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Can a Catholic Hospital Refuse Medical Treatment For Religious Reasons?

What happens when a hospital refuses vital medical treatment due to the hospital’s religious beliefs?

In the United States, Catholic hospitals have come under scrutiny when reports emerged of women denied treatment due to their “ethical and religious directive.” In almost every case, it was a woman who was either pregnant and/or wished to prevent pregnancy.

How can hospitals, especially Catholic hospitals, deny necessary treatment? Regardless of religious affiliation, hospitals are there to treat and serve their community. How can the hospital be allowed to operate if they refuse necessary, life-saving treatment for those in need?

What Does the “Ethical and Religious Directive” Say?

In the United States, Catholic hospitals must follow the “ethical and religious directive” set by the Church. The Directive instructs that hospitals should treat all patients, including (but not limited to): the poor, those without insurance, single parents, the elderly, children, and “the unborn.”

The Directive states that a pregnant woman can undergo treatment or care, even at the risk of the fetus’s life, so long as their illness is “proportionately serious” in comparison to the loss of the fetus. In fact, the Directive uses the term “proportionately serious” when describing the health of a pregnant woman and an unborn fetus.

For these hospitals, the life of the unborn fetus is as important as the life of the pregnant woman in distress. In essence, the fetus is as much a patient as the mother. In fact, the directive also forbids the hospitals from sterilizing women, so they also treat the hypothetical “unborn.”

The doctors at the Catholic hospitals refused to perform an abortion, since the fetus’ heart was beating. Even after the women were bleeding heavily, in excruciating pain, developing an infection, and were told that their is no way for their child to survive.

Can a Hospital Refuse to Give Necessary Treatment?

No, a hospital cannot refuse to give a patient necessary treatment. However, the question is whether the treatment is necessary.

An abortion is not always necessary if the pregnancy would become a miscarriage. However, it is a common medical practice in the United States to perform a medically necessary abortion when a patient begins to show signs of infection and/or severe pain.

Many of the women in the report were experiencing severe pain and showing signs of infection. Instead, the Catholic hospitals turned away each patient and told them to wait in pain, discomfort, and fear until the fetus no longer had a heartbeat. In fact, to fight the pain and infection, they were given some aspirin and sent home.

It is easy to say that these women should have gone to a different hospital or facility; someplace that does not follow the Ethical and Religious Directive. But Catholic hospitals are growing in number, and in some states they account for 40% of available hospital beds. This means that for many of these women, finding a place that is not a Catholic hospital may mean hours of travel to receive treatment.

So Why is This Still Going On?

The state and federal government have not addressed the gap in treatment options that are due to religious directives. The government wants to encourage the creation and running of non-government run hospitals, but they cannot tell these hospitals how to operate.

Currently, hospitals may be required to have emergency services and not turn away impoverished patients. But women’s health and abortion issues are still heavily debated, in the government and around the dinner table. If the government cannot take a stand on abortion, then it would be hard to impose any requirement on hospitals.

But what can we do about women who are falling through the cracks of the system? These women are not seeking an abortion to end a healthy and viable fetus. They are seeking an abortion to help end the agony of a miscarriage after being told that their child will not survive.

Given the current landscape of women’s health, it seems like this issue will not be resolved any time soon. But for the health and safety of 50.8% of the United States population, we can only hope that it will stop being a question of politics and instead a question of public health and well-being.

What Taxpayers Ought to Know About IRS Scams

A recent upsurge of IRS phone scams in Fort Worth, Texas has brought national attention to the issue. So far this year, over $73,000 has been stolen from Fort Worth residents by callers claiming to be IRS employees. IRS phone scams are a nationwide problem. Last year, over 300,000 incidences were reported from all over the country.

These phone scams usually involve imposter IRS employees telling victims that they owe back taxes, or unpaid taxes, from a previous year. Sometimes, the scammers will threaten to call the police if the victim does not pay. Scammers will also claim that the victim is being audited in order to acquire financial information.

Having a basic understanding of IRS procedures for back-tax collections and audits will help alert you to scams.

IRS Collection Procedures

Individuals owe back taxes if they did not pay their taxes in full or in part. There are several steps the IRS takes to collect back taxes.

The first step in the collection process is to provide the taxpayer with notice, by sending a notice letter. This letter will contain a bill for the amount owed, including interest and penalties, and a demand for the taxpayer to pay in full. If the taxpayer does not respond to the IRS, it will send another letter with an assessed balance that includes interest and penalties. If you did not receive a notice prior to the phone call in question, it is likely a scam. IRS

If the taxpayer cannot pay-in-full there are usually several options available, such as installment agreements or offers-in-compromise. An installment agreement allows the taxpayer to pay incrementally. An offer-in-compromise is where the taxpayer negotiates with the IRS to pay a reduced amount in lieu of the full amount.

Only after the notice letter, and the taxpayer’s failure to pay, will the IRS initiate collection proceedings. Typically, the IRS files a Notice of Federal Tax Lien if the taxpayer fails to pay. A tax lien is a claim to the delinquent taxpayer’s property that is used as security for unpaid tax debt. The IRS will also use wage garnishments and bank levies to collect unpaid taxes.

IRS Audit Procedures

The IRS performs audits to review financial information and assess whether tax return information was reported accurately.  Taxpayers are selected for audits at random and when the information reported on their returns does not match their tax documentation, such as W-2s or Forms 1099s.

Audits begin with a mailed letter or phone call informing the taxpayer that he or she is being audited. If the IRS contacts the taxpayer by phone, a letter will be sent confirming the audit. These notification letters usually list documents and other materials that must be sent to the IRS. After the IRS reviews the information sent, it makes a determination whether the information reported was correct. If the taxpayer disagrees with the determination, then the taxpayer may appeal within 30 days.

If a caller asks for financial information directly over the phone, it is likely a scam since the IRS usually sends a letter confirming an audit and listing documents that must be sent.

IRS Scam Alerts

In addition to failing to follow IRS procedures, there are other common scam indicators. For instance, scammers frequently require unusual payment methods and threaten serious consequences unless their victim makes an immediate payment.

Reports state that the IRS imposters require payments through pre-loaded debit cards or wire transfers. Frequently, scammers will request iTunes gift cards as payments, telling their victims that the IRS has partnered with iTunes. The real IRS normally does not accept over-the-phone payments, even with regular debt or credit cards.

Victims are also frequently told that if they do not pay immediately, they will be arrested, deported, or face suspension of drivers’ licenses. Unless you have committed a serious tax crime, it is more likely that the IRS put a tax lien on your property. Tax liens usually show up on credit reports because the IRS files a Notice of Federal Tax Lien to put other creditors on notice. If no tax lien appears on your credit report, it is unlikely that you need to pay taxes immediately.

If an “IRS employee” does not follow the procedures for tax collection, audits, and refunds laid out above, it is likely a scam.

Congress Gives the Go-Ahead to 9/11 Lawsuits Against Saudi Arabia

Congress has recently overridden President Obama’s veto on the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which is the first time that it has overridden any of Obama’s vetos. This controversial law allows for private citizens to sue the country of Saudi Arabia for the country’s role the 9/11 attacks in American courts.

Saudi Arabia has long been accused of having provided support to the terrorists who were responsible for the 9/11 attacks. After all, 15 of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Ladin, the late leader of Al Qaeda, had ties to the royal family, as his grandfather was the royal family’s architect.

However, the Saudi Arabian government’s role in the September 11 attacks appeared to be larger than what most Americans thought it was when Congress released the now-famous “28 pages” pulled from a 2002 congressional inquiry into the attacks earlier this year. Within that document, there are numerous examples of how Saudi Arabia appeared to have provided support to the hijackers.

This assistance ranged from an alleged Saudi intelligence officer who financially provided two of the hijackers a place to stay and helping them find an apartment in San Diego to a known senior Al Qaeda operations coordinator maintaining contact with various U.S.-based employees of the Saudi ambassador to the United States. When this information was made public, families of many of the victims wanted to hold Saudi Arabia responsible for its role in facilitating the attacks.

Saudi Arabia Liable For 9/11?

Aiding and abetting someone in committing a crime is a well-known crime in and of itself. A person can also be sued in civil court for assisting another in carrying out criminal activity. Currently, a person can only sue other people and organizations in civil court for their role in aiding and abetting in a crime that led to various injuries, such as a wrongful death or a significant loss of property.

However, JASTA will allow people who have suffered a physical injury, loss of property, or death as a result of a terrorist attack committed in the United States to file a lawsuit in federal court against a foreign state for the role that any of its officials, employees, or agents played in supporting the attack while acting in their official capacity. This act imposes liability on foreign states for knowingly providing help to known terrorist organizations who then carry out attacks on the United States. While most laws do not apply to events that have happened before they are enacted, JASTA also retroactively applies to events happening on or after September 11, 2001.

Normally, foreign governments are immune from lawsuits within the United States. Allowing people to sue foreign governments may negatively impact the federal government’s relationship with that foreign country. With this concern in mind, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act does permit the Attorney General to stop any lawsuit on behalf of the Secretary of State. This can only be done in the event that the United States is engaged in good faith talks with the defendant concerning a resolution for the claims being brought against the defendant.

However, the stay on the lawsuit will only be allowed to last for 180 days, after which the Attorney General will have to request a 180-day extension to continue the stay if the discussions are still ongoing. Although the law, and, thus, the 180-day stay period, has yet to be tested, it does appear that the stay cannot be used to infinitely stall a lawsuit and otherwise provide the country immunity from terrorism-related lawsuits.

With the passage of JASTA, the families of those who died in the September 11 attacks can finally receive some form of justice by being able to bring lawsuits against Saudi Arabia for providing assistance to the hijackers and enabling them to carry out their attacks. It will also provide the victims of future terrorist attacks a path of recourse against any foreign government that decides to aid and abet members of terrorist organizations in their efforts to commit future terrorist attacks on American soil. If you or a loved one wish to bring a lawsuit against Saudi Arabia for the 9/11 attacks, it would be in your best interest to contact a personal injury attorney to discuss your new right to a lawsuit under JASTA.

South Dakota Initiative Fuels Right to Work Debate

Right to work laws have been a center of controversy in recent years, with a number of laws facing constitutional challenges in the courts. You might hear this and be surprised, as “right to work” certainly doesn’t sound like a controversial topic. Pretty much everybody would agree that reducing unemployment is a good thing—if that was what right to work meant.

While right to work sounds purely innocuous, the name is a bit of a misnomer—crafted to intentionally frame a more controversial policy point in as positive a light as possible. The confusingly named right to work actually deals with an employee’s choices when it comes to joining or not joining a union.

The Current Situation

The laws are a product of a federal law from 1947 called the Taft-Hartley Act. The act prohibited employers from running closed shops—agreements where they only hire unionized workers.  However, it allowed union shops—agreements where employees are required to join a particular union within a certain period of time after being hired.  The act also has a section which allows states to ban union shops as well.

The laws based on this section are right to work laws and are, at this point, exclusively state law. While they vary state to state, they all do essentially the same thing—allow an employee to opt out of paying union dues while still benefitting from union representation. Due to the exclusive bargaining agreements unions provided by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), The laws do not apply to federal workers, railroad workers, and airline workers.

There are currently twenty-six states which have right to work laws: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Right to work tends to be a conservative agenda point, with liberal interests preferring stronger unions with more money to advocate for higher wages and greater employee rights. Those supporting right to work laws argue that employees should not be forced to pay a union whose positions they do not agree with—often framing the laws as a free speech issue.

Critics respond that you are already allowed to opt out of union political activities and only pay for representation as to your wages and rights in the workplace. They argue that “right to work” is a thinly veiled attack on the strength of unions by taking money out of their pockets—allowing so-called “free rider” employees to get all the benefit of a union without actually paying anything. After all, many employees would take the representation for free if it’s an option, regardless of their opinions about the union.

South Dakota’s Initiative 23

As mentioned above, South Dakota is among the states that have enacted a right to work law.  However, they have certainly been listening to the arguments of right to work critics, as last week they have proposed a new law—Initiative 23—which allows corporate and non-profit organizations–including unions–to charge for services rendered.  This essentially has the effect of allowing unions to charge employees they represent regardless of whether somebody chooses to join that union.

This a huge move as South Dakota is one of the first states to ever introduce a right to work law, doing so via a state constitutional amendment in 1946. Proponents of the law argue that it allows unions to charge for actual services rendered while still allowing employees to opt out of a union if they disagree with its position. Obviously, its opponents say that it’s simply a loophole to right to work—essentially removing any protections provided by South Dakota’s law.

The critics are right to a degree, the initiative neuters South Dakota’s right to work law in everything but the most technical sense. However, this law highlights a nationwide trend of struggle back and forth over whether these right to work laws should exist in the first place.

A Nationwide Controversy

Just this year, shortly after Wisconsin adopted a right to work law, a Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge ruled Wisconsin’s right to work law unconstitutional. The law itself was incredibly controversial even before this ruling, so unpopular that it led to an unsuccessful attempt to recall Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker.  The court’s ruling was based on an argument that right to work provisions are unconstitutional takings.

This argument is currently on appeal to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and frankly is unlikely to stand. Takings deals with the government taking all or part of property from a private party, either through eminent domain (the government simply laying claim to the property) or through regulation removing all use for the property.  Not only does takings generally deal with real property (houses and land and such), making it fairly unsuited to an argument regarding  the potential profits from services provided by a union, the 7th Circuit—of which Wisconsin is a part—has explicitly considered and rejected the argument of takings when it comes to the constitutionality of right to work laws.  The 7th Circuit ruling argued that unions are compensated for their representation by their government sanctioned exclusive bargaining position with employers.

While unlikely to succeed, this isn’t the first challenge of its type or even the only recent one. The constitutionality of Indiana’s right to work law was challenged back in 2012, with the law only found constitutional as recently as 2014. The Indiana case had a bit of a twist to it, in that the Indiana Constitution explicitly guarantees that no person’s services shall be demanded without just compensation.  Unions argued that this guaranteed them pay for the bargaining service they provided. Ultimately the courts disagreed; they ruled that unions were not required to become exclusive bargaining representatives and their choice to accept that role placed responsibilities on them along with the rights it provided.

Recent Debate Over a Federal Right to Work

The struggle over right to work acts hasn’t just pushed in the direction of curtailing these types of laws. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of the United States dealt with a case with the potential to create what was essentially a federal right to work—applying to all public employees.

The issue was hotly debated, framing the issue as “free riders” versus “compelled passengers.” To highlight just how contentious this issue is, after the death of Justice Anthony Scalia, the Supreme Court was forced to declare a 4-4 deadlock on the issue.  Petitioners have requested a rehearing, but it will have to wait for the next presidency and appointment of a ninth Justice as the conservative side of Congress has made it clear they won’t consider any appointee suggested by the Obama administration.

Right to work is a back and forth battle throughout the country. On one side, the laws provide workers more options, but at the same time they take money away from unions who would use it to negotiate higher wages and better workers’ rights. The direction these laws will take is something only the future can reveal.

McDone: An End to Big Franchised Chains?

You’d be hard pressed to drive a few blocks in any downtown district without seeing one or two franchised businesses. From fast food to coffee shops, franchising is a huge part of business in the U.S.

For those unfamiliar, franchising is the practice of selling your business model and branding to would-be entrepreneurs (franchisees) who then start their own independent business under the banner of the franchisor. For instance, while there are corporate owned McDonalds locations, there are many more locations owned by franchisees—a whopping 83% of all McDonalds around the world.

McDonalds has done very well with this business model. In fact, their stated goal is to increase the number of franchisee run locations to 95% of the total McDonalds worldwide.  With this in mind, the higher ups at McDonalds must be terrified because they’re facing lawsuits from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that could destroy the entire franchisor-franchisee business model.

Making McDonalds an Employer?

Back in 2014, the NLRB brought 43 different cases against McDonalds, arguing that they are a joint employer with their franchisees and are responsible to the employees of those franchisees. Now, two long years later, one of these cases has finally withstood McDonalds’ many challenges to its validity as a case and has been given the go ahead to be seen by a jury—an indication that the judge feels that the facts of the case could go either way.  McDonalds

So what exactly does this case mean for McDonalds? The big allegations are two-fold.  First, McDonalds is a joint employer alongside their franchisees.  In the alternative, the NLRB argues that McDonalds is a joint employer because it has behaved in such a way that the franchisee’s employees reasonably believed themselves to be employees of the McDonalds corporation—a twist on a legal concept known as ostensible agency.

Joint employment is a situation where more than one entity acts as the employer of a single employee, with all the responsibilities that go along with that status. The NLRB’s case on this point has been bolstered by recent changes to how joint employment works in a case this blog has discussed beforeBrowning-Ferris Industries. The argument applying this test has not survived summary judgment—a ruling from the judge on the facts without need to go to a jury.

However, what has survived summary judgment is the NLRB’s ostensible agency argument, bringing this issue before a jury. This argument essentially says that McDonalds is a joint employer because they led the employees of this specific McDonalds to reasonably believe they were their employer through their own act or neglect.

The McDonalds in question was owned by a Hayne’s family. However, the employees all testified that they believed that both they and the Haynes family were ultimately McDonalds employees.  They were required to wear McDonalds uniforms and greeted guests by welcoming them to McDonalds.  All the documents they received read McDonalds and they had to follow “McDonalds Store Policies.”  Most importantly, nobody ever actually told them they didn’t work for McDonalds.  You can see how an employee might be confused.

The argument here is still a tenuous one. California law, applicable since the case is coming out of California, has ruled in a case involving Domino’s Pizza that uniforms don’t show agency by themselves—instead serving to protect the brand.  What’s more, while there is no actual case law saying ostensible agency can’t be used by employees themselves, it is almost always used in cases where an outside party reasonably believes that somebody is making representations within the scope of their agency with a company—making offers that the company they work for has given them authorization to make.

Ultimately, the case will come down to whether a jury believes it was reasonable for the employees to believe they were ultimately working for McDonalds. If they had reason to think that, McDonalds is on the hook as a joint employer.

What Could These Cases Mean?

If a jury decides that Mickey D’s is a joint employer, however unlikely, it could totally change how businesses that franchise out their business model—from 7-Eleven to Dunkin’ Donuts—function. The legal premise would not only open a franchisor up to liability as an employer, it would also open the door to nationwide unionization of that franchise’s employees and all costs that could come along with such a union. At a minimum, these businesses will have to require clear disclosure of exactly who any given worker is employed by.

It took two years to get to the point where this case was given the go ahead to eventually see a jury. It’s likely that it will be many more years before this case sees a final resolution.  With such huge potential repercussions there is no question that McDonalds will take this case all the way to the Supreme Court.  This case, and the many other cases like it, have the potential to change the entire business landscape of the United States.  However, we’re definitely going to have to wait a long while to see if that will be the case.