Question of sales tax on online purchases goes to high court
Legal Topics | 2018/04/17 12:17
Online shoppers have gotten used to seeing that line on checkout screens before they click "purchase." But a case before the Supreme Court could change that.

At issue is a rule stemming from two, decades-old Supreme Court cases: If a business is shipping to a state where it doesn't have an office, warehouse or other physical presence, it doesn't have to collect the state's sales tax.

That means large retailers such as Apple, Macy's, Target and Walmart, which have brick-and-mortar stores nationwide, generally collect sales tax from customers who buy from them online. But other online sellers, from 1-800 Contacts to home goods site Wayfair, can often sidestep charging the tax.

More than 40 states are asking the Supreme Court to reconsider that rule in a case being argued Tuesday. They say they're losing out on "billions of dollars in tax revenue each year, requiring cuts to critical government programs" and that their losses compound as online shopping grows. But small businesses that sell online say the complexity and expense of collecting taxes nationwide could drive them out of business.

Large retailers want all businesses to "be playing by the same set of rules," said Deborah White, the president of the litigation arm of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, which represents more than 70 of America's largest retailers.

For years, the issue of whether out-of-state sellers should collect sales tax had to do mostly with one company: Amazon.com. The online giant is said to account for more than 40 percent of U.S. online retail sales. But as Amazon has grown, dotting the country with warehouses, it has had to charge sales tax in more and more places.

President Donald Trump has slammed the company, accusing it of paying "little or no taxes" to state and local governments. But since 2017, Amazon has been collecting sales tax in every state that charges it. Third-party sellers that use Amazon to sell products make their own tax collection decisions, however.

The case now before the Supreme Court could affect those third-party Amazon sellers and many other sellers that don't collect taxes in all states — sellers such as jewelry website Blue Nile, pet products site Chewy.com, clothing retailer L.L. Bean, electronics retailer Newegg and internet retailer Overstock.com. Sellers on eBay and Etsy, which provide platforms for smaller sellers, also don't collect sales tax nationwide.

States generally require consumers who weren't charged sales tax on a purchase to pay it themselves, often through self-reporting on their income tax returns. But states have found that only about 1 percent to 2 percent actually pay.


Singer Cliff Richard's case against BBC begins in High Court
Legal Topics | 2018/04/10 00:50
begun in a London court.

Richard is suing the broadcaster for its coverage of the 2014 raid, when police were investigating an alleged sex assault.

The 77-year-old singer was never charged with any crime. His lawsuit claims he suffered "profound" damage to his reputation as a result of the BBC's coverage of the police activity at his home.

BBC says it will "vigorously" rebut Richard's case. Richard's lawyer Justin Rushbrooke told the court BBC used its cameras to "spy" into Richard's home.

He said it was hard to describe "the sense of panic and powerlessness" Richard experienced when he realized the BBC was broadcasting images of the raid based on allegations he knew were false.


Court fight over, founding papers of AA to go up for auction
Legal Topics | 2018/03/07 02:45
lawsuit disputing its ownership was settled.

Auction house Profiles in History announced Wednesday that the manuscript and manifesto is going up for auction on May 5 in Los Angeles. It is expected them to fetch between $2 million and $3 million.

The 161-page typed document with yellowing pages, considered to be nearly scripture by some AA followers, give the first outline of the group's 12-step recovery program. It is filled with handwritten notes and scribbles from the founding fathers of AA, including William Wilson, more commonly known as "Bill W."

It had been slated to be auctioned last June, but Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. disputed that Alabama resident Ken Roberts had the rights to it. Roberts bought the manuscript at auction in 2007 for $850,000.

Details of the settlement were not released, but Profiles in History said Alcoholics Anonymous had waived its rights to the manuscript.

Wilson's widow Lois owned the papers after his death in 1971, and she passed them on to her friend Barry Leach. Alcoholics Anonymous said Leach signed and notarized a letter in 1979 saying the manuscript would belong to the organization after his death. He died in 1985, but the manuscript did not make its way to Alcoholics Anonymous, which did not know about the notarized letter at the time.

Its ownership history in the ensuing years is not entirely clear until 2004, when Sotheby's auctioned it for $1.57 million. Then it sold to Roberts in 2007.



Brazil court largely upholds law that some fear hurts Amazon
Legal Topics | 2018/03/01 22:57
Brazil's Supreme Court has batted down challenges to key parts of a law that environmentalists say has contributed to increasing deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

The 2012 law included an amnesty for illegal deforestation that occurred before July 2008, including releasing perpetrators from the obligation to replant areas in compensation. It also weakened protections for some preservation areas by expanding the sorts of activity allowed in them. It was backed by farming interests.

Wednesday's court ruling rejected most of the challenges to the law.

Brazil's non-governmental Socio-environmental Institute says researchers believe the law contributed to rising rates of Amazon deforestation starting in 2012 after years of decreases. However, the rate fell in 2017 as compared to 2016, which saw an exceptionally large swath of forest cut.



High court: Held immigrants can't get periodic bond hearings
Legal Topics | 2018/03/01 06:57
The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that immigrants the government has detained and is considering deporting aren't entitled by law to periodic bond hearings.

The case is a class-action lawsuit brought by immigrants who've spent long periods in custody. The group includes some people facing deportation because they've committed a crime and others who arrived at the border seeking asylum.

The San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit had ruled for the immigrants, saying that under immigration law they had a right to periodic bond hearings. The court said the immigrants generally should get bond hearings after six months in detention, and then every six months if they continue to be held.

But the Supreme Court reversed that decision Tuesday and sided with the Trump administration, which had argued against the ruling, a position also taken by the Obama administration.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote for five justices that immigration law doesn't require periodic bond hearings. But the justices sent the case back to the appeals court to consider whether the case should continue as a class action and the immigrants' arguments that the provisions of immigration law they are challenging are unconstitutional.

But Justice Stephen Breyer, writing a dissenting opinion joined by two other liberal-leaning justices on the court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, said he would have read the provisions of immigration law to require hearings for people detained for a prolonged period of time.

"The bail questions before us are technical but at heart they are simple," Breyer wrote. "We need only recall the words of the Declaration of Independence, in particular its insistence that all men and women have 'certain unalienable Rights,' and that among them is the right to 'Liberty,'" he wrote.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the case on behalf of the immigrants, had previously said that about 34,000 immigrants are being detained on any given day in the United States, and 90 percent of immigrants' cases are resolved within six months. But some cases take much longer.

In the case before the justices, Mexican immigrant Alejandro Rodriguez was detained for more than three years without a bond hearing. He was fighting deportation after being convicted of misdemeanor drug possession and joyriding, and was ultimately released and allowed to stay in the United States.



GOP to take new congressional map to court
Legal Topics | 2018/02/13 14:08
Republicans say they’ll go to federal court this week to try to block new court-ordered boundaries of Pennsylvania’s congressional districts from remaining in effect for 2018’s elections.

Top Senate Republican lawyer Drew Crompton said Monday a separation of powers case will form the essence of the GOP’s argument. Crompton won’t say whether Republicans will go to a district court or the U.S. Supreme Court or what type of legal remedy they’ll seek.

But the case will involve making the argument the U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures and governors, not courts, the power to draw congressional boundaries.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court wouldn’t stop the state court’s order to redraw congressional districts. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf calls the new map an effort to remedy the state’s unfair and unequal congressional elections.

Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is applauding the new boundaries of congressional districts being imposed by the state Supreme Court.

Wolf said in a statement Monday that Pennsylvanians “are sick and tired of gerrymandering.” He calls the court’s map an effort to remedy the state’s unfair and unequal congressional elections.

Wolf had backed the Democratic-majority state high court’s ruling last month to throw out Pennsylvania’s district boundaries. Republicans have won 13 of Pennsylvania’s 18 seats in three elections under the invalidated map, although statewide elections are often closely contested.



Wisconsin Supreme Court primary will leave just two
Legal Topics | 2018/02/11 21:07
The latest battle over the ideological balance of the Wisconsin Supreme Court plays out in the Feb. 20 primary, where one of three candidates will be eliminated ahead of a spring election.

Partisan politics have weighed heavy over weeks of campaigning. Madison attorney Tim Burns has most embraced his liberal beliefs, while Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Rebecca Dallet sought to appear as a moderate. Sauk County Circuit Judge Michael Screnock, an appointee of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, has the backing of conservatives.

The primary is the first statewide race this year, and while officially nonpartisan, it could be a bellwether for how Republicans and Democrats stand heading into the fall. Turnout is expected to be low, likely less than 10 percent.

The top two vote-getters advance to the April 3 general election, with the winner replacing outgoing conservative Justice Michael Gableman. He decided against seeking another 10-year term.

The court is currently controlled 5-2 by conservatives, so no matter who wins the ideological control will not change. Burns, who represents clients nationwide in lawsuits against insurance companies, is the only non-judge in the race. He also has little experience litigating in Wisconsin courtrooms, having argued only one case in state court and six in federal court in Wisconsin.

Burns argues his experience outside of Wisconsin is a strength that will help him fix what he views as a broken system. And, he argues a victory for him will energize liberals across the state headed into the fall.

Dallet argues that Burns has gotten too political. But she's walking a fine line trying to win over many of the same liberal voters Burns is appealing to. She ran a commercial attacking Trump and has criticized the current Supreme Court for voting in 2015 to end an investigation into Walker and conservatives.


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