite the fact that Right to Work laws have repeatedly been upheld.

Unfortunately, union officials also often try to stymie independent-minded workers who seek to exercise their rights under Right to Work laws. Any Missouri worker who has questions about his or her rights, or encounters any resistance or abuse while trying to exercise his or her workplace rights, is encouraged to contact Foundation staff attorneys for free legal aid.

“Passing a Right to Work law is just the first step; as these protections for Missouri workers must be defended and enforced,” said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation. “Union bosses will go to great lengths to keep workers in their forced-dues grasp. The National Right to Work Foundation will fight to make sure that every Missourian’s Right to Work is protected because no worker should ever be forced to pay union dues or fees just to get or keep a job.”

Affected employees are encouraged to call the Foundation’s legal hotline toll-free at 1-800-336-3600 or contact the Foundation online at www.nrtw.org to request free legal assistance or to learn more about their new rights.

Task Force Staff Attorneys Filed Lawsuit Challenging Biased Ballot Petition Language Approved in Political Payback by Big Labor-backed former Secretary of State

Previously, with free legal representation from National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys, three Missouri workers filed legal challenges in late January against ten separate initiative-petitions that designed to block the Right to Work law that was at the time being considered for final passage by the Missouri Legislature. If approved by the voters in the 2018 general election, the ballot measures would prevent the Missouri General Assembly from prohibiting forced-unionism agreements, essentially overturning the Missouri Right to Work law.

All three of the plaintiffs – a nurse and two Kansas City Police Officers – will be directly affected by the passage of any of the union boss-backed ballot measures because they would lose their Right to Work without being compelled to subsidize a labor union.

With passage of Right to Work looming and Governor Eric Greitens pledging to sign the bill into law, union bosses scrambled to put numerous initiative-petitions to kill the law on Big Labor-friendly Jason Kander’s desk for his approval before he left office. Secretary Kander unsuccessfully challenged Senator Roy Blunt in the 2016 election, with his campaign largely funded by the union boss political machine that submitted these petitions.

Secretary Kander approved all ten just hours before vacating his office on January 9, with the intent of having them appear on the 2018 general election ballot if the measures’ Big Labor-backers obtain the required number of signatures.

Although required to draft summary statements to inform petition signers and voters of the effect of the proposed amendments, former Secretary of State Kander’s midnight actions seem designed to hide from Missouri voters what the ballot measures would put in Missouri’s constitution. None of the proposals even mention the Right to Work law that they are clearly designed to nullify.

National Right to Work Foundation Actively Defending Recently-Enacted Right to Work Laws

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation has a long history of assisting employees seeking to exercise their Right to Work rights, most recently under Right to Work provisions enacted in Kentucky, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana

The Foundation created a special legal task force to protect and enforce the newly passed Kentucky Right to Work law. The task force also released a special legal notice to Kentucky workers detailing their rights under the new law and they have been taking calls from dozens of workers seeking information.

Late last year with the help of National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys an employee at the Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia, Reginald Gibbs, filed a motion to intervene in the ongoing lawsuit concerning the West Virginia Right to Work law that was passed in early 2016. Although the State of West Virginia was already defending the law in the case, the motion noted that Gibbs has a special interest in defending Right to Work and his attorneys can offer legal arguments distinct from those raised by state lawyers. Foundation staff attorneys have also filed several amicus briefs defending the Right to Work law.

In Wisconsin which passed a state Right to Work law in 2015, Foundation staff attorney’s submitted amicus briefs in both federal and state court in response to union boss lawsuits that allege that Right to Work laws constitute an “illegal taking” of union resources. A Federal Judge struck down the Federal lawsuit and the State lawsuit is pending.

In Michigan, which passed private and public sector Right to Work in 2013, Foundation staff attorneys filed two amicus curiae briefs defending the Right to Work laws against two lawsuits. Both lawsuits were eventually unsuccessful. Additionally, Foundation attorneys have filed over 88 actions for Michigan workers seeking to exercise their Right to Work.

After the passage of a Right to Work law in Indiana in 2012, union bosses sought to wipe out the law with two lawsuits in State court and one in Federal court. Foundation staff attorneys submitted amicus curiae briefs in both State court cases and conferred with the State’s lawyers about what legal arguments to make for the State against the union boss challenge to Right to Work in federal court. The Right to Work law was ultimately upheld in all three union boss lawsuits.

SB 5 – TOSSING OUT THE MISSOURI MERCHANDISING PRACTICES ACT

The following article in regard to Senate Bill 5 (SB5), provided by the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys (MATA), ran in the Pitch this week.

 

A shingle maker and Missouri Republicans team up to leave consumers in the cold

David Hudnall

 FEB 7, 2017 3 PM

TAMKO Building Products had a problem.

The Joplin, Missouri, company’s roofing shingles, according to consumers in multiple states, sometimes fell apart well short of their 30-year warranty. A Missouri man named Lee Hobbs bought TAMKO shingles in 2005; by 2013, they were warped and curling. Same with Jonesburg United Methodist Church: Rainwater was leaking onto its pews just six years after it roofed with TAMKO shingles, in 2007.

Both Hobbs and Jonesburg United Methodist Church filed warranty claims with TAMKO, seeking money back. Hobbs’ claim was denied. The church was offered only a partial replacement for its shingles. So they teamed up and, with others, filed a class-action lawsuit against TAMKO, alleging that the company had negligently sold defective products.

TAMKO responded by arguing that Hobbs and the church didn’t have a legal right to sue because, written on the packages of the shingles they’d bought, was a clause requiring warranty disputes to be settled in arbitration.

The Circuit Court in Jasper County didn’t buy that argument; it said Hobbs and the church’s class-action suit could move forward.

TAMKO appealed that decision, but the Missouri Court of Appeals also was unpersuaded. Its panel of judges wrote that simply slapping an arbitration clause on a product’s packaging does not constitute a valid arbitration agreement with the person who buys the product.

TAMKO tried to take its case to the Missouri Supreme Court, but its application was denied. Undeterred, the company has filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court, which is now accepting arguments in the case.

In the meantime, though, the company has invested in some insurance.

During the 2016 election, TAMKO’s CEO and president, David Humphreys, and his sister Sarah Atkins gave at least $11 million to Missouri Republican candidates. They were particularly generous to the campaigns of gubernatorial candidate Eric Greitens and attorney general candidate Josh Hawley. In December, after both candidates emerged victorious in their respective races, the Humphreys family made it rain for them once more, giving each another $1 million one day before strict new limits on campaign donations took effect.

Humphreys and TAMKO did not respond to requests for comment. But the actions of TAMKO’s favored candidates in 2016 speak for themselves. In the works right now is a bill that will prevent people from suing companies like TAMKO — a reversal of 50 years of consumer protection law in Missouri. And Missouri Republicans, fat on Humphreys’ cash, appear happy to give him what he wants.

The Missouri Merchandising Practices Act has been on the books since 1967. It is the law in Missouri that prohibits unfair and deceptive acts and practices in the consumer marketplace. It’s the law you use to sue somebody who ripped you off.

One of the first bills filed for the 2017 session was SB 5, introduced by Senate President Ron Richard. It is perhaps worth noting that Richard represents TAMKO’s home of Joplin in the Missouri Senate, and that Humphreys wrote Richard a $100,000 check on the day in December before the campaign-cash limit took effect.

Even by Missouri’s low standards, SB 5 is a galling piece of legislation. It seeks to drastically amend the MPA, repealing sections friendly to consumers and replacing them with ice cream sundaes for CEOs.

Among its revisions is a clause stating that the MPA does not apply to any business that is “regulated by the Federal Trade Commission or any other regulatory agency” in the state of Missouri or the United States.

“That is basically every business in Missouri,” says Dave Angle, a Columbia lawyer specializing in consumer law. “A used-car dealer who sells you a car with a phony odometer is regulated by the Missouri Department of Revenue. Title lenders and payday lenders are regulated by the Missouri Division of Finance. This law would strip you of your ability to sue businesses that scam you — simple as that.”

“It’s a poison pill designed to eliminate consumer protection in Missouri,” says Scott Waddell, a consumer-law lawyer in Missouri.

Richard’s reimagining of the MPA would also make class-action lawsuits in Missouri absurdly difficult to bring. Under SB 5, each person in a class-action suit would have to come forward and prove how he or she was victimized by the offending business.

“It defeats the entire purpose of class-action lawsuits, which is to allow one person to come forward who represents the hundreds or thousands of folks who have been deceived,” Angle says.

SB 5 also targets attorneys’ fees under the MPA. The reason Missouri lawyers take on consumer fraud cases is because the MPA allows attorneys to collect reasonable fees (awarded by a judge) from the offending business if they win in court. Otherwise, there’s little incentive to go to bat for somebody who’s been swindled for $400. SB 5 would wipe out this provision in the MPA.

“It costs $100 just to file a suit,” Waddell says. “Just do the math. It makes representing people in these cases not financially viable for an attorney. You could bring a suit under other laws besides the MPA — for fraud or breach of contract — but those aren’t fee-based laws. That’s why we bring suits under the MPA.”

Though Richard did not respond to a request for comment, the argument from the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and other supporters of this legislation has been that these amendments are necessary because too many frivolous lawsuits have been filed in the state under the MPA.

There is very little evidence this is true. County clerks are required to notify the Missouri Attorney General’s Office when a suit is filed under the MPA. Hawley’s office was unable to supply The Pitch with recent information by press time, but the number declined from 2010 (when 53 were filed) to 2014 (when 44 were filed), according to emails sent by the office under previous Attorney General Chris Koster.

Many product-liability cases are MPA claims. State information is available for those numbers, and it does not indicate an increase in those cases. There were 234 product-liability cases filed in Missouri in 2016, down from 319 in 2000.

Richard’s bill is expected to pass through the Senate this week. If the House approves, Greitens, who spent three minutes of his State of the State address in January bashing plaintiffs’ attorneys, will almost certainly sign it.

And their benefactors Humphreys and Atkins will see immediate return on their investment.

Because SB 5 acts retroactively on all pending cases, even a Supreme Court victory for Hobbs–Jonesbury United Methodist Church against TAMKO wouldn’t make the claim valid in Missouri.

“It’s such an obvious example of pay-to-play in our politics,” Waddell says – One that leaves consumers here without a roof over their heads.