By Associate Attorney Danielle Nodar
In 2015, the Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges recognized the constitutional right to marriage extended to unions between same-sex couples. This entitled married same-sex couples to the same benefits and protections under the law as heterosexual couples. However, the Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning Roe v. Wade included a concurring opinion which hinted at the possibility that the Supreme Court may revisit the decision in Obergefell. The threat to overturn the right to same-sex marriage has sweeping consequences in areas relating to healthcare, financial decision-making, and inheritance.
The below information also applies to men and women who are in committed relationships but choose not to marry. North Carolina does not recognize common law marriage.
A person can appoint a Healthcare Power of Attorney designating an agent to receive medical information and make medical decisions on their behalf if the person becomes incapacitated. Without a Healthcare Power of Attorney appointing your preferred agent, North Carolina statutes dictate who will serve as your agent based on their degree of kinship. This hierarchy allows for most spouses to serve as agent for each other, but unmarried adults without the document must rely on a majority of their available parents and adult children to make such decisions jointly. However, if you have a Healthcare Power of Attorney naming your partner as your agent, then the document controls, regardless of whether the Supreme Court overturns the protections of same-sex marriage.
Another area of concern is who will inherit assets after death. In North Carolina, if a person dies without a Last Will and Testament, the state’s intestacy laws govern how probate property (all of the assets that a person owns in their individual name and assets that do not pass via beneficiary designations) are distributed at death. A spouse is given automatic rights and is entitled to at least a percentage of your estate. Obviously, if you are not legally married in the eyes of the law, your partner has no automatic rights, so a will is crucial to have to prevent assets from being distributed to people with whom you do not have a close relationship or to family that does not need your assets. A Last Will and Testament disposing of property will not be impacted should same-sex marriage be overturned. For more information about how property is distributed in North Carolina if you do not have a will, please see our previous blog: What Happens If You Die Without A Will in NC?
Finally, a comprehensive estate plan will allow you to provide for your spouse or partner with non-probate assets not commonly governed by the intestate succession laws, such as life insurance, retirement accounts, jointly owned property with rights of survivorship, securities with named beneficiaries, and Pay on Death or Transfer on Death accounts. By making sure that your partner is named as the beneficiary on these accounts, they will automatically be distributed to the named beneficiary regardless of marital status.
While we cannot anticipate how laws may change in the future, we can assist you with making sure you and your loved ones are protected and provided for through your estate plan. Please call Jesson & Rains for help in crafting an estate plan that works for your family.
By Tony Cline
On July 8, Governor Roy Cooper signed HB 776 into law. This bill creates a new Remote Online Notarization procedure that go into effect on July 1, 2023. Unfortunately, the details of this procedure are still yet to be determined, but in the meantime, HB 776 also reinstated the previous Temporary Emergency Video Notarization (TEVN) authorization that was initially instituted during the COVID-19 pandemic to allow for remote, safe notarization procedures. This reinstatement is effective until June 30, 2023, when the new law kicks in.
The TEVN authorization allows notaries to remotely notarize several types of documents over videoconferencing platforms. The requirements for these video notarizations are:
While video notarizations are not available for most types of estate planning documents, this new law will allow Jesson & Rains to remotely notarize other types of legal documents. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions and for legal assistance.
By Attorney Edward Jesson
In the employer/employee relationship, non-compete agreements get a lot of attention, but non-solicitation agreements should not be ignored. Non-solicitation agreements are agreements either to not to solicit a business’s customers or its employees. Employees could be asked to sign these agreements as well as other businesses. If the latter, courts will generally allow businesses to contract with one another how they see fit. However, courts closely scrutinize non-solicitation agreements that a business asks an employee to sign.
The purpose of a non-solicitation agreement is to ensure that a former employee cannot steal the employer’s customers or poach the employer’s current employees to go and work for a competitor. In order for a non-solicitation agreement to be enforceable, it must be: (1) in writing; (2) part of an employment contract; (3) based on valuable consideration; (4) reasonable as to time and territory; and, (5) designed to protect a legitimate business interest. These factors are very similar to what courts look at when evaluating non-compete agreements, but, generally in North Carolina, non-solicitation agreements are easier to enforce.
The “in writing” and “part of an employment contract” prongs are easy to satisfy. Furthermore, courts in North Carolina have routinely held that non-solicitation agreements protect a legitimate business interest. The “valuable consideration” and “reasonable as to time and territory” prongs are where people often get tripped up. Valuable consideration is generally the job itself (meaning the non-solicitation provision is included in the employment contract at the very beginning as a condition of taking the job) or it can be in the form of a raise after the fact.
Courts look at the time and geographic scope limitations in conjunction with each other. For example, a longer period may be permissible if the geographic coverage is small. Two years is generally held to be enforceable, though longer periods have been held enforceable under unique circumstances. As to geographic scope, courts will usually look to: (1) the area of restriction; (2) the area assigned to the employee; (3) the area where the employee actually worked; (4) the area in which the employer operated; (5) the nature of the business involved; and (6) the nature of the employee’s work duties and knowledge of the employer’s business operation. Additionally, courts in this state will only prohibit the former employee from soliciting customers with whom the employee had contact with or had intimate knowledge of during their former employment.
If a former employee violates the agreement, the business can seek an injunction (a court order prohibiting the employee from further breaches); compensatory damages (such as lost profits); and, in egregious situations, treble damages (three times the compensatory damages). Businesses may also write liquidated damages clauses into the contract that sets the amount of damages up front. However, these are also carefully scrutinized by the court so it is important to make sure that any liquidated damages provisions are properly drafted.
If you need assistance in drafting, reviewing, or enforcing a non-solicitation agreement that you believe an employee has breached, the attorneys at Jesson & Rains are available to assist.
By Tony Cline
In the United States, the only federal statute on the topic is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”). COPPA is targeted at protecting children younger than 13-years-old from having their information collected, their activities tracked, and from being targeted in online advertising without parental consent. California was the first state to create its own data privacy law when the California Consumer Protection Act took effect in 2020. Colorado, Connecticut, Utah, and Virginia all have their own data privacy laws taking effect in 2023. These state statutes go beyond COPPA’s focus on children’s online data and extends protections to the data of all adults. These statutes variously enact restrictions on the collection of sensitive data, sharing of consumer data, and use of such data to profile consumers for advertising purposes. The laws also enshrine several shareholder rights, including the right to correct or erase the information collected, and they institute requirements on websites’ privacy policies.
Because it is likely that states will continue to legislate in this area, businesses can expect a complex regulatory environment if their websites collect consumer data. Consumer data includes information as simple as email or addresses. Violating the laws can lead to very high fines and other penalties. In order to make sure that your company is following all of the applicable laws on data privacy, contact Jesson & Rains PLLC and put our legal team to work for you.
By Tony Cline
We say this over and over again: everyone needs a will to direct who gets their property when they die and avoid the default inheritance laws of this state. But the truth is, for some people, dying without a will and having their assets go to their “intestate heirs” is okay by them. However, in a country where families are having fewer children, and people are making the decision to cohabitate without getting married, the number of people who will leave behind no intestate heirs will only increase in the future.
If you die without a will and with no intestate heirs, your assets will “escheat” to the state, meaning that all of your property, real, personal, and intangible, will become the property of the state of North Carolina.
If you have no intestate heirs and do not want the state to take your assets, you must have a will. Even a simple will can prevent escheat by naming the desired recipients for your property. Oftentimes, people without intestate heirs will choose a charity, which they prefer over the government. Even if you currently have intestate heirs, there is no guarantee they will survive you, so naming backup beneficiaries can help prevent escheat. If you need assistance with drafting a will, call Jesson & Rains PLLC for assistance.
By Attorney Edward Jesson
Copyright and trademark are two different areas of the law that often intersect with each other. A trademark can be any word, phrase, design, or combination of these things that identifies a business’s goods or services. A copyright is an original work by an author with at least a minimum level of creativity, such as a book, painting, photograph, or song. A recent lawsuit involving SweetWater Brewing Company brings some of the nuances and risks involved in these areas of the law to light.
SweetWater Brewing has been using a trout image in its trademarked logo since 1996 after it paid a friend of the founders, Mr. Fuss, $500 to draw the trout in question. Mr. Fuss is now claiming he owns a copyright to the drawing of the trout, and that there was an “understanding” between himself and SweetWater that the value of his rights to the copyright would grow as the value of SweetWater and its intellectual property grew. When SweetWater was recently bought by another company, Fuss sued SweetWater, claiming that he was owed $31 million dollars for the value of the trout drawing. SweetWater has, in turn, sued Mr. Fuss in federal court requesting a declaration from the court that SweetWater can continue to use its trademarks moving forwards without interference from Mr. Fuss.
Had Mr. Fuss been an employee of SweetWater when he drew the trout, or had a comprehensive agreement been entered into between Mr. Fuss and SweetWater at the beginning, the current litigation could have been avoided, saving all the parties lots of money and time.
Generally speaking, under copyright law, the author of the original work owns the copyright. An exception to this general rule is where the work is made for hire. Thus, if the work was made by an employee in his or her scope of employment, the employer holds the copyright to the work. However, if the individual creating the work is an independent contractor instead, that independent contractor will own the copyright to the work. Therefore, it is very important that companies dealing with independent contractors have them sign agreements whereby the independent contractor assigns the copyrights to the company who is paying them.
The trout image was created long before SweetWater grew into the company it is today, and that spotlights a reason why planning for these eventualities before they become bigger issues is so important, even when a business is in its startup phase.
Should you need assistance with navigating the sometimes complex law surrounding copyright and trademarks, the attorney at Jesson & Rains will be happy to assist.
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