Category Archives: Lawyer antitrust

Online mechanic’s lien settlement software company Zlien settles Ohio unauthorized practice of law complaint

Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent (July 20, 2016) Order approving the settlement of an Ohio unauthorized practice of law (UPL) complaint filed by the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association (CMBA) against an online mechanic’s lien settlement software maker called Express Lien, Inc. (d/b/a Zlien) and dismissing the complaint.  The case is Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association v. Express Lien, Inc. dba Zlien et al, case number Case No. UPL 15-01.  The Ohio Supreme Court UPL Board’s Order approving the settlement and dismissing the complaint is here:  http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/Boards/UPL/settlement/UPL15-01.pdf

The CMBA filed the UPL complaint in May 2015 against Express Lien Inc. (Zlien) alleging that it was enabling non-lawyers to practice law in Ohio.  Zlien claimed that its platform streamlined the process of filing lien documents by facilitating the filing of those documents by its users and that it was not engaging in or enabling UPL.

According to the Order, the UPL complaint alleged that Zlien was illegally practicing law when Zlien “Director of Client Experience” Gretchen Lynn allegedly prepared, signed and attempted to file a lien against an Ohio property on behalf of Midwest Interiors LLC. The complaint stated that Ms. Lynn was not a lawyer in Ohio and Zlien was not registered with the Ohio Secretary of State.

The Cuyahoga County Fiscal Office rejected the lien because it was filed 33 days past the 75-day window to file.  The CMBA then initiated an investigation which led to the filing of the complaint.  Zlien stated that the affidavit was completed using aggregated information and it is “a technology powered scrivener” that “merely copies verbatim” user provided information.

In response to the UPL complaint, Zlien file a lawsuit in Louisiana federal court in July 2015 against the CMBA, the Ohio State Bar Association, and other entities and individuals alleging, inter alia, that the Bar was attempting to unconstitutionally restrict commercial or political speech and engaging in unfair trade and competition practices in applying and enforcing Ohio’s UPL statutes.  Zlien’s federal lawsuit is here: http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/professional_responsibility/express_lien_complaint.authcheckdam.pdf

Zlien’s federal complaint cited to the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision in North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners which struck down the enforcement of regulations by North Carolina’s dental board, which had attempted to prohibit teeth whitening by non-dentists.  In that case, the Supreme Court stated that the regulation of a profession by licensees in the same profession violated federal antitrust laws.

The UPL settlement agreement states that Zlien has agreed not to sign any mechanic’s lien affidavits unless it is a party or can practice law in the jurisdiction.  The company also agreed not to select the property descriptions inserted in lien affidavits or advise customers on which property descriptions to use.  Zlien also agreed to require its users to sign generated lien documents themselves rather than appointing the company to sign for them through power of attorney.

Zlien issued a public statement through its chief legal officer related to the settlement: “Technology has advanced to the point where it can put groups that change at a slower pace – like bar associations – in unfamiliar and potentially uncomfortable situations.” “Software can’t practice law, and people still need lawyers for certain tasks, but things that technology can do are not the things for which lawyers are required.”

Bottom line:  This is more fallout from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 North Carolina dental whitening decision and also involves an online legal document generator/provider. The case is North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission, No. 13–534. (USSC February 25, 2015) and the opinion is here: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/13-534_19m2.pdf.  My Ethics Alert blog discussing the case is here: https://jcorsmeier.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/u-s-supreme-court-opinion-finds-that-there-is-no-automatic-antitrust-immunity-for-state-professional-licensing-boards/  and a recent list of other cases which have been filed after that decision is here:  https://media.nasba.org/files/2015/12/2016-0714-Board-Immunity-Cases-Table.pdf

Stay tuned and be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert  is not an advertisement and does not contain any legal advice, and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Please note:  Effective June 27, 2016, my new office address is:

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N., Suite 150, Clearwater, Florida 33761

E-mail addresses and telephone numbers below will remain the same. 

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

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Filed under Attorney Ethics, Bar antitrust, BAR UPL antitrust, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer antitrust, Non-lawyer practicing law, North Carolina Dental Board, North Carolina dental whitening case and UPL, Unauthorized practice of law, Unlicensed practice of law, Unlicensed practice of law antitrust lawsuit, Zlien UPL lawsuit and settlement

Washington State Bar suspends some ethics opinions because of antitrust concerns arising from 2015 U.S. Supreme Court opinion

Hello and welcome to this New Year’s Eve 2015 Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent decision of the Washington State Bar to suspend some ethics opinions because of antitrust concerns arising out of the U.S. Supreme Court’s February 2015 opinion in North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission.  I previously blogged about the Supreme Court’s decision here: USSC NC dental licensing opinion, the LegalZoom antitrust lawsuit in North Carolina based upon the USSC opinion here: LegalZoom filed antitrust lawsuit against NC Bar and the settlement of that lawsuit here:  LegalZoom settles antitrust lawsuit against NC Bar.

According to a recent ABA Journal article, the Washington State Bar Association has advised its ethics committee to stop issuing ethics opinions which could be interpreted as having the effect of restraining trade in the legal services market.  The bar stated that it suspended the opinions so it could “proceed very deliberately” in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s February 2015 opinion in North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission. 

That U.S. Supreme Court decision permitted an antitrust action against the North Carolina state dentistry board for its decision prohibiting non-dentists from whitening teeth to proceed. The opinion stated that when a state board is controlled by active market participants in the market it regulates, state-action antitrust immunity cannot be applied unless the restraint of trade is affirmatively expressed by state policy and the policy is actively supervised by the state.

Bottom line:  This is more fallout from the 2015 USSC Dental Board decision.  As I have stated in my previous blogs, there have been lawsuits against state Bars in the past attacking the entity’s state action immunity.  The Supreme Court opinion refers to three specific cases and appears to suggest that these cases should be interpreted to mean that only the actions of a state entity which is actively supervised by the state (i.e. the Supreme Court in the case of a state Bar) have antitrust immunity and the rest of the entity’s actions may not have such immunity.

I wish you and yours a very happy and healthy 2016!

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement and does not contain any legal advice and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

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Filed under .S. Supreme Court, Attorney Ethics, Bar antitrust, BAR UPL antitrust, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer antitrust, Lawyer ethics, LegalZoom, LegalZoom antitrust, North Carolina Dental Board, Uncategorized

LegalZoom files federal antitrust lawsuit against the North Carolina State Bar citing 2015 USSC dental board case

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent antitrust lawsuit filed on June 3, 2015 by LegalZoom against the North Carolina State Bar alleging antitrust violations.  The case is LegalZoom.com, Inc. v. North Carolina State Bar, et al, (U.S. Middle District, North Carolina) Case No.: 1:15-CV-439.  The formal Complaint (WSJ link) is at http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/2015_0604_legalzoom.pdf.

The Complaint was filed on June 3, 2015 and seeks injunctive relief for antitrust violations as well as damages, claiming that the North Carolina State Bar is has “engaged in unauthorized and anticompetitive conduct illegally and unreasonably restraining trade in the Relevant Market” by prohibiting LegalZoom from offering prepaid legal services plans in that state.  As support for the claims, the Complaint cites a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on the prohibition of non-dentists from providing teeth whitening services in North Carolina.

According to the Complaint, in 1991, the North Carolina state legislature “removed from the State Bar any power over prior and continuing approval of prepaid legal services plans, leaving to the State Bar only the ministerial task of keeping a registration list of plans sold in North Carolina.  The State Bar, however, defied the Legislature. Over time, the State Bar unilaterally and ultra vires reassumed and exercised the power the Legislature had removed. The State Bar adopted – without legislative authority or active State supervision – a restrictive definition of what constitutes a prepaid legal services plan, and then began to refuse to ‘accept’ for registration plans that purportedly did not meet its own definition, excluding those plan providers from the Relevant Market.”  The Complaint states that the Bar rules require the prepaid plans to be paid in advance of any immediate need, and any legal services provided must be provided by lawyers licensed in the state.

In support of the allegations, the Complaint cites the February 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission, which is here: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/13-534_19m2.pdf.  The North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners opinion held that a dental regulatory board made up mostly of dentists does not have state-action immunity in an antitrust action and authorized a Federal Trade Commission challenge to the dental board’s prohibition of the provision of teeth whitening services by non-dentists.  The opinion also found that when a state board is controlled by market participants in the occupation that it regulates, state-action antitrust immunity does not accrue unless the restraint of trade that is being challenged is affirmatively expressed as state policy and the policy is actively supervised by the state.

Bottom line: It should be very interesting to watch this case unfold.  When the USSC opinion in North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission was rendered on February 25, 2015, there was much analysis/commentary in the media regarding the potential vulnerability of state Bars to an antitrust challenge if it could be shown that they were controlled by market participants (lawyers) in the occupation being regulated (the law).  This appears to be the first shot across the bow.  Stay tuned…

…and be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Bar antitrust, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer antitrust, LegalZoom, LegalZoom antitrust