In this unprecedented season of March Madness, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is required to implement rigorous health and safety procedures to conform to CDC guidelines and fend of COVID-19 complications in this year’s basketball tournament. This year’s tournament will be held exclusively in Indianapolis, Indiana, with the Final Four playing in the Lucas Oil Stadium to accommodate a larger audience. However, capacity will still be reduced to just 25%. All venues for the tournament will be less than 25% capacity. This 25% capacity includes,” all participants, essential staff and family members of each participating team’s student-athletes and coaches and a reduced number of fans.” The NCAA noted that those who were able to attend the tournament games live would be required to wear face coverings and to socially distance from one another. As of March 18, the NCAA only identified eight positive COVID-19 cases out of more than 9,100 tests. This is equal to a positivity rate of less than 0.1%.
A major upset took place on first day of the very much anticipated 2021 National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”) Division 1 Basketball Tournaments, and I am not referring to any of the games that took place on that day. In the evening of March 18th, University of Oregon Forward Sedona Prince took to social media to expose the evident discrepancies between the weight room facilities for the men’s and women’s tournament facilities. To prevent a coronavirus outbreak, each of the tournaments are taking place in a bubble funded by the NCAA. The video Prince posted showed the women’s tournament weight room which consisted of a single set of dumbbells, then showed the men’s tournament weight room that was supplied with various training equipment. Not only were there massive disparities between the weight rooms for the men’s and women’s tournaments, but there is also a clear and substantial difference in the “swag bags” given to each student athlete participating in the tournament from the NCAA. As well as the quality of food provided to the female student athletes who are competing in the tournament.
In 1991, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act to control lead and copper in drinking water, referred to as the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR). The Rule was created to protect public health by minimizing lead and copper levels in drinking water, primarily by reducing water corrosivity through corrosion control treatment. While implementation of the LCR has resulted in major improvements in public health, there is still much that needs to be done as research continues to show cities today see higher than normal levels of lead in their drinking water.
On July 16, 2020, the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) issued its deafening decision that summarily and immediately invalidated the EU-US Privacy Shield. The regulatory program established between the European Council and the U.S. Dept. of Commerce allowed for the transfer of personal data of EU residents to be sent from the EU to the US without violating the data transfer restrictions of the General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”). The decision went on to cast serious doubt on the sufficiency of standard contractual clauses to adequately protect data transferred to any third country, not just the US. Several months later, data exporters in the EU are still sorting through the wreckage of their privacy programs and waiting for practical advice on the way forward.
In the last days of the Trump administration, the Trump Department of Labor (“DOL”) finalized a rule that made it more difficult for socially conscious investments to be included in retirement plans. The Trump-era rule discouraged employer 401(k) and other retirement plans from offering funds from managers that consider Environmental, Social and Governance (“ESG”) factors over investment returns or risk in their due diligence. Despite this, ESG funds continue to gain in popularity, and the new Biden administration has stated that it will not enforce the Trump-era rule as it considers reversing it.
Nursing homes have been devastatingly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. As of February 26, 2021, as many as 34% (172,000+) of all COVID-19 deaths in the United States have been nursing home residents and employees. While COVID-19’s lethality in older adults and likelihood of transmission in congregate facilities are to blame, plaintiffs’ attorneys specifically question sweeping legislation among various states regarding nursing home restrictions on refusing COVID-19 positive residents and immunity protections. A look at the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (“PREP”) Act and recent federal cases sheds light on the future of plaintiff suits related to COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.
The False Claims Act (“FCA”) is one of the United States Government’s most powerful tools for fighting fraud. In fact, the Department of Justice recovered nearly $1.8 billion under the FCA for health care fraud and $1.6 billion in FCA qui tam relator cases in the 2020 fiscal year. Keeping the enforcement of fraud in mind, underlying all FCA qui tam suits is successfully pleading with particularity under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b). This requirement has led many U.S. District Courts to dismiss qui tam cases at the pleading stage and U.S. Courts of Appeals to affirm those decisions. The upshot is that amid changes to the Stark Law and Anti-Kickback law, the continuation of COVID-19 related fraud, and the continuing splits in the Federal Circuit regarding pleading standards, the ground may begin to shift for compliance officers, attorneys, and general counsels in health care organizations.
On June 25, 2019, Governor Pritzker signed the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, legalizing cannabis for adult use in Illinois. Cannabis is the most lucrative crop globally and the cash-making abilities of cannabis have been proven true in Illinois. Sales in the state exceeded $1 billion in the first full year of legalization, resulting in a $205.4 million tax windfall for Illinois. This success, however, is no small feat for cannabis companies considering the banking and insurance obstacles they must overcome to start this type of business. Federalism is at the heart of many of these hurdles.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted residents and staff of nursing homes and long-term care facilities more than any other demographic, accounting for nearly 40 percent of the total mortality rate from the virus in the United States. According to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”), at least 132,000 residents and employees have died from complications of the COVID-19 across 31,000 facilities, although some estimates place the death count closer to 200,000. One factor aggravating the number of deaths in nursing homes is the extraordinarily high rate of staff turnover each year.
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) regulates the administration of employee benefit plans. ERISA aims to protect the interest of employee-beneficiaries by setting minimum standards for employee benefit plans and voluntarily established pensions. The Act’s preemption clause works to prevent states from regulating these same plans. Initially, a state statute was considered to violate the preemption clause when it possessed, “a connection with, or reference to, covered employee benefit plans.” A few years later the standard was modified, states were considered to have violated ERISA preemption if the state, “mandates employee benefit structures or their administration.”