August 21, 2019

Archives for August 3, 2017

Something Rotten in Denmark

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”
-Marcellus, Hamlet, Act I, Scene 4

Last time, we considered some of the findings of a huge international survey of money, happiness, wealth, and meaning conducted by Gallup and a couple University of Virginia professors. Digging deeper:

One of the most disturbing findings involved suicide rates. Wealthier nations, it turns out, had significantly higher suicide rates than poorer ones. For example, the suicide rate of Japan, where per-capita GDP was $34,000, was more than twice as high as that of Sierra Leone, where per-capita GDP was $400.

The strange relationship between happiness and suicide has been confirmed in other research, too. Happy countries like Denmark and Finland also have high rates of suicide.

[The survey authors revealed] a striking trend: happiness and unhappiness did not predict suicide. The variable that did, they found, was meaning—or, more precisely, the lack of it. The countries with the lowest rates of meaning, like Japan, also had some of the highest suicide rates.”

From The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters, Emily Esfahani Smith (2017)

The Power of Meaning cites further data showing that:

Suicide rates are generally higher in wealthier countries than in poorer ones.

According to the World Health Organization, global suicide rates have increased 60% since World War II.

In 2016, worldwide suicide rates were the highest in 30 years.

In the U.S., suicide among 15-24 year-olds tripled from 1950-2000.

Among the middle-aged, suicide rates have increased by over 40% since the turn of the 21st century.

The lack of belief that our lives are meaningful is spiking suicide rates — especially in wealthy First World countries whose citizens say they’re generally happy with their lives. The 2017 World Happiness Report confirmed these findings:  Denmark ranked #2 in the list of happiest countries, and Finland was #5, yet both countries had high rates of suicide.

The World Happiness Report is no lightweight exercise in psychobabble — it is generated on the highest level of worldwide policy making. This is how it describes its origins:

The first World Happiness Report was published in April, 2012, in support of the UN High Level Meeting on happiness and well-being. Since then the world has come a long way. Increasingly, happiness is considered to be the proper measure of social progress and the goal of public policy. In June 2016 the OECD committed itself “to redefine the growth narrative to put people’s well-being at the center of governments’ efforts.” In February 2017, the United Arab Emirates held a full-day World Happiness meeting, as part of the World Government Summit. Now on World Happiness Day, March 20th, we launch the World Happiness Report 2017, once again back at the United Nations, again published by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and now supported by a generous three-year grant from the Ernesto Illy Foundation.

The Report is long and packed with statistical analysis, tables, graphs, and other data-nerd content, but if you’re game for it, it makes for fascinating reading.

Both the UVA/Gallup survey and the World Happiness Report revealed that dissatisfaction with work is a key contributor to the feeling that life lacks meaning, and to the escalating suicide rate.

Imagine how different the legal profession would be if it sought to promote not just the happiness of its members (that would be radical enough!) but also a sense of meaningfulness about working in the law.

We’ll be talking more about that.


For a summary of the UVA/Gallup study, see ScienceDaily, 18 December 2013:  “Residents of poorer nations find greater meaning in life.” For the original study, see S. Oishi, E. Diener, “Residents of Poor Nations Have a Greater Sense of Meaning in Life Than Residents of Wealthy Nations,” Psychological Science, 2013. You can request a reprint here.

Kevin Rhodes is on a mission to bring professional excellence and personal wellbeing to the people who learn, teach, and practice the law. His past blog posts for the CBA have been collected in two volumes — click the book covers for more information.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Petition to Vacate Appraisal Award Properly Denied

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Owners Insurance Co. v. Dakota Station II Condominium Association, Inc. on Thursday, July 27, 2017.

Appraisal Award in Insurance Dispute—Impartial Appraiser Standard.

Owners Insurance Company (Owners) issued a property damage policy to Dakota Station II Condominium Association, Inc. (Dakota). Wind and hail storms damaged buildings in the residential community owned by Dakota. The losses were combined into a single insurance claim, but there was a dispute about the total amount of damages. The parties invoked the insurance policy’s appraisal provision. Each party selected an appraiser. They submitted proposed awards of different amounts and then nominated a neutral umpire as provided in the insurance policy. The final award of about $3 million was a mix of four damage estimates from Owners’ appraiser, Burns, and two estimates form Dakota’s appraiser, Haber. Burns refused to sign the final determination of costs. Haber and the umpire agreed and signed the award, and Owners paid Dakota.

Dakota then sued Owners in federal court for breach of contract and unreasonable delay in paying insurance benefits. During discovery, Owners learned several facts about Haber that it alleged demonstrated she was not an impartial appraiser. Owners filed a petition to vacate the appraisal award under C.R.S. § 13-22-223. Following a hearing, the trial court denied the petition.

On appeal, Owners argued that the trial court erred by not analyzing the insurance policy’s appraisal dispute provision, as well as the conduct and hiring of Haber, under the Colorado Uniform Arbitration Act’s (CUAA) standards for a neutral arbitrator in C.R.S. § 13-22-211(2). The Colorado Court of Appeals found no error because the policy did not incorporate CUAA’s standards and the parties’ stipulation that CUAA applied did not specifically state whether the appraisers were to be held to the statutory standard.

Owners then argued that Haber was not an “impartial appraiser” under the insurance policy. This term was not defined in the policy and has not been construed by a Colorado appellate court. The trial court interpreted it as an appraiser who applies appraisal principles with fairness, good faith, and lack of bias. The court agreed that this was the correct reading of the policy provision and its intent. The trial court’s application of this standard was supported by the record.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Internet has Made Some Aspects of Independent Contractor Test Obsolete

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Varsity Tutors LLC v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office on Thursday, July 27, 2017.

Employee—Independent Contractor–Unemployment Taxes.

Varsity Tutors LLC (Varsity) provided an online platform that connected tutors with students. Varsity had individual contracts with tutors, who advertised their services on Varsity’s website. Students who were interested in working with particular tutors contacted Varsity. Varsity then put the tutors and students together by providing contact information. Students and tutors then contacted one another to arrange tutoring sessions. Varsity and tutors agreed to an hourly rate that Varsity would pay them for tutoring, and Varsity generally charged students about twice that rate.

In 2014 the Division of Unemployment Insurance Employer Services—Integrity/Employer Audits for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (Division) audited Varsity’s 2013 books and decided that at least 22 tutors were Varsity’s employees for purposes of the Colorado Employment Security Act (CESA). The Division determined that Varsity owed $133.73 in unemployment taxes on the amounts it had paid the tutors. Varsity claimed that the tutors were independent contractors and it was thus not obligated to pay unemployment insurance taxes on wages it paid to them. A hearing officer and a panel of the Industrial Claim Appeals Office (Panel) decided the tutors were in “covered employment” and ordered Varsity to pay delinquent unemployment insurance taxes.

On appeal, Varsity asserted that the tutors were independent contractors and the Panel erred in concluding that Varsity was required to pay unemployment taxes. Varsity argued that the Panel erred by not applying the totality of the circumstances test.  CESA provides that a business can show that a worker is an independent contractor by proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the worker was (1) “free from control and direction in the performance of the service” under any “contract for the performance of the service” and “in fact”; and (2) “customarily engaged in an independent trade, occupation, profession, or business related to the service performed.” Both the panel and the hearing officer found the first part of this test was met. The second part of the test is guided by a totality of the circumstances analysis under Industrial Claim Appeals Office v. Softrock Geological Services, Inc. Alternatively, a business can establish that its workers are independent contractors by a written document signed by the business and the worker, documenting that the business did not do nine things listed in CRS § 8-70-115(1)(c). Such a document creates a rebuttable presumption of an independent contractor relationship as long as it also contains a disclosure in specific font that the worker as an independent contractor “is not entitled to unemployment insurance benefits” unless the worker or “some other entity” provides them and the worker must “pay federal and state income tax on any moneys paid pursuant to the contract relationship.”

Varsity’s contracts did not create a rebuttable presumption that the tutors were independent contractors. As to the second part of the CESA test, the contracts with the tutors stated in bold, “Independent Contractor Agreement for Services.” The disclosures in the contract are indicative that the tutors were independent contractors. The term “independent contractor” appears at least 16 times in the contract. The contract does not provide the tutors with training and provides minimal oversight of the tutors’ work, and does not establish a curriculum or require tutors to use specific materials. Applying the Softrock totality-of-the-circumstances test, the Court of Appeals found that the undisputed evidence in the record established that Varsity satisfied its burden of proving that the tutors were independent contractors because they were customarily engaged in independent businesses in 2013 that were related to the tutoring services they were performing.

The order was reversed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Announcement Sheet, 8/3/2017

On Thursday, August 3, 2017, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and 20 unpublished opinions.

Neither State Judicial nor the Colorado Bar Association provides case summaries for unpublished appellate opinions. The case announcement sheet is available here.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 8/2/2017

On Wednesday, August 2, 2017, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and four unpublished opinions.

Banks v. Hickenlooper

United States v. Ewing

Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District

Star Insurance Co. v. Federal Insurance Co.

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, some published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.