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Attorney Crossett Represents Mail Carrier in Religious Liberty Case

At Cornerstone Law Firm, we believe the First Amendment defends each individual’s right to live freely according to their deeply held conscience and faith.

In a recent religious liberty case, Attorney David Crossett represented a Lancaster County mail carrier, Gerald Groff. Mr. Groff’s rights were violated when the USPS failed to accommodate his religious beliefs regarding working on Sundays.

In a recent news release, Attorney Crossett said:

“In a free and respectful society, government should recognize those differences among us that make us great, rather than punishing those differences, particularly when those differences result from our sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Read the full news release here.

To read more about the religious freedom case, we encourage you to take a look at recent news coverage:

If your religious liberties have been violated, we encourage you to call us today to discuss your case.

News Release: Christian Mail Carrier Discharged for Not Delivering Packages on Sunday Asks Federal Court for Judgment

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 17, 2020
For interview requests or questions, contact: Dan Bartkowiak
717-657-4990, dbart@indlawcenter.org

(LANCASTER, PA – February 17, 2020) On Friday, February 14, a United States Postal Service (USPS) mailman filed a Motion for Summary Judgement before a federal district judge asking the court to find that the USPS violated his rights when it failed to accommodate his religious beliefs regarding work on Sundays. 

Gerald Groff has been a mailman in Lancaster County for almost seven years. One Post Office supervisor called Mr. Groff his best employee. Another Post Office supervisor said that Mr. Groff had the best quality of work of anyone he had met in the USPS.

When he was hired, Sunday work was never required for Mr. Groff’s position.  Several years later, the USPS started parcel delivery on Sundays. For a time, the Post Office and Mr. Groff worked flexibly together to accommodate his religious convictions of not working on Sundays. Mr. Groff simply picked up holiday, evening, and Saturday hours others did not want to work. 

Later, USPS began enforcing a no-exceptions Sunday policy on Mr. Groff and needlessly disciplined him. This resulted in him being constructively discharged from the job he loved.

“In a free and respectful society, government should recognize those differences among us that make us great, rather than punishing those differences, particularly when those differences result from our sincerely held religious beliefs,” said David Crossett, a partner at the Cornerstone Law Firm, LLC, one of the attorneys representing Mr. Groff.

“Just as the Supreme Court recognized in a case involving the right of a Muslim worker to wear a head scarf at a clothing store, a government employer like the Post Office should reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs. The Post Office had plenty of other options for delivering Amazon packages on Sundays without making this employee violate his religious conscience,” said Randall Wenger, Chief Counsel of the Independence Law Center. “In a free society, government employers can and should do better at respecting their employees’ rights.”

The case, Groff v. Brennan, is filed before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

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Why You Shouldn’t Ignore a Writ of Summons

If you’ve been served with a Writ of Summons in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania or, in any other county in Pennsylvania for that matter, it’s extremely important that you do not ignore it. A Writ of Summons is the beginning of a lawsuit, and it takes care of one of the most difficult and important parts of the process—serving the lawsuit.

In other words, as a Defendant, you’re not going to get another notice about this lawsuit served through official means, such as a sheriff. From now on, everything you get is going to come through the mail. You don’t want to risk receiving this mail while you’re out of town, on vacation, or dealing with the other busy details of life that might keep you distracted.

Pennsylvania Summons
A Writ of Summons is an alternate form of original process in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

What to Do

When you’re served with a Writ of Summons, the first thing to do is to immediately take action to insist that the Plaintiff file a Complaint substantiating their right to a lawsuit. Their failure to do so can result in a complete dismissal of the charges.

What happens if you don’t know what the charges are based on? What happens if you don’t even know the person suing you? Surprisingly, this happens to many defendants.

Regardless, you should still take action to force a Complaint right away. This gives you the chance to gather evidence, prepare your defense, and hopefully push the Plaintiff into a position where the case can be settled or dismissed.

Take Next Steps

The Writ of Summons is part of Pennsylvania’s very complex Rules of Civil Procedure. Failure to abide by the Rules of Civil Procedure can result in very serious waivers of your rights. Contacting a civil litigation attorney is an important first step in the process. Litigation lawyers can help you figure out the rights steps to take in the process.

Contact us at the Cornerstone Law Firm today to discuss your Writ of Summons in Pennsylvania and to see how we can help you navigate the process.

Oley Valley Students Settle First Amendment Lawsuit

Every American has the right to free speech under the First Amendment. That’s why Cornerstone Law Firm is glad to announce that our clients, three students in the Oley Valley School District, have had their voices heard in their recently settled lawsuit.

We worked with the students to bring a lawsuit against Oley Valley School District for violating their First Amendment rights. The case has now settled for $5,000 for the students plus attorneys’ fees and expungement of the discipline resulting from their school board speech.

Oley Valley School District students (from left to right) Vinny Ferrizzi, Haley Hartline and Jordan Eck practicing their First Amendment rights

What Happened

Jordan Eck, Haley Hartline and Vinny Ferrizzi were disciplined for speaking at a school board meeting last March, where they expressed concerns about the way the drama program was being run. Within 24 hours of speaking to the school board, two of the students were suspended and removed from the school play, and less than two weeks later, the third was removed from school property in front of his classmates. Various excuses for this retaliation were offered throughout the lawsuit, but upon production of surveillance footage demonstrating the pretextual nature of these excuses, the parties finally agreed to settle.

The monetary settlement reimburses the students’ families for the expense of litigation and will be paid by the school district’s insurance carrier. The settlement also includes compensation for Jordan for the defamation of his character by the drama program director in a series of emails to the parents of other students in the drama program, as well as others in the community. All three students will receive compensation from the district’s insurance carrier for the violation of their rights to free speech.

What They Have to Say

The students expressed their relief that the case is over. “This is a victory for our First Amendment rights, and for the rights of other students to speak freely without fear of retribution,” said Eck after the settlement was reached.

“It shouldn’t have taken a federal lawsuit to force the School District to respect our right to speak,” said Hartline.

Ferrizzi agrees: “We wanted an apology, but it’s clear that this will have to do. This is vindication.”

“The First Amendment was written to protect us; but sometimes, we have to protect the First Amendment,” said Cornerstone Law Firm’s Joel Ready, the students’ attorney. “When government officials, however major or minor, seek to punish citizens for their speech, it is imperative that we stand up against that.”

Attorney Ready believes the lawsuit has bigger implications beyond these three students, and beyond Oley Valley:

“This case would have created a chilling effect on other students right to speak up, and I hope the message is loud and clear: as a student, you’re allowed to respectfully express your opinion to those in power, even if your opinion is unpopular.”

How it Started

The case began when Cornerstone Law Firm reached out to the School Board on behalf of the students, demanding that their discipline be expunged. The School Board refused reverse the punishments, necessitating rising costs, and ultimately, this settlement. Attorney Ready says he expects this case will have a positive impact on the School District:

“My clients hope this will cause the Oley Valley School Board to take definite steps to train their employees about protecting students’ rights. The Supreme Court says that students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gates. That is especially true when students speak to school board members—their elected representatives.”

Various messages of both support and opposition have been received on social media by the students, but Eck explains, “From the beginning, we understood that was part of it. We just want every student to be able to speak freely, just like we did.” Ready agrees.

“I’m proud of these three students,” he said. “They’ve shown courage in the community, sometimes in the face of misinformation intentionally spread about them. They’ve shown Oley Valley how important free speech really is.” The Court issued a “Rule 41 Order” last week, and the students and district signed a final agreement today.

Student Statement Posted on Social Media Today

The three students released posts on social media today. The post is as follows:

“We were each disciplined by OVSD last year after we spoke at a school board meeting and expressed concerns about the individual overseeing the drama program. While anyone has a right to agree or disagree with what we said, no one had a right to blast out an email to the community defaming Jordan, claiming he “posted something against another student” such that the “police were called in” to deal with him. No one had a right to suspend Jordan and Haley and remove them from the school show for their speeches that night, and no one had a right to have Vinny escorted off of school property in front of our classmates. These actions were hurtful, and were done to retaliate against us for speaking an unpopular opinion to our elected officials.

As of this week, our disciplinary records related to this incident will be expunged, Jordan will be retroactively restored to his role as drama club President, and we will receive $100,000, which will be paid by the school district’s insurance carrier—not by taxpayers. Most of this is merely to reimburse us the cost of bringing a federal suit. A nominal amount will pay for Jordan’s defamation claim, and all three of us will receive a small amount for the violation of our right to free speech.

The expense and stress of this lawsuit should have been unnecessary. Last March, Joel Ready, our attorney at Cornerstone Law Firm, sent a letter to the School District demanding that this matter be resolved by expunging discipline related to this incident, and that a small amount be paid to cover the attorneys’ fees we had incurred up till then. The School District preferred to fight about this instead, and finally was forced to settle on the eve of trial.

It’s really important to the three of us that all of our classmates hear this message loud and clear: no one can silence you just because you are a student. You’re a citizen of the United States, and when you speak as we did—calmly, respectfully, in the forum set up for public comment—the government and its officials do not have the right to retaliate against you.

We hope this case will give other students courage to speak up for themselves, and to speak against what they see as wrong. We’re grateful for those of you who have supported us along the way, and to those of you who haven’t, we hope you’ll keep all of this in consideration with an open mind and continue to dialogue with us. That’s what the First Amendment is all about.”

Contact Us

If you’re dealing with an infringement on your First Amendment rights, call us today to discuss your case.

Default Judgment

When you fail to respond to a lawsuit filed against you, the court will grant the other party whatever relief they were seeking in their Complaint. This is known as a “default judgment.” In this post, we’ll discuss default judgments, and what you can do if you’ve found yourself dealing with one.

How Defaults Occur

When you’ve been served with a lawsuit, you typically have about thirty days to respond to that lawsuit (although this time varies depending on whether you are in state or federal court). If you don’t respond during that time, judgment will be entered against you in the amount of money claimed in the Complaint.

So, for example, if the complaint asked for $100,000, and you declined to answer, the court will assume that you had no problem with a $100,000 judgment entered against you. Admittedly, this is unlikely with a number that high, but there are plenty of times that someone may not really care about a complaint against them, because they figure the judgment is too small to fight about. They would rather give up, pay the amount to the person that holds the judgment, and move on with life.

The more common reason for a default judgment, however, is that the Defendant never learned of the lawsuit. For example, in some cases, the lawsuit may not have been properly served. In a common example in Pennsylvania, the person may have been served with a “Writ of Summons” which merely told them they were being sued but did not tell the Defendant what they were being sued for.

Unfortunately, many people allow these to simply sit around for a long time. One day, the Plaintiff mails the Defendant a Complaint or, in some cases, doesn’t mail it and claims that they did, and a default judgment is entered. The default judgment acts just like any other judgment. Once entered, it has binding effect on you and can be used to execute against your possessions. It is a serious and important problem, and you should act quickly upon learning of the judgment in order to avoid forfeiting any more of your rights.

When the judgment is entered, it has binding effect on you and can be used to execute against your possessions. It is a serious problem, and you should act quickly upon learning of the judgment in order to avoid forfeiting any more of your rights.

When No Money is Claimed

Many Complaints never state a claim for a precise amount of damages, however. There is no rule requiring that a Plaintiff calculate their precise damages when they file a suit. Many times, damages are determined during the course of discovery and trial.

Accordingly, most Complaints are filed without a specific claim for the amount of damages at issue. In this case, the Court will award judgment on liability, and then will set a trial for damages. Discovery and other processes will ensue to aid the parties in determining exactly how much is claimed.

Conclusion: Don’t Sit on a Default Judgment

If a default judgment has been entered against you, don’t ignore it. You may be able to move to have the judgment re-opened. In other cases, you may be able to limit the amount of damages, even if the default is irreversible. What you should not do is wait.

Contact an attorney at Cornerstone Law Firm today to discuss your case.

Defendant Not Guilty on Aggravated Assault Charges in Berks County Court of Common Pleas

Last week, on May 21st and 22nd, Attorney Joel Ready defended an individual accused of Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon in a case arising out of an incident in Hamburg, Pennsylvania.

The two-day trial involved nine witness’ testimonies and resulted in a favorable determination of Not Guilty to all six charges.

The Case

court of common pleas
Berks County Court of Common Pleas

The charges against the Defendant arose out of an alleged pitchfork attack in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. The Defendant faced aggravated assault, simple assault, reckless endangerment of another person and terroristic threats. After approximately an hour of jury deliberations, the Not Guilty determination was entered for the Defendant. The case was heard in front of Judge Paul M. Yatron in the Court of Common Pleas in Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania.

“We are delighted at the outcome on behalf of our client,” says Joel Ready. “We are glad that Omar was completely vindicated in regards to these charges.”

Call Cornerstone Law Firm

Results for one client are not necessarily an indication of how your case would come out, of course, and nothing in this blog can be seen as a guarantee of anything in a different case.

But if you’ve been charged with a crime, call Cornerstone Law Firm, so that our trial attorneys can help you determine how best to defend your case.

Wrongful Death

When a loved one passes away because of someone else’s negligence, it can be very hard to decide what to do next. Nothing can ever replace the individual that you’ve lost in your life, but you are entitled to compensation for the enormous financial expense occasioned by someone’s sudden passing. If you have lost someone you love, here are some factors to be considered to determine if you have a valid wrongful death action.

Negligence and Recklessness

wrongful death

The first factor that needs to be weighed is whether the loved one’s death was the result of someone else’s negligence or recklessness. If someone you love was killed in a car accident because of someone else’s mistake on the road, or killed because of faulty repairs or on the premises of a business that did not take reasonable care in maintaining its premises, then these are classic examples of negligence which has caused the injury that your loved one suffered.

Negligence is defined under Pennsylvania law as failing to take the same reasonable care as the average reasonable person. Recklessness is found when one is aware of a risk but intentionally disregards the risk.

Wrongful Death v. Survival Action

There are two types of actions that the law of Pennsylvania recognizes when someone has been wrongfully killed. The first is called a “survival action,” and the second is called “wrongful death.” A survival action deals with the pain and suffering and bills that the individual accumulated during the time that they survived after the injury that ultimately led to their death. Sometimes, this can be a substantial period of time. In other instances, such as a sudden car crash, this amount of time was brief. Understanding the legal validity of this claim can help to predict the outcome of a settlement or lawsuit.

Wrongful death has to do with the loss that those left behind have incurred as a result of their relative’s death. These two distinct claims allow for different types of damages and also, by law, may be distributed to different family members.

Compassionate and Caring Lawyers Can Help You Recover

At Cornerstone Law Firm we don’t take lightly our responsibility when we’re retained to help a family grieving the loss of a loved one. We know that in this time you need compassion, care, and to be listened to. We understand that not every family wants to pursue damages to the full extent of the law. We understand that no one who is grieving wants to chase other people for money. Frequently, we’ve found that the relatives of victims of wrongful death just want closure, but simply want to know their options. We’re here to listen to you and to work to obtain the result that you want in your case.

If you’ve lost a loved one in an accident or because of someone’s reckless or deliberate act, please call the Cornerstone Law Firm so that we can discuss your rights with you in a free, no obligation consultation. If you retain us, we don’t get paid until you get paid. Call the Cornerstone Law Firm today.

 

 

Construction Litigation

One of the most commonly litigated issues in America is construction. Whether it’s because a construction company failed to do the work that was promised, did the work inadequately, or because of buyer’s remorse that causes a customer to be unhappy with a perfectly good job, construction disputes end up in court about as often as anything else in American law. Experienced construction lawyers will tell you that there are several issues to consider when trying to predict the outcome of a construction case.

Workman-Like Qualityconstruction lawyers

Implied in nearly every construction contract in law, is a requirement that construction be done in a “workman-like manner.” If a contractor or subcontractor shows up to do their job and installs paper mâché plumbing, obviously this would not satisfy the requirements of a contract even if the contract didn’t explicitly say what the plumbing had to be made with. The standard quality requirements of the industry will prevail.

While this may be easy to determine when it comes to paper mâché, it is much harder to determine in instances where a contractor or subcontractor simply isn’t very good at their job. Perhaps they put in cheap materials instead of those ordered, or perhaps they took shortcuts and didn’t get the work done to the standards of the general contractor.

The question that the court will ask is, “What meets the minimum standards of competency in the profession? Did the contractor’s work rise to that level?”

Contract Provisions

In most instances, a dispute with a contractor will be over fulfillment of the terms of a contract. It makes sense, then, to carefully check the contract at the beginning of a job, routinely throughout the job, and of course before the filing of suit. The contract’s provisions will largely set down the rights and obligations of each party. But anyone who’s ever done a construction job knows that things can change quickly.

A homeowner decides they want a different type of flooring throughout the house. A municipal body changes the layout of a building completely. A contractor can’t get the subcontractors originally bargained for. All too often, these become oral conversations. The parties agree that they will do something differently than laid out in the contract, but they don’t memorialize it in writing. Preferably, the parties should execute a Change Order at each stage in the process when things change.

Even without change orders in place, written documents can make it much easier to track the changes that have been made and whether all parties agreed to the changes that were made. A great deal of litigation can be traced back to change orders that weren’t properly executed.

Damages

Finally, even after you’ve worked out all of the other questions in a case, the most important thing that parties heading into construction litigation have to consider are the damages at issue. If a subcontractor didn’t hold up their end of the work, and it caused delays, is the sub on the hook for the cost of the project’s delay? Can that subcontractor be held liable for the expense and costs that a general contractor incurred waiting for that job to be completed by someone else?

We’ve covered damages in other articles on this site from time to time, but it’s sufficient to say that every case is different and that determining the proper measure of damages at the outset of a suit will help you determine whether it’s beneficial to bring a suit at all, and if it is, when it’s appropriate to settle.

Conclusion: You need an experienced construction attorney

The attorneys at the Cornerstone Law Firm have experience in all sorts of litigation. We’ve handled messy cases, simple cases, and everything in between! Call the attorneys at the Cornerstone Law Firm today to discuss your construction litigation case and let us help you figure out how to proceed.

What do I do if I get a traffic ticket?

If you’ve been pulled over and given a traffic ticket, or if you’ve received a traffic ticket in the mail, you should think carefully about your options before pleading guilty to it. When you plead guilty to a traffic ticket, you will incur all of the fines, penalties, points and license suspensions that go along with it. So, here are a few things to consider when you see those blue lights in the rear-view mirror.

  1. Fines…and other coststraffic ticket

If you get a traffic ticket, you know there’s a fine. That’s really what a traffic ticket is. Traffic tickets in Pennsylvania are almost always “summary offenses,” meaning they can be resolved by simply paying your fine. Indeed, most traffic tickets in Pennsylvania are just fines, without any additional points or other complications (although some come with other penalties as discussed below).

But there can be other costs to a traffic ticket when you plead not guilty, including minor court costs and other fees. Regardless, pleading not guilty is your chance to challenge a ticket, and you should carefully weigh this option before simply paying the ticket. The fines on a traffic ticket are always the smallest cost in the long term, which leads us to number two.

  1. Points on your license

The bigger concern when you have a traffic ticket is how many points it will put on your license. In Pennsylvania, once you’ve reached 11 points, your license is suspended, and once you’ve reached six points, you have to pay fees and take a special exam (which, if it’s half as bad as it sounds, is a fate worse than death).

More relevantly, for most Pennsylvanians higher points means higher insurance premiums. Insurance companies take points into account when deciding how much to charge you for your premiums. So, if your traffic ticket comes with points, you want to carefully consider whether you can afford the long-term insurance costs that the ticket will bring. Sometimes a ticket with lower fines and points will end up costing you far more than a ticket with a higher fine and no points.

  1. Your license may be suspended

In some cases, tickets can bring about an automatic license suspension. Worst of all, they may not tell you that until after you’ve plead guilty and it’s too late to do anything about it. PennDOT assesses the suspensions automatically and does so after the fact. So, you won’t know about a suspension in some cases until after it’s too late. Your license can be suspended for relatively small matters such as speeding in a work zone, or allowing someone else to use your car without a license.

Call for a free consultation with a traffic lawyer today

Whenever you’ve received a traffic ticket, it’s important to discuss your matter with a traffic ticket lawyer. Attorneys at the Cornerstone Law Firm can help you determine whether there’s a way to fight your traffic ticket at the Magisterial District Court or a higher court, or whether it can be negotiated to something that doesn’t carry points or a license suspension.

We’ve helped many clients to avoid the serious ramifications of a traffic ticket and we can help you, too.
Call for a free consultation today.

What is Subrogation?

If you filed a claim with an insurance adjuster after a car accident or any other type of motor vehicle accident, there are a few unusual terms that you are going to hear. One of them is “subrogation.” You may hear about it first from the claims adjuster that you’re dealing with at the insurance company. Or perhaps you’ll get a letter from your own health insurance company saying that they’ve subrogated claims or that they believe they have a right of subrogation. So, what is this that they’re talking about, and what should you do about it? Do you need a subrogation lawyer?

subrogation

Subrogation is the right to be reimbursed

Subrogation is a strange word, but it’s fairly simple. It means that someone else has purchased your legal rights from you—even if you didn’t know it! The most common situation in which this arises is when a medical insurance provider pays for your medical care after an accident. In this situation, the medical provider or the health insurance company has a right to be reimbursed by you if you receive a settlement for your personal injury claim.

When you think about it, this makes sense. Someone who pays for your medical care generally ought to be partially reimbursed for their payments if you get paid by the person who hurt you. Similarly, if a hospital or other medical provider remains unpaid for treating you after you are injured, they are usually going to try to be first in line to get reimbursed after you are compensated for those injuries.

But having said all of that, just because someone claims the right of reimbursement doesn’t mean they actually have a right to reimbursement. This is a complicated area of the law. Subrogation is what is known as an “equitable doctrine.” The insurance company or medical provider may have a right of subrogation but that right is limited by a number of important legal principles that a subrogation lawyer or personal injury attorney can help you work through.

Your Personal Injury Claim is Affected by a Subrogation Claim.

One thing people often do not realize when they are negotiating with an insurance adjuster about their personal injury claim is that these subrogation rights of other parties have to be considered when determining the proper amount of compensation for a personal injury claim. In other words, if a medical insurance provider has already paid for your medical bills, the car insurance company involved is typically going to be responsible for providing you with enough money to reimburse them for the amount of money that they paid.

Sometimes an injured party will be negotiating a settlement and believe they are going to receive a certain sum of money from the insurance company only to find out that the entire amount of money will have to be handed over to a medical provider. This should not be the case. The insurance company is responsible for compensating you for all of the injuries you’ve suffered and to make sure that there’s money left over to compensate you for the pain and suffering you’ve experienced. This is where having an experienced personal injury lawyer to help you value your claim and protect you against third-party creditors is extremely important.

Do I Need a Subrogation Lawyer?

If all of this sounds a little bit confusing, don’t panic. An experienced subrogation lawyer can help you to figure out whether your personal injury claim is being properly valued by the insurance company when taking into account any right of repayment that a medical provider or medical insurance company may have.

At Cornerstone Law Firm, our attorneys have extensive experience in the areas of personal injury and subrogation. Our lawyers know how to help you to compromise liens which may be placed against you and how to deal with those claiming a right of subrogation. They can help to defray the costs that would otherwise accrue you and they can help to maximize your recovery. If you’ve been injured in a motor vehicle crash or if you’ve been injured in another way and someone has contacted you about a right of subrogation, call us right away.