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Cryptocurrencies have grown into a tremendously valuable asset class, with a total industry value of over two trillion dollars. From humble beginnings on message boards, these revolutionary ideas-qua-assets have become an official currency of El Salvador, with one poll stating that seventy-five percent of financial executives polled agree that cryptocurrency will be a strong alternative to the dollar within 10 years.

The rapid growth seems to have resulted in the government primarily playing catch up so far, busting fraudsters and bringing lawsuits for alleged securities violations. However, more proactive regulation is being called for in order to provide greater protection to consumers and clear guidance for entrepreneurs. Two major examples demonstrate how this lack of clarity has affected businesses: the lawsuits against Ripple Labs and Coinbase. The SEC’s suit against Ripple alleges that all the coins sold by the company were unregistered securities. Coinbase was advertising that it was intending to start a lending service, and was also threatened with a SEC suit for unlicensed security dealing.

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Google’s Copyright Victory Under Fair Use: What’s Next For Software Programmers?

On April 5, 2021, the Supreme Court changed the future of Copyright Law for collaborative software programming by expanding the fair use doctrine.  Whether this change is more beneficial than not depends on who you ask. For big, monopolized technology companies, such as Google, it is a major victory in expanding creative development in the software industry. However, prior to this decision, smaller software programming companies or individual software programmers have had to obtain a copyright license in the development of their work.  As such, the Supreme Court’s decision in Google LLC v. Oracle America, Inc. has left uncertainty for the future of the fair use doctrine in the software industry.

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The Virginia Consumer Data Privacy Act and the Emerging “Patchwork” Privacy Regime

The states have long been regarded as the laboratories of democracy, free to “try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” Currently, the latest experiment is comprehensive data privacy legislation – laws that seek to give consumers more control over their data and limit what businesses can do with consumers’ information. 

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed the Consumer Data Protection Act (VA-CDPA) into law on March 2, 2021, making it the second state behind California to enact an omnibus data privacy law. The VA-CDPA goes into effect on January 1, 2023, giving the affected businesses and organizations a little under two years to come into compliance with the new consumer protection scheme. 

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Protecting Individual Data Privacy Against the Next Generation of Technology

The marriage between man and machine has never been more evident than by the neurological technologies (“neuro technologies”) that will soon compel consumer markets. Brain-computer interface devices analyze brain signals and translate them into commands that are sent to output devices that perform the required actions. Consumer use of these devices can curb depression, control computers and machines with only thoughts, and even monitor levels of concentration in school. While the positive attributes of these novel technologies are clearly apparent, the use of these technologies comes at a cost—or so the saying goes. That contemporary cost is individual users’ data.

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Maryland Considering Expansion of Beer and Wine Licenses to Retail Grocery Stores

Many consumers wonder why they may purchase beer and wine from grocery stores in other states but cannot do so in Maryland. Currently, 47 states and the District of Columbia allow grocery stores to sell beer while 40 states and the District of Columbia allow them to sell wine. According to one report, 98% of Americans can buy beer and 85% can purchase wine in grocery stores.

Grocery stores in Maryland may soon be able to sell beer and wine to consumers. During this 2021 Session, the Maryland General Assembly is considering a Bill, “Alcoholic Beverages – Class A Licenses – Retail Grocery Establishments (the Health Food Accountability Act of 2021)" (House Bill 996 and Senate Bill 763), which would allow retail grocery stores to hold beer or beer and wine licenses.

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The Future of Student-Athletes’ Name, Image, and Likeness Rights

Student-athletes dedicate long hours to their sport, and that dedication generates significant revenue and creates exposure for their universities. However, student-athletes are “prohibited from receiving pay” for the use of their name, image, and likeness (“NIL”).  Soon, this may change due to recently proposed federal legislation and state laws regarding NIL rights. During the past few months, there has been a large amount of discussion and activity around the NIL rights of student-athletes.  The topic of NIL rights will shape the future of college sports and potential financial opportunities for student-athletes.  Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn) and Representative Lori Trahan (D-Ma) recently introduced a Bill, the “College Athlete Economic Freedom Act.” This proposed legislation would make name, image, and likeness rights a federal right that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”) would be unable to limit.  Additionally, the bill is the first proposed federal legislation that would provide NIL rights to prospective student-athletes.

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How Sports Gaming Sites Could be Gambling with Your Information

As legalized sports betting continues to expand, sports gaming law has presented concerns for data protection and privacy rights. Over 24 states and the District of Columbia have officially legalized sports betting since the invalidation of the federal ban. In Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the United States Supreme Court invalidated the federal ban on sports wagering. Before Murphy, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) made it unlawful for a state to operate or authorize “betting, gambling or wagering scheme[s] based . . .” on sports. Following the invalidation, legal wagers have hit unprecedented numbers. Over $136 million was bet on this year’s Super Bowl matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers and, as March Madness approaches, the American Gaming Association (AGA) has predicted that 50 million Americans will place a bet on the NCAA tournament. As more people participate in sports betting, more consumer information is being shared across different gaming platforms. This influx in shared information has generated concerns for potential data breaches.

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Can the Courts and New Antitrust Laws Break Up Big Tech? 

If you have a social media profile on Facebook, have shopped online on Amazon, have run a search on Google, or have purchased an application through Apple's App Store, you have interacted with Big Tech.  Big Tech refers to the major technology companies including Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook.  Big Tech is known for its dominance in online searching, advertising, social networking, and shopping, but in 2020, a great deal of its publicity surrounded an investigation by Congress for violations of antitrust law.  For years, Big Tech has been using its power to suppress market competition and engage in “take it or leave it” business negotiations, thereby evading antitrust regulation that is “overwhelmingly focused on the welfare of the consumer."  The United States Government has begun the process of attempting to break up Big Tech by filing a flurry of lawsuits against Big Tech, including against Google and Facebook, and by proposing legislation aimed at checking Big Tech power, expanding the scope of current antitrust laws, and augmenting enforcement resources.

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Robinhood, E-trading, and the Aftermath of the GameStop Frenzy

Robinhood is an e-trading company famous for providing commission-free stock trading on a user-friendly smartphone application. The company launched the application in 2015 with the intent of making participation in the stock market easy and accessible to the average American. With this mission in mind, Robinhood currently boasts a valuation in the billions  and plans to go public sometime later this year. However, the company’s sharp rise to success has not been without controversary. Rather, Robinhood has faced several problems and criticisms in recent years. These issues range from frequent application crashes, to paying out millions to the SEC for misleading customers, and most recently as a result of the company’s decision to halt buying on “meme stocks” that rocked the financial market this past January. With Robinhood now facing a number of lawsuits in courts across the country, the story highlights the likely changes to come in the world of securities regulation.

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The Impact of Coronavirus on Contracts and How to Get a Quick Solution

The unprecedented coronavirus pandemic has caused many undeniable changes and difficulties that affect businesses.  These effects include shutting down, laying off employees, and closing permanently.  One significant impact on businesses is the impact coronavirus has had on contracts.  Coronavirus had caused nonperformance of contracts and the need to renegotiate contracts.  The degree of impact is unknown since many court cases that involve the impact of the coronavirus on contracts have not concluded.  But lawyers are arguing a variety of defenses including: 1.) force majeure, 2.) impossibility and impracticability, and 3.) frustration of purpose.

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How Zoom Zoomed Past Security and Privacy Protocols and are Now Paying the Price

Zoom is one of the largest video conferencing platforms in the world, and due to the pandemic, it has become an indispensable tool for many organizations. However, while Zoom expanded, its lack of effective privacy and security protocols exposed many consumers to unnecessary security and privacy risks. The Federal Trade Commission (“F.T.C”) recently filed a complaint against Zoom for its unfair and deceptive acts regarding its misleading security and privacy procedures. The F.T.C’s response to Zoom’s misleading security and privacy standards was necessary to protect consumers when using  Zoom’s video conferencing platform.

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FinTech is Playing a Role in Improved Economic Mobility: A Federal Regulatory Sandbox May Help

“What’s your Venmo?” It’s a common question that follows every day activities like splitting a pizza, buying coffee for co-workers, or booking a hotel for a girls’ weekend. It’s hard to imagine what people did before this major peer-to-peer payment system was developed. Financial instruments like Venmo have not only made everyday activities easier, but they have also worked to make banking more accessible for individuals facing barriers to traditional financial services. The companies designing these financial tools face barriers themselves,  like the navigation of complex regulatory requirements. One way the government could support this industry is through the implementation of a Federal Regulatory Sandbox, a government sponsored program for companies to test run applications and products while receiving guidance from regulatory experts in addition to other aid. In exchange, companies share key information with the government that can be used to assess whether regulations in place are operating effectively and efficiently to protect consumers.

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Developing a Regulatory Framework that Recognizes the Unique Attributes of the Newest Payment Platforms

Digital currencies are relatively new products. Recently, there has been growing movement to establish a comprehensive federal regime that allows the market for digital currencies to continue to develop. To date, digital currencies have been regulated under older statutes that do not fully align with the realities of digital currencies. The proposed DCEA makes important strides in clarifying jurisdiction, but more could be done to prevent fraud.

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Is This the End of the App Store as We Know It?

Big tech companies continue to face heightened scrutiny from a variety of stakeholders.  Recent reports suggest the Department of Justice is examining the potentially monopolistic policies of Apple’s App Store.  Further, in a report released last month, House Democrats identified a myriad of potentially monopolistic practices across big technology firms including Apple’s power over software distribution on iOS devices, i.e., the iPhone and iPad’s payment processing surcharges.  Similarly, the European Commission, which handles EU antitrust issues, has opened an investigation into Apple’s App Store policies following a complaint by the music streaming application, Spotify.  Spotify alleged Apple’s payment processing restrictions stifle competition and market entry.  In United States courts, Google and Apple’s payment processing practices have become the target of relatively high-profile lawsuits by Epic Games, makers of the popular video game Fortnite.

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U.S. Treasury Department Warns Ransomware Victims: Payment Could Violate Sanctions

On October 1, 2020, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) at the Department of the Treasury issued an advisory on potential legal risks that victims of ransomware might face if they comply with the ransom demand. In particular, OFAC warns that ransomware payments may run afoul of regulations that prohibit financial transactions with designated entities. As a result, the mere act of paying the ransom, without first obtaining a license from OFAC, could subject the payor to civil or criminal liability.

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How Technology Has Advanced and Hindered Virtual Learning, Exams, and Cheating

As colleges and universities transitioned into a virtual learning format in response to COVID-19, so did the exams and assignments students were required to take. The transition into a virtual setting required professors to develop new intimate ways to lecture, seek participation, and test comprehension. This change led students worldwide to nickname their institutions to, “Zoom University” based on their frequent interaction with the online video platform. A pressing issue that has come to universities attention is test taking and how to combat students from cheating. A variety of software has been used to watch students take test and act as an online proctor.  But, has this setting led to an invasion of privacy and a creation of false positives?

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Section 230 and the EARN IT Act: The Latest Attack by Congress on Social Media

Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, and Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, parent corporation Alphabet, have each agreed to testify at a hearing on October 28 before the Senate Commerce Committee to discuss the Communications Decency Act of 1996, 47 U.S.C. § 230 (“Section 230”). The hearing will happen as congresspeople decide on the Eliminating Abuse and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act of 2020 (the EARN IT Act), which curtails Section 230 liability exemptions for websites when a user of the sites distributes online child sexual abuse material.

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Addressing Officer Misconduct, Police Departments Turn to Artificial Intelligence

In the wake of the Black Lives Matters protests across the country, police departments have taken steps to address the growing concerns of officer misconduct. Departments have turned to artificial intelligence to detect officers who are likely to engage in problematic or unconstitutional behavior. The use of artificial intelligence is expected to ease the implementation of early intervention systems in police departments.

The national attention that the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd have garnered has shone further light on police departments’ need to root out problematic officers. Indeed, police departments as well as national security advisors, have been vocal in their desire to weed out “bad apples” in response to widespread calls to defund the police. Police departments hope that the advances in early intervention systems can address the growing concerns of police malfeasance and rebuild trust within the communities they serve.

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Citing Censorship Concerns, Trump Threatens to Censor TikTok

Founded on enlightenment values, the United States advertises itself as a beacon of freedom on the global stage. Prominent among those principles, and enumerated in the First Amendment of our Constitution, are freedoms of speech and expression.

In popular media and academia, the censorship of free thought is pejoratively associated with less democratic, less “free” nations. Throughout history, certain governments have sought to stifle the exchange of free ideas within and across their borders. And, throughout history, the United States has condemned such behavior.

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Tech-Enhanced Sports: Sign-Stealing and the Need for a New Frontier

On November 12, 2019, sports publication “The Athletic” launched a featured story about the Houston Astros electronically stealing signs being relayed from the opposing catcher to the pitcher. The stolen signs were then relayed to the Astros dugout where a staff member would bang a trashcan in a sequence corresponding to different pitches, i.e. one time for a fastball; two times for a curveball; etc... The alleged system helped propel the Houston franchise to winning the World Series in 2017 and to another appearance in 2019 against another franchise mired in their own sign-stealing scandal, the Boston Red Sox.

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Streaming Wars

With the upcoming release of NBC’s new streaming service, Peacock, America is once again seemingly asked to choose favorites in the increasingly exhausting “streaming wars.”

Typically, competition among major corporations is seen as a good thing for the American economy, as it spurs innovation, which ultimately benefits the consumer. Along those lines, few can argue with the premise that competition has completely overhauled and dramatically improved the average individual’s access to entertainment. Only two generations ago, most American households did not own televisions, and those that did were limited to some combination of PBS, Fox, ABC, NBC, and/or CBS. The first video rental store did not exist until the late 1970s (when renting a movie also required renting a VCR). Access to entertainment was again overhauled beginning when Blockbuster charged a man named Reed Hastings a $40 late fee, which annoyed him so much that he decided to start a mail-order movie rental company called Netflix.

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Casenote: Return Mail, Inc. v. United States Postal Service et al.

In 2011, Congress enacted the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) that created the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (Patent Board), which reviews challenges brought by a “person” regarding the validity of a patent post-issuance. The Patent Board reviews such challenges through one of three adjudicatory administrative review proceedings that were established by the AIA: (1) “inter partes review,” (2) “post-grant review,” and (3) “covered-business-method (CBM) review.” The Board then either confirms or cancels the patent claims. The question before the Court was whether a federal agency is a “person” capable of initiating AIA review proceedings. The Court held that it is not. 

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F.T.C. Issues Record-Setting Civil Fine Against Google For Mining Your Child’s Data

On August 30, 2019, The New York Times reported on the Federal Trade Commission’s (“F.T.C.”) recent vote to issue a record-setting fine against Google. Google will potentially be on the hook to pay a fine anywhere between $150 million to $200 million to settle recent accusations against the global tech giant. What’s the fine for? Google is once again accused of data mining, this time it's mining your children’s data on YouTube.

This whopping potential fine of $200 million far surpasses the previous record-setting fine the F.T.C. recently issued against the popular music video app, TikTok. The New York Times reported the FTC issued the  $5.7 million to penalize the app’s child privacy violations.

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From Your Phone to Your Home: Facebook introduces Portal TV for smart video calls

On September 18, 2019, The Verge published an article concerning Facebook’s launching of the newest addition to its technology campaign: Portal TV. For $149, users can pre-order the device that is set to begin shipping on November 5th and have access to a substantial number of features, including video calls through Messenger and WhatsApp, Alexa built-in, Story Time for children, and automatic panning and zooming. The announcement of Portal TV is accompanied by the complementary devices of the 10-inch Portal and 8-inch Portal Mini. Set-up requires only an HDMI cord and a Facebook login. The device is also compatible with other streaming services such as Amazon Prime, ShowTime, and CBS All Access. According to an early review, the positives of the device are camera tracking during calls, turning a TV into a smart display, and integrating Alexa. Meanwhile, the negatives are that it has blurry motion at a distance, unimproved camera quality, and the filters do not scale up well.

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Opportunity Zone Investing

In December 2017, President Trump passed the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017. Senators Cory Booker (Democrat, New Jersey) and Tim Scott (Republican, South Carolina) co-sponsored this bipartisan legislation, which was championed by Sean Parker (the former President of Facebook) and Jamie Dimon (Chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase). This Act created a generous tax incentive for investors to deploy capital into distressed communities in the United States called Opportunity Zones. Opportunity Zones consist of 8,762 low-income census tracts covering 12% of the United States and 35 million people. They are located in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Capital inflows into these census tracts, produced via the tax incentives, are expected to produce meaningful social benefits such as job creation, reduction in unemployment, increase in median income, and reduction in poverty rate.

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JBTL News Roundup: Week of October 29, 2018

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Opinions and Analysis: The Big Hack: Updating National Security for the 21st Century

Editor’s Note:  Both Apple and Amazon have apparently done in-house investigations and found no evidence of a hack; they have subsequently demanded a retraction of the story from Bloomberg.  Bloomberg has stood by its reporting and refused to retract its article.

On October 4th, 2018, Bloomberg published an alarming article alleging that the U.S. Government had fallen victim to a large-scale hack at the hands of Chinese operatives.  Their goal? Long-term access to treasured corporate secrets and government networks which house some of the nation’s most sensitive information. In 2015, Amazon became aware of an anomaly with a commonly used motherboard while vetting a Silicon Valley startup for an impending acquisition.  The anomaly came in the form of a chip, roughly the size of a grain of rice, which was attached to the motherboard after manufacturing.  

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JBTL News Roundup: Week of October 15, 2018

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JBTL News Roundup: Week of October 8, 2018

  • Staff editor Kevin Redden has flagged some great analysis from The Washington Post regarding Google+’s data privacy scandal. A vulnerability in the code animating Google+ left the data of 500 million users vulnerable to hacking. This article comes at the story from a unique angle, discussing the idea of digital “junk” that users create and then forget about. (Google kept the bug secret for months before effectively shutting down Google+.)
  • Reuters reports that the proposed $69 billion merger between CVS and mega-insurer Aetna has won antitrust approval from the Department of Justice. This merger will afford the merged corporation significant control over health care costs for customers–time will tell if those costs go up, down, or stay static.

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JBTL News Roundup: Week of October 1, 2018

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JBTL News Roundup: Week of September 24, 2018

  • The Verge reports that Sirius XM has acquired music streaming service Pandora Radio for $3.5 million. The buyout comes as a relief to Pandora, who lost $200 million in the first half of 2018 after struggling against competitors like Spotify and Apple Music.
  • TechCrunch notes that Snapchat is rolling out a feature allowing users to take pictures of products and then purchase those products on Amazon. Snap has declined to disclose the financial details of the partnership with Amazon.

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JBTL News Roundup: Week of September 17, 2018

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JBTL News Roundup: Week of September 3, 2018

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JBTL News Roundup: Week of August 27, 2018

  • President Trump asserted today that Google’s algorithm discriminates against conservative news media, and says the issue “will be addressed.” Larry Kudlow, an economic adviser to the President, has said that the White House will follow up.
  • The Washington Post reports that Disney parks employees, after a year of tense talks, have struck a deal with their employer for a $15 per hour wage.

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JBTL News Roundup: Week of August 20, 2018

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Price of unfair use: Oracle granted new trial on damages against Google

What’s the license price of 11,000 lines of Javascript SE code? Google and the tech community are about to find out.

The Federal Circuit on Tuesday reversed a jury verdict and denial of judgment as a matter of law in Oracle’s copyright infringement suit against Google for use of Oracle’s Javascript SE API (application programming interface). Oracle America, Inc. v. Google LLC, 2018 WL 1473875. The court remanded the case to the district court for a new trial solely on the damages Google will pay Oracle in what will be the third trial in this case.

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Does Patent Trolling Actually Put Innovation at Risk?

Many practitioners are vaguely acquainted with the concept of patent trolls, but are unfamiliar with its nuances. On a superficial level, one might recognize that the term “patent troll” is a pejorative moniker used to refer to a patentee that does not manufacture a consumer product. This name is typically traded for a more neutral alternative: non-practicing entities (NPEs). Rather than make, use, or sell new products and technologies, trolls obtain essentially defunct patents to force third parties to purchase licenses. They accomplish this by waiting for an industry to utilize a patented technology and then force the alleged infringers to either pay up or litigate. Patent trolls can be divided into three categories: (1) those that purchase other companies’ controversial patents to assert them against an industry; (2) those that originally sold products but have either completely or largely closed their operations to focus on patent licensing; and (3) those that act as agents to help assert patents on behalf of patent owners for a fee. Despite these variations, the business model of the average “troll” is largely uniform: (a) accuse a company of infringing a patent and offer a license for a royalty on sales; and (b) sue the target company if it does not agree to a license.

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NFL Player’s Lawsuit Against League Likely To Go Three and Out: Union Faces Uphill Battle in Convincing Court To Set Aside Labor Arbitration Award

On Friday, the National Football League Players Association (“NFLPA”) filed an Emergency Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order or Preliminary Injunction on behalf of Ezekiel Elliott – an NFL running back – to prevent the NFL from enforcing a six-game suspension it imposed on Elliott for violating its domestic violence policy. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell executed the six-game suspension after NFL investigators found that Elliott harmed his accuser, Tiffany Thompson.

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Feeling the Effects: The Rise in the Unauthorized Practice of Public Adjusting

It is well established that most homeowners purchase property insurance for peace of mind or because it is required, and not necessarily because the homeowner believes a catastrophe will happen to them. Given this, many homeowners are unfamiliar with their policy provisions. When a disaster occurs, the homeowners’ policy plays an integral role in helping the homeowner rebuild. The policyholder will have several options while navigating through the claims process. While some policyholders will choose to work with the insurance company directly or rely on a contractor to negotiate the claim, others will turn to a public insurance adjuster. Although there is not a right or wrong way to move through the claims process, problems can arise when an unlicensed or untrained person negotiates a claim settlement with the insurance company.

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