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Houston Business and Family Law Blog

Health care billing practices are under increased scrutiny

In July 2014, a federal jury found a Texas businessman guilty of 15 counts of health care fraud. The jurors found that the man had directed the billing coders at his hospital to illegally change diagnoses in up to $1.1 million worth of claims to Medicare. The businessman could face up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced, likely next year, according to the Dallas Morning News.

In August 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that a Tennessee-based health care system would pay $98 million to settle claims of improper billing. It alleged that the hospital system admitted patients when it was not medically necessary to do so and billed Medicaid, Medicare and Tricare, the military insurance program. About $9 million will be used to settle similar claims at a medical center in Laredo, Texas.

Obtaining temporary orders in a Texas divorce

If you are starting the divorce process, you are entering a process with an end goal of a fair division of property and a custody and visitation plan that is in your children's best interests. Before you reach that goal, however, you may feel like you are facing more immediate problems. Where will your kids live while the divorce is pending? How will you pay your bills? Which one of you will live in your house? What if your spouse tries to force you to accept terms that are not fair or in the best interest of your children?

Many families have these problems during divorce. Because they are so common, the Texas family code gives your attorney the ability to protect you and make sure that you can have a stable life while your divorce proceeds.

Divorce and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) is a law passed in 2003 that protects the legal rights of active duty military personnel who are stationed overseas. Much of the law deals with issues such as leases, foreclosures and other financial matters that military members may encounter while deployed. However, provisions of the law can also affect military divorce, custody and other family law matters.

The SCRA applies to civil court proceedings - including family law court hearings -- that happen when a military member cannot be present. As noted in an American Bar Association publication about SCRA, the law was enacted to allow those serving in the armed forces to focus on the defense of the nation and to prevent their civil rights from being affected by court proceedings that occur during their service.

Could Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank Intl. reduce software patents?

In last week’s post, we discussed a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Limelight v. Akamai Technologies, that could affect patent litigation. In this week’s post, we will discuss another significant Supreme Court decision regarding patent law. In Alice Corporation v. CLS Bank International, the U.S. Supreme considered whether patent claims for inventions that are implemented by computer are eligible subject matter for patents. The court held unanimously on June 19 that Alice Corporation’s patents were ineligible for patent protection because they were abstract ideas.

Alice Corporation held several patents for a method of mitigating the risk that only one party in a financial exchange would pay what it owes. The method used a computer system as a third-party intermediary to ensure that both parties meet their ends of a financial agreement. Its patents covered the method of exchanging financial obligations, the computer system that carries out the method, and the program code for performing the method.

U.S. Supreme Court narrows patent protections in Limelight v. Akamai

A recently released U.S. Supreme Court decision could have a significant effect on patent lawsuits in the U.S. The case, Limelight Networks, Inc., v. Akamai Technologies, Inc., involves two technology companies who use content delivery networks to deliver web content to its clients’ Internet users. The court’s decision could be seen as narrowing the scope of U.S. patent law.

Akamai Technologies is the exclusive licensee of a patent for a method of delivering electronic data using a content delivery network to speed up Internet service during times of peak use. The company maintains numerous servers, and websites called content providers contract with the company to deliver the web content to individual users. Certain parts of a content provider’s site – often large files -- are stored on Akamai’s servers and accessed by Internet users. The process of determining which parts of the components will be stored on the servers is called tagging. Akamai does tagging for its customers.

How farms and ranches can complicate a divorce

A farm or ranch is not just another investment. It is a way of life. In Texas, farms and ranches are usually owned by families, partnerships or family-held corporations. Often, farms and ranches have been owned by the same family for multiple generations. When divorce happens, the ownership of the farm or ranch and the family’s legacy can be threatened.

Farms and ranches are complicated not just because a family legacy is at stake. The property itself is complex and includes far more than land. In addition to surface uses and buildings such as homes, stables and grain silos, farms and ranches may also have:

Without oppression claims, minority shareholders should plan ahead

The Texas Supreme Court’s decision in June that the state has no common law claim for minority shareholder oppression settled an area of business law that had been uncertain for decades. In doing so, the court also created new uncertainty for owners of closely held businesses.

The court ruling has the most immediate effect on shareholders who are currently in litigation over oppression claims because the legal basis for their claims suddenly changed. Regardless of whether they are involved in oppression claims, minority shareholders of closely held businesses face new challenges.

Do minority shareholders have remedies after Ritchie v. Rupe?

The Texas Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Ritchie v. Rupe that the state does not have a common law claim for shareholder oppression is regarded as a blow to the rights of minority shareholders in closely held corporations. The court ruling also found that a state statute dealing with shareholder oppression does not authorize courts to force – which may be a preferred option for shareholders who are subject to oppressive conduct.

But as court’s opinion notes, even without an oppression claim, shareholders may still have options to hold controlling shareholders for oppressive behavior. The same actions that result in oppression claims can also be the basis for other causes of action. Many claims for shareholder oppression have also included claims for:

Texas Supreme Court: No common law shareholder oppression

The Texas Supreme Court has declined to recognize a common-law cause of action for minority shareholder impression. The decision, issued on Friday, June 20, has been widely anticipated and could have a significant impact on shareholder-related business law and business litigation matters in Texas.

In Ritchie v. Rupe, a minority shareholder in a closely held corporation accused the other shareholders of engaging in oppressive actions for refusing to buy her shares for fair value or meet with prospective buyers. A jury had sided with the minority shareholder, and as a remedy the trial court ordered the corporation to buy the minority shareholder's shares for $7.3 million. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth District upheld the decision.

What is a trade secret under Texas's new law?

Trade secrets are the life of a business. They are the information that gives a business a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Because they are so important to the success of a business, misappropriation of trade secrets is a primary reason for business litigation and a major asset that businesses want to protect. Trade secrets are also the subject of recent law changes in Texas.

As of Sept. 1, 2013, the state adopted the Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act, which is a uniform law that 47 states have adopted at least in part. Under the new law, the definition of a trade secret includes:

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