If you have medical debt that was incurred in Washington it's likely a huge stressor in your life. You may have even already received a Complaint and Summons from a collection agency demanding the full amount plus interest. The medical debt collection industry is quite robust and profitable. It was even the recent subject of an investigative report by John Oliver on Last Week Tonight. Medical debt has become such a problem in American society that non-profits have popped up such as RIP Medical Debt for the sole purpose of buying and forgiving debt. There are many traditional approaches a consumer protection attorney may be able to take such as arguing an end to the statute of limitations period or finding deficiencies in the collection company's legal fililngs. However, an underutilized but extremely powerful tool in addressing medical debt in Washington is the state's Charity Care laws.
Charity Care is a mandate that major hospitals offer medically necessary services for a sliding scale if the patient follows the proper procedures. That "if" is very important because most hospitals do not make a habit of informing patients about charity care. Each hospital also has its own unique process for receiving charity care rates and they require different documents to evaluate the patient's weath to determine if they qualify. To make it even more confusing many hospitals do not refer to their individual process as "charity care," many refer to the process as "financial assistance," "bridge assistance," or some other confusing designation. Further, even if an eligible patient qualifies their application is often wrongfully denied and they must go through an appellate process. In some instances patients have had to sue hospitals for redress. Regardless, it is estimated that the vast majority of the more than half of a million people in Washington who do not have healthcare coverage qualify for charity care - and are entitled to a drastically reduced medical bill as a result.
At Navigate we are knowledgeable about the Charity Care procedures for many different hospitals throughout Washington. If you are already being sued by a collection company that is ok. We have experience stopping the collection procedures to aid a client in their Charity Care application. When you are approved the amount the collection company can take is drastically reduced. We know that medical debt can set peoples' lives back decades and is often one of the biggest stressors a person has. We are passionate about enforcing people's rights to reduce their medical debt and get back to their lives.
If you think you may have a claim for charity care you can call me today at (360) 205-2256 or email me at email@example.com.
Attorney at Navigate Law Group
This post was originally made November 26, 2016.
Attorney Amber Rush agrees: there is without a doubt a Justice Gap problem in the United States. The Justice Gap is “the difference between the level of legal assistance available and the level that is necessary to meet the needs of low-income Americans.” More studies need to be conducted across the nation about barriers to representation for moderate to low income populations, but lack of funding hampers this progress on a continuing basis.
From the studies that have been done, there are some things that we do know about access to justice issues. The nation’s population is continuing to grow each year. Millions of people in the U.S. are without legal counsel and services when they need them. Washington State’s Civil Legal Needs Study is known as the most comprehensive and representative study in the nation according to the Director of the Office of Civil Legal Aid, James Bamberger. The study found the legal needs of lower income populations are also rising. The most startling statistic is that “[s]even in ten low-income households in Washington State face at least one significant civil legal problem each year. The average number of problems per household increased from 3.3 in 2003 to 9.3 in the latest, 2014 survey.” This statistic is projected to rise according to industry leaders. In effect, “[m]ore than 70% of the low-income households in Washington face at least one civil legal problem during a 12-month period.”
Every year the federal government and other agencies provide a budget for the civil legal needs in each state. In Washington state, over the last 7 years the budget has been reduced by nearly 20%. This has a direct negative effect on the number of civil legal aid attorneys who provide legal services for low income client. The national minimum access standard is to provide at least 1 civil legal aid attorney for every 5,000 people falling at or below 125% of the federal poverty level. This is the goal, and a deplorable one at that because in reality there is no way a single attorney can provide legal services to all 5,000 people. However, Washington state is nowhere near attaining even this minimum standard. The ratio of civil legal need attorneys in Washington is 1:11,500. The result of these staggering numbers is the public has little to no options readily available to meet their needs.
This is not just a regional issue. The nation has been trying to address this issue for decades, and the resulting legal services corporations and nonprofits are making a dent but the problem continues to grow. In the Midwest, citizens stated that in the last 18 months 66% reported they were experiencing one or more of the following legal issues: “money, debt, rented and owned housing, insurance, employment, government benefits, children’s education, clinical negligence, personal injury, and relationship breakdown and its aftermath.”
These are sobering and disturbing statistics. Legal practitioners need to find a better way to address this issue and create a system that more effectively allows the public to identify and access legal services for these catastrophic issues. Lawyers have the knowledge and the power to work together, figure this out, and fix this situation in the modern age. Let's do this.
Amber Rush is an Attorney at Navigate Law Group.
This post was originally made November 21, 2016.
There is a lot of complexity and international implications swimming around in the world of estate plans dealing with property in foreign countries. Here are some considerations to look at if you are drafting these kinds of documents:
Amber Rush is an Attorney at Navigate Law Group.
This post was originally made October 7th, 2015.
For months common wisdom in the canna-law community was that a license could not be transferred from one business entity to another after it had been issued. The accepted practice for a license to change hands was for the business entity that had acquired the license to change hands. As my good friend and talented cannabis law attorney Jillian Cook at TZMC Law put it: "Shareholders, officers, and directors come and go, but UBI numbers are forever." Depending on the Washington State Liquor Cannabis Board (WSLCB) investigator you might be able to get away with a transfer from one entity to another pre-issuance, but definitely not post-issuance. However, the WSLCB appears to have made an about-face in policy. MRM's experience as-of-late has been a complete break from this structure.
In recent months the WSLCB has started telling our clients they may not transfer a license application from one business entity to another pre-issuance. Instead, they may only transfer the license to another business entity once it has been issued. In dealing with the WSLCB our office has been told that the unofficial reason is the WSLCB is tired of applications spending several months (or years) going through the application process. One reason they credit for this is the inability to transfer a license to another entity once it has been issued. Accordingly, some WSLCB investigators are no longer allowing a pre-issuance transfer to another business entity at all.
The WSLCB is referring to this post-issuance transfer as the "assumption process." While the WSLCB has not been exceedingly clear about this process, it appears that it is authorized by recent changes to WAC 314-55-135. A new version of that provision went into effect on June 20, 2015. The previous version had been effective since November 21, 2013. The old version of the provision read in its entirety:
"WAC 314-55-135 Discontinue marijuana sales. You must notify the board's enforcement and education division in writing if you plan to stop doing business for more than thirty days, or if you plan to permanently discontinue marijuana sales."
The new version of the provision has multiple subsections, with one referring to "Assumptions." It states:
"Assumptions: Assumption of license and purchases by licensee of certain marijuana inventory and stock. In the case of a sale of business with a licensee, after obtaining the approval of the board and under the supervision of a representative of the board, the licensee may sell the entire inventory at a negotiated fair market price. Sales below cost are prohibited."
This is vague language to say the least. Arguably the definition of "business" could refer to a business entity or it could be used in the more amorphous sense of "customer goodwill" and "means of production." Practically, the WSLCB seems to be adopting the latter definition and is beginning to allow the "assumption" of a marijuana license by a separate business entity than it was originally issued to. What is clear is that the purchaser of a marijuana license still has to be approved by the WSLCB and the transfer must be supervised by the WSLCB. This is good news for those who want to get into the marijuana industry, missed the license application window, and have the money....unless down the road the Washington Supreme Court interprets WAC 314-55-135 more conservatively than the WSLCB that is.
Eli Marchbanks, Attorney and Co-Owner of MRM Law Group
This post was originally made July 27th, 2015.
“Keep your head down and just grind it out,” you might be thinking. “Oh, this can’t be discrimination, society is way past that.” “My boss keeps making unwanted passes at me and I’d report him, but I don’t want to get fired.”
The workplace is full of complex and stressful factors that create unique and challenging situations for anyone working in Washington State. Fast-paced environments, approaching deadlines, high expectations; as if life was not already complicated enough.
However, many employer-created situations arise in the workplace that employees should not have to deal with, and Washington and federal law properly reflects this notion. Although Washington law does not protect against the “mean boss,” there are numerous requirements of Washington employers. Below are a few practices that are prohibited by Washington and federal law.
Washington’s Law Against Discrimination (“WLAD”), RCW 49.60, protects employees from discrimination in the workplace based on such characteristics as race, gender, disability, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, and several others. Also Title VII of the United States Code as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act provides similar protections for employees against discrimination. If you feel that you are being discriminated against due to a characteristic such as one of these, you may have a state and/or federal law claim.
Federal Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) and its Washington counterpart, the Washington State Family Leave Act (“WFLA”) protect workers and allow them to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave every year. If your employer is preventing you from taking this leave, or has taken adverse action against you subsequent to your leave, you may have a claim under state and federal law.
Employers often try to deduct or withhold wages from an employee for varying reasons. However, under Washington law, RCW 59.52, and under the Federal Labor Standards Act, employers are limited in the types of deductions and withholdings that they can make. As such, if your employer is withholding or deducting wages, you may have a state or federal law claim, and in some instances be able to collect double what the attorney owes you, plus attorneys fees.
If you feel that your employer is engaging in illegal behavior against you in the workplace, below are a few things that you can do to protect yourself:
1. Document Everything
When faced with possible discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination or other issues at work, the employee should always keep a detailed and accurate record of all action taken by the employer. Keeping a journal of your workplace interactions with your employer can be very helpful when building an employment case.
2. Report Suspected Illegal Activity
Often employees turn a blind eye to unethical or illegal activity in the workplace because they fear that they will lose their job. However, many employment law statutes have anti-retaliation built into their schemes. As such, employees who report discrimination, health and safety, false claims to the government, and other types of wrongful behavior are protected under state and federal law. As such, many statutes give extra protection for those employees who report illegal behavior. Employees in this situation should consult an attorney to see if they would receive this type of anti-retaliation provision for reporting such workplace misconduct.
3. Communicate in Writing
Employment disputes often arise out of spoken conversations between employers and employees. These spoken words are frequently twisted around and changed by the employer, with no evidence to demonstrate what was said. When dealing with a workplace dispute, employees should try to conduct as much communication in writing as possible. Further, even if a conversation is held orally, it is imperative to later follow up in writing such as with an email, reiterating what was said. Even a simple message stating, “I just want to confirm what was said in our meeting today, July 15, 2015…” These techniques can drastically help you build an employment case later, if necessary.
4. Request Your Employment File
Under RCW 49.12, employees (and former employees) have the right to inspect their personnel file that is kept on file by the employer. Washington law also encourages employers operating within the state to keep employment records. WAC 296-126-050. Further, the employer must make the personnel file available within a reasonable period of time after the employee’s request. RCW 49.12.250. If an employee requests to have a copy of the employment file, one should be advised, that the employer only has to have it available for inspection. This means that some employers will only let employees inspect the file, but not take pictures or make copies. As such, if an employee goes to inspect their file, they should go armed with a camera, money for possible copy charges, and even a notebook to take verbatim notes if necessary.
5. Request Your Effective Date and Reason for Termination
Washington law also requires that within ten (10) days of a request, an employer is required to provide a letter stating the (1) effective date; and (2) the reason for termination. WAC 296-126-050 (3). This can be an effective tool for locking the employer into an alleged reason for termination. As such, upon termination, an employee should make a written request for such a letter.
6. Make a Chronology or Timeline
Timing is everything, especially in employment law. Knowing when important events took place is crucial to making an effective employment case. As such, it is very important for any employee thinking about bringing a case to make a chronology of important events, such as when the person was hired, when they were the target of discriminatory remarks, when they received a particular email, when they were reprimanded etc. Keeping records of important events is imperative when building an employment case.
7. Seek Counsel and Be Honest and Open
Finally, if an employee feels that he or she is a victim of illegal conduct in the workplace, they should call an employment attorney. Not only do these attorneys have the legal knowledge, but he or she will have the practical skills to help navigate these types of situations. Once you contact an attorney, make sure to be honest and open, as it is important that your attorney knows everything in order to represent you in a holistic fashion and help you navigate the complex employment situation
Colin McHugh is an Attorney at Navigate Law Group.
This post was originally made Febrary 2nd, 2015.
As most people know, the federal Controlled Substances Act (21 USC 802), classifies "marijuana" as a schedule 1 drug. The term "marihuana" (which seems to be the spelling Congress prefers) is defined in the Act as:
"all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seed or resin."
The definition goes on to explicitly exclude mature stocks of the plant:
"Such term does not include the mature stalks of such plant, fiber produced from such stalks, oil or cake made from the seeds of such plant, any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant which is incapable of germination."
This definition has created quite a bit of debate regarding hemp. Industrial hemp is produced from the stock of the cannabis plant. The flowers produced by the plant is the part with a high enough THC concentrate to give its user the psychotropic effect. This language in the existing definition of marijuana implies that hemp was meant to be excluded all along. However, the DEA has interpreted the Controlled Substances Act to include hemp, and accordingly treats it as a schedule 1 drug.
Both the US House and Senate seem to be seriously considering federally decriminalizing the industrial production of hemp. Two bills, both called Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015, have recently been introduced, one in the house and one in the Senate. They are almost identical, and have strong bi-partisan support. The Senate's version, authored by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden (D), would make it clear that hemp is not classified as marijuana. The bill would exclude hemp from the definition of "marihuana," and defines "industrial hemp" as cannabis sativa L with a THC concentration of 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis or lower. The bill also considers hemp any definition of hemp under State law (regardless of its THC content), "unless the Attorney General determines that the State law is not reasonably calculated to comply with" the federal THC concentration restriction. The House bill, authored by Representative Thomas Massie (R) goes a bit further by including the same definition of industrial hemp, but does not give the Attorney General the authority to override State law.
The bi-partisan support for the bills is the most interesting part of this development. The Senate bill includes notable co-sponsors such as Mitch McConnell (R), Rand Paul (R), and Jeff Merkley (D). The House bill is not only authored by a Republican it has 50 co-sponsors 16 of which are Republicans and 34 Democrats.
If a substantially similar form to either of these bills is enacted into law it will be a huge development in cannabis law. Removing hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and explicitly giving states authority to regulate its growth would undoubtedly pave the way to a thriving and valuable hemp industry.
Eli Marchbanks, Attorney at Navigate Law Group.
This post was originally made January 30, 2015.
A little known fact about MRM attorneys Amber Rush and myself is that we are sitting for the February 2015 bar exam in Oregon to expand the firm's cannabis regulations practice. The decision was made shortly after the passage of measure 91 in Oregon, which legalizes home grown and commercial production and sale of adult use cannabis and industrial hemp. Accordingly, we attended the Oregon Liquor Control Commission's (OLCC) general public meeting held today, 1/30/14. Oregon's measure 91 operates very similarly to both Colorado's amendment 64 and Washington's I-502 in that it tasks creation of the regulations to a state agency. In measure 91's case, that is the OLCC. At this time the OLCC is taking general comments from leaders in and those impacted by the industry. Today's meeting was held in furtherance of the commission's series of town-hall style sessions that are taking place on their ongoing listening tour. Dates and locations of that tour can be found here.
Comments from the speakers were surprisingly uniform. Speakers presented points from many different groups including the League of Oregon Cities, the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police, Oregon District Attorneys Association, the Oregon Growers PAC, owners of cannabis businesses, and various others. Almost everyone was in agreement that strong administrative penalties for noncompliance is favorable to the existing criminal laws rearing their head if an otherwise legal market participant falls out of compliance with state law. Such a system is favored by law enforcement because it cuts a large portion of enforcement activity out of already strained budgets. Cannabis market participants would also obviously prefer an administrative fine to a criminal charge. The largest point of contention was how the OLCC will handle the existing medical marijuana framework, which is largely unregulated, in a future where adult use or recreational cannabis exists. Anthony Johnson, a Sponsor of measure 91 argued that medical marijuana is medicine to its patients and easy access to marijuana by patients should be the top priority. Others argued that the practicalities of removing cannabis from the black and grey market is the top priority and that fusing medical marijuana sales with adult use sales is the best approach. For a discussion on how Washington has proposed to handle its medical marijuana regime in conjunction with its new recreational market, see Amber Rush's recent blog post.
Eli Marchbanks, Attorney at Navigate Law Group.
This blog post was originally posted on January 14, 2015.
A hot issue for both Oregon and Washington in 2015 will be whether to somehow combine the medical and adult-use cannabis regimes, or to get rid of medical marijuana entirely. Supporters of doing away with medical marijuana largely rely on the disconnect between a heavily regulated and taxed recreational cannabis market vs. an unregulated and virtually un-taxed medical cannabis market. Proponents of medical marijuana point to the fact that, for patients, cannabis is medicine that should be easily accessible to those who need it. They ask: why would we tax this one form of medicine and not all others? The big question is how do we move forward with the two markets without negative impact on patients who legitimately obtain their low-cost cannabis through legitimate means? Recently, Washington legislatures have proposed solutions.
Senator Ann Rivers has proposed legislation which supports the medical system remaining intact and separate from the recreational system, but with some major modifications. Rivers proposes Washington only allow medical marijuana providers to sell concentrates and oils, and not dried bud.
Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles on the other hand, has proposed legislation that combines the medical and recreational systems, and ultimately adopts a combined single system. The medical marijuana system would be folded into the state’s regulated recreational marijuana system. This legislation proposes to provide certain tax breaks for patients who seek medical cannabis.
So, what could we expect from Oregon? There have been rumors in Oregon that a singular system may be adopted. However, this is pure speculation based on initial reactions by the Oregon legislature. Oregon's measure 91 does not reference Oregon's medical marijuana framework at all. All we can do is wait to see what the OLCC and legislature decide to do.
Today's post is short and sweet, but is extremely important information for any debtor whose property or income is at risk of being garnished. There are certain types of property and income that cannot be taken to collect on a consumer debt, as the following monies are generally susceptible to garnishment for child support or tax payments. The protected monies are:
-Supplemental Security Income
-Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
-Pensions that are federally approved (private, federal, and civil service) once the money is in the debtor's bank account or cashed
-Labor & Industries disability payments
-The greater amount of either 35 times the federal minimum wage or 75% of the debtor's net wages.
Generally, if wages are being garnished the debtor will be sent a form to indicate if they have any of the foregoing types of income or if any of these monies are in their bank account. However, this does not always happen. All debtors should know which of their income or property is untouchable.
Given the holiday season I thought a sobering blog post may be appropriate. In Washington one may be convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol, cannabis, or another drug (DUI) if they have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher of alcohol, 5.00 or higher of THC, or if the driver is "under the influence of or affected by" alcohol, cannabis, or another drug, or any combination thereof - regardless of their blood alcohol concentration. RCW 46.61.502. Blood alcohol concentration can be determined by a breath or blood test. Breath tests are commonly administered on the side of the road after a driver suspected of intoxication has been pulled over. If the driver refuses to submit to a breathalyzer, or submits and the breathalyzer shows their blood concentration is above the legal limit, their driver's license will be automatically suspended by the Department of Licensing (DOL). To challenge the suspension of their license, a driver needs to submit a "Driver's Hearing Request" to the DOL within 20 days from the date of arrest. The arresting officer usually gives the driver the hearing request form, but a copy can also be found here. The request must be accompanied by a non-refundable $375 fee unless the driver is determined to be indigent.
Once the driver is arrested the officer will send a sworn statement to DOL. If the driver does not request a hearing within 20 days the DOL administrative judge will rely on the officer's statement and will uphold suspension of the driver's license for at least 90 days. However, the purpose of the hearing is to challenge the officer's sworn statement. Therefore, if the driver requests a hearing the burden is on the DOL to prove by a "preponderance of the evidence" that the driver was in fact driving under the influence. This is not the driver's criminal case. The DOL hearing is a civil administrative case that is separate from the criminal issue. The burden of "preponderance of the evidence" that the DOL must prove to suspend the driver's license is much easier to meet than the burden of "beyond a reasonable doubt" in the driver's criminal case. If the driver's license is suspended by the DOL they may appeal the DOL's decision, or they may apply for an Ignition Interlock License (IIL).
DOL hearings can be very difficult. In part, this is because the DOL administrative judge also acts as prosecutor. However, there are many arguments an attorney can make on a driver's behalf to give them a better chance. It is usually in the best interest of anyone charged with DUI to seek the advice of an attorney.
Eli T. Marchbanks, Attorney at Navigate Law Group
Every legal issue is very unique. Accordingly, the information in this blog is intended as general education material and not as legal advice. If you think you may have a legal issue you should consult an attorney.
Copyright © 2015