Category Archives: Legal Update

Donate in 2020 for a Tax Deduction

form and calculatorTaxpayers who do not itemize deductions will still be able to deduct up to $300 in charitable donations in 2020, thanks to a provision in the CARES Act. Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, H.R. 748, 116th Cong. § 2204 (2020).

In other words, the Form 1040 for the year 2020, electronic or not, will contain a straightforward way to report up to a $300 donation, even for those who otherwise would not report charitable donations. 

Points to Remember

  • hand putting money into a box with a heartThe recipient of a donation must be a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. Check the IRS’s Tax Exempt Organization Search to verify a particular organization’s status.
  • The donation must be cash (such as an electronic donation with a credit or debit card), not stocks or property.
  • Keep receipts.

More Information

The following sources may be helpful for those who have questions. Of course, consulting a tax lawyer is always advisable.

Ann Carrns, It’s Easier to Get a Tax Deduction for Donations This Year, NEW YORK TIMES (Nov. 20, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/20/your-money/charity-deductions-taxes-coronavirus.html. (If you are a UofSC student, faculty, or staff member and need to begin or renew your free New York Times online subscription, the link is here: bit.ly/uofscnyt)

Stephen Fishman, New Rules for Charitable Contribution Deductions Under the CARES Act, NOLO https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/new-rules-for-charitable-contribution-deductions-under-the-cares-act.html. (This site also provides referrals to tax lawyers.)

Edward T. Killen, Special Tax Deductions Available This Year for Cash Donations to Charities; IRS Works to Raise Awareness, INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE: A CLOSER LOOK (Dec. 2, 2020), https://www.irs.gov/about-irs/special-tax-deductions-available-this-year-for-cash-donations-to-charities-irs-works-to-raise-awareness. (This site also provides links to official IRS publications.)

Historic SC Courthouse Reopens

sepia photo of classic two story building. "Old Court House Camden, S.C. Erected in 1820. Now used as D.A.R. and U.D.C. Relic Room"

undated postcard

The City of Camden, South Carolina, has reopened its historic courthouse for use as a courthouse for the first time in more than 100 years, according to the city’s website and the Associated Press.

The building was used as a courthouse from the 1820s until the 1900s. After that, it served as a relic room, as the Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce, and as a rental venue for meetings and weddings. The first floor still houses the City of Camden Welcome Center. The second-story courtroom has now been restored according to its 1845 renovation and is in use for weekly municipal court hearings. 

modern photo of classic white two-story building; historic marker in front

2004 photo by Wikipedia user Pollinator

The historic courthouse was designed by architect Robert Mills. Robert Mills also designed the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., as well as several buildings in Columbia, South Carolina. His work influenced the design of the new UofSC School of Law building.

For more photos: scpictureproject.org/kershaw-county/robert-mills-courthouse.html

Directions to the Robert Mills Courthouse in Camden, from UofSC School of Law in Columbia: goo.gl/maps/fWieEJyJAPeQKYQT7

Faculty Publication Awards

Congratulations to Professors Elizabeth Chambliss and Emily Suski on their articles and to Professor Joseph A. Seiner on his book, all of which were selected by the law school faculty for this year’s Faculty Publication Awards.

Articles

Elizabeth Chambliss, Evidence-Based Lawyer Regulation, 97 Wash. U.L. Rev. (2019). scholarcommons.sc.edu/law_facpub/336/

Emily Suski, The School Civil Rights Vacuum, 66 UCLA L. Rev. 720 (2019). scholarcommons.sc.edu/law_facpub/344/

Book

Joseph A. Seiner, Employment Discrimination: Procedure, Principles, and Practice (2d ed. 2019). (Ebook version on publisher website. The law library has ordered a library copy in print, but it is not yet available, due to a change to a new catalog system coinciding with COVID-19 closure.)

Jurors Powered Through

To our law students getting through exams this week, take heart from a federal jury that kept going through an eight-week trial, and reached a verdict in April 2020.

The Case

When Robert Walter Carlson pleaded guilty to federal drug trafficking charges, he testified that four additional people—his partner, two pilots, and a co-owner of a charter jet company—were part of the scheme to transport drugs.

These four defendants pleaded not guilty. They flew and/or arranged the flights, but they alleged Carlson and others deceived them as to the purpose of the travel and the nature of the cargo. The trial was ongoing in the Eastern District of Kentucky when covid-19 hit.

The Jurors Kept Going

handwritten: Will we receive copies of the testimony transcripts to review with evidence? Request for additional post-its, a dry erase board, and highlighters for our notes

36 pages of jury notes (Bloomberg Law password needed) and responses from Judge Caldwell appear in the federal docket

According to an April 26, 2020 article in the Louisville Courier Journal, federal trials in progress were permitted to go forward at the discretion of the trial judge. Judge Karen Caldwell asked each juror in private whether they were willing to continue. Judge Caldwell also required each juror to fill out a daily questionnaire about their health.

Masks and gloves were offered, and one juror chose to wear a facemask to protect others. The rest of the protective equipment was given to health care workers and first responders. The seating arrangement in the courtroom was altered, and a jury lounge rather than a deliberation room was used, so that all jurors could remain at least six feet from each other at all times.

After nine days of deliberation, the jury reached a verdict of guilty as to one defendant, and not-guilty as to the other three defendants.

How to Find the Case

Thescreenshot docket for this case is on Bloomberg Law at USA v. Matthews, No. 5:17-cr-00118 (E.D. Ky. Oct. 05, 2017).

On law.sc.edu/library, under Quick Links For UofSC Law Students, click Bloomberg Law. Use the password you received from your LRAW professor, or contact Bloomberg Law customer service if you’ve forgotten it.

On Bloomberg Law, under Popular Links, click Dockets Search. In the Dockets Search window, scroll down to Judge and type Caldwell, and paste in the docket number 5:17-cr-00118, then click Search. In the search results, click on the case name USA v. Matthews. To find the jury notes, scroll down to document 602 in the docket.

screenshot

 

 

New Year, New Laws, 2020 Edition

The State newspaper usually provides a guide to South Carolina laws that take effect January 1, and this year is no exception. Maayan Schechter’s December 31, 2019 article lists two laws that became effective at the start of 2020.

Electric Cooperative Oversight

Act 56 of 2019 empowered the Public Service Commission to ensure that electric cooperatives in South Carolina meet requirements and follow procedures listed in the act.

Three different effective dates for various portions of the act are outlined in Section 19 of the act:

SECTION    19.    The provisions of this act take effect upon approval by the Governor, except that:

(1)    Sections 1, 2, 3, 13, 14, and 15 take effect January 1, 2020.

(2)    Section 7 takes effect May 1, 2020.

(3)    Sections 4, 5, 6, 9, and 11 take effect on the first day of the fifteenth calendar month after the month of signature by the Governor.

That means additional portions of the act will go into effect May 1 and July 1 of 2020.

Boat Tax

Act 223 of 2018 changed the way the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources collects personal property tax on boats.

Effective January 1, 2020, taxes are to be paid annually, instead of every three years.

The department posts a plain-English version of these and other outdoor-related rules on eregulations.com.

New Year, New Laws

More powerful than New Year’s resolutions, state laws often have an effective date of January 1. An overview of these laws across the United States, including a special focus on North Carolina, can be found in a recent blog post by the J. Michael Goodson Law Library at Duke University School of Law.

Inspired by our neighbors to the north, we present a short guide to South Carolina’s legislation effective January 1, 2018.

News about SC Laws effective January 1

The State newspaper summarized several provisions effective January 1, 2018. But the news article provides a link to only one of the relevant acts: Act 40 of 2017 that relates to the state’s gas tax and a few other taxes and fees.

Full Text of SC Laws effective January 1

To find the full text of other South Carolina legislation summarized in the article, you could go to scstatehouse.gov, click Ratifications & Acts, click 2017 Act Lists, then click Effective Date to see a list of all acts enacted into law in the 2017 legislative session, in order of effective date. Oddly, at first glance, the latest effective date listed appears to be November 19, 2017.

Acts with Multiple Effective Dates

Taking a closer look, at the top of the list is a group of 13 acts with “multiple effective dates or other special circumstances.” Their effective dates are listed only as “See Act,” meaning that you’ll need to click on each act number to read the full text of the act to determine which provisions of that act become effective on what dates.

Act 40 of 2017 (Gas Tax)

Act 40 of 2017 is listed as one of the “Acts With Multiple Effective Dates.” The State mentions several provisions of Act 40 in its article about laws effective January 1. These provisions relate to:

  • a new gas-tax credit,
  • vehicle registration fees,
  • the college tuition tax deduction,
  • the earned-income tax credit, and
  • the property tax rate for manufacturers.
Act 15 (Elections) and Act 86 (Exotic Pets)

The State only references two more laws that have provisions effective January 1:

Acts 15 and 86 have multiple effective dates, according to the 2017 Acts List on scstatehouse.gov. So again, it would be necessary to read the full text of each act to understand how the January 1 effective date operates on only part of the act.

The Remaining 2017 Acts with Multiple Effective Dates

That leaves 10 acts with multiple effective dates (“or other special circumstances“) that aren’t mentioned in The State’s article. Why not? Is January 1, 2018 not one of the dates that any of their provisions are scheduled to go into effect? Or some other reason, perhaps that they were not of general interest to the newspaper’s readership?

We leave it as an exercise for the interested reader to determine which, if any, of the provisions in these 10 acts became effective January 1, 2018. We’re kidding, of course. Take a glance, and estimate how long it would take to figure that out.

Now does your reading for your law school classes look easier by comparison? Happy New Year from your law library!

Things that Go Bump

by guest author Rebekah Maxwell

The Old Hall, Fairies by Moonlight; Spectres & Shades, Brownies and Banshees – by John Anster Fitzgerald, via Wikimedia Commons

Haunted house law is trickier (or treatier?) than you might expect.

For instance, while a broker has no duty to disclose that a house is reputed to be haunted, once an owner has reported hauntings of the property in the public media, she is estopped from denying that the ghosts exist, and a buyer may be able to rescind the contract. Stambovsky v. Ackley, 572 N.Y.S.2d 672 (1991).

And yet, a deed obtained through misrepresentation that a house is haunted might be allowed to stand. Souza v. Soares, 22 Haw. 17 (1914).

Also, the fact that you believe a house to be haunted doesn’t give you a pass for vandalizing it. Hayward v. Carraway, 180 So.2d 758 (1965). Ghosts have feelings, too.

This Little Pig Has a Docket

“Stickin’ with The Pig: A tale of loyalty and loss”

Tony Bartelme writes in the Post and Courier about the Piggly Wiggly chain that revolutionized the grocery business at the start of the 20th century, grew to become a beloved icon in the South, and is now facing a lawsuit over business decisions that are alleged to have resulted in difficulty paying obligations to employees.

The amended complaint includes these words:

How to Find Federal Court Documents Using Bloomberg Law

To find the court documents in the Piggly Wiggly lawsuit:

1.  Log in to Bloomberg Law.

2.  On the left, click “Litigation & Dockets.” Then click “Dockets Search.”  

3.  In the Courts field, select the U.S. District Court of South Carolina.

4.  In the Docket # field, type 2:16-cv-00616.

5.  Click on the caption of the case (the blue link) to see the docket for the case.

6.  All documents in the lawsuit so far are listed in the docket. Key documents have a link to “View,” meaning that the full text is available online free, through your student Bloomberg Law subscription.

Class Action against High Research Costs

Three nonprofits have sued the federal government over legal research costs—National Veterans Legal Services Program, National Consumer Law Center, and Alliance for Justice.

Their complaint alleges that the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts charges excessive fees to access federal court information online through PACER. PACER stands for Public Access to Court Electronic Records. The PACER website is how the federal government provides online access to court documents from federal district courts, appellate courts, and bankruptcy courts.

The judge has allowed the case to proceed as a class action. Some law firms have recently received notice that they may be eligible to join the class, because they have paid PACER fees during the six-year time period relevant to the lawsuit. Jean O’Grady, a law librarian at the firm DLA Piper, estimates that some large law firms may have paid more than $1 million over six years, just on legal research fees to PACER.

Not many law students use PACER, because it is clunky and expensive. But most law students use subscription databases (Westlaw, Lexis Advance, and Bloomberg Law) that provide free student access and streamlined user interfaces over federal court data that originates from PACER.

We at the law library serve not only law students, but also the general public. Members of the public who don’t have access to subscription databases have no choice but to use PACER if they need federal court documents. Many of them find PACER’s 10-cents-per-page charges add up quickly to become unaffordable. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are asking the government to reduce these costs, which would incidentally help our public patrons who need federal court information.